Sept. 20, 2012 — -- In a provocative move within a religious organization that has sought to display strict political neutrality, an official of the Mormon church has disseminated a presentation across the key swing state of Nevada that urges members to vote and speak "with one voice" in the coming Presidential election that pits Mormon Mitt Romney against President Barack Obama.
"Any Mormon would understand exactly what's being said there," said Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth religion professor who has studied the church's handling of Romney's presidential bids. "This is very thinly coded language."
Mormon officials have permitted church leaders to encourage voting, but have stressed that it not be done in a partisan fashion. A senior church member emailed the presentation to Nevada "stake presidents" -- similar to Catholic bishops -- last month. The email was first reported last week by Jon Ralston, an independent Nevada journalist.
The roughly 30-minute PowerPoint presentation appears to have two goals -- to motivate Mormons in Nevada to register and vote in November, and to help them prepare for questions they may get as their church garners attention as a result of Romney's bid. Three of the 20 slides that were shared with ABC News pointedly urge members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to remember the "importance of speaking with one voice."
One slide includes voter registration data for Clark County, a jurisdiction that includes Las Vegas, where Democrats outnumber Republicans. Other slides appear to convey the stakes in the upcoming campaign, including one that espouses the need to restore a "spiritually dead society" and another that quotes a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles saying, "We are at war with the influences of Satan." ABC News has only seen a portion of the presentation.
Mormon officials told ABC News that the entreaty to "speak with one voice" conveys a desire to see church members provide consistent responses to questions from outsiders about church rituals and doctrine, and is not an entreaty to vote as a block.
"The Church has always encouraged people to be a part of the political process and to register to vote," said Dale Jones, a church spokesman. "However, we do not direct them on how to vote. We are politically neutral and do not support candidates or political platforms."
One slide in the presentation titled "Political Neutrality" explicitly notes this, stating that the Church's mission "is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians." The slide says the church does not "attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Church spokesman Scott Trotter, however, declined to respond to questions from ABC News about who prepared the presentation, how many church groups saw it, why details about it are being kept secret, and why a "war with Satan" was referenced in the middle of a presentation on the importance of voting.
Darren Littell, the spokesman for the Romney campaign in Nevada, said the Romney campaign has nothing to do with the "One Voice" PowerPoint presentation.