OK, this is good — oh, so good.
A message directed from the top brass of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints straight into the grille of congregations and the too-often-immoderate political leaders for whom they vote, including Republicans in Utah and everywhere else, and demagogues and bullies and extremists imbedded in all political parties. That also includes party insiders who commandeer electoral processes that favor only extreme candidates.
Are you listening, Donald Trump? Ron DeSantis? Mike Lee? Sean Reyes?
More importantly, are Utah’s Latter-day Saint voters listening?
At long last, the church higher-ups are urging members — in their bluntest language to date — to take a stark new approach to elections, to think long and hard before they vote.
That very real message from the ecclesiastical leadership (to be read at church meetings in the U.S.) goes, in part, like this:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters:
“Citizens of the United States have the privilege and duty of electing officeholders and influencing public policy. Participation in the political process affects their communities and nation today and in the future. We urge Latter-day Saints to be active citizens by registering, exercising their right to vote, and engaging in civic affairs, always demonstrating Christlike love and civility in public discourse.
“We urge you to spend the time needed to become informed about the issues and candidates you will be considering. Some principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties, and members should seek candidates who best embody those principles. Members should also study candidates carefully and vote for those who have demonstrated integrity, compassion, and service to others, regardless of party affiliation. Merely voting a straight ticket or voting based on ‘tradition’ without careful study of candidates and their positions on important issues is a threat to democracy and inconsistent with revealed standards (See Doctrine and Covenants 98:10).
“...While the church affirms its institutional neutrality regarding political parties and issues, it may occasionally post information about particular issues that directly affect the mission, teachings, or operations of the church or that church leaders believe are essential to preserving democracy or the essential functioning of the United States Constitution.”
And there you have it.
An ‘R’ on the ballot isn’t enough
There may be various ways, of course, to interpret what is being said here by church authorities and why they are saying it. Some might see hypocrisy, considering the way Latter-day Saints dominate the state Legislature. Interpret all you want. I’ll offer my interpretation, which you’ve already gotten a whiff of, and be perfectly willing to wear the scars that come with it.
For whatever reason — be it the influence of former church President Ezra Taft Benson, an extreme political conservative, or something or someone else — Latter-day Saint voters in large measure for decades have voted Republican. It’s no secret that GOP candidates in Utah and in other church strongholds have a huge advantage among the faithful.
It hasn’t mattered if said candidates were or are inferior to their opponents or completely unsuitable for office. Candidates with an “R” next to their name were/are in and whoever they were/are running against were/are out.
In recent times, church officials essentially have said that the Republican Party is not the church’s party. Democrats and others are welcome, too. But that message apparently hasn’t been sent with quite enough oomph.
Now a can of spinach is being added to Popeye’s political punch.
Make no mistake, mixed metaphor notwithstanding, this is a welcome shot across the bow of political extremism, the bow of the dominant Republican Party in Utah, and the bow of Republicans on the national scene — Democrats, too — politicians of less-than-stellar character who have made a habit of conquering, or attempting to conquer, the voting public by dividing it via their extremism.
In their minds, if you’re a member of the other party, you’re not just a politico with a different point of view, you’re a freaking traitor. A vote for the other is a vote to destroy America. A vote for a Republican is automatic for the good of the people, even if that Republican is morally corrupt.
Does the church want its membership voting for bums, crooks and criminals solely because they are of one party or the other?
The church typically won’t tell the faithful WHOM to vote for, and it’s not doing that now, but it will warn members WHAT NOT to vote for.
It’s long overdue.
A hidden anti-Trump message?
Perhaps some wouldn’t agree that 58% of Utahns mindlessly cast their ballots for Trump in the 2020 presidential election, but a chunk of them may have.
Think about who Trump is in so much of his public and private life — a liar, or, for those who shrink away at that term, a massive distorter of the truth, a man who comports himself in a manner far outside what is taught to Latter-day Saints, a man being investigated for a fistful of crimes, an individual who paid off an adult film star with whom he had an affair to keep her silent, a man who was recorded saying women allow powerful men to molest them, a president who claimed after his election defeat, against all evidence and court decisions to the contrary, that the 2020 vote was a fraud, that the election was stolen from him, and on and on and on. And I haven’t even used the word “insurrection.”
Now Trump is running again. And the church sees the what as much as the who.
Republican or not, a political figure like that — and like others, too — is not whom modern church leaders want their flock supporting. Yes, they don’t flat-out say that, but they say it without saying it.
They used terms like “Christlike love” and “compassion” and “integrity.”
They said not to vote based on “tradition.”
They said voting a straight ticket “without careful study of candidates” is a “threat to democracy.”
Wow. The church seems to be telling many of its members, “Don’t vote like you’ve voted in the past.”
Maybe Utah’s predominant faith really is concerned about the way politics work around here, about polarization, and about preserving democracy in this country. And maybe it’s also concerned that younger Latter-day Saints are growing weary of how their fellow church members vote on sordid candidates and traditional issues.
Whatever the motivation, thinking before voting, finding reasonable moderation and decency, among all groups, not just Latter-day Saints, is an exhortation that is resoundingly sound and badly needed.
So to the church’s letter, I simply add amen and amen and amen.
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