A political flyer quoting from The Book of Mormon that was sent out to voters in Utah’s 39th district has sparked controversy across the state.
The flyer, some have argued, appears to be a coded call to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members to replace Patrice Arent, the only Jewish member of the Utah House of Representatives, with her opponent Todd Zenger.
The United Jewish Federation of Utah and Patrice Arent have come out publicly criticizing Zenger for the flyer, strongly implying that he may be encouraging church members to vote Arent out on the basis that she is Jewish.
Todd Zenger’s coded message to church members
Zenger’s flyer isn’t overtly offensive. To someone unfamiliar with The Book of Mormon, it may not appear to have anything to do with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at all.
But the line at the center of the flyer is one that most church members would recognize on sight. “Please vote,” it reads, “in memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, our peace, our wives, and our children.”
Those words aren’t just Zenger’s. They’re a direct quote from The Book of Alma 46:12.
Zenger has denied that there is any hidden meaning in the line, saying, in a public statement: “The mailer invited the people of our district of all religious backgrounds to vote. The reference to ‘our God, our religion’ was inclusive of all those in our district regardless of their religious persuasion.”
The context of the quote he used, though, makes his statement suspicious. The words he used in his flyer are the words Moroni wrote on a makeshift banner to unite his people against a wicked, heathen ruler who, the Book of Alma says, wants to “destroy the church of God.”
In the story, Moroni, after fastening the banner to a pole, prays to God to bring the blessing of liberty onto his brethren “so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land.”
Zenger’s quote, in short, could be an attempt to connect his Jewish opponent, Patrice Arent, with a heathen king, and himself with Moroni, the “mighty man of God” who defended “the cause of the Christians”.
Subtle though the allusion may be, it didn’t slip by completely unnoticed. Alex Shapiro, Executive Director of the United Jewish Federation of Utah, has released a statement accusing Zenger of sowing “discord and discrimination”, saying:
“An overt appeal to vote for or against someone because of their religion gives us pause.”
Zenger’s flyer, Shapiro says, is an attempt to suggest that followers of the Jewish religion worship a different God than that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an idea that he calls “naïve, spurious and misguided.”
“We hope that candidate Zenger means that he supports all our religions,” Shapiro says, “and the American right to choose one’s beliefs.”
Rep. Patrice Arent, for her part, has agreed. She’s released a statement saying that the flyer is particularly troubling in the wake of the recent shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“Right now, Jews across the country feel very vulnerable,” Arent wrote. “We should all hope that the lesson of Pittsburgh can be one of respect and acceptance of our differences.”
Though Zenger has denied that his flyer was a call for voters to cast their ballots along religious lines, Arent has made it clear that she doesn’t believe him.
“It is well known that I am the only Jewish legislator in Utah,” Arent said, before saying that Zenger was trying to deny “the plain meaning of the words he chose to put in print and distribute to the voters of House District 36.”
“I hope that in the future,” Arent’s statement reads, “he will refrain from divisive and inaccurate comments and focus on the issues facing the residents of House District 36.”
More to the Story
Todd Zenger isn’t the only politician using religious messages to bring out the vote. This weekend, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members received a text message from an unidentified source telling that them that they “won’t be excommunicated” if they vote for Ben McAdams.
Dave & Dujanovic talked about both stories on the air and the growing trend of slipping religion into Utah politics. If you missed the show live, you can still hear everything they had to say — including their conversation with McAdams’ opponent, Mia Love — on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.
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