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Does LDS Church Control Utah Politics? (Part 3 of 4)

There have been many charges that the LDS Church controls Utah politics.  Rod Decker says the Church is involved in state politics but doesn’t wield as much influence as it could. I was really surprised at his answer.

Rod:  The church is somewhat involved in state politics, but it depends on what you mean by involved. Utah politics are essentially what Latter-day Saints want. Mostly that’s what it is. They elect the Republicans and they control the governor and they control the legislature, and they decide what happens in Utah politics, but the church as an institution doesn’t do a lot.  It does some, but not a lot in Utah politics. There are two polls…

GT:  Would you say the church is less involved than the critics claim?

Rod:  Yeah. Now if you talk to conservative Latter-day Saint Republicans, real conservatives, they say they teach them correct principles and let them decide on their own. That’s sort of what happens. The Latter-day Saints are conservative. They don’t like Washington. They’re conservative economically, and giving rise to everything else, they’re conservative on moral issues. They are conservative about sex and families and morals, and that’s the way they vote. That’s what determines Utah politics and that’s what has determined it since 1976. So Utah politics are Latter-day Saint politics.  The church hires a permanent staff of lobbyists.  They go up the legislature, tell lawmakers what they want–the lawmakers refer to them privately as the home teachers.  The home teachers came by and talked to me.

But the church doesn’t get what it wants all the time. They wanted a rule to make it illegal to secretly tape an interview with your Bishop.  The people said, what’s this? Or secretly tape a phone call with your bishop. No, they didn’t get that. They’ve had other things they don’t they don’t get, but mostly on moral issues they get what they want. Sometimes they speak. They say they only talk on moral issues. They get to say what a moral issue is. They try to speak mostly on moral issues. They don’t want to appear bossy and powerful and running things. Utah legislators don’t want the Church telling them what to do. Utah voters, the Latter-day Saints vote Republican. Non-Mormons vote Democratic. There are more Latter-day Saint voters than non-Mormon voters, so they win. But by and large, bishops, etc don’t tell them what to do. There are two polls. Both of them polled people of various religions. Latter-day Saints was the one that said they are least likely to hear politics from their pulpit of any religion. They say no.

GT:  So compared to evangelicals, the LDS Church does stay out of politics more than say evangelicals.

Rod:  That’s what [LDS members] say.

We also talk about some recent political issues in Utah, and the LDS Church’s influence, including medical marijuana, Medicaid for the poor, and even how gerrymandering affects non-LDS voters.  Check out our conversation….

Rod Decker says the LDS Church stays out of state politics more than evangelicals.
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Utah: Most Religiously Polarized Electorate (Part 1 of 4)

I’m excited to introduce Rod Decker.  If you’ve lived in Utah, you probably know who he is since he was a staple of KUTV Channel 2 News for nearly four decades.  Rod recently retired, which has given him time to put together a political history of Utah.  Utah has been known as the most reliably republican state in the nation, but at one time, Utah was a swing state.  Rod will tell us how that change occurred.

Political science professor Frank Jonas taught at the University of Utah. There was a saying, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” because Maine was on the very east coast and its returns came in first. People watched Maine and they thought usually the nation went that way. He made a joke about it. He said, “As the nation goes, so goes Utah, because Utah voted mostly with the nation. Utah was a normal state. In 1976, it changes. Utah gives up its tradition of voting mostly for winners, and votes most strongly for the loser, President Gerald Ford, Republican, of any state. Next four elections, including that Ford, Reagan, Reagan, first Bush, Utah votes, the most strongly republican of any state. Utah’s had never voted most strongly for a candidate of either party before. It becomes enduringly and strongly Republican. It has only voted Republican since then, and it has been the most Republican state in seven of 11 presidential elections since then. Okay, we were normal, normal, normal, normal, normal, whoops, we’re Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican. It spreads throughout the state government.

Rod also said if only non-LDS voted, it would be the most Democratic state in the Union!

Rod:  If only non-Mormon votes had counted, no Mormon votes get to count, Utah is the most democratic state for Al Gore. Utah is the second most democratic state for Barack Obama both times, even against Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney just gets wiped out in Utah. Utah is the fifth most democratic state for Hillary Clinton. Utah would have gone for Reagan the first time, other than that Utah been would have been democrat.

GT:  So you’re saying that if we only counted non-Mormon votes.

Rod:  Only non-Mormon votes, Utah is the most religiously polarized electorate of any state. We have Latter-day Saints. We have non-Mormons, we call them Democrats and Republicans, but pretty much it’s a religious divide. Okay, so what happened? Well, first Latter-day Saints changed. Latter-day Saints changed in 1976. That was the election after Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade was the Supreme Court decision that overturned abortion laws, including Utah’s abortion laws.

Check out our conversation….

Rod Decker has covered Utah politics for almost four decades as reporter for KUTV Channel 2 News.


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Ministering to Mormon & African Polygamists (Part 5 of 6)

So far, we’ve talked a lot about faith crises of people who leave over church history or LGBT issues.  They aren’t the only are people who leave, however.  Some people develop a testimony of polygamy and join polygamist groups.  I asked David Ostler about how to minister to these people as well.

GT: I recently attended the Sunstone meetings, and I attended a session in which they had close to a dozen women that got up and stated why they decided to become polygamists. It seems like sometimes we talk about the left side of the church and the right side of the church. I can’t tell you how surprising it was for me to hear over and over and over again, from these women, “Yeah, I took Seminary in high school. I got married in the LDS temple, and now, I’m a polygamist.”  I just thought, “I don’t understand that at all.”

David:  You know, I must confess, I haven’t researched that one.

GT:  Because I think, this [book] does seem to talk about the people who are concerned about the church history and LGBT issues, and things like that. But there is another side of the church.  The church does have to keep an eye out the people that believe in the Adam-God doctrine and polygamy and that sort of thing. Do you have anything for them?

David:  So I think it’s the same thing. I think we meet people where they are and try and lift them to Christ. We do that with compassion and love and the like. Goodness. Brigham Young thought the Adam-God theory was right. So, he lived with that for years and years, and we don’t worry about Brigham Young’s faith. Maybe some do. But from a traditionally believing perspective, we recognize him as a prophet and a great man in the church, and yet he had beliefs that he held that now we don’t hold. So I think we can tolerate some different beliefs.

He told me about some of his experiences as a mission president in Africa, and how the Church deals with African polygamists.

GT:  Believe it or not, at least I’ve heard, the Community of Christ or the RLDS Church for years denied that Joseph ever practiced polygamy. And then I believe, I want to say it’s the 1970s, so John Hamer or somebody will have to correct me if this is not correct, but they started teaching in India and Africa, places that had polygamy and they said the question is, do you baptize a polygamist? If they’re Muslim polygamists, the Community of Christ actually started baptizing polygamists, if they promised not to take any more wives. So it’s interesting to hear that about Sierra Leone, do we have a policy on that?

David:  Yeah, we have a policy, we don’t baptize people who are in polygamy. We can’t baptize children that are living in a polygamist home. I remember one of my first Sundays, we went out to a branch a long ways away from the mission home and I sat in on the youth class, and it was being taught by this wonderful 17 year old sister.  She was doing a great job teaching, and so afterwards, I asked, “When did she get baptized?”  She says, “Well, I’m not baptized.”  “Really? Well, we’d be happy to teach you.”  She says, “Well, I can’t get baptized until I’m 18 because my parents are polygamists.” So she was accommodated into the church.

GT:  And she taught a class?

David: She taught a class. She joined the faithful community and I’m sure she was baptized after her 18th birthday.

Check out our conversation…

I asked David Ostler what the church should do with polygamists, and was surprised he had experience with African polygamists!

Don’t miss our previous conversations with David!

321: Creating a Better Church Atmosphere

320: 3 Ways to Help People Keep Coming to Church

319: How Active Members Get Ostracized at Church

318: Helping Leaders Understand Faith Crisis