It was a very wonderful, warm meeting. Not everyone agreed with everything that was said, but we all agreed on the principles and values that have to govern any legislation on this issue. —President Uchtdorf
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, joined 13 other faith leaders from around the United States Friday morning for a special meeting in the White House called by President Barack Obama to talk about immigration.
"It was a very wonderful, warm meeting,” President Uchtdorf said during a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “Not everyone agreed with everything that was said, but we all agreed on the principles and values that have to govern any legislation on this issue.”
Those values, he said, include compassion, family cohesion, respect for law and common sense.
“We were a very small group, and so everyone had a chance to say their piece,” President Uchtdorf said. “The president was very warm and friendly, and seemed interested in what we had to say.”
The White House released a statement on the meeting, indicating that the president "reiterated his strong commitment to working with Congress in a bipartisan manner so that they can swiftly pass and send a common-sense immigration reform bill to his desk. The leaders expressed their concerns over the impact the broken immigration system is having on families throughout their congregations.”
As far as the LDS Church is concerned, President Uchtdorf said, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is politically neutral.”
“We won't tell anyone how to vote,” he said. “But we have interest in certain topics and issues, and immigration is something that touches so many lives in such personal ways."
In 2011, the LDS Church issued an official policy statement on immigration, in which it was noted that “this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government.”
“As a matter of policy,” the statement said, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation,” and it “supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family and its commitment to law.”
For the LDS Church, the statement underscored, “the bedrock moral issue is how we treat each other as children of God.”
And that is what President Uchtdorf tried to stress during his meeting with President Obama and the other faith leaders. As an immigrant to the United States, he said he has strong feelings on the subject — and some of those feelings are tender.
“It is heartbreaking when you read some of the stories about how families are impacted by this issue,” he said. “It’s one thing for someone who has come to this country during the past year or so, when they knew they were coming here illegally. But there are people who have been here for 30 years or more, who came almost by invitation because they were needed and wanted to work in our fields and to perform certain labor. And now all of a sudden they are being told, ‘You have to leave. Your children may stay here but you have to leave or we will put you in prison.’”
He paused, then added, "Whether we are Christians or other faith groups, we focus on the human side. Yes, we should obey the law, but we need to take a look at how it impacts individuals and families."
Asked how the LDS Church is directly affected by U.S. immigration policy, President Uchtdorf said that isn’t really the point.
“I’m not talking about the organization of the church,” he said. “I’m talking about individuals. As a church, we are concerned about individuals. We care about every member who is impacted in a negative way by this. We need to be of help. We need to support in a moral way."
The church will not be directly involved in any legislation, he said.
“But we will make sure the values we stand for are clearly understood,” he added, “and we hope that legislation will reflect those values.”
As a result of the meeting, President Uchtdorf said, "I hope that a lot of the people who are thinking of this as a political issue will look more at the human side of this topic — that while they focus on enforcing the law, they also make sure that we are compassionate in our approaches and that we are strengthening our families in a common sense way."
In addition to President Uchtdorf, the other faith leaders invited to the meeting included:
Leith Anderson, National Association of Evangelicals
Stephen Bauman, president and CEO of World Relief
Bishop Minerva Carcaño, United Methodist Church
Rev. Luis Cortés, president, Esperanza
Barrett Duke, Southern Baptist Convention
Bishop Orlando Findlayter, senior pastor, New Hope Christian Fellowship
Archbishop José Horacio Gomez, Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Study
Rev. Kathryn Lohre, National Council of Churches
Imam Mohamed Magid, president, Islamic Society of North America
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president, National Latino Evangelical Coalition