Pray for Jesus
I live in Salt Lake City where I work in retail. It is a family business although I am not a member of the family. Neither are two of our other employees, Miguel and Jesus. We have a bit of a bond over being the only employees here who don't share a bloodline, but last week, I found something new for us to bond over.
Latter-Day Saints Should Applaud Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration
Last week, President Obama announced that because of Congress’s failure to pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill, he is taking executive action to help improve our badly broken immigration system. At the same time, Obama acknowledged that his executive action would not solve all of our immigration challenges and that only new legislation would provide a comprehensive solution. Notwithstanding the fact that many previous Republican presidents used executive actions to reform our nation’s immigration policies, Republicans predictably responded to President Obama’s action with outrage, even though it was House Republicans who purposely stalled on taking up immigration reform after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan reform bill in 2013. Among those expressing disdain for the President’s actions are Mormon conservatives. However, if those conservatives understood the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on immigration reform, they would applaud the President’s initiative.Read more
Immigrant Families and Why It's Not Enough to Talk and Meet with President Obama
A little over a year ago, President Uchtdorf met with other faith leaders at the White House to discuss immigration reform with President Obama. Today he attended a similar meeting and again made headlines.
Photo courtesy of lds.org
Last March, President Uchtdorf was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune as saying,
"[President Obama] was talking about his principles and what he said was totally in line with our values."
Censuring Arizona’s GOP
I personally want to thank Arizona’s Republican Party. From the removal of concealed-carry permits, to SB 1070, to radical border philosophy, to Sheriff Joe’s posse, and now the attacking of Senator John McCain, misguided legislators are alienating key voting demographics in the state. The Hispanic vote is growing leaps and bounds, doubling this past decade and edging close to 30% of the electorate. Moderates are regularly siding with Democrats over issues like gay rights and immigration reform causing key political strategists to take notice. Many have switched Arizona from red to purple going into 2016 and believe this transformation will continue for decades to come.
Current voter evolution is lost on our state leaders. Recently Arizona GOP legislators passed a resolution censuring McCain, a moderate favorite, for his “long and terrible record of drafting, co-sponsoring and voting for legislation best associated with liberal Democrats.” They also used the session to vote on a support measure for non-Arizonan Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. You read that correctly – Arizona legislators wasted taxpayer resources to show support for Senators that do not represent their constituents. Of course, this misguided political theater is far from the truth as John McCain’s 90% party-line voting record stands on its own. Probably the most conservative vote of McCain’s career came in 2003 when he, and then-Congressman Jeff Flake, bucked their party voting against a massive prescription drug entitlement program. That single bill accounts for $17 trillion in unfunded liabilities today and one of the largest drivers of our national debt. In contrast that same bill passed with votes coming from Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Tom Delay, Jon Kyl, Rick Santorum, Pete Sessions, Darrell Issa and several current Tea Party darlings.
To be fair, Arizona’s divisional rhetoric mimics what we experience across our nation. Conservatism has been replaced with exclusionary politics that cast aside any politician that does not align with their platforms 100% of the time. Cloaked under the guise of the Constitution these political radicals are punishing any politician that steps across the aisle, ignoring the entire compromising fabric of our originating document. Such attitudes were on display earlier this year as the country witnessed the full Tea Party agenda as the government was held hostage by a misguided minority. Such extreme positions were also experienced at local levels as two Colorado State Senators were ousted for supporting the same common-sense gun legislation that Ronald Reagan would have endorsed.
Ironically, embattled Senator McCain’s approach to immigration is the only path that will save Arizona’s current Republican Party. The Hispanic community is a becoming a force and the Tea Party circus is motivating voters across the state. One of Arizona’s residents, a national political strategist for the GOP, commented that such extreme actions such as censuring Senator McCain are why “they (the nation) laugh at us.” I completely agree. Arizona’s intolerant primary voters will soon see the same phenomenon experienced in Nevada, Delaware, and other states where extreme candidates were traded for moderate Democrats, which I will applaud.
Shutdown Governing: A No-Good Way to Run a Nation
Even if Congress passes the Reid-McConnell compromise, however, our problems aren't over.
A short-term continuing resolution and a four-month increase in the debt ceiling staves off default and gets some people back to work, but it doesn't solve the deeper problems we're facing that are hindering American innovation and the investments in human capital that we need for the coming century.
The Farm Bill, passed by the Senate, still languishes in the House, which is more focused on cutting SNAP and on continuing farm subsidies (but under a new program!) than on supporting beginning farmers and funding scientific research to make our farms more sustainable and productive in the long-run.
Immigration reform, passed by the Senate, has also faltered in the House. LDS Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), received favorable press from across the aisle earlier this year as "the new LDS face of immigration policy." However, he abandoned bipartisan talks in early June, citing the health care law. Although he promised that he would help the House pass piece-meal legislation that could then lead to a full bill, this hasn't happened, in part because of the shutdown pushed by Senators Cruz and Lee. The recent rule-change in the House making it so only Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) or his designee can bring legislation for a vote makes it much less likely immigration reform happens before the 2014 midterms. (And lest one be tempted to see immigration reform as a "Democrats-only" initiative, remember that the Senate bill won the support for LDS Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), no Democrats in any sense.)
The Farm Bill and immigration reform are just two items needed (in addition to raising the debt ceiling and funding basic government functions) to keep our country creaking along. To create solid middle-class jobs and support the next generation of innovators, our nation needs to be doing and building things. This includes restoring funding to scientific research hit hard by the sequester and shuttered during the current shutdown (we're losing important medical data from research mice as long as the government stays shut down). It also includes rolling back the cuts to HeadStart and better supporting early childhood education. And it includes continuing the nation's long investment in supporting entrepreneurs and businesses, which involves programs like the Small Business Administration's loan program.
When the government is shut down, we can't even fix what's obviously wrong, like the government's procurement procedures for information technology.
We need our nation open for research, for education, for business, so we can discover, learn, and innovate. When we focus on taking our country "back" we lose sight of what makes it great, of people working together, sharing ideas, and figuring out how to make it so the members of the next generation--all of them--can have equal opportunity to learn, to be healthy, to pursue happiness. Shutdown governing is a no-good way to run a country.
I am not a big fan of using scriptures in these kinds of discussions (it reminds me too much of the Bible-bashing green missionaries sometimes do), but considering this comes from a "declaration considering governments and laws in general," I found this apt:
"We believe that every [person] should be honored in [their] station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all [persons] owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between [one] and [another]; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by [us] to [our] Maker."
We mortals are fallible and imperfect, so the laws we make will be fallible and imperfect. But we have a duty to study laws and their impact, to improve them so they better serve our sisters and brothers, our fellow citizens and residents, to "[regulate] our [respective] interests." Such is the stuff of life in a democratic republic. Re-opening offices and paying our bills, while crucial for staving off further economic turmoil, is the bare minimum of our duty, and the beginning of the work ahead of us.
(Image courtesy of Joe Heller at the Denver Post.)
The Mormon View of Immigration Reform
The issue of immigration reform is in the news right now, with national leaders of both parties coming together to decide how best to help our brothers and sisters. As we think through these issues, it is important to consider what the LDS Church believes and has said when it comes to immigration. We've collected a few quotes below. For a very detailed history and analysis of this issue, we recommend this policy brief written by a Mormon for the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies.
Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy recently spoke out on the issue of immigration:
Immigration questions are questions dealing with God's children. I believe a more thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane approach is warranted, and urge those responsible for enactment of Utah's immigration policy to measure twice before they cut.
Elder Jensen later added that "LDS leaders had recently issued a 'very sincere plea' to lawmakers to consider the issue with humanity and compassion."
It was a bit out of the ordinary for the Church to so forcefully throw its support behind a piece of legislation, as the New York Times noted:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for its reluctance to be seen as meddling in politics. But on immigration, the church actively lobbied legislators, sent Presiding Bishop H. David Burton to attend the bill signing and issued a series of increasingly explicit statements in favor of allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work.
The Church's official statement on the matter first explains that it discourages individuals from entering a country illegally, but then pivots to the core of the issue at stake (here's a PDF of the statement in Spanish):
What to do with the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now residing in various states within the United States is the biggest challenge in the immigration debate. The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God.
The statement then gets down to policy, sketching a broad outline for immigration reform it could get behind:
The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.
In furtherance of needed immigration reform in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.
A wide variety of moderate and left-of-center immigration policies fall under this framework, including the Senate's recent immigration proposal and the President's plan, which he will released today at a policy speech in Las Vegas. The editor of the church-affiliated Deseret News urged members to consider our own history when debating the issue of immigration reform:
“Latter-day Saints, because of their history of persecution and forcefully being dispossessed of their livelihoods and properties, do have compassion and understanding” for immigrants.
Why I'm a Mormon and Support President Obama, Part 5/6: Social Issues
As their name indicates, this is the elephant in the room for social conservatives. There’s a very large voting bloc that goes well beyond Mormonism for whom social issues, particularly perhaps abortion and now gay marriage, often take precedence over anything else. Described as “conservative family values,” these are often linked to family and framed within moral rhetoric—more than, say, economic or foreign policy issues—and tend, I think, to be the most discussed political topics in religious settings. They are therefore what often comes up when conservative Mormons discover that one of their friends is a liberal or a Democrat: “How can you support a party that supports abortion?” “How can you vote for Obama now that he’s come out in favor of gay marriage?” Etc.
It might not be possible to answer such questions satisfactorily, but I have two thoughts that move in that direction. First, taking a broad view helps. That, for instance, is why I’ve spent so much time in this series trying to establish that neither party is the party of God, neither has any more or less divine approbation than the other. As a peculiar people with our own set of beliefs we are going to agree with the Republicans sometimes, with the Democrats sometimes, and with neither party perhaps most of all. A nuanced view of an issue rarely falls inside a party platform. Second, we need a degree of pragmatism in the real world: I do not have to agree with a candidate on every issue in order to believe he or she will be the best candidate for that office; I actually doubt that I’ve ever found a candidate with whom I agree on everything—how could that even be possible? Thus it really comes down to prioritization, a little personal quid pro quo, although that doesn’t imply a surrender to cognitive dissonance or abandonment of our moral values: it just means that in our search for the greatest moral good in the real world of politics we all have to take what we can get, and some matters truly are weightier than others. Conservatives as well as liberals have to make these types of decisions.
Both of these thoughts get tied up in the question of what we’re really talking about with the rubric of “social issues.” I tend to take the broad view that they are any and all policy issues which deal with society. The gospel of the Latter-day Saints, of course, has a lot to say about building a proper society, more than any other Christian denomination I know of. Ultimately salvation is an interpersonal activity, structured vertically through generations of ancestors and descendents and horizontally through couples, families, and the community of Zion and its stakes. Joseph Smith was a highly social individual, and that concern has filtered down to us through his original teachings like that the “same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there [in heaven], only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2) and beyond that to a very intricate Mormon social structure. I’m writing this in my ward meetinghouse as six or seven families have gathered to let our children play in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We were here doing the same thing yesterday (Monday) as the storm grew close; we trick-or-treated here on Saturday; I’ll be back tomorrow morning for playgroup for my three-year-old, Thursday night for a community orchestra rehearsal, Friday night for Activity Days, and Sunday, finally, for church, not to return until the next Wednesday for another playgroup—the longest hiatus of our week. And activities at the meetinghouse, as any Church member knows, is just the beginning.
So Mormons are social people, especially among our own, and the doctrines and practices about family and society run deep in our theology. And it’s issues that touch on these doctrines and practices that the Church leadership has reserved the right to comment on in the political sphere. In its statement of political neutrality, the Church newsroom says that the Church “reserve[s] the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.” This could yield a rather broad purview—moral issues could be construed to include war, poverty, and education, for instance—but Church leadership tends to limit its activities to issues that directly affect the structure of families: issues of marriage and sexuality.
In an earlier post I linked to a Mormon Matters podcast on the Church’s political history that discusses in depth how this happened, and that entire conversation is definitely worth hearing. Philip Barlow also implied the limitation during an interview for a New Hampshire Public Radio article:
“‘Joseph Smith taught that salvation, or exaltation, is a relational thing. And the relations that we’re talking about are most intimately marriage, and then nuclear family, and then the extended family, and then the wider community.’ So, Barlow says, when the 1960s saw the rise of casual sex and drug use, and the 1970s brought the Roe vs. Wade decision, many Mormons saw traditional family structures as being under threat . . . The Mormon theology of salvation and the family also explains how Church leaders openly pushed for Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage. To non-Mormons, that appears to be a clear-cut political issue. ‘That’s different in the thinking of Church leaders,’ from endorsing a candidate, Barlow says, versus ‘when there’s a moral point at stake with some law or another. That’s how they officially construed Proposition 8. Mormon thinking construes damage to the family as a fundamental threat in society, and a fundamental threat for the well-being of human beings,’ Barlow says.”
Many people would assert there’s “a moral point at stake” with laws that seek equal pay for women or a higher minimum wage or more stringent inspections of food processing facilities, but it seems that the Church has determined those issues to not immediately influence family stability and therefore to not become involved with them. What’s unclear, as discussed in Mormon Matters, is whether that direction is coming from Church officials like the First Presidency and apostles, grassroots self-reinforcement through cultural norms among the general membership, or some sort of combination of both. But with rhetoric both over the pulpit and the dinner table focusing more on issues like gay marriage than, say, poverty, the former for better or worse tends to get the lion’s share of attention when Church members go to the ballot box.
I wanted to bring all of this into the conversation because I think it illustrates how for better or worse a few social issues have taken precedence in the thought of most Church members, even though there’s no fiat saying that these are or even should be the only social issues about which members should be concerned. My earlier point that we all have to prioritize which issues we most fervently support is validated by this conversation: for many members of the Church the social issues on which they’ve chosen to focus are abortion, heterosexual marriage, and other issues that revolve around sexual morality, like regulations on pornography or prostitution or even the display of sexually explicit media and entertainment. Because of this they support “socially conservative” politicians who share their beliefs on these core issues. Now, these issues certainly remain important for other Church members, but they may choose to emphasize them less than alleviating poverty or providing affordable medical care to all members of our society, so they will support politicians who support their views on those core issues regardless of what they think about the others. And that’s the way it should work, because who could ever find a politician that matched his opinions on every conceivable issue?
I don’t have much to say personally about gay marriage, for instance. I believe the Proclamation on the Family that says “marriage between a man and woman is essential to [God’s] eternal plan” and I agree with President Monson and other general authorities who have counseled us to oppose same-sex marriage. I believe I would oppose it regardless of any explicit statements from Church leaders just because of what I believe about the purpose of marriage in the plan of salvation, the importance for children of two-parent families with a father and a mother, and the complex moral position of homosexuality. I have similar opinions about premarital sex, marital infidelity, divorce, and abuse.
(That’s not to say, by the way, that I believe there should be no conversation about homosexuality within the Church. I’ve been quite pleased, for instance, by last April’s “It Gets Better” video by and for gay BYU students, and I’ve been excited to watch the progress of the Far Between movement and documentary that promotes understanding between gay and straight members of the Church.)
But I don’t see myself as “favoring traditional marriage” or “against gay rights,” the labels that would normally be attached to the position I just outlined. Those are labels that are insufficient, myopic. If I had to label myself I would say I’m “pro-family.” What that means is I cannot stop at just saying, “I think laws that would allow same-sex marriages should not be passed.” It’s much bigger than that, coming from the Proclamation’s last sentence: “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” This is a call to actively promote measures that not only maintain traditional family structures like heterosexual monogamy, but that seek to strengthen families in myriad other ways. We must implement programs that help marriages stay together. We must do what we can to help children belong to a married “father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” We must fight poverty, disease, crime, ignorance, and any other societal ills that contribute to the breaking down of extended and nuclear families. Simply protecting traditional marriage is only the tip of the iceberg.
So I choose to evaluate my pro-family position against a large network of issues and programs, weighing some points more heavily than others. If I’m presented with a candidate—or an entire party platform—that supports legalizing same-sex marriage but also supports strong measures for reducing poverty, then I’m prone to support that candidate or party because I believe that poverty is a greater danger to marriage and childrearing than gay marriage. I regret that promoting gay marriage remains part of that candidate’s or party’s agenda (realizing, of course, that many Church members support gay marriage), but I believe that the overall result will be beneficial for families and society, a stance I don’t see as being cognitively dissonant or dishonest in any way because it achieves the greater moral good. Of course, if I were able to find a candidate who supports both heterosexual marriage and complete socialization of the health care industry, for example, then that candidate would have my unreserved support. Barring such an unlikely possibility (because it straddles the extremes of our country’s two parties), I will take what I can get, emphasizing the candidate who I think can do the most good.
In my last two points on foreign affairs and economic policy I’ve emphasized that I think one of the most fundamental purposes of government is to eradicate poverty and inequality wherever it may exist; this is in accordance with my self-identification as “pro-family,” though I could add the labels “pro-community” and “pro-life” to myself as well. This last term, in fact, which is normally associated only with opponents of abortion, was brilliantly reified and explained by Thomas Friedman in his Times editorial last weekend. Forgive my quoting him rather extensively:
In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”
“Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.” And there is no way that respect for the sanctity of life can mean we are obligated to protect every fertilized egg in a woman’s body, no matter how that egg got fertilized, but we are not obligated to protect every living person from being shot with a concealed automatic weapon. I have no respect for someone who relies on voodoo science to declare that a woman’s body can distinguish a “legitimate” rape, but then declares — when 99 percent of all climate scientists conclude that climate change poses a danger to the sanctity of all life on the planet — that global warming is just a hoax.
The term “pro-life” should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth. What about the rest of life? Respect for the sanctity of life, if you believe that it begins at conception, cannot end at birth. That radical narrowing of our concern for the sanctity of life is leading to terrible distortions in our society.
Respect for life has to include respect for how that life is lived, enhanced and protected — not only at the moment of conception but afterward, in the course of that life. That’s why, for me, the most “pro-life” politician in America is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While he supports a woman’s right to choose, he has also used his position to promote a whole set of policies that enhance everyone’s quality of life — from his ban on smoking in bars and city parks to reduce cancer, to his ban on the sale in New York City of giant sugary drinks to combat obesity and diabetes, to his requirement for posting calorie counts on menus in chain restaurants, to his push to reinstate the expired federal ban on assault weapons and other forms of common-sense gun control, to his support for early childhood education, to his support for mitigating disruptive climate change.
Now that is what I call “pro-life.”
I’m a New Yorker and haven’t been thrilled with everything Mayor Bloomberg’s done, particularly with education policy and his unprecedented pursuit of a third term, but this description is incredibly apt—it groups together many of Bloomberg’s achievements that otherwise look haphazard and dictatorial (and which run into the same counter arguments I discussed last time: a few weeks ago I saw a PepsiCo delivery truck emblazoned with the slogan, “Don’t let government bureaucrats take away your right to choose your beverage”). If we see all of Mayor Bloomberg’s policies as pro-life, a pattern emerges that goes deeper and embraces more areas than we normally ever even think about with this terminology, and we can even include the city’s new bike lanes and the closure of Broadway to vehicles around Times Square. The mayor’s only position I would differ from is the first one about a woman’s right to choose, because I believe that abortion should only be considered when the life of the baby or the mother is at stake or when pregnancy is a result of rape, abuse, or incest. Though I arrived and that independently it is, by the way, also the Church’s position, a middle road between being either pro-choice or pro-life that therefore brings us grief from both sides: hence the perennial pro-life protesters with graphic placards outside every general conference. My point here is that it is possible to really be “pro-life” by supporting the life of the unborn baby, the life of the mother—including her quality of life when the pregnancy results from trauma—and the life of the child and family after birth. (And that policy is in harmony with Church leaders’ teachings that we don’t really know at what point a premortal spirit enters its physical body, as in page 354 of Man: His Origin and Destiny in which the First Presidency says, “The body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man.” See also Journal of Discourses 17:143, Doctrines of Salvation 2:280-281, and even Mormon Doctrine 768.)
I also believe that people who are pro-life and really want to minimize the number of abortions in this country will give women all the tools they can to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Teaching the law of chastity obviously comes at the top of that list, but it’s obviously unrealistic to expect all American women (and men) to quickly adopt that standard. Therefore, making contraception available becomes the next biggest factor, and a study published October 4 in Obstetrics & Gynecology (and discussed here) showed that having free access to birth control, as provided under the Affordable Care Act, reduces abortion rates from 20 per 1,000 sexually active women to 4.4-7.5 per 1,000 women. The birth rate among teen girls was almost six times lower than the national average, and 75% of all women chose to receive IUDs or implants, the most effective—but, previous to the health care reform law, expensive—forms of reversible contraception. What this means is that the Affordable Care Act has the potential to significantly lower the rate of unwanted pregnancies and abortions throughout the country, which is a very positive thing for anyone who wants to reduce abortion rates. The same is true of Planned Parenthood.
My positions on issues like gun control and immigration are similar to this. I’m pro-life and believe the Lord doesn’t want us to kill anything unnecessarily, and since guns are used essentially exclusively for the taking of life—whether animal or human—my religious and moral position makes me essentially oppose the ownership of guns for any reason. I understand the original motivation for the Second Amendment, but today it’s out of date and out of sync with scriptures like Genesis 9:10-13 JST (which includes a commandment against killing animals unless faced with starvation) and Mormon 7:4. We don’t need to jettison the entire Second Amendment, but as society becomes increasingly urban some serious reform will help make us safer and more in-line with basic Judeo-Christian-Muslim law about the sanctity of life—and acknowledge the fact that many, many, many guns are used for crime rather than hunting or self-defense.
I mentioned immigration when discussing foreign policy, specifically how most of it, at least from Latin America, is a result of failed, oppressive, or exploitative U.S. policies south of the Rio Grande. My opinions about this really solidified on my Spanish-speaking mission in Atlanta where I dealt with undocumented immigrants every day, including nearly all the Latter-day Saints I met. My most profound religious belief affecting this topic is that we are all children of the same God, regardless of race, language, religion, or nationality (2 Ne. 26:33; 29:7). If we all share our divine origin and potential to become like God then any law or policy that institutionalizes discrimination is ill-founded at best, and any language that considers another person, not an activity, as “illegal” is simply unconscionable. Second to this is my belief that all of the Americas—not just the United States—are the free and promised land spoken of time and again in the Book of Mormon. This does not diminish the importance of the U.S. Constitution as an inspired document or the role the U.S. has played and will play in the Restoration and world’s affairs. But there’s no limitation on the Lord’s blessings and the combination of the Nephites’ repetition of these promises and application to themselves long before 1776, the inclusionary language of verses like Doctrine & Covenants 10:49-51 (which emphasizes the plurality of the nations included in the Lord’s promise), the history of Latin America in achieving independence from European monarchy (2 Ne. 10:11), and my own experiences in seeing how the Lord has blessed and inspired some undocumented immigrants in remaining in the United States has shown me that the hand of God stretches from the Yukon to Patagonia, and that his desire is to bless everyone who lives upon these shores.
Combining all that with my stance of being pro-life means I think we should do everything we can to improve the lives of everyone, regardless of birthplace, who has struggled and sacrificed to live among us and build up our society. Combining it with being pro-family means I believe that nuclear families should be kept physically together as much as possible and laws should not threaten their peace of mind or lifestyle (compare Arizona’s strict immigration law, written by a fellow-Church member, with the anti-polygamy legislation of the 1800s). Being pro-community means I recognize the positive economic effect and long-term stability that immigrants bring to the American economy and that we should actually encourage more immigration, not less. I also believe that the United States has some atoning to do for its negligent behavior in Latin America (check out the book and film of Harvest of Empire for more about that) and that, as part of that, anyone who wants to come here should have an opportunity to do so; once here they should be protected the way the Nephites protected the Ammonite immigrants in the land of Jershon. Any laws that encourage the persecution or even marginalization of a portion of the population are economically ill-conceived and morally dubious; they damage families, basically, and I am trying to find ways the government can protect and nurture families.
Governor Romney’s positions on immigration, from advocating “self-deportation” to supporting spreading the Arizona law to other states, regardless of its dubious constitutionality, will terrorize immigrant families, who have come here at great sacrifice to provide a better life for their children than was available in their homelands, and who already work incredibly hard to contribute to our economy and society. Except for a few Native Americans, we are all descendents of immigrants, so it should be easy to put ourselves in the shoes of today’s immigrants and ask what could have motivated them to tear up everything and come here and what, now here, can most help them in building up their families and our shared society. We should follow the Proclamation in seeking that the government “promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family,” regardless of origin. I agree with Harry Reid’s assessment of the Arizona law: “Laws that legalize discrimination are not compatible with our nation’s ideals and traditions of equal rights, and the idea that such an unconstitutional law should serve as a ‘model’ for national reform is far outside the American mainstream.” And I’m pleased with President Obama’s progress in making the U.S. more hospitable to Hispanic immigrants, though there's much more left to do.
The scriptures are replete with stories of immigrants—some welcomed in their new lands, some not—who journeyed to obey the promptings of the Lord and find a better life for their families—including Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus who fled into Egypt the same way many parents from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and elsewhere have fled here. We should treat these families with the same deference we would want ourselves or our Lord to be treated, for “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
I’d like to close this post by looking at what I consider to be the biggest social issue and moral dilemma facing our country today, which is the accessibility and affordability of health care; improving it is the reason I voted for Mr. Obama in the primary and general election in 2008 and the main reason I will vote against Mr. Romney, who has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, next week. If in the midst of all the material blessings we have received as a country we are unable to care for our sick, then I fear, a bit like the prophets of old, that the Spirit of the Lord will no longer preserve us and we’ll be left to our own devices (as in Hel. 4:24).
I don’t think I need to spend any time proving that the Lord has commanded us to care for the sick. No LDS reader is going to seriously suggest that the Lord wants the sick to care for themselves. The question, then, is whether the government or an unregulated private industry can best accomplish that. Proponents of the latter say that competition between health care providers fosters innovation that drives medical techniques and keeps down costs. They say that being able to choose between doctors, or no doctor at all, is a right and any attempt to limit that choice or require them to purchase health insurance is a violation of their agency. The federal government should not have the authority to involve itself that deeply into their personal affairs, they say, and no one can constitutionally be required to purchase anything.
The legal arguments against these positions have been presented plentifully by the Justice Department and others, and they rest upon the concept of a community contract that I presented last time which limits choice in order to improve the general good: when one person gets sick, the entire community has to pay for it, so it is therefore within Congress’s power to require the purchase of a product to mitigate that. (I disagree with Justice Roberts’ evaluation of the law as a tax and hope that can leave the door open for further movement toward a truly nationalized system.) But I’d like to take the same step back I’ve been trying to take throughout this post and just look at the Affordable Care Act through the lens of being pro-family or pro-life. If we are in favor of saving lives and families then we will favor any measure that will protect and nurture them, whether we see it as curtailing a little bit of our freedom or not.
So will the Affordable Care Act protect families? I’ve already talked about how it’s improved prenatal care and diminished abortions. It already is making health care available to more Americans than ever before. In September we saw that the number of uninsured Americans dropped—by 1.3 million—for the first time in three years (due to both young people remaining on their parents’ insurance and more people enrolling in Medicaid and Medicare). That’s a great improvement over those excluded under the system of private insurance, but it still leaves around 48-49 million Americans without recourse to standard medical care (and remember how proud we Mormons often are to have achieved a mere 12 million Church members).
On October 10 Mitt Romney claimed that the existing private system of emergency room care was sufficient for the uninsured (something he’s said before), and that through that system nobody ever dies because they’re uninsured. “We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack. No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital.’” He apparently received some pushback on that comment because the next day he doubled down, saying that “people will always receive the treatment they need, and do not die or suffer because they cannot pay for care.” I myself, having spent many years uninsured, even while working, can disavow this last claim that the uninsured don’t suffer; both my wife and I have dealt with chronic but not life-threatening issues for which we haven’t been able to access treatment, and the financial and mental suffering is another matter altogether. But more distressing than these quality of life issues is the estimate that roughly 26,000 Americans do actually die each year from conditions that could have been treated had they been insured. It does not matter how advanced a country’s medical care is if 15% of its population cannot access it; that’s why in the WHO’s 2000 rankings of countries’ medical systems the United States ranked 37th, between Costa Rica and Slovenia. Critics have said that the rankings were biased toward countries with socialized systems, but I believe that’s exactly the point because it reflects the fact that inaccessible care is worse than bureaucratically inefficient care or technologically out-of-date care. If we are truly our brothers’ keepers and want to promote life, health, and happiness for all the citizens of our country, then we will devise a system where everyone can actually access health care, and not just for heart attacks. I don’t care how advanced the treatments are for the 85% if 15% have no way to receive it. I’d rather be a bit less scientifically advanced but a bit more inclusive, and that, to me, is an infinitely better system.
I really appreciated this essay, nearly a year old now, in which the author describes how she was opposed to the Affordable Care Act but then was diagnosed with cancer and had her life saved because of the law’s pre-existing conditions provision. Without that she couldn’t have received medical insurance, and good luck trying to treat cancer by walking into an emergency room every other week.
But also note the financial information in her story. That brings me to my second and final point about government aid in health care: that healthcare is unreasonably expensive and dealing with it is a major burden on families and individuals. So yes, the Affordable Care Act represents a redistribution of wealth, whether you want to call it a tax or a regulation of interstate commerce. I won’t get into all of its funding systems here—that’s the subject for another blog—but it does in a way require funds from the well-to-do to pay for those who cannot pay for themselves. That sounds a lot like a nationalized system—which in fact I believe that would be a much more efficient and just way to go, just like essentially every other developed nation has decided—but it also sounds like one big insurance pool (but one where no one’s excluded for being sick). However you look at it, it is set to relieve a great deal of financial strain throughout middle- and lower class America.
As Latter-day Saints we want to protect the family. We focus on social issues that do this and foster families’ growth. “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” We’re willing to fight, at great cost, to stop legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry, but we tend to forget the very damaging things to the families that already exist. Consider that financial problems are the leading cause of disagreements and divorce in marriage. Even back in 1975, Marvin J. Ashton, in his classic piece of familial financial advice “One for the Money,” said, “the American Bar Association recently indicated that 89 percent of all divorces could be traced to quarrels and accusations over money. Others have estimated that 75 percent of all divorces result from clashes over finances. Some professional counselors indicated that four out of five families are strapped with serious money problems.” Now consider that the leading cause of personal bankruptcies—studies indicate between 42% and 62% of them, in fact—are caused by medical bills. 78% of those who filed had insurance, by the way, meaning it did not save them from being buried under their medical bills. So it stands to reason that one of the most important things we can do is to eliminate or at minimum mitigate medical bills as a negative factor in family finances. These numbers are the result of decades of the free market determining costs and private insurance companies’ practices. By allowing the Affordable Care Act to reach full effect in 2014 we will protect tens of thousands of families from these dangers.
This has been true in my own family. We’ve spent about half of our thirteen-year marriage uninsured; it’s effected our medical care, of course, but also our career choices as we’ve repeatedly been forced to seek full-time employment that provides medical benefits but didn’t advance our professional goals or long-term ability to increase our earning power. We’ve twice paid nearly all our life savings for medical bills, and we’ve thrice been denied Medicaid because our assets were too high. Obviously all of this has been incredibly stressful, even when fully insured and considering career changes. In fact, the only time we’ve had true peace of mind was the two years we lived in England and used the National Health Service to give birth to our first daughter and treat other conditions. When our second daughter developed a retropharyngeal abscess when she was a few months old, it was only the fact that we were on Medicaid that saved us financially; even if we had private insurance all the payments would have easily sunk us, let alone what would have happened had we been uninsured.
So, I’ve tried to give some examples of government programs and policies that can strengthen families and protect them from the vicissitudes of the world or even the active buffeting of Satan. I truly believe that we need to look at the big pictures of social issues: what will most help families, like the Proclamation says, and where can we have the most influence (focusing on an issue like abortion that has little chance of changing could prove an ineffective use of energy). I don’t support everything that President Obama has done, but I do believe he is involving the government in the right way to mitigate the exigencies of the free market to protect families and individuals. Governor Romney has proposed measures that protect certain aspects of society, but at a greater holistic cost than benefit. And for that I support President Obama’s re-election.
Next I’ll look at how we need to protect the most vulnerable thing of all: the earth.
The Book of Mormon Takes a Stand - for Obama
We all know Mitt Romney is the Mormon in this year’s presidential race. Therefore, we ought to be safe in assuming that Book of Mormon teachings more closely align with his views than those of President Obama.
Alas, if we made that assumption, we’d be wrong.
Let’s examine what the book says and where the candidates stand.
When it comes to the Book of Mormon’s central message—that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Redeemer of the world—Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, and Romney, who belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, agree.
On other key topics, however, they part ways.
For example, the book prominently features wars and other conflicts. The subject occupies around 170 of the book’s 531 pages. Prophets often admonish Book of Mormon peoples never to “go up” to war against their enemies. Instead, they must wait until their foes “come down” to their land. In other words, they may fight defensive wars but must never be aggressors. As LDS scholar Hugh Nibley wrote, righteous principles “rendered aggressive warfare impossible and preventive warfare utterly unthinkable.”
In the Iraq War, we saw the United States “go up” to attack a nation that hadn’t attacked us. Supporters of the war deemed it preventive or preemptive. Romney strongly supported the war, favored increased U.S. troop levels as it dragged on and criticized Obama’s decision to end it. Obama, on the other hand, opposed the war from the start. As president, he terminated U.S. troop involvement in December 2011.
The Book of Mormon also declares that righteous nations must treat prisoners of war humanely. In Alma 62:27-29, prisoners not only were freed, they were given land and were welcomed into the society. On another occasion, prisoners were allowed to depart promptly in peace after a bloody battle (Hel. 1:33). Centuries later, however, after both sides had rejected God, they abused and tortured their prisoners (Moroni 9:7-10).
In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the war on terror, U.S. soldiers and our agents have engaged in a variety of abuses and torture of prisoners, including waterboarding. Among the most infamous sites of prisoner abuse has been Guantanamo.
Romney declines to renounce waterboarding, and his aides have said that he does not view it as torture. His support of “enhanced interrogation techniques” has drawn strong criticism from 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Romney also has said, “Some people say we should close Guantanamo. My view is we ought to double Guantanamo.”
Shortly after taking office, President Obama issued an executive order halting harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He has sought to close Guantanamo but has faced stiff resistance from Congress.
In terms of military spending, Nibley assures us that when the Nephites were righteous, their “military preparations were defensive—minimal—with God acting as their radar and warning system.” Rather than “minimal” defense spending, Romney wants to restore American power and has pledged to boost the military budget by close to $2 trillion over the next 10 years, adding 100,000 soldiers. (U.S. military spending is by far the world’s largest.) Obama favors significant cuts to the military budget.
Clearly, it is Obama, not Romney, who heeds the counsel of Book of Mormon prophets on war. His actions prove that he regards Christ as the Prince of Peace rather than the Prince of Preemptive War.
Another yardstick measuring the uprightness of Book of Mormon peoples is how they treat the poor.
During the longest peaceful era in Book of Mormon history, the people established economic equality—“they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor” (4 Nephi 1:3). Earlier, a prophet rebuked those who neglected the poor and who allowed great disparities to develop between the haves and the have-nots (Alma 4:11-13). The practice of “oppressing” wage earners was condemned (3 Nephi 24:5).
The Book of Mormon stresses equity. In Mosiah 18:27 we read that those with high incomes should give “more abundantly” and that for those with little, “little should be required” and “to him that had not should be given.” King Benjamin reminds his people that he has only sought to serve them “and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you.” Prophets denounced taxation that enriched the wealthy and those in power while burdening everyone else (Mosiah 11:3-6; Ether 10:5,6).
Romney deserves credit for leadership at Bain Capital that rescued some companies that might otherwise have gone out of business. But his actions widened the gap between the haves and have-nots, with people like himself and others at the top reaping multiple millions in income while many at the bottom lost jobs and saw jobs shipped overseas where it is legal to oppress wage earners by paying them below minimum U.S. wages. Romney favored a minimum-wage hike early in 2012 but then reversed his position. His proposed boost in the military budget would come at the expense of social programs that aid the needy. President Obama has supported hikes in the minimum wage and is often called a socialist for supporting programs that help lower-income and unemployed Americans.
Although both candidates can be viewed as wealthy, Romney’s 2010 tax forms, the latest he has released, show income of $21.7 million, 13 times greater than Obama’s $1.7 million. But Romney paid federal taxes of only 13.9 percent while Obama’s federal tax rate was 26 percent. In order to reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots and help cut the deficit, Obama favors allowing the tax cut for people making more than $250,000 annually to expire. Romney would extend the tax cut for the wealthy, making it easier for high-income Americans to continue paying lower overall rates than those of modest income.
Another prominent Book of Mormon message is to beware of pride while remembering “your own nothingness . . . and humble yourselves, even in the depths of humility” (Mosiah 4:11). Prophets rebuke those who feel they deserve their riches and who claim “every man prospered according to his genius” (Alma 30:17). Part of this pride among the Nephites also manifested itself in feelings of national superiority and boastfulness after military victories.
In his 2010 book “No Apology,” Romney lays out the case for American greatness. He vows to “never again apologize for America.” He has reminded critics of his income that America's capitalistic system allows some to accumulate great wealth (“I’ve been extraordinarily successful”) and that those who are less successful should avoid “the politics of envy.” President Obama has apologized for American mistakes that have offended other countries, such as the burning of a Koran at a U.S. military base. He has stated that no one achieves success alone but instead receives help every step of the way.
On immigration, the Book of Mormon offers a limited “open door” policy. If people are willing to be good citizens, the attitude is “y’all come.” For example, when believers among the Zoramites found themselves expelled from their country, they entered the land of Jershon. The people of Jershon, being righteous, did not say, “You don’t have proper papers, so self-deport yourselves back to where you came from.” Instead, Jershon “did receive all the poor of the Zoramites that came over unto them; and they did nourish them, and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance” (Alma 35:9).
Mitt Romney coined the phrase “self-deport” in saying those who lack citizenship papers should leave the country. He has opposed the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for those brought to the United States as children. He also supports making English the country’s official language and has said Arizona and other states should be allowed to enact their own immigration laws. Obama halted deportation of young undocumented immigrants in June 2012 and supports the DREAM Act. He also directed the Justice Department to pursue its successful challenge of Arizona’s “show me your papers” anti-immigration law.
With Mitt Romney’s positions so often contrary to the Book of Mormon, what shall we say to Mormons who support him? Perhaps a one-word answer is best. It’s a word that repeatedly pops up in the Book of Mormon: Repent!
Prioritizing Immigration Reform
Last year I lived in Arizona for the polarizing discussion around SB1070, a law that requires immigrants to carry proper documentation at all times. The reaction from across the nation was mixed; the anti-illegal immigration crowd championed the legislation as a win for citizens, and the civil rights movement charged Arizona with racism. Although the true motivation for the law was purely political (Governor Jan Brewer used the legislation to win support from her base), it drove substantial misinformation around immigration. Diving into the data reveals some very interesting statistics. Not only is the cost to taxpayers negligible but undocumented workers drive down wages for employers, makes goods cheaper for consumers, and is one of the main sources of unskilled labor in the US.
Money drives decisions in Washington. Any legislation that has a positive dollar payout is bumped to the front of the congressional docket. This is precisely the reason why wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage are leveraged in the campaign season, but never legislated once government is in session. Regulating undocumented workers is bad for business, the economy, and price chasing consumers. Politicians understand immigration emotion with voters and leverage talking points as ammunition. Once elected, immigration is tossed to the back of the bus with all other wedge issues, ready to resurrect once election season returns.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, America's employs around eight million undocumented workers, roughly 5.3% of the total workforce. Undocumented Workers only make up 3.7% of the nation’s population, and that number has been declining with the economic stresses facing the US. In Arizona, there were 150,000 less undocumented workers in 2010 than 2007, and Florida's population also decreased by 230,000 in the same time period. Across the US there has been a decline of one million undocumented workers from 2007 to 2010. Of the total number of undocumented immigrants in the US, only 58% originate from Mexico. Undocumented immigrants make up a small part of the population, disproportionate percentage of the workforce, and shrinks as national unemployment rises.
The two biggest issues cited when discussing immigration is cost to taxpayers and crime. Cost to taxpayers comes in the form of healthcare resources stemmed from emergency room visits. Recent studies place the liability of medical care around $5 billion annually, much less than the $50 billion incurred annually by uninsured Americans. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for welfare, food stamps, social security, Medicare, or Medicaid. About five million undocumented workers are employed by taxpaying companies, who in turn provide payroll and income taxes on behalf of these individuals. These unclaimed tax payments to the government create a windfall of $8-$10 billion annually which more than covers the emergency room costs. Undocumented immigrants also pay sales tax, and as renters indirectly pay property tax. Crime rates are disproportionately lower for undocumented immigrants. The vast majority of incarcerations are violations of immigration laws, not violent crime. California is the largest undocumented immigrant state comprising approximately 35% of the state's population. Immigrants, however, represent 17% of the prison population.
Now, to be clear, I am not advocating undocumented immigrants be given the same workers rights as US citizens, or for wide open borders. This would disrupt the value equation provided by cheap labor and immigrants capacity to flow to the work. Undocumented workers should come and go as the market dictates. When jobs are not available the immigrant population shrinks, and the opposite as more companies expand. 50% of all produce workers are undocumented workers, as well as vast amounts of service workers in hotels, kitchens, and landscaping companies. Immigrants have a substantial impact on keeping cost cheap, which is then passed to the consumer. Wal-Mart is the retail king through low pricing. Many of these low price products are created by the hands of undocumented workers. Tougher immigration laws are bad for labor markets and business and will dry up campaign donations faster than Tim Pawlenty's run for president.
Also might want to read "Imagine a Day Without a Mexican"
A Proud Member of the Religious Left
As a proud member of the Religious Left – and a Mormon – I understand that membership in the Church does not require a specific, pre-defined stance on important social issues. That said, I am regularly baffled by the vastly different interpretations that some members of my church arrive at on social issues, when ostensibly working with the same set of religious texts and modern-day revelations that serve to guide my own morals and beliefs.
Many social issues, from capital punishment to war, funding for the social safety net to environmental stewardship, are clearly related to Church doctrines and teachings. Yet the second greatest commandment that we have ever been given, to love our neighbors as ourselves, seems to often be absent from the analysis of social issues by the Religious Right, Church members included.
Add to this list the issue of immigration. The NY Times recently ran a story about how the immigration stance of America’s most well-known Mormon, Mitt Romney, is at odds with the official position of the Church.
The Church recently supported the Utah Compact, a declaration calling for humane treatment of immigrants and condemning deportation policies that separate families. They have also taken the rare step of publically getting involved in the immigration debate, “issu[ing] a series of increasingly explicit statements in favor of allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work”, and acting as a “…defining factor in passing…immigration legislation” in Utah (which, while far from perfect, was opposed by anti-immigrant groups in the state).
And Romney? Well, lets just say that on this issue he has chosen another tack. He supports the Dream Act, or at least the part that would give citizenship to immigrants who put their lives on the line fighting wars to protect American economic interests, which neither he nor his own sons felt any compulsion to become personally involved with. He slammed Newt Gingrich (and I feel a little nauseous defending the Newt) for suggesting that breaking up families that have been longstanding contributing members of our communities is bad for everyone involved. And he made Rick Perry look reasonable (Perry!) when Perry suggested that undocumented residents who were brought to this country as children should not be punished for their parent’s actions, which Romney pounced on as “amnesty”.
Now I know that I probably shouldn’t read too much into Romney’s stance on immigration, as it is subject to change depending on what crowd he is speaking to, but it makes me wonder how he defines “loving” and “neighbor”. I am not suggesting a free-for-all at the southern border, but I do believe that if Romney, and the rest of the Religious Right, really thought of the brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking foreigners they call “illegals” as their literal brothers and sisters (which our doctrine teaches us they are), they might treat them a little differently than they do now.