Update: The First Presidency extended its congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden following his formal affirmation of victory in the Electoral College on December 14, 2020.
Presidential elections in the United States are contentious affairs, exposing and exacerbating political and social rifts among the electorate. The 2020 election was no different—and many might argue even worse—than previous affairs. But there are glimmers of civility in the wake of the polls closing, and one of those is the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issuing a pleasant letter of congratulations and support to the winner that also encourages we, the people, to support our new political leadership and pray for him or her. The language in each is reasonably boilerplate and there’s little deviation from the script. The First Presidency issued these statements for President Trump and President Obama.
But the Brethren have not issued anything for President-Elect Joe Biden nearly a month after the election was called.
A few things might be at play here. First, you might say, the Electoral College has yet to cast its votes for president, which formalizes the victory. This may be true, but the First Presidency did not wait to issue its congratulations until mid-December in prior cycles. It did so within days of the election. Granted, this election wasn’t called for the first few days. It took nearly a week. But it was called, nonetheless.
Regardless of the Electoral College situation, the states—even those in “question”—have certified the results. Unless Donald Trump succeeds in his spurious campaign to have governors appoint electors loyal to him, ignoring the certified results, there is no chance the election suddenly swings back to the incumbent. Bear in mind it would take flipping Georgia, Pennsylvania, and either Arizona or Nevada—three states—to get Trump back over 270 electoral votes. (By the way, for the curious, basically every action taken by the Trump team since Election Day was forecasted well in advance, and they’ve followed it almost to the letter.)
Is the First Presidency holding off because of the controversy surrounding states like Pennsylvania and Georgia? In trying to appear neutral, is it avoiding even a hint of favoring one candidate over the other? Is it trying not to upset the many Latter-day Saint Arizonans who are somehow convinced the election was rigged, part of a globalist conspiracy reaching from the highest levels of government down to local precincts? We can only speculate.
Alternatively, the First Presidency might be waiting to congratulate Biden once his opponent concedes. Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney both conceded their respective campaigns within a day of the election. This is an understandable approach. The Church does not want to appear political, and congratulating one candidate while the other one remains in the race at least in practice could come off as a political statement. Better to wait for the runway to clear.
The problem, of course, is that Donald Trump will never concede. We all know this, right? So where does that leave Salt Lake? Even if the Electoral College votes for Biden and he’s inaugurated in January, but Trump never concedes, does the Church just sit it out? At what point does leadership publicly admit Joe Biden won the election?
There’s another option. Perhaps letters along these lines just aren’t President Nelson’s thing. After all, he’s shown little hesitance to buck trends, whether with ditching the three-hour block or quietly removing Moroni from new temples. Our prophet could very well simply not want to be in the business of congratulating political leaders on victories, even if doing so is one of those classic bits of diplomatic pabulum that we just do because we do. The Church isn’t in the habit of congratulating new heads of state in other countries, so why make an exception for the united States, even if this is the location of Church headquarters?
However, countless religious leaders have congratulated Joe Biden, including the Pope. It seems like an odd move to choose to stand out from the crowd by not even discussing the new president, but President Nelson does as President Nelson does. Still, considering the Church hosted then-Vice President Biden not even five years ago, it’s not like we can pretend a new president simply does not exist.
All of this is, of course, speculation, and frankly, most of the world, to say nothing of members of the Church, aren’t eagerly awaiting a statement of congratulations to the president-elect. This issue only matters to people like me, pedant polemicists!
In its 2016 statement regarding President Trump’s victory, the First Presidency said, “We invite Americans everywhere, whatever their political persuasion, to join us in praying for the president-elect, for his new administration, and for elected leaders across the nation and the world…. May our local and national leaders reflect the best in wisdom and judgment as they fulfill the great trust afforded to them by the American people.” Similar encouragement regarding the incoming Biden administration would be welcome and helpful.
It would seem wise for a church that so actively encourages political participation to follow up on that encouragement with an official statement of some form. Hopefully that comes before January 20, 2021.