Immigration pits Mormons against church hierarchy

May 12, 2011

For decades, Mormon conservatives have believed that their politics
matched the positions of their church—opposing abortion, the Equal
Rights Amendment and same-sex marriage, for example.

Now one issue puts conservative politics and church views seemingly at odds: immigration.

The
Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has called for
compassion in dealing with undocumented immigrants. It has urged
politicians not to divide families, while some members support detention
and deportation.

Church leaders have unequivocally lauded a new
Utah guest worker law, which authorizes a program that allows
undocumented immigrants to pay fines and stay in the state. It's the
same bill some leading Mormon conservatives are pushing to repeal,
likening it to amnesty.

Unlike Mormon liberals, who long have
struggled to balance support for their church with disagreement over
some of its stances, these conservative members find themselves in an
unfamiliar place.

And it's as uncomfortable as it is unexpected.
"This is a real crisis for some people," said Todd Weiler, former
chairman of Utah's Davis County Republican Party. "They want to be good
Mormons, yet they are absolutely convinced that [the immigration law] is
amnesty and is bad." They are, he said, "freaking out."

U.S. Sen.
Mike Lee (R., Utah), who campaigned on eliminating the constitutional
amendment that gives any baby born in the U.S. automatic citizenship,
has expressed reservations about the state immigration law. Yet Lee also
said he applauds his church's emphasis on compassion and humanitarian
concerns.

"I don't think they were saying if you are a Latter-day
Saint, you should say nothing but wonderful things about [the law]," Lee
said, "or that anyone who voted against it has betrayed their
religion."

Like Lee, Cherilyn Eagar, who sought the Senate seat
that Lee won, sees herself in step with the LDS Church, even as she
spearheads a campaign to repeal the immigration law. Eagar said she
understands that her 14-million-member faith has a responsibility to
"protect its interests," and an international church that puts a premium
on overseas missionaries "has to protect its diplomatic relations," she
said.

To its credit, Eagar said, the church does not expect
members to follow blindly but rather encourages them to think for
themselves, study the issues and come to their own conclusions. "We
don't have to agree with every policy and everything that is spoken from
church leaders' mouths," she said.  —Salt Lake Tribune