The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will face questions from a California government agency about its role in defending the traditional definition of marriage by supporting passage of Proposition 8. This will present a challenging political and public relations dilemma for the nation’s fourth-largest religious body.
Politically, the church could cooperate with the investigation or they could refuse to submit on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the state of California is preventing the free exercise of religion by inserting itself into the church’s internal matters. If the LDS church takes this position, my hunch is that Catholic and evangelical religious leaders will side with the Mormon Church, as will at least a few mainline Protestant, Muslim and orthodox Jewish leaders. The state of California can’t revoke the church’s 501(c)(3) status, which comes from the federal government. And any penalties levied against the church could be appealed on first amendment grounds. Taking this stand could solidify ties between social conservatives across denominational and religious grounds. It would also outrage some liberal Californians, but liberal Californians aren’t the most pro-Mormon constituency in the first place.
There may be at least some reluctance to take this stand, though, because the Mormon church (like many other churches) stresses the importance of obeying the law and submitting to civil authorities. This position, clearly enunciated in 1 Peter chapter 2, states:
“13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”
Of course, the Mormon Church would not require complete submission to government in all circumstances. After all, government officials were often involved in mob actions against Mormons in Missouri and Illinois in the nineteenth century. But a decision to challenge government authority would be done, with great reluctance, I imagine.
For more, here’s the latest from the Associated Press.
California to investigate Mormon aid to Prop 8
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California officials will investigate whether the Mormon church accurately described its role in a campaign to ban gay marriage in the state.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission said Monday that a complaint by a gay rights group merits further inquiry.
Executive director Roman Porter says the decision does not mean any wrongdoing has been determined.
Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, accuses the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of failing to report the value of work it did to support Proposition 8.
A representative from the Salt Lake City-based church could not be reached for comment.