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Mormon political power is restrained, law professor Nathan B. Oman says

Published: Friday, May 27 2011 3:49 p.m. MDT

If people are worried about the political influence and power of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one scholar believes strongly they can relax.

Nathan B. Oman, an associate professor of law at The College of William and Mary in Virginia and a believing Mormon, participated in the online symposium titled "For Life and Family: Faith and the Future of Social Conservatism" on Patheos.com. His article, "The LDS Church Walks a Tightrope on Public Policy," gave a little list of some of the LDS Church's recent forays into the public policy world:

2008: Supported California's Proposition 8 that defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

2009: Endorsed a Salt Lake City ordinance that banned employment discrimination against homosexuals.

2011: Endorsed a moderate approach to immigration reforms in Utah.

Oman says the response has varied. "Liberals were horrified by the church's actions in California, but applauded its support for anti-discrimination legislation and immigration reform. Conservatives have cheered the church's efforts to defend traditional marriage but find themselves uncomfortable with its condemnation of their harsh approach to illegal immigration."

Behind the reactions — and behind some opposition to Mormon presidential candidates — is fear, Oman says: "The reality, however, is that Mormon leaders are far more constrained than most observers assume."

That constraint comes from two areas, Oman says:

Missionary work. "A faith hungry for converts does not profit by tying its religious message to controversial political positions."

Members of the LDS Church are less likely to listen on political matters the more leaders speak out on public issues

Oman cited two examples from the past where Mormons rejected leaders' advice in politics — both from church President Heber J. Grant in the early part of the last century.

President Grant spoke out against the New Deal. Mormons supported it anyway.

President Grant spoke out against the repeal of prohibition. Mormons voted for it. In fact, Utah's ratification of the repeal was the vote that passed the Constitutional Amendment.

Oman thinks it is unlikely that the LDS Church is going to be anxious any time soon to expend political capital.

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: degroote

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