Immigration, Equality and the Public Opinions of Mormons
Navigating Mormon Expressions of Politics and Faith
Disclosure: The author is Mormon.
When it comes to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ involvement in the public sphere of social policy, a question I have is this: Why is it OK to disagree with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s stance and policies on immigration but not on the issue of marriage equality?
Of course, as far as individual opinions go, there is nothing technically verboten about agreeing or disagreeing with either, as no official position on each issue has been canonized as Scripture (despite what the most ardent Mormons will tell you regarding marriage). But it would seem the cultural acceptance level among the mainstream faithful is so disparaging one way and not the other.
The fact that there are members who so adamantly feel that the mandate to oppose marriage equality is akin to following the prophet, while many of those same members passionately disagree with the Church’s nigh-endorsement of Obama’s immigration plan, begs the question: Why?
And the answer most likely is, when it comes to any church and all politics, the faithful masses customize doctrine to personal ideology more often than not. And as no exception, members of the Mormon faith cherry pick how they “follow the prophet” more than they would probably admit.
The most recent evidence of this is President Dieter Uchtdorf’s remarks to the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this year that President Obama’s guiding principles behind his immigration policy — including a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants — is “totally in line with our values.”
Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency, the faith’s highest governing body, gave essentially an endorsement of the direction the White House is headed with this issue, which dissenters will have a hard time arguing against.
This is just the latest, not the first, in a line of official calls to a sensible immigration policy from the church’s leadership. The Utah Compact, a bipartisan declaration for humane immigration reform, drafted in 2010 was praised by the Church, which released an official statement saying, “The Church regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform. It is consistent with important principles for which we stand.”
And yet the compact was decried by many conservative Mormon legislators across the country, including then state-senator Karen Johnson of Arizona, who called it a “masterful blend of political savvy, deception, and psychological manipulation,” a sentiment that appears to be in direct contrast to the Church’s official endorsement.
In the case of gay rights in Utah, the Church also came out in official support of nondiscrimination ordinances in Salt Lake and even stated officially through church spokesman L. Whitney Clayton that they don’t oppose civil unions or domestic partnerships.
The Church, however, stopped short of officially voicing approval of the ultimately unsuccessful Common Ground Initiative, a statewide gay rights package, which was supported by then-governor Jon Huntsman — who, it is worth noting as a Mormon, came out in full support of marriage equality in a column for the American Conservative earlier this year.
While the recent news of President Uchtdorf’s comments may encourage progressive church members who welcome the verbal endorsement of a stance on their side of the proverbial aisle, this does raise issues — in whatever way hair-splicers may splice hairs — with the church as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization offering official positions to specific political policies. Especially when considering the current political climate in and out of Washington that seems to say support of one policy over another is tantamount to a de facto endorsement of the party supporting it.
Either way, the contention of church members who fall into the partisan obedience complex, to appropriate Eisenhower’s catchphrase du jour, might be changing. Uchtdorf’s meeting with leaders and the president on the issue of immigration is certainly going to raise some eyebrows among members of the faith and members of the press alike. And the Church’s official involvement with an issue like immigration, which affects bishops and other members who have been deported for illegal status, may just be getting started.
If anything, we can be certain that unlike the Proposition 8 campaign, we won’t see the Mormon organizing machine mobilized for raising funds and going door-to-door to see Obama’s immigration initiative succeed.