An image of the Salt Lake LDS Temple that originally appeared on the homepage of the Latter-day Saints for Trump website has been replaced after prompting an outcry from some church members on social media.
The pro-Donald Trump coalition, which launched last week, removed the temple photo and in its stead posted a picture of Vice President Mike Pence during a visit to Arizona on Aug. 11. Neither of the two members of the advisory board reached by The Salt Lake Tribune could answer why the image was replaced.
Visitors can commit to vote, volunteer and donate on the page as it is an official reelection site paid for by Donald J. Trump for President Inc. It displays the names and pictures of members of the advisory board, co-chaired by former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch. Other members include Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes; state Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan; Don Peay, influential founder of the group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife; and Utah congressional candidate Burgess Owens.
Peay and Coleman told The Tribune they had no information about the image replacement and dismissed its significance.
Others viewed the original use of the temple photo as troublesome.
“I don’t see a problem with identifying individuals as members of the church and Trump supporters or [Joe] Biden supporters, but when you use temple imagery, you are implying a church endorsement,” said Jim Bennett, co-founder of the United Utah Party, which holds itself out as a moderate haven for disenchanted Republicans and Democrats. “Using the temple as an image in their literature steps across the line and implies an advocacy that is not there.”
A virtual event last weekend of Latter-day Saint supporters of Biden opened and closed with prayer, quoted scriptures, repeated teachings of church leaders and sometimes shared testimonies that helped put the Democratic nominee in a divine light.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, citing a position of political neutrality, had previously declined to comment on the group or its use of temple imagery in its ads.
As part of its policy of neutrality, the church states that it does not endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms or attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should support. The church also notes that it does not “allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.”
On Monday, The Associated Press reported that many Latter-day Saints who have been lifelong Republicans are now supporting Biden in Arizona. The report outlines how the president’s stance on immigration and penchant for foul language clash with the church’s culture and repel some Mormon voters from the party.
The article said that Trump’s relative weakness with Latter-day Saints was once just a headache for the White House but is now a growing political liability.
Bennett, who is the son of the late three-term Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, said, “with the Republican Party in Utah, there’s been this sort of undercurrent of expectation with regard to faith. … That has always troubled me.”
Bennett left the Republican Party when Trump won the nomination in 2016. He said that stepping away from the party allowed him to, “look back and see just how blatant they’re willing to be to try to appeal to Latter-day Saint sensibility — it’s mawkish and it’s tacky.”
The replacement of the temple image at Latter-day Saints for Trump came just days after more than 100 Twitter users replied to posts by Tribune reporters including the original image.
One user, @acherrington23, wrote, “Super inappropriate use of the temple. It stands for holiness and oneness. It is a place to escape the world and be closer to God. By using the temple to promote political purposes these people are abusing its sacredness and meaning. Have some respect for the house of God.”
Another, @lyelltaylor, responded, “Using any religious church or temple for political purposes is just wrong. What happened to neutrality for churches? Now they use them for political stunts and backgrounds for campaigns. I guess a church is no longer a sanctuary.”
Bennett also replied to the tweet, writing, “Not OK,” and said in an interview that he finds it frustrating when members of the LDS Church don’t abide by the church’s stance to stay out of politics.
“Both religion and politics are healthier when they stay away from each other, and that’s a lesson I think we need to learn in Utah,” Bennett said. “When you start to tie the things of eternity to the immediacy of an election, you can leverage influence in a way that I don’t think is healthy for the church or the state.”