The main lobbyist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints may have broken certain rules when he encouraged church members to “follow the prophet” unquestioningly — “like sheep,” he said — on the establishment of a medicinal cannabis program in Utah.
Marty Stephens, the chief lobbyist for the Mormon Church, gave the voting advice two days before the election in November during a regional conference, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The Utah-based faith — led by President Russell M. Nelson, whom members revere as a “prophet, seer and revelator” — had already declared its opposition to Proposition 2, concluding it would spawn a loosely controlled medical cannabis program that would threaten public health and safety.
However, Stephens knew some members were wondering if they had been commanded to follow the church’s instruction to vote against Prop 2 or whether they could exercise their free will. His response to the question would draw him into charged political waters that church leaders typically try to avoid during religious gatherings.
According to an audio recording of the Nov. 4 meeting, Stephens suggested the directive to vote against Prop 2 is somewhat similar to church instructions on stockpiling food or staying out of debt.
“[The prophet’s] counsel on this and other issues that may arise do not likely rise to the level of basic doctrine such as those making us ineligible to receive a temple recommend. But it comes down to a question of whether or not we’re going to follow the prophet,” Stephens said. “He counsels, then we have our agency to choose. But for me, if the prophet speaks, I’m going to do my best to follow.”
That’s a not-so-subtle religious exhortation for Church members to vote on a political issue in a certain way. Unfortunately for him, his attempt was transparent, and it’s recorded.
Stephens also spoke about critics who would fault Latter-day Saints for obeying their faith leaders.
“Some have even criticized members of the church for following the words of the prophets by saying they’re like sheep, simply doing what they’re told. To this, I plead guilty,” Stephens said, continuing by quoting remarks made by apostle Neil L. Andersen earlier this year: “Don’t be surprised if at times your personal views aren’t initially in harmony with the teachings of the Lord’s prophet. These are moments of humility. These are moments of learning, of humility, when we go to our knees in prayer.”
The church declined to comment on the recording and whether Stephens’ sermon violated any guidelines given to lay leaders about making political statements over the pulpit. Stephens did not return a call requesting an interview.
We don’t need an interview to know what Stephens said: He’s proud of being a sheep, and he wants more people to join him in blindly following the Mormon leader. It’s a mentality that discourages critical thinking and may even contribute to worsening conditions for other people who are already suffering.
It didn’t work, though. The proposition passed with 53% of the votes in November, and a revised bill has since been signed into law, creating a state-run medical cannabis program.
(Image via YouTube)