Neutrality

During this particularly awful political moment, I allow myself a sigh of relief when I read news articles about Evangelical leaders and institutions embracing the current president. Whatever Trump’s approval ratings may tell us, we have nothing qualitatively similar to Franklin Graham’s and Liberty University’s unabashed support of the president—or to the agonizing this has caused among politically dissenting Evangelicals of various kinds. Fortunately for me, the Latter-day Saints are better known for supplying a handful of prominent anti-Trump conservatives like Mitt Romney, Jeff Flake, and Evan McMullin, and I’ve been spared the spectacle of my church leaders putting their ministries and institutions at the service of the Trump presidency.

At the same time, it’s probably for the best that church leaders have not issued the same kind of condemnation of Trump as the Episcopal leaders of the National Cathedral have, no mater how tempting I find the idea. Trump is a gross person and a terrible president who is spreading evil in the world and making the USA a weaker and more divided country, and I would like nothing more than some Old Testament-style prophetic proclamation of divine wrath upon the head of state, like Nathan upon David or Samuel upon Saul.

But as tempting as that thought is, I fear the consequences. I have friends and family members who support Trump and identify strongly with him, and it is true that he has delivered measurable progress on some issues that they care about. (Guys, appointing a raft of conservative judges isn’t worth it, any more than gaining the world while losing your soul, but that’s a topic for another time.)

The American demographic most at risk of leaving the church — young men, and since we’re talking about church members, that’s mostly young white men — is also a demographic with considerable support for Trump, and a demographic at risk of drifting into toxic milieus and destructive activities if they are rejected by the institutions that help integrate them into society. While it is deeply satisfying to imagine the prophet laying down righteous wrath on Trump, the fallout, in my ward and my family, from kicking Trump supporters in the teeth could be immense. As much as I regret to say it, it’s fortunate that church leaders haven’t denounced the president.

So the church continues, keeping up traditional appearances and pushing back where it must. A choir performance here, a statement supporting humane treatment of immigrants there, a firm correction about the incompatibility of the gospel and white supremacy when necessary. It would be nice if this were over soon, but there’s no guarantee that it will ever change. Hands-off, arms-length neutrality seems dissatisfying until you consider the cost of writing off half your ward members and nearly half the people in your community.

59 comments for “Neutrality

  1. Bruce T. Forbes, Jefferson, Oregon
    August 25, 2019 at 11:52 pm

    “Neutrality” is an interesting title for an article so totally biased against someone. It looses all credibility when you express your desire for divine wrath to make an appearance. As someone who has been assaulted in a grocery store parking lot for refusing to join in a protest against our current administration, I see your attitude alone making you unworthy of using the word Neutral.

  2. GEOFF -AUS
    August 26, 2019 at 1:03 am

    I am not neutral either.
    Basically you are saying the right and moral thing for the church leaders to do is to condemn Trump for his sexual immorality, racism, white supremacy, the way he treats people, and particularly refugees, and what he makes acceptable at home and abroad, but it would probably upset too many members.
    As an overseas member, one of my problems is that the leadership haven’t , and two is that members voted for him. I question the morality of both groups.
    The church claims to get involved in moral issues. This is as big a moral issue as there is.
    And principles compatible with the gospel can be found in various parties. A zion society where there are no poor and the rich are controlled, and Christs teachings about caring for the needy. Removing services to the poor to fund tax cuts for the super rich. Looks to me like a moral problem.
    That along with gerrymandered electorates., and ways to make it difficult for the poor to vote. To retain power.

    If the church does not consider trump a moral problem, and his policies, they have no moral credibility. If they don’t speak out who will? His behaviour affects more than America, he destroys climate change efforts, he destroys world trade, he destroys the moral authoriy of the west. And immigration. Also extreme leaders follow his example.

    Most of the first world is politically closer to the democrats. Even our conservative parties, would not question universal health care, or the right of a woman to birth control, or an abortion up to 22 weeks, Or gay marriage. Which makes it incomprehensible that people who claim to live a high moral standard, vote for trump.

  3. Mark N.
    August 26, 2019 at 1:32 am

    I vaguely seem to recall a scripture somewhere about lukewarmness and spewing. I wonder if it’s relevant.

  4. Basil O Smith
    August 26, 2019 at 4:30 am

    Jonathan, if you(we) got back to basics viz following the Saviour’s example, it would shed more light than heat on your quandary, whether “the Church”, its leadership or its membership should up the level of its “condemnation” and/or criticism of the current US president. The Roman government of the Saviour’s day was unjust, totalitarian, discriminating, amoral, plotting, evil, etc., etc as a government could be.
    There was probably just cause for criticism, protest, insurrection, rebellion and even civil war yet best/worst the Saviour would utter (relating to Herod Antipater, Rome’s elected representative, the very person responsible for the recent execution of His cousin, John) was to refer to Herod as “that fox”.

    Enough said…don’t you think?

  5. ji
    August 26, 2019 at 6:43 am

    I’m with Basil. Jesus didn’t condemn the government of his day. Rather, he taught a higher law of personal righteousness to those who would listen. It is appropriate for Jesus’ church today to do similarly.

    It is unseemly, uncharitable, and unchristian for some Saints to hate other Saints for their voting during the last election.

    We can do our best to live the gospel in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

  6. August 26, 2019 at 9:15 am

    Bruce, I’m decidedly not neutral. I’m not sure where you got the idea that I was claiming to be neutral.

    Geoff, I’m decidedly not saying that church leaders should condemn Trump. That’s actually the opposite of what I’m saying.

    Mark N., being lukewarm and spewed out by American politics is probably a good thing for the church to aim for.

    Basil, I’m not sure I understand your comment. I don’t think church leaders should be more vocal in criticizing Trump.

    But (and this is in response to ji as well) while I think referring to Christ’s neutrality is relevant, it doesn’t end the discussion. In the Old Testament, the prophets intervened in politics several times, and in the Book of Mormon, church and government are intertwined in complicated ways. Is the right approach today neutrality and forbearance (yes, it is), or for the prophet to issue a solemn withdrawal of divine favor from Trump and dust his feet on the GOP? (Probably not, unfortunately, although it would be awesome.)

  7. Dsc
    August 26, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Geoff-Aus,

    You talk about morality and then go on to name specific policy positions. Trump is personally immoral. But so was Clinton (Bill). Climate change and immigration are important moral issues, but the solutions are political (and the Church has taken unusually specific policy positions with respect to immigration, albeit with plenty of room for disagreement among members). Trade is almost universally regarded as an issue for politicians, not a moral issue, unless you assume that every policy position that you take is a matter of morality (which, evidently, you do).

    People are not immoral merely because they disagree with you. As has been pointed out, Jesus didn’t get involved in the politics of his day, even though the political leaders were manifestly immoral. The Church gets more involved than that, but rightly so, when it does, it is typically measured and quite limited.

  8. August 26, 2019 at 9:29 am

    Jonathan did not say he was neutral; clearly he is not. He said the Church is neutral about the man, while supporting what it can and opposing what it must in specific points of policy.

    Nor is neutrality the same as being spew-worthy lukewarmness. Lukewarmness would be “Eh, it doesn’t matter. There is no difference between extremes; there are fine people on both sides — whatabout what the other side did?” Neutrality, rather, is leaving it up to each member of the Church to apply wisdom, gospel principles, agency, whatever criteria he thinks best, to take positions and to act. Even when the Church takes a stand — as in condemning white supremacy — individual members are free to support that counsel or to reject it and face the consequences, whether here or in eternity.

    It can be hard not to avoid negative feelings about the political decisions others make. The Church now forbids anyone to carry deadly weapons into its buildings, concealed or not, except by current law enforcement officers who are required by their positions to carry them. When a ward member has previously proclaimed his right to carry, and has declared he will never submit to the “tyranny” of anyone who would attempt to deprive him of his God-given right to be a threat to everyone around him, how can someone not be apprehensive, feel unsafe, and wonder whether such a ward member sitting behind him is obeying or defying the new requirement? That isn’t the same as hating such a person — nor is it hating to wonder how ward members could endorse any Administration policy or practice that seems to be in opposition to the gospel.

  9. UshalBcot
    August 26, 2019 at 11:47 am

    “Jesus didn’t condemn the government of his day.” Helmuth Huebener, Sonia Johnson, Kate Kelly and Sam Young and others didn’t condemn the Church in theirs.

  10. Nate GT
    August 26, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    I agree that the church should be neutral and I am very glad that they have. And the OP is not neutral, nor was he ever saying that he should be, just that the church should.

    Interesting observation on the demographic most likely to leave the church also being the demographic most likely to support Trump. I had never thought of it that way.

    Bruce, that’s despicable that you were assaulted for not protesting. Any and all violence should be condemned. However, statistically speaking the Trump supporters are the more violent ones. Trump has undoubtedly been the inspiration and motivation behind a lot of violence and acts of terrorism against immigrants and minorities.

  11. schlange
    August 26, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    I am certainly not neutral, and I believe that any Mormon who supports Trump out to have a psychiatric evaluation. But calling Mitt Romney and anti-Trump politician is a stretch. He had some strong words up front, but you watch, he’ll vote with Trump on almost everything and never give any real opposition to the man’s worst actions.

  12. ji
    August 26, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    I’m losing the bubble. Is this an anti-Trump thread, or a Church-should-be-neutral thread?

  13. August 26, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    Jonathan, one demographic observation. The study you cite about “The American demographic most at risk of leaving the church” focuses specifically on the appeal of Trump to non-college educated white males, but the white population of the American church is, on the basis of data that I’ve been shown but cannot find to link to at the moment, mostly middle- and upper-middle-class, with a strong college-educated contingent. Is that actually the demographic “most at risk of leaving the church”? My impression is that highest levels of inactivity are first-generation members of a poor, usually non-white, mostly non-college-educated background. I’m prepared to be education on this point, however.

  14. Owen
    August 26, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    Is this logic how we ended up remaining a segregated church until 1978? That may have saved us some older white members but has almost entirely lost us American blacks and countless others. How many of us worry that our children even now, 40 years later won’t leave the church over that chestnut? Similarly, maybe the current neutrality will save us some young, white males in the short term, but will it lose us more college-educated members and women? It isn’t clear to me that we’re in a net-win situation when the default assumption in our wards is that we are a right-wing people. One can quote President Benson’s paranoid alt-right nonsense on Sunday and still pretend to be politically neutral. And we have it from Bruce McConkie that intellectuals can’t be trusted, so we have to keep our science to ourselves on the Sabbath even when John Q. HighPriest begins talking about how the Ten Tribes reside in the center of the earth. From my vantage point, with four kids quickly entering the ages when all of this nonsense will start sounding awfully fishy, the slow-and-steady, don’t rock the boat approach to questions of political morality by the church is not very reassuring.

  15. Clark
    August 26, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Owen, aren’t your comments about 40 years out of date? Maybe that’s true in your ward, but all the figures you quote are from a long, long time ago – often the quotes in question from 50 years ago or more.

    Russell, I suspect you mean the Pew data. But that seems to portray us as fairly middle of the road. Of course defining middle class as a class rather than an economic category is tricky. When you and I were in college we were poor, but socially self-defined as middle class. Still, 47% of US members earn $50,000 or less. Even acknowledging the younger nature of the Church, that’s hard to call a middle class Church I think. Only 16% make over $100,000 (much of which economically still counts as middle class). Admittedly that leave 38% that seem unobjectionably middle class. Large, but not unusually so. This places us as Pew notes, “roughly in the middle of other religious traditions on the socioeconomic spectrum.”

    Jonathan, I won’t comment too much to the question directly. I suspect for most people the issue was tradeoffs. They may not like Trump but really dislike the Democratic opponent. I’d just note that in terms of change from the 2012 election Utah pulled back from GOP votes the most. That was discussed a lot after the 2016 election. It’ll be interesting to see how, after four years of troubling rhetoric and policy, how Mormons vote. I suspect the GOP will still get the lion’s share, but I’d be shocked if Trump beats his 2012 figures. (And that’s acknowledging big protest candidates in 2016) Critics often point to approval ratings, but I think that’s a complicated question as to whether they’re approving of the guy himself. Most poll respondents analyze the questions a bit more than that to get at the reason for the question. It’s also worth noting that Trump has alienated a lot of suburban voters – particularly college educated ones. A group that fits a large number of Utah Mormon voters.

  16. August 26, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    The main reasons I’ve heard from Evangelicals and similar believers for supporting Trump has been that the policies of the other sides would be so much worse–the socialism in particular. This doesn’t seem to address any real arguments, so it doesn’t advance the debate. Just partisan moaning.

  17. Deseret Defender
    August 26, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    Is there evidence that church leaders refrain from criticizing Trump to keep white men in the pews? Or is this just wishful thinking?

  18. Ardis
    August 26, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    Rather than wishful thinking, this question appears to arise from poor reading. Nowhere does Jonathan hint that the Church is neutral in order to keep white men in the pews — he merely observes that this might be one practical consequence of that neutrality.

  19. Deseret Defender
    August 26, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    The wishful thinking is mine, Ardis. No need to be testy.

  20. Rcj
    August 26, 2019 at 6:31 pm

    Why doesn’t the church just condemn Trump the way they condemned Hitler. :-\

  21. ji
    August 26, 2019 at 7:47 pm

    I’m glad the Church chooses to be neutral on almost all political matters. That leaves each of us, the members, free to be anxiously engaged as we choose.

  22. August 26, 2019 at 8:20 pm

    Ardis, yes, that’s what I’m getting at. Neutrality is difficult and unsatisfying. Trying to build Zion together with people who view the world in radically different ways is challenging and sometimes has some unhappy moments.

    Russell, I’d probably have to qualify my statement to make it defensible, and I don’t think I want to make my argument depend on that demographic being at the very top of the list. I think it’s still accurate to say that there’s a lot of overlap between the demographic of young, white, male, single, non-college-educated Trump supporters and those at a high risk of drifting away from activity.

    Which could lead Owen to reasonably ask: Why prioritize the feelings of Trump supporters rather than those of people usually pushed to the margins by young white men? Doesn’t neutrality drive away people, too?

    And my response to that reasonably question would be: No, neutrality doesn’t work like that. If apostles were regularly referring to Trump as a God-sent leader, or if they were regularly issuing condemnations of his thoughtless cruelties, it would clearly amount to taking sides one way or another. But if you’re demanding the church to support your condemnation or approval, you’ve probably lost sight of what the church is trying to provide. If the church isn’t providing the restored gospel, that’s a good reason to be dissatisfied with it. If it’s not supporting your preferred candidate or condemning the opposing side, it’s because you need to learn to love all those people, no matter how addled their political choices are.

    Rcj, here’s an honest question: What do you think was the optimal number of church members to die in concentration camps? If you think this number is zero, how would a statement of condemnation have served this goal? Should the church have condemned Hitler before outbreak of war, when world leaders were still trying to avoid war, or after, when it would have been irrelevant?

  23. ji
    August 26, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    “Trying to build Zion together with people who view the world in radically different ways is challenging and sometimes has some unhappy moments.”

    But it is wonderful in its diversity. When members are anxiously engaged in good causes of their own choosing and their own will, according to their own understandings, that is good and that is moving towards Zion. It is not necessary that all church members agree on the particulars of any political matter — indeed, that would be bad because there would be compulsion involved somewhere. My closest friends in my ward voted differently than I did, and we’re still friends!

  24. Rcj
    August 26, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    JG. You did a nice job of defending the church’s silence on Hitler before during and after the war. Nice work. Things have changed since the Old Testament times where prophets gave the uncomfortable & dangerous message to kings & tyrants or even in Kimballs time where he reformed the church’s stance on blacks & the Priesthood, and came out against the era and raised his voice about proliferation of nuclear weapons.. Most of the church rallied behind the prophet on those messages. I suspect they would rally behind Brother Nelson if he chose to openly condemn the misogyny, the lying, & the violence endorsed by this president. But I could be wrong.

  25. Mortimer
    August 26, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    ji, the church is in no way shape or form neutral. It sends lobbyists to most states, and has a contingent of GA relatives:lobbyists in DC. You would be shocked at the volume and variety of issues the church has weighed in on over the years.

    So why then is our primary general president not using her voice on a daily basis on behalf of the children I’m cages at the border? She is instead gushing over the president in the rose garden in an LDS prayer during the national day of prayer. The church supported hobby lobby in the landmark scotus trial, denying women critical access to healthcare (for acne, birth control, endometriosis, PCOS, and several other severe conditions) in order to not suffer any downstream consequences or cede one inch of precious “religious freedom” territory. Last week Pence had a closed-door meeting with two apostles and a 70, where Elder Ballard gave him the key to sucuring votes among the Mormons, “faith, family and freedom”. These weren’t three little words, this was an expensively research Che’s formula delivered in the exemplary simple terms proven to resonate with us. Were dems given the key to voters? Don’t make me laugh. When the choir sang at the inauguration after most performers declined on ethical grounds, was it just music? No, it was symbolic endorsement to a membership trained with over 150 years of wink and nod communication amidst heavy anti-Mormon scrutiny. Was it just news that the church’s PR department blasted video of the FP smiling with 45 at welfare square -with “all is well” handshakes in between conference sessions? Prop 8 anyone? I could go back- all the way to prohibition, all the way to Joseph”s presidential run, but there isn’t time. The church is partisan, it’s deeply political, often clandestinely, but as the song in Hamilton says, it is usually “in the room where it happened” with decisions made solely by geriatric republican men. Sorry, just because “neutrality” letters are read over the pulpit about 2x a year, doesn’t mean SL is neutral.

    So how should its decisions be made? Jonathan Green posed, how many saints would have been acceptable concentration camp deaths- insinuating that the church’s neutrality and even passive support of the Third Reich saved lives. The problem is that the question is fundamentally flawed. We had an obligationnit to not just preserve ourselves, but to stand up for our neighbors. The first freedom lost, the first separated family, the first torture, death, was inexcusable, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, nationality, etc. There’s something fundamentally wrong with a morality that is wholly self-serving and preservationist, but fails to stand up when a neighbor is harmed. Seems to miss the point of Christianity, of “no greater love”.

    So should the church I’ve spoken up in the early days of Trump prior to this point when families are galvanized in wards and even at risk for ripping themselves apart? Seems like an obvious yes.

    So – right on Mark N! This is exactly the type of “lukewarm” or silence that should be spat out. Sorry/ whether someone does nothing due to “neutrality” when action is morally called for, or someone decides to engage in a “proactive wait and see” with liaise faire pseudo leadership and does nothing, is by action and the result is the same.

  26. Roger Hansen
    August 27, 2019 at 12:58 am

    Dividing people along ethnic or religious lines is despicable. Church leaders welcomed Trump, but largely ignored the Dalai Lama (one of the world’s foremost proponents of Peace). The Church has ceded any moral high ground.

  27. Dsc
    August 27, 2019 at 1:15 am

    Trump is a terrible person. He’s bad for the country on a cultural and political level. Having said that, he’s not Hitler. Not even close. Pretending that he is minimizes the evil of the Nazi party. He is not so terrible that the Church ought to disavow it’s traditional respect for the office of the executive of the country that hosts its headquarters. The Church hosted presidents visiting Utah from JFK to Carter to Obama. None of those meetings implied anything other than a show of goodwill to the person holding the highest office in the land.

  28. Roger Hansen
    August 27, 2019 at 2:33 am

    Church leaders met with Trump and Pence. They didn’t discuss important issues, they just glad handed. What a waste.

  29. Mortimer
    August 27, 2019 at 7:24 am

    Dsc, Trump has studied Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler and has complimented and quoted them at different times. He admires their strength, control and leadership and openly said so during the campaign. He bears a striking resemblance to Hitler in the early years, stoking fears, scapegoating, fanning white supremicist ideas, inciting nationalistic agression, and playing upon the economically disadvantaged. With such intentional emulation in word, but also in action with the expansion of home-grown concentration camps (where health and sanitation and nutrition are woefully lacking, and deaths due to conditions have occurred), the comparison is warranted. Although systematic executions have not taken place, calling out the the evil that has taken foot-hold (as it did in the early years of pre WWII) is valid. Should we simply wait to see evil fully bloom to finally say- “huh-that pattern seemed familiar, but until the world fell into chaos, it wasn’t fair to raise an alarm or make such a rash comparison.”

    The oft cited admonishment to not compare anything to the great evil of Hitler or Stalin least their heinousness is diminished is as superstitious and as blinding to dangers as wizards insisting that they not say Voldernort’s name, even to acknowledge blarring evidence of his return, least he return.

    The fact that the much of the same groundwork is being laid now, and not just by some lowly voice from a war-torn country, but an internationally untwined supposed billionaire already holding the highest office in the land who also is acknowledged as the leader of the free world, should be a scale big enough to warrant concern and comparisons to other world leaders. With utmost respect for our country and its offices, the men and women who occupy them should be accountable and upstanding in those positions of power. This despot is not. The fact that the church has remained silent, shown symbolic support for this administration, and even provided actual lobbying and strategic help is ceding our morality.

  30. ji
    August 27, 2019 at 7:59 am

    Mortimer, Please help me — I was intrigued by “Che’s formulas,” but I can’t find what that means. Did Che Guevara espouse a formula to hoodwink the masses? A Google search for “Che’s formulas” gave me nothing.

  31. Dsc
    August 27, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Mortimer,

    Trump has praised Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini? When? The closest I could find was an instance in which Trump quoted Mussolini, and then defended it by saying it didn’t matter who the quote was from. My guess is that Trump heard the quote somewhere and didn’t check the source, and defended his action because he can’t admit being at fault. Trump is incompetent, unintelligent, and tone deaf, but I’m not aware of him actually praising mid-20th century dictators.

    And that’s the problem with the comparisons; people say things that aren’t true. For example, many media outlets made it seem like Trump, for the first time in American history, imposed a public charge test on immigrants, when in fact whether an immigrant is likely to become a public charge has been part of American immigration law for a century. Trump merely slightly expanded the definition (unnecessarily, in my opinion). That feeds the “fake news” narrative for Trump loyalists, and causes a measure of distrust in the media for moderates. Exaggerating Trump’s awfulness has real consequences.

    Bill Clinton was a philanderer and accused rapist. Should the Church have condemned him? The fact is that the Church can’t and shouldn’t stand in judgement of the moral character of every prominent politician. What the Church can do is condemn specific policy proposals and actions that carry a moral weight, which the Church has done, condemning proposals to exclude Muslims from the country and immigration actions that separate families.

  32. Owen
    August 27, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Clark, unfortunately every ward I have ever lived in or visited in the US has been full of people who believe that anything President Benson or Elder McConkie ever said is the gospel truth. Since we “don’t apologize” or admit our mistakes, we have a very hard time as a people moving on from the past, no matter how wrong we now consider those ideas.

    The problem remains: how can we expect to keep our children, who look forward to a better future (the very definition of progressivism), in a church that by default allows voices from, as Clark said, 40 or more years ago to always carry the day? We still, right now, have girls in YW asking if it is OK if they want to get college degrees or if it’s OK for girls to study math. We have young mothers asking if it’s OK to finish their schooling or to stop having children when the process nearly kills them each time. The list of jaw-dropping questions like this I’ve personally heard make it crystal clear to me why so many wake up one day and realize that instead of receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ or participating in building Zion, they’re living in a cultural prison, so they leave. We tiptoe so carefully around our corrections of old, false teachings, that no one hears. Seriously, how many members actually know that the church has officially disavowed the black exclusion policy as racist? A single digit percentage?

    I think that neutrality in party politics is essential for the church. I just don’t think that’s possible, especially in the US and especially in Utah without some serious house cleaning and much greater specificity than the lame statement that is read over the pulpit before each election. Like President Nelson saying in General Conference “Brethren, if you mention the names of politicians at church, you are almost certainly alienating other saints and tearing down Zion.”

  33. Mortimer
    August 27, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    JI, a thousand apologies- my auto-correct has been going amok recently. Che means nothing- it was supposed to be the word “researched”.

  34. ji
    August 27, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    I call it auto-corrupt.

  35. Clark
    August 27, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    Owen, I can but say that I just don’t see that. You seem to have some odd wards but having never attended them it’s hard to say if I’d judge them the same as you are doing. Heaven knows I’ve met people like that, but not in a long time.

    Roger, how do you know what they discussed? Also regarding the Dalai Lama, he met with the First Presidency in 2001 during his visit but not in 2016, partially due to trying to get China to open up more. I believe he may have met with an apostle not in the First Presidency although I’m not sure who that was. My sense is you want empty gestures but don’t care much about the consequences. Which is fine and completely defensible. But for those of a more consequentialist approach to such things it explains why neutrality is important and why often less bellicose language is appropriate.

  36. The Other Chad
    August 27, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    For years I’ve been asking 20 questions of my thoughtful conservative fellow saints. One is “Do you believe our leaders really mean what they say in the neutrality statement?” More than three quarters do not — believing that it is some kind of disclaimer made to protect tax-exempt status, or a feel-good statement to appease sensitive types.

    I follow up with, “Can you think of any other example of a First-Presidency statement that you think is made only for appearances?” The answer is always “no.”

    Believing the pulpit statement to be true — that there are good reasons to choose either party — I agree that the only way to break the Utah political monopoly is for one of the First Presidency to stand up in GC and say: “To American members of the church – we mean it when we say it’s OK to be Democrat. We do not endorse either major party and disavow statements of past leaders who expressed a preference.”

  37. Clark Goble
    August 27, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    Chad, I can but say all the conservatives I know (and I consider myself one) think the Church really means it.

  38. Roger Hansen
    August 27, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    Meeting with the Dalai Lama would not have been an empty gesture. The Chinese are currently persecuting the Muslim majority in western China. Apparently the Church isn’t serious about religious freedom. They only want to use it as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community in the US. How about concern over ethnicide in Buddhist Tibet and the campaign against Muslim community in western China. Sorry we can’t say anything it might offend the Chinese. Really.

    Trump is despicable. He turning his poison pen against races and religions to curry favor with the Christian Right. Turning one group against another. Those are the tactics of a would-be despot pandering to his base.

    Bill was a bum, fine. But what we are talking about here are national and international issues. Jefferson was a bum, as was Kennedy. I get it.

  39. Dsc
    August 28, 2019 at 12:21 am

    “Apparently the Church isn’t serious about religious freedom.” BYU hosts one of the largest gatherings of experts from across the world and from all religious backgrounds every year to discuss a wide range of religious freedom issues, most of which are not lgbt issues, all with heavy involvement of church leadership. The fact that the first presidency didn’t meet with the Dalai Lama on one specific occasion when we don’t know any of the reasons (was he even available to meet?) is hardly evidence that the Church doesn’t take religious liberty seriously n

  40. GEOFF -AUS
    August 28, 2019 at 1:06 am

    I think Trump is an exceptional case. If we continue with the neutrality statement, this time around we have failed morally. Many members are convinced that it is part of following the prophet to vote conservative, but to vote Trump a different issue. He seems to be totally immoral, he is not concerned about the consequences of his actions. Is dropping more people into poverty immoral? Do we have no moral judgement? Do we support evil?

    Someone above said just because people don’t agree with me doesn’t make them immoral. I agree, but I haven’t seen anyone say trump is a good moral man.
    To say Clinton was also immoral is not comparable, he did whatever he did with lewinski, but he is not destroying society around the world. Trade wars. Gleefull that 3million chinese will be unemployed. Treatment of migrants etc creating poverty at home while making the rich richer.

    Surely there must be a point where supporting trump is disgracefull and has consequences. I certainly wouldn’t join the church if Utah votes trump next year.

  41. Mortimer
    August 28, 2019 at 6:52 am

    Dsc, yes, google it- 45 has quoted Mussolini, Stalin, and although hasn’t directly quoted, has emulated rhetorical strategy also used by Hitler. There is debate as to whether he has read books given to him by friends written by Hitler (which is in itself not to be condemned, knowledge seeking is valuable) or if his speech writers have, or if he simply uses strategies and talking points. Like most, I find him reading a book improbable, but it’s evident that he gravitates to and respects dictators. I found that you carefully parsed your words to limit our debate to his praise and quoting of mid-20th c dictators, knowing that he’s gone out of his way to compliment and quote current dictators from Hungary, Brazil, North Korea, China and the Philippines. So yeah, his quoting dictators (accidentally or intentionally) is problematic, to be the bigger concern is his admiration for and emulation of dictators.

    The fact that this administration “merely slightly changed” the public charge laws had no “slight” impact on vulnerable people. It resulted in unprecedented numbers of persons in overcrowded concentration camps where the stench is so bad that the people wear masks and the smell can offends nearby towns. Sleeping on cement floors with aluminum blankets, no soap or hygiene kits, taking turns sleeping because there isn’t enough space for all to lie down at once, separating children from parents and causing permanent psychological and physical damage, etc. is Inexcusable! This is not who we are and tip toeing around the description of what was done does not accurately depict or excuse it away nor does it soften the harm to thousands of individuals or relieve their suffering. The fact that antiquated laws were leveraged for this cheap political stunt doesn’t absolve the administration or those who gave and/or continue to give it power with their votes, money, and support. There’s blood on many hands (yes, people have died due to lack of healthcare combined with conditions) and shirking accountability won’t work.

    I want to scream every time we discuss the harm being done by this administration – the issues we must urgently face together- and someone shifts the conversation to the Clintons as if something from the past somehow justifies the wrongs being done today, or to inaccurately assume that anyone who wants to stop heinous acts here and now is a hypocrite- having selectively chosen their evils or supported amoral things from the past. What if (gasp) putting people in overcrowded and inhumane concentration camps is wrong- regardless of whether someone is red or blue or anything else? What is the point of deflecting the conversation? One problem doesn’t justify another.

    I take your point that language matters- that descriptions of this administration need to be accurate and unbiased. Fact should be a ruler for news, for debate among citizens, and for the admin and president himself (both of whom fail miserably at telling the truth- a point of national and international drama).

    You raise an interesting point about the church’s role in calling out leaders for personal morality issues versus morally flawed policy. The BoM seems to be black and white in depicting leaders (King Noah, King Benjamin, etc) whose personal morality is the inescapable foundation for their resulting policy. It leaves us scratching our heads trying to understand the complex and sometimes counterintuitive lives of astounding or abysmal leaders. The ends of the spectrum (hero’s and villians) impact their countries in predictable ways, but where’s the line? A great deal of the debate between this administration’s supporters and its opponents hinges on this- is the current administration on the end of the spectrum, or just in an “acceptable” grey zone.

    Either way, the church isn’t going to speak out publically and will continue to diplomatically collaborate in a Chamberlain-like way. Silence isn’t always the correct moral action- something we as a church should more seriously examine. I personally believe we’ve failed in choosing to not speak out at critical points leading up to the harm done to others. Does our moral “high” ground really mean only commenting only when the dust settles, and not attempting to make it better during pivotal moments? Seems like “we are all enlisted till the conflict is over” doesn’t apply to those who only want to participate in the after-action debrief. It gets rather lonely trying to prevent and rectify the evils of the world alone, with a church and collective body of saints that feels that they cannot collaborate or even speak of such things.

  42. JON MIRANDA
    August 28, 2019 at 7:52 am

    Geoff Aus
    Trump is the best thing that has happened to America and a long long time.

  43. JON MIRANDA
    August 28, 2019 at 7:54 am

    In a long long time

  44. Dsc
    August 28, 2019 at 8:35 am

    Mortimer,

    Facts matter. Don’t say “Google it”; assume that I have already (I did). I stand by what I said. Detention facilities (not “concentration camps”) were already overcrowded before the change to the public charge definition. Yes, that has been an absolute mess, but you are demonstrating one of the biggest problems with the anti-Trump vitriol, which is a total disregard for facts (incidentally, a problem shared with Trump and his base).

    The Church has already made statements about the worst of Trump’s policies. I only bring up Bill Clinton to point out that personal immorality is generally not an appropriate place for the Church to levy criticism of individuals. No one seems to have expected it until now.

  45. Nate GT
    August 28, 2019 at 10:14 am

    Mortimer, I’m on your side politically (I think). But come on, spare me the hyperbole. I can’t back that.

    Dsc, as to the detention centers being called concentration camps, I’ll take the word of Ruth Bloch, a Holocaust survivor who spent time at Auschwitz, who agrees that the detention centers are indeed concentration camps. The so-called “anti-Trump vitriol” is based more on fact than the conservative/Republican propaganda that I know that you swallow on a regular basis. So spare me the false equivalence. Washington Post has tracked over 10,000 lies on the part of Trump. You may not like the guy, but you seem to be a Trump-enabler, which in my book is about the same as being Trump-supporter.

  46. ji
    August 28, 2019 at 10:22 am

    The Church should continue to be politically neutral. Church members are free to be as active (or as loud) as they want to be. Some are being loud here, uncharitably loud, in expressing their hatred for fellow Saints. It seems to me that hatred for the President should be directed towards the President, not towards fellow Saints.

  47. Clark Goble
    August 28, 2019 at 11:13 am

    Roger, earnest question, how would the 1st Presidency rather than one of the 12 meeting with the Dali Lama change China’s policy? You are taking that for granted but I confess I don’t see it. Whereas I can see China reacting against the Church and members within China if the 1st Presidency did meet with him. Don’t get me wrong, if I thought it’d change policy I’d be all with you. I just have a hard time seeing Xi having a change of heart because he heard of the meeting.

    Regarding immigration camps, I think that’s the most egregious thing Trump has done. Although we should also note this wasn’t new to Trump but similar problems arose during the huge influx of refugee seekers under Obama. Yet while Obama at least sought solutions, Trump seems to relish in the situation. The Church has spoken out on immigration issues – particularly the camps. So while that’s a great place to criticize Trump, it seems an odd place to criticize Church neutrality. The Church is neutral in not pushing a particular party but has been anything but neutral on the issue. One Church statement said,

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long expressed its position that immigration reform should strengthen families and keep them together. The forced separation of children from their parents now occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border is harmful to families, especially to young children. We are deeply troubled by the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families. While we recognize the right of all nations to enforce their laws and secure their borders, we encourage our national leaders to take swift action to correct this situation and seek for rational, compassionate solutions.”

  48. Dsc
    August 28, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Nate GT,

    Speaking of hyperbole… You seem to be making a lot of assumptions about me that just aren’t true.

    A concentration camp is defined by its purpose, not its conditions. A concentration camp is where a government placed large populations of people without charges or an intent to charge them. In other words, there is no legal process by which someone leaves a concentration camp. Detention facilities are like jails in that they are where the government places people to await a legal proceeding. That’s what’s going on at the border. Conditions are bad because Trump has decided to take draconian action without waiting for funding from Congress (much like his other embarrassment, the wall, Trump shows a disregard for the lawmaking process). You can rightfully point out that conditions in these facilities are abysmal, demand action to correct it, and point out that Trump is a dangerous combination of heartless and incompetent. But facts matter and words have meaning. Disregarding those does no favors.

  49. Deseret Defender
    August 28, 2019 at 11:19 am

    The goofiness of Trump’s most ardent supporters is surpassed only by his most ardent critics.

  50. Nate GT
    August 28, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    Dsc, you’re conflating execution camps with concentration camps. An execution camp is a type of concentration camp, but not all concentration camps are execution camps. The detention centers do fit academic definitions of concentration camps. According to Holocaust Studies Scholar Waitman Wade Beorn, “Concentration camps aren’t the equivalent of execution camps. Concentration camps in general have always been designed-at the most basic level-to separate one group of people from another group. Usually, because the majority group, or the creators of the camp, deem the people they’re putting in it to be dangerous or undesirable in some way.” One cell with a capacity of 8 held 41 detainees. Sounds pretty concentrated to me. And no, I don’t think that that Nazi camps are the same (they were several orders in magnitude worse) as the detention centers. Also you have a long history of expressing of backing conservative/Republican ideas, so don’t try to hide who you are and the positions you support.

    As to this idea that liberals and Trump critics are loonier than Trump supporters, this is delusional in the extreme. Trump supporters widely believe in insane conspiracy theories, including QAnon, Pizzagate, and birtherism. At worst, the left believes in Medicare for all and increasing taxes and other fanciful government programs that would probably be too expensive to support. A far cry from the conspiracism of the right, which is now mainstream in their rhetoric. This idea that left is more extreme than the right, which couldn’t be further from the truth, is what brought us Trump in the first place. So Trump supporters are one thing. If were just up to them, we wouldn’t have Trump. The Trump enablers, people who didn’t support Trump in the first place but thought that he would be better than Hillary and still think that he would be better than any Democrat, are the ones who brought us Trump and are the ones most likely to try to keep him in power. I blame them just as much as the Trump supporters. They may not be under the Trump delusion, but they are under a different, and still dangerous, delusion that is normalizing Trump and the conspiracism upon which the current administration is based.

  51. Dsc
    August 28, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    I am not conflating the two. An execution camp is a concentration camp that ends in death. But a concentration camp is still defined by the criteria that put someone there. If the the definition is simply where the government places people in close proximity, then every prison or jail is a “concentration camp” and the term has no useful meaning. We don’t use the term “concentration camp” to refer to the detention of people reasonably suspected of violating a generally applicable law. We also don’t typically use the term when detentions typically don’t last longer than a month.

    I’m curious why you think I am a Republican. I generally don’t air my political beliefs on this blog because its topic is religion, not politics. But for the record, I support the more reasonable proposals from the Democrats on climate/environment and immigration while I support the GOP position on abortion and judicial nominations. I used to support the GOP on trade until Trump usurped control of the party. I have positions that don’t fit neatly into either major party on taxes (lower the corporate tax rate to close to zero and significantly raise estate taxes) and healthcare (federal universal catastrophic coverage). For President, I hope Joe Biden wins the democratic nomination because I would probably vote for him (I am definitely not voting Trump, and I didn’t in the last election), but I do think that many of the democratic candidates are so extreme that I could not vote for them, which would cause me to vote third party. The point is, you’ve created an imaginary straw man out of me, which drives home the point: facts matter.

    (And it’s not important to my response because I don’t want to engage in whataboutism, but let’s not pretend that the left hasn’t gotten swept up in conspiracy theories surrounding the Mueller investigation, the Steele dossier, and rigged elections.)

  52. Nate GT
    August 28, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    Thanks for clearing up your positions. I apologize for having portrayed you incorrectly. On concentration camps, there have been lots and lots of Holocaust experts, Jews, and other highly qualified people in agreement with calling the detention centers that. So the idea is far from extreme. Plus, the painting of the calling of the detention centers concentration camps as evidence of extremism on the left is a right-wing talking point. Right-wingers have long tried to paint the left as extreme and the right as moderate. An absolutely delusional claim. In addition, you have a history of taking conservative sides and seem more interested in defending conservative rather than liberal positions. Even just in your last post, you compare “conspiracy theories” about the Mueller report with ones popular on the conservative side (birtherism, the looming rise of sharia law in the US, and the list goes on and on). There was certainly exaggerated ideas about the Mueller investigation, but the Mueller report basically laid out the case for at least 10 counts of obstruction of justice, a felony. And because Trump obstructed (that he obstructed is obvious, although I know that he is not yet convicted of it and is technically not guilty, just like OJ obviously killed his ex-wife, but was found not guilty), Mueller wasn’t able to get to the bottom of there being conspiracy between Trump and the Russians. I am unaware of there being claims on the left that the election was rigged (there could be, but they don’t seem widespread), but it is a basic fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Top FBI officials, including Comey and Mueller, have said as much.

  53. GEOFF -AUS
    August 29, 2019 at 4:33 am

    Jon Miranda, Can you tell me of some of the good things trump has done. Obviously you believe these outweigh the negatives discussed above.

  54. JON MIRANDA
    August 29, 2019 at 6:54 am

    Geoff
    Google this
    List of Trumo Accompkishments.

  55. JON MIRANDA
    August 29, 2019 at 6:56 am

    Accomplishments

  56. Jane Smith
    August 30, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Condescending much? I would recommend reading the book, “The Case For Trump” by Victor Davis Hanson. You may also take a listen to his presentation on the book if you would like to understand the mindset of a Trump supporter a little more thoroughly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEXL5USuDGI

    Your essay did make a very valid point that the church’s political neutrality is very important. I hope they never wade into taking political sides because it would not benefit the church. Your disgust and moral superiority shown to conservatives and Trump supporters is equally found on the other side of the aisle who feel the left attacks religious freedom and kills babies. They also feel it is the left that has eroded religion and moral values in society to the point, that raising an active, believing child in the church today is really difficult.

    I am expected to get completely roasted for this comment and it took me days to decide to actually post. Overall, I was disappointed that Times and Seasons published such a politically charged essay. Why be so divisive? It’s this level of ‘condescension and moral superiority’ that have led to increased silence from the common man conservative. No wonder a recent Zogby poll found 49 percent of conservatives found it necessary to hide their political opinions. https://zogbyanalytics.com/news/898-trump-in-dead-heats-with-biden-and-sanders-half-of-voters-silently-support-trump

  57. Tb
    August 31, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    Wouldn’t want anyone to think Geoff-AUS’s Trump views are representative of all, or even many, Australian Mormons’ views. Most are much more in-line with DSC’s views. Yeah, Trump is not a good guy – everyone acknowledges that. But he’s not a religious leader and he isn’t about to marry into your family. He’s a politician who is delivering political outcomes. A lot of conservatives love the outcomes, a lot of liberals hate them. But in most (all?) cases they can be debated honestly without assuming those opposite are morally degenerate. I find lots of quasi-trump supporters who have moved over that way after hearing the disproportionate, hyperbolic, sometimes unhinged criticism of everything related to Trump. If was a liberal I’d be incensed with how my side is shooting themselves in the foot. It may feel great to ventilate and signal one’s virtue, but does nothing to change minds.

  58. mez
    September 4, 2019 at 5:05 am

    It’s one thing for our church leaders to be silent on Trump himself. But totally another to be silent and not call out dangerous conspiracy theories. Every LDS conservative I know quotes the B of M verse about conspiracies and applies it to legitimize the craziest notions. I’ve often wondered why no GA in conference comes out and says stop, it’s dangerous.

  59. mez
    September 4, 2019 at 5:10 am

    p.s. I also wonder whether we could expect the First Pres. to point to the anti-Christ when he arrives and tell us it’s him? Or will they be silent and make us guess because they don’t know themselves?

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