The LDS Church unequivocally condemns “violence and lawless behavior, including the recent violence in Washington, D.C., and any suggestion of further violence,” the faith’s senior leaders said Friday.
As Americans “look ahead to” Wednesday’s inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th U.S. president, the governing First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged members “to honor democratic institutions and processes, and to obey, honor, and sustain the law.”
While the Utah-based faith remains “neutral in matters of party politics, we remind our members — whatever their individual political views — to be united in our commitment to the Savior, Jesus Christ, and his teachings,” these top officials wrote. “As his followers, we should treat one another and all of God’s children with respect, dignity and love.”
The news release then emphasized, “No political or other affiliation should supersede that covenant and sacred responsibility.”
The church alluded to threatened violence and, on Thursday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox declared a state of emergency to be in place through Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration. Salt Lake City’s FBI office has not received any specific threats, but the national bureau has warned about potential unrest in all 50 states, including Utah.
At the Utah Capitol on Sunday, law enforcement and National Guard troops far outnumbered the 15 or so protesters who showed up for a planned demonstration.
Brigham Young University political scientist Quin Monson was “heartened” to see the church denounce violence as the nation moves toward Biden’s inauguration.
“I am hopeful that church members who are sympathetic to what happened in D.C. on Jan. 6 might be dissuaded from doing anything else,” Monson said. “It also might help calm the rhetoric of elected officials who are church members.”
Opposing acts of violence “should be obvious to most Latter-day Saints,” he said, “but occasionally some need to be reminded of that.”
It’s especially effective if it can be tied “to a certain event to shake them loose from a rationalization that it was OK,” Monson said, “and to draw them back to the realm of normal behavior.”
Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who rose to Senate majority leader to become the highest-ever Latter-day Saint federal officeholder, said in The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Mormon Land” podcast Thursday that top church leaders need to warn members to beware of aligning with “fringe” groups and causes, adding that Latter-day Saints who take part in the uprising are giving the faith a bad name.
Every group has its “fringe elements” who “don’t operate within the norms,” said Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.
The church’s statement probably “will not affect those individuals,” she said. “Everyone is navigating how to speak to individuals who are literally operating with a different set of ‘facts.’”
The faith’s Friday release marked the first one directly addressing the insurrection, but it is not the only statement it has made about elections or violent protests.
On the day that the mob stormed the Capitol — a siege that included a banner copying the “Title of Liberty” used by the Book of Mormon’s Captain Moroni — a church spokesperson pointed to a sermon at October’s General Conference by Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor to President Russell M. Nelson, in which he stated that the church would oppose any post-election unrest.
“We peacefully accept the results of elections. We will not participate in the violence threatened by those disappointed with the outcome,” said Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and next in line to assume the church’s reins. “In a democratic society, we always have the opportunity and the duty to persist peacefully until the next election.”
And more than three years ago, the global faith spoke out in the aftermath of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia.
“It is with great sadness and deep concern that we view the violence, conflict, and tragedy of recent days in Charlottesville, Virginia. People of any faith, or of no faith at all, should be troubled by the increase of intolerance in both words and actions that we see everywhere,” the church said in a news release. “...Our prayers are with those who are suffering because of this intolerance and hatred. We pray for peace and for understanding. Above all, we pray that we may treat one another with greater kindness, compassion and goodness.”
A few days later, the leaders issued an even stronger message, specifically calling out any Latter-day Saints who embrace notions of white supremacy or white nationalism.
“It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities who assert that the church is neutral toward or in support of their views,” the release said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
After citing verses from the Bible and the faith’s foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon, the church went on to say that “white supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them.”
Latter-day Saints who “promote or pursue a ‘white culture’ or white supremacy agenda,” it said, “are not in harmony with the teachings of the church.”
Nelson, Oaks speak out
“Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully to what I am about to say,” the 96-year-old leader said. “God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. … Your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and his commandments, and not the color of your skin.”
Nelson didn’t stop there. He said he grieves that “our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice and challenged all Latter-day Saints to “lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.”
Oaks echoed those sentiments, saying U.S. citizens and Latter-day Saints “must do better to help root out racism.”
Several weeks later, Oaks, addressing students and faculty at church-owned BYU, called Black lives matter an “eternal truth all reasonable people should support.”
That does not mean everything that is done under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement — including “abolishing the police or seriously reducing their effectiveness or changing our constitutional government” — commands universal backing, he said. “All these are appropriate subjects for advocacy, but not under what we hope to be the universally acceptable message: Black lives matter.”
Nearly six weeks after Election Day and more than a month after major news organizations declared Biden the winner in the White House race — but only minutes after the Electoral College vote affirmed that outcome — the church congratulated the Democrat 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,” the 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.”
Biden-supporting members welcomed the church’s well wishes, though some complained about the delay in what has become a traditional statement. Many Trump-backing Latter-day Saints took to social media to criticize their leaders for issuing any kind of congratulations to the Democratic victor.
On Thursday’s podcast, Reid, the Nevada Democrat, said Biden is capable, competent and “the nicest guy in the world.”
As for the outgoing president?
“Donald Trump will go down ... as the worst president in the history of the country. And that says a lot because we’ve had some pretty bad ones,” Reid said. “... So good riddance.”
— News editor David Noyce contributed to this story.