First your neighbor puts up a fence. A very large, unattractive, eyesore-of-a-fence. So you’re mad. The fence is blocking your view of the neighborhood.
Then your neighbor tells you God willed him to do it. Now you’re really mad—unless, maybe, you’re a Mormon. As McKay Coppins put it in Buzzfeed, it’s a “classic not-in-my-backyard fight” taking place in Provo, Utah: the Mormon Church wants to erect a nine-story building on its property, but neighbors don’t want it to block their scenic mountain view.
So what did the neighbors do? They went to God. Coppins writes that it’s a hyperlocal issue that could have national ramifications—if opponents of presidential candidate (and practicing Mormon) Mitt Romney run away with it. Coppins writes:
Critics who worry that a President Romney would be susceptible to such ecclesiastical pressure from his religious leaders will surely see this local controversy as evidence that the threat is real. But Romney has said repeatedly that if elected, he would not allow his church to sway his governing decisions, and there's never been a suggestion that church leaders had steered his political course.
Coppins’s concern hasn’t played out. The Obama campaign has maintained a steadfast focus on class issues; none of the president’s surrogates has attacked Romney’s religion. But back in Provo, ecclesiastical pressure has apparently paid off: Church leaders’ words were enough to sway some opposed to the view-blocking building.
So how did a secular zoning issue turn into a test of faith? According to The Salt Lake Tribune, church leaders maintain that it didn’t. Herein lies the confusion, though, as the line between religious and civil liberties seems to blur. Paul Evans, a Mormom leading the opposition in Provo, brought his protests to a screeching halt when church leaders invited opponents to support the church’s effort to build the nine-story structure. Prior to the invitation, Evans, a professor at Mormon-run Brigham Young University, met twice with a church elder to confirm that he was not running counter to the church by opposing the building plans. The elder insisted that it was not an ecclesiastical matter, but firmly a secular question.
Four months into his protest, though, Evans read a different deliberation in the church’s decision to raise the issue during church service. Evans’s protest had prompted the intervention of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles—the second-highest governing body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Nick Mathews reports in The Salt Lake Tribune:
According to Evans, Chris Randall, president of the Sharon East Stake, announced from the pulpit that he was sharing a message from L. Whitney Clayton, of the Seventy, and Elder Russell M. Nelson, of the Twelve: They consider the MTC rebuild an ecclesiastical matter, a decision that was the result of careful and prayerful discussion. Evans had already heard the message the preceding Monday during a meeting with Randall.
Evans promptly abandoned his protest. The church has told The Salt Lake Tribune that it has not exercised its authority inappropriately. A church spokesman confirmed to Mathews that “a stake president had told members the MTC plan had been approved by church leaders and asked for their support while urging them to respect those with differing views.”
Some residents who continue to protest the proposed nine-story building say that they find it hard to accept the church’s invitation because they “recall church leaders promising in the 1970s that no building at the MTC would exceed four stories.” Ecclesiastical priorities, it appears, can change like a neighborhood's priorities.