The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Compassion, Immigration, and Law and Order
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note: Another contributor to the Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board expressed angst over the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with respect to immigration as expressed in the following linked press release, last accessed today: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/immigration-church-issues-new-statement. Having spent time (albeit briefly) in a place which I believe for all intents and purposes must be considered a part of the Third World (even though it’s a part of the American Continent) when I spent part of an academic quarter studying abroad in Mexico, I can certainly understand why someone might want to emigrate. Here’s what I said:
I think part of the solution to the problem is learning to think of the law in a more nuanced way. (And I say this as one of the more fervent “law-and-order” types to inhabit this Board.) It might satisfy our need to perceive the world in an orderly way to simply say, “Breaking the law is breaking the law … period.” But if that were so, carried to its logical conclusion, everything would (or could) become a capital crime: “Jaywalking is theft is robbery is rape is murder.” Kill ’em all! (And there are some places in the world where the law still is that arbitrary.) Some things are mala prohibita … wrong simply because the law says they’re wrong … and some things are mala in se … inherently, morally wrong, such as rape or murder. And even man’s law, as imperfect as it is, recognizes gradations in the wrongfulness of acts: justifiable homicide versus involuntary manslaughter versus voluntary manslaughter versus depraved-indifference murder versus malice-aforethought, premeditated murder.
Yes, I believe the injunctions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints exhorting its members to be law abiding, such as Doctrine and Covenants 134 or Article of Faith 12. But all laws aren’t created equal: violations of immigration law aren’t mala in se, but rather mala prohibita. And on the scale of criminal wrongfulness, they certainly don’t rise to the wrongfulness of, say, rape or aggravated murder. Anybody who’s spent any length of time in an area that’s not part of the “First World” has to have had at least the fleeting thought that if they lived in many of these areas, they, too, might well conclude they potentially had much to gain (and not all that much to lose) by emigrating to somewhere else, even if faced with the prospect of doing so illegally. I think the Church’s favored approach to illegal immigration recognizes these facts.
Update, 25 May 2014 – As Dan Peterson points out (see the following address, last accessed March 25, 2014: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705375835/Defending-the-Faith-Keeping-our-eye-on-the-president-of-the-church.html), there are certain members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who seem perfectly willing to follow the prophets when it comes to such issues as gay marriage, on the one hand, but are quite convinced that the prophets are wrong when it comes to the issue of immigration. With respect to the latter, these recalcitrant Saints apparently take the un-nuanced attitude that breaking the law is breaking the law, that there is no difference between mala in se crime and mala prohibita crime, and that, essentially, there are no gradations in seriousness of the former. After mentioning stances the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken on past issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment and California’s Proposition 8, Peterson says that the shoe now seems to be on the other foot. He writes:
More recently, the church has engaged the vexing problem of illegal immigration. On June 10, 2011, its Public Affairs Department even issued an official statement on the topic.
This time, albeit very gently, it’s the ox of some politically conservative Latter-day Saints that was gored.
Since then, I’ve been fascinated and disturbed to hear some of them — people who have generally welcomed and agreed with the church’s rare statements on public policy, who have sometimes even prided themselves on being more faithful than their politically liberal brothers and sisters (“Can a good Mormon really be a Democrat?”) — express outrage at the church for meddling in politics.
Update, 20 June 2014 – Here’s another interesting contribution to the question of LDS views on immigration from Times and Seasons (last accessed today):