• Quote of the Day

    “Surely the reason Christ said, ‘Father, forgive them,’ was because even in that terrible hour He knew that this was the message He had come through all eternity to deliver.”
    —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Joseph Smith: Campaign for President of the United States

In the Ensign this month is an article that discusses the Prophet Joseph Smith’s 1844 campaign for President of the United States and asks what he hoped to accomplish. For those who don’t know much about this episode in Church history, this article explains Joseph Smith’s motivation for running, as well as the platform he ran on. Most of the information in the article has been readily available to students of history for some time, but through the Ensign it will now reach a wider audience.

I find it fascinating to see how Joseph Smith’s patriotism held up under the strain of the persecutions the Saints endured, all of which were either sanctioned or permitted by local governments and ultimately ignored by the federal government. Joseph’s reaction was not to condemn the nation and its government but to seek to reform it.

In addition, I find his platform fascinating. It contains some intriguing, practical approaches to the serious issues of the day.

This article doesn’t offer a great deal of analysis, but it doesn’t need to. Its intent seems to be to give basic information about Joseph Smith’s run for President,and it does so mostly through quotations from original documents and contemporary statements. I imagine there are several people in the Ensign‘s readership for whom this article will be something completely new. This sort of thing isn’t necessarily a new direction for the Ensign, but it is something I rather hope they do more of.

(By the way, for what it’s worth, the article takes the opportunity to yet again affirm the Church’s political neutrality.)

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Commentary on Elder Nelson’s Article on Abortion

Elder Russell M. Nelson’s article in this month’s Ensign immediately received a bit of attention in the bloggernacle. In “Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless,” Elder Nelson puts forth the Church’s position and doctrine related to the practice, and he offers a few of his own opinions on related issues, such as the debate over when “meaningful life” begins. The reactions to this article have been quite interesting to observe. Here are a few of the online discussions about it:

Now that a little time has passed and everyone’s moved on to other matters, here’s my take on all this talk.

As always, the bloggernacle ignores the substance of the article and focuses instead on the seemingly more controversial or political issues related to it. Fine. That’s their prerogative. But frankly, I’m a little less interested in whether the article was timed to influence U.S. elections than in what Elder Nelson actually has to say about abortion. Why aren’t people discussing that? Is it too straightforward for them? Too predictable? Whatever the reason, it apparently doesn’t warrant much discussion in the bloggernacle. But then again, most of what the current Church leaders are actually saying gets short shrift there, so it’s par for the course.

In addition, does anyone sincerely believe that Elder Nelson would have written this article for purely political purposes, or as a mere academic plaything for the self-appointed intelligentsia? Think about it. When was the last time a Church publication discussed this issue in such detail? If there’s any timing involved in the publication of this article, it’s more likely the long-range, multigenerational timing of the Church’s influence over its members than some partisan agenda.

If you talk to bishops and LDS Family Services counselors, many of them will tell you that they have counseled young women who either had an abortion or were considering an abortion and were apparently unaware of the Church’s teachings and disciplinary policy on the matter. This sort of situation is, in part, what Elder Nelson is trying to address in his article, I think.

Now, of course, Elder Nelson also discusses abortion as a matter of public policy, so it’s fair to talk about his article in a political context. But even if Elder Nelson carefully planned the timing of this article, in collusion with the General Authorities and Church employees who oversee and run the Church magazines, so what? Perhaps he saw election time as the perfect time for Church members to be discussing the matter since it may be on people’s minds anyway. He still doesn’t tell anyone which party or candidate to vote for. He merely infuses a bit of Church doctrine and policy into the debate. In his argumentation he is careful to label some statements as his own opinion, though those statements are made in support of a larger argument regarding the Church’s official teachings. If all of this upsets people or doesn’t harmonize with their political ideas, so be it. But it shouldn’t be ignored and labeled as purely political.

In any event, I’m glad to see that the Brethren are still speaking out on a variety of moral issues, knowing that they’ll be criticized both from without and from within. And I’m glad that the Church magazines provide a channel for them to publish their words.