Nailing down a conflict

north_america_lds_2007_membershipThe Arizona Republic‘s coverage of an alleged conflict between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its efforts to convert Latino Catholics troubles me in a number of ways. But before I get into my criticism, I think it’s worth saying at the top that just covering this issue is an excellent first step. The challenge faced by the reporter is that this is a massive issue that requires a close examination into a number of different areas that are sensitive, conflicting and anything but straightforward.

The article’s main focus and headline is on the proposition that LDS is “conflicted on church’s illegal-migrant growth,” whatever that means. The subhead states that the story is about “Drawing converts vs. upholding the law,” but it is difficult to find in the story where that contradiction is actually present in the facts. In fact, almost the exact opposite seems to be the case, or at least one side of the issue is “quiet” as this portion of the article seems to make clear:

The church has not taken a position on immigration, Andersen said.

“But we feel it is our responsibility to minister to all of God’s children, regardless of (immigration) status,” he said.

Immigration has touched off a “quiet revolution” within the Mormon Church, said Garcia, the Brigham Young professor.

The conflict appears to be more about perceptions as opposed to anything official coming from the church. The main focus is on a state lawmaker who partially bases his opposition to illegal immigration and his efforts to fight it on his church’s theology:

Some state lawmakers, on the other hand, are trying to drive illegal immigrants out of Arizona.

Pearce said his immigration legislation, including the state’s 15-month-old employer-sanctions law, is rooted in the Mormon Church’s 13 Articles of Faith.

“We believe in laws and the sustaining and obeying of the laws of the land,” Pearce said.

At the same time, Pearce said he is sympathetic toward illegal immigrants.

“I tell you, most of these are good people,” he said. “But you are still taking jobs from Americans, suppressing wages and breaking the law. We can’t tolerate that.”

Still, he doesn’t believe Mormons are undermining his efforts by reaching out to Latinos.

As Pearce states at the end of the above quoted section, converting Catholic Latinos does not necessarily go agains his political goal of driving from Arizona people who have immigrated illegally to the United States. The story focuses more on what academics have to say than actual Latinos who have either converted to LDS to are opposed to the perception that LDS somehow opposes illegal immigration. The article ambiguously states that “[s]ome Mormons] believe anti-illegal immigration policies hurts those families and is against the church’s tenants, but I don’t get a sense of who those people are.

While I know the article focused on the issue of immigration, legal or illegal, I would have liked to see the article address more thoroughly the issue of converting to LDS.

The issue of proselytizing is treated as completely benign. Whether or not the Latino community appreciates the conversion of members of their families is not addressed. In addition, little is said on the fact that when Brigham Young left Illinois for the Western North America, the region he ended up in was part of Mexico and portions of where they settled are still part of Mexico today.

Lastly, the article rightly touched upon the issue of the Mormon church’s tendency to lean towards the conservative branch of the Republican Party and that has resulted in the conflation of both the perceptions and the reality of issues of public policy. If only other news articles were this careful in distinguishing actual church policy with the actually facts on the grounds when it comes to issues of politics and policy and LDS. Unfortunately, I think this article reported accurately the church’s public policy but overplayed the concept that Mormons are stridently divided on immigration policy based on the facts given in the article.

Image of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints membership in North America for year 2007 used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

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  • Jerry

    The map surprised me. I did not realize that the LDS membership in Mexico was so high. The map was also very well chosen because it illustrates the topic of this blog posting excellently.

  • HiveRadical

    My understanding of LDS/Mormon history (as well as the history of a good chunck of the American West, is that for a time we were ‘illegal’ immigrants fleeing into Mexico, either for refuge from our fellow American citizens or just from economic realities.

    Aside from the view I got serving as a Spanish speaking missionary for the Church here in the states (one of general exploitation from many many vectors in society that each take their swipe at those simply seeking a better life) I think the fact that Mormons were refugees should give us pause in how we confront this situation. Not so much on the facet of converts that could be but rather in the spirit of Jehovah’s admonition to Israel to remember that they were strangers in a strange land and, from such a legacy, should show mercy on those who come into the borders of the lands in which they reside.

  • Wolf Paul

    Given that this a website about journalism, and journalism is at least peripherally about language, perhaps I will be forgiven for asking this slightly tongue-in-cheek question.

    D Pulliam writes,

    The main focus is on a state lawmaker who partially bases his opposition to illegal immigration and his efforts to fight it on his church’s theological tenants:

    Could someone explain to me what the people renting from the lawmaker’s church (that’s what tenants are) have to do with his opposition to illegal immigration?

  • matt b

    The Church has made a semi-official statement, not on immigration in general, but on the Utah legislature’s debate over immigration policy last year. Link one, link two. While much of the Mormon corridor is populated by political conservatives who, like Pearce, oppose illegal immigration and urge strong legal action against such immigrants, the LDS church has urged governments toward “a spirit of compassion,” to quote church leader Marlin Jensen. Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly – the church will allow illegal immigrants in the US to participate in temple worship. This requires that a member undergo an interview with a church leader to ensure that one is in good standing with the church. The church evidently does not consider illegal immigration sufficient grounds to bar people from the temple; this is not the case with almost any other major legal violation.

  • Jettboy

    “this is not the case with almost any other major legal violation,” begs the question of how much of a major legal violation this is? Those Mormons who are not for enforcing the immigration laws, mostly who have blogs, consider those laws as no different than a speeding ticket. It really boils down to that question every time. I am personally against illegal mmigration and am for deportation. For this reason I understand and yet still disapprove of the LDS Church’s policy on these matters. I wish the message to illegal aliens once they convert was similar to what Elder McConkie said several years ago; gathering to a specific location in Zion is no longer necessary, and it is better to remain where you came from to build up the Church at your home.

  • Matt

    This map is not terribly helpful because it shows the total Mormon population of each region, rather than the percentage. Is Mormonism really as important in Mexico as it is in Utah? And even more important in Florida than in Wyoming? Of course not.

    The proper map is here. Mormonism accounts for 1% to 2% of the population in Mexico and most of Latin America, which is still significant.