Why Not to Invite Human Rights Violators to Ward Parties


By mraynes

It is the tradition of my ward to invite Sheriff Joe Arpaio to the yearly Fourth of July breakfast.  For those who don’t know, Joe Arpaio has been dubbed “America’s toughest sheriff.”  He has instituted such policies as making inmates wear pink underwear, eat rancid and green bologne and live in outdoor tents during the hottest part of the Arizona summer.  Due to his “tough” approach, he has cost the Arizona taxpayer upwards of $40 million dollars in legal fees and damages.  He also has had the honor of making Amnesty International’s list of human rights violators.  He has become a controversial and prominent figure in the immigration debate, conducting raids on primarily hispanic neighborhoods, markets, and day laborer corners, all the time making no secret of practicing racial profiling.  Sheriff Joe has garnered a lot of ill will in the Hispanic community because of his anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric and policies.  Whether or not you think he has the right to enforce immigration laws in such a brutal manner is irrrelevant; at issue here is the fact that the Hispanic community is fearful of him.  I have the opportunity to work with a lot of Hispanic women, both documented and undocumented, who are victims of domestic violence. They almost uniformally express reticence to call on law enforcement to help them because they fear that they will be further harrassed, torn from their children, arrested, and then deported.  For many of these women they would rather risk staying with their abusive husband than get help from the police.  On my way home from work last summer, I personally saw one of Sherriff Joe’s red, white and blue convertibles pull over a hispanic couple for some minor traffic infraction. The couple were dragged out by two sheriff deputies, slammed against the side of their car, zip tied like animals and forced to lay down on the burning pavement.  The most disturbing aspect of this scene was that the woman was visably pregnant and they still treated her with excessive brutality.  I watched the entire incident; no drugs or weapons were pulled out of that car–their major offense was driving while being Hispanic.

As you can imagine, I was less than thrilled to hear that Joe Arpaio was to be the guest of honor once again at my ward’s July 4th activity.  I spent hours thinking about the shirts and signs I would make with pithy phrases condemning Sheriff Joe’s policies.  Personally, I can’t think of anything cuter than my Monster and baby Valkyrie proclaiming from their clothing that all humans have rights.  mr. mraynes opted instead for us to bypass the event entirely by taking a family trip to Tucson.

The Church has established guidelines that shun political involvement for good reason–they don’t want to make anybody feel ostracized or unwelcome in our Sunday meetings.  It frustrates me that my family had to go to another city because I could not stand to be in this man’s presence. But what I find most offensive is that we have many Hispanic members in our ward. Did anybody think of them when planning this activity?  Did they consider that maybe our Hispanic brothers and sisters would feel uncomfortable coming to a church function where they might be asked to show proof of their documentation? I know that my political opinions fall to the left of most of the ward members but I raise these concerns because I have the best interest of our community at heart; I want my ward and Mormonism in general to be a safe and open place where all feel welcome. I would hope all the members of the ward would share that concern.

While inviting Joe Arpaio to a church activity does not explicitly endorse his policies, it does implicitly condone them.  What is most interesting to me is that our own guidelines on this issue are so far removed from Joe Arpaio’s radical stance.  Officially, the LDS Church has taken no position on any particular measure on the federal or state level, but as a Church we continue to baptize undocumented citizens, send them on missions and put them in positions of leadership.  General authorities have compared coming into this country illegally to breaking the speed limit.  When Utah was considering a slate of bills aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, LDS leaders issued a sincere plea to lawmakers to consider the issue with humanity and compassion.  In fact, Marlin K. Jensen spoke at an Interfaith Dialogue on Immigration at Westminster College last year and urged Utah’s lawmakers to “take a step back.”  He specifically said, “Immigration questions are questions dealing with God’s children, I believe a more thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane approach is warranted[.]”

I understand that those who planned this function were only trying to bring added notoriety and excitement. But like it or not, people like Joe Arpaio are controversial political figures and they should not be invited to a church activity. Including such a polarizing politician is a tacet endorsement of his law enforcement style. I hope in the future that when it comes to complicated issues such as immigration policy, members of the church take to heart the advice of our general authorities to be more thoughtful, charitable and compassionate.


Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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23 Responses

  1. mb says:

    Amen. Ugh.

    It is always awful when you mix church social activities and politics.

    Are you familiar with this group?: http://missionariesforcompassion.wordpress.com/

    You might enjoy reading about what they are trying to do.

  2. I agree with you. What did your bishop say when you raised the question with him?

  3. Caroline says:

    This is horrifying, mraynes.

    If you haven’t already, please, please send an email or call or set up an appointment with your bishop to talk about this. It might be that he’s just entirely clueless about this issue and would be willing to think twice next year. Sending him some version of this post would probably open his eyes in an important way.

  4. kay says:

    Absolutely unbelievable!!! How in the world did it happen? What ward in the world would/could get their Bishop’s persmission to invite such a person? I just don’t get it.

  5. Bree says:

    Guest of honor? Really? I think you should share this very well written post with your bishop.

    You’ve gotta love AZ wards. I just moved back east and, I have to admit, it’s really nice to go to church without so many politi-monies.

  6. Margaret says:

    If you decide to have your kids make political statements next time, Amnesty International has a great line of human rights onesies. I get great reactions when my baby daughter wears her onesie that says “I’ve got rights!”

    Seriously though, I’m shocked by your post. I hope you forward this on to your bishop. I’ve been impressed by the stance the church has taken on illegal immigration; whoever is inviting this guy shouldn’t mess that up for your fellow ward members.

  7. ZD Eve says:

    And to think I’ve been getting annoyed at the occasional offhand political comment I hear over the pulpit or at the conclusion of a Relief Society lesson…!

  8. madhousewife says:

    So DID you talk to your bishop about it? Did anyone?

  9. Ziff says:

    Sheriff Joe? At a ward activity? I agree with Caroline. This is horrifying. Inviting such a divisive figure offers implicit approval of all his nasty grandstanding behavior, and given that it’s the 4th, suggests that he’s somehow patriotic for what he does. Yikes!

  10. Masimba says:

    “I hope in the future that when it comes to complicated issues such as immigration policy, members of the church take to heart the advice of our general authorities to be more thoughtful, charitable and compassionate.”

    Good luck with that. The Church has become another tasteless political platform for Republicans (especially the extreemist kind), and our current leaders endorse this vile practice. They repress, the persecute. They have turned their eye blind to the commandment given to them in their own book, even the Book of Mormon, which they claim was written for them and for their salvation.

    As long as there are white people in the leadership, no real compassion, nor concern for us minorities will really exist in this Church. The white leadership doesn’t really care about us. They show it with their speech, they show it with their actions, they show it with their apathy and refusal to act.

    Our black and colored voices are muted and so are the voices of the whites’ that support us minorities. Our hands are tied. Whites will never let us have peace here in the Church. Leaders are white, and those who dare contradict them face ostracism, alenation and excommunication.

    I often feel I am in a spiritual concentration camp where our opressors are venerated. The white leaders laugh at our perils, and enjoy the passively hostile environment their predecessors created for us with vile messages. Messages that the current white leadership will of course not denounce, for it is too convenient for them to keep the poison alive in the back of the minds of the whites, so that they can bite us and hurt us, like the generation of vipers they are.

    This is the Arian Church of the Strange Arian God of Latter-day Racists. Where a God that segregates and opresses all races who are not arian is venerated. Where they have created a God opposite to the Lord Jesus Christ. Where patriarchal blessings are used to divide us and humiliate us. This is the abomination of desolation of the last dispensation. The hearts of the people have grown cold, and true love, charity and compassion are hard gems to be found among the arians of the Church, who form the leadership councils of this dispensation. Not a drop of true love will come from the councils of the white leaders, they will love us as pets. Giving here and there so that they can be recognized of the world, but not really making us equal.

    The whites who understand will not speak up. They mute themselves in fear of retaliation from the oppressive white supremacist leadership. The minorities will never be allowed to hold leadership callings that could make a difference. They are not allowed in the councils, unless they have lost their identity and they venerate arian principles and practice arian worship.

    We are not cast out of the church, we are admitted so that we can be humiliated and spiritually broken; the ultimate white supremacist act of the Mormons: to break us down, to break our minds, to break our identity, to break our spirit, to vilify us, to tell us we are of less value, to opress us. This they have done throughout their Mormon history, and will continue to do so, as long as the councils are comprised of whites who don’t really care about minorities. They rather choose their new leaders from the nation of the Nazis.

    Until the Lord Jesus Christ comes back and reminds us all of the reason we are here, and his great two commandments.

    We pray to you Lord Jesus Christ! Come and save us! Save us from these arian opressors! Save us from the poisonous tongue of the white leaders, who have tried to destroy us by creating a host of falsehoods and have worked to turn the hearts of the saints against us! Save us Lord Jesus Christ, you who were broken in the flesh by similar despots! Bless the ones among them who understand these blatant injustices, and bless them who are pointed at and scorned for speaking up. Let them be as great as John the Baptist and remind the generation of vipers to turn their hearts around and listen to the love that Thou hast taught us from the beginning. Amen.

  11. Violet says:

    When I first read this, I wanted to believe this was a joke. This just makes me sick. Arpaio is disgusting (i’ve done some research of my own), is he a member of the church? I just can’t figure out why he would be invited to and LDS ward 4th of July celebration? I cannot understand why a bishop would allow a political figure/sheriff to come as a guest of honor at the risk of sending a political message at church that is unintended.

    In my ward growing up we had a brother who was running for the governor and as such he made sure he did not speak in church not even bearing his testimony and if my memory is right serve in a calling at the time because he did not want anything he said construed as part of his campaign.

    Treatment of immigrants illegal or not is a topic that I tend to feel passionate about. I served a Spanish speaking mission in Florida and it was there that my eyes were opened to the conditions that many immigrants live in and the fear they experience whether they are legal or not. It also made me seriously consider what I would do in their situation. If it meant I could feed my children and/or give them a better life – I think I would do it especially if it meant being able to feed them.

    I wish people understand that the issue of illegal immigration is more than breaking a law, it’s about human beings and compassion is needed more often rather than tougher laws.

    I hope you have a talk with your bishop about your feelings and I hope that if I was in your situation that I would be brave enough to do so.

  12. Paula says:

    My ward invited Randy “Duke” Cunningham to our ward 4th of July breakfast every year for several years. I suggested that it was inappropriate to keep inviting the same political figure to a ward-sponsored event– and was met with stares as if I’d grown two heads or something. No one could see a problem with it. But then in 2006, the San Diego newspaper broke their stories about the massive bribery he’d been taking in late June, and Duke didn’t show as promised to speak at the breakfast– a bunch of folks arrived with signs to protest against him. The protestors had a nice breakfast– and since then, no one’s suggested inviting the local politicians.

  13. mraynes says:

    Thanks for all the comments. I have really struggled on how to approach this with my bishop. I feel bad for him because he is brand new at the job and he inherited this tradition. He also is a very hands off bishop so I’m sure he didn’t want to step on the toes of the activity chair. But I think you all are right, this does have to be addressed, even if it doesn’t change the actual practice. My husband and I are going to make an appointment with him this week and share our concerns. I’ll keep you all updated on how that goes.

  14. mraynes says:

    Ardis, Caroline, kay, Bree, Eve, Ziff and madhouswife: all of you are so kind and I’m really glad that at least here I find some solidarity. I will definately bring up my concern with the bishop.

    mb, thanks for the link, this group looks awesome!

    Good tip, Margaret. Around election time I had an Obama onesie for my then 2 month old daughter and it was adorable! My son also has a “this is what feminist looks like” t-shirt. I hope to keep adding to our collection of progressive baby wear but mr. mraynes is kind of against it. 🙂

    Thanks for the comment, Violet. I never served a mission but I work with women from many different cultures and I have grown to really care and love them. I think knowing people in this situation really opens your eyes to the injustices that our society puts upon them.

    I love that story, Paula! It illustrates perfectly why we shouldn’t invite political figures to church functions. I’m sure you couldn’t help but be bemused at the situation, I know I would have been.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, Masimba. I think you broght up some excellant points and I want to address them fully but first I have to put my babies to bed. I’ll respond as soon as I get a chance. Thanks again.

  15. mr.mraynes says:

    I would like to defend myself by saying I am not against babywear with feminist sayings and Obamania themes! On the contrary, I think it is very cute. But I wasn’t too anxious for my kids to become anti-Sheriff Joe statements at a ward function. Hence the trip to Tucson…Plus it was way more fun than a ward breakfast!

  16. Starfoxy says:

    When I was talking about this with my husband he asked if Mr. Arpaio was invited as “The Sheriff” a guest of honor, or as Joe Arpaio- regular guy that we’d like to set up with the missionaries. Which I thought was a valid question. Divisive public figures should not necessarily be excluded from hearing the gospel, and if that means inviting them to ward functions then alright. The only major difference between a high profile racist and garden variety one is notoriety and potential influence*.
    However that he is repeatedly invited to this one function, and not anything else (not even sacrament meeting?) would indicate that he is there as a guest of honor and not as a potential investigator. So it isn’t just the invitation- it is the meaning behind the invitation. Repeatedly inviting someone as a guest of honor is not just condoning- it is an explicit endorsement.
    *And one could argue that it is more important to proselytize to the influential because of their circle of influence.

  17. Anne (U.K) says:

    Whilst reading this I wondered if the man was invited because of the Office he holds, rather than as a person.I served in Public Affairs for several years and there is a great push to invite dignitaries to Church events, irrespective of their policies.

    Was his predecessor in office invited, back in the day he was an office holder?

    horrid situation for you, though.

  18. Ziff says:

    And one could argue that it is more important to proselytize to the influential because of their circle of influence.

    Good point, Starfoxy! I hadn’t even thought of that. Also it might be even more important to preach to Sheriff Joe because he appears to have so much repenting to do. 🙂

  19. Can anyone be surprised at a local ward bringing in a polarizing, conservative political figure, when the example has already been set by the first presidency and the twelve, who allowed Dick Cheney to speak at BYU’s commencement?

  20. Jessawhy says:

    Having talked at length with M and Mrmraynes about this topic, I believe Sheriff Joe was invited as the guest of honor. In fact, Mr. mraynes was asked to put together a barber shop quartet to sing for the event. It doesn’t sound like they’re trying to get him to sit down with the missionaries, but perhaps that’s always a secondary goal when inviting non-Mormons to LDS events.

  21. For the record, Harry Reid spoke at BYU, too.

  22. Yes, Harry Reid did indeed speak the following year at BYU, in a much lower-profile manner, at a student fireside. As far as I know, BYU did not give Reid an honorary “Doctorate of Public Service,” like they gave to Cheney.

  23. Alisa says:

    I found it fascinating that after this post, my copy of the New Yorker arrived with a profile on Sheriff Joe. On a very related note to your post, when he found out that Catholic kids were too afraid of him to attend their confimation ceremonies, he said, “If they’re afraid to go to church, that’s good.” http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/07/20/090720fa_fact_finnegan

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