Gordon Monson: The not-so-veiled message in the LDS Church’s recent politics letter to Utah members

Church leaders deserve praise for this — and previous — counsel, and voters would do well to heed it.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake Temple and the Utah Capitol are seen in 2017. Tribune columnist Gordon Monson lauds a recent letter from Utah Area Latter-day Saint leaders urging church members and Utah voters to put candidate integrity before party politics.

Let’s give credit where credit is due, and a large chunk of it is due to Utah Area leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

They said what needed to be said without actually saying it. To these ears, it sounds like a shout, not a whisper, when they urge their members in coming elections to vote for “those who have demonstrated integrity, ability and service to others, regardless of party affiliation.”

Is there an echo in here?

The church’s top leadership, the First Presidency, issued a similar statement in June, counseling Latter-day Saints, and all voters, to avoid straight-ticket voting, to vote for candidates of integrity, candidates who serve the public, to favor compassion and to demonstrate “Christlike love and civility in political discourse,” and essentially to give the nod to political candidates who do likewise.

Which is to say, “Don’t vote for Donald Trump.”

That’s, of course, my own personal interpretation, not necessarily The Salt Lake Tribune’s, nor anybody else’s. But I, for one, don’t know how it could be deciphered or decoded any differently.

Trump is not a man of integrity. He’s not service-oriented, other than to his own advantages. He does not demonstrate Christlike love and civility in political discourse.

If it doesn’t walk like a duck, quack like a duck, look like a duck … it’s not a duck. It’s a Trump.

According to a Tribune story this week, church members in Republican-heavy Utah are being urged via a message to be read to Latter-day Saint congregations not to vote for Republicans merely because they are Republican or for Democrats merely because they are Democrat.

Whether you’re a Latter-day Saint or not, can we get an emphatic amen to that?

A ‘threat to democracy’

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Dallin H. Oaks, Russell M. Nelson and Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency sit on the rostrum before General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 2022. The three leaders have warned members against straight-ticket voting.

That’s the way it always should be, but especially in the present, polarized political environment of extremism, an environment in which some party members seem to think leaders who are moderate or willing to see all sides of an issue or to seek compromise, even ones who are defined by integrity and compassion and ability, are somehow considered weak.

As to straight-ticket voting, church President Russell Nelson and his counselors, Dallin Oaks and Henry Eyring, straight out warned against it.

“Merely voting a straight ticket or voting based on ‘tradition’ without careful study of candidates and their positions on important issues,” they wrote, “is a threat to democracy and inconsistent with revealed standards (see Doctrine and Covenants 98:10).”

In short, church leaders are telling folks who vote, by way of my decoding device, not to be deceived, not to be dumb, not to join the herd and vote for a certain party because that’s what Mom and Dad and Grandpa LaVerl and Aunt LaVerne did. They might have been good, pioneer-stock people, but they might never have faced what our country faces now — having too many extremists in office who aim to do damage to our democracy because they want their own aggressive agenda put into place at any cost. Handing power to unbalanced, ambitious politicos like that is dangerous. It does more damage than good, even if a handful of their positions might seem to champion America’s best interests, at least as they shade them.

When leaders of any religion, in this particular case Utah’s predominant one, ask their followers to stop, to research, to study matters out, using not any force of habit, not even faith itself, rather their individual minds, to make important decisions based on what is real, that should be not just highlighted and high-fived but actually heeded.

In a state where one party is so dominant, that counsel is a revelation. Too much power in one place, especially a place where that power is crammed into a single corner of extreme monolithic thought, is detrimental to a lively democratic process.

As British historian Lord Acton put it, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” — or at least is likely to corrupt, is likely to forget marginalized people whose voices need to be heard, even if that’s not a priority of the dominant party.

From 2016 to 2024

(The New York Times) Former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden appear headed for a rematch in November 2024.

What the church is saying, in so many words, is: Don’t vote for Trump because he’s a Republican. Don’t vote for any Republican because she or he is a Republican. The same instruction goes for Democrats, though it doesn’t apply as much in Utah because the term super-majority doesn’t describe them.

We have written before about the church telegraphing an anti-Trump position. In 2016, its Salt Lake City-based newspaper, the Deseret News, published a front-page editorial calling on him to bow out of the White House chase after a videotape captured him bragging about groping women.

Four years later, a mere month ahead of the ballot showdown between Trump and Joe Biden, Oaks said the church would oppose any post-election violence, saying “in a democratic society, we always have the opportunity and the duty to persist peacefully until the next election.” And after the Jan. 6, 2021, siege of the U.S. Capitol, the church condemned the mob while pleading with members “to honor democratic institutions and processes.”

Now, here we are again, ominously staring at another Trump run. So hallelujah to those church leaders who are imploring voters to toss away the hate, the bitterness, the anger, the blindness, the extremist views and vile values of those like Trump who lack the proper integrity and ability to lead with sound judgment, moderation and love.

If that’s a radical stance, let Utah be radicalized by a typically conservative church. So let it be written, so let it be vetted, so let it be voted, so let it be done.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune columnist Gordon Monson.

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