Each election year, the Church predictably issues statements affirming its political neutrality, which I find both refreshing and reassuring amid all of the mingling of scripture with the philosophies of men that we see in many churches. A few decades ago, during a presidential election season, President Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency stated the following at a BYU commencement address:
You young people are leaving your university at the time in which our nation is engaged in an abrasive and increasingly strident process of electing a president. I wonder if you would permit me, one who has managed to survive a number of these events, to pass on to you a few words of counsel.
First I would like you to be reassured that the leaders of both major political parties in this land are men of integrity and unquestioned patriotism. Beware of those who feel obliged to prove their own patriotism by calling into question the loyalty of others. Be skeptical of those who attempt to demonstrate their love of country by demeaning its institutions. Know that men of both major political parties who bear the nation’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches are men of unquestioned loyalty and we should stand by and support them, and this refers not only to one party but to all. Strive to develop a maturity of mind and emotion and a depth of spirit which enables you to differ with others on matters of politics without calling into question the integrity of those with whom you differ. Allow within the bounds of your definition of religious orthodoxy variation of political belief. Do not have the temerity to dogmatize on issues where the Lord has seen fit to be silent. (emphasis added)
This is one of my favorite quotes and is one that every member ought to read. The atmosphere in many wards and branches in the U.S. is outright hostile to anyone who does not ideologically conform to conservative politics. While I vehemently disagree with most of the political positions of the GOP candidates for president, I respect the right of any Church member to support the candidate they choose. I do not think that someone is immoral or an unworthy church member for supporting politicians such as Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, or Ron Paul, even while I personally believe that these candidates’ platforms lack a true Christian morality. I am also, as President Brown, advises, “skeptical of those who attempt to demonstrate their love of country by demeaning its institutions.” Any astute observer of the latest GOP debates will have seen these assaults on our country’s institutions. The latest salvo comes from Newt Gingrich as he recently pledged to abolish entire federal courts whose decisions he disagrees with. Rick Perry practically sunk his campaign during one of the debates when he couldn’t remember the three federal agencies he wanted to abolish as President. He eventually was able to recall them: Commerce, Education, and Energy.
Perry’s intent to abolish these departments shows that he is either extremely ignorant on the functions these departments perform or is simply lying in order to drum up support from the radicals who comprise the GOP base. The Commerce Department performs a plethora of important functions within its bureaus, but perhaps the most significant function is the one performed by the Constitutionally-mandated Census Bureau. It also runs the Patent and Trademark Office. Do Rick Petty realize and his supporters realize that you cannot have a market economy when property rights (especially intellectual property) aren’t enforced, and that patent and trademark laws are at the very heart of a capitalist economy? There are about 12 bureaus contained within the Commerce Department, most of which perform a core function in a market economy. Among the core functions of the Department of Energy is the responsibility to ensure that our nuclear power plants are operated safely. Is this something Republicans truly want us to abandon? Really? The DOE also runs the major nuclear weapons technology research labs including Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia. Governor Perry, a neoconservative, doesn’t even realize that his rhetorical campaign promise would strike at the heart of the U.S. nuclear defense strategy. There are those who would abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, who think that businesses shouldn’t pay for the costs of the pollution they emit. The amount of demeaning done to our country’s basic government institutions by the current crop of GOP candidates is horrifying.
President Brown also instructed that we should not dogmatize on issues where the Lord has seen fit to be silent. This means that we should avoid equating our opinions with gospel doctrine and mingling our own “philosophies of man” with scripture. Multiple church members justified the Iraq War to me on religious grounds, in essence saying that they supported the Iraq War because they believed this is how the Lord was going to bring the gospel to the Middle East. Such a dogmatic assertion is troubling on so many levels, particularly as it links the need to preach the gospel of Christ with the brutality of the Crusades of the Middle Ages, where war was waged to “spread” Christianity. I cannot think of a more un-christian outlook on missionary work.
Nonetheless, I hope that Church members heed the statements of General Authorities over the past several decades regarding political neutrality, which I believe are best summed up by the former assistant Church historian:
We as Latter-day Saints, above all people, must do two things to best promote responsible political debate: (1) study the issues on their merits, become as well informed as we possibly can, and vote for the candidate that most fully represents our personal convictions, and (2) debate the issues with such a combination of firmness and charity that while others know where we stand individually, and why, we do not at the time call into question their faith or patriotism and alienate them as brothers and fellow-citizens if they happen to disagree.