Commentary: The LDS Church’s silence on Trump’s family separation policy is deafening

This is not a drill. This is not speculative. This is happening here and now.

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Mormons walk around Temple Square before the afternoon session of the 186th LDS General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City Saturday April 2, 2016.

It’s been 59 days since the New York Times published an earth-shattering report that the U.S. government had separated at least 700 migrant families at our southern border over a six-month span, immediately skyrocketing the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy and its harrowing effects to the forefront of our national conversation.

It’s been seven days since additional reports revealed that government agents seized immigrant children — some as young as 18 months old — from their detained parents under false pretenses, throwing the true extent of these horrific violations of human decency into stark relief.

And yet, even as millions of Americans continue to cry out in protest of this immoral policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has remained notably silent — and it’s time for those of us who count ourselves among the faithful to wonder why.

After all, the LDS Church has never been shy about speaking out on matters of public policy, particularly on issues that directly impact the family unit. While the church rightly strives for neutrality in partisan politics, it has repeatedly and vigorously asserted its right to weigh in on “issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences.”

This rationale will be familiar to anyone with even passing knowledge of the church’s public actions in recent years. Most notably, it has served as the foundation for a decades-long crusade against marriage equality for same-sex couples — an effort that is frequently framed as a noble attempt to “defend the family” against perceived attacks.

But the church’s willingness to speak out has not been confined to a single hot-button issue. Indeed, the issues that it has deemed to possess “significant community or moral consequences” are broad and varied. For example, the institution’s leadership saw fit to wade into Utah’s ongoing debate over the legalization of medical marijuana in recent weeks, providing a contemporary counterpart to church officials’ sizable role in crafting the state’s byzantine alcohol laws in years past.

This history confirms that the Brethren are unafraid to throw their weight around in the public sphere when they believe the moment calls for it — and immigration has been no exception. Despite its conservative reputation, the church has built a track record of consistently advocating for inclusive immigration policies that reflect “its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.” Most recently, these principles led the church to speak out regarding President Trump’s travel ban in 2017, and to issue a strong (and widely celebrated) statement in support of protecting the Dreamers in January.

But where is the LDS Church now? If ever there were a time for the church to use its voice and its significant platform to stand by its principles and “defend the family,” this would be it. Along our southern border, thousands of families are literally being torn apart every single day as a matter of government policy. Children are ripped from their mothers’ arms and held indefinitely in cages. Parents are told their kids are being bathed and then frantically realize they’re never coming back. And meanwhile, an uncaring bureaucracy remains, at best, indifferent to all of it.

This is not a drill. This is not speculative. This is happening here and now. And the LDS Church’s silence, in this moment of great moral crisis, is deafening.

Even if we were to momentarily set aside the church’s moral obligation, this is a grave case of public relations malpractice at the very least. As a strategic communications consultant by trade, I can tell you that these are the types of moments that can define institutions — for better or for worse. If addressed properly, they provide an opportunity for the institution to both stand up for their deeply held principles and stand with a tidal wave of public sentiment in opposing a massively unpopular policy. It’s a win-win. In basketball terms, it’s a wide-open lay-up.

But even wide-open lay-ups aren’t guaranteed. In a moment of shared national outrage — when seemingly more and more faith leaders join the chorus every day — the failure of Mormon leadership to act is not only a missed opportunity to live the values of our faith on a high-profile stage, but an abdication of the very moral authority they’ve been called to exercise. In other words, it’s akin to a player finding himself all alone underneath the basket — and then neglecting to even take a shot.

Of course, this is not basketball and it’s not a business school case study. It’s a tragically real moment of unbelievable pain and heartache being senselessly inflicted upon, in the immortal words of Jesus, “the least of these my brethren.” But it’s also a test — an opportunity for each of us to stand and be counted, to boldly declare whether we will tolerate this grave injustice in our midst.

And so far, the LDS Church is failing that test. Whether intentionally or not, their silence has, at least momentarily, put them on the wrong side of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s memorable maxim: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Let us pray this moment of moral ambivalence passes and that LDS leaders swiftly seize the opportunity to place our faith on the right side of both humanity and history.

Steve Pierce

Steve Pierce is a strategic communications consultant who advises leaders in politics, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area, where he is an active member of his local LDS ward.