Friday, November 7, 2008

The First Presidency Flunked History

The LDS church released a statement yesterday on their website's newsroom about the recent bans on gay marriage. The first part of their statement (thankfully) says that the Church's position should not encourage members to act hostile towards gays and lesbians. But:

"Some, however, have mistakenly asserted that churches should not ever be involved in politics when moral issues are involved. In fact, churches and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak out and engage in the many moral and ethical problems facing society." The statement then defends the Church's coalitions; it's no secret to anyone who read the reports that the Church was especially significant with its millions poured into opposing Prop. 8.

So, essentially, the Church is suggesting that it has a protected constitutional right to get involved in matters of the state and nation. Someone call me out if I've read that statement wrong. Because if I haven't, then church authorities - or, at least, whomever was the brains behind the news release - have to be either historically ignorant or, frankly, unpatriotic, conniving despots.

The Church shouldn't claim that they have a constitutional ability to use money and position to persuade others on political issues when not only would that appall at least two authors of the Constitution, but it contradicts the historical positions of church leaders and prophets.

For one thing, if D&C 134:9 (or that entire section) was all the support available, that'd be all the evidence I'd need to prove my point. But church leaders have always been pretty clear about the need to stay out of politics - presidential campaigns and otherwise. One of the most clear statements about this comes from President Joseph F. Smith in 1907:

"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.

"We declare that from principle and policy, we favor:
The absolute separation of church and state;
No domination of the state by the church;
No church interference with the functions of the state;
No state interference with the functions of the church...
The absolute freedom of the individual from the domination of ecclesiastical authority in political affairs;
The equality of all churches before the law."

This is a belief that has been reiterated by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and just about any church leader down to the present day. It has been expressed during the accusations against the Church during its polygamy days, its attempts to create separate seminary schools, and other instances. Not to mention that the Articles of Faith seem pretty clear on how members should behave as citizens. So none of this is anything new; in fact, this church-state separation issue is a pretty old one for the United States.

The earliest instance goes back to December 1657, when New York State was still New Netherlands and Queens was a town called Flushing. The governor had banned all religions except the Dutch Reformed Church. In protest, several denizens of Flushing compiled a petition that called the governor out on persecuting Quakers (and none of the signatories were Quaker themselves). They were all later penalized.

The now-famous Flushing Remonstrance reads:

"The law of love, peace, and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam...Our Saviour sayeth...our desire is not to offend one of his little ones in whatsoever form, name or title he appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to do unto all men as we desire all men should do unto us..."

The petition concludes that "...if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them," but instead allow such persons free entrance and shelter in their town, "for we are bound by the law of God and man to do good unto all men and evil to no man."

A brief perusal of early American history will make it obvious that this is the exact mentality that drove the early Puritan, Catholic, and Pilgrim immigrants to American soil. It wasn't merely freedom to practice religion, but nonconformist churchgoers escaping from an oppressive mainstream religion that banned all other practices. The ability for anyone to believe in what he or she wants is what predicated the freedoms the Founding Fathers built this country on - the freedom to practice not just "religion" but ANY and ALL religion (and even allowance for those without religion). But oftentimes those freedoms are confused with the compulsory freedom to practice just ONE religion - namely, Christianity.

Thomas Jefferson penned the Virginia Satute for Religious Freedom in 1779. The statute stated:

"Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free...yet chose not to propagate [our religion] by compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical...our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry...

"...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened...on account of his religious opinions or belief...and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

James Madison addressed the concern of a theological institution's economic power more directly in 1817. In his "Detached Memoranda," he wrote that mixing church and state would be "the means of abridging the natural and equal rights of all men in defiance of [Christ's] own declaration that His kingdom was not of this world":

"But besides the danger of a direct mixture of religion and civil government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capapcity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses...The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion...The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one government in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea."

It ought to be painfully clear, then, that the LDS church authorities behind the official press release are either ignorant of Church history, American history and the Constitution or are manipulating the constitutional protection of expressing opinion to unconstitutional means. Or both.

1 comment:

  1. How do you always manage to pull up all this historical stuff? I'm impressed.