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Mormon stake president gets political at church, laments election results
Religion » Speech over pulpit wins cheers on right, jeers on left.
First Published Feb 21 2013 06:18 pm • Last Updated Feb 21 2013 10:54 pm

An LDS stake president in Sandy did something in a speech earlier this month that other Mormon leaders have done many times: He warned that evil is corrupting the world.

Then President Matthew DeVisser did something few LDS leaders ever do over the pulpit: He rattled off a number of Republican talking points, lamenting that voters last year chose "socialism over capitalism, entitlements over free enterprise, redistribution and regulation over self-reliance."

The LDS Church’s policy

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics. The church does not:

Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.

Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.

Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.

Source: lds.org

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DeVisser, who oversees a number of LDS congregations in the south valley, never referred to President Barack Obama or his Mormon opponent, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, in his speech Feb. 3 to the Hidden Valley Stake Conference but did say 2012 would "prove to be one of the more significant years in our lifetime."

He cited evidence of the nation’s declining values, including an effort to raise taxes during "the worst economic times since the Great Depression," some states legalizing same-sex marriage, government-funded abortions and the frenzy leading up to the "fiscal cliff."

"The U.N. ambassador," he added, "was instructed by the White House to cover up what happened in Libya, attempting to minimize the deaths of four Americans who were murdered."

In the speech, DeVisser — who did not return calls seeking comment for this story — said he did not intend to be controversial or political, but was directed in his thinking by the "Holy Ghost."

He later emailed a copy of the speech to a Mormon in his stake and, within days, it was being forwarded, posted and linked online. Soon it had gone viral on the Internet, appearing on more than 200 websites, blogs and Facebook pages, generating heated debates between believers on the political left and right.

Among the first to post the talk was LDS Freedom Forum, a website for mostly conservative, libertarian and politically independent Mormons, where it met with approval. Mormons for Obama, however, put it on their site, outraged that an LDS leader would use his church post in such a way.

"He tries to say it is not a political talk," said Crystal Young-Otterstrom, chairwoman of Utah’s LDS Dems Caucus, "but then he uses buzzwords of the Republican Party."

Young-Otterstrom reiterated Thursday that neither Obama nor the Democratic Party is socialistic.

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"He may not have said go out and vote for Republicans," she said, "but he is clearly biased. Where in the Scriptures does it talk about capitalism as a great economic system?"

Steve Olsen, vice chairman of the LDS Dems, said DeVisser’s speech was "way out of line."

"As a former bishop, I believe we who have been given the awesome responsibility to preside in an organization that believes in revelation must approach that responsibility with great humility and restraint," Olsen wrote in an email. "I believe there is nothing that displeases the Lord more than claiming revelation for something over which we have no authority."

But those on the other side of the political spectrum applauded DeVisser’s assertions.

"It being a pro-freedom talk, with multiple statements in favor of free enterprise and self-reliance and against socialism, is something members of this forum are very interested in," Brian Mecham, LDS Freedom Forum administrator, wrote in an email. "They like to see that leaders of the church, at various levels, continue to sound the warning voice against those things that are destructive to freedom."

Even so, Mecham said DeVisser’s second counselor in the three-member stake presidency asked Freedom Forum to take down the speech.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a strict policy of political neutrality, a stance it reaffirmed repeatedly throughout the 2012 campaign as a Mormon candidate headed a major party ticket for the first time. The Utah-based faith forbids members and leaders from using church buildings, membership lists and other resources for partisan political purposes.

"Stake presidents and other local leaders," says the church’s leadership Handbook, "should not organize members to participate in political matters or attempt to influence how they participate."

LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter did not comment Thursday directly on DeVisser’s speech but reiterated that "messages and statements from lay leaders are intended for the local congregations they oversee, and are not binding on the whole church."

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