Former Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith privately talked to leaders of the Mormon Church shortly after he lost re-election in 2009 and detailed how he had tried to help their aims while he was in Congress.
Video of the Republican businessman’s talk surfaced on YouTube this weekend, along with 14 other inside-the-church videos leaked anonymously under the title “Mormon Leaks.”
The videos seemed aimed at embarrassing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it set off a series of discussion on social media sites critiquing the propriety of Smith’s actions for the church.
Smith, now president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, was reportedly traveling Monday and could not be reached for comment.
Smith told the group about the “inestimable power” of having senators who respond to their calls for help and said he regarded “his temple recommend as more important than an election certificate.”
He described how he was quick to act when a top Mormon official in Washington, D.C., Elder Ralph Hardy, called asking for a meeting. Once, Smith said, at Hardy’s request, he called in the Indian ambassador and got him to personally approve visas for church missionaries.
“It was my great privilege to responded when he called,” Smith said of Hardy. “He didn’t call enough.”
Hardy introduced Smith to the group of Mormon leaders, praising him for “his tireless advocacy for the vital interests of the church.” And Hardy said while he didn’t know of any LDS members working in Smith’s Senate office, he said the staff was “church broke” and quick to respond to his requests.
Patrick Mason, who specializes in Mormon studies at the Claremont Graduate University in California, said he has been traveling and has not yet had a chance to see the videos. But he said church leaders are “pretty cautious not to simply give orders and tell Mormon elected leaders what to do.”
At the same time, however, Mason said, “they have typically relied on those officials to help with some of the church’s interests,” such as on missionary work.
In his talk with church leaders, Smith did put some of his Senate work in those terms. While he eventually became an opponent of the war in Iraq, Smith said he initially voted for it “because I felt the Lord’s hand.”
Smith added he did not think church missionaries would ever be allowed in the Arab states until the rule of law took hold there.
Many of Smith’s comments were familiar to anyone who followed his political career. He criticized “radical” environmentalists and said entitlement programs would consume almost all of the federal budget unless they were limited.
Smith also noted his support for legislation barring discrimination against gays while complaining that gay-rights groups did not back him in his 2008 campaign because he adamantly opposed same-sex marriage.