Monday, June 27, 2011

LDS Church Directs Full-Time General Authorities To Stay Out Of Political Campaigns, Avoid Making Donations And Don't Endorse Candidates

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has updated their statement on political neutrality to include directions to their top full-time leaders that they and their spouses should not participate in political campaigns, including making donations or endorsing candidates. This would also preclude them running for office, as former U.S. Senator Reed Smoot did back from 1903-33. This applies to full-time General Authorities, general auxiliary leaders, mission presidents and temple presidents. It does not apply to full-time Church employees, and also does not apply to Area Seventies, stake presidents and bishops, who may contribute, serve on campaign committees and otherwise support candidates of their choice with some restrictions.

The Salt Lake Tribune revealed that these instructions were issued on June 16th, 2011 in the form of a letter from the First Presidency to all Church leaders. That letter has been formally incorporated into the Church's statement on political neutrality:

"General Authorities and general officers of the Church and their spouses and other ecclesiastical leaders serving full-time should not personally participate in political campaigns, including promoting candidates, fundraising, speaking in behalf of or otherwise endorsing candidates, and making financial contributions.

"Since they are not full-time officers of the Church, Area Seventies, stake presidents and bishops are free to contribute, serve on campaign committees and otherwise support candidates of their choice with the understanding they:

* Are acting solely as individual citizens in the democratic process and that they do not imply, or allow others to infer, that their actions or support in any way represent the church.
* Will not use Church stationery, Church-generated address lists or email systems or Church buildings for political promotional purposes.
* Will not engage in fundraising or other types of campaigning focused on fellow Church members under their ecclesiastical supervision."

LDS spokesman Scott Trotter did not make any further comment on the letter after announcing it, which the Tribune believes leaves in question whether the policy includes campaigns for ballot initiatives, such as California’s Prop 8, to which LDS members donated heavily amid encouragement by church leaders. However, the statement reads "political campaigns", which would infer ALL political campaigns including those for ballot initiatives. The Church still reserves the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.

The fact that two LDS members, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr., are running for President of the United States may have prompted this decision. Senior LDS leaders don't want these two to become a bone of contention within Church ranks, while at the same time stimulating more open discussion. In addition, the new letter may help the church distinguish itself from other churches that endorse candidates and even hand out voter guides before elections. Furthermore, some of the more devout members of the Church tend to believe that "when the leadership speaks, the thinking has been done"; perhaps Church leaders want members to become less dependent upon them and more dependent upon local leaders and the Holy Spirit.

Mormon Matters lists nine other LDS members or former members who ran for president. One of them, Ezra Taft Benson, sought to become George Wallace's running mate for the American Independent Party (AIP) ticket in 1968 when his own campaign faltered. President David O. McKay denied Benson permission.

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