Mormon leader to explore political dimension of faith
Kristen Durbin | Monday, April 23, 2012
In the midst of former-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and moral debates about contraception and abortion in the political arena, the Mormon faith has garnered heavy media attention so far in 2012.
Dr. Bruce Porter, a senior leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), will address this media attention in a talk Tuesday titled “The Latter-day Saints Come Marching In: Mormonism Abroad and At Home in the 21st Century.” He will address his church’s views on global events and its relationship to the Catholic Church.
Prior to his service as a senior leader involved in international Church administration in 1995, Porter earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University, taught political science at Brigham Young University, authored several books and academic articles and worked with the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Northrop Corporation. Porter also served as executive director of the U.S. Board for International Broadcasting for five years.
In his talk, Porter said he will introduce the basic organization and doctrine of the LDS Church and address its significant international growth in recent years.
“A lot of people still think we’re a Utah-based or American church, but we have more members abroad than in the U.S. – 14 million total members in 150 countries,” he said. “We’ve adapted to deal with that growth by making organizational changes, establishing large offices around the world to administer the church and building chapels and meeting houses.”
Similar to the Catholic Church, the LDS Church is committed to promoting social justice through humanitarian missionary work around the world, especially in helping its members in poor countries rise out of poverty through a member-funded private welfare system, Porter said. In recent years, the Church’s humanitarian efforts have contributed more than $1 billion in aid in nearly 100 countries.
“A key part of our religion is social justice. We believe all people are equal, and that the rich should be helping the poor,” he said. “All our humanitarian work is funded by thousands of members, and it’s making a huge difference in people’s lives.”
Porter said the LDS Church also strives to maintain equality in members’ access to religious and educational resources.
“We try to promote equality among members in church operations across country borders, rather than equality in private income,” he said. “We manage the contributions from members so that all the money is redistributed centrally so the same kinds of chapels and meeting houses [exist] in poor and rich cities.”
Additionally, the Church’s private welfare system includes a fund that has helped more than 50,000 members attain higher education in 50 countries over the past 11 years, Porter said.
“We realized a lot of members were stuck in poverty without education,” he said. “Like any church, we want to bring salvation to our members, but we also want to bring them a better life. We don’t just see our work as being for the next life, so we work in the here-and-now to help people.”
The LDS Church’s humanitarian collaboration with Catholic Relief Services and other Catholic-affiliated charities aligns it with the Church’s commitment to social justice, Porter said, but the two institutions also share similar views on some moral and social issues. He said those issues include abortion, marriage and family values.
“We have good relations with some senior Catholic leaders, and even though we come from different religions, we have common values and interests in the international arena,” Porter said. “We certainly have members with different views and don’t try to impose political views on people, but the Church has taken a fairly conservative stance on those issues.”
Porter said the LDS Church agrees with the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and is opposed to same-sex marriage, but the churches differ in their views on the use of contraception.
“Our church has no position on contraception. We agree that religious organizations or hospitals shouldn’t have to provide contraception because it relates to issues of religious freedom, but there is no prohibition on the use of contraception,” he said. “We think it’s important that people of conscience can follow that conscience, so in that regard, we’re 100 percent behind the [Catholic] Church.”
In general, the LDS Church’s views on many moral and social issues are founded in its belief in the importance of the right to religious freedom, Porter said.
“We believe religious freedom is one of the fundamental rights of all of our members and all people,” he said.
Porter said the LDS Church is similar to the Catholic Church in their centralized world headquarters in Salt Lake City and the Vatican, respectively. However, LDS clergy are part-time volunteers who hold other jobs and are not paid for their ministry work, he said.
In the final portion of his talk, Porter said he would address the LDS Church’s attitude towards government, politics, war and national security in relation to the recent wave of publicity focused on the Mormon faith as a result of Romney’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
“As a church, we are politically neutral and do not endorse any candidate, but we have to deal with the publicity generated by Romney’s campaign, some of which has been inaccurate,” Porter said.
Above all, Porter said he hopes to express the central mission and values of the Mormon faith during his talk at Notre Dame.
“I want to express that the Church is a worldwide, not American, church that is politically-neutral and is very committed to uplifting the lives of its members throughout the world, and tries to do social good and social justice throughout the world.”
Porter’s talk, sponsored by the Notre Dame International Security Program and the Tocqueville Program on Religion and Public Life, will take place at 4 p.m. Tuesday in 119 DeBartolo Hall, and is open to the public.