The Deseret News as the Church’s political voice?

The New York Times ran an article last Sunday titled “Mormon-Owned Paper Stands With Immigrants.” It described how the Deseret News’ often sympathetic writing about illegal immigrants has incurred the wrath of it’s “conservative, mostly Mormon, readers.” The article claims that any editorial the paper runs carries the Church’s unofficial seal of approval and hence has the power to shape opinions in the largely Mormon Utah legislature, which could be particularly important right now since the legislature is considering a “zero-tolerance” illegal immigration law like Arizona’s. Incidentally, the main sponsor of the Arizona law is a Mormon.

I doubt the Deseret News editorial page has that much power to sway the legislature, but I am pleased to see the paper taking a nuanced, even generous, position toward Latino immigrants. And I think the article raises some interesting questions, particularly in light of the fact that Prop 8 showed that the Church can send a powerful political message when it wants to. Some questions I have, but don’t have answers to are:

1 – Have expectations about the Church’s ability and/or willingness to impact political issues changed since Proposition 8?

2 – Is the Church seen as a powerful political force?

3 – When the Church does not speak out on a political issue, does that indicate tacit approval of the status quo?

4 – Does the Church deliberately and strategically use backchannels to sway public opinion? Is it doing so now with regards to immigration? If so, what are the advantages of backchannels compared with straightforward political mobilization a la Prop 8?

5 – Is immigration an issue that should be heavily informed by religion?

6 – If the answer to 4 is yes, then Joseph Cannon of the Deseret News is right when he aims to challenge readers to reflect on immigration through the lens of Mormonism. He said “What are the two commandments? Love God and love your neighbor. These people are our neighbors – incontestably, by any definition, they are our neighbors.” So how do Mormons who embrace the two great commandments reconcile them with immigration? I realize liberals sometimes challenge conservatives on issues like welfare and immigration by claiming they aren’t being charitable, and that must get really old for conservatives. So assuming that conservatives are coming at this issue from a position of charity, how do they feel the commandment to love your neighbor fits into the picture? (And please, don’t just say it’s about following the law. Mormons have been known to break laws they find immoral – see polygamy.)

7 – What does it mean to Latino Church members to see favorable editorials in a Church-owned newspaper? Are they anxious to see the Church take sides on this, or do they see the Church as simply for saving souls, not for jumping into legal issues?

If you have an opinion on any or all of these questions, let’s hear it.

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