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Head of Public Affairs, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Michael Otterson

Otterson heads the worldwide public affairs functions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was a former journalist and editor for newspapers.

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Mormon voices in the public square and what to make of them

In all of the media analysis and dissection of the Glenn Beck rally in Washington last weekend, and in particular his membership in the Mormon faith, there has been one conspicuous oversight.

To be sure, Glenn Beck was accompanied by an impressive array of interfaith leaders - Catholics, Jews and evangelicals who, despite theological differences - appeared on the same stage as Beck because his message of restoring honor and returning to faith in God struck such a strong chord with them.

But leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were not officially represented at the Lincoln Memorial event, however. Why not - especially since the Church respects the right of all faiths to raise their voice in the public square?

The Beck rally - as he had predicted and as most of the media has since acknowledged - turned out to be less about politics and more about a return to God. But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons for short) is extremely wary of compromising its policy of strict party political neutrality. As was stated often during former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's run for the presidency in 2008, the Church neither endorses nor opposes political parties, candidates or platforms. It doesn't allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes. And it doesn't attempt to direct its members to which candidate or party to give their votes, regardless of whether a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So even though the extraordinary Beck rally was billed and ultimately judged by many as nonpolitical, it did not seem to be the kind of event where Mormon leaders would feel comfortable given the expectations of a political event.

Part of the same policy of partisan neutrality also includes encouragement to Church members to be active and responsible citizens in the political process. The Church encourages its members to study issues and use their vote for whichever party most closely aligns with their ideas of good government.

In that sense, Glenn Beck was doing what every Church member is encouraged by the Church to do - make their voice heard. The fact that Beck has a huge megaphone doesn't change the principle. Mormons obviously are free to express whatever views of good government that they care to espouse, and many of them do. Their views may of course be influenced by their faith and values, but they speak as individuals, not as Church spokesmen. They may also disagree with each other. Since the same church embraces Senator Harry Reid, Governor Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck - all active members - that shouldn't even need saying.

One of the reasons why many seem transfixed by the fact that Glenn Beck is a Mormon is, I believe, reflective of an outdated yet deeply entrenched tendency to stereotype Mormons. If the only Mormons you've ever met are two young men on your door step wearing suits, ties and white shirts, that may be understandable. But there are six million Latter-day Saints now in the United States (about the same number as Jews), and another eight million worldwide, and they represent a growing cross section of ethnicity, demographics, cultural experiences, professions and attitudes. They are not obliged to think and act in lockstep. The common thread that unites them is their particular understanding of what they call the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and the commitment to follow Christ's teachings in their daily lives. That is a very powerful common denominator. But Mormons, like many Americans, share core values of family and community service, and in day-to-day life mesh comfortably with their neighbors.

There is a certain irony that this national discussion of Mormons is happening now. A few weeks ago, the Church launched an advertising effort in nine cities of the United States that will continue until at least the end of the year. Dubbed the "I'm a Mormon campaign," the ads depict ordinary Latter-day Saints in a variety of pursuits that don't fit the Mormon stereotype. They all end with the tag, "I'm so-and-so, and I'm a Mormon." Many have found the ads revealing and compelling, and I'm certain it has prompted some to reassess their perceptions.

Many scholars and Church observers have written about the "Mormon Diaspora"- the slow but steady spread of the faith from its Rocky Mountain home of 160 years, through the United States and most of the world. However long the Glenn Beck phenomenon endures, Mormonism itself will keep producing its share of public figures. Those public figures will continue to speak out on issues of concern to them, but they do so without any pretense of speaking for other members of their faith or for the Church itself.

By Michael Otterson  |  September 3, 2010; 2:15 PM ET Save & Share:          -->                  
Previous: "No religious test" means no religious test | Next: An appeal by an Islamic scholar to Grand Ayatollah Khāmene'i of Iran

Comments

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Hi there blubergamo, To start off, I am not sure how your 'fox guarding the hen house' comment applies at all in this situation with Mr Otteson. So the rest of your story sounds like the same tired rant of someone who chose not to follow truth any more and had to make the church sound loony to justify his own decision to take an easier, more worldly route.

The end of your post shows that you never paid much attention to the direction from the LDS church when you were going. The leadership of the church has been saying for decades to be prepared for hard times - financially, physically and spiritually. Looking in scripture, you only have to look at EVERY prophet recorded to see that if people are not really choosing to listen then they will not heed any warning given from divine revelation.

Posted by: seven71 | September 14, 2010 12:24 PM
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Having Otterson comment on his church is very much the stuff of "fox guarding the hen house." A faithful Latter-day Saint marches lock-step with the leadership no matter where they go. Besides, he's blatantly wrong: Any time a political situation arises that offends Mormon leadership, orders rain down from Salt Lake City upon the heads of the rank-and-file Mormons to contribute time and money to defeat the initiative in question. Otterson is talking crazy talk. He's pursuing the time-honored Mormon practice of "lying for the Lord."

I was raised a Mormon and raised my family in the Mormon church. I served a mission, attended BYU, married in the Los Angeles Soviet-style temple (where I took the blood oaths that I would allow my throat to be slashed and my bowels torn out if I divulged the secrets of the Mormon temple ceremony), and as a "High Priest" have served in Mormon leadership positions too numerous to mention. Sadly, it turned out to be an odious cult. While the Mormon church continues to inexplicably cling to beliefs and traditions that are largely irrelevant, it changes other fundamentally Mormon beliefs each time they cause public embarrassment.

Only one in five people who don't know a Mormon has a favorable impression of them. But more telling is that, according to the same recent poll, only one in three people WHO DO KNOW a Mormon has a favorable impression of them. As for me, I could no longer take the cognitive dissonance regarding the nutty teachings, and the micromanagement of Mormon leadership of largely nitnoy actions. Regarding their prophet's "inspiration" and "divine guidance," can anything be more glaring that to completely miss the financial meltdown in the US, the 9/11 attacks, the subsequent wars, yet to demand that Mormon women limit the number of earrings they wear and not wear flip-flops in church?

Posted by: blubergamo | September 11, 2010 10:59 AM
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Hurray for the mormons putting their money toward moral issues in many places! And I am not sure what mormons you know who are homophobes (whatever that means) or racist, but the ones I know embrace gay loved ones and actually adopt children of other ethnicities and love them to pieces. It is always a mistake to lump all people of the same religion into the same pot.

Posted by: seven71 | September 10, 2010 11:52 PM
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Interesting P.R. piece by Mr. Otterson; however, contrary to his statements, the Mormon (LDS) Church is actively involved in politics and political campaigns. The Proposition 8 campaign in California (2008) is a great example--the Mormon Church played a major role in the proposition passing.

There is also evidence (pending release of the donation files as ordered by a federal judge) that the Mormon Church is a major financial supporter of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that has opposed marriage equality in a number of states and jurisdictions. (It was the major funder of the successful campaign to overturn marriage equality in Maine.) The Mormon Church also funded other "front" group that opposed marriage equality as well.

Posted by: JefffromCentralValley | September 7, 2010 7:25 PM
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As a response to various comments, see www.blacklds.org for information on Mormons and race issues. An article by Dr Armand Mauss at www.blacklds.org/mauss is an excellent summary of the problems and progress Mormons have made on these issues. It starts with a 1978 statement by an Apostle of the church to show how revelations correct prior errors. Leaders are inspired but not infallible.

My understanding of the corrections to what Brigham Young and others taught is that spiritual curses or separations come by spiritual choices or by impositions by others and not by blood lines. And for polygamy, the focus was on raising families in a Biblical covenant and typically not what the world assumed. Today we achieve the same goals without polygamy by programs to support families including adoption, youth programs, etc.

The theological debates are fascinating about the meaning of Jesus and the Psalms in referring to humans as "gods". Suffice it to say that we humans could only achieve this grace through a higher power.

Posted by: DisqusIMO | September 7, 2010 11:24 AM
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I really have to chuckle at posts like SFCANATIVE's, who includes quotations from the Journal of Discourses. How disappointing it must be to learn that hardly anybody in the Church gives a fig about the Journal. It is never quoted in any Church meeting or conference. It is not part of any document or revelation on which Church doctrine or practice is based. It has about as much relevance to Latter-day Saints as the price of latinum in the Delta Quadrant.

The only people who care anything about the Journal are Mormon-bashers. They weep, wail, and gnash their teeth ad nauseum about the Journal; they think they've discovered a treasure trove of material that will horrify the masses. The problem is, the masses don't care. These pathetic losers just continue doing what they are compelled to do, all the while completely ignoring what Otterson actually writes, but in the end, it won't make the slightest difference.

The other piece of entertainment available in this comments section are Woodstock-41's posts, which constitute clear evidence of a mental breakdown.

Posted by: Eichendorff | September 7, 2010 9:35 AM
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Opponents of religion continue to use this age-old fear tactic. "Do you really want a President who believes this crazy thing?" or "Do you want a President who listens to religious leaders?"

Kenned

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