Of all the wonderful tributes and articles about President James E. Faust in the ‘nacle and the media, Peggy Fletcher Stack’s, in today’s Tribune, is one of the more interesting. Entitled, Faust Pulled for Democrats, Stack described then Apostle James E. Faust, who met behind the scenes with Utah’s democratic party shortly after Bill Clinton won the White House to discuss how to maintain political ties with the new administration. There were concerns that the Church would be seen as a one party Church, tied much too closely to the republican party:
Bill Clinton’s ascension to the White House in 1992 was a wake-up call to many Mormon leaders. Several of them, including then-LDS Apostle James E. Faust, agreed to meet with members of Utah’s Democratic Party to discuss how best to maintain political ties with the new administration.
The Mormons were concerned about being seen as a one-party church, tied too closely with Republicans, said Todd Taylor, a Democratic Party executive who was there. “They wanted to find better ways to get more Mormons involved in the Democratic Party.”
There’s no question that too many people even today see the Church as too closely allied with the republican party, and have for decades. Regardless of whether this association is justified, I’m pleased to have read President Faust’s efforts to dispel that myth.
President Faust would encourage Mormon democrats to run for office and not worry about any impact from their political activities. President Faust was politically active in Utah democratic politics in the 1940’s and 1950’s:
Faust, who had once been a Democratic state legislator, continued to serve as a kind of behind-the-scenes consultant, even after joining the LDS First Presidency in 1995. “Every once in a while, President Faust would quietly make calls, urging people to run, mostly to help the state have a healthy balance of political parties,” said Taylor on Friday.
“He would talk to any potential candidates who were concerned that their LDS Church callings would conflict with public service. He assured them they could do both,” Taylor said. After all, Faust did. He was a Democratic state legislator from 1949 to 1951, while he was an LDS bishop. In the mid-1950s he chaired the party in Utah and helped manage a campaign of Sen Frank Moss, D-Utah.
President Faust had two prominent General Authority mentors who helped shaped his political views: N. Eldon Tanner, and Hugh B. Brown.
He was also called upon by President David O. McKay, in the early 1960’s as a liaison to the Kennedy Administration on Civil Rights, because President McKay, was advised by a prominent Mormon republican, J. Willard Marriott Sr., it would not be wise for President McKay to attend. So, President McKay, turned to James E. Faust, who at the time was President of the Cottonwood (Salt Lake City) Stake, a democrat and a member of the Utah State Bar to go in his stead:
I told Brother Faust that he should go and find out what President Kennedy is trying to do. I said that I did not like to see a law passed which will make Hotel men violators of the law if they refuse to provide accommodations for a negro when their hotels are filled with white people, or restaurant men made violators when they decline to serve colored people. I said that businessmen ought to be free to run their own business, and not become law breakers if they choose to employ certain people; that if we have such a law as that, then it is unfair to the majority of the citizens of the country.
Faust attended the meeting, reported to the First Presidency, and received McKay’s clearance to be part of local committees that, at Kennedy’s invitation, would offer informal feedback on civil rights.
See Prince and Wright’s David O’ McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism p. 68.
President Faust, describing himself to his biographer noted:
I am liberal in terms of human values and human rights.” “I believe what it says in the Book of Mormon, that the Lord values all of his children equally – black and white, bond and free, male and female, Jew and gentile – and that the Lord likewise has compassion for the heathen.”
President Faust firmly believed that the Church was best served by members serving and being actively involved in both political parties:
He went on to say that the LDS Church would prefer to have members in both parties. “Both locally and nationally, the interests of the church and its members are best served when we have two good men or women running on each ticket, and then no matter who is elected, we win,” Faust told Bell, as reported in the 1999 volume, In the Strength of the Lord: The Life and Teachings of James E. Faust.
Faust, who died early Friday morning at 87, was “a compassionate, virtuous man and a beloved teacher,” said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah. “I will always remember his concern for the less-fortunate and what a strong advocate he was for public service. He made the world a better place.”
President Faust, a true disciple of Christ, now serving where political parties don’t matter.