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Church encourages civic participation

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A few summers ago, hundreds of opinionated people squeezed into a stuffy Salt Lake City community center for a public hearing on a controversial bill that would soon appear before the U.S. Congress. One participant aptly described the gathering as crowded, hot — and civic.

Indeed, civic involvement can be uncomfortable for many, including Church members.

Taking stands on local community issues, deciding on that ideal candidate or accepting a nomination to be, say, a precinct delegate, demands time and work. It's tempting to secure a seat on the civic sideline, and hope simple luck carves a favorable course for the community.

Yet Church leaders have long admonished members to be active players in the civic world about them.

More than 150 years ago, Joseph Smith received a revelation that citizens "should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness" (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27).

In the October 1987 general conference, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve added that members worldwide have an obligation to understand their place and position in the respective nations.

"We should be familiar with the history, heritage and laws of the lands that govern us," Elder Perry said. "In those countries that allow us the right to participate in the affairs of government, we should use our free agency and be actively engaged in supporting and defending the principles of truth, right and freedom."

Voting is perhaps the quintessential tool of exercising one's civic free agency. While national political races snag prominent headlines, many of the most pivotal decisions affecting a community are made by elected leaders in local governments.

Earlier this month, the First Presidency sent a letter to congregations in Utah emphasizing the importance of civic participation. The First Presidency urged local Church leaders to schedule weekday meetings around upcoming local precinct caucus meetings.

"Precinct caucuses are the most fundamental grass roots level of political involvement in Utah," the letter said. "Those who attend the caucuses not only play a critical role in nominating candidates, but also in setting the stage for party and public policy."

The letter concluded with a reminder that the Church "does not endorse political candidates, platforms, or parties."

E-mail to: jswensen@desnews.com