Mormon Church reminds top brass to stay clear of electoral politics in 2012

Chris Moody

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a long-standing policy guiding top officials to stay out of electoral politics, but in case there was any confusion, the church reminded top leaders this week to avoid getting involved in the 2012 campaigns or even donating to candidates.

Two Mormons are running for the White House this election cycle, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, so the church is taking extra caution to make their position of neutrality clear.

"General Authorities and general officers of the Church and their spouses and other ecclesiastical leaders serving full-time should not personally participate in political campaigns, including promoting candidates, fundraising, speaking in behalf of or otherwise endorsing candidates, and making financial contributions," a June 16 church letter read.

The rules do not apply to full-time leaders at local churches. But even for lower-level officials, the church is urging discretion when discussing politics, and for them to make clear when such discussions occur that they do not speak on behalf of the church.

Most churches, Mormons included, rely on their tax status as nonprofit religious institutions--a classification that could be threatened by the appearance of direct action in political campaigns.

"The Church's mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians," the church's website reads. "In the United States, where nearly half of the world's Latter-day Saints live, it is customary for the Church at each national election to issue a letter to be read to all congregations encouraging its members to vote, but emphasizing the Church's neutrality in partisan political matters."

The LDS church has faced criticism in the past, most recently for its public support for a Utah immigration law and California's ban on same-sex marriage.

The two Mormon presidential candidates, both of whom are involved with the church, have been careful to keep their religious and political lives separate. When quizzed repeatedly by CNN's Piers Morgan on the church's stance on gay marriage, for instance, Mitt Romney refused to bite.

"I'm not a spokesman for my church," Romney said. "One thing I'm not going to do in running for president is become a spokesman for my church or apply a religious test that is simply forbidden by the Constitution, I'm not going there. If you want to learn about my church, talk to my church."