Nearly six weeks after Election Day and more than a month after major news organizations declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner in the White House race — but only minutes after Monday’s Electoral College vote affirmed that outcome — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congratulated the president-elect and his running mate on their victory.
“We congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his election as president of the United States. We also congratulate Vice President-elect Kamala Harris,” Monday’s news release stated. “We invite people everywhere, whatever their political views, to join us in praying for this new administration and for leaders of nations around the world.”
The church also gave a nod to the outgoing administration.
“We thank President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence for their public service,” the release added, “and wish them and their families well in their future endeavors.”
In 2016, the Utah-based faith issued its official congratulations to Trump the day after his stunning Election Day triumph and urged all Americans, “whatever their political persuasion,” to pray for him and his new administration.
Its news release, which used similar language to Monday’s statement, also praised Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady who came up just short in her bid to become the nation’s first female commander in chief.
In 2012, the church acted even more quickly, congratulating President Barack Obama on election night in winning a second term after he defeated Republican Mitt Romney, the first Latter-day Saint ever to gain the presidential nomination of a major party.
The church commended Romney for “engaging at the highest level of our democratic process, which, by its nature, demands so much of those who offer themselves for public service. We wish him and his family every success in their future endeavors.”
Romney found electoral success six years later, replacing Orrin Hatch as a senator from Utah, in a high-profile return to the public arena.
So why the delay in extending the church’s official well wishes this time around to Biden? The question has prompted speculation in some Latter-day Saint circles.
“This is a puzzle that requires some explaining,” a Wheat & Tares blogger wrote on Dec. 1. “Even if a similar letter is in fact issued at some point, we need an explanation for why it is coming out a month or two … after the election.”
Such an explanation isn’t coming. Monday’s release didn’t address that question, and a church spokesman declined to comment on it.
Of course, unlike the previous two presidential races, the loser has yet to concede. In fact, Trump has tried unsuccessfully to overturn the results by making unsupported allegations of widespread election fraud.
Scott Howell, a former state senator who headed up the Biden campaign in Utah, welcomed the church’s statement but acknowledged he “would have liked that response to have come earlier.”
“But these are challenging times for all of us, especially church leaders,” Howell wrote in a text message. “Whatever position an influential organization takes is sure to meet with criticism, even threats of violence. I’m sure church leaders, like all of us, are anxious to move the nation forward without the anger and disharmony we have recently experienced.”
For his part, Rob Taber, the national director of Latter-day Saints for Biden-Harris, was just pleased to see the church’s statement “coming so soon after the Electoral College finished the legal process.”
“Despite President Trump’s refusal to concede, he has lost the election,” Taber wrote in an email. “It would have been better for our country if he had summoned the same level of grace as John McCain [in 2008], Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton and allowed our country to start healing and unifying weeks ago, when the results first became clear.”
In a General Conference sermon a month before Election Day, Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, criticized those who had threatened to reject the final balloting tally.
“We peacefully accept the results of elections,” said Oaks, a former Supreme Court justice and next in line to assume leadership of the 16.5 million-member global religion. “We will not participate in the violence threatened by those disappointed with the outcome. In a democratic society, we always have the opportunity and the duty to persist peacefully until the next election.”
Taber pointed to Oaks’ speech as well, saying Americans need to abide by election results, “even ones where we disagree with the outcomes.”
By Monday evening, the church Newsroom’s Facebook page had more than 4,600 reactions to its news release and 2,400 comments (showing a mix of approval and anger).
“Thanks to the church for finally making a statement,” wrote one commenter. “The church has made official congratulatory statements much earlier in prior elections. I hope the church will consistently apply this new practice of waiting until the Electoral College votes.”
Commenting later was turned off on the Facebook post.
Monday’s release noted that praying for elected leaders around the world has long been a practice of Latter-day Saints. “The men and women who lead our nations and communities need our prayers,” it said. “... May our local, national and world leaders be blessed with wisdom and judgment as they fulfill the great trust afforded to them by the people of the world.”
— Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.