Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Churches and Politics

Section 501(c)(3) of US Code Title 26, which governs tax-exempt organizations, reads:
(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection(h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.
According to many, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stepped beyond the bounds established for a tax-exempt organization. These people are calling for revoking the church's tax-exempt standing with the IRS because through inciting its members to donate time and means to support Proposition 8, the church has now made a substantial part of its activities attempting to influence legislation. According to antagonists, the church was able to secure millions of dollars in cash and in-kind campaign contributions to a group that supported Proposition 8.

The church claims it was well within its rights to act as it did in support of this and other like measures across the country. Evidently, there is confusion as to exactly how involved the church was in this campaign. The Family, a Proclamation to the World, is explicit in defining the relationship of the man and woman in marriage as being paramount. Recent discussions about this have not been any more forceful than at any other time. It was this document that provided me with the guidance I needed when making my personal decisions about the role of the government in regards to the nature of marriage. After describing marriage specifically as that relationship between a man and a woman, we are called to promote these measures.
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
I was inclined to believe 
otherwise. I was inclined to support an environment in which people could make the decisions to live their life, accepting the consequences of those decisions. Of course, many would suggest there are certain aspects of life that aren't decisions at all. Having to live with the consequences of non-decisions is patently unfair.

Consequences of non-decisions. I live with consequences of actions, decisions I make and decisions others make for me. Consequences are always a part of life whether we like them or not. We cannot always control consequences. Controlling consequences is a bit like controlling the weather. However limited our control, anything we do to subvert or change them will generally result simply in a postponement of the ultimate outcome. 

So, churches get involved in politics all the time. It is only a very rare circumstance when the LDS church also gets involved. When it does, it is not embraced well even by the membership of the church. We discussed this in our home as well. You see, we're all pretty well versed in what the standard position of the church is as it comes to politics. This is a position that was established early. In fact, it is recorded in Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
The standard statement from the church during every political season seems to follow a common course:
The Church does not:

• Endorse, promote or oppose the political parties, candidates or platforms.
• Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.
• Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
• Attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.

The Church does:

• Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.
So, the churches statement of political neutrality coincides with scripture. But does the actions taken in the months leading up to this political season conform to this policy? Some have argued it has not; however, if we return to section 134 we recognize even in 1834 Joseph Smith understood there may be a reason for the church to take some action:
We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upo0n the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor to dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guild, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.
Arguments for both support of Proposition 8 and support of standing down from such involvement could be made from just reading this passage.

The church will generally refrain from any sort of political support or denouncement. In the case of Proposition 8, the main trajectory or focus has been to restate those doctrines as described in The Family, a Proclamation to the World. Some calls for members to align themselves with other organizations who were supporting the passage of Proposition 8 have provided grounds for antagonists to suggest the church has been more directly involved in politics than it should.

I was not one of those who jumped into this with both feet. In fact, our family did not provide money or time to the campaign. There was not any point at which I felt compelled to do more. Mobilization of the members in this campaign stemmed primarily from the consciences of the individual members and not from church leadership.

At what point is it appropriate for the church to make strides into the Political arena? If the fundamental doctrines of Family are not strong enough motivators, is there ever a time when the Church should be involved?
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