Religion’s bearing on elected officials debated

In 2010, because the views of Republican Sharron Angle on church/state relations had become an issue in Nevada’s U.S. senate campaign, I wrote a cover story about the issue as it affected her race against Democrat Harry Reid, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter­-day Saints.

Angle, as part of her self­defeating strategies, declined to be interviewed, so I spoke with the pastor at one of her two churches. He said some pretty inflammatory things, such as, “His (Reid’s) religion’s a cult. The Christian community — all the Christians, theologians and scholars, all recognize that, that Mormonism is a cult. … I mean, here a member of a cult is one of the most powerful people in the United States. Doesn’t that alarm you?”

All heck broke loose. And it turned out that all the Christian community did not agree.

Gustav Niebuhr, author of the book “Beyond Tolerance/Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America,” wrote in The Washington Post, “One of the terrible temptations that has long faced American clergy is the feeling that they must call out specific candidates as religiously unworthy of the offices they seek. Some of the ordained can’t seem to suppress the urge. … Being respectful of other people by no means implies one agrees with them, but it can allow a constructive airing of differences. And that stands to be educational.”

In Los Angeles after this month’s election, Wilshire LDS ward bishop Mark Paredes wrote (on a website devoted to examining relations between Jews and Mormons) an essay about Reid with sentences like, “If Reid really is opposed to abortion, then he should stop promoting candidates who support a woman’s right to kill a baby at will.”

Members of other Christian sects attacking Reid as a Mormon was one thing. This was a Mormon attacking Reid as a Mormon. And it probably didn’t help that Paredes seems not to understand how Congress works and that a Senate minority leader still retains a lot of power.

In Salt Lake City, members of the church took to social media to disagree with Paredes and a church spokesperson chastised him for speaking for the church. He had said he wasn’t speaking for the church, but also emphasized his role in judging who can enter temples and suggested “someone who is a standard-bearer for the Democratic Party” falls outside that perimeter.

To tie things together nicely, I spent last week reading newspaper columns written by Ira Hansen, selected this month by Nevada Assembly Republicans to be the new speaker in the spring. He has repeatedly questioned the quality of his fellow Mormon’s devoutness: “Reid and I share the same religion and I have marveled at how successful Reid was at keeping the illusion alive he is devout.”

He also once wrote, “John Ensign represents traditional values.” Hansen has further written, “Politically speaking, Reid has sold his soul, if he ever had one, to the devil, and his false public claims of religious sincerity ring hollow when compared to his actions as the highest ranking Democrat in the United States.”

Hansen has faulted Reid for not letting his Mormonism decide his actions as a legislator. But during the dispute with Paredes, a church spokesperson told the Salt Lake Tribune that public officials who are LDS are under no requirement to support the church’s positions on issues.

Reid has never particularly worn his faith on his sleeve, but he has written about it occasionally, including — in 2007 — this: “As public servants, we are all bound by the same goal, to improve our communities and our nation. We are also bound by a moral obligation to help all God’s children, a task to which we must rededicate ourselves today and every day. … All of us, despite ideological, political, and religious differences, are God’s children faithfully working to provide for the common good. I remain prayerful and hopeful that this shared goal will improve our nation and humanity.”

Between Reid’s approach and that of his critics, I don’t think they come off best.

Dennis Myers is a veteran Nevada journalist.

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