Sunday, February 5, 2012

The LDS Church And Immigration: LDS Church Leaders Inspired But Not Infallible

Former Arizona State Senator Karen Johnson is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who has taken public issued with the Church's support of the Utah Compact for immigration. On News With Views, in an essay entitled "Where Did The LDS Church Go Wrong", Johnson takes issue with how the Church arrived at their position in support of the Utah Compact. She tells us that it began in the spring of 2011, when the LDS Church Public Communications Department issued three official statements on immigration. But while the statements may have been intended to clarify the Church's position, Johnson contend they actually further muddied the issue, suggesting that the mere fact that three statements were issued in quick succession implies that the statements themselves were either incomplete or incorrect, and required revision. In addition, Johnson believe the statements were hostile in tone toward state legislators, were filled with political propaganda, and contained conflicting contradictory messages.

The three statements in question:

-- "Presiding Bishop Attends Signing of Immigration Bills", March 15th, 2011

-- "A Principle-Based Approach to Immigration", March 17th, 2011. While this was a clarification statement, it was intended to correct misreporting by the Salt Lake Tribune.

-- "Immigration: Church Issues New Statement", June 10th, 2011. As of this post, this is the LDS Church's most current statement on immigration.

Karen Johnson is careful to avoid laying the blame upon the senior LDS Church leadership. Instead, she believes the responsibility lies upon the shoulders of some agenda-driven, politicized individuals who work in the Church Public Communications Department, from where the statements originated.

Unfortunately, a number of groups and people who were either ignorant about Mormonism or who are anti-Mormon seized upon these statements and the Church's endorsement of the Utah Compact and attempted to represent them as official "canon". During the recall election campaign between Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce and Jerry Lewis, which Lewis eventually won, those opposing Pearce tried to split the considerable LDS community in Mesa by claiming that Pearce was out of harmony with Church "doctrine" on immigration.

But are the Church's statements on immigration really "doctrine" or "canon"? Karen Johnson provides a good explanation as to why this is not so, and how some members of the LDS Church wrongfully attribute inerrancy to any statement issued by a senior Church leader:

It's important to understand that the LDS Church does not claim infallibility for its church leaders. There is no Pope. Its leaders, including the Church President, are mortal men subject to mortal weakness and error. Many LDS Church members, however, have the mistaken belief that every word uttered by a church leader comes straight from God. This infantile attitude excuses church members from having to think for themselves and figure things out. It absolves them from having to study, ponder, and make hard decisions about political issues and candidates. It places undue burdens on Church leaders to carefully weigh every word they write or speak. Finally, it places serious burdens on legislators when Church members think the lawmakers are not being sufficiently obedient to the perceived wishes of the church. Elected officials are not obliged to follow the opinions of Church leaders in making policy decisions.

Some members also believe that anything that comes from within spitting distance of the church's headquarters in Salt Lake City is divinely inspired and not open to question or debate. That, of course, is ridiculous. Church employees are human beings. They have weaknesses. They make mistakes. They have opinions. Some of them apparently have political agendas.

The bottom line: Although Church leaders are inspired, that doesn't make them infallible. Statements like this one, which was published as a Ward Teachers Message in the Deseret News Church Section, p. 5, on May 26th, 1945, have been misinterpreted and misrepresented to mean blind obedience to the leadership:

"Any Latter-day Saint who denounces or opposes whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the prophets, seers, revelators' of the church, is cultivating the spirit of apostasy. One cannot speak evil of the lord's anointed... and retain the holy spirit in his heart. This sort of game is Satan's favorite pastime, and he has practiced it to believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory when he can get members of the church to speak against their leaders and to do their own thinking."

"When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan -- it is God's Plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give directions, it should mark the end of controversy, God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God."

It turns out that then-Church President George Albert Smith disavowed the statement, saying that it did not express the true position of the Church. President Smith noted that the Lord gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This is plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow. Furthermore, the key word in the above statement is "doctrine"; the Church may have a political position on immigration, but it is not a doctrine.

Thus a member of the Church can publicly express a different position on immigration with NO IMPACT upon worthiness. Of course, if that Church member were to go so far as to publicly criticize the senior leadership and claim that the were leading the Church astray, that would cross the line separating constructive criticism from apostasy.

The Brethren may be inspired, but they are hardly infallible, and make no claim to infallibility.

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