A major player in the new controversial Arizona immigration law is Senator Russell Pearce. Sen. Pearce, a Mormon, sponsored the new law, which has caused Hispanic LDS conversions in Arizona to suffer. The Arizona Republic reports,
“The law, which makes it a state crime to be in the country without proper immigration papers, has tarnished the Mormon Church’s image among many Latinos, a huge group the church is aggressively trying to attract.”
LDS missionaries report that people are less receptive to them than before the law was signed, evidenced by the young missionaries having to endure doors slammed in their faces as people ask, “Why would we want to hear anything from a religion that would do this to the Hispanic community?” Previously scheduled convert baptisms have been cancelled as well.
Though the LDS Church does not have an official position on immigration, converting Latinos to Mormonism is a booming business in the LDS Church. According to Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches online magazine,
“It is estimated that of the Church’s 13 million members worldwide, more than 4.5 million members are Spanish-speaking. Spanish-speaking LDS congregations in the US have grown by an estimated 90 percent in the last decade. The majority of Mormon converts in the US now come from Latino communities. And there are just about as many Mormons who live in Mexico and Central America as there are in the state of Utah.”
Utah is on record as being illegal-immigrant friendly, so it surprises some people that a Mormon would sponsor such a law. The Arizona Republic explains,
“Pearce has repeatedly said his efforts to drive illegal immigrants out of Arizona and keep them from coming here is based on the Mormon Church’s 13 Articles of Faith, which includes obeying the law. “
The Arizona Republic also talked to Nora Castañeda, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Hermosillo, Mexico. Ms. Castañeda has been LDS for 35 years and is now being confronted by people who are not happy about the immigration law.
“[Ms. Castañeda] does not believe…that Pearce’s anti-illegal-immigrant stance is in line with the Mormon faith, which, in addition to teaching obedience to the law, teaches compassion.
“‘It is embarrassing to have to defend the church for the thoughts of one man,’ said Castañeda.”
Ms. Castañeda told the Arizona Republic that the new law is not only making proselytizing more difficult, it is causing some new converts to leave the Church.
All of this makes me wonder what these new and prospective converts were being taught about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If the political actions of one Church member so deeply shook their faith that they want nothing more to do with the LDS Church, what sort of church did they think they were joining? What sort of faith had they been nurturing as they approached conversion to Mormonism? What sort of impression of the Church, its purposes, and its power, caused one Mormon Latino woman to say about Sen. Pearce, “I want the church to put a stop to him”?
It seems to me that if these new and prospective converts had been taught to make Jesus Christ the center of their faith and worship, the actions of one Latter-day Saint would not cause such a pervasive black mark on the entire LDS organization. But, if these investigators had been taught (as is typical in LDS proselytizing) to place their faith in Mormonism, if they had been led to believe that the LDS Church is God’s true kingdom on earth, the only church that really understands God and is led by God, the only church that is not beset by doctrinal and social confusion, the one church whose members are the most righteous of all people, then the actions of one Latter-day Saint who told the Salt Lake Tribune “that LDS scripture buttresses his push for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants” could well cause these people to stop and rethink their decisions.
And this is good. Proverbs 20:25 says, “It is a snare to say rashly, ‘It is holy,’ and to reflect only after making vows.” So whether one becomes aware of challenging doctrines, or perceived contradictions, or observed inconsistencies, it is wise to take a step back and reflect before making any vows.
In my opinion, this unintended consequence of the Arizona immigration law–causing people to reconsider their connection with Mormonism–is a very good thing.
The Arizona Republic first posted the article “Arizona immigration law fallout harms LDS Church outreach” on May 18, 2010. The Salt Lake Tribune reposted the article on May 21, 2010 with some revisions under the title “Arizona immigration law thwarting LDS missionaries.” The above article utilizes both versions.