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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

God and Public Policy 

by Aaron B
We who are LDS believe that the President of the Church is God’s official spokesman on the Earth. It is widely assumed that the Prophet may, at least on occasion, speak directly with God, face-to-face. There are, of course, 1001 arguments as to what the prophetic mantle really entails. We could spend countless hours debating de facto prophetic “infallibility,” whether and in what ways the prophet could ever “lead us astray,” the parameters for prophets having their own “opinions,” in what contexts prophets are or are not “acting as such,” etc. etc. etc. We could discuss the Proclamation and debate its “doctrinal” status with respect to gender and marriage, or Pres. Hinckley’s apparent endorsement of the Iraq War, and debate whether he was speaking only for himself, or for God Almighty. But wherever you all come down on these specific issues, one thing seems undeniable: There is a presumption in Mormonism that, at least some of the time, the Prophet is giving us insight into how God Himself feels about certain pressing issues. And I see no reason to reject the presumption just because the issue being addressed is arguably “political.”

Assuming this is correct, here is my question:
"To what extent does the Prophet’s involvement or LACK of involvement in a public policy dispute tell us something about GOD's interest in the outcome of that dispute?"

One possible answer is: “It doesn't. To the extent that the Church opposes legalizing same-sex marriage (for example), we need not conclude that God doesn't want gays and lesbians to have the legal right to marry. The Church's involvement is nothing more than an instantiation of the Prophet implementing his public policy “opinions” through the vehicle of the Church.”

However appealing to certain “Liberal Mormons” this answer might be, my guess is that most members of the Church won’t find it satisfactory. Rather, most believe that we DO learn something about God's will concerning the outcome of public policy disputes when the Prophet and/or Church get involved. We learn that God DOESN'T want gays to have the legal right to marry (once again, for example) and he probably wants us Saints to stand up and be counted among those who would defend the sanctity of traditional marriage.

If anything like this is correct, then it seems to me that we can infer quite a bit about God's political preferences by studying Mormon history. One of the first things we could note is that the Church doesn’t get directly involved in public policy disputes very often. Thus, we can conclude that an issue must meet some really high standard to merit God’s active involvement (via the Church). By looking at instances when the Church and/or Prophet have attempted to influence political outcomes (and taking note of instances where it/he has not) we can draw some pretty firm conclusions about God's priorities in the political arena.

Some conclusions:

1. God doesn't want the State to sanction gay and lesbian marriages.

2. God has a real problem with gambling casinos.

3. God didn't want the Equal Rights Amendment enacted into law.

4. God didn't particularly care one way or the other whether or not the slaves were freed in the 19th Century – at least not according to what he was saying (or not saying) to Brigham Young.

5. God certainly didn't think the Civil Rights movement in this country was important enough to lend any moral support to.

Other conclusions could probably be listed.

The Bottom Line: When I see the Church get involved in a public policy dispute, whether it be same-sex marriage or any other, I always ask the question: "Gee, why is this issue important enough to merit God’s interest and involvement, while these other issues were not." And though I concede that my own political interests and priorities may not be the same as God’s, I find it difficult to see how an issue like state recognition of same-sex marriage has such important "Gospel" implications, while the abolition of slavery or the support for equal treatment of all God’s children under the law did not.

Anyone care to enlighten me?

Aaron B

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