Mormons gather for semiannual conference - East Valley Tribune: Spirituallife

Mormons gather for semiannual conference

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Posted: Thursday, October 2, 2008 4:00 pm | Updated: 10:31 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY - No one expects politics to be on the agenda when The Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints holds its semiannual General Conference this weekend.

But the two-day event comes one month before the Nov. 4 election, when voters in California will decide whether to ban gay marriage - a ballot measure the church actively supports.

"The church wants to avoid the appearance of interfering in politics and that line between this being a moral issue rather than a political issue is very hard to keep clear," said Lavina Fielding Anderson, a member of the Mormon Alliance, which tracks and hosts a critique of conference talks.

"We're going to hear the coded messages about the importance of the family and family values, the wickedness of the world and the need for vigilance in protecting our families."

Officially the Mormon church takes a position of political neutrality. It doesn't endorse candidates or political parties, but does weigh in on issues considered morally important.

Since the 1990s, the church has participated in efforts to defeat marriage equality legislation across the U.S. and, in 2006, joined with other faiths in asking Congress for a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In June, a letter signed by church President Thomas S. Monson was read in California congregations, calling on members to give time and money to pass Proposition 8. The church has about 770,000 members in California, according to statistics from an annual church almanac.

"The church's teachings and position on this moral issue are unequivocal. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and the formation of families is central to the Creator's plan for His children," the letter said. "Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage."

Many faithful Latter-day Saints have responded - they've walked voting precincts with opinion surveys, made phone calls, passed out yard signs and generously opened their wallets.

The Web site is tracking financial contributions of $1,000 or more and trying to identify which donors are members of the church.

As of Oct. 1, site managers had identified 41 percent of individual donors as Mormon. Their contributions totaled more than $7.8 million of the $19.1 million given to the campaign.

Contribution data is drawn from the California secretary of state's campaign finance filings and information about church members is gathered from site visitors who either self-identify or identify their friends, family and fellow congregants.

"Some people write us and say they don't like this sort of 'outing' of Mormons," said Nadine Hansen, the St. George church member who owns the site. "And some Mormon donors and supporters of Proposition 8 think that it's wonderful that we are kind of letting our light shine."

Hansen, who said the site is for information purposes and takes no position on gay marriage, predicts the percentage of Mormon donors will be much higher by the time all the contribution data becomes available after the election.

"What we're not seeing yet is the small donations," she said. "There may be thousands or tens of thousands of people who have given $100, or $50 or 25."

The 13 million-member church holds conference sessions in April and October each year so members can hear messages of faith and inspiration from leadership. The event draws more than 100,000 to the faith's downtown Salt Lake City campus, packing a 21,000-seat conference center and the nearby Salt Lake Tabernacle, home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The proceedings, which begin Saturday, are also broadcast worldwide on television, satellite and the Internet and translated into more than 80 languages.

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