Last week, Peggy Fletcher Stack, religion editor for the Salt Lake Tribune, approached me about commenting on a Los Angeles area LDS bishop who had written a blog post about Harry Reid.
Peggy asked me to comment because I have just written a book - The Liberal Soul: Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Politics - that was published by Greg Kofford Books. In the book, I address the issue of intolerance within the Church and the assumption that if one is a Democrat, faithfulness in the Church cannot co-exist.
I made the comment to Peggy that a person who conducts a temple recommend interview (which I have done before) is not at liberty to interpret that question about associations with or sympathy towards groups or individuals contrary to the Church as one related to political party affiliation.
Yet, I doubt that Bishop Paredes' attitude about Democrats answering that question falsely is unique. I have heard many comments about Democrats from Church members (and even some leaders) that lead me to believe this is a general problem in the Church. It is a problem that needs to be discussed openly and resolved.
The problem with his blog post is not just that he was speaking as an LDS bishop, but that he shared an attitude of intolerance towards who disagreed with him to the point that he believed they were not worthy of a temple recommend, the possession of which becomes a symbol of faithfulness. It is that intolerance that is harmful to the feeling of fellowship that should exist among Latter-day Saints.
It is not unusual for a group to form based on like-minded views that then becomes exclusive of those who wish to be or remain members, but who differ. However, the kingdom of God is not like other societal groups. The qualification for membership is a broken heart and a contrite spirit, not ideological sameness. If that were so, the Church would do no missionary work in many parts of the world where right-wing politics constitute the opinion of very few.
I have a simple belief that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all - regardless of political affiliation. Democrats who join the Church should feel just as comfortable as Republicans or any other political party affiliation because party affiliation is not very important in our relations with each other. Church meetings should not be occasions for political exclusiveness, and activity of the Church (including temple recommend status) should not be connected to party affiliation.
Unfortunately, Bishop Paredes' blog post has reminded us that this is not so. Democrats still face prejudice and attempted disenfranchisement. There are members who look with suspicion upon other members who are Democrats or more liberal in their political views. I don't view this group as in any way a majority, but it does exist and, as indicated by the incident with Bishop Paredes, members of that minority can become leaders with the ability to attempt to exclude if they wished to do so.
This does not make the Church less true. It is another indication that the Church is not perfect - neither as individuals and, because of that, nor as an organization. Indeed, I remain convinced that our cultural problems are surmountable. We can, indeed, unite as brothers and sisters in faith.
That's why Bishop Paredes' blog post offers an opportunity. He has brought this issue into the open. Now, we can talk about it and seek to address it. That means not only through social and traditional media, but also in interpersonal conversations.
That cannot happen if Bishop Paredes is humiliated into offering an abject apology and going through meetings with LDS Democrats to express his contrition, as has been suggested. Instead, Bishop Paredes should be treated not only as a brother in the Gospel, but also as someone who has a perfect right to his opinions about Harry Reid's political actions.
Rather, any interaction over the issue of Democrats should have as its objective to retain the feelings of fellowship with each other. When such incidents occur, the reaction should be loving and kind rather than hostile and vindictive. Such behavior makes friends rather than enemies, but, aside from the practical consequences, it is simply how disciples of Christ should act towards each other.
I suggest that when someone says something like Bishop Paredes did, the response should be a private conversation with expression of love accompanied by a reminder that the Church is for all and certainly he or she would not want to be the cause of anyone leaving the Church or not joining because of an inappropriate statement.
Our love for each other should transcend political barriers. Several recent general conference talks have made that point. Hopefully more and more people are listening to that message.