Pssst. Have you heard that to be a good Mormon, you should be a Republican?
The governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints again is saying that is not the case — but does say members should be more active in politics, including attending party caucus meetings next week to help elect convention delegates.
“Our Utah communities and our state are best served when Utah citizens fully engage in the political process through caucus meetings, primaries and other political mechanisms,” said a letter read over pulpits in Utah on Sunday from LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors.
“We are concerned that citizen participation rates in Utah are among the lowest in the nation,” they wrote, “and urge greater involvement by members of the church in the 2018 election cycle.”
Their letter ordered members to cancel all church meetings March 20, when most parties are scheduled to hold caucuses, “so that members may participate in a caucus meeting of their choice.”
Their final paragraph — which church leaders have essentially repeated many times in recent years — is a favorite of non-Republican parties in Utah.
“It is important to remember that engaging in the election process is both a privilege and a significant responsibility regardless of one’s political inclinations, and that principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of each of the various political parties.”
Alex Cragun, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said that line shows “the myth that in order to be a good member of the church you have to be a Republican is patently false.”
He added, “Our largest caucus is the LDS Democrats. The notion of taking care of each other and ensuring that when we all succeed, we all succeed is certainly at the cornerstone of many communities of faith, including the LDS Church.”
Richard Davis, chairman of the United Utah Party (and a political science professor at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University), said, “The sense that you have to be in one party is folk doctrine. It’s not the church’s doctrine at all. That’s what they enforced with the message yesterday. That’s wise to say again — and again and again and again.”
He said his small party — formed by former moderate Democrats and largely anti-Donald Trump Republicans — may be attractive to Mormons partly because “we do have a religious plank that supports religious freedom for all.”
A Dan Jones and Associates poll in January for The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics found that among “very active” Utah Mormons, 66 percent are Republicans, 22 percent are unaffiliated, 5 percent are Democrats and 7 percent belong to other parties.
Among “somewhat active” Mormons, 52 percent are Republicans, 30 percent are unaffiliated, 8 percent are Democrats and 10 percent did not respond. Among “not active” Mormons, 52 percent are Republicans, 33 percent are unaffiliated, 10 percent are Democrats, and 5 percent belong to other parties.
Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson said his party attracts so many Mormons for a reason. “Our platform,” he said, “resonates with the majority of the principles of the LDS faith.”
He listed two examples. “The sanctity of life and being pro-life [on abortion] is important to us,” he said. “We are conservative in nature, and it’s important to live within your means.”
Anderson — who over the past year has been caught in the middle of a civil war between moderates and conservatives in his party — was especially pleased that the letter urges more participation in next week’s caucus meeting.
“Greater participation helps ensure that delegates are more representative of the people,” he said. “Our [in-party] fights have caught a lot of media attention in the past couple months” as factions argue whether delegates are truly representative.
Last month, an ultraconservative minority of the GOP State Central Committee forced through a rule change calling for expulsion from the party of candidates who collect signatures in some races. Moderates say that rule violates state law and could decertify the party.
Moderates have fought to protect the option of using signatures to qualify for the ballot, which they say has been important to offer voters the choice of more mainstream candidates.
For example, in the special 3rd Congressional District election last year, party delegates nominated ultraconservative former state Rep. Chris Herrod. Provo Mayor John Curtis was rejected by delegates, but qualified for the primary by collecting signatures. He won both the primary and general elections easily.
At Republican and Democratic caucus meetings March 20, neighbors will elect precinct delegates to county and state conventions. They, in turn, may select candidates to appear on a primary ballot. Delegates and other precinct officials also help govern the party.
The Constitution, Independent American and United Utah parties also have caucuses March 20. Some allow all members to become convention delegates. The Green and Libertarian parties invite members directly to their state conventions in April, according to state websites.