I am in the middle of reading a fascinating new book, “Presidents and Prophets” by Michael K. Winder, and I felt prompted to relay the story of the reaction of many Church leaders to FDR and the New Deal. It seems especially relevant when discussing political neutrality today.
I will quote directly from the book:
When FDR announced the New Deal, President Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark Jr., David O. McKay and other Church leaders became outspoken critics of what they felt was socialism.
12 April 1945: Roosevelt dies in office. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith writes, “there are some of us who have felt that it is really an act of providence.” President J. Reuben Clark Jr. quips, “The Lord gave the people of the United States four elections in order to get rid of him, that they failed to do so in these four elections, so He held an election of His own and cast one vote, and then took him away.”
(After FDR was elected on a platform that included the repeal of Prohibition), George Albert Smith scoffs, “The attitudes of the President of the United States and his wife toward the use of liquor has acted like an invitation to many heretofore temperate people to become guzzlers.”
Church President Heber J. Grant was vocal in his disapproval of the policies of the thirty-second President, especially after the death of his pro-Roosevelt first counselor, Anthony B. Ivins, in September 1934. He would often become upset when discussing FDR, and in one heated discussions slammed his cane on the desk of Franklin J. Murdock, shattering the glass desktop in his anti-Roosevelt fury. It comes as no surprise, then, that in the election of 1936, President Grant openly endorsed the Republican candidate for President, Alf Landon. However, he pointed out that he was speaking for himself and not for the Church…As the 1936 election drew near, an unsigned, front-page editorial in the Church-owned Deseret News accused FDR of knowingly promoting unconstitutional laws and advocating Communism…Former First Presidency member Marion G. Romney, a staunch Democrat committed to vote for Roosevelt, was deeply torn…After fasting and three hours of prayer Marion concluded that the editorial was inspired and given through the Lord’s prophet. He then reversed his political loyalties and labored to dissuade his friends from voting for Roosevelt.”
In 1940, the General Authorities once again drafted a joint anti-Roosevelt statement. Yet despite all of the anti-Roosevelt sentiment against FDR, he carried Utah all four times he ran, increasing his total each election, a result that left President Grant “dumbfounded.” President Grant regarded the support for FDR as “one of the most serious conditions that has confronted me since I became President of the Church.”
It is worth pointing out that several Church leaders, including Ivins, Stephen L. Richards, B.H. Roberts and Presiding Bishop Sylvester Q. Cannon generally supported FDR.
Given the concern about political neutrality in the Church these days, I found this historical information fascinating. Can you imagine the uproar if President Hinckley openly opposed a presidential candidate in the 2008 election? Leave aside the IRS issues, just imagine the controversy among Church members.