January 29th, 2012

Latter-day Saints and Liberty: Church Priorities vs. Member Responsibilities

While doing research for Latter-day Responsibility, I reviewed some of the First Presidency letters that encourage members of the Church to be politically active and involved. Many of them touch on common themes—support the Constitution, seek out solutions, be anxiously engaged, and support good, honest, and wise men.

One quote, however, really stuck out to me. It’s from a 1978 speech by President Spencer W. Kimball, given to regional representatives of the Church. In it, he clarifies why leaders of the Church have grown more silent on political matters as the organization’s global reach grew. This is a subject I’ve discussed before, and for which there has been plenty of speculation and insight.

Pres. Kimball’s statement, however, addresses the issue head on. For those who are concerned about a lack of prophetic political pulpit-pounding in recent years, this makes clear that it’s our responsibility as members to be involved and engaged, and not the Church’s job, which exists primarily to do missionary work and spread the gospel.

Here’s the quote:

In September of 1968, the First Presidency reminded members of the Church of “their obligations as members of the communities in which they live and as citizens of the nation.” The First Presidency counseled members of the Church as follows:

“The growing world-wide responsibilities of the Church make it inadvisable for the Church to seek to respond to all the various and complex issues involved in the mounting problems of the many cities and communities in which members live. But this complexity does not absolve members as individuals from filling their responsibilities as citizens in their own communities.

“We urge our members to do their civic duty and to assume their responsibilities as individual citizens in seeking solutions to the problems which beset our cities and communities.

“With our wide ranging mission, so far as mankind is concerned, Church members cannot ignore the many practical problems that require solution if our families are to live in an environment conducive to spirituality.

“Where solutions to these practical problems require cooperative action with those not of our faith, members should not be reticent in doing their part in joining and leading in those efforts where they can make an individual contribution to those causes which are consistent with the standards of the Church.

“Individual Church members cannot, of course, represent or commit the Church, but should, nevertheless, be ‘anxiously engaged’ in good causes, using the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ as their constant guide.”

The First Presidency and the Twelve wish to reaffirm this important statement of 1968. We believe this is the wise course to pursue, wherein Church members are urged to do their duties as citizens. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be committed, as an institution, except on those issues which are determined by the First Presidency and Twelve to be of such a nature that the Church should take an official position concerning them.

We believe that to do otherwise would involve the Church, formally and officially, on a sufficient number of issues that the result would be to divert the Church from its basic mission of teaching the restored gospel of the Lord to the world.

We earnestly hope Church members will feel their individual responsibilities keenly and pursue them wisely.

6 Responses to “Latter-day Saints and Liberty: Church Priorities vs. Member Responsibilities”

  1. Peter
    January 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    People like to think of the church as an American religion. While it was founded here, its scope has always been much broader–to bless the lives of all men everywhere. Not that American politics are inconsequential in that regard, but they are certainly not paramount. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue to, as you eloquently pointed out, seek primarily to spread a message of hope (I mean real, substantial, lasting hope) to the entire world.

  2. chris
    January 30, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    There are two definitions of politics:

    1. Of or relating to the government or the public affairs of a country.
    2. Of or relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics.

    I’d submit that as political issues have increasing revolved around definition #2 in order to accomplish #1, the church of necessity is increasingly less involved. The church does not want to get involved in the strategies of various groups to gain power in politics. And it’s seemingly impossible to enter the polarized fray without of necessity causing the “opposition” to line up against you in virtually all other areas.

    With that in mind, as individuals, getting involved in “politics” (that increasingly revolved around definition #2 and not #1) is often not only counter productive but places us within an “us vs. them” system that designed to create contention and drive away the spirit. At every turn it seems as if the political leaders and their armies are being blinded by the adversary and are themselves tightening the chains of captivity while they bring the rest of the nation with them.

    (If) That being the case, I don’t see how the responsible can be anything but, “don’t get involved with these guys… stay away”. Speak up on issues important, vote according to true principles. But it’s my opinion that so many people are blinded and we’ve crossed the point of being able to help them see the light, I think at this point, like many others in the scriptures, only God can deliver us from captivity.

  3. Pierce
    February 1, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    I might also suggest that the following quote from Joseph Smith might be applicable in this case:

    ““I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

    If the church leaders are truly doing what they have been called to do, which is to bring us Christ, then we will reflect those teachings in the way we approach government and politics without having to be “commanded in all things.”

  4. Michael
    February 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm #


    Please forgive my confusion. Perhaps I am too simplistically wired. Would you be so kind as to render a somewhat more easily understood commentary?

    I would like to consider a response to this post, but am unable to move forward due to my inability to understand your approach.

  5. Lauren
    March 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    Recently, the LDS church has encouraged its members to be active participants in the political process, and specifically in the presidential election. Many outside of the church criticize this call to political involvement, claiming that the church is only emphasizing this because Mitt Romney is running. But the reasons for participating in the political process run much deeper than a single election. The church does not take positions on political issues and does not try to influence its members to take one side or another, but being informed on current issues is an important way that members can fulfill their civic responsibilities. Furthermore, by voting in alignment with the principles we have been taught by our leaders, we can indirectly aid the church’s cause.

    The ability to vote and express political opinions is a right that has been fought for and even died for. It was one of the reasons our Founding Fathers chose to rebel against Great Britain—they were not having a say in the policies being made, and were heavily oppressed as a result. Throughout history, our Constitution has been repeatedly amended to extend suffrage to new groups of people so that people from all walks of life can have their voice heard regardless of race, gender, or age. However, as the voting populace has expanded, the percentage of those who actually exercise their voting rights has significantly decreased. Young people in particular have low voting rates, even though it is their futures that are directly on the line. People seem to have the impression that politics are unrelated to their lives and that issues can be left for others to decide.

    But the right to vote is a fundamental human right that is essential to our democracy. Abraham Lincoln characterized our government as one “of the people, for the people, by the people.” The government is for us and it was created to serve the needs of the people, but is also by us. It is designed to respond to the needs we express. But we cannot expect policies to actually reflect what the people want and need unless we speak up in the right ways and are well informed.

    Although the media has a great potential to aid political processes, it has mainly provided voters with shallow knowledge in recent years. Political campaign advertisements mainly focus on candidates’ personalities rather than actual policy stands, and many are nauseatingly biased. What makes matters worse is that most people regard these advertisements as truth and blindly trust their messages. Most voters don’t take the initiative to actually go research the candidates or watch the lengthy debates, so they rely on the media to tell them everything. They are receiving very biased messages that reel voters in using the emotional appeal of the candidates’ charisma instead of fact. But if the mainstream media sources are becoming less reliable for accurate information, it heightens the responsibility of the voter to seek further understanding elsewhere. However, the response has been the opposite. As a result, the electorate is largely misinformed and the popular vote may not actually reflect the needs of the people.

    The issues we vote on have enormous potential to directly affect our lives, as well as our church. From economics to environmental policy, public policy can either expand or diminish the opportunities we have, and it controls many aspects of our livelihood. While it may be unwise to get involved in the immature party politics that Chris described, the fact that our nation’s political system is headed downhill is even more of a reason to be informed and get involved in the right ways. There are a number of ways we can voice our concerns and work towards better policies without getting involved in the sticky mess of manipulative party politics.

    While the church is not dependent upon the political system, the reason the church was able to be founded was because of the freedoms we enjoy in this nation. It is our duty to strengthen this country through fulfilling our civic responsibilities. As members of the church, being “anxiously engaged in good causes” means seeking to improve policies so that the best interest of the people is promoted. As Peter pointed out, the church’s mission extends to “bless[ing] the lives of all men everywhere.” We should not avoid politics because they are confusing or because certain politicians are unethical, and we should not misinterpret the church’s lack of political position as an exemption from our individual civic responsibilities. With mounting problems in our nation such as economic hardship, homelessness, decaying moral values, and many others, it is every citizen’s responsibility to do what they can to make our nation better. Through doing this, we may also be able to create an environment more sympathetic to our lifestyles, and can even aid the church’s mission.


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