Paul Mero: LDS Church should get out of politics, especially the modern American culture war

Church support for Respect for Marriage Act shows what a tangled mess religion and politics make

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) In this Jan. 3, 2018, photo, the angel Moroni statue, silhouetted against the sky, sits atop the Salt Lake Temple, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

My wife tells me that one of the most difficult messes to untangle are necklaces thrown into a jewelry box. Many a garage houses a box full of bungee cords, or tie-downs, that rival a breeding ball of snakes in difficulty to separate.

While the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the pending congressional Respect for Marriage Act is a tangled mess, its support is easily unraveled and explainable.

The LDS Church strategy since 2008 has been clear: oppose same-sex marriage and support “gay rights.”

The LDS Church, my church, has supported gay rights since its opposition to same-sex marriage during Proposition 8 in California. That support rolled into the chamber of the Salt Lake City Council shortly thereafter and similar nondiscrimination laws spread throughout Utah municipalities over the next few years – none of which would have happened without the blessing of the LDS Church.

Though prudently silent for years on a statewide nondiscrimination law, it manufactured and then fully embraced what became known as the “Utah Compromise” in 2015, thus codifying legal discrimination against their new allies.

To further demonstrate itself as a sensitive gay ally, it invented out of thin air an LDS idea of “same-sex attraction.” A cousin-theory to “born that way,” the non-doctrinal concept served to appease the angst of troubled Latter-day Saint parents and their confused children but, in doing so, created a cruel conundrum for those struggling children: If God created me that way, why does my church condemn me for behaving that way?

The LDS Church opposes same-sex marriage but supports every gay right that leads logically to same-sex marriage. They conspire in Utah with gay activists to finally pass a statewide nondiscrimination bill but, in doing so, assure legal discrimination against the very same gay community by exempting the church from its provisions. They then invent “same-sex attraction” while condemning those who fall under its spell.

Similar incongruities now plague its strident defense of religious freedom. Religious freedom is the driving cause and legacy of LDS Church President Dallin H. Oaks, a friend and leader I both love and admire. None of this tangled mess would exist without the guiding hand of Oaks and, in all fairness to him, more so the extremely poor counsel of politically inexperienced attorneys both inside and outside of the church.

Those unenlightened legal counselors who convinced LDS Church leaders to aggressively pursue legal discrimination within the inequitable provisions of Utah state and local nondiscrimination ordinances, now extended to the Respect for Marriage Act, are the same attorneys who dreamt up the LDS Church’s losing legal strategy presented to Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

LDS Church support for gay rights was supposed to demonstrate its love for homosexuals in front of a Supreme Court justice bent on punishing animus against homosexuals. Its attorneys naively ignored the reality that opposition to same-sex marriage is itself animus in the eyes of Justice Kennedy. “Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Likewise, this now familiar play is supposed to protect the LDS Church and its adherents from threats to religious freedom. The play continues to be delusionary folly. While the Respect for Marriage Act assures the imposition of same-sex marriage across the nation, it also creates a false flag in the name of religious freedom. Yes, LDS Church worship services, such as temple marriages, are protected. But worship services were never under attack. That false flag was spun up out of thin air.

Does anyone really believe that national gay rights organizations would tolerate legal discrimination provisions against themselves in the Respect for Marriage Act if not for their fear that a conservative Supreme Court would overturn Obergefell? A reasonable concern. But here is what is not a reasonable concern: If overturning Obergefell is indeed a realistic possibility, why would the LDS Church work so hard to codify same-sex marriage nationwide (that it has opposed) and compromise everyone’s religious freedom (that it has supported) in the Respect for Marriage Act?

Everything the LDS Church has touched politically in this culture war is a tangled mess and has resulted in exactly the opposite of the desired outcome. Time and again, it has tried to serve the Lord without offending the devil. Please, for the sake of us faithful adherents, get out of politics, especially the modern American culture war. Preach sound doctrine, such as found in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, and let us true believers, in both faith and citizenship, govern ourselves.

Paul Mero

Paul Mero, after years of Utah politics as the longtime president of Sutherland Institute, now lives in Las Vegas and is authoring a book on how social conservatives lost the modern American culture war.