Latter-day Saint politicians are hailing the church's call to greater political activity, saying the advice is the same they have been giving for some time.
"I've always said that our citizens should be more active in politics," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R- Utah. "Attending town meetings, volunteering in campaigns or running for office yourself can help a citizen appreciate our system of government as well as make a real difference."The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a letter that was read in church meetings Sunday "reiterating the divine counsel that members should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness."
Campaign-season letters from the First Presidency are a years-long tradition emphasizing the church's neutrality with regard to political candidates and remind church members that church directories and buildings are not to be used for political purposes. Candidates claiming church endorsement are out of bounds, the letters say.
The most recent letter does those things but adds strong urging for church members - both men and women - to "be willing to serve on school boards, city and county councils and commissions, state legislatures and other high offices of either election or appointment, including involvement in the political party of their choice." (A full text of the letter appears in today's LDS Church News.)
"I've been preaching that to firesides and church groups for a long time," said Rep. Ron Packard, R-Calif. "It makes a strong plea for members of the church to run for office, particularly at the local level. That's the first time I've ever seen that in any kind of policy statement" from the church, he said.
Two church apostles, Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder Robert D. Hales, presented the letter to LDS members of Congress during a meeting in Washington, D.C. early Tuesday. "I told them to tell the First Presidency that we were very grateful for the letter," Packard said.
The letter's urging for participation beginning at local levels mirrors the beginnings of Packard's political career in Carlsbad, Calif.: a dozen years on the school board followed by two years on the City Council and four years as Carlsbad's mayor.
"I've kind of set a policy that I've been preaching and that is every member of the church ought to be giving something back to their community or their country. In one way or another they ought to be giving back in terms of community service. There's no better place to serve than on a school board or on a city council," Packard said.
LDS Democrats holding elected office in Utah were encouraged by the phrase in the letter encouraging involvement "in the political party of their choice."
"It tried to emphasize they want to encourage good men of high morals to run for elected positions and that they should run for either party - party was not an issue in that letter," said Sen. Joseph L. Hull, D-Hooper, the Utah Senate's assistant minority whip.
"I did read neutrality into it, but it did mention with emphasis that folks should run rather than leaving it up to others," Hull said.
"Our democracy is predicated on citizen participation," Hatch said. "Without it, there is no accountability and little responsiveness at any level of government."