Elder Oaks gave a commencement address at BYU-Hawaii on Feb. 25, 2017. The title of the talk was: “Push Back Against the World.”
The anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune’s headline was “Mormon leader Dallin Oaks points to ‘aggressive’ Trump, climate change as ‘big worries’.”
I am going to shock you, I know, but guess what: the talk was not about Trump or climate change. Not even remotely.
I have seen this talk celebrated throughout the liberal Mormon on-line world. At last, an apostle who is willing to accept the reality of climate change and who hates Trump! “Hurrah!”
Except that was not the subject of the talk. Keep on dreaming, liberal Mormons, but if you actually read the entire talk it is pretty standard social conservative fare. And there is even a paragraph that will certainly disappoint the left (if they are paying attention):
We hear much about cleaning up the physical environment—air, water, and other essentials that are being polluted in a way that is poisoning the physical environment for all of us. We may choose to join in such efforts. But we who are responsible to push back against the world should be at least equally concerned about forces that are poisoning the moral environment. I refer to such moral pollutions as pornography. I also refer to language that pollutes public communications with profanity, vulgarity, and morally degrading coarseness. Push back against these kinds of pollutions also.
I am going to ask readers to read the entire talk. I will be going through some key points of the talk, but it would be helpful for readers to read it themselves. Done? Ok, let’s move on.
I remember with special clarity the moment I accepted Christianity. I was in my 30s and I was reading the Bible all the way through for the first time. And I came to this passage:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (NIV version Matthew 6:1-4).
For various reasons, this is what I needed to read at that time. Over the next few days, I read and re-read the Sermon on the Mount, and it just seemed true to me in ways unlike anything else I had ever read. And imagine my surprise when I finally read the Book of Mormon that the Savior also rehearsed the Sermon on the Mount to the people in the Americas.
I now, almost two decades later, have a printed out copy of the Sermon on the Mount on my desk that I read all the time. I find it comforting and encouraging.
But I also am constantly reminded how often our modern-day culture seems to directly contradict the advice in the Sermon on the Mount. The tone of forgiveness, gentle discussion, sincerity and lack of guile seems to be the exact opposite of the behavior of so many people today. This especially applies to our outrage culture, which I find linked at the hip to the evil of virtue signaling.
There is a small but very interesting controversy involving a street name change in the Atlanta, George area. Mercedes-Benz USA, which is investing in Atlanta, wants to change a street name to “Mercedes-Benz Drive.” The Church opposes this, according to local Church “spokesperson” Bill Maycock.
The Mormon church will oppose the renaming of Barfield Road to Mercedes-Benz Drive, which goes before the City Council on March 7, according to metro Atlanta church spokesperson Bill Maycock. He called for a separation of church and brand.
“The Mercedes-Benz brand is known for prestige and luxury and class status and all that sort of thing,” Maycock said. “In the Atlanta Georgia Temple of the church, we don’t do any of that…It’s not what the Atlanta Temple is. It’s not what the Atlanta Temple teaches its members.”
MBUSA met with church leaders, but is driving ahead, according to company spokesperson Donna Boland.
“We don’t feel that the road renaming has an adverse impact or implication on church beliefs, but understand if the church feels it must voice its disagreement to the city,” Boland wrote in an email. “We are focused on being a valued member of the Sandy Springs community and hopefully that will be a more important factor than what this particular road is called.”
The road is currently called Barfield in honor of an old farming family, several members of whom also opposed the renaming idea when it was announced in late 2015. The proposal went quiet for over a year due to the controversy, but is back now that construction on the new headquarters at Abernathy and Barfield roads is underway.
MBUSA, which is relocating to Sandy Springs from New Jersey, said it has a 40-year “tradition” of naming streets around its facilities for the company. German-based Mercedes-Benz is known for using its name in branding, including recently purchasing the naming rights of Atlanta’s new football and soccer stadium.
The story continues:
During his campaign, Donald Trump said several times that he is against the Johnson Amendment. This amendment, approved in 1954, takes away the tax exempt status of churches involved in politics and lobbying.
To be more precise, this story describes the Johnson amendment more fully:
Proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) and passed by Congress in 1954, the law prohibits tax-exempt organizations—including churches and other nonprofits—from lobbying elected officials, campaigning on behalf of a political party, and supporting or opposing candidates for office. Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code bestows tax-exempt status upon nonprofit groups as long as they don’t “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for office.” (The “in opposition to” clause was added in 1986.)
The Johnson Amendment is now applied most scrupulously to churches and faith-based organizations, which are barred from translating their community organizing into political activism of any kind. A Southern Baptist congregation opposed to abortion, for example, is prohibited from explicitly supporting a pro-life Republican running for Congress solely because of the church’s nonprofit status.
Through the Johnson Amendment, the Internal Revenue Service exercises the power to stifle a religious organization’s right to free speech. In effect, an evangelical pastor, Orthodox rabbi, Muslim imam, or Catholic priest who wishes to urge support for a religious freedom bill or oppose Obamacare’s contraception mandate can be muzzled under federal law.
The suppressive nature of the Johnson Amendment can be traced to its origins in the 1950s—a period that the Left usually condemns as “conformist” and hostile to free speech — and Lyndon Baines Johnson, a man criticized for his low political morals. Running for re-election in 1954, then-Sen. Johnson faced a difficult challenge from his Democratic primary opponent, Dudley Dougherty, who received backing from two conservative nonprofit groups in Texas. The nonprofits churned out campaign materials calling for the election of Dougherty — much to the chagrin of Johnson. Shortly thereafter, the Texas senator urged Congress to take up a proposed change to the U.S. tax code that would prohibit outside groups—like those supporting his primary opponent—from political organizing. Aimed at punishing Sen. Johnson’s enemies, the Johnson Amendment now applies to a wide range of nonprofit organizations, including churches.
At the National Prayer Breakfast today, Trump reaffirmed he wants to “totally destroy” the Johnson amendment. What that really means, I guess, is that he wants Congress to pass a law overturning the Johnson amendment, and he will sign it.
I think there are advantages and disadvantages to the Johnson amendment for churches.