by Sharon Lindbloom
19 June 2023
This month (June 2023) the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wrote and released a letter to be read during sacrament meetings (Sunday church services) to LDS church members in the United States. The letter, signed by President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors (President Dallin Oaks and President Henry Eyring), first urges Latter-day Saints to exhibit civility while being actively engaged in civic affairs. The letter then moves on to call for Mormons to be well-informed about the issues and the candidates that are running for office. The LDS leaders state,
“We urge you to spend the time needed to become informed about the issues and candidates you will be considering. Some principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties, and members should seek candidates who best embody those principles. Members should also study candidates carefully and vote for those who have demonstrated integrity, compassion, and service to others, regardless of party affiliation. Merely voting a straight ticket or voting based on ‘tradition’ without careful study of candidates and their positions on important issues is a threat to democracy and inconsistent with revealed standards (see Doctrine and Covenants 98:10). Information on candidates is available through the internet, debates, and other sources.”
Such good advice. Become informed. Understand the issues and where candidates stand on those issues. Don’t choose your candidates according to tradition and/or merely rely on party affiliation. Do your research, using the internet and other sources to find good information. And then, based on what you’ve learned, vote for the best candidate for the job.
As I read this First Presidency letter about approaching politics, it struck me that the LDS church gives very different advice when it comes to religious issues. Consider the instructions found in the Book of Mormon.
Known as Moroni’s Promise, this Mormon scripture instructs people to “read” and “receive” the Book of Mormon, “ponder” it in their hearts, and pray to know that it’s true. People are not encouraged to become informed about the thousands of changes to the Book of Mormon text, or about the anachronisms within the book, or about the history surrounding the gold plates, or about the credibility of the witnesses (etc.). Instead, they are told to rely on the feelings they experience after pondering and praying.
LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley (1995-2008 tenure) told members of his church to follow the same steps in regard to Joseph Smith’s First Vision. He said,
“I hope with all my heart that each member of this Church will read the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith, read the story of the First Vision and think about it, and pray about it, and cultivate within your hearts a testimony of the truth of that marvelous experience, when the Father and the Son appeared to the boy Joseph.” (“Testimony of the First Vision,” Church News, 7/1/2006, 2)
President Hinckley didn’t encourage Latter-day Saints to research the multiple versions of Joseph’s First Vision or examine and understand the historical context in which Joseph said it occurred. Instead, people were encouraged to read the story (presumably as it appears in LDS scripture), think about it, and pray to gain a testimony or conviction that the First Vision really happened.
In the area of politics, the LDS First Presidency urges people to become informed about candidates and issues using the internet, debates, and other sources. The letter warns against relying on party affiliation and reiterates the need for “careful study” to determine the best course of action in the voting booth. But in my experience, when it comes to determining the pros and cons of Mormonism, the church wants people to avoid careful study that would involve accessing most of the information found on the internet as well as debates that present opposing viewpoints. Instead, if one insists on doing research, the church urges reading and studying only approved faith-promoting church materials written by faithful LDS members – a form of relying on party affiliation, if you will.
In the area of politics, the LDS First Presidency says a vote based on “tradition” is a threat to our nation’s democracy. But every year in General Conference when members are asked to “sustain” their church leaders by raising their hands (as if voting), they do so, nearly unanimously, based in large part on tradition.
As harmful as it can be to cast uninformed political votes, the harm is much greater when we choose a religion or follow a religious leader without being well-informed. Following a false prophet or placing our ultimate faith in a false religion has very real eternal consequences.
It is a truism that truth has nothing to fear from investigation. Therefore, I invite you to approach Mormonism with the same care Latter-day Saints are called to employ in choosing a political candidate. You might consider the wisdom of the biblical apostles who taught, “test everything” including “test[ing] the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 and 1 John 4:1). In doing so may you be counted among the “noble” ones, known for “examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
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