The president of a Mormon church stake in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy is being accused of crossing the line by giving a speech from the pulpit that decried last year’s re-election of President Barack Obama.
President Matthew DeVisser, in his Feb. 3 address at the Hidden Valley Stake Conference in Utah, said he has never “witnessed a more stark difference between good and evil” than 2012.
Without mentioning names or political parties, he said the “voice of the people spoke loudly and clearly as it chose” socialism over capitalism, entitlements over free enterprise, and redistribution and regulation over self-reliance.
He cited evidence of what he called the nation’s declining values, including an effort to raise taxes during “the worst economic times since the Great Depression,” the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states, government-funded abortions and the frenzy leading up to the “fiscal cliff.”
DeVisser told the congregation he was “moved by the Holy Ghost” to speak out, and his intent was not to be “controversial” or “political.”
He did not respond to requests for comment.
Leaders of Utah’s LDS Democrats Caucus sharply criticized the speech, saying DeVisser violated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ strict policy of political neutrality.
“He was definitely abusing the pulpit,” caucus Chairwoman Crystal Young-Otterstrom told KUTV-TV. “Those are politically charged statements. He has no business making (them), not only as a leader of a flock but as an LDS church leader.”
Brian Mecham, administrator of the LDS Freedom Forum, said he did not think DeVisser crossed the church’s line on politics.
“He wasn’t promoting a political party or any partisan politics,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “President DeVisser was only promoting correct principles, the principles that make people free.”
Quin Monson, a political scientist at Brigham Young University, said such political speeches from the pulpit by LDS leaders are “extremely rare.” The Mormon church went out of its way to stay neutral in Obama’s campaign against Republican Mitt Romney, an LDS member, Monson added.
“The reference to the White House is what raised my eyebrows,” he said. “I would not expect to see this kind of thing happening at all.”
Church spokesman Scott Trotter issued a brief statement about DeVisser’s speech, saying: “Messages and statements from lay leaders are intended for the local congregations they oversee, and are not binding on the whole church,” he said.