February 17th, 2009

Religion and Politics: Never, but Sometimes?


photo credit: sknol

A common argument made against the LDS Church in Utah and the prominence and influence of its members in local politics is that it borderlines on a theocracy, with such a high percentage of state politicians being members of the Church. Whenever the Church decides to make a political statement or clarify their position on an issue, vociferous and numerous complaints arise from those who oppose these positions. The underlying fear is that the Church is controlling (whether explicitly or otherwise) the actions and votes of LDS elected officials.

Michael Otterson, managing director for public affairs for the Church, recently wrote an editorial for the Salt Lake Tribune clarifying the intent of the Church in holding annual meetings with local legislative leaders. His intent was to quell some of the “theocracy” concerns—voiced primarily by the Trib’s Rebecca Walsh—that arise whenever Church leaders wade into politics (whether that be via private meeting or public political statement). Since Church opponents loudly argue that religion and politics should never mix, Church leaders and PR people understandably must take the defensive approach at times to explain why their actions are perfectly reasonable.

It is unmistakably ironic, then, that Equality Utah would wrap the marketing campaign for its Common Ground Initiative around a couple statements made by Church representatives. Their own website makes perfectly clear the fact that their entire effort relies upon and takes advantage of two key statements that indicate the Church’s position on a specific issue.

It follows, then, that we have here a classic case of hypocrisy—something quite common among folk not founded upon principle or reason. No, instead we are relentlessly subjected to cries for the separation of Church and state (arguing that the two should never mix), but only when the positions of said Church are in conflict with their goals and objectives. But should the day come when these individuals’ ideals be supported in some small form by that Church, then they are all for using their statements and positions as pretext for political campaigns.

Never, but sometimes. Sounds rather Orwellian, I think…

12 Responses to “Religion and Politics: Never, but Sometimes?”

  1. Clumpy
    February 17, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

    Wait – did Equality Utah make any of those “theocracy” statements themselves or vehemently criticize LDS “groupthink”? (To use a harsh term I don’t agree with.)

    The SL Trib =/= Equality Utah.

    It seems that Equality Utah is just pointing out that the Church doesn’t oppose civil unions and domestic partnerships as an attempt to persuade Church members that they’re not obligated by their faith to take an opposing stance on the issue.

  2. Connor
    February 17, 2009 at 1:48 pm #

    The SL Trib =/= Equality Utah.

    Indeed. This wasn’t mean to peg any specific outlet such as the Trib or even Equality Utah, but merely to illustrate the general actions and feelings of those who oppose Church political action.

    The theocracy sentiments were spelled out in Walsh’s Trib article I referenced, quoting a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State as saying:

    “It is a clear violation of American democratic principles,” he says. “It not only looks like theocracy, it suggests there is a theocracy.”

    In the same article, Will Carlson of Equality Utah made an indirect reference to this belief by saying:

    “The overwhelming majority of legislators are LDS,” says Will Carlson, public policy manager for Equality Utah. “If the LDS Church made a statement of opposition, the [Common Ground] bills would have no chance.”

    It seems that Equality Utah is just pointing out that the Church doesn’t oppose civil unions and domestic partnerships as an attempt to persuade Church members that they’re not obligated by their faith to take an opposing stance on the issue.

    It rather seems to me that Equality Utah is capitalizing upon a couple of quotes that work in their favor, after they and their like-minded cohorts have spent months and years complaining about the cross-contamination of (LDS) Church and state.

  3. JHP
    February 17, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Sen. Waddoups called out Will Carlson of Equality Utah at the committee hearing on the wrongful death bill. He said the exact same thing about church and state. Carlson stuttered and then provided no real response. Not only is EU using Church statements, it’s also twisting them for its own benefit. It implies that because of those statements made regarding California, the Church supports their CGI in Utah.

  4. February 17, 2009 at 3:33 pm #

    I think Church and State ought to mix considering that the Church is a huge constituent. With that said, the Church ought to also pay tax as any other business. Without paying taxes, religious organizations should take the back seat when it comes to public policy like a minor does.

  5. Daniel
    February 17, 2009 at 6:46 pm #

    Why is it hypocritical to quote a religious group? I’m happy for them to say what they want on political issues. And when they do, they should be regarded as the PACs that they are, and pay taxes like other PACs. Otherwise people will be able to hide political money by funneling it to churches.

    If we’re talking hypocrisy, why not mention the $190,000 that the LDS Church ‘forgot’ they paid out to promote Prop 8. Oh, wait. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s lying. Different thread.

  6. Connor
    February 17, 2009 at 7:44 pm #

    Why is it hypocritical to quote a religious group?

    It’s hypocritical when a group of people constantly whine about the Church saying political things, yet turn it into a political advantage when what they’re saying is something they agree with. Or perhaps it’s just a lack of consistency.

    If we’re talking hypocrisy, why not mention the $190,000 that the LDS Church ‘forgot’ they paid out to promote Prop 8. Oh, wait. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s lying. Different thread.

    ::: sounds buzzer :::

    Nice try, but that’s not the correct answer. Thanks for playing!

  7. Clumpy
    February 18, 2009 at 12:39 am #

    It rather seems to me that Equality Utah is capitalizing upon a couple of quotes that work in their favor, after they and their like-minded cohorts have spent months and years complaining about the cross-contamination of (LDS) Church and state.

    See, I can’t really disagree with “like-minded cohorts.” I’ve been a cohort before and I’m glad that phase of my life is over.

  8. Daniel
    February 18, 2009 at 7:07 pm #

    Looks like I may have had it wrong. Sincere thanks for correcting me.

  9. February 19, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    Well, Just, how should I have responded to President Waddoups about the link between the LDS Church and the state legislature? His shock that I suggested the church’s non-opposition might be relevant comes off as insincere since he had brunched with LDS leadership less than a week before to discuss the legislative session.

  10. Clumpy
    February 19, 2009 at 5:39 pm #

    Well, I think it’s pretty clear that any official statement from the LDS Church will also be taken up by much of the LDS population, and pretty much guarantee a vote in that particular direction for Utah (meaning something even more “official” than an LDS NewsRoom release). Acknowledging such carries no inherent criticism unless it’s added.

    Likewise, it seems just as valid to attempt to correct possible miconceptions about Church policy that may arise among an LDS population, particularly in Utah where a bill won’t pass if people think the Church is against it. The private feelings of the gay and gay rights community (admittedly not very rosy after Prop 8’s passing, frankly speaking) are hardly relevant unless we’re petty enough to let hurt feelings influence our votes and opinions.

  11. February 19, 2009 at 7:46 pm #

    It follows, then, that we have here a classic case of hypocrisy—something quite common among folk not founded upon principle or reason.

    Well, if you want to talk about logic, there is a common fallacy, known as “Tu Quoque,” (“and so are you!”). This refers to the fact that though a person may not actually follow the principle or position they are arguing, it does not mean that their position is invalid. A hypocrite can still make a nonetheless valid argument.

    In his last paragraph, Otterson uses a similar, faulty argument to dismiss Walsh [the editor of the Tribune], decrying her use of “overstated language.”

    It’s true that legally, any individual or group of individuals has the right to a closed door meeting with a state senator or representative. But I dare you, Connor, the humble taxpayer, to try to do so on an annual basis. You may meet with less luck than, for example, Roc Arnett, or James Faust.

    Separation of church and state is (arguably) a Moral Imperative. The practical difficulty of doing this in the real world, does not make it any less of an Imperative.

    If the church were interested in “avoiding the appearance of evil” I would argue, they should either make such meetings (reasonably) public and allow public input, or else refrain altogether and act only though lobbyists. They should not be seen to exercise undue privilege, merely by their status in the church.

    This begs the tongue-in-cheek question; “what would Jesus do, if he were a Utah senator”

  12. Clumpy
    February 20, 2009 at 12:14 pm #

    Well, if you want to talk about logic, there is a common fallacy, known as “Tu Quoque,” (”and so are you!”). This refers to the fact that though a person may not actually follow the principle or position they are arguing, it does not mean that their position is invalid. A hypocrite can still make a nonetheless valid argument.

    Better not repeat this. . . it’s easier to attack Al Gore and RFK Jr. than environmentalism. . .

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