It takes a village — or a ward: A Brief Rundown of Mormon References in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Deseret News Op-ed

By August 10, 2016

IMG_7274This morning, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton took the significant (unprecedented?) step of penning an op-ed in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News. Clinton has been polling competitively in Utah (though the most recent polls show Donald Trump with a widening lead), and the Clinton camp clearly thinks they have a real shot in the Beehive State.

The Democratic nominee’s competitiveness in Utah is due almost entirely to Trump’s well-chronicled problems with Mormon voters (and the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who also recently wrote a Deseret News op-ed attempting to clarify (read: fix the fallout from) his unbelievably stupid comments suggesting that religious freedom might allow Mormons “to shoot somebody else” because “God has spoken to them,” to say nothing of the recent announcement of Washington D.C.-based Mormon and former CIA agent Evan McMullin’s independent candidacy for President). But in her op-ed today, Clinton (clearly aided by a staffer very much in-the-know about Mormonism) attempted to make the case for why Utah voters (read: Mormons) should vote for her (and not just why they shouldn’t vote for Trump).

That case is summed up in the final words of the op-ed’s title: “religious freedom and the Constitution.” Clinton provides a brief rundown of the ways in which she has “been fighting to defend religious freedom for years,” including especially during her time as Secretary of State, and promises to “fight every day to carry out [the] sacred responsibility” of defending the Constitution. These are obviously hot-button issues with Utah and Mormon voters, and Clinton is smart to highlight them.

But her editorial goes beyond broad references to issues Mormons care about. It includes several references to Mormon history, quotes or references at least eight Mormons, including (quite notably, I think) Primary General President “Sister Rosemary M. Wixom,” and speaks in common Mormon idiom. Here is a brief rundown of those references:

  • Clinton connects Donald Trump’s proposed policies banning all Muslim immigrants to earlier eras of religious persecution in America, including “when Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs singled out Mormons in his infamous extermination order of 1838” and “President Rutherford B. Hayes? attempt to limit Mormon immigration to America in 1879.” Not only is this reference significant; the timing is too: Today marks 137 years to the day of Hayes’s proposed policy.
  • After praising Utah Governor Gary Herbert for “setting a compassionate example and welcoming Syrian refugees fleeing religious persecution and terrorism,” Clinton riffs on the title of her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, noting that “when it comes to religion, we strive to be accepting of everyone around us. That?s because we need each other. And we know that it so often takes a village ? or a ward ? working together to build the change we hope to see.” Her passing reference to a ward—the Mormon word for a congregation—is subtle but smart. Wards, defined by geographical boundaries that ensure the same people are attending the same congregation each and every week, serve as the center of Mormon religious life, providing regular opportunities for service.
  • In making her case for “an economy that works for everyone,” Clinton actually makes a case for family friendly policies in the workplace and community: “That means passing comprehensive immigration reform to bring families out of the shadows and keep kids and parents together; ensuring equal pay for women; finally joining every other advanced country in the world in guaranteeing paid family leave; and providing early childhood education, so every child can reach his or her God-given potential.” In 1995, LDS Church leaders wrote “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which enjoy a quasi-canonical status in Mormonism today. While the document’s language regarding gender and sexuality has received the most attention, its concluding paragraph called on “responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” While that charge is most often interpreted as a call to oppose same-sex marriage, LDS leaders in recent years have interpreted it to include, among other things, family-friendly workplace policies and legislation supporting it. In 2005, M. Russell Ballard “call[ed] upon government and political leaders to put the needs of children and parents first and to think in terms of family impact in all legislation and policy making.” Six years later, Quentin L. Cook pleaded for Latter-day Saints to “be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.” And in 2014, President Barack Obama’s “family-friendly workplace” summit received positive press from the Deseret News.
  • Clinton concludes by quoting Rosemary Wixom’s 2014 General Conference address: “As individuals we are strong. Together, with God, we are unstoppable.” Beyond the reference to God, the op-ed calls Wixom, who served as the LDS Primary General President from 2010 until earlier this year, “Sister Rosemary M. Wixom.”
  • The penultimate paragraph of Clinton’s appeal to Utah voters doubles down, praising four LDS Church presidents—Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Gordon Hinckley, and Thomas Monson—for recognizing “the infinite blessings we have received from the Constitution of the United States.” Mormon scripture enshrines the U.S. Constitution as sacred writ, divinely inspired and established by the Lord himself. Latter-day Saint leaders often speak of the blessings the Constitution provides. Clinton is tapping directly into that discourse here.

Whether or not any of this works remains to be seen. Many Mormon voters remain very suspicious of Hillary Clinton, put off by both her husband’s infidelity and concerns over her own track record of honesty and integrity. But if she somehow manages to squeak out a victory in Utah (she would be the first Democrat to achieve that feat since Lyndon Johnson), it will be not only because of Mormonism’s strong #NeverTrump stance, but because she convinced voters that some of her policies—and the Democratic Party’s policies—strengthen those issues about which Mormon voters care most deeply.


Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Current Events Politics


  1. Very helpful, Christopher. Thanks!

    Comment by J Stuart — August 10, 2016 @ 12:06 pm

  2. Nicely done

    Comment by Steve Fleming — August 10, 2016 @ 12:16 pm

  3. Thrilled that more of America is being included in the campaign this year. Happy that Clinton took the time to get someone involved who knew at least a little bit about the LDS Faith. However, at the risk of sounding ungrateful:
    1. It’s President, not Sister, Wixom. After the effort to include a woman’s voice in the Op-Ed, they couldn’t get her position correct?
    2. “Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who is hearing a “Joe Smith,” tone in the op-ed when Pres. Gordon B. Hinkley and Pres. Thomas S. Monson are not referred to by their full names or by their positions. Perhaps only Clinton wants to be referred to as a President?

    Comment by Lyle Stamps — August 10, 2016 @ 12:36 pm

  4. Well done, Christopher.

    Lyle Stamps: Totally unfair to call out Hillary for something that every single Mormon general authority does. And even if from time to time, a male (or female!) authority refers to a female auxiliary leader as “president,” it’s still an extreme rarity. Yeah, Hillary’s camp should have known somewhat better, but they were probably just picking up on the designations they found in LDS sources. Gender exclusion is as gender exclusion does.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — August 10, 2016 @ 12:57 pm

  5. Thanks for this list, Christopher! It’s a very Mormon-directed statement. I wonder, how this speech sounds to non-Mormons in Utah?
    To Lyle Stamps:
    1. The Church style guide itself says that “Sister” is correct. Check it out at under Sister Wixom’s name.
    2. “Gordon Hinckley” and “Thomas Monson” are perfectly acceptable ways for their names to appear in print. Our Mormon ears are attuned to middle initials, but much of the world does not commonly use them.

    Comment by Beth — August 10, 2016 @ 1:00 pm

  6. Also, Sister Wixom isn’t the Primary General President any more.

    Comment by Eric Biggart — August 10, 2016 @ 1:35 pm

  7. Nice rundown, thanks Christopher.

    Comment by David G. — August 10, 2016 @ 1:53 pm

  8. My understanding is that the title “President” is not used with offices where there are no priesthood keys, whether for males or females.

    The Primary, Sunday School, Young Men, Young Women, etc. presidents are not called “President So-and-So” as a title. They are called “Brother” or “Sister”. But Elders Quorum presidents, Stake President, and Mission President are called “president”.

    Take a look at how General Conferences talks show titles to see this in action. This usage of “Sister Wixom” is thus correct.

    I heard this spelled out clearly within the past few years, but I don’t recall where. Perhaps in Handbook 1, but I don’t see it in Handbook 2. These talks address some aspects:

    Comment by Jon — August 10, 2016 @ 1:54 pm

  9. Thanks, everyone, for the comments.

    Eric, I’ve updated the post to reflect your note about Wixom being released from her calling in April. Thanks for pointing that out.


    “It?s President, not Sister, Wixom. After the effort to include a woman?s voice in the Op-Ed, they couldn?t get her position correct?”

    Next time you should not let your zeal get the best of you and take the time to actually check on the point you’re critiquing. In addition to the style guides cited by Beth and Jon, and to Andrea’s point, see how Rosemary Wixom was introduced in General Conference:

    “‘Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson.’ I?m sure I?m not the only one who is hearing a ‘Joe Smith,’ tone in the op-ed when Pres. Gordon B. Hinkley and Pres. Thomas S. Monson are not referred to by their full names or by their positions. Perhaps only Clinton wants to be referred to as a President?”

    Or perhaps you’re an outspoken shill for Gary Johnson and are genuinely concerned that Clinton might win Utah. [Checks facebook. Yep and yep.] Perhaps your faith is so unbelievably insecure that you can’t handle someone omitting a middle initial from either Hinckley or Monson’s names, or not addressing them by their ecclesiastical honorifics.

    “Happy that Clinton took the time to get someone involved who knew at least a little bit about the LDS Faith.”

    If only we could say the same about Gary Johnson, whose familiarity with Mormons evidently stops at Jon Kraukauer’s interpretation of Mormon Fundamentalists and Cliven Bundy.

    Comment by Christopher — August 10, 2016 @ 2:05 pm

  10. All we need is more people in the church called “President.” If we keep it up, it won’t be long before shouting “President” in a crowded church foyer will give the whole crowd whiplash.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 10, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

  11. Nice work, Chris!

    Comment by Kevin Barney — August 10, 2016 @ 3:18 pm

  12. I didn’t realize there was a style guide for President/Sister or so forth. Hopefully we’ll transition to calling women leaders President. Doing some Googling it does seem like the usage is inconsistent. The Newsroom is pretty consistent but other sites aren’t. So the Des News uses both in this story.

    I get the reason for not using “President” if one doesn’t have presiding priesthood keys. But I think that’s a blurry distinction, especially since Elder Oaks talks on women and priesthood keys. Interesting in that talk Elder Oaks uses the term President. “While addressing a women?s conference, Relief Society general president Linda K. Burton said…”

    Now maybe both Elder Oaks and the Des News sees a difference between “President Burton” versus “Relief Society general president Linda K. Burton” but if so it seems a pretty small one.

    Comment by Clark — August 10, 2016 @ 4:37 pm

  13. I also wondered how this would sound to the non-Mormons in Utah, but considering the publication the piece appeared in, appealing to Utah as a Mormon state seems wholly appropriate and realistic. (If this had appeared in the SLT, I would have appreciated a nod to the Mormon/Gentile relationship, as it’s an easy enough point to make in the context of her op-Ed).

    Comment by Saskia — August 10, 2016 @ 5:27 pm

  14. I love that we have the first democratic presidential candidate in recent history to publish in DesNews and all people can focus on is whether a female auxiliary leader should be called “President.”

    Comment by Ben P — August 10, 2016 @ 5:47 pm

  15. The power of the tangent Ben. Plus I was pretty shocked at the style usage.

    I think it?s interesting she?s contesting Utah. The only reason we got the op ed (which I?m sure was largely ghost-written) is because Mormons dislike Trump making Utah competitive for the first time in generations. I?m certainly glad she pays enough attention to care. I?m not sure the op ed really makes a case for her on her own terms to the typical Mormon Utah voter. But since I think monoparty politics are often destructive, I?m glad she?s trying.

    All that said, I?m not sure she really makes the case she?s better for the kind of religious liberty Mormons are apt to care about than say Johnson. She presented it in terms of pretty overt government persecution but I think what most Mormons care about are impositions on their religious practices especially at BYU. Given the letter against BYU joining the Big 12 came out around the same time – it?s interesting those issues were avoided. While not directly relevant to BYU, the crackdown on such issues in California also is worrisome to some. (I tend to see it as more overblown, but I recognize that the typical Utahn conservative sees it as critical)

    I also am not sure she made the case so much for herself as against Trump. Although frankly that?s all she really has to do. A vote for a 3rd party whether Johnson or McMullin is one less vote for Trump.

    Will this change the view of Clinton in Utah given her husband managed to come in 3rd here in ?96 when the polarization wasn?t nearly as bad? Probably not. But it certainly would be eventful if Trump loses Utah in the expected landslide come November.

    Comment by Clark — August 11, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

  16. As a non-Mormon, 1 felt that the intent of this letter as well thoughtout. I liked that the history of the LDS church was mentioned. I liked that she knows all relegions are protected by the Constitution and will fight to keep it that way. My view of family values was addressed. My kudos to Hillary Clinton and her staff for a well thought letter.

    Comment by Michele — August 11, 2016 @ 7:40 pm

  17. I?ve met and/or collaborated with Hillary a few times over the years, mostly on microfinance & the empowering of women globally. Her work to help girls and women has had amazing benefits in the U.S. & around the world. So just a couple comments. First, of course her Op-ed piece was written by staffers. That?s been true of most writings of major politicians for decades. Second, for critics to focus on her references to LDS leaders & not use someone?s preferred title shows more about some Mormons? narrowness than anything of substance. Too much straining at gnats, while swallowing camels. Jesus was pretty clear about the out-of-focus religions of the scribes & Pharisees. Third, Hillary didn?t say everything some people might want, given the limit of a few hundred words per the Deseret News space constraints. But I thought she nicely emphasized our Utah values about children, families, & religious freedom. While Utah Hillary Haters despise the fact that she comes off bright, compassionate, & a leader seeking to improve society, some in our state will clearly vote for her in November, not the confused Donald Trump. To many Utahns, her Op-ed was a breath of fresh air. Hopefully, thoughtful Mormons, Catholics, & Utahns of other faiths will support the best choice for 2016, “Stronger Together.”

    Comment by Warner Woodworth — August 12, 2016 @ 1:57 pm

  18. Shame Bernie didn’t have his nomination stolen from him–would have won by a landslide in Utah.

    Comment by jpv — August 16, 2016 @ 12:58 am

  19. I’m surprised no one has commented on this statement: “Many Mormon voters remain very suspicious of Hillary Clinton, put off by both her husband?s infidelity….” It seems sloppy in the extreme to be suspicious about one person, because another person acted in a manner which did not benefit the first.

    Comment by Arly Helm — August 17, 2016 @ 4:55 pm


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