In Defense of Harry Reid
While the majority of U.S. Mormons affiliate with the Republican Party, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has declared its political neutrality for decades.
This consistent declaration along with many high profile Mormon Democrats, such as former church historian Marlin Jensen and apostle James Faust, have led most Mormons to respect other Mormons's political views. Unfortunately, there is a minority that has come to an erroneous conclusion -- that being a member or leader in the Democratic Party is inconsistent with LDS teachings.
This narrow minded conception was once again evident in Mormon bishop Mark Paredes's recent post on Senator Harry Reid and subsequently any Mormon affiliated with the Democratic Party. Not only was Mr. Paredes incorrect in his opinion that Mormons cannot be active Democrats, he seems to have failed to understand some of the key teachings of the Gospel.
Paredes's criticism of the Democratic Party was based on its support for gay rights and reproductive rights. He wrongly assumes that the Democratic Party's positions on these issues contradict Church teachings. The Church has taken no stance on clarifying when and under what conditions members should support the legislation of their religious beliefs. Many Mormons have a similar belief on what they consider moral behavior, but differ strongly on whether that behavior should be legal or not. From the legality of substances (coffee, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana) to the legality of behavior (adultery, fornication, euthanasia) members have to decide which of their personal religious beliefs they want to support via legislation.
A majority of members believe in the value of a democratic society that is tolerant and that respects the rights, values, and beliefs of others. Many members can say that they personally believe in a religious value but do not believe that society as a whole should be forced to live according to this same religious value. Many Mormon barley farmers in Idaho sell their crops to beer producers despite LDS teachings to not drink alcohol.
When it comes to abortion and gay marriage, the decision on whether to support legislation based on personal religious beliefs likewise must be made by individuals. Mitt Romney, in the 1990's, was politically pro-choice, but personally pro-life. Romney voiced concern about those who would be engaging in back-alley abortions like the sister of his brother-in law who died in 1963 in just that situation. While Romney has since changed his mind and is now politically pro-life, it does not mean that in the 1990's when he was serving as stake president he was not worthy of his temple recommend as Mark Paredes seems to be suggesting.
Harry Reid has been consistent in his personal and political pro-life choice. He has, on occasion, stood up to his Party on this issue and has said that it is a matter of conscience. Rather than attacking him for being a member of the Democratic Party, Reid should be commended for openly supporting his beliefs. On the issue of gay marriage, Harry Reid has said "My personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman. But in a civil society, I believe that people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it's no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married." Harry Reid clearly personally supports Church teachings regarding the family.
In a 2007 address to Brigham Young University students, Harry Reid declared that he is a Democrat because of his religion, not in spite of it. His reason for this was simple "Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Richard Davis, a BYU Political Science professor, recently asked "can a Mormon not be a liberal?" Decisions to support early education, expanded health care policies, a foreign policy of peace, an increase in minimum wage are all a reflection of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ means to Harry Reid.
Harry Reid should be commended for his leadership in the Democratic Party and his attempts to use politics to create a tolerant and prosperous society that cares for the weak, sick, and poor. He should be commended for being a man of serious religious faith and for reminding us that being a good Mormon is not about being a Democrat or a Republican, but about loving one another.