Politics and the Church
Two recent events have caught my attention. While each of them deserves to be fully explored in separate posts, I am combining them to ask a bigger question about the Church’s involvement in shaping public policy.
This past year Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. has been pushing a tax reform package through the Utah State Legislature. One of the hotly contested measures was eliminating deductions for charitable giving. Lawmakers debated the provision for over five months without reaching a consensus. Then one day last September the LDS Church sent a representative to Utah’s Capitol Hill to read a statement before the committee working on this reform. The statement urged lawmakers to preserve the tax deductions for charitable donations. The result? Governor Huntsman immediately reigned in his expert witnesses, and lawmakers scrambled to clarify the meaning of the church statement. Weeks later, new reforms were proposed that preserved these deductions. In all fairness, many charitable organizations opposed this measure, not just the Church (including the Utah Homeowner’s Association, AARP, Utah Issues, the United Way, the Utah Symphony, the Utah Education Savings Plan, and others). However, only the Church’s opposition to this idea stopped it dead in its tracks. Over 80% of Utah’s lawmakers are LDS and many admitted that the Church’s statement put them in a difficult situation. (To read more about this, click here and here).
More recently (last week), Senator Bennett inserted a provision into the Department of Agriculture’s appropriation bill that “shields religious groups from a federal law against knowingly transporting, concealing, harboring or shielding an illegal immigrant.” Bennett’s motivation? Prodding by LDS Church officials to allow illegal immigrants to serve as missionaries. Rep. Tom Tancredo attacked this policy today as a loophole that allows religious groups to abet terrorists through “church activities.” (See this article.)
Now, I am less concerned with the substance of these policies. I am sure there are good reasons to support or oppose them. What is interesting to me is how the Church has become more assertive in politics and seems to be straying from their policy of at least appearing neutral. The Church must obviously walk a fine line between advocacy for protective policies and putting LDS lawmakers in an awkward, if not untenable situation. Add to this confusion the following quote from this speech by Elder Russell Nelson at a conference in Kiev, Ukraine:
Therefore, care must be exercised to assure that government remains truly neutral in matters of religion, not only in lip service and constitutional guarantees, but also in impartial application of the law. Individuals and institutions are naturally inclined to seek preference over others, but the state must not yield to those inclinations. To discriminate in favor of one religion, using nonreligious labels such as "culture" or "history," is to discriminate against others.
What are your thoughts on the matter?