While the LDS Church has long affirmed its political neutrality regarding political parties, platforms and candidates, it is reminding its members of their duty to vote and of the church's right to speak out on political and social issues.

In a letter sent to priesthood leaders dated Sept. 11 to be read from the pulpit in LDS congregations nationwide on Sunday, the church's First Presidency titled its message "Political participation, voting and the political neutrality of the Church."

Church leaders each year read a statement of political neutrality from the pulpit and encourage members to get involved in the political process, but this year's letter differed from previous years in the urgency with which it encourages individual political participation.

"As citizens, we have the privilege and duty of electing office holders and influencing public policy. Participation in the political process affects our communities and nation today and in the future," the letter reads.

"Latter-day Saints as citizens are to seek out and then uphold leaders who will act with integrity and are wise, good, and honest. Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties."

Particularly in Utah, many public and social commentators have for decades equated the LDS Church with the Republican Party, though church officials have made it clear in past statements that they support a two-party system.

"Therefore, in this election year, we urge you to register to vote, to study the issues and candidates carefully and prayerfully, and then to vote for and actively support those you believe will most nearly carry out your ideas of good government," the letter said.

As in the past, the letter affirms the church's "neutrality regarding political parties, platforms, and candidates. The Church also affirms its constitutional right of expression on political and social issues."

In June, the First Presidency sent a letter to church leaders in California — also to be read from the pulpit — asking church members to "do all you can" to uphold traditional marriage. The move came following a ruling earlier this year by the California Supreme Court that overturned a previous referendum outlawing gay marriage.

Voters there will decide in November whether to approve the proposed amendment, and opponents have grown increasingly vocal in their criticism of the church's stance and the political involvement of its members.

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