It’s no surprise that religious leaders have been silent on issues regarding racism and politics. Many religious leaders keep false unity intact by either neglecting to speak on “partisan” issues or removing politics from sermons entirely. However, remarks by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints during the church’s October General Conference were clearly supportive of justice, unity and peace.
I am not LDS, but I watched conference to see what church leaders would say about the current issues in our country, and I was surprised by what I heard. Emotional talks by President Russell M. Nelson and other Mormon leaders demonstrated that they support the United States, their members of all races and cultures and the principles on which the US was founded. Unity is their priority, and subtle critiques of President Donald Trump prove that the church does not support the current administration. If members of the church want to adhere to statements and sentiments expressed by their leaders during General Conference, they should vote for Biden this election.
While some church leaders tried to keep politics out of their speeches, others’ sentiments clearly highlighted their stance on racism, voting, elections and President Trump. One such statement from Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the church Young Women’s Presidency, urged members to “open their eyes” to things “you wouldn’t normally see,” hinting at color-blindness and indifference to systemic racism. Even President Dallin H. Oaks exclaimed, “We must do better to help root out racism,” thus acknowledging the struggles people of color face in the US.
The context here is important: about 70% of LDS members are Republican, and the majority of Republicans don’t support Black Lives Matter due to beliefs that the Black community doesn’t experience challenges based on race. But these pleas from Sister Craig and President Oaks could open the eyes of Mormons who fail to see the patterns of societal racism. The nation’s president, on the other hand, continues to exacerbate America’s political division by “fueling racism,” as NBC put it earlier this year. Yet comments from Craig, Oaks and others clarified that to end racism, we must end racist leadership. Though Biden has made racist mistakes as well, Trump’s record of racism makes very clear that voting for the former vice president is the only way to improve in this area over the next four years.
Oaks also explained that the Church believes in the Constitution and election results, despite Trump’s noncommittal stance on facilitating a peaceful transfer of power if he loses this November. Oaks also seemed (though indirectly) to criticize Trump’s handling of this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. “Some seem to have forgotten that the first amendment to the United States guarantees ‘the right of the people to peaceably assemble’… That is the authorized way to raise public awareness and to focus on injustices,” he said, further addressing Trump’s treatment of entirely legal BLM protests. It seems Trump’s disregard for the US Constitution is proving tiresome for the Church’s leaders. Joe Biden is the measured, compassionate new leader they’re looking for.
Mormon leaders understand that this election will present a difficult decision for many of their conservative members. Some LDS people will need to “[change] our hearts and minds, indeed, our very character,” as LDS General Authority Scott D. Whiting put it, as they decide how to vote. Social and political issues have rocked our communities and voting on them can be a difficult feat, but this is simply a cross American citizens have to bear.
Elder Whiting also quoted the late Elder Neil A. Maxwell: “As we ponder having been commanded by Jesus to become like Him, we see … we are not necessarily wicked, but rather … so half-hearted, and so lacking in enthusiasm for His cause, which is our cause too.” Whiting’s point in using this reference seems to be that Mormons need to be on the right side of history to emulate God. He’s asking them to recognize Jesus Christ’s message of justice and love, and to realign themselves with that — which, in this election, means supporting Biden, if only to stop Trump.
This election cycle is putting LDS members’ faith and commitment to Christianity to the test. Will they vote for Trump, whose divisive rhetoric and racism is sinking the nation, or will they put their trust in Biden, follow the teachings of their prophets and leaders, and continue with their faith in a just and all-loving God?
LDS leaders’ statements about unity, racial justice and the preservation of the US Constitution imply their support for Joe Biden’s candidacy — especially given that Trump has continually jeopardized Black lives and the Constitution with his lies and rhetoric. David A. Bednar, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained that 2020’s politics, protests and division have provided us with experience and opportunity for choice, hinting at the upcoming presidential election and local races. Bednar quoted Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “Choices have to be made. Not making a choice is a choice. Learn to choose now.” This declaration encourages members to vote, even and especially in the face of increasing polarization.
Mormon leaders have expressed the importance of voting, eliminating racism and supporting the US Constitution through acting Christ-like. If the doctrine and words of LDS leaders prove stronger than the hate and division Trump has sowed in the nation, then Joe Biden will be leading the United States in 2021. But it’s up to the LDS members to take these sentiments seriously if their faith is as profound as they claim it to be.