On 4 September 2012, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), participated in the 2012-13 Notre Dame Forum, “Conviction and Compromise: Being a Person of Faith in a Liberal Democracy.” The forum featured five prominent religious leaders addressing the role of faith in American democracy. Other panelists included Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville; Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rick Warren, founding pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California; and Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. The discussion was moderated by David Campbell, a professor of political science, and M. Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of law and theology.
The panelists addressed questions such as:
- How can people of faith reconcile religious conviction with politics, which is often described as the “art of compromise”?
- Should voters take a candidate’s religion into account when casting their ballot?
- How should elected officials apply their faith when making policy?
- How does religious diversity affect our national understanding of religion’s role in both politics and government?
Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s comments reinforced the Church’s stance on political neutrality: “Our church tries to stay away from political activity in the more than 150 countries where we have members. … We therefore offer no political guidance to members of our faith and rarely take a position on public policies.” He continued that while “our members are encouraged to participate in governmental affairs” and in parties of their choice, the Church is “neutral on political parties, platforms and candidates” and does “not endorse any party or candidate … [or] advise our members how to vote.”
Elder Oaks explained that the Church does encourage members to “draw upon their religious beliefs, including personal inspiration, in all their important choices — political and otherwise.” Furthermore, he stated that all religious persons should be allowed to participate in the political process on the same basis as other citizens, though refraining from unnecessarily forcing their personal religious beliefs on others. While civility is always necessary, and political neutrality encourages members to exercise their own discretion in political matters, Elder Oaks stated that in “very exceptional situations, reserved for the decision of Presidency of the Church, … [the Church] would take a position on a public issue that we consider to have very important moral implications.”
Elder Oaks advocated uniting with “persons of all faith to teach and exercise the principle of religious freedom so that we are assuring our ability to unite on the things we have in common and assuring our ability to act out and exercise those things that we do not have in common.”