The frank rebuttal to partisanship in President Dallin H. Oaks’ recent talk on the U.S. Constitution has been driving conversation since he gave it on April 4 in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The talk was timely, according to political and legal sources, because while politicians, pundits and social media hawks increasingly insist on party loyalty, President Oaks said no party can meet all of the needs of a voter and that voters should act independently of parties when they don’t.
In fact, he said the Constitution’s greatest meaning to Latter-day Saints is that it ensures moral agency, or freedom to choose.
Richard E. Turley Jr., an attorney and historian who recently published a biography of President Oaks, said some people have tried to interpret President Oaks’ talk as being a broadside against Republicans or Democrats but should let it speak for itself and instead focus on its principles.
He said one of those principles is that political and moral agency involves more than voting a straight-party ticket. Of course, the church’s long-held official position is that “principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties, and members should seek candidates who best embody those principles.”
“I think sometimes people want to abrogate their personal responsibility for being informed and making good judgments by delegating that or passing the buck to somebody else,” said Turley, author of “In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks.”
In his talk, President Oaks said, “There are many political issues, and no party, platform or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences.”
“Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time. Then members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities. This process will not be easy. It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election.
“Such independent actions will sometimes require voters to support candidates or political parties or platforms whose other positions they cannot approve. That is one reason we encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters. We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate.”
Those statements cheered Jennifer Walker Thomas, senior director of strategy and nonpartisanship for the nonpartisan Mormon Women for Ethical Government.
“For a long time we’ve been…