The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently released a poorly-done video* explaining the organization’s alleged political neutrality. Using a whiteboard animation (even “animation” is a generous term) it discusses what the church means when it says it’s politically neutral—that they don’t officially endorse parties or candidates—as well as what it doesn’t mean when it says it’s politically neutral—that they still influence politics.
Watch the video below:
Did you catch this part?
What about speaking out on community and moral issues if they’re not about party politics? Of course that’s okay. It’s a long-held right of all religions to have a place in the public square … the [LDS] Church may choose from time to time to join the discussion on moral issues that it believes could impact society.
I can’t really blame the church for thinking party politics is the same thing as politics. Our country’s governance has been so reduced to partisan bickering that it’s hard to remember there’s anything more than the us-vs.-them mentality of we can do no wrong and they can do no right.
When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about high gas prices, and about two-thirds of Democrats say he can’t.
But six years ago, with a Republican president in the White House, the numbers were reversed: Three-fourths of Democrats said President Bush could do something about high gas prices, while the majority of Republicans said gas prices were clearly outside the president’s control.
Our country has devolved so much when it comes to political discourse that we’ve equated party politics with government. The Mormon Church is no exception. They adamantly claim political neutrality—by saying they don’t endorse a specific party or candidate, and that church resources can’t be used for campaigning or fundraising—when all they’re really committed to is partisan neutrality. In reality, the Mormon Church is not politically neutral; it has made clear its stance on a wide swath of political issues—abortion, gay marriage, immigration, and local policy—but all while touting their self-established misnomer of “political neutrality.”
I actually don’t have a problem with the Mormon Church, or any other church, not being politically neutral. As long as it doesn’t violate the law—like the one that says the church “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial** part of its activities”—they can do whatever they’d like. If they’re passionate about a political issue, or even a political candidate, they should have the right to speak out about it.
What I don’t like is this faux neutrality. They’ve done a great job branding this term “political neutrality” to mean something that the actual words, on their face, don’t really mean. The Mormon Church is far from politically neutral, and anyone who takes the time to think about it would realize that.
The problem is we’ve decided it’s much easier to reduce politics to partisanship: Rs and Ds, Blues and Reds, Rights and Lefts, Donkeys and Elephants. And if we’re shortsighted enough to be okay with that, we shouldn’t be surprised when we’re also convinced that a global, multi-billion dollar organization—whose members hold some rather high-ranking positions in our government—is politically neutral.
*Seriously, the production quality is sad. And they refer to “Whigs” as “Wigs”—possibly to set up a joke about “Balds,” but more likely because they don’t know what they’re doing.
**While the church’s influence in Prop 8 was certainly “substantial,” you can’t say that, on the whole, a substantial part of the global church’s activities is to influence legislation—at least not overtly.