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Mormon Latinos on Thursday launched a letter-writing campaign to LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, urging him to spell out the faith's position on immigration law, an issue they say is dividing the church.
Activist Tony Yapias, of the advocacy group Proyecto Latino de Utah, says he launched the campaign with his own letter to Monson.
Besides letters, Latinos plan to wear ribbons signifying unity in their quest to have the man Mormons regard as a prophet speak up unambiguously on what they see as a moral issue.
"This is affecting our families," Yapias says. "Where's the church in this? The longer they stay quiet, the more political it gets, the more divisive."
Sandy resident Alfredo Gallardo says he, too, is writing Monson to express what many Latino Latter-day Saints feel.
"There is a double standard now one for Sunday and one for Monday through Saturday," he says. "We want to write to the prophet to say the feelings of brotherhood have to be followed all the time."
Mormon missionaries increasingly are confronted by prospective converts who believe the church is anti-immigrant, Yapias says, and some Latinos don't even feel welcome in their own LDS congregations because of anti- immigrant rhetoric.
The perception is due partly to the fact that a Mormon, state Sen. Russell Pearce, sponsored Arizona's new immigration law. Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who also is LDS, hopes to bring a similar law to Utah.
Sandstrom agrees with Pearce that the church's 12th Article of Faith points toward rigorous enforcement of immigration laws. That article says Mormons believe in "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law."
In fact, Sandstrom said Thursday, Monson has spoken several times about the necessity of obeying laws, once referring to those who would "bend, twist and wink at violations of the law" as escalating illegal conduct.
Yapias, who is LDS and has a son on a Mormon mission, argues an immigration crackdown is at odds with the church's call for compassion and its practice of ignoring citizenship status when it comes to baptisms, church leadership positions, missions and access to temples.
Legislators such as Pearce and Sandstrom, Yapias says, "just are not getting it."
"They are not going to get it," Yapias adds, "until the church takes an official position."
Sandstrom says he doesn't expect the church to change its neutral stance.
"I cannot fathom," he says, "the church coming out and saying it's wrong to enforce the law when they've been so strong in saying you need to honor the law."
The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not directly comment Thursday on the letter-writing drive, but referred to a statement on its newsroom website and e-mailed a similar statement, attributed to spokesman Scott Trotter.
While the church "recognizes the complexities facing elected officials as they grapple with the implications of immigration law," the statement says, it has not taken a position on the issue "which is clearly the province of government."
Church leaders, it adds, "have urged compassion and careful reflection when addressing immigration issues affecting millions of people."
To Michael Clara, a Mormon who lives in a west Salt Lake City neighborhood that is heavily Latino, the letter-writing campaign is both unorthodox and unnecessary.
He offers as proof the church's practice of allowing all members documented or not access to church ordinances and privileges. Moreover, top church leaders repeatedly have called for compassion.
"I'm not sure what Tony or anyone else wants the LDS Church to say," Clara says. "If you don't get it by now, then you're not listening."
Yapias has applauded other faith leaders, including Bishop John C. Wester, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, for speaking out against Arizona's new law and pressing for comprehensive immigration reform. But the Latino activist wants the state's predominant religion to take a stand.
"Why is it," Yapias asks, "that the LDS Church can't say what many other churches have said already?"
What some LDS leaders have said on the issue
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends missionaries among undocumented immigrants across the country, baptizing many of them without asking about their citizenship status. The Utah-based faith also allows them to enter LDS temples and serve missions.
"We're not agents of the immigration service, and we don't pretend to be," LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland told The Salt Lake Tribune last year, "and we also don't break the law."
In January 2008, Marlin Jensen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, was assigned by LDS President Thomas S. Monson to urge Utah legislators to use "compassion" in their immigration legislation.
Despite that plea, Utah's mostly LDS lawmakers adopted SB81, which took effect last July and tightened enforcement while limiting immigrants' access to some services.