Patriotism likely prevents more members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from speaking out against the Bush administration concerning the war in Iraq, an academic on religion said Saturday.
Brian Birch, an associate professor of philosophy and director of the religious studies program at Utah Valley State College, said members of the LDS Church often do not "renounce war and proclaim peace" — even though church scriptures instruct them to do so — because of a deeply imbedded patriotism.
Latter-day Saints believe the United States was divinely instituted as a covenant land between God and members of his church, and that keeps some church members from challenging the government, Birch said.
"The danger for Mormons with ideas like this lies in confusing theology with nationalistic rhetoric and confusing civil protests with unpatriotic activity," he said.
Birch was one of four religious academics who participated in a dialogue about religious perspectives during "An Interfaith Conference on War and Peace" at the Salt Lake City Library auditorium.
The event featured discussions about Jewish, Christian, Islamic and LDS Church perspectives on war in general, as well as specifically on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We wanted to have a discussion, a dialogue where we would all learn about these various positions, various religious traditions and views," said the Rev. Michael Minch, director of peace and justice studies at UVSC.
"Acknowledging the commonalities (between the religious perspectives and traditions) allows us to work together in achieving peace. I also think it's important to recognize the differences."
The LDS Church has taken no official position on the war in Iraq, Birch said, leaving its members to make up their own minds regarding the justification of the war. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has been renounced by nearly all major Christian denominations, he said, with the exception of the LDS Church and the Southern Baptist Convention.
That leaves people to speculate as to the reasons for the LDS Church's silence. The practice of church leadership has been to not make a statement on a particular topic unless there is unanimity among the church's First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Birch said.
"One speculation is that they can't get consensus among themselves to make an official statement about the war," he said.
Comments from church leaders further complicate the situation, Birch said.
In his April 2003 General Conference remarks, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of his personal support for the war but made it clear that it was his position and not an official statement of the church.
"In a democracy, we can renounce war and proclaim peace," President Hinckley said. "There is opportunity for dissent. Many have been speaking out and doing so emphatically. That is their privilege. That is their right, so long as they do so legally.
"However, we all must also be mindful of another overriding responsibility, which I may add, governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation."
President Hinckley later added, "It is clear ... that there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty and against tyranny, threat and oppression."
But that doesn't mean people who oppose the war aren't faithful members of the LDS Church, Birch said.
"Personally, I've been opposed to the war from the beginning," he said. "I don't believe it meets any of the conditions for a just war."