Being a gracious host to Trump doesn’t require throwing Muslims under the bus

There are a bunch of scolds out there on Twitter and on Russell’s post trying to say that nobody can criticize what happened in the church leadership’s meetings with Trump because it was part of a longstanding tradition of being gracious hosts to sitting presidents, regardless of deep disagreements that might exist between them on policy and other matters. When it comes to Eyring and Nelson “express[ing] their appreciation to the president for the efforts by his administration to protect religious freedom,” the scolds are completely wrong.

I actually dissent somewhat from many of my liberal friends in not being outraged that the church leadership would meet with Trump, or do some token photo ops with him. As the church has defensively been at pains to point out, church leaders have met with many past presidents of both parties. Playing nice when someone as powerful as POTUS comes to town is morally troubling, but in a way that is unfortunately quite banal, and something that reasonable people could reconcile themselves to doing for various “greater good” purposes. I get that. I truly do. I think Trump is irredeemably gross and dangerously autocratic, but rage at the brethren for hosting him in SLC is misplaced.

That said, they did not have to choose to praise him specifically on one of the most terrible things about him! The key to nuanced moral balancing between duty to be a good host and duty to speak truth in situations like this is to find some nice thing you can say about a person that’s true and, in the spirit of goodwill, maybe temper or leave unsaid some criticisms. As much as I hate Trump, even I can imagine several nice things one could say about him:

  • “That was nice how you have said it is your goal to bring back jobs. Honest work is a foundational principle of our Mormon ethic of self-reliance.” (notice by wording it as “said” we make it a true statement–again, nuance!)
  • “We pray for the success of America, and the wisdom of its leaders from local right up to you as President.”
  • “Melania always looks so radiant as First Lady. We appreciate the sacrifices that must be required of her and Baron during your service as president.”
  • “I really like what you’ve done with the oval office decorations!”
  • “We bless you to return home on Air Force One in safety.”
  • (ok those last two were a little snarky)

But here’s how the church’s public affairs reports what was actually said:

“President Eyring and President Nelson expressed their appreciation to the president for the efforts by his administration to protect religious freedom.”

No. You do not praise his stance on religious freedom when he literally supports banning an entire religion from entering the country! No! There is NO bridge-building, “was just trying to be a gracious host” type excuse for that. None. It is never necessary for the sake of being a gracious host to say something not only wildly false, but also damaging to especially vulnerable people, and also diametrically opposed to one of your own stated core values. It’s just completely unnecessary.

Am I speaking in hyperbole when I say that he “literally supports banning an entire religion from entering the country”? Nope. Here’s the quote from his own campaign press release (emphasis added):

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

And of course he tried to implement what his own staff person at the time Rudy Giuliani said was a version of this Muslim Travel Ban upon taking office, and was only stopped because of court rulings (we’re now on version 3 of the ban, which courts have allowed to provisionally go into effect pending further review).

At the time of Trump’s “total and complete shutdown” statement, the church took the unusual step of addressing it (somewhat charitably declining to mention Trump by name) in a sharply worded press release.. It begins, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in regard to party politics and election campaigns. However, [the Church] is not neutral in relation to religious freedom.” (emphasis added) It goes on to quote two historical passages declaring the centrality of religious freedom–including explicitly for Muslims–in our history:

If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a “Mormon,” I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.

—Joseph Smith, 1843

Be it ordained by the City Council of the City of Nauvoo, that the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, Mohammedans [Muslims], and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration, and equal privileges in this city …

—Ordinance in Relation to Religious Societies, City of Nauvoo, [Illinois] headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, March 1, 1841

Lest you think perhaps enough time has passed since that infamous quote about banning Muslims (though not from the ongoing attempts at implementing it) that the brethren might simply be letting bygones be bygones, there is also the outrageous incident of religious bigotry that happened just last week, in which Trump tweeted inflammatory videos that purported to show Muslim violence towards Christians. One purporting to show a “Muslim migrant” attack a Christian boy with crutches was no such thing. One extremely graphic one appears to be an actual snuff film. All were so egregiously hateful that my sister reports that she was blocked from seeing them (unclear by whom exactly, Twitter or her family’s internet filter).

These are not the actions of someone who should be praised for “efforts by his administration to protect religious freedom.” How is this even in dispute?

This treachery towards our Muslim brothers and sisters is especially heartbreaking considering the many steps our church and our church community have taken to build bridges between the two faiths.

After we have spent decades assuring Muslims that they have a friend and ally in us, that they can turn to use for refuge and respect even when the whole rest of our nation seems to be against them, can we turn around and “praise” efforts to exclude them? Can we as Mormons say that constant bigoted statements about Muslims, attempts to keep Muslims out of the country, and lets add to the list endorsement of a US Senate candidate who believes duly-elected Muslim U.S. citizens should be barred from serving in congress, constitute praiseworthy “efforts…to protect religious freedom”?

We have a long track record of being so much better than this when it comes to our Muslim brothers and sisters. We should be better than this now.

Comments

  1. Amen.

  2. Happy Hubby says:

    Amen! (and that is what I was going to put before I saw Carolyn’s comment)

  3. Cynthia, thanks for the great summation of the concerns! I worry a little with the “many of my liberal friends . . . being outraged” statement (not at you, but that such outrage is happening). Though I am outraged at Trump’s actions, rhetoric, and following, I, also, as a liberal, don’t have a problem with leaders meeting with him. Christ and the sinners, etc. But, as you have said, I have a serious problem with this particular aspect (religious freedom praise) of the exchange. I hope those “liberal friends” don’t represent a large portion of the LDS liberal minds, else we damage our name by it. The number of people who identify as Republicans is shrinking; now is not the time to push those people away with such myopics–just like Trump’s visit was not the time to praise his efforts on religious freedom.

    Thanks again for such a great collection of context!

  4. Yes, this is a far more serious lapse of judgment than, say, the implicit endorsement of the at-the-time-yet-untested Trump presidency by the MoTab’s inaugural performance (not that anything about the man’s presidency has been a surprise so far).

  5. Thank you, Cynthia. Very valuable run down of why lauding this president for protecting religious freedom is particularly incomprehensible.

  6. Dog Spirit says:

    I’m probably a liberal and I endorse this message. Thanks for articulating so well what has been on my mind.

  7. Further evidence that when we Mormons say “religious freedom,” we are frequently just using a euphemism for “freedom from being penalized for anti-lgbt speech, behavior, and policies.”

  8. Same leadership that invited Dick Cheney to speak at BYU 2007 and, correct me if I’m wrong, bestowed an honorary degree. Trump is a monster they helped create.

  9. Preach, sister!

  10. Thank you!

  11. Aghast.

  12. Cynthia,

    This is so right. So, so right. Thank you.

    WF: Word. And it’s grating.

  13. It’s a good thing you took that debate away from where it was and lodged it here, at the blog you run, and surrounded by all the right-thinking people who would agree with you.

  14. Hi jimbob, thanks for visiting. Do you think Trump is good on the issue of religious freedom?

  15. Of course not.

  16. [thumbs up icon]

  17. is it lunch time yet? says:

    As offensive and as bad as I think his tweets about Muslims are; and as ineffective and unnecessary as his immigration restrictions to some Muslim-majority nations (not all and not even the largest) are, these things do not constitute a threat to the religious freedom of Muslims in this country. He and his policies might be wrong, but these are not the same things as religious freedom.

    Muslims are still free to worship and people who attempt to prevent that through violence or vandalism are arrested. They are free to have access to every other freedom an American has… to vote, to operate a business, to protest, to go to college, etc. Millions upon millions of Muslims are from countries that allow them travel to the United States freely. If in the coming months and years courts find that Christian bakers and photographers can operate their businesses with their religious beliefs in mind, then Muslim bakers and photographers will be afforded the same privilege.

    I can understand how you say Trump is bigoted towards Muslims, I am less sure how you can say that he is threatening their religious freedom?

  18. It would help if we could join the other Christian leaders today decrying Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as foolhardy and the opposite of peace.

  19. @lunch time: So you think that our church leaders would NOT consider Mormons to be experiencing any noteworthy impacts on our religious freedom if everything that is currently happening to Muslims were happening to Mormons?

  20. But I have serious reservations about taking the First Presidency to task for failing to say things perfectly to Donald Trump, your comments above notwithstanding. I liked rd’s comments from Russell’s post yesterday; it expressly what I believe more charitably than I am capable.

    But my comment here was directed at what drives me most nuts about the bloggernaccle in the last five years or so: someone sees a comment on a blog they don’t like, and rather than engaging at that blog (or other forum), so that smart people can publicly disagree with one another, they take it back to their own blog and say why it’s wrong. And of course, at that person’s own blog, they control things–the fan club is largely already built in, and there’s always the ability to moderate (and if you’re FMH, they’ve already told you they aren’t accepting differing points of view). So what you end up with is two people ostensibly arguing with one another, but never directly, and groups of like-minded individuals at each blog slow clapping for each one, rather than an actual debate.

    And I hate it. I hate it when Millennial Star does it (and they might be the worst); I hate it when FMH does it, though again, they don’t even pretend any more like a debate is possible; and I hate it when BCC does it. And at the risk of being the old man saying get off my lawn, IT DIDN’T USED TO BE LIKE THIS. There didn’t used to be these built-in silos. Smart people on the left engaged with smart people on the right and everyone (except DKL) were friends at the end. That just doesn’t happen anymore, and your post, to me, is a prime example of why.

  21. Jimbob, I remember those days as well and miss them. The world seemed a little smaller and more friendly. For me, I just don’t visit other blogs much anymore at all, so I’m grateful for discussions here.

  22. Hi Jimbob, the conversations I referenced were happening at BCC (Russell’s post) and in response to BCC’s auto-tweeting of a link to Russell’s BCC post. This ended up being longer than makes sense for a comment on Russell’s post and it’s too long for a tweet (even with the recent doubling in character limit). So I made it a new post (and it too will be auto-tweeted on BCC’s twitter feed). So there was no change of venue.

  23. In the thread on Russell’s post I used words like “amateur,” “stupid,” and “shameful” to describe the general authorities’ gaffe in their meeting with Trump. I know those are strong words, and I suspected that the harshness of that kind of response is what bothered jimbob most. This is an issue that will always be with us as long as we have disagreements about what general authorities do. The question is what kind of criticism is acceptable within the bounds of faithful discussion.

    I believe that harsh criticism is acceptable when the general authorities make a serious, avoidable mistake. In this case, I think it is awful for church leaders to undermine their work on religious freedom by tossing a sop to a fool. I agree with Cynthia that the mistake here was not choosing to meet with Trump, but rather the ridiculous compliment about his work on “religious freedom.” rd’s interpretation of the gaffe doesn’t work for me because Trump was not the only audience for this conversation. This was a public event, recounted in an official press release describing for the world a statement that badly complicates the meaning of “religious freedom” for the LDS Church. The statement is now out there, and however much we would like to be charitable toward the general authorities, it will be a problem.

    Furthermore, I think that this kind of mistake reflects a misunderstanding among the general authorities about the kind of preparation that their political work requires. It is not acceptable to approach this kind of work as if it were just an extension of pastoral activity. Politics and diplomacy, both of which the church was practicing at the highest level in this event, require their own kind of expertise and preparation. I don’t think that church leaders have fully grasped this yet.

    Now, I don’t expect my comments or my analysis to matter at all in the big picture. I make these comments mostly to help myself feel better. I like being able to let off some steam here. But I want to be clear that I write these things because I care about the church, its members and its leaders. It hurts me to see the church damage itself in an event like this. I write this not because I want to cut anyone down, but because in this thing that I care about so much, loyalty requires my dissent, and I don’t have any better way to show it than by writing something here.

  24. With a certain amount of regret and despair, I am resigned to our church leaders saying things without thinking them through, considering how it will be heard, what it will mean in context, that the same words in December 2017 will mean something different than they would have in December 2015. Not approving. Not agreeing. Resigned.

    However, Public Affairs really does know better. I’m shocked that Public Affairs would let this happen, and report it out as though all is well.

  25. Mark Brown says:

    We also need to remember another aspect of the president’s visit to Utah. The land in and around Bear’s Ears national monument is considered sacred by Utah’s native tribes, and tribal leaders made this clear.

    It is strange that we praise this man for protecting religious freedom when the express purpose of his visit was to ignore the religious sensibilities of some of Utah’s citizens.

  26. Thank you, Mark. That is an important point.

  27. is it lunch time yet? says:

    Cynthia,
    If the President tweeted links to anti-Mormon sites and videos, it would certainly be concerning and insulting but I still don’t think it would have anything to do with my religious freedom. I am struggling to imagine an analogous situation on immigration since so many Mormons are already here and there are no “Mormon majority” or nations, nor anything even close. A President would have to target just Mormons from any nation.

    Is Trump a friend to Muslims? I think not. Is he even a friend to true Christianity? Not at all. But I don’t think he is endangering the religious freedom of either.

  28. Lunch, it just seems inconceivable that you (or at least others in the church including leadership) would be so sanguine if the shoe were on the other foot, given our collective hysterical response to even the slightest slight that we characterize as an assault on “religious freedom” (needing to exist in the same country as persons who are same-sex married and/or serve them baked goods) or even slights that have to be imagined out of whole cloth for lack of actual slights (the notion that Target doesn’t carry creches, which is completely false, yet I’ve heard many of my Mormon friends on Facebook caterwauling about it).

  29. is it lunch time yet? says:

    Well, I can’t speak for anyone else. I just think that an actual violation of someone’s religious freedom would be able to be remedied or at least addressed in court on those grounds. I mean if someone is violating a group’s religious liberty, they should seek legal remedies on the basis of their religious belief. And as much as I think Trump’s tweets and immigration policies are incorrect, I don’t think they fit that criteria.

  30. Loursat, can we be friends or something? I mean that both as a rhetorical expression of appreciation, and literally. DM me on twitter or email me sisterblah2@gmail.com ?

  31. It is a seemingly common mistake to describe religious freedom for others as a beliefs and practices issue, and religious freedom for one’s self and own group as an identity issue.

  32. Yeah, sometimes a comment is a sufficiently well formed piece that it requires it’s own op-ed. As someone who just briefly reviews the comments, I can miss some of the best stuff lost in the midst of 150 comments.

  33. So, an honest question: What exactly are these “efforts by [Trump’s] administration to preserve religious freedom” that the leaders praised Trump for? Any ideas?

    @’is it lunch time yet.’ A question for you as well. Also honest. You feel that Trump has not performed an “actual violation of religious freedom” and that thus, you don’t think Trump is “endangering” anyone religious freedom? Is that right? I think most people here read a statement by a Presidential Candidate that he wants a “total and complete shutdown of [Mormons] entering the United States” as endangering to religious freedom. Coupled with endorsement of videos of [Mormon] smashing Christian symbols, some people are worried. Do you see either of these as endangering to religious freedom? Legally? Practically?

  34. Brian, you ask, “What exactly are the ‘efforts by [Trump’s] administration to preserve religious freedom’ that the leaders praised Trump for?” Here is the answer, I think:

    Trump’s administration has 1) supported religious exceptions to federal health insurance mandates pertaining to birth control, 2) supported those who don’t want to bake cakes for gay weddings, 3) generally supported the rights of religious schools to operate without federal oversight (see DeVos’s efforts to reduce regulation of charter schools), 4) supported the repeal of the Johnson Amendment (see the House version of the current tax reform bill), which prohibits some nonprofits (including churches) from engaging substantially in electioneering (supporting a particular candidate in an election), and 5) generally opposed the expansion, or preservation, of protections for LGBT individuals, which protections are perceived by many on the right as being at odds with the persistence of religious liberties.

    Just as LDS leaders found common cause with Obama on immigrant rights, they are trying to find common cause with Trump on these ‘religious freedoms’ issues. The problem — as Cynthia has highlighted eloquently — is that there are several ways in which Trump has been actively hostile to the religious liberties of Muslims. Not to mention the indigenous peoples whose sacred land he traveled to Utah to unprotect.

  35. Politics and diplomacy, both of which the church was practicing at the highest level in this event, require their own kind of expertise and preparation. I don’t think that church leaders have fully grasped this yet.

    The church has a government affairs office, so one would think they aren’t just winging it. In light of the outcome, however, I hope they were.

  36. WF, given the narrow issue focus and selective beneficiaries of the things you list, that’s probably more accurately characterized as Trump being good on Christian dominionsim than Trump being good on religious freedom.

    They all have to do with rights of Christians to impose their practices on others under their power (students, employees, customers), not really their own free exercise. Can you even imagine how the right would react if Muslims in this country started pushing a right to force their practices on the rest of us as aggressively as Christian Right pushes their practices on everyone else? (It’s not even happening and yet we already hear the more fact-free segments of the right Chicken Littling about “Sharia Law.”)

  37. Is it lunchtime yet? says:

    Brian,
    Cynthia already asked the question of “what about if this was happening to Mormons?”

    Trump’s remarks and agenda are wrong in more ways than one. But I think in our time of of hyper-outrage it is important to be accurate and not hysterical. No one is infringing on the right of Muslims to worship or to have religious expression. Muslims are not excluded from government or civil functions, etc. There is no state sanctioned violence or legal differentiation of Muslim groups and organizations.

    I think it is accurate to say we have an anti-Muslim President. I think it is accurate to say that our President’s words and actions give Muslims reasonable reasons to worry about the future. But that does not mean that he has infinged on their religious liberties.

  38. @is it lunchtime yet?, Thanks, I think I understand. You see this as a legal case, and you are primarily worried that this OP and other criticism like it makes it appear that Trump has violated legal religious liberties. Because of this, you see responses like this OP as “hyper-outrage” and “hysterical” because they aren’t “accurate.”

  39. WF is right, the GAs could have been referencing administrative cooperation on religious freedom issues championed by church lobbyists. You’ll recall that church lobbyists in DC were for the religious exceptions to the health insurance mandates for birth control during the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby case (much to my dismay). Elder Oaks even flew out to testify on ‘religious freedom/liberty’.

    I suspect that the compliment Monday referenced these types of issues while ignoring the egregious comments and actions of the administration’s leader and many of the brains in the machine. It’s like complimenting the wallpaper on a burning house.

    It seems that the church doesn’t know how to use silence, the word ‘no’, or timing as diplomatic tools.

    p.s. Cynthia L., I’m highly suspicious of the ‘religious freedom’ issues the church has put its weight behind as there are strong financial incentives for doing so and the arguments for ‘religious freedom’ come from a type of mental gymnastics. On the other hand, the line between banning an entire faith from boarders, verbally persecuting them, spreading malicious lies about them in a world filled with violence and fear and rising tides of white supremacy, is much clearer.

  40. Dog Spirit says:

    “No one is infringing on the right of Muslims to worship or to have religious expression. Muslims are not excluded from government or civil functions, etc. There is no state sanctioned violence or legal differentiation of Muslim groups and organizations.”

    While I think this is correct, there is no way church leaders have this narrow a definition of religious freedom. I’ve watched a general conference session or two in my day, and certain of our leaders are positively convinced and actively trying to convince the body of the church that their religious liberties are being infringed upon (and it’s working). And yet the things you say about Muslims in the paragraph quoted above are equally true about Mormons. Mormons, in fact, have even less to fear since our president is not openly anti-Mormon. That our religious liberties are not being violated hasn’t stopped the church from making religious freedom its most prominent focus.

    Therefore, I do not think it is unreasonable to expect church leaders to have the same definition of religious freedom for Muslims as it has for Mormons.

  41. Trump has never advocated banning an entire religion from the country. You’re a liar. Which makes you a moral hypocrite.

  42. Andrew, he did, as the post points out. Why such hate?

  43. Why such hate? The OP is hateful. You don’t win the moral high ground by continuing to dishonestly misrepresent old off-the-cuff campaign remarks. Trump has made it clear countless times that he did not mean to suggest a religious ban. And it’s moot because he’s POTUS now. If he wanted to implement such a ban, it’s perfectly lawful for him to do so, and he hasn’t. He’s done precisely what he said he’d do during the campaign – restrict travel from a select number of terror prone regions. So, again, I repeat, you’re a liar.

  44. Andrew, (a) you didn’t quote me correctly; (b) yes as quoted in the post he really did propose banning all Muslims from entering the country (he said “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the country,” I said “banning [Muslims] from entering the country”—are we really quibbling over changing the word “shutdown” to the word “ban”?).

  45. Andrew, (a) an officially prepared and posted press release is not an “off the cuff” remark, (b) it would not be “perfectly legal” for him to ban Muslims from entering the country, (c) even his attempts at watering down his ban to get it past the courts have been blocked by the courts, at least until this take #3 that is currently being reviewed, (d) the fact that he’s on take #3 indicates that he HAS tried to implement this ban to the maximum extent possible within the law (which, thankfully, is not a great extent, because it is fundamentally discriminatory).

  46. Let me respectfully submit that “Andrew” is full of it and should be ignored.

  47. I was involved in Trumps actual campaign. I witnessed countless speeches from his very first days in the primaries to winning the general. He NEVER proposed a blanket religious-based ban on ALL muslims. You’re a liar, twisting things he said out of context. Or too lazy to put them in context. Same difference. The particular quote in question was in reference to IMMIGRATION, re ISIS and refugees. Not “an entire religion from entering the county” as you say.

    You can keep prooftexting that quote, no matter how many times you repeat, it won’t mean what you want it to mean.

    Again, you’re a liar!

    Re POTUS authority, you’re embarrassingly wrong. Go talk to legal scholars. This is basic. The president has plenary powers. His early EOs were not struck down by SCOTUS, only lower activist courts. SCOTUS would have upheld, the only way they could have struck down would be to deny plenary powers, which would have deep constitutionally upending implications. The final EO, which SCOTUS readily upheld, is even stricter than the earlier versions.

    I don’t mean to be mean spirited, but I can’t tell you how offensive it is to have people like you grossly and arrogantly misrepresent me, and in such a sinister way. This is, frankly, why you got Trump. Instead of dialoging, actually talking with conservatives and understanding, engaging in honest debate even if we disagree, you hide over in your corner of the internet to prattle and preen.

  48. that one time in sacrament says:

    We don’t need to throw them under the bus, just put them on a bus to the airport or the border to send them back to their home countries.

  49. “I was involved in Trumps [sic] actual campaign.” Now it makes sense. I was worried for a second there that these were the comments of a sane person.

  50. Generally speaking, and with only one or two exceptions, this thread has been one of the most interesting, enlightening, helpful I’ve read in a long, long time. Thank you all for your thoughtful contributions.

  51. Thanks, Cynthia. Well expressed. But we must realize that the LDS Church, despite its claims of political neutrality, is a Republican church. Most of its leaders are Republican. Most of its members are Republican. But if we look at where the GOP is now and where it has been headed for the past 30 plus years, it is obvious that the leaders and members must face an uncomfortable decision. They must break off their association with this corrupt party, and they must begin speaking out more specifically about the moral wasteland that the GOP now represents. The party of “family values”? Hardly. It is the Party of Donald Trump and Roy Moore, of encouraging bigotry and defending sexual assault. Those who disagree are banished, like Jeff Flake.

  52. Wally, I’m not prepared to concede that the church is a Republican church. I agree that the majority of members, including leaders, are Republicans, and that their political instincts skew conservative, but my observation is that church leaders see the one-sidedness of Utah politics in particular, and of politics in the church in general, as a problem. I think the political neutrality claims are sincere, not cynical, even though I agree that we ought to be better at making good on those claims. IMO, the church’s political one-sidedness is something that church leaders struggle to fix (for all kinds of reasons) because they want to be neutral, not something that they secretly foment while falsely claiming to be neutral.

  53. Brother Sky says:

    JKC, in keeping with the generally respectful tone of the comments, I’d like to agree with Wally and respectfully ask you a question about terminology. I believe, along with Wally, that the church is Republican with a capital “R”, but I also wonder if making a distinction between “Republican” and “conservative” would be helpful? I think that may be part of the issue here. If the church espouses conservative values that happen to be more traditionally Republican, that might imply that the church is conservative first and then Republican just sort of by default, taking some of the political (or at least ideological) tinge out of some of the one-sidedness that you note. And that would also give church leaders more traction to deny the clearly intolerant and anti-Christian aspects of the current Republican regime. Just sort of thinking out loud about that.

    And to Wally, I agree and, unlike JKC, I don’t see the motives of our leaders as particularly benign when it comes to political neutrality (though I don’t see them as rabidly engaging in hidden agendas either), in part because making a claim (and a policy) regarding, say, the relative merits (or not) of homosexuals as parents, or denying women the priesthood simply cannot be considered apolitical (or “neutral”) in 21st century America. Those policies have direct and demonstrable consequences regarding the people they affect and are therefore decidedly not neutral or harmless. I don’t think, as I mentioned above that our leaders are either wholly benign or rabid ideologues, but I do think that the whole “religious liberty” rhetoric (which generally seems to be rhetoric employed mainly by Christians, oddly enough) is in the main fear mongering, cynical and disingenuous and is pretty much trying to ensure that a group of people have the license to discriminate against others. I think our leaders can do better and I believe that they want to do better, but it’s disappointing to see people like Elder Oaks appropriate this kind of cynical rhetoric.

  54. Wally and Brother Sky, fwiw, the majority of Mormons are not Republicans; only about 42 percent of Mormons live in the United States. Even if each and every US Mormon were Republican, that wouldn’t be a majority.

    And Pew shows that about 70 percent of US Mormons are or lean Republican; 19 percent are or lean Democrat, and the remaining 11 percent are or lean independent. By my math, that means that less than 30 percent of church membership is or leans Republican.

  55. The difficulty of the church’s involvement in politics is so interesting. Like JKC, I believe that church leaders are sincere in their desire to maintain partisan neutrality, but I think they are discovering that actually doing that is much more complicated than they expected it to be.

    When a church gets involved in politics, it has double the work of normal political actors. Like other actors, a church has to master the political game if it wants to achieve its political goals. Unlike other actors, a church has to work equally hard to prevent politics from subsuming its religious purposes. There are so, so many ways that the politics can poison the religion. In fact, you can’t begin to anticipate all the ways that things can go wrong.

    So a church that engages in politics has to take its politics very seriously. The church has to plan and calculate all of its political actions, including every word it utters; the church can’t go into a meeting with the US President and treat it like a ritzy missionary demonstration. The church also has to evaluate constantly the way its political activity and its pastoral activity are interacting. It has to do this on more than an ad hoc basis; it has to be proactive in developing a principled theoretical understanding of how its politics and its religion interact. It has to understand that there is no place to rest when it comes to politics. Neither the theory nor the practical challenges will ever become settled, and if you’re not constantly interrogating the problems, you’re bound to screw up royally. Even if you’re perfectly diligent, you’re still going to screw up sometimes, so you’d also better become really good at dealing with your screw-ups.

    Based on their actions, I doubt that the general authorities have begun to get as deeply into this stuff as they must.

    All of this is complicated by the history of church leaders’ involvement in partisan politics. Our twentieth-century legacy of leaders who embrace extreme right-wing political ideas colors all of the church’s current political efforts, largely because there are so many members of the church who have followed those leaders’ path. That’s an example of a theoretical problem that church leaders need to really work on. Setting a policy of partisan neutrality doesn’t even start to get at the underlying issues.

  56. Brother Sky says:

    Thanks for that info, Sam. Very helpful. And I should have specified I meant U.S. Mormons.

  57. This is a great response, Cynthia. Thanks for pointing this out. It’s really sad that for Church leaders, “religious freedom” = freedom to discriminate against LGBT people, and they miss the broader implications of what they’re saying when they refer to it.

  58. We can’t expect any better when, for decades, we’ve tried to serve both God and mammon. Time to take Jesus more literally instead of paying deference to the rich and powerful.

  59. Andrew,
    Steve Bannon doesn’t want Muslims in the United States. Correct?

  60. Andrew–
    Anyone onboard with Trump should be the last to call someone else a liar.

  61. “Trump is a monster they helped create.”

    Who is “they”? The LDS leadership? Republicans? Trump voters?

    In my opinion, we all helped create this monster. Conservatives have grown tired of being put down and ostracized. Liberals couldn’t put up a decent candidate. There’s enough blame to go around.

  62. We really don’t need to be re-litigating the election here.

  63. Loursat, seems you and I can agree that the statement was neither elegant nor optimal. Where we diverge is our perception of the costs. I see them as minor; you see them as significant. Had the church officially declared Trump a beacon of religious liberty and a friend to Mormons everywhere, that would be a problem. And I guess I can see how the statement and press release may feel like something close to such a declaration. But I don’t think it was. And I really don’t think it will be perceived that way. Outside of the walls of this very-focused blog-based analysis, I think the greater benefits of Trump being hosted around a humanitarian aid facility and receiving a lesson on Jesus (including the Christus!) far outweigh those costs. And I think those benefits are unfairly discounted in this discussion. The exchange did not occur in a vacuum.

    As for Senator Hatch . . .

  64. I certainly understand the OP’s frustration here, but I’m a little surprised at the amount of emotional energy being exerted on a diplomatic summary of a conversation that occurred in private. From a PR perspective, expressing “appreciation to the president for the efforts by his administration to protect religious freedom” could be used to summarize an awful lot of things said in a conversation, potentially including a conversation where concerns about the rhetoric and policies concerning Muslims were expressed. I certainly don’t know whether that happened, but I do think anyone who has worked for a large bureaucratic organization that releases press statements summarizing what was said in a private meeting knows that such statements are hardly worth attention or close scrutiny. In fact, that are specifically drafted to be as vague and deflective as possible.

    The reason those statements exist in the first place is one or more party in the meeting preferred their comments to be off the record, usually because they can be more frank without exposing the complicated nature of the diplomatic relationship. If the representatives from the Church had wanted their exact statements to the president with regard to religious liberty to be public, they very easily could have made them in public. That’s not what they did, and the statement from LDS Newsroom exists to provide reporters with something when they inquire about what was said during the closed meeting.

    It’s possible that behind closed doors, the reps from the Church high fived Trump and promised him tithing money to demonstrate support for his anti-Muslim policies. It’s also possible they chided him for being a doofus that’s made the world a worse place to be by targeting Muslims. That’s basically the extremes in the range of what could be included in “expressed appreciation for efforts to protect religious freedom.”

  65. Left Field says:

    A vague diplomatic summary would be “They discussed the importance of religious freedom.”

  66. That would definitely be one approach to a vague diplomatic summary.

  67. In the last 20 years there are many times—even most times—when “expressed appreciation for efforts to protect religious freedom” would have been a bland, vague, diplomatic summary. But in December 2017, in light of what has been done and said in 2017, that line is a politically charged fail. We can debate who’s fault it is. We can talk about how bad it is—a one liner faux pas quickly forgotten or a reason to restructure Public Affairs or somewhere in between. (I am interested in whether it’s made worse by this BCC OP and comment string?) We can bemoan the fact that keeping up and playing smart in a political arena is hard work. But there’s no question in my mind that that line was a mistake — in December 2017, in the United States, in reference to the current administration, from the LDS Church. .

  68. I 100% agree that the OP and subsequent thread prove the line was a mistake. I also think a big part of the mistake has been the absolutist discussions it spurred here and elsewhere.

  69. “a little surprised at the amount of emotional energy being exerted on a diplomatic summary of a conversation that occurred in private”

    JJ, this would be fair if there weren’t a TON of very raw history here. The church has been using the phrase “religious freedom” very narrowly to mean only “discriminate against LGBT without societal consequence” for decades now. It plays an almost euphemism-like or dog whistle role. And it of course defines treatment of Muslims as not being within the category “religious freedom,” which will inevitably lead to dust-ups like this. It’s undeniable that an undercurrent of longstanding hurt and resentment over the church’s action and rhetoric on this is a key part of the emotional landscape of this discussion.

    “I 100% agree that the OP and subsequent thread prove the line was a mistake. I also think a big part of the mistake has been the absolutist discussions it spurred here and elsewhere.”

    This is childish but I can’t help but LOLz and using “100%” just before decrying absolutism. :-)

  70. Only a Sith deals in absolutes

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