Thursday, April 2, 2009

Compassion Vs. Compliance: Latter-Day Saints Grapple With The Issue Of Illegal Latino Immigrants Within The Ranks, Particularly In Arizona

While the California Proposition 8 campaign uncovered sharp differences within the ranks of Latter-day Saints over gay marriage, a quieter dispute over illegal immigrants in the Church is brewing, particularly in the front-line state of Arizona. It's a dispute between compassion vs. compliance. Read the full story in the Arizona Republic.

In Arizona and elsewhere, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the fastest-growing denominations in the country, and much of that growth is coming from Latino immigrants. The Church teaches that many of the Amerindians on the American continents are descendants of one of the leading Book of Mormon tribes, the Lamanites, and many Latinos who have Amerindian blood find this attractive. Also a factor is the LDS emphasis on family and community, also at the center of Latino culture. There are now about 7,000 Latino Mormons in greater Phoenix alone, and nationwide, it is estimated that 70 percent of all Latino converts in the past 10 to 15 years are illegal immigrants.

The Latino outreach has provoked conflict within LDS ranks because the majority of the Latino converts are illegal immigrants, and their disposition bumps up against the Twelfth Article of Faith, which states, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law".

Compassion advocates such as Brigham Young University professor Ignacio Garcia claim that some LDS members have been influenced by "anti-immigrant" rhetoric. "What has happened among a good number of LDS members is that they have been shaped by the Republican Party of the last 40 years. They gravitate to the Republican Party, and the party has become very anti-immigrant, culture-wars-oriented", said Professor Garcia.

Compliance advocates, most notably Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), are not anti-immigrant, but believe a Church that officially preaches obedience to the law shouldn't be winking at the law in the name of "compassion". Pearce has spearheaded a crackdown on illegal immigrants in Arizona, attracting the ire of Phoenix New Times blogger Stephen Lemons, who has waged a vicious and persistent smear campaign against Pearce, attempting to link him with a wide variety of national socialists and other pro-White activists in the area. The Phoenix New Times is considered more suitable for litter boxes and bird cages rather than for human consumption.

But Pearce doesn't believe his fellow Mormons are undermining his efforts by reaching out to Latinos. "They are not providing sanctuary policies for them, unlike some folks who hide behind their religious status and are (promoting) sanctuary policies. This church simply doesn't ask (about immigration status)". But while this is not an active sanctuary policy, it could be considered a passive sanctuary policy.

Mark Bassett, president of the LDS Mesa mission, confirms the LDS Church has no particular policy towards illegals. "Our position is to invite everyone to learn more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his plans for his children independent of national origin. We don't know what their immigration status is. We are not the government or the police". Likewise, individual missionaries don't inquire about immigration status when prosletyzing, and bishops do not question immigration status during worthiness interviews.

Of the 186 missionaries assigned to the Mesa mission, the largest in the state, 52 are Spanish speakers. Their work has helped grow the number of Spanish-speaking Mormon congregations in the Phoenix area from fewer than five a decade ago to more than 30 today. The majority of the Spanish-speaking congregations are in Mesa, which was founded by Mormon settlers in the late 1800s, but congregations have also sprouted in Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Peoria, Glendale, Chandler, Queen Creek and Gilbert. Three new area temples are being constructed in Gila Valley, Gilbert, and Phoenix to augment an overburdened temple in Mesa.

In the final analysis, the illegal immigration problem is best dealt with politically. Bishops and stake presidents shouldn't be put in the position of being enforcers. But if LDS business owners are caught deliberately employing illegals, they should be subject to Church discipline after the justice system is done with them.

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