By Matthew D. LaPlante
A prominent leader from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has implored Utah's overwhelmingly Mormon Legislature to "slow down, step back and carefully study and assess the implications and human costs involved" in a slew of immigration bills they are considering on Capitol Hill.
Marlin Jensen, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of Seventy, told a modest crowd at the Wednesday evening opening reception of Westminster College's "Beyond Borders and Fronteras" colloquy that "with decisions hanging in the balance that have such significant consequences, I believe a more thoughtful . . . not to mention humane, approach is warranted."
Immigration has emerged as a key issue during the legislative session that began Jan. 21, with lawmakers considering a litany of bills that would limit significant privileges and impose extensive penalties for the state's undocumented immigrants.
But, Jensen said, "immigration questions are questions dealing with God's children," and legislators should "measure twice before they cut."
His comments expounded publicly on the private pleas of church leaders last month for Legislators to act with compassion as they consider immigration reform.
While repeating the mantra that the LDS church generally takes no position on political issues, Jensen noted that immigration was not strictly a political issue but a moral and ethical one. And as such, he said, he was not simply speaking for himself or even for the Quorum, a group of Mormon leaders who act as church emissaries.
"I was assigned to come here by the First Presidency of the church," he said, referring to the church's three most senior leaders, including LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson.
LDS member Michael Clára, who attends church in a congregation increasingly made up of undocumented immigrants, said he was gratified to hear Jensen's remarks, which he called "earth-shattering."
He said it has been increasingly difficult to reconcile church teachings about compassion with the actions of a Legislature made up primarily of fellow Mormons.
"It's hypocritical," Clára said. "At the local level, they have been welcomed and treated with respect and then they turn around and have LDS legislators kick them in the teeth by making laws that make their lives harder."
With humble tones but adamant tenors, Bishop John Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and Pastor Steve Klemz of Zion Lutheran Church joined Jensen in his prayer for greater tolerance and cautious lawmaking.
"Jesus himself was a person on the move - an immigrant if you will," Wester said, drawing nods from the other speakers.
"We are called to love," Klemz added. "That is the kind of community we are called to work for."