Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pharisees and Utah Politics

Enid Mickelsen
Something big happened yesterday, and most Utahns will be totally unaware of it. As everyone knows, Utah is the epitome of red state American politics. When the Republicans gathered yesterday in Sandy at the South Towne Expo Hall for the 2011 Organizing Convention, it would normally be viewed as only another humdrum boring affair where state party officers are elected for the next two years.

This year, however, in the aftermath of the state legislature's passage of HB 116, the "guest worker" bill laden with constitutional problems on its face, but endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Utah Compact signatories, there were bound to be some fireworks and there were.

Before I get into all that, let me state my admiration for Enid (Greene Waldholz) Mickelsen's leadership in filling in for State Party Chairman Thomas Wright as she conducted the convention. Her skill and obvious experience were much appreciated in what could have easily become a contentious and out-of-control display of sharp elbows and heckling from the peanut gallery. Instead, her humor and maturity were on full display. She masterfully wielded the gavel with reasoned wisdom and balanced control.

Wright was appointed in January by the state central committee as the "establishment" successor to party chief Dave Hansen, who stepped down to pick up the campaign reins (yet again!) of Senator Orrin Hatch's seventh bid for re-election. In my humble opinion after watching the tepid response for the aged senator yesterday, both of them may want to re-think the advisability of going forward. The delegates politely clapped lightly, but little more enthusiasm than that was in evidence. The latest polling data suggests the reason why -- 59% of the electorate are reporting they would definitely or probably pick someone other than Hatch.

Going into yesterday's organizing convention, the hand-picked party leadership with Hansen's departure consisted of Thomas Wright as Chair, Christy Achziger as Vice Chair and Dana Dickson as Secretary. However, the delegates flexed their collective muscle as they retained Wright on the first ballot, ousted Achziger on the second ballot in favor of Lowell Nelson, and gave the nod as Secretary to Drew Chamberlain. Nelson and Chamberlain will provide a perceived "balance" at the top of the state party. Politics is divisive by nature, even on the best of days, but yesterday's convention was only the latest example in what could become even more self-destructive behavior in the future.

Thomas Wright
Wright's failed attempt to save Achziger on the second ballot with his ill-advised and impassioned attack against Nelson, prompted a swift and angry response from the floor. Tempers ignited, Mickelsen interceded, and Achziger concluded her remarks, but the damage to her was irreversible. In a highly charged political meeting you can sense a backfire coming a mile away. A motion failed later in an attempt to rescind Wright's election because of his personal attack on Nelson. This morning, Wright may be wondering just exactly what he's gotten himself into as the newly-elected Chair with 1/2 of his leadership team now in hostile hands. (State Party Treasurer, Mike McCauley ran unopposed.) He and Nelson will have some making up to do, and the sooner the better.

Because they were up for election, the establishment candidates, relatively unknown before yesterday to the rank and file delegates in attendance, decided to ask Enid run the meeting, thus equalizing their exposure with the other candidates. It was a nice gesture, but clearly the delegates were in the mood for throwing off the collective wisdom of the central committee and wanted people who were more aligned with their tea party leanings.

Throughout the day amendments to the state party constitution and bylaws were debated and votes were taken, including two votes on largely symbolic resolutions about the controversial passage of HB 116. The second and most contentious was considered first as the agenda was modified. On a narrow margin of 94 votes (833 to 739), the resolution urging the legislature to repeal and replace the bill succeeded. It was the most divisive issue of the day.

The other resolution passed easily on a voice vote reaffirming the party's desire for "inclusion and that there is a place for all, including immigrants, within our Party." A friendly amendment was accepted after the vote inserting the word "legal" as the adjective describing immigrants, qualifying which immigrants were included in the welcome wagon and completely undermining the meaning consistent with the Church's position. It's what happens with committee work, especially a large and rancorous committee like a state political convention.

Thus far I have said nothing to hint at the title of this post. However, I was struck yesterday for the first time with the paradox of it all. There is nothing more destructive than someone who thinks they are doing the will of God when in fact they are doing the polar opposite. Then this morning I attended my Sunday School lesson, ironically the lesson entitled "Love One Another," based upon the Luke 22 account of the Savior's introduction of the sacramental ordinance. I couldn't help wondering what my Utah County colleagues who were so outraged and indignant yesterday were saying today during their Church meetings. Perhaps it was something like, "I love everyone, just like the Savior admonishes, but I get to pick and choose who they are."

Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith said it this way: ". . .nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the spirit of God." (TPJS, 205). We must never forget who the author of dissension,  bitterness and anger is. Satan loves a good argument and he loves it even more if it descends into shouting and finger pointing.

Pharisees and their cohorts in the meridian of time believed adamantly they were doing God's work when they hatched a conspiracy to put to death the Son of God for merely affirming He was the Son of God. Ironically, the most strident voices for dismantling HB 116 are coming from Utah County. If the demographics compiled by BYU professor Quin Monson at last year's nominating convention are true, identifying 90% of the delegates as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then this much is clear -- there is now a distinct disconnect between Church leaders and their supposed adherents.

The Church has repeatedly called for civility, for equity and fairness, for embracing the people of all cultures who are coming into Utah -- and yes, most are in search of sanctuary and opportunity. The fear of delegates that Utah may become a "magnet sanctuary state" for immigrants is completely a contradiction, or should be, in the minds of all members of the Church today. The tenets of our faith must trump all the other considerations, including the attempts by men to thwart the purposes of God in extending the covenants of the gospel to all His children. When we come to see them all as our brothers and sisters, that awareness will squelch any residual fear in my considered judgment. It is obvious that is the hope of the leaders of the Church for us.

But I ask, why have half of us (if the number is truly representative) rejected the gentle urging of the living prophets, who are asking something quite different than what we seem willing to give? Instead of accepting their counsel, half the crowd yesterday was vitriolic and angry at the thought, flexing their political power (as they suppose) to take matters into their own hands and attempt for force their will on others. Truth is, they're only paper tigers, since the resolution is non-binding, but they seemed to want their fifteen minutes of fame nonetheless.

The stone cut out of the mountain without hands as witnessed by Daniel will continue to roll forth until it fills the whole earth. The stone won’t roll back uphill, nor will it gather moss. Make no mistake, we are on a collision course with our ultimate destiny. Let us not take comfort in our alliance with "Babylon," for that reliance on the arm of flesh will as surely fail us now as it did ancient Israel. Our only strength and comfort can be in God and His power, inspired prophets who lead, and not in the philosophies of men we have come to love so much in these last days. The nuances and parsing of meanings in symbolic political resolutions seem alluring to some, but can be subtle and destructive if not accurately discerned for what they are. Anything breeding the kind of anger we witnessed yesterday simply cannot originate with God.

If as the mainstream media suggested, this vote yesterday portends what will become "the heart and soul" of the Utah Republican Party, then it appears a little more humbling and more time must occur in order for the stated goals of the Church regarding immigration to be realized. With or without us the caravan bound for Zion rolls forward, and in time those who are unwilling to catch the vision of a worldwide objective embracing all cultures, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds and are protecting their narrow interests while they tilt windmills of their own making, will lose their grasp of things that matter least.

Imagining a great victory in taking back their state political party from the establishment, as they suppose, they may like the Pharisees of old discover they have lost their own souls in the bargain.


  1. I believe there is nothing wrong with expecting people who come to this country to do so legally, and to follow the laws of the land here. I believe in honoring the laws of the land in my own country, and would absolutely do that in another country as well. Legislation to make it easier for people to immigrate is a better answer, although not the whole answer. Blatantly disregarding the laws is NOT the answer.

  2. I do not speak for the Church. However, the Church has spoken for itself, and has taken the position that individuals and families who are here are more important than questioning how they got here. The federal government is tasked with enforcement of the borders and for political expediency has chosen to ignore the immigration laws already on the books. It seems the potential of garnering votes from the Latino community (and both parties are at fault in that ambition) is more important than addressing substantive and comprehensive immigration reform. In contradiction to the principles of the Utah Compact, the Republican Party platform here in Utah states that a pharasitic interpretation of enforcement of the law should trump every other consideration, including the words of counsel from the living prophets. Members of the Church point to the 12th Article of Faith and accuse the Brethren of ignoring their own tenets. The leaders of the Church, however, are interested in a higher law than the laws of the land. It revolves around loving God and our neighbors. As long as the federal government remains dysfunctional and immigrants are here legally or illegally, the Church makes no distinction and has chosen to teach them the restored gospel and give them every opportunity to receive all the ordinances of salvation without regard to their legal status. It is not the role of either the state of Utah nor the Church to enforce the borders. That is one of the few express powers granted to the federal government in the Consitution. If the federal government chooses to remain derelict in its duty, so be it. As Christians and members of the Church, our duty is to accept, embrace, teach and advocate our cousins from all the various tribes of Israel who are here among us. Sometimes not even they realize they are here to receive all the blessings of the gospel without regard to their legal status. What I witnessed that day at the convention was a very real divide between those two positions, and I have made a choice where I will stand on the Church's side of the divide. I invite all the other delegates who are members of the Church to defend the Brethren as vigorously as they seem to want to defend the party platform.