Church Will Work To Increase Understanding, Apostles Say
SALT LAKE CITY 8 February 2008
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will increase its efforts to ensure that the public better understands its beliefs and the values it represents, two apostles of the Church said today.
Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Quentin L. Cook — the two apostles who oversee Church public affairs activities worldwide — were commenting on a number of news reports Friday morning that addressed public perceptions of the Church. Those reports followed the suspension Thursday of the political campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as a candidate for president of the United States.
The Church has emphasized its political neutrality throughout the campaign, and Elder Ballard said the Church was right to do so.
“We have members in the Church of all political persuasions,” he said. “We encourage our people to get involved, to participate in party politics, to vote. But which party and which candidates are matters for them to decide.”
But he acknowledged that the need to avoid being partisan or drawn into political debate had sometimes hampered the Church in responding to criticisms or misrepresentations.
Friday morning’s Washington Post headline, “Did Mormons Get a Bounce From Mitt?” was typical of the questions that the news media and bloggers will now ask, Elder Ballard said.
“Analysts will spend a lot of time talking about whether Mormonism was a plus or minus in one candidate’s campaign, and how big a factor. Some say it was a factor in the beginning but not at the end. Who knows? What is much more important to us is that people base their opinions on fact, not on myth or mischaracterizations.”
Elder Ballard said that much of the publicity the Church has received over the past few months has been fair and balanced, but there is still much misunderstanding to be cleared up.
Efforts to answer questions about the faith have included greater engagement with the Internet, including YouTube and participation with BeliefNet as well as enhancements to the Church’s own site at newsroom.lds.org.
Elder Ballard and Elder Cook have also reached out to news media by visiting about a dozen editorial boards around the country and by responding to interview requests. Interviews with both of them on basic beliefs of the Church have been posted on the Internet. Just before Christmas, in a commencement address at the BYU-Hawaii campus, Elder Ballard publicly called on Church members to “join the conversation” about the Mormon faith by blogging or by engaging in other ways in the “new media.”
In the Wall Street Journal Friday, reporter Suzanne Sateline quotes Mormon sociology professor Armand Mauss: “I don’t think any of us had any idea of how much anti-Mormon stuff was out there … there is the equivalent of anti-Semitism still out there.” Sateline said that the recent campaign had exposed “a surprisingly virulent strain of anti-Mormonism that had been largely hidden from the general public.”
Elder Cook said today that Mormons are now a part of society at every level — including prominence in business, education and politics.
“But, among some members of the public and the news media, there is still an attempt to marginalize,” he said. “When we see extreme comments on national airwaves like those mentioned in the [Wall Street] Journal, it’s disappointing to me that more alarm bells don’t go off among viewers.”
Elder Cook said that the Church doesn’t avoid probing questions or scrutiny. The Church welcomes honest inquiry, he said. Opposing viewpoints should be discussed in a spirit of honesty and without rancor.
Elders Ballard and Cook said that over the next few months the Church will take a thorough look at the way the public perceived it.
Elder Cook said the Church would not leave others to define its beliefs and its people. In some instances, anti-Mormon comments had been allowed to pass without much challenge.
“I don’t think we have to accept it when some people deliberately mischaracterize the Church,” he said.