15 October 2007

Harry Reid's speech at BYU

See here for a summary.

I know that Harry Reid is vilified in certain Church circles as something of a "traitor" or a "bad example" for members of the Church. Let me come right out and say that I think such a criticism is wholly unjustified. Most of these people don't know Harry Reid or what is in his heart or how he lives the Gospel in his daily life. All reports I have heard give me no reason to doubt his sincerity or his worthiness. Perhaps acknowledging my own ideological and political biases, I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt. I imagine that most members of the Church who attack him simply take issue with his politics, and would do so regardless of whether he was a member of the Church or not, and don't have any objection to his personal life or Church service.

One part of his speech (there were a couple) that made my ears prick up was when he said that certain "right-wing" members of the Church, like Ezra Taft Benson, had lead Church members down the wrong path. WHOA! Thems is fightin' words. It appears that Sen. Reid is calling out a (dead) Prophet and President of the Church, which action typically receives little patience and forgiving from Church members. Moreover, he did this standing on BYU campus, at the University's own invitation, which takes..well...balls.

[NOTE: at least one version of the speech included a reference to Ernest Wilkinson in this same statement, as one of the right-wingers that had lead Church members astray. I find this completely uncontroversial and I would hope that anyone who took an objective look at Wilkinson's actions when he was President of BYU (see the Prince book on David O. McKay for details) could agree that, on occasion, he could act a little unhinged and with an excess of zeal for conservative/Republican politics.]

So the big question is: can I still support Harry Reid after this? I think so. One doesn't have to be on one's way out of the Church to believe that not everything that a prophet does or says while he is the prophet (or in ETB's case, before he was President, but during his Apostleship) is prophetic or sanctioned by the Lord. Joseph Smith himself said that a prophet was not always a prophet, but only when acting as such. ETB, or any other Church leader, could have used their platform and position to influence members regarding political issues that are not properly part of the Gospel or in a way that would contradict Gospel principles. This could be unconscious (ex. "Look! President Benson is a Republican, and that means we all should be too.") or it could be conscious and deliberate. I don't think that this suggests anything manipulative, mendacious, or nefarious about President Benson. He could have sincerely believed that what he was, what he said, and what he did politically were in the best interests of the Church and its members. And he could have been wrong in that assessment. On that note, Harry Reid could be equally wrong in his assessment.

Like Harry Reid, and as I shared with the ex-BYU Democrats President who took so much flak for protesting President Cheney's Commencement speech this past spring, I am liberal because I am Mormon, and not in spite of it. I think that scriptural principles of love, generosity, tolerance, and mercy support traditional Democratic social and economic policies.

[SECOND NOTE: Some people are prone to read Sen. Reid's visit as somehow restoring the political balance at BYU after VP Cheney's visit back in the spring. I think that is completely bogus. Sen. Reid is a member of the Church, and the highest-ranking Mormon in American political history. Inasmuch as he is active and has not spoken out against the Church and would not embarrass the Church in a speech, I believe he is almost entitled to an invitation to speak at BYU. Or in any case, they would be stupid to not invite him at some point. VP Cheney is not entitled to such a presumption.]


  1. From my understanding, I thought Reid made the comment about President Benson to the press after his forum address. I watched the address live on BYU.TV and don't recall him mentioning Benson during it, but then, I got distracted for about five minutes in the middle of it. Maybe I just missed it.

    I thought Reid's address was quite impressive. I really appreciated how he addressed the "Mormon democrat" question head-on. I also thought his testimony was also quite powerful.

    While some have taken offense, I agree that Reid's comments about Ezra Taft Benson were appropriate. The fact is, ETB was very politically active before becoming Church President, and he often pushed his views in his apostolic capacity. Most BYU students probably don't appreciate just how overtly political ETB was, especially in comparison to today's apostles.

    I think that, before taking offense, people should also keep in mind that Harry Reid wasn't the first prominent Mormon to criticize ETB's political activity. As Prince's McKay biography points out, a number of Benson's fellow general authorities were pretty critical of his politically-charged messages. Even if President McKay was sympathetic to some of Benson's views, it appears that he wasn't always comfortable with how he went about spreading them.

  2. From what I gather, Reid made the comment about Ezra Taft Benson in a press conference after the BYU forum. (Although he does mention Benson in his talk as one of the many examples of a Mormon working in politics.)

  3. OK on that point I stand corrected, the comment about ETB was made in a post-speech press conference. I was reading a poorly made transcript of the speech and I thought that it had simply been left out by a careless transcriber.

    Even so, I am not sure it is a distinction with a difference. Even if it was a press conference, it was a post-BYU-speech press conference, and there was no mistaking the context and thrust of his statement. It took guts to say it in that context, though maybe less than I originally thought, as if he had said it in front of a crowd of BYU students.

  4. how can you explain harry reid not voting for the defense of marriage constitutional amendment when the 1st Presidency urged all members to support it? that seems like something fundamental to the gospel plan and he didnt support it.

  5. Anonymous,

    I'll point you here- http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=6203d93c8688f010VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&vgnextchannel=726511154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD&vgnextfmt=tab1

    A paragraph of the Church page I am pointing you to says the following: "Relationships With Government

    Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent. "

    When Harry Reid voted against the federal marriage amendment, he did so as the Senator from the State of Nevada, not the Senator from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If the Nevadans don't like it, they get to vote against him. But trust me, it won't and should never come up in his temple recommend interview.

  6. AHL Duke,

    i understand what you are saying but i just dont understand how a saint could not take that opportunity to stand up for marriage and fight against the full frontal assault by the adversary against the family. i believe that most political issues can't be seen as black vs. white or good vs. evil but defending marriage seems like one that is. I don't see a good reason for not voting for it unless you don't support it and that would be surprising from a faithful member. im not saying he isnt a good member or shouldnt get a temple recommend or anything like that. i just dont understand the decision.

    1. The full frontal assault on the family is very clearly divorce, spousal abuse (especially husbands abusing wives), child abuse (very rampant), adultery (being unfaithful to one's husband or wife) and the list goes on. There is absolutely no evidence that same gender civil marriage is an assault to heterosexual marriage in any way. It's very sad that homosexual people including gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints are used as scapegoats for marriage problems. That's about as irresponsible a blame game as a person can use. It's time that Latter-day Saints started to focus on the things that really are a threat to solid, strong families and it isn't gay marriage.

  7. anon,

    I don't know, it seems really simple to me. I guess that there are really two possibilities: 1) Sen. Reid does not personally believe that the FMA was a good idea, and decided to vote against it OR 2) Sen. Reid believes or knows that his constituents do not support the FMA and therefore he should do his job and represent them. If I were a voter in NV, I would be incensed if some Mormon took "my" vote and voted the exact opposite of what his constituency wanted, just because his church told him to do it. It is the basic theory of representative democracy.

  8. AHL,

    thats pretty much the way i saw it too, except maybe a third option... he could of been pandering to the far left of the democratic party. since Nevada passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in 2000 and 2002 by 70% and 67%, i dont think he was representing his constituency very well. so probably he doesnt agree with it or is willing to sacrifice his beliefs to appease his base. seems to be fearing man (or looking out for his own political self interest) over God.

  9. Why must "faithful member[s]" vote for a measure preventing same sex marriage? Must we force our views on all others? Are we to legislate our morals?

    Same sex marriage causes no cognizable harm to society. However, amending the constitution to ban same sex marriage may irreparably damage individual freedom. Liberty is impugned anytime the government decides how people may live their individual lives and how they may represent their inter-personal relationship to society.

    Few things are more terrifying than a majority imposing their morality on the minority. Recall, it was not long ago that our own polygamous practices were outlawed because the majority believed them to immoral. Let religious and philosophical institutions teach us morality and truth. Let governments protect our liberty.

  10. Spikers,
    You ask, "Are we to legislate our morals?" Aren't most laws to some degree based on morality?

  11. Harry Reid is politically bound to the party that is now pushing the Freedom of Choice Act which would legalize all abortions at any age of pregnancy for any reason and use tax dollars to pay for it. He supported a political candidate who felt that birth was not too late to kill a baby. (Obama voted against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act in Illinois). Any other human being that supports that, Mormon or otherwise is inherently immoral.

  12. From the black-and-white worldview evidenced by your comment, I would deduce that you, sir, could have been a BYU student. Not a compliment BTW.

    Also, congrats for commenting on a thread dead for over a year now. Way to engage.

  13. Harry Reid is an embarrasment to the church, he should never have made a negative comment about Pres. Benson's "political" speeches given in General Conference. That is the prophet speaking, and if you haven't noticed, socialism and communist threat is still alive and kicking. Compare our current US government to the Communist Manifesto, they espouse the same principles.

    1. Had you lived during the 1940's or even the 50's you would have seen a different world in the Church because people knew that when the prophet spoke he did not always speak as a prophet but he sometimes spoke simply as a man with his own personal opinions. There was a very healthy balance there. Now, unfortunately, too many LDS think that if you criticize something (respectfully) or disagree with something a prophet may say you are an apostate. Nothing could be further from the truth. If that were the case there would be little room for free agency and free will. I personally disagree with what the then Elder Benson said about a supposed communist threat or socialism as that kind of thinking simply was influenced by the toxic McCarthy era. It's political and has little if anything to do with the Gospel of Christ. It's powerful to know that when President Benson became the prophet he never again spoke about the John Birch society or the political statements he made about communism, etc. He spoke about the Book of Mormon and immersing ourselves in Christ. It was almost as though the Lord sat him down and said "Ezra this is what I want you to tell the people and I do not want you to vary from this message." The message was about studying the Book of Mormon and living it along with getting a deep testimony of Jesus Christ. That is what Harry Reid has believed in and supported. He believes in the Gospel of Christ and emphasizes the "are we not all beggars" passage found in Mosiah.