Today’s guest post is from Carolyn Homer. Carolyn Homer is an attorney and religion constitutional law enthusiast in Washington, D.C.
The silence is eerie.
Ever since Donald Trump became a serious presidential contender, Sunday meetings (at least in my wards) have been free of passing references to politics and thinly-veiled endorsements of the Republican platform. Instead there’s been a renewed focus on love, Christ, repentance, and refugees.
I love it. And I hope it stays that way.
The Church is politically neutral — it has to be, by law — but its members decidedly aren’t. Mormons are the most Republican-leaning religion in America. When that fact is mixed with our lay clergy . . . suffice it to say that although I’ve never heard a Republican candidate explicitly endorsed over a pulpit, it has often been implicit. And partisan advocacy is frequent in chapel halls and at social events.
Among religious groups in America, Mormons also rank at the top of church attendance and regularly take the strongest stances on sexual moral issues. We take our faith seriously. So seriously that Mormons often view Democrats as inherently suspect and unworthy. Senator Harry Reid recently admitted, “[N]o group has been more difficult and hard on me than [LDS] church members — sending letters to my bishop saying I shouldn’t get a recommend.”
But last election cycle, Mormons’ dual “God and party” loyalties came into sharp conflict. Even if they ultimately voted for him, few Mormons could call President Trump a “righteous and moral leader” with a straight face. Even the First Presidency seemed to tacitly recognize that, deleting this sentence from their 2016 election letter: “Latter-day Saints as citizens are to seek out and then uphold leaders who will act with integrity and are wise, good, and honest.” 
It’s been refreshing to watch Mormons realize that an alignment between God and party is no longer viable. What began as a break over immigration and refugees has expanded. We’ve begun to re-center ourselves on core gospel values of compassion and caring for the poor and needy. Slowly, the Church has begun extricating itself from the cultural wars in order to promote cultural peace.
But if President Trump has his way, that political disengagement trend could rapidly reverse itself.
This past week at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump repeated a campaign promise and vowed “to totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” In another BCC post on Friday, Sam Brunson provided background: Passed in 1954, the Johnson Amendment is the provision of the tax code which forbids all 501(c)(3) nonprofits (charities, schools, museums, churches, etc.) from participating in partisan elections.
Evangelicals have long complained that this provision limits their ability to encourage moral decisions from their worshippers. There’s even an annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” where they intentionally violate the law. The left has long defended that it prevents churches from turning into political action committees. The IRS has responded by hiding in a corner and pretending the provision doesn’t exist.
In short, the Johnson Amendment is a legal mess at the center of charitable regulation, campaign finance, free speech, and religious liberty. Without delving into a full First Amendment and political analysis, it’s likely that either a Gorsuch-bolstered Supreme Court will strike it down, or Congress will repeal it, within the next couple of years. Churches will be free to endorse candidates without consequence.
Which brings us back to the LDS Church. Assuming the Johnson Amendment falls, what should the Church do?
I hope the answer is nothing. If the backlash from Proposition 8 taught us anything, it’s that overt involvement in contentious elections does more harm than good.
I hope the Church instructs its Bishops and Stake Presidents and General Authorities that any political endorsement from the pulpit, even if legally permitted, risks our moral authority. Especially with our doctrinal emphasis on deference to Priesthood leaders, endorsements will only divide rather than perfect the saints.
Lest there be any doubt, Mormons have learned this lesson before. The first 100 years of Mormon history is replete with political alignments and endorsements. This includes the Church literally assigning “Republican” and “Democratic” labels to its members after Utah achieved statehood , and President Joseph F. Smith endorsing Taft in 1912, which “was immediately interpreted as an appeal to Church members to vote for Taft.”  The same decade as the Johnson Amendment, President David O. McKay both told Mormons that political parties would be treated impartially by the church, and made a “personal” endorsement of Nixon. 
The Church’s modern stance — that its leaders should not even make campaign contributions to a political candidate in their personal capacities — has been a long time coming. No matter what happens with the Johnson Amendment, we should reiterate Joseph Smith’s declaration from 1843: “I am not come to tell you to vote this way, that way or the other. . . . The Lord has not given me a revelation concerning politics.”
 Compare First Presidency Issues Letter on Political Participation (Sept. 22, 2008), and First Presidency Issues Letter Encouraging Political Participation, Voting (Oct. 29, 2014) with First Presidency 2016 Letter Encouraging Political Participation, Voting in US (Oct. 5, 2016).
 Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, Ch. 34, “An Era of Reconciliation.” (2003).
 James B. Allen, Assistant Church Historian, The American Presidency and the Mormons (1972). Taft won Utah.
 Id. See also Michael D. Groote, Deseret News, Richard Nixon campaigned in Utah 50 years ago today (2010). (“This comment by President McKay was taken as an endorsement by the media. The Ogden Standard-Examiner’s headline trumpeted “President McKay Gives Nixon Full Endorsement.” United Press International called it “the almost unprecedented endorsement of the spiritual leader of the Mormon church,” but noted it was “informal” and “unofficial.” The church issued a clarifying statement the next morning that said President McKay was speaking as a Republican and as a personal voter.”). Nixon won Utah.