Mormon leaders told to stay out of politics

June 30, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Mormon officials are telling their top, full-time
leaders that they and their spouses should not participate in political
campaigns, including making donations or endorsing candidates.

However, part-time leaders -- including local and regional
congregational leaders -- are still allowed to do that, but are
cautioned to make clear they are acting as individuals and do not
represent the church.

Local leaders are also told not to engage in political fundraising
or campaigning focused on members of congregations they oversee.

The new, clarified written policy was sent in a June 16 letter from
the church's First Presidency over the past week to church leaders.

It comes as two Mormon Republicans are running for U.S. president --
Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman -- and amid division among some
rank-and-file Mormons about church involvement in a Utah immigration
bill and California's Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage.

The policy shift will still allow Jon Huntsman Sr. -- father of the
presidential candidate, who is an area authority of the church, and one
of Utah's larger political donors -- to continue to contribute to his
son and to campaign for him.

The First Presidency letter said that "General Authorities and
general officers of the Church and their spouses and other
ecclesiastical leaders serving full-time should not personally
participate in political campaigns, including promoting candidates,
fundraising, speaking in behalf of or otherwise endorsing candidates,
and making financial contributions."

LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said the letter "is a restatement and
further clarification of the church's position on political neutrality
at the start of another political season."

He also clarified that it applies to "full-time general authorities,
general auxiliary leaders (such as presidents of the church Relief
Society, Primary or Young Women organizations), mission presidents and
temple presidents. The policy is not directed to full-time church
employees" in other positions.

After some uncertainty about whether the ban extended to involvement
on ballot initiatives such as Prop 8, Trotter clarified on Wednesday
(June 29) that the statement was directed at partisan politicking.

"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,"
he told The Salt Lake Tribune.

The initial letter advised local and regional leaders that they are
not to use church-generated lists, stationery, email systems or church
buildings for political purposes.

Mark Button, a political scientist at the University of Utah who has
written on religion in politics, said LDS leaders "might be learning"
from widespread criticism after they put the church's weight behind Prop
8.

"The church might be responding to criticism it has faced about its
very active, very critical role in California's referendum initiative
about gay marriage," Button said. "That was a visible role that the
church was playing, and it was clearly one that divided people in the
church."

With Huntsman and Romney gaining attention as Mormons, Button also
said "the statement may be an attempt to maintain an equal playing field
for those candidates without coming out strongly for one or the other"
or any other candidate.

On Monday (June 27), the church's website included a statement
proclaiming neutrality in matters of party politics but said the church
still reserves "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."

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who is Mormon and a descendant
of former LDS Church President Heber J. Grant, said the new letter seems
to represent what basically had been recent church policy, "but it's
never been quite that specific."