The Arizona Republic's coverage of an alleged conflict between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its efforts to convert Latino Catholics troubles me in a number of ways. But before I get into my criticism, I think it's worth saying at the top that just covering this issue is an excellent first step. The challenge faced by the reporter is that this is a massive issue that requires a close examination into a number of different areas that are sensitive, conflicting and anything but straightforward. The article's main focus and headline is on the proposition that LDS is "conflicted on church's illegal-migrant growth," whatever that means. The subhead states that the story is about "Drawing converts vs. upholding the law," but it is difficult to find in the story where that contradiction is actually present in the facts. In fact, almost the exact opposite seems to be the case, or at least one side of the issue is "quiet" as this portion of the article seems to make clear:
The church has not taken a position on immigration, Andersen said.
"But we feel it is our responsibility to minister to all of God's children, regardless of (immigration) status," he said.
Immigration has touched off a "quiet revolution" within the Mormon Church, said Garcia, the Brigham Young professor.
The conflict appears to be more about perceptions as opposed to anything official coming from the church. The main focus is on a state lawmaker who partially bases his opposition to illegal immigration and his efforts to fight it on his church's theology:
Some state lawmakers, on the other hand, are trying to drive illegal immigrants out of Arizona.
Pearce said his immigration legislation, including the state's 15-month-old employer-sanctions law, is rooted in the Mormon Church's 13 Articles of Faith.
"We believe in laws and the sustaining and obeying of the laws of the land," Pearce said.
At the same time, Pearce said he is sympathetic toward illegal immigrants.
"I tell you, most of these are good people," he said. "But you are still taking jobs from Americans, suppressing wages and breaking the law. We can't tolerate that."
Still, he doesn't believe Mormons are undermining his efforts by reaching out to Latinos.
As Pearce states at the end of the above quoted section, converting Catholic Latinos does not necessarily go agains his political goal of driving from Arizona people who have immigrated illegally to the United States. The story focuses more on what academics have to say than actual Latinos who have either converted to LDS to are opposed to the perception that LDS somehow opposes illegal immigration. The article ambiguously states that "[s]ome Mormons] believe anti-illegal immigration policies hurts those families and is against the church's tenants, but I don't get a sense of who those people are.
While I know the article focused on the issue of immigration, legal or illegal, I would have liked to see the article address more thoroughly the issue of converting to LDS.
The issue of proselytizing is treated as completely benign. Whether or not the Latino community appreciates the conversion of members of their families is not addressed. In addition, little is said on the fact that when Brigham Young left Illinois for the Western North America, the region he ended up in was part of Mexico and portions of where they settled are still part of Mexico today.
Lastly, the article rightly touched upon the issue of the Mormon church's tendency to lean towards the conservative branch of the Republican Party and that has resulted in the conflation of both the perceptions and the reality of issues of public policy. If only other news articles were this careful in distinguishing actual church policy with the actually facts on the grounds when it comes to issues of politics and policy and LDS. Unfortunately, I think this article reported accurately the church's public policy but overplayed the concept that Mormons are stridently divided on immigration policy based on the facts given in the article.
Image of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints membership in North America for year 2007 used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.