See here for a summary.
I know that Harry Reid is vilified in certain Church circles as something of a “traitor” or a “bad example” for members of the Church. Let me come right out and say that I think such a criticism is wholly unjustified. Most of these people don’t know Harry Reid or what is in his heart or how he lives the Gospel in his daily life. All reports I have heard give me no reason to doubt his sincerity or his worthiness. Perhaps acknowledging my own ideological and political biases, I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt. I imagine that most members of the Church who attack him simply take issue with his politics, and would do so regardless of whether he was a member of the Church or not, and don’t have any objection to his personal life or Church service.
One part of his speech (there were a couple) that made my ears prick up was when he said that certain “right-wing” members of the Church, like Ezra Taft Benson, had lead Church members down the wrong path. WHOA! Thems is fightin’ words. It appears that Sen. Reid is calling out a (dead) Prophet and President of the Church, which action typically receives little patience and forgiving from Church members. Moreover, he did this standing on BYU campus, at the University’s own invitation, which takes..well…balls.
[NOTE: at least one version of the speech included a reference to Ernest Wilkinson in this same statement, as one of the right-wingers that had lead Church members astray. I find this completely uncontroversial and I would hope that anyone who took an objective look at Wilkinson’s actions when he was President of BYU (see the Prince book on David O. McKay for details) could agree that, on occasion, he could act a little unhinged and with an excess of zeal for conservative/Republican politics.]
So the big question is: can I still support Harry Reid after this? I think so. One doesn’t have to be on one’s way out of the Church to believe that not everything that a prophet does or says while he is the prophet (or in ETB’s case, before he was President, but during his Apostleship) is prophetic or sanctioned by the Lord. Joseph Smith himself said that a prophet was not always a prophet, but only when acting as such. ETB, or any other Church leader, could have used their platform and position to influence members regarding political issues that are not properly part of the Gospel or in a way that would contradict Gospel principles. This could be unconscious (ex. “Look! President Benson is a Republican, and that means we all should be too.”) or it could be conscious and deliberate. I don’t think that this suggests anything manipulative, mendacious, or nefarious about President Benson. He could have sincerely believed that what he was, what he said, and what he did politically were in the best interests of the Church and its members. And he could have been wrong in that assessment. On that note, Harry Reid could be equally wrong in his assessment.
Like Harry Reid, and as I shared with the ex-BYU Democrats President who took so much flak for protesting President Cheney’s Commencement speech this past spring, I am liberal because I am Mormon, and not in spite of it. I think that scriptural principles of love, generosity, tolerance, and mercy support traditional Democratic social and economic policies.
[SECOND NOTE: Some people are prone to read Sen. Reid’s visit as somehow restoring the political balance at BYU after VP Cheney’s visit back in the spring. I think that is completely bogus. Sen. Reid is a member of the Church, and the highest-ranking Mormon in American political history. Inasmuch as he is active and has not spoken out against the Church and would not embarrass the Church in a speech, I believe he is almost entitled to an invitation to speak at BYU. Or in any case, they would be stupid to not invite him at some point. VP Cheney is not entitled to such a presumption.]