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Monday, June 18, 2012

Newsweek: Mormon Church Scrambles in Romney Spotlight

Newsweek gave a decent assessment of the current situation for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I've talked about this before, as have many other LDS bloggers: the LDS Church is politically neutral and is going out of its way to disassociate the religion from the candidate. Yes, most Mormons are self-identified conservatives, but the LDS Church does not endorse parties, candidates, or positions excepting gay marriage (which is a doctrinal matter in the LDS Church). The LDS Church does ask that its membership be civic minded and perform civic duties such as voting according to conscience and the available information about each candidate.

The Mormon moment is much bigger than Mitt Romney's candidacy, though the political arena and media seem unaware of that. The Mormon moment probably began in Romney's 2008 primary run, though it has lived on thanks to David Archuleta, "The Book of Mormon" musical, Stephanie Meyers, Harry Reid, the I'm a Mormon" campaign, etc. With 1.7% of the population of the United States (and counting) the Mormon moment will likely end up being a permanent phase. There are enough Mormons in the spotlight and in neighborhoods across the country that the issue isn't going to evaporate after the general election in 2012 regardless of the outcome. People in this country are going to run into Mormons more and more often, whether they expect to or not.

This is a tricky time for Latter-day Saints to get caught up with the media. As much as the media wants to divide America into classes like conservative, liberal, religious, Mormon, black, homosexual, etc.; the LDS people writing for the media need to be increasingly cautious that their words are not divisive. Why? Because that is not who we are or what we believe in, regardless of personal political beliefs.

As a case in point, remember the NYT last week. For those of you who recently read "I'm a Mormon, Not a Christian" in the NYT, my deepest condolences. Unsurprisingly for the NYT, the editorial is dismissive and divisive towards Christians in particular and conservatives by extension. The LDS author does not accurately represent Mormonism. He doesn't reflect the attitude of a converted Christian in his remarks, even though the most important objective for members of the LDS Church is to follow Jesus Christ and try to be like Him. A Mormon who is truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ acts in a spirit of love and unity rather than division or self-interest, and makes a promise to God to do so at baptism. With the spotlight on Mormons as it is, it is especially important that a Mormon be careful not to be contentious and misrepresent our faith.

Back to Newsweek. An interview with the head of the LDS Public Affairs Department yielded these statements:
With foreign and domestic media alike, a key church goal is to drive home “the fact of our political neutrality,” says Otterson. “We don’t want to be pulled into criticizing a particular party, candidate, or platform.” It’s no easy mission, especially since so many of the media requests these days come from political reporters. To help counter their single-mindedness, Otterson has adopted a few tactical tricks: for starters, he aggressively avoids saying Romney’s name, even when talking about “the candidate.” More broadly, he responds to inquiries about Romney with generic explanations of Mormonism’s tenets and practices. Thus, a question about the nominee’s service as a bishop serves to open a discussion of the church’s lay ministry.

Otterson sounds weary when asked to envision the next four to eight years with Romney in the White House. “There has to be a point of saturation where the media tire of this as a story,” he reasons. Still, he assumes the increased visibility will ultimately be good for the church. “I don’t think you’re ever going to see the kind of head scratching we saw 10, 20 years ago, when people hear the word ‘Mormon.’ We’ve moved to a different place.”
Exactly. Thanks, Newsweek, for not ridiculing, misrepresenting, or distorting the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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