Mormon Church and Utah Politics

January 19, 2008 | 40 comments
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Wilfried noted this article, which says,

Before each general [Utah legislative] session, GOP and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate sit down separately with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints special affairs committee, a group made up of church general authorities, church public relations officials and their lobbyists, to discuss any items on the minds of both legislators and church leaders.

Does anyone know what other groups legislators of both parties meet with, to discuss issues of concern? Do the GOP and Democratics leaders in South Carolina have combined meetings with the Southern Baptist Convention?

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40 Responses to Mormon Church and Utah Politics

  1. Benjamin on January 19, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    That is disturbing. I understand that the Church is the largest social/religious group in the state, but if that is true its needs and aims should speak for themselves. We shouldn’t need a special group to prompt lawmakers on their way into session. Am I way off on this?

  2. Benjamin on January 19, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    By way of clarification: What’s disturbing isn’t that we need a group to tell lawmakers what issues are important to the Church. It’s disturbing that the Church wields that much relatively direct influence over state policy, when any influence should be wholly indirect, based solely on the fact that it is such a large percentage of state population and not on the input of a special group.

  3. Ray on January 19, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Benjamin, every large organization tries to make sure its voice is heard by the legislators. Every single one. If you are disturbed by this article, you would be appalled by what happens in the Deep South. There, many churches and denominations openly and blatantly push for specific legislation; they support candidates from the pulpit; they endorse candidates; and in numerous ways are FAR more active politically than the Mormon Church. There really is almost no comparison.

  4. Matt Evans on January 19, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Ray, do southern state legislative leaders from both parties meet with the Southern Baptist Convention before their legislative sessions? The deference given the church sounds unusual — especially if it’s annual and covers wide-ranging issues, as this column suggests.

  5. Mark D. on January 19, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Matt,

    First, the article says “separately”, not “combined”. Second, if the Church takes a position on anything, it makes the local news. This year there are a few things – the Church has expressed opposition to “alco-pops”, asked for humanity in legislation related to illegal immigration, and expressed concern about the rising cost of health care and the meth crisis. Hardly the stuff of burning political controversy.

  6. mlu on January 19, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Individuals, groups and organizations should feel very free to express their beliefs and desires to political leaders on all issues. I would also expect that organizations that represent a great many people would have a great deal of influence.

    As long as legislators’ votes are public, I’m not even bothered if many of the meetings are not public.

  7. jrl on January 19, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    I strongly disagree with Benjamin. My office (a prosecution agency of a state) has regular sit-downs with legislators about whatever is on our minds. So does any other large organization, public or private. This is NOT a necessary evil or an unseemly expedient. It is a very good thing to tell public representatives what our part of the public thinks. This practice is healthy and the fact that the Church does it is not only normal, but reassuring. I would be concerned if an organization with such a huge presence in a region did not care enough to communicate its concerns directly to its lawmakers.

  8. Ugly Mahana on January 19, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Do Utah lawmakers meet with other organizations in a similar manner?

  9. adcama on January 19, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    Ray, saying that the deep south is worse doesn’t make what happens in Utah good/right/any more tasteful.

    Of note, from lds.org:

    “The Church does not: attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader” (isn’t that what’s happening here?)

    “The Church does: reserve 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” (almost everything can be considered a moral issue or be viewed as having “significant community interest”).

    I guess that by claiming they don’t play in “partisan politics”, the church really isn’t saying much – but my biggest issue with this is who is paying for the lobbyists? (rhethorical question).

  10. Ray on January 19, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    adcama:

    ““The Church does not: attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader” (isn’t that what’s happening here?)”

    No, it’s not.

    I will say this once and once only. I have worked with government lobbyists. I have “inside” experience with lobbying. What the Church does is consistent with what ANY large organization does – and it is quite mild compared to what evangelical churches and denominations do. What the Mormon Church does is so different than what they do that there is no comparison. I want to be even more direct, but suffice it to say that, compared to other religious groups in this country, the Church is the shining example of restraint and proper decorum.

  11. William Morris on January 19, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    “What the Church does is consistent with what ANY large organization does”

    Absolutely. Every large organization — from non-profits to educational institutions to corporations — will send a delegation to the state capitol at least once a year — more often if they can afford. That delegation will almost always meet with legislators from both parties. Indeed, they’ll generally meet with any legislator who is willing to give them the time. And if the legislators aren’t available, they’ll meet with their staff members.

    And as has already been said, that’s always in addition to the activities of whatever lobbyists the organization may have hired.

  12. TMD on January 20, 2008 at 12:21 am

    Just to echo Ray, in the North East, the Catholic hierarchy has long been deeply involved with politics–various Archbishops and Cardinals use their presence at events as near endorsements, the Catholic Conference of Bishops puts out general voting guides, and most dioscesean newspapers run similar guides for local politicians. Both the UU’s and the Episcopal church have large political operations run out of their national organizations, addressing a wide range of political issues–just from a lefty side while…

  13. LRC on January 20, 2008 at 1:22 am

    The real question seems to me to be, “Do the legislators listen to the Church?”

    Church leaders can say all that they want to say, but the only influence they have over the lawmakers is the influence the lawmakers allow them to have. Utah voters (now) know that their state representatives are getting suggestions from religious leaders. Voters then have the responsibility to speak with their representatives and vote them in or out, depending on whether they think it’s good or bad that their representatives are/are not following the advice of religious authorities instead of (perhaps) representing their constituents’ interests.

    Any voters willing to re-elect lawmakers who listen to special interest groups too closely get what they deserve – government by lobbyists.

  14. Phouchg on January 20, 2008 at 1:51 am

    Before each general [Massachusetts legislative] session, GOP and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate sit down separately with The Archdiocese Of Boston’s special affairs committee, a group made up of Cardinal O’Malley and his auxiliary bishops, church public relations officials and their lobbyists, to discuss any items on the minds of both legislators and church leaders.

    What kind of reaction would the above paragraph generate?

  15. Mark D. on January 20, 2008 at 2:04 am

    I don’t think the problem is listening to special interest groups. The problem is legislators who adopt the legislative agenda of such groups without an adequate evaluation of each item in terms of the general interest. Legislators should be smarter than than the groups that feed them legislation.

    One possible countermeasure would be to establish redistricting laws with the specific goal of eliminating so called ‘safe’ districts, to the degree that is possible.

  16. Matt Evans on January 20, 2008 at 2:11 am

    Phouchg,

    The equivalent wouldn’t be the MA legislature meeting with the Archdiocese of Boston, but a legislative body made up of 80% mostly-devout Catholics meeting with Cardinals from the Vatican.

  17. Matt Evans on January 20, 2008 at 2:04 am

    What’s described here doesn’t sound like lobbying, lobbyists have a specific agenda. The UEA wants the voucher bill spiked, wants teacher salaries raised, etc. The purpose of this meeting appears to be wide open, and an invitation for the church to vet the legislative agenda and give the representatives their blessing. The only issue we’re told they discussed, immigration reform, has nothing to do with the church. State reps presumably don’t float their bills about wetland preservation by the UEA, and if the legislators did start floating ideas past the UEA that didn’t directly concern them, we would rightly worry about the UEA’s influence, no?

    The church is a moral authority to most Utah legislators, and we should want the legislators to distinguish the church’s moral authority from their role as a constituent in a plural society. There’s an inherent conflict of interest having general authorities lobby Mormon legislators on behalf of the church, comparable to a lobbyist father lobbying his legislator son.

    (Of course one possibility is that this was really a throw away line, something said after a goofy representative asked the church to bless their immigration bill. The church would always want them to show compassion, and to treat everyone humanely. The issue is whether the church intended something more specific than simply, “do what is best.” The journalist appears to believe the church’s statement was substantive.)

  18. Bill MacKinnon on January 20, 2008 at 3:34 am

    Just for the record, the Archbishop of Boston IS usually “a Cardinal from the Vatican.” I think Ray’s stated the facts accurately, although I think that in #8 Ugly Mahana has put his/her finger on a very important qualifier. Do UT’s legislators listen to other important state interest groups in this way, or is only the one institution sought out? . Also, as a matter of symbolism, do the legislators go to the COB for these discussions or do they receive such constituents in their offices — the symbolism speaks volumes, whatever the answer is. Do UT’s legislators meet with labor groups in such a way? With the editorial board of the Salt Lake “Tribune”?

    The UT/MA and LDS/R.C. parallels are very intriguing ones, because both churches have had such a huge representation among their state’s and commonwealth’s population. Where the comparison breaks down a bit is that Massachusetts is not the seat of the Roman Catholic Church in the way that UT is of the LDS Church, although the Cardinal/Archbishop of Boston held incredible sway there in the 20th century as a “Prince of the Church.” At one time in the late 20th century, the U.S. House of Representatives included Father Robert Drinan, who represented a district (not Boston) in Massachusetts. He was an extraordinarily bright (and electable) Jesuit. For years he used to attend sessions of the House attired in clerical garb and refused to leave his elected office until finally ordered to do so by the Vatican. As I roamed the corridors of the Massachusetts State House during the winter of 1961-62 I saw an awful lot of photos of Richard Cardinal Cushing, the Kennedy family’s personal religious advisor, staring down at me from legislators’ office walls. Even the Massachusetts Air National Guard squadrons out at Logan Airport received an annual visitation and blessing from Archbishop Cushing (the F-86 Sabers and F-100 Phantoms all had shamrock decals on their noses) as did the fishing fleet that operated out of the North Shore ports.

  19. queuno on January 20, 2008 at 3:43 am

    Do southern state legislative leaders from both parties have a combined meeting with the Southern Baptist Convention before their legislative sessions?

    No, but then again, the SBC doesn’t really control a single state. The Church, however, has its fortunes largely married to those of a handful of states, though, and Utah is one of them.

    I will say this once and once only. I have worked with government lobbyists. I have “inside” experience with lobbying. What the Church does is consistent with what ANY large organization does – and it is quite mild compared to what evangelical churches and denominations do. What the Mormon Church does is so different than what they do that there is no comparison. I want to be even more direct, but suffice it to say that, compared to other religious groups in this country, the Church is the shining example of restraint and proper decorum.

    Ray, Ray, Ray, I’m glad you’re only saying this once.

    I don’t have the same insider status, but I have family members who are lobbyists. It’s a dirty, dirty business. Saying the Church is a comparative example of restraint is no defense. What’s the Church’s batting average with the Utah legislature in recent years?

    The Church doesn’t really need to have the formal meetings with Utah legislators. Just put out statements and the same effects will be had.

  20. mlu on January 20, 2008 at 4:06 am

    Hmm. The idea that people would be offended by an organization speaking to legislators in a democracy seems a bit–um–bonkers.

    When did this corruption of trying to influence the government get started? Isn’t it an infringement on the divine right of congress?

  21. adcama on January 20, 2008 at 9:03 am

    mlu, if it were only that cut and dry.

    Matt said it perfectly – “there’s an inherent conflict of interest having general authorities lobby Mormon legislators on behalf of the church, comparable to a lobbyist father lobbying his legislator son.”

    Many of us have experience with lobbyists, Ray, and from that experience comes the raised eyebrows.

  22. It's Not Me on January 20, 2008 at 11:42 am

    I’m just wondering: if the Church cannot convinced more than about 45% of its members to attend sacrament meeting, and a little higher percentage to do their home teaching, what makes us believe they have total control over individual legislators?

  23. Lulubelle on January 21, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    My biggest issue with this is not that the Church is meeting with lawmakers, but that the Church says over and over and over again that it stays out of politics. Other churches make no effort to do so– in fact they blatantly lobby and speak out on a wide variety of issues. The Church should either stay out of politics at all times or it should stop saying that they do but then do so in some cases (i.e. immigration laws, marriage laws). To do otherwise is disingenous at best.

  24. Trenden on January 21, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    I can’t understand what could possibly be wrong with the Church pushing for it’s interests. Isn’t that how democracy works? People and groups of people assemble into groups and organizations and petition their elected government officials to pass legislation supporting their values or interests. That’s democracy! Sometimes it’s pretty and sometimes it’s ugly… but that’s how it works.

  25. Lulubelle on January 21, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Trenden, The problem is not how Democracy works but the church saying it doesn’t influence politics, pick political candidates, etc is not exactly true. That’s my problem. with it anyway.

  26. Ray on January 21, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Lulubelle, you are conflating two very different things. The Church takes a stance of political neutrality **in elections**. It does NOT “pick political candidates”. However, it never has stayed out of politics – and it never has said it “stays out of politics” – and it shouldn’t do so. The Church would be absolutely stupid to “stay out of politics”.

  27. Reppat on January 21, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Ray, don\’t you think it\’s odd that general church leaders meet with lawmakers (many of whom) are members of the church, to express the church\’s will on issues related to a public who may or may not share the ideals of the church – and then those lawmakers raise their hands to sustain the leaders they met with earlier in the year as prophets, seers and revelators? Isn\’t that scenario much different than politicians meeting with \’any other group\’ as part of the democratic process….?

  28. Ray on January 22, 2008 at 1:10 am

    Nope, not at all, when it comes to other religious leaders and politicians who accept them as religious leaders. From everything I’ve seen in MA and AL and OH, and from everything I’ve read about the subject, I sincerely believe that what the Church does is mild in most ways compared to what many other large religions do – and I think it would be irresponsible of the Church NOT to express opinions directly to the legislators about political issues that it feels directly address issues that would have a direct impact on its members spirituality – when that mechanism is standard modus operandi for everyone else.

    It can’t condemn state-sponsored gambling directly to the legislators, since that’s a political issue? It can’t speak out to them against alcohol that is packaged to appear to be soda? It can’t speak out to them about other issues that are “just social” in some people’s minds? It’s supposed to remain silent while other groups express opposing views directly to the legislators? I just don’t see it that way.

  29. Reppat on January 22, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Do other groups have the same expectation of obedience to their leaders?

    So you’re saying that SLC is the deep south of the mountain west, but that’s ok because u agree with the church?

    Isn’t the viability of all good government based on checks and balances? Seems like there are good reasons for that….

  30. Ray on January 22, 2008 at 9:28 am

    #29 –

    1) Yes.

    2) Not at all. I’m saying churches should express their views to politicians. I’m also saying the Mormon Church does this far less and in a far more restrained manner than what I have seen in other states from other religions.

    3) Yes. Agreed. Don’t think it’s relevant in this situation. Don’t think churches should remain silent on political issues.

    So, are you saying that churches should not express their views on political issues to the politicians who write the laws?

  31. Ardis Parshall on January 22, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Reppat, your argument is 150+ years old, and its logical conclusion is to disfranchise all Mormons:

    Mormons believe we are led by a prophet, which means
    Mormons are not free to think and act for ourselves, which means
    Mormons lack the fundamental capacity for American government. Therefore,
    Mormons must be barred from voting or holding office or other position of public trust.

    So far, you’re only applying this to the Utah state legislature, but logically it applies to all Mormons: A newspaper has informed us that church leaders call for a humane immigration policy; we now all magically know exactly what that means and precisely what actions best implement the principle, and we will — all of us — lockstep and in unison — cause the prophet’s will to be done. Right.

    Trouble is, even when we could count our non-Mormon political/judicial/legislative friends on the fingers of a single hand flipping us the bird, neither the courts nor Congress could quite stomach following through on the frenzied calls of the national mob to wholly and forever disfranchise us.

    So, do you have an argument that is better than the ones that failed generations ago?

  32. AHLDuke on January 22, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    I am a little uncomfortable with these kinds of direct face-to-face meetings. If the Church wants to have influence in Utah (which it hardly seems to need anyway), it could just do it through the members, since they are the ones that elect the leaders anyway. If there is something that is so important to the Church that the Utah legislature needs deal with it, then have them let the members apply the pressure (in their discretion of course). I am fine if pastors and leaders of other faiths want to speak about politics from the pulpit, but the idea that they should get face time with the President, Congress, etc. because of their religious credentials is frightening. I was watching “Jesus Camp” the other night and one of the captions said that Ted Haggard, former President of the National Association of Evangelicals (the one who was caught having sex and doing drugs with a male prostitute), had weekly phone calls with President Bush. If that disturbs me, why should this behavior by our church concern me less? Just because I think we have the correct doctrine and the restored priesthood? Hardly.

  33. AHLDuke on January 22, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Also, the argument that “they do it too and more!” is not, in my mind, an argument in favor of this kind of influence-wielding, particularly if one disagrees with how “they” have (ab)used their own influence.

  34. reppat12 on January 22, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Actually, Ardis, that’s not my argument at all. My argument is that ALL religions (not just all mormons) should be careful to speak for god in matters of politics and that politicians should be careful to allow religious groups speak for god when it comes to public policy.

  35. Adam Greenwood on January 22, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    I am a little uncomfortable with these kinds of direct face-to-face meetings.

    I can see the point of it. There’s no particular reason why the Church should try to dictate a position on immigration, for example, but it certainly is in the church’s interest that Mormon legislatures not rhetorically demonize illegal aliens even if they do act against them in various ways.

  36. Ardis Parshall on January 22, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Pardon my misunderstanding, reppat — it was an obvious mistake for me to make, given your statement that

    those lawmakers raise their hands to sustain the leaders they met with earlier in the year as prophets, seers and revelators

    which, so far as I am aware, pertains only to LDS lawmakers. But since Mormonism is a subset of the universe of religions against which you caution us, your “logic” still disfranchises us, and I’m still waiting for an argument which justifies that.

  37. reppat12 on January 22, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Using religious language (prophets, seers and revelators) should be valid here, Ardis, since we are talking about Utah politics and mormonism. When I was referring to other “groups” above, it was in the tone of groups of lawyers, groups of doctors, groups of steel workers, groups of teachers – meeting with politicians – none of whom claim to speak for god. The church (and other religious organizations) are not like other groups in that regard….thus the futility of using the “other groups do it, why shouldn’t we” argument. As for your accusations of my “logic” disenfranchising you…..hmmmm……

  38. Jason Richards on January 23, 2008 at 8:25 am

    I’m puzzled. The precedent of LDS Church officials lobbying government officials was well established by Joseph Smith. The Lord commanded the Church to lobby the government in D&C 101 cf D&C 134 also History of the Church 6:116.

    How is this controversial? The prophets have been haranguing government officials since the days of King Saul. It’s part of their calling.

  39. Matt on January 23, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    All – The situation is simple as I see it. The mission of the church is to preach the true gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. It is also to stand up and fight any evil forces that prevent it from performing its duty of preaching the gospel. The problem we\’re having today is that satan is serious about controlling governments, armies, finance and all those who walk the face of the earth. If you understand that basic pretense then you can begin to understand why the LDS Church does what it does. It\’s easy to be critical about what the LDS Church does or doesn\’t do but one needs to see the big picture. Few see that picture and I\’m not saying that I do! I\’m no better than any of you.

    For years I felt that the LDS Church had no business getting involved in local, state or national politics until I realized that it was critical for them to do so. The Lord sees the works of the \”secret combinations\” , and yes, they\’re here in Utah as well, and He desires for them to be uprooted and exposed for what they are. We have senators from Utah that are part of the problem and not the solution.

    Today, in our country, we all can see that our governmental leaders have sold us out to big corporations. They have buried us in a national debt, devalued the dollar, caused a huge housing market crash, allowed the illegal migration to occur, have begun the effort to regionalize Canada, the United States and Mexico and are attempting to slowly require us to lose our free agency. As I see it, the LDS Church is a beacon to the world offering true peace through political and spiritual action.

    There is not one other religious organization that can hold a candle to what the LDS Church has done in the past, what it is doing today and what it will do in the future. Our own government fears the LDS Church because of what it has become. The only reason it has become what it has is because the Lord is at its head and is leading it down the correct path.

    The fruits of the LDS Church can be seen in every part of the world. True, some members of the church do or say things that are wrong or offensive to others. Sometimes their actions are immoral, unethical or otherwise. One cannot judge the LDS Church based upon what one or more persons has done or not done, said or not said. Hey, I have a friend that was a Stake President and is now in Federal prison. He made bad choices and is now paying the price. We have to be smart enough to know that we all have faults and are imperfect. We should not judge anything the LDS Church does based upon what a small group of \”bad apples\” does or doesn\’t do.

    I\’ve seen the Lord in action in years past. Years ago Elder Neal A. Maxwell and my sister ( a high official in the Department of State) worked together to obtain property which was seized in Western Central Africa by rebels. To understand and see how the Lord worked in that situation was amazing. In the end the only properties released by the rebels were those owned by the LDS Church. No one, except a few, even knew about the situation or how it turned out. Knowing wasn\’t necessary. The Lord had it all quietly under control.

    My comments are not meant to upset or offend anyone. They are not meant to induce more discussion either. They are simply meant to give my perspective on certain issues. They are simply what I believe as a convert to the LDS Church and based upon my unique experiences over the years.

    I saw first-hand the things the LDS Church did post Hurricane Andrew in South Florida. I know that no other religious organization came close to providing relief supplies to the degree that the LDS Church did. It was unreal and amazing!

    As a Patriot, two-time veteran and a member of the LDS Church I count my blessings each and every day for having been born in this country. I\’m grateful that my children have the oportunites they have to grow and develop in Utah. I\’m grateful that other can see the big picture and take action to solve the problems instead of creating more.

    Open your eyes and awaken to our awful situation in this country. Know that if we, the people, don\’t stand up and say \”no\” more often we are going to fade away as a Republic and as a free people. The Lord knows exactly what He\’s doing and how best to achieve His goals. We do not!

    Thanks to those in charge of this Blog for letting me render a few words from my heart and mind.

  40. AHLDuke on January 30, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Jason,

    The lobbying example from D&C is not a very good one. Those were specific instances where they were asking for relief from the government for the persecutions that were going on. It was necessary for the survival of the Church (well except for the fact that no relief was forthcoming). But I don’t think you can argue that the Church is in any danger in the state of Utah. No need to defend itself on home turf.