Politics and Members of the Church

The Catholic church, that is.

We’re probably all aware of the LDS Political Neutrality statement; periodically, we hear it read across the pulpit, and we can also read it here. It’s a fairly brief document, creating a skeleton of dos and don’ts. Essentially, the statement does two things: (1) it reminds us that the Church doesn’t endorse candidates (which position is likely a result, in part, of its desire to remain tax-exempt); and (2) encourages members to participate (through voting and running for elective office) in our communities.[fn1]

Ours is not the only viable model for a church’s addressing its congregants’ political life. The Catholic Bishops of the United States have also produced a document on the political responsibilities of Catholics; at 31 pages, I doubt it will be read at Mass, but it creates an interesting counterpoint to our Political Neutrality statement.

Though I’m not going to go through the whole document, on page 4, the Bishops describe their view of the duties of Catholics with regard to how their religious and political beliefs should interact:

As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a better world.

I like the idea of using our religion to transform the party, and not allowing the party to transform us. Moreover, on page 7, the Bishops grant that Catholics may use a diversity of methods to achieve their goals, as long as these methods address some essential goals:

Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended.

A couple issues that the Bishops seem to find essential within this realm of human rights and dignity include abortion, racism, and genocide.[fn2] Ultimately, though, Catholics are to be guided by a “well-formed conscience” (p. 8) as they make their judgments in the political realm.

I agree with some of the aims that the Bishops promote and disagree with others, but I like the idea that we have a religious duty to create a more just and peaceful world, and that we need to be guided by a well-formed conscience as we figure out how to do so.

[fn1] They’ve also added a section about General Authorities not participating in political campaigns; I suspect, though, that the pulpit-letter won’t include this section, irrelevant as it is in most wards. I could, however, be wrong: we’ll see next year, I assume.

[fn2] I also like that the Bishops explicitly endorse the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit (23).

19 comments for “Politics and Members of the Church

  1. “which position is likely a result, in part, of its desire to remain tax-exempt”

    I agree this is part of the reason, but I believe that endorsing candidates has often not gone well. For example, Pres. Lorenzo Snow’s behind the scenes deal (about 1901) to support Thomas Kearns for Senator from Utah backfired when Kearns turned into an ardent opponent of the Church (mainly due to his rivalry with Reed Smoot for controlling the Republican Part in Utah).

    I’m sure there have been a number of other occasions where political involvement has yielded more problems than help.

  2. Sam Brunson
    I only problem I have in reading your post and the LDS Political Neutrality statement, is that it’s seems to only address American Politics(?) I think the Catholic church position is World wide.
    Example: I believe the Mormon Church was/is anti-communist. I beieve the Catholics are more neutral in it’s position.
    I only say this because the Church seeks to be more World wide, and I think it needs a more World wide position statement.

  3. Bob: The Catholic church was far more vocally and rabidly anti-communist than the LDS church was – particular Pope John Paul II.

    Sam: Thanks for bringing this up – fascinating to read. With Berlusconi heading out, there’s a lot of talk of the reemergence of the Christian Democratic party in Italy; it’s at least plausible that Italy will (again) join the ranks of the countries ruled by an explicitly religious political party.

  4. James Olsen:
    IMO__ Pope John’s position was more Polish that Catholic.
    I think Ezra T. Benson was as “vocally and rabidly anti-communist ” as Pope John.

  5. Alison, interesting. Catholics are way overrepresented on the Supreme Court.

    Jax, that would appear to be an essential component; I’m totally up to hear ideas.

    Bob, interesting questions; I’d love to know whether the Political Neutrality statement gets read/mentioned outside of the U.S. (that’s an open question to you non-U.S. readers, btw. In my experience, it generally gets read about every 4 years in the U.S., in the lead-up to the presidential election). It’s worth noting, though, that the positions laid out in the Catholic document aren’t worldwide: it’s written by the Catholic Bishops of the United States, and the introduction directs it toward readers’ dual identities as Catholics and Americans.

    James, that’s interesting that Italy may be governed by an expressly religious party.

  6. The political neutrality statement is read in Australia before elections too.
    In many areas of the church there is an assumption that as a mormon you will vote for the conservative party, though we do not have a party that will say they want to privatise the medical system (most hospitals are government owned), or make illegal first term abortions.

    And although the conservative party leader is a catholic, the present prime minister is a woman, athiest, and lives long term, with a man she is not married to, and the leader of the green party (smaller but hold the balance of power in the senate) is a openly homosexual male.

    So what americans call moral issues, are not moral issues in Australia, but many members vote the way they feel the church would like them to (conservative). I vote the way I believe will create the closest to a zion sociesty which is usually for the labor party.

  7. After the experiences some of us had in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, maybe we need a war neutrality statement read over the pulpit.

  8. Ray, doesn’t that presuppose that the Church is neutral about war?

    As I understand it, the Church was officially opposed to almost every war up until after WWII.

  9. Kent,

    The church may not be neutral about war and they shouldn’t be… they should be staunchly opposed! We should take the Cpt Moroni approach; cut our military funding, arm ourselves to the teeth DEFENSIVELY, strive to cleanse the “inner vessel” (our citizenry’s morals/ethics)and live in peace unless someone attacks.

    I’m glad to know that our neutrality statement isn’t only a US policy.

  10. Jax: In terms of their actual role in protecting US interests internationally, protecting our allies so they arenot conqueted by our enemies, and deterring an attack, there is no logical way to say that any weapon in the current US arsenal has only an “offensive” function. It is often the case that the most effective way to defend your nation is to destriy the capability of an enemy to make war, meaning you have to be able to attack its weapon-making industries in its homeland. Giving an enemy sactuary in its homeland for wrapons industry is liable to just prolong the war and increase the chance that the enemy will destroy your capacity to defend your nation.

  11. Raymond:
    “…protecting our allies so they are not conquested by our enemies, and deterring an attack…..”
    IMO, this leads to endless war(s) as we have seen in Iraq. It leads to carpet bombing of civilians in their cities, not just the “weapon-making industries in their homelands”

  12. Raymond, destroying an enemy “in it homeland” is what they want to do to us as well. Is it a legitimate foreign policy for them as well, or do different rules apply to us?

    I think the most effective way to defend a nation is to have some faith in the Lord.

    33 And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.
    34 And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue;
    35 And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord;
    36 Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.
    37 And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation.
    38 Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 98:33 – 38)

    Now maybe the 3rd and 4th generation is too long a prolonging for you, and you think you are wise enough to discount the Lord’s counsel, but I would favor His approach and wisdom to anyone else’s, including my own. I especially like verse 37 when he says that He will fight our battles for us.

    And if we were truly able to clean our “inner vessel” like I mentioned then perhaps we could qualify ourselves for the protection of Zion

    68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
    69 And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
    70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.
    71 And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with asongs of everlasting bjoy.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 45:68 – 71)

    As a military vet, I sure would love to know that our enemies are terrified to come against us to battle because of our righteousness. But seeing as their are plenty who are willing to “take his sword against his neighbor” (that would include you apparently) then I suppose Zion will have to wait. Its a real shame really, that the Lord has given us a recipe for everlasting peace, but that we keep rejecting it by relying on the the arm of flesh and our own strength/wisdom. Your suggestion only makes sense Raymond to a person who has no hope of recieving aid from the Lord… and our nation is probably in that state, but using our energies to bring repentence and cleansing is more likely to bring peace than focusing on war… don’t you think?

  13. As to “using our religion to transform the party”, that is one of the reasons I am a registered Democrat. There are parts of both major parties’ platforms that I agree/disagree with, but I find I can best serve as an example – especially living in the east – in the party where LDS are largely disregarded.

  14. Dave the T&S perm here — I am a registered Republican. Just want to clarify that before I start getting hate mail negative feedback.

  15. Members would send hate mail if you voted Democrat. Why bother with the political neutrality charade? Oh yeah, money…

  16. Rachel,
    Why does the Church’s political neutrality statement strike you as a charade? It’s a pretty good description of the Church’s stand: in my lifetime, the Church has never endorsed or opposed a candidate (some candidate’s claims notwithstanding). True, the Church may have a financial interest in that (though it’s a weak financial interest at best–the one case on point suggests essentially that the Church still wouldn’t pay taxes, and the deductibility of donations would reappear instantly when the Church stopped).

    But the Church has a ton more latitude under tax law to engage in lobbying. During my lifetime, though, it has only lobbied on the national level on three-ish issues: MX missiles, the ERA, and same-sex marriage. Whatever you think about the Church’s stand on these issues, it certainly had latitude to lobby on a lot more and maintain its tax-exempt status.

    So yes, I think the tax law is a driving force behind the political neutrality statement, but not the sole force behind it. I think, though, that, even without the 501(c)(3) limitations, the Church wouldn’t be terribly active in politics.

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