Reid gets warm reception at BYU

He says he's a Demo because of his faith and not in spite of it

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, talks with BYU student Andres Parada on Tuesday after his address to 4,091 people at a BYU forum.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

Enlarge photo»

PROVO — Some past prominent LDS Church leaders wrongly pressed conservatism on church members, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday during a press conference at Brigham Young University.

The Nevada senator attacked President Bush and evangelical Christians while saying members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need to worry less about abortion and gay marriage and more about health care, global warming, education and jobs.

Reid first spent 40 minutes delivering a well-received and sometimes tender BYU forum speech in the Marriott Center to 4,091 students, faculty, staff and visitors. He described a journey from an underprivileged, non-religious childhood in tiny Searchlight, Nev., to his position as the highest-ranking Mormon in American government.

"Democrats have not always been in the (church's) minority, and I believe we won't be for too long," he said.

He elaborated during a harder-hitting, 12-minute press conference. "The best missionary we have for that is George Bush," he said. "People are switching parties all over the country."

Reid said Ezra Taft Benson, active in very conservative politics before he became a president of the LDS Church, and Ernest L. Wilkinson, the president of BYU from 1951-71, were among past church leaders "who were very right-wing people politically."

"Members of the church are obedient," Reid said, "they are followers in the truest sense of the word, and I think they've taken members of the church down a path that is the wrong path. Look at Joseph Smith. Here's a man who was progressive, to say the least. He broke from the pack. He did things differently than they'd been done. He was against slavery. He wanted to start a national bank.

"I think people in the church have to understand there are issues more important than abortion and gay marriage."

During his speech, Reid addressed the questions he gets from LDS Church members about how he can be LDS and a Democrat. "I am a Democrat because I am a Mormon, not in spite of it," he said.

Reid called President Bush's decision to invade Iraq "the worst foreign policy blunder in our country's history," drawing applause from a substantial portion of the audience. A similar number applauded when he gave equal time to the other side: "Some say this war of choice was our only reasonable alternative."

Afterward, he told reporters that congressional Republicans have poorly represented mainstream Republicans in recent years.

"They have focused on just a few issues, flag-burning, gay marriage, abortion," Reid said. "The country has gone beyond that to other issues. We have a country that needs to do something about health care. Global warming is here. We have a president who doesn't know how to pronounce the words."

Reid also told reporters the Republican Party has been driven by evangelical Christians for 20 years. "They are the most anti-Christian people I can imagine, the people from the Christian far right."

Many LDS Church members turned to the Republican Party because the pro-life, traditional marriage platforms backed by evangelicals are similar to LDS Church positions. But, Reid said, his 25 years in Congress are proof that Mormons can be pro-life Democrats. He noted that American abortion law, in large part, has been settled by courts, not political parties, Congress or state legislatures.

Reid addressed his LDS faith, bearing testimony of his belief in Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon and the prophethood of both church founder Joseph Smith and current LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

He also described his and his family's faithfulness, noting his five children attended BYU and married in LDS temples. The three boys served LDS missions.

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