Whenever I run into one of my Mormon friends, I always ask him what he thinks of the Russell Pearce controversy.
I ask mainly because I am, at heart, incorrigible. I confess that I find perverse pleasure in seeing my friends squirm, roll their eyes and let out long exasperated sighs.
And the question never fails to elicit those reactions.
Not that you need any reminders, but the whole dustup began Oct. 13 at a rally to denounce some racially charged statements made by Pearce, a Republican Mormon from Mesa (forgive the obvious redundancy).
At the rally, held near the Mesa Arizona Temple, Rabbi Bonnie Koppell said that Pearce’s words had brought the faith community together. But no one from the LDS church attended to express the Mormon perspective. The Mormons were conspicuous by their absence, and the church has taken some heat because of it.
From LDS officials’ point of view, the rally was a political event and church doctrine prohibits the church from endorsing — or denouncing — candidates.
I can almost sympathize.
First, none of my Mormon friends are racists. Aside from that, the charge of racism leveled against the church seems flimsy since Mormons send missionaries all over the world. I doubt those clean-cut Mormon boys are knocking on doors in South America or Africa to ask, “Excuse me, do you know where any white folks live around here?’’
Still, I believe the church made a mistake in not participating in the rally.
There a few reasons. First, Pearce is a Mormon. If his statements don’t reflect the church’s values, the church should say so. Silence suggests approval, it could be argued.
Second, as a Christian, I know that I am charged to be “salt and light’’ in a secular society. Maybe Mormons adhere to a different standard. I don’t know. But I do know that history shows that many of the most significant social reforms have their origins in a church pew. People of faith have an obligation.
In this case, the social issue is clouded because it emerged in the context of a political campaign. I would respectfully ask the church: Which takes
precedence — social conscience or political neutrality?
My take: Stand for your principles and let the chips — political or otherwise — fall where they may.
Finally, the church’s history is sadly conflicted on this subject. After all, it wasn’t until 1978 that black LDS men could receive the priesthood. So whatever changes in church policy have occurred, they are relatively recent changes.
The rally was a missed opportunity for the church to clearly express its position. Now, some folks question the church’s sincerity on matters of race.
The LDS church doesn’t have to listen to me, of course.
But it should listen to its conscience.