Mormons and Politics
The LDS Church is too involved in politics?
Mormons are politically neutral
The Mormon Church never endorses
one political party over another and prohibits the use of Church buildings and telephone directories for political purposes. The Church encourages members to be politically active but never dictates which party they should join. While the Church does on rare occasions speak out on moral issues that happen to be hot political topics, it always refers to the moral principle and never to the political parties which endorse or reject that principle.
All Mormons are Republicans?
While there are many influential Mormon Democrats, LDS political diversity is even more apparent abroad, where members of the Church espouse many different political philosophies. Before moving to the United States, for example, my wife, a Brazilian Mormon, belonged to the Brazilian Workers’ Party, a democratic socialist party that opposed Soviet socialism during the cold war.
It is true, however, that in the United States many Mormons are Republicans. This political affiliation is a personal choice and is not dictated by the LDS Church. The history behind U.S. LDS political demographics is fascinating.
The LDS Church stays out of party politics.
- During most of the 19th century, Utah was polarized along local rather than national party lines. Two local parties dominated the political scene: the “Mormon People’s Party” and the “Gentile Liberal Party.” When Mormons did think in terms of national politics, they were almost universally Democrat, as the Republicans opposed Utah statehood. Brigham Young was a life-long Democrat.
- In order to gain the senate’s approval for statehood, Utah was required to “normalize its political allegiances.” The Church disbanded the Mormon People’s Party but feared that a mass Mormon migration to the Democratic Party would displease Republican senators. Church leaders sent Apostle John Henry Smith to visit LDS congregations. It was possible to be a faithful Mormon and a Republican, he explained to the amazement of many LDS faithful. In 1893, the Church even asked some specific families to become Republicans, a move that would be unimaginable today.
- Largely because of this Church effort, Republicans and Democrats were both well-represented around the turn of the century. The Democrats had some impressive victories; in the first presidential election after Utah statehood in 1896, Democrats earned eighty percent of the presidential vote for William Jennings Bryan and elected many of their own to state, local, and national offices. Democrats also had great successes in the 1910s, in the 1930s with the rise of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and in 1964 with the Lyndon B. Johnson landslide. The Democratic stance on social issues such as caring for the poor was seamlessly compatible with LDS teachings. It was a great time to be a Mormon Democrat.
- During the 1970s and 1980s, the Democratic Party started to adopt some moral positions that conflicted with LDS teachings, leading many Mormon Democrats to switch to the Republican Party. This switch was likely accelerated by the example of LDS apostle Ezra Taft Benson, Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower. Elder Benson was very politically active and, terrified of the looming threat of Communism, often reacted ¸ber-conservatively to its perceived growth. His personal political example, though not necessarily representative of the politically-neutral Church, doubtlessly influenced many members.
- Alarmed by this mass Mormon migration to the Republican party, in 1998 the Church again sought to assure its members that it did not endorse participation in any one political party over another. The Church assigned a General Authority, Marlin K. Jensen, a Democrat, to give an interview to the Salt Lake Tribune stating explicitly that it was possible to be a good Mormon and a Democrat.
- In recent times many Mormons have begun to realize that it is possible to be a Democrat while rejecting isolated party views on certain moral issues. Recent prominent Mormon Democrats include Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (Delegate to U.S. Congress from American Samoa), Jim Matheson (Congressman from Utah), Harry Reid (US Senate Majority Leader from Nevada), and Tom Udall (Congressman from New Mexico).
(Accurate as of 2006. See David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.)