Obama vs. McCain 2008: Round 8: Relationship with LDS Church

This is the eighth of a weekly series of public forums on TMB. Watch for a new round every Monday. The schedule and comment policy are available here.

Last week we had another excellent discussion, regarding abortion.

I hope for the same with this week’s unique topic: Relationship with LDS Church.

I’ll leave this pretty open, but some things to consider:

  • How do the candidates compare regarding their past relationship with the LDS Church? Things they have said and done? Relationships and interactions with Church leaders and prominent Church members?
  • Are there important issues regarding Obama’s and McCain’s religious beliefs that might be important here?
  • What might a McCain or Obama administration mean, if anything, for the growth and public relations of the Church, both at home and abroad?
  • And does this even matter? Does the President’s relationship with the Church matter all that much?

One important resource regarding these questions might be Michael K. Winder’s 2007 book, Presidents and Prophets (which I have not read).

I look forward once again to a lively and respectful discussion.

Next week: Healthcare.

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20 Responses

  1. I will admit that I am biased in favor of Obama, but I look forward to someone correcting me if I’m wrong.

    During the primaries, McCain made a few disparaging comments about Mitt Romney’s faith, but the most damning comments came from his mother. McCain considers himself an Episcopalian, but the McCains’ home church is Southern Baptist. We all know how Southern Baptists feel about us.

    Obama was scheduled to come to Utah on February 2. As part of his itinerary, he was to meet with Church leaders. However, when President Hinckley’s funeral was scheduled for the same day, he changed his plans. He issued a press release expressing his condolences to the members of the Church. Instead of coming to Utah, he spoke that day in Boise. As part of his remarks, he asked if there were any Mormons in the crowd, and expressed his condolences. Michelle Obama came to Utah on the following Monday (Feb 4). After speaking at the Salt Palace, she went and met with Elders Cook and Ballard. She was the first person representing ANY Presidential campaign (other than Romney) to visit Church HQ.

    -Bob Aagard
    Founder, Mormons for Obama

  2. This is the first time I’ve heard this about Obama’s change of plans. I do not know whether or not Mr. and Mrs. Obama were in attendance at the funeral of our beloved Prophet, but I did have a conversation with my Uncle a few days before the funeral and he informed me that the Obama’s changed their plans to be at the funeral, not the other way around. I mention this only because this Uncle’s calling is to meet with any dignitaries on behalf of the church and to organize their attendance at such events. It is possible that I misunderstood, and it is also possible that they in fact changed their plans at the last minute, but I was under the impression that the Obama’s both were in attendance with at the funeral.

    I’m sorry for the speculation, and that I don’t have anything more concrete, but I thought that was worth mentioning.

  3. Trevor,

    I’ll be a second witness to Bob’s account. It is very clearly documented in the news media (here’s a short clip from the Deseret Morning News).

    Barack Obama has canceled his planned Saturday visit to Utah in deference to the funeral for President Gordon B. Hinckley.

    Obama, one of the top candidates for the Democratic nomination for president, was expected to come Saturday for a rally in Salt Lake City. The campaign, however, released a statement Tuesday morning announcing the cancellation of the visit.

    “Last night I spoke with President Thomas Monson and expressed my deepest sympathies to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the passing of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Obama said in the statement.

    Obama went to Boise instead and sent Michelle, who did not attend the funeral but did meet with Elders Cook and Ballard.

    Romney, however, did attend the funeral, which some people (ridiculously) criticized as a political move.

  4. I should add another very important component to all of this is Romney, should he be McCain’s VP. Right now, Romney is rumored by some to be at the top of McCain’s list.

  5. Although I am a big Romney fan, I don’t think Romney should be McCain’s VP. I do not think it will help McCain win the election, and some might think he is only doing it so he will have an upper hand on running in the next election. Republicans in Utah would be excited for sure, but McCain would win Utah regardless of his VP. I am not too familiar with McCain’s other VP choices, but I think he would have a better chance at winning if he chose a more Moderate candidate.

  6. I am not eligible to vote in the election (I’m European), but I think Dennis asked some important questions in his post. The one that made me think most was, does the relationship of POTUS with the Church matter all that much? If you look at how the Church presence has evolved around the world, I guess it would have to be a qualified: Yes, it matters.

    That said, I think what matters more than an official’s religious views/prejudices is the personal relationships. When you think that pres. Monson convinced the East German government to let a Temple be built in East Germany and then to let East Germans serve missions in the West, it was done by personal chemistry (and, we must assume, with help from above).

    These are just musings, I admit. But one thing stands out: Sen. Obama advocates increasing federal support to faith-based groups – with the catch that their paid employees mustn’t be required to subscribe to the particular faith of the group. The evangelicals are loath to accept that, but it wouldn’t make much difference to the LDS; we don’t want government money anyway I guess. But would that somehow change the environment the Church works in in the US?

  7. #1) How do the candidates compare regarding their past relationship with the LDS Church? Things they have said and done? Relationships and interactions with Church leaders and prominent Church members?

    I think it’s really too early to say what kind of a relationship either will have with the LDS Church. I expect it will be respectful, much like it has been with previous presidents. However, because of what McCain’s mother said and the fact that he said “I don’t know” when asked whether Mormons were Christians (to be fair, perhaps he was being honest — or perhaps it was a veiled insult towards Romney), McCain probably has a lot more kissing up to do to Mormons if he’s elected president. If Obama is elected, perhaps in a way it is the LDS Church that will have to kiss up to him a little since if he had been elected 30+ years ago, even he, the President of the United States, would have been denied the priesthood and temple ordinances if he was a member, as well as his family. I certainly don’t think that the Church will or needs to apologize to Obama personally for that, but it’s just a thought about how things can change. If Obama was skeptical of Mormonism for that reason, who could really blame him? I’m no fan of Al Sharpton, but in all fairness I think he had a reason to be skeptical of the LDS faith prior to his meeting with Church leaders. Our previous doctrines and teachings regarding black people are not exactly something we can be proud of.

    #2) Are there important issues regarding Obama’s and McCain’s religious beliefs that might be important here?

    Both profess to be Christians, so we’re supposed to look for the values that we share and build on that. I haven’t really heard anything from McCain regarding specific personal religious beliefs. On the other hand, Obama recently said something about how he didn’t believe that his mother went to Hell for never joining a specific Christan faith. To many mainstream Christians, that could be considered heretical. So actually, Obama could be much more open to our belief in what happens after death and the importance of temple work.

    I suspect that many (if not most) Mormons who vote Republican do so because of the abortion issue. In that case, if one looks solely at abortion as the deciding factor, then Obama’s stance is more in-line with the Church’s official abortion stance, as we established in the previous round of discussion. I wonder how many members realize that a vote for McCain might be a vote for a total ban of abortion in all cases. Not that it really even matters, as we also already discussed, since it’s most unlikely to ever become a reality.

    #3) What might a McCain or Obama administration mean, if anything, for the growth and public relations of the Church, both at home and abroad?

    OK, this might be jumping the gun a little, but let’s just say that Obama is able to patch things up a little better with some of the Islamic countries — (I know that he’s not a Muslim, but his exposure to Islam as a child and the fact that some of his family members have been Muslims MAY be an advantage in diplomatic relations i the Islamic world) — perhaps by improving US-Islamic relations, the road could just begin to being paved towards SOME countries PERHAPS allowing the Church to be established, or even missionaries to enter (OK, I know that’s REALLY long-term, but who could have foreseen the Church entering former Iron Curtain countries virtually overnight?) . I know it’s a BIG “if” but I would say that Obama has a better shot at it than McCain.

    #4) And does this even matter? Does the President’s relationship with the Church matter all that much?

    It may matter if we ever find ourselved in a Church vs. Government situation again, like in the old days of polygamy. Hopefully we won’t be having any conflicts like that any time soon. I can’t see the gov’t forcing the Church to perform gay marriage/sealings. That would be going against the separation of Church and State. It would also be irrelevant if gays are able to enter into civil marriage.

  8. FD:

    Thanks for your comment. I will say, though, that I disagree with your claim that

    Obama’s stance is more in-line with the Church’s official abortion stance, as we established in the previous round of discussion.

    I don’t remember that being established, nor do I think that Obama’s stance is clearly more in-line with the Church’s official stance. Actually, the view that McCain has held is almost exactly in line with the Church’s stance — though, as we talked about last week, there is a question whether he will be pressured to back off that position and actually support a total ban on all abortions. In comparison, Obama’s view is clearly not more in line with the Church’s position. Even in comparison with a total ban on all abortions, it is hard to say that Obama’s view is more with the Church’s position (really, it’s an almost impossible claim to make either way, I think).

  9. 1. Regarding Obama’s cancellation, that was indeed a respectful thing to do; but would anybody else have done anything different? I don’t think Obama had much of a choice when President Hinckley died.

    2. I think the Mitt Romney VP idea is very relevant. Last year, I was interviewed by the Economist for their December Romney special (sorry, gotta plug my 15 minutes), and I was asked how I thought a Romney presidency would affect the Church’s missionary efforts. I served a foreign mission, and I think most would agree with me that the Church is closely linked with America in the eyes of many people worldwide. Hence, American foreign policy often has an effect on how well missionaries are received. I can recall several occasions when, upon knocking on a door, the person answering would say, “I’m not very pleased with America at the moment,” and slam the door. Whether you agree with American foreign policy or not, it has an effect on how the Church is received. Missionaries try very hard to teach people that the Church is not an American Church; it is God’s Church; I thought that a Romney presidency would make it very difficult for missionaries to convince people of that. I think a Romney vice presidency would have a similar effect. I don’t think that should be a deal-breaker, but it matters.

    Other than that, I don’t think either president will have a noticeable effect on the Church.

  10. Dennis,

    You’re right about the abortion comment. Let me just clarify what I meant. I know that McCain’s personal stance on abortion is more in line with the Church’s, but the pressure that the GOP is putting on him to support a ban on all abortions may result in an official stance that we are at odds with. If that is so, then Obama’s stance is perhaps too liberal for some members to accept (such as his voting against a ban on partial-birth abortion), and yet at the same time more reasonable than McCain’s GOP stance, since it will allow exceptions for cases that Mormons deem as acceptable. If McCain maintains his personal stance on abortion, then I would say his is more in line with what we believe than Obama.

    Ryan, excellent point about missionaries having to fight the “American Church” negativity abroad.

  11. FD,

    Thanks, that clarification makes sense.

  12. They will both be gracious to the church and it’s leaders, that’s just good politics.

    The main difference I can see is that the judges that Senator Obama would nominate are more likely to be on the opposite side of the argument in court cases which the church takes an interest in. Senator McCain’s nominees might end up that way as well, you never know for sure, but it’s more likely that they would not.

    Consider the recent BSA case where the church filed an amicus brief on behalf of the BSA. The Justices that Obama favors all voted against BSA having the right to ban gay scoutmasters. The Justices that McCain favors voted in favor of BSA. A SSM court decision would likely fall along the same lines.

    So if you want to support the church line when it gets involved in such legal matters, keep in mind that by voting for Obama you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

  13. Dennis,

    “If that is so, then Obama’s stance is perhaps too liberal for some members to accept (such as his voting against a ban on partial-birth abortion), and yet at the same time more reasonable than McCain’s GOP stance, since it will allow exceptions for cases that Mormons deem as acceptable.”

    As I just posted on the Abortion thread, this is assuming that you view the presence of the exceptions, which only affect a very small amount of abortions, to be more significant then outlawing the millions of elective abortions.

    It is also assuming that you believe that the practical result of the GOP stance would be complete banning of all abortions instead of ultimately allowing for reasonable exceptions no matter what the current text of the platform says.

    To put it another way, I wouldn’t expect to see a “no exceptions” policy survive much longer beyond the repeal of Roe v Wade. For now it keeps the hardcore pro-lifers happy and does no harm to the rest of us pro-lifers that want some exceptions. We can work together to get Roe v Wade overturned (or chipped away) and once that’s done we’ll work out our differences on the exceptions.

    As I said on the other thread, until Roe v Wade is gone there is no real difference between a hardcore pro-life position and a more moderate pro-life position. Neither can see their policy take effect until that law is repealed. So if you want to see the abortion laws come closer to the churches position then vote for Senator McCain in the hope that he’ll nominate conservative Supreme Court Justices that will overturn Roe v Wade. Ironically, Senator Obama, though he claims to be the candidate of change, will only deliver the status quo as far as abortion is concerned.

    (Ok, I admit that he could have one change – he could cause the Partial Birth Abortion Act to be overturned, but that is definitely not a “change that we can believe in”).

  14. […] Posts Eliminating “Good Luck” from My VocabularyObama vs. McCain: Round 8: Relationship with LDS ChurchA few politically/socially relevant filmsObama vs. McCain: Round 7: AbortionWhy More of Us Should […]

  15. Aluwid,

    Ironically, Senator Obama, though he claims to be the candidate of change, will only deliver the status quo as far as abortion is concerned.

    I don’t want to continue this talk on abortion too much (considering the abortion forum), but I will just say that I think that it is not right to call Obama as delivering the “status quo” as far as abortion. If you want to talk about someone who has done this, it is Bush, whose presidency has done virtually nothing to reduce abortions. It is a mistake to think that we can do nothing to reduce abortions without a law. Obama is someone who shows promise to work with both sides of the aisle on reducing abortions, in terms of healthcare reform, education, and other programs. It is possible that 95% of abortions can be prevented within the next 10 years.

  16. Dennis makes a very good point – one that is relevant in this wider debate. Often conservatives, and Church members (think BYU Honor Code), assume that the way to deal with problems, social or otherwise, is to make a law (Democrats often make this same mistake on gun control).

    Many Church members feel that law is the solution to gay marriage, abortion, drug/alcohol use, etc. I believe that history and social science tell us otherwise. As a Latter-day Saint, I believe that abortion, gay marriage, and alcohol/drug use will have negative impacts on society – but I don’t necessarily think law is the answer. The root causes of these issues are much too deep to be addressed with laws. Whichever candidate shows a willingness to get beyond the legal aspect of these issues and actually develop pragmatic solutions will be most appealing to me. Dennis reminds us that Bush is pro-life, a basic requirement for him to get the GOP nomination in 2000, but what good has he done for reducing the amount of abortions in this country?

    These litmus-test stances about judges and abortion simply excuse candidates and leaders from having to actually think about and develop real plans for fighting social problems. Church members would do well to drop these legal litmus tests and instead demand that candidates explain their real plans for improving society.

  17. Dennis,

    Thanks to President Bush we have a ban of partial-birth abortions, we have two conservative Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice, that will be unfriendly to Roe v Wade, and we likely have a number of new conservative District Court judges that will be unfriendly to Roe v Wade as well. The status quo has definitely changed under Bush, you might not see it yet, but judges have a long tenure.

    I don’t get this whole “outlaw abortion” vs “increase education to prevent unwanted pregnancies” argument. Here is an idea, why not do both?

    It’s not just about reducing abortions, it is about recognizing some degree of rights for unborn humans. Let’s say it’s possible to reduce all thefts by 95% through an education program, should we then decriminalize stealing? Of course not, because there are some underlying rights that we as a society have a duty to protect.

    It’s a pro-fetus-rights movement, and Obama is anti-fetus-rights. :-) (Not a perfect description I know).

  18. […] vs. McCain 2008: Round 9: Health CareQuilting and HopeEliminating “Good Luck” from My VocabularyObama vs. McCain: Round 8: Relationship with LDS ChurchA few politically/socially relevant filmsObama vs. McCain: Round 7: AbortionWhy More of Us Should […]

  19. Ryan (July 23rd, 2008 at 8:00 am) makes an excellent point.

    I would like to make another point which I think is along the same vein (forgive me Ryan if it isn’t). If we want to “protect the sanctity of marriage” and “family values”, we should focus on decreasing the number of divorces, addressing problems of abuse, and build up our families–these are what threaten families today! If we look to the candidates, who will (pragmatically speaking) be a better agent for good in this regard?

  20. Palin of course.

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