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At BYU forum, Evangelical Mark DeMoss says Christians must be civil

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 24 2012 8:55 p.m. MST

Those who follow Christ must always be civil, especially to each other — and that includes Mormons and evangelicals — an evangelical adviser to presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Tuesday at a BYU forum.

"It is never an option to claim Christ as my Savior and behave toward anyone in an uncivil manner,” Mark DeMoss said.

DeMoss was part of doubleheader on tolerance and civility at BYU. Several major Utah political figures met in a crowded theater later in the day to discuss partisanship in Utah politics.

In his forum address, the founder and president of The DeMoss Group, a public relations firm that serves Christian organizations and causes, decried those of any faith who behave uncivilly toward others. DeMoss spoke movingly to an appreciative audience on civil discourse, religious tolerance and eternal perspectives.

DeMoss is the author of "The Little Red Book of Wisdom". He has been an adviser to Romney for five years.

During the 2008 campaign, DeMoss began to see “an all too ugly side of a theological divide. Sadly, much of the ugliness, though certainly not all of it, came from within my own camp.”

DeMoss launched the Civility Project in 2009 after becoming disillusioned with how Mormons were treated by evangelicals and by those on the Left who opposed their position on marriage. DeMoss was also put off by the tone with which many on the right attacked Barack Obama.

Struck by how civil Lanny Davis, one-time White House Counsel under Bill Clinton, was on television, DeMoss sent Davis a letter telling him how much he appreciated his tone. The two proposed three simple pledge points in the Civility Project: “One, I will be civil in my discourse and behavior; two, I will be respectful of others, whether or not I agree with them; and three, I will stand against incivility where and when I see it.”

The results were disappointing. Only three members of Congress signed the pledge. After two years DeMoss and Davis dissolved the project.

Tuesday's panel discussion was moderated by BYU political science professor Richard Davis and included former Deseret News editor Joe Cannon and former Gov. Olene Walker. Participants tackled the history of party politics in Utah, civility challenges and the comfort levels of LDS Democrats in Utah.

Walker objected to the tone sometimes apparent in Utah today, noting that when she was Lt. Governor she was astounded when her colleagues from other states described bitter partisanship at home. “I thought it couldn’t happen here, but I think that since then we have moved in their direction, instead of toward greater civility,” she said.

Panelists also addressed the role of the LDS Church in Utah politics, noting that the majority of Utah Mormons are conservative. Former Utah House Minority Leader Scott Howell commented how much he enjoys speaking at BYU because he is able to openly express his faith, asserting that he is a Democrat because of his beliefs. “I believe in education, good health and in the principles of Mosiah Chapter 4,” he said, referring to a passage in the Book of Mormon that urges care for the poor.

Former State Sen. Karen Hale echoed Howell, noting that her favorite use of the term “liberal” is a Book of Mormon verse that says the people fed the hungry and clothed the naked and “were liberal to all.”

Church neutrality on politics is generally a given, Walker said, describing an exchange with late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley when they met at a Christmas party shortly after she became governor. “What advice would you have,” she asked him. He responded, 'I’ll run the church and you run the state.' In 25 years, she says she was approached by an LDS Church official only once, and that proved to be a simple misunderstanding.

Additional link: Gay marriage issue, national elections lead to civility fight

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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