The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds a corruptive influence over Utah politics.
With their recent foray into legal matters — opposing the proposed rule banning professionals from practicing conversion therapy — I believe it is past time Utah Latter-day Saints stood up to the influence of their church and urged their leaders to do what they are called to do: teach, preach and witness, not legislate.
Corruption in Washington, D.C., is built around the giving or promising of money for political, legislative or executive favors. The corruption of the church on Utah politics is not through money but through the leveraging of religious belief and influence for legislative and executive favoritism. The principle is the same: using something an elected official cherishes or desires as a way to influence their decisions, rather than their decisions being based on the tenor of their constituency.
I am not opposed to the church cordially engaging with politicians and legal matters pertaining to issues it is institutionally passionate about. I am opposed to it using religious means to sway politicians in Utah government. It is a delicate line to walk, and the church has been stomping all over it in recent years.
Instead of bringing scientific data or personal experience to debates around laws, the church has attempted to sway legislators by making religious arguments for a collective good.
For example, in the official church statement on this issue, the words “teach” and “believe” were used to implant religious ideology and encourage religious adherents to legislate according to what the church institutionally teaches and believes and not what trained professionals encourage.
The church uses more than religiously infused language in their official statements to encourage the legislator to follow them. The leaders of the church personally engage with Utah politicians in order to use their church calling as an influence on Utah’s civically elected officials.
For example, Stuart Reid recently outlined some very disturbing efforts of President Dallin H. Oaks to influence the Utah Legislature. Oaks “intervened” in Reid’s efforts for LGBTQ+ legal protections and “hoped to have something [a law] crafted” that would reflect the church’s stance. In this instance, and I’m sure in many other instances, a leader of the church — a man many in the Utah Legislature sustain as a prophet, seer and revelator — took the ability to legislate away from the elected individuals who are meant to represent all of Utah.
Undoubtedly, many at the Capitol will fall in line with what the church offers legislatively when it writes its own bill. Practicing Latter-day Saint politicians believe strongly that what comes from the church comes from God, and the church uses that influence in improper and corrupting ways to further the church’s agenda.
Apostles should not be engaging with legal and political matters as apostles. With that holy calling, they should be teaching and preaching.
Joseph Smith said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” So, apostles and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should do just that.
Get out of religiously influencing politicians, thus forcing them to choose between representing and serving their constituents or defying their personal belief in you as a chosen vessel of the word of God, and focus on teaching correct principles and letting the people of Utah govern themselves.
Adam McLain, Watertown, Mass., is a graduate of Brigham Young University now attending Harvard Divinity School. He studies gender and sexuality, theology and 20th century dystopian literature.