Sunday, July 06, 2008

Robert Rees: Church should let people 'govern themselves'

Church should let people 'govern themselves'

Robert Rees

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to the doctrine of the separation of church and state; the non-interference of church authority in political matters; and the absolute freedom and independence of the individual in the performance of his political duties. If at any time there has been conduct at variance with this doctrine, it has been in violation of the well-settled principles and policy of the Church."
  - LDS Church First Presidency, 1907
    Ecclesiastical leaders of the Mormon church in California were instructed to read from the pulpit on Sunday, June 29, a letter from the First Presidency on the subject "preserving traditional marriage and strengthening families."
  The letter is written in support of an amendment to the California Constitution that defines marriage as being solely between a man and a woman. This initiative, supported by a number of churches and other groups, is a response to the recent ruling of the California Supreme Court, which found that a previous initiative, passed in 2002, violated the state's constitution.
  The letter, which asks members to "do all [they] can to support the proposed amendment by donating [their] means and time," presents a dilemma for many California Latter-day Saints who are committed to the church but who are not in agreement with the amendment.
  While some members see the letter as a test of their willingness to "follow the brethren," others feel that it is their civic and moral duty to vote against an amendment which they see as violating the central democratic principles of non-discrimination and equal civil rights.
  Some see a conflict between the recent statement and previous statements from the First Presidency: "We call upon all men, everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God's children" (1963), and "Each citizen must have equal opportunities and protection under the law with reference to civil rights" (1969).
  For many California Mormons this is "déjÀ vu all over again." The previous ballot attempt to define marriage, Proposition 22, which was vigorously supported by church funds and by individual contributions, was divisive for many congregations, especially in instances in which some members felt coerced by leaders and other members to support an initiative they found morally objectionable.
  What seemed most objectionable to some members in 2002, and what some find so in the recent letter, is not the encouragement to be politically engaged in important issues, but rather the suggestion that they should vote in a particular way. It has been a principle for more than a century that "The Church does not engage in politics; its members belong to the political parties of their own pleasure. . . . They are not asked, much less required, to vote this way or that" (President Joseph F. Smith, 1903).
  While the First Presidency may intend its letter to adhere to the spirit of this statement, there is little doubt that many, perhaps the majority, of members will interpret it as a mandate.
  The dilemma for members who have allegiances as both church members and citizens is that when there is a conflict between the two, they cannot satisfy both. In such instances they must feel free to make moral choices based on their best judgment without fear of censure, reprisal or retribution.
  In such matters, some feel the church should follow the dictum of its founding prophet, Joseph Smith, who, when asked how he governed the Latter-day Saints, replied, "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." This seems like sound advice for both churches and states.
  * ROBERT REES lives and works in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He writes frequently on subjects relating to Mormon culture and religion. His most recent publication is The Reader's Book of Mormon.


Justin Hart said...

I appreciate your comments and that of Robert Rees. What many fail to realize is that the Slippery Slope of the agenda on the left (in this case the imposition of gay marriage) will very likely lead to an imposition against freedom of religion.

Here's an excellent article in the same regard:
see here

Anonymous said...

Interesting citation of Joseph Smith who mixed politics with religion. He campaigned for President of the US and served as Mayor of Nauvoo and General of the Nauvoo Legion.

While serving as a mayor he ordered the destruction of the printing press that printing hurtful things about the Saints. For this he was martyred.

Anonymous said...

Church members are still free to follow or reject the counsel from the 1st Presidency just as we are free to not follow counsel to keep the sabath day holy or the counsel to avoid unwholsome movies. No one will be held accountable by their Bishop or Stake President if they refuse to follow this counsel. Church leaders are teaching correct principles and encouraging members to follow but allowing them to govern themselves. Mr. Rees doesn't really have a point.

Tanya said...

Any law that allows people a freedom they did not have before, where it does not infringe on someone else's freedom,such as legalizing a union between two consenting adults, brings us all closer to equality under the law, not closer to impositions against freedom of religion. It is the far right's vilification of Islam, the lies spread to induce fear about Obama's religious beliefs, and libel against Romney's "strange" religious practices inside closed doors (temples) that get us closer to an imposition against freedom of religion.
Freedom does not mean "freedom to be like us". I am a Mormon housewife, living a very conservative life, because I am free to do so. The same freedoms that allow me this privilege allow others to live alternative lifestyles, marry whom they love, vote how they choose, life how they will.
I have yet to see how a legalization of marital status for people deeply committed to each other threatens my marriage or my household or my way of only serves to strengthen it.
Do we feel threatened by allowing any two people to marry because gays may prove more successful at it than we are? Heterosexual marriage is threatened more by heterosexuals than anybody else. Take a look at our divorce rates, domestic violence stats, and child abuse prevalence. Homosexuals might just be better than we are in many of these areas.

ClairB said...

I understand that Robert Rees has been "called in" to visit with his Stake President.

Anonymous said...

I know Robert personaly (I am in his house often) and know him to not even think he is above reproach and to be the last to judge anyone. So read this article twice or more and get the real storey written above. I do not personally acknowledge ANY religion, and yet he and I have always gotten along extremly well. He has helped me, my family, and so many others I could not count them all. Never has he looked for a reward-EVER. at least not in this life-he is the best!!!
Huckleberry club