Comments made by an LDS Church leader this week again stirred debate in Mormon circles about whether the church should baptize illegal immigrants or allow them to enter its temples.
"The church's view of someone in undocumented status is akin, in a way, to a civil trespass," said Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, relating it to coming onto someone's property uninvited. "There is nothing inherent or wrong about that status."
Elder Jensen's comment came Wednesday during an interfaith forum on immigration at Westminster College in response to an audience question.
The LDS Church has no official policy on illegal immigration nor does it ask local clergy to question prospective converts or members seeking temple privileges about their citizenship status.
"The church does not see itself as an enforcement agency," Mark Tuttle, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Thursday, repeating earlier church statements.
That doesn't sit well with some Latter-day Saints who wonder why the church baptizes people and issues temple recommends to members who live in the country illegally. To qualify for a recommend, they must avow to a bishop and a stake president that they are honest in their dealings with others.
Some members can't reconcile church membership and illegal status, particularly in light of one of the church's Articles of Faith that states, "We believe ... in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law."
"I wonder how they'd feel about the second great commandment, to love thy neighbor as thyself. It's not an answer to your question, but it's another question. Sometimes it's hard to do them all," Tuttle said.
Discussion about how local church leaders deal with undocumented immigrants arose on the heels of remarks Elder Jensen made earlier this week.
Speaking on behalf of the First Presidency at the interfaith forum, Elder Jensen asked Utah lawmakers to consider proposed immigration legislation with a "spirit of compassion." He called for a more "thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane, approach" to the issues.
The Legislature is debating a string of get-tough-on-illegal-immigration bills including measures to revoke driver privilege cards and repeal in-state tuition options at state colleges and universities.
While reiterating the LDS Church is politically neutral, Elder Jensen noted that immigration is not only a political issue but a moral and ethical one.
Addressing the matter of baptism and temple rights for undocumented immigrants, Elder John C. Pingree, an Area Seventy, told the Deseret Morning News in 2005, "It's not a problem for me."
Questions about citizenship are not part of the formal interview local leaders conduct with people before they join the church or attend the temple, which is open only to members deemed worthy. Bishops and stake presidents look for commitment to live the tenets of the religion, he said.
Enforcing immigration law is not the role of the church, said Elder Pingree, who served as a mission president in Mexico City.
"This isn't the church's issue," he said. "This is the government's issue."
The October 2005 interview with Elder Pingree came in response to a Morning News request to the LDS Church to speak with a leader about the church's stance on illegal immigration.
His comments were included in a story headlined, "Church chooses to stay out of questions of status," which was part of a Morning News series on illegal immigration.
The church, Elder Pingree said, does everything it can to encourage its members to stay in their home countries to strengthen local stakes and wards. "But once they're here, we want to make them feel like part of the community, a valued part of the community," he said.
Contributing: Deborah Bulkeley
E-mail: [email protected]