“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.” — Deut. 26:5-7 (NSRV)
In twenty years of writing about Mormon issues, I have written only one thing that simply quotes an official Church statement, endorses it enthusiastically, and urges others to follow the prophet. I normally hate posts like this. But I did it last week, right here on BCC, in this blog post about immigration reform.
The comment section of this post contains some ugly things that I am ashamed to have my name associated with. If you read them (which I don’t recommend), you will find several commenters telling undocumented immigrants that they are ignorant, arrogant society-destroyers who should go back where they came from. You will find people comparing immigrant children to hardened criminals, and even one one referring to undocumented members of the Church as “half-Mormons.” Yes, these are actual human beings talking to and about other human beings in response to an official statement from the Church calling members to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Desperate times call for desperate blog posts, so here I go again.
The Church’s official position on immigration reform contains clear and unambiguous recommendations. It is not one of those “pray-about-it-and-let-your-conscience-be-your-guide” things. It claims that there are important moral principles at stake in the debate and clear policy implications that flow from those principles:
What to do with the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now residing in various states within the United States is the biggest challenge in the immigration debate. The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God.
The history of mass expulsion or mistreatment of individuals or families is cause for concern especially where race, culture, or religion are involved. This should give pause to any policy that contemplates targeting any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage.
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The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.
In furtherance of needed immigration reform in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.
With careful reading and nuanced interpretation, we can discern from this statement that the Church would support an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work. The key passage for this interpretation is the one that says, “The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work.” You can trust me here; this is my day job.
This is the Church’s position on immigration in the United States, which means that deporting all undocumented immigrants, and breaking up families in the process, is NOT the Church’s position on immigration in the United States. If you are a Latter-day Saint in the United States, and you favor deporting all undocumented immigrants who are already here, then you support something that the Church opposes. And if you do not believe that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work, then you oppose something that the Church supports.
Now, this is fine with me. I’m the last person who has any right to criticize someone for not supporting a specific political position of the LDS Church. But let’s not play make believe. If you favor things that the Church opposes, and you oppose things that the Church supports, then you cannot say that you accept the council of the Brethren “in all things.” You might say that you accept their counsel “in some things,” or “in most things,” or possibly even “in all things but one.” But if you say you stand 100% with the leaders of the Church, when you clearly don’t, you are being dishonest.
And there is more at stake here than simply disagreeing with the Church on a matter of politics. The statement also opines that “the bedrock moral issue for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” is “how we treat each other as children of God.” This is more than just a political proposal; it is a moral imperative. If you don’t treat people as children of God (hint: “go back home you half-Mormons” doesn’t qualify), you are not just disagreeing with a Church-supported policy; you are disobeying the prophet on a bedrock moral principle. This is serious stuff if you are the sort of person who believes in things like bedrock moral principles.
The Church has never spoken more clearly on a contemporary political issue. How we treat each other matters. How we talk about other people matters. How we engage in the political process in ways that affect other people matters. And how we receive the occasional wandering Aramean in our midst matters a lot when we are claiming to be disciples of a God who sees people’s oppression—and of a Church that cares greatly about how we treat each other as children of God.