By Michael Todd
James Gilbert Tobler, a founding member of Mormons for Equality and Social Justice, encourages Latter-day Saints who are uncomfortable with the seemingly conservative culture of their faith to increase their political activity.
“I think our group fills a few different voids that exist in this community,” said Tobler, a 34-year-old history instructor at Salt Lake City Community College. “Mormons have a tendency to not get involved with activist groups outside the church. I think since we use Mormon theology to justify our activism, it draws in a lot of people that wouldn”t normally get involved.”
MESJ is giving a presentation Monday, Mar. 3 at 7 p.m. in the Murray Public Library auditorium, located at 5300 S. 166th East, Murray.
Tobler said members of the LDS church, according to scripture, are responsible to combat poverty.
MESJ, otherwise known as “message”, is also involved in protecting the environment, protecting worker”s rights, fighting for gender equity, and combating racism.
“Right now, we are mostly dealing with the anti-war movement,” Tobler said.
MESJ, founded in January 2002, is not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or with any specific political party. The organization has approximately 200 e-mail subscribers with some living outside of the United States.
“To be a member, you need to sign a mission statement that you agree not to use our group to fight the church,” Tobler said.
Members of MESJ must pledge to work for equality and social justice. According to the MESJ Web site, they will not criticize LDS church doctrine, or LDS church policies at their meetings and will not adopt policies contradicting official positions of the LDS Church.
John Charles, an English writing instructor at the University of Utah and a former BYU student, said he was excited to help form a Latter-day Saints organization to address social issues.
“The inspiration for the organization was the call by the First Presidency to be involved politically in solving problems in our communities,” Charles said. “If people are interested in connecting with other members of the LDS faith who are interested in some of the issues we deal with, then MESJ is an ideal way for doing that.”
Charles said MESJ members have compiled documents of LDS leaders speaking about issues MESJ is involved with. He said they use the documents to spread their message and encourage others to be active in social issues.
“People are always amazed that Mormons, or people associated with Mormons, show up at these events,” Charles said. “There seems to be a widespread perception that Mormons are not interested in these kinds of issues or don”t want to be involved in these kinds of issues. MESJ becomes a way for LDS, who are interested in these kinds of issues, as individuals, to stand up and be counted.”
MESJ meetings are held once a month and are open to the public.