The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is "concerned with the decreasing attendance at [Utah precinct caucus meetings] in recent years," and is urging church members in Utah to attend those meetings in March.
In a letter to local church leaders in Utah dated Feb. 9 and intended to be read in LDS Sacrament Meetings around the state, the First Presidency reaffirmed its long-standing position that "precinct caucuses are the most fundamental grassroots level of political involvement."
"They are best served by a broad representation of Utah citizens," the letter continued. "Those who attend play a critical role in selecting candidates for public office."
In support of the grassroots efforts, the First Presidency asked "that local leaders not schedule meetings [on Tuesday, March 13, and Thursday, March 15] so that members may attend a caucus meeting of their choice."
The letter made it clear that there was no direction from the church as to which caucus meetings church members should attend, concluding that "principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of the various political parties."
Democratic Party Chairman Jim Debakis applauded the statement, indicating that it "affirms the value of a multi-party system" in a state where "some politicos have represented to faithful LDS voters that they only have one choice of political parties."
While it is true that the First Presidency letter "affirms the value of a multi-party system," that notion isn't exactly new. The sentence that Debakis seems to be especially excited about — "Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties" — has been included in the church's regular election year statements of political neutrality since 2006. And the church has historically urged its members to get involved in the precinct caucuses, and since 1998 has suggested that church meetings (and even Family Home Evenings, when the political meetings were scheduled for Mondays) be adjusted to allow full participation in the political process by LDS adults.
The only really new language in this year's statement is the expression of "concern with the decreasing attendance at these caucus meetings in Utah in recent years." That concern is born out by a recent survey suggesting that only a third of Utah voters say they know about the state's unique caucus/convention system and participate in it — "an overall rather dismal reflection of citizen participation in the most grass roots process of electing Utah officeholders," according to utahpulse.com's Bob Bernick.
Will the new level of concern expressed in the First Presidency statement drive more Latter-day Saints to the March caucuses?
That remains to be seen. But if it does, Debakis says he's ready for them, with open arms.
"We Democrats welcome our LDS brothers and sisters and appreciate their opinions, hard work and values in our big tent Utah Democratic Party," Debakis said.
For more information on the LDS Church's position of political neutrality, please click here.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company