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Knockin’ on heaven’s door… Mormons and ICE

26 April 2009

Like most people, I don’t like having church people knocking at my door (when my Mexican neighbors started putting up those signs saying “No Missionaries, we’re Catholics, and don’t change” I put up one reading “No Missionaries, We’re Aztecs.. and eat missionaries”*) but, people have a right to practice their religion.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s, Sheena Mcfarland, files a story that probably no one in the immigrant rights community, nor the close-the-border crowd has considered: the conflict between the free exercise of one’s religion and immigration regulations.

Briefly, an undocumented alien who arrested in Cincinnati when he was attempting to board a plane for Salt Lake City, was returning from his Mormon missionary assignment.  Someone may correct me on this, but performing missionary work is a religious duty for young Mormons, and there’s the rub.

The arrest of an undocumented immigrant returning last week from his LDS mission has sparked discussion at the highest levels of the church about how to limit such exposure in the future.

That triggered fears in the undocumented LDS community in Utah, and already prompted a change in how one Utah missionary returned home. The young man, a Salt Lake Valley resident, completed a mission in Oklahoma and was scheduled to return home two days after church leaders heard of the unrelated arrest in Ohio. The mission president contacted local Utah church leaders, and it was decided the missionary’s uncle would drive out to Oklahoma to bring the missionary home, which he did.

“The travel department of the church has to rethink everything. Things have changed, and they need a whole new policy,” said a local church official who was aware of the situation. “With ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] hitting them at the bus terminals and airports, this opens a whole new discussion. I don’t know how many undocumented immigrants we have serving missions…

One of the Morman “Articles of Faith” says that one should be “subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law,” which did not stop Helmuth Hübener from becoming almost a Mormon saint for disobeying, dishonoring and breaking all kinds of laws in Nazi Germany (Mormon door-knocking was a great way to disseminate news to counter official propaganda).  However, a second Church document (The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Section 134) states:

… we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

Utah Senator Bob Bennett inserted language in an 2005 Agriculture bill that exempts religious organizations from criminal liabilities for using undocumented workers in voluntary work, which gets the Church off the hook, but doesn’t do anything for the believers.

* I eventually took the sign down, mostly because I had Jehovahs’ Witness neighbors, and — not having a Mexican familia with a cousin having a compre whose tocayo… when I needed a plumber or electrician,  I asked the “Testigos”.  Besides, they were good neighbors, and it was kinda rude.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 April 2009 10:56 am

    It’s common to see couples of mormons missionaries in Guadalajara, knocking doors and inviting families to join their faith. Usually one of them seems to be American and the another Mexican. At least they are not so insistent as the Jehova’s witness.
    When I was young I was “almost” convinced to join them, but when they say that they don’t drink coke I quit.

    • 26 April 2009 3:05 pm

      Something I wonder about is whether or not the gringo missionaries in Mexico have the right visa for religious workers, or are on a tourist visa.

  2. 28 April 2009 1:41 pm

    Before Salinas de Gortari changed the constitution they entered Mexico on a tourist visa. Now they enter under the proper documentation as religious workers.

    Careful not to upset the apple cart, so to speak, on Mormons in Mexico. Most of the apple juice going through Jumex comes from the Mormon apple cooperative in Chihuahua, though the Mennonites are edging out the Mormons as climate change kills the Mormon orchards.

    As for your post, I’d point out that you can’t even be baptized a Mormon if you are currently breaking the law – a situation that all undocumented Mormons in the United States are in…but, duh, they are still baptized.

    Shock of shocks, we have a religion that does not fit within the easy confines of the rule of law established by modern (classic) liberal society. Mormonism, then, is the perfect religion for Mexico. : )

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