Mormonism in the Public Mind: Perceptions of an Emerging World Faith, April 3, 2009 (Day 2)

By April 5, 2009

Day two of the Mormonism in the Public Mind conference at UVU went very well.  See my notes for Day 1 here.

The First Panel, “Political Discourse and the Latter-day Saints” has been reported in a number of places.  The Mormon Times reported on Kirk Jowers’ presentation “Did Romeny’s Religion Cost Him the Presidency?” and Thursday’s Keynote speaker, Michael Paulson liveblogged portions of each of the three panel participants on his Boston Globe religion blog, Articles of Faith.

My notes are as follows:


Kirk Jowers, Hinckley Institute of Politics

“Did Romney’s Religion Hurt His Run For the Presidency?”

Yes, no and maybe.  So much to talk about.

Conan O’Brien kicked things off:  Romney’s planning on winning the soccer mom vote by marrying all of them.

Romney says he can’t imagine anything worse than polygamy, than having more than one wife.  Bill Clinton gave the rebuttal.

Leno: Romney endorsed John McCain today.  There was never a more awkward embrace between two politicians since the last time Bill hugged Hillary.

Polls showed Romney winning in Iowa, NH, Nevada, Michigan, third in South Carolina, and third in Florida.

So what happened?

Iowa happened, Mike Huckabee happened.

Mitt most trusted on the economy, not trusted with foreign affairs.  When prime minister of Pakistan was assassinated, Mitt dropped 8 points and McCain gained.

Republicans are almost lockstep choosing a former looser of the nomination to be the nominee.  You basically have to loose once before you’re allowed to be the candidate.  Nixon lost in ’60 to Kennedy and went on to be the nominee, Bush lost out to Reagan, McCain lost out to Bush II, that’s on Romney’s side.  He’s seen as frontrunner for 2012.

Quotes on Religion

CS Lewis once warned that any Christian who uses his faith as a means to a political end would corrupt both his faith and the faith writ large.

He couldn’t do enough to satisfy critics of his religion, but where do you cross the line?

Eisenhower, Our form of government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith

I think it is so unfair of people to vote against jack because he is a Catholic, he is such a poor Catholic

-Jacqueline Kennedy speaking about her husband during the 1960 campaign.

This is a theme that came up with Romney, if only he didn’t believe his Mormonism.

Congregants are hearing more about politics during worship services

Does organized religion have too much/little influence on US Politics today?

Some have said that there will eventually be a US Mormon President, but that he’ll be a Democrat for reasons we’ll see here.

In general is the GOP/Dem party friendly/unfriendly toward religion?   Republicans seen as more friendly.

How much influence does the Religious right have?  Both parties felt it was too much.

In general, how much influence do secular persons/nonbelievers have on the Dem party?  More said right amount.

If your party nominated ? for President who was qualified for the job, would you vote for this person if this person was

A  Jew              Yes 84% No 10%

Mormon          Yes 69% No 24%

Muslim            Yes 45% No 48%

Tough to move off 24%

Do you think religious life plays an important role in the life of Obama/McCain?

Obama 63% Yes, 23% No

McCain 49% Yes 28% No

How much do you think Obama shares the views of his former Pastor, Wright?  Most said somewhat.

Some who I talked to felt that Romney had to deal with a double standard on religion since Obama didn’t have much religious backlash for Wright.

Does McCain’s association with leaders of the Christian Right make you more/less likely to vote for him?  Mostly even in GOP said that it made no difference

Would you vote for a Mormon?

Have some reservations-29%

Very uncomfortable-21%

Who would you be willing to vote for?

A Mormon:

1967, 75%

2007, 72%

Mormons are the only group trending downward among Women, Catholics, African American and Jews who all trend up as potential presidential candidates.

Would you be willing to vote for a generally well qualified candidate with the following characteristics:



72 yrs old-57%

Good thing he’s not a 72 year old Mormon

One of the most notorious quotes: “Romney comes from a religion that was founded by a criminal who was anti-American, and a rapist.”

Don’t Mormons…believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?

-Huckabee. NYT June 10, 2009.

He tried to explain it away, but if you look at the ad and handouts he used in Iowa, it was a shrewd political move.

Someone who believes, seriously, believes in a modern hoax is someone we should think hard about whether they have the skepticism and intellectual seriousness to take on this job.

-Jacob Weisberg, Slate

Instead of going to Vietnam Mr. Romney spent two and a half years doing Mormon Missionary work in France. Isn’t that like doing Peace Corps work in Monte Carlo?


Mormons spend two years of their lives as missionaries preaching an anti-Christian doctrine.  I don’t want someone out there if I can help it who’s going to be acting on an anti-Christian faith as the basis of their decision making…

-Iowa voter Barbara Heki quoted in NYT

I’m concerned…Would Romney’s prayers ‘even get through’?

-Questioner at a Huckabee event

[Jowers concluded that there was a great deal of religious bigotry that definitely impacted Romney’s run, but that Romney’s chances are good for 2012.  Jowers does not see Huckabee as being viable in 2012 and thus, the Huckabee factor will be reduced.]


Morris Thurston, Lathan & Watkins (retired)

“The Politics of Morality: The Church’s Involvement in Proposition 8”

In 2000, 61% of Ca supported prop 22, saying that the only marriage valid is heterosexual, LDS Church supports.

2008, CA supreme court struck this down, says state constitution protects same sex marriage…on the ballot is a constitutional ban, proposition 8.  Letter from LDS Church read…The Church’s teaching on this moral issue are unequivocal.  Formation of families central to creator’s plan.  Support amendment, donating of you means and time…

The involvement of the church in political affairs has a long history.

Missouri, Danites one of the causes for ouster. Nauvoo charter gave aggressive protection, municipal court, chief judge Joseph Smith, Mayor Joseph Smith, Legion Lieutenant General Joseph Smith.

Press destroyed final straw… settled in Utah, exercise of political control continued.  10 years later, non-Mormon judges and new non-Mormon governor.  After a point, the Church proposes to only interfere in politics if it’s a moral issue.  ERA, Church said its participation was to preserve traditional roles. Church demonstrated a developing organization to oppose legislation.  Church became a force to defeat legislation in Hawaii…took care to not use church buildings.

To pass prop 8, church unabashedly public in its support.  Meetings in church buildings, urged to contribute, talks given in church, yard signs distributed in foyers.  Testimonies were born.  Virtually all funds came directly from members and not from the church itself.  Amounts and numbers astounding.  More than ever before in connection with a non-economic measure.  This manner of raising money had an important tax advantage.  Tax free organizations can support a ballot measure not a candidate.  No specific definition of insubstantial donation by a tax-free organization, but by having members donate, the Church was able to sidestep the problem.  Much of the attack was led by local leaders. One director published in Meridian Magazine…“Wonder What the War in Heaven was Like? Watch California this Fall.”

Documents spread through wards, some arguments defied logic.

Handout: 6 Consequences if Prop 8 Fails.

Legal adverse consequences, unsigned, obviously not written by a lawyer [Note: The author of these two documents was Gary Lawrence, who presented later in the afternoon, notes of which follow].  Handed out in wards and stakes.  I constructed a trail back to the court cases used to construct the argument.  It was clear that the so-called consequences were not consequences at all, but from the Civil Rights movement that already gave certain rights that were not affected on prop 8…I wrote a commentary and it was posted on the internet and went viral.  You can find it by googling my name. I got responses, some thanking me, some calling me to repentance or condemning to hell for defying the prophet…I didn’t see that I was defying the prophet, but wanted to protect church from embarrassing, misleading arguments…I was gratified to see that almost all newspapers supported my positions. Law schools agreed that Prop 8 would not make schools support it.

Church published on its site an opposition in a measured way.

No on 8 advocates failed to anticipate the power of a people driven by religious convictions.  Seemed disorganized, amateurish.

On a personal note, I am straight, active, but I opposed.  Some could not fathom how I could accept Pres. Monson and vote no.  Though the church may characterize the issue as moral, they were in the political arena.  Every member is free to vote their conscience at the ballot box…unlike the Catholics, we don’t believe in prophetic infallibility.  The Church once issued a statement saying not to get hung up on past leaders statements.  I know some of the General authorities, I think they respect my views and I theirs.

In 1852, BY urged the all-Mormon Utah legislature to pass a law making interracial couples illegal…if a negro is caught mixing, it’s death on the spot, this will always be so.  I say it not to denigrate Pres. Young, but to illustrate how continuing revelation shows that later prophets can condemn past pronouncements…

Not withstanding, the less educated were more likely to support prop 8.  Older people were more likely to support.  The time may come when homosexuality is embraced as a fact of life…in CA, constitutional amendments can pass with a majority of the vote, but it is easy to qualify a measure for the ballot.  Efforts are already underway for another initiative.

I suspect we are waging a conflict that may take decades to work out.


Boyd Petersen, Utah Valley University

The Morality of Politics: The Challenges of Mormon Tribalism”

I ran for the State legislature in Utah county as a Dem.  I knew that only about 5% of my constituents were registered Democrats.

This proves how mentally unstable I was.  A large amount in the district were listed as unaffiliated. I was running as a socially conservative democrat.  There had been a referendum the year before on vouchers. I was anti-vouchers.  I hoped this would be revenge of the voters.  In politics things are not that simple.  Most of these unaffiliated votores self identified as republicans.  They claimed independence, but were every bit as committed as affiliated republicans.  Even the republicans like to think of themselves as well studied.  My wife manning the polls, doing polling, had a conversation with a self identified Republican. On what do you basis your voting decisions?  Issues, of course. If  someone shared your views but was a Democrat, would you vote for him? Yes. Are you voting for Lockhart or Peterson?  Which is the Republican?  He asked.  Some votes came hard but some surprisingly easy. People who knew me, mostly strong republicans, enthusiastically supported me even if differing on the issues.  My Home Teacher and I had a rousing debate on vouchers.  When I announced my candidacy, he was one of the first to ask for a sign for his lawn. Several public  school teachers who agreed with me on 90-100 % of the issues flat out said they could not support a democrat.  Was I one of them? One sister called on the day of the election, she said, I did something I’ve never done, voted for someone not republican.  But she still couldn’t say the “D” word!

How do voters make decisions…can be explained with current issues on the brain, its about emotion about party, candidates, and issues.  Not so much what voters think as they feel.  In politics…When reason and emotion collide, emotion wins.  Emotion works hand in hand with reason.

It’s not that we’re duped, but emotion guides reason.

People wanted to know if I was one of them, one of their tribe.  Party helped indicate this. However if they knew me those feelings overshadowed the party affiliation.  How did Mormons become as the Republican tribe?

Church dominated scene with its own party in early days of territory, in 20th Cen., confronted larger American culture head on.

It involved assimilation and accommodation.  To achieve statehood, the Church urged members to switch tribal loyalty from Democrats to Republicans to have political balance.  In admin of Pres. Grant, the Church was less partisan.  New Deal opposition opened up for a more active approach. Largely has been neutral in political affairs.  This is the very period Utah Mormons became more involved, when the Church became more Republican.  Utah voted for William Jennings Bryan, all four Roosevelt terms, etc.  Once considered a swing state, but since 1964, Utah has voted for every Republican pres. candidate. Has not voted in a Democratic governor since Matheson…

Curious that this took place when leaders backed off.  Communism, abortion, etc, were galvanizing issues, Ezra Taft Benson’s outspoken conservatism can be seen as a factor. Republican discourse, the framing of that, overlapped with that of Mormonism.

[Petersen summed up that if Mormon Democrats (“Progressives” as he called them) are to carve out a niche of acceptability, they will have to adopt some of the rhetorical approaches that the Republicans have used in order to appeal to the emotional, paternalistic aspects of Mormonism with “progressive” policy]


The next panel, “Public Relations for the Twenty-First Century” featured Val Edwards of the LDS Church Public Affairs Department and Richard Bushman.


Val Edwards, LDS Public Affairs Department

“Perils and Prospects: Communicating Latter-day Saint Messages”

From public affairs, we don’t believe there is a public mind, but many public minds.  Public Affairs focuses on communicating with those publics that interact with the church.  First, Public Affairs is under the direction of the 1st pres and the quorum of 12. It strives to build relationships with the publics that will help further its mission.

Two paradigms.

Symbolic Interpretive paradigm-Buffering phenomenon
Strategic Management paradigm-public relations bridging phenomenon

Complicated by changes, new realities of ways of looking at information, changing expectations and behaviors.

1) Impossible for control of the message.  Once it’s passed lips of company spokesman, there is dynamic exchange, outcomes of how the message is received can’t be guaranteed

2) Much expanded access to information, consumers trust more the information that comes from peers

3) Participation and communication are more symmetrical, a conversation forms

A number of factors contribute to the difficulty of controlling the message….having messages misrepresented or ignored.  May be your assumption that the audience is getting your message when they are getting a different message (interpreting the message in a way other than intended).

The church is seen as extraordinarily image conscious.  Even hyperconscious. In Public Affairs we shake our heads.

M. Russell Ballard said in conference that it’s not easy to explain something as vast as the church, even questions on one aspect are connected to other aspects.  Much of false perceptions are our own fault for not being clear in communicating the message

From the Missionary Dept. alone, 50,000 missionaries create a perception, many departments make impressions like family history, humanitarian, Public Affairs,, The Tabernacle Choir, all have a website.  Visiting Temple Square, events like the Olympics, Romney campaign, Big Love, etc.

There are so many ways that impressions can be formed about the Church beyond what Public Affairs does.  Matters are worse when we don’t know if people are hearing what we say the way we expect them to.

In 8 cities in the US and Canada.  People were selected by local Public Affairs reps. It was a best case scenario.  Yet, generally were unaware of church’s presence in their own communities.  They were aware of Temples, but knowing that only members can go in, they believed that outsiders were simply not welcome to worship with them. Otherwise they saw members as kind, dedicated, devout, etc.  But only a cursory knowledge of church beliefs.  2004, famous Mormon figures mentioned, Osmonds, Ainge, Steve Young, Romney, but Pres. Hinckley rarely mentioned.  People were very uncertain about who speaks for the church.  Not sure if Pres. Hinckley speaks for the church.

In a 2007 focus group, groups of academics from Dallas, Chicago, etc. were consulted.  Few knew about how Mormons practice their faith.  Not a single person could describe what happens in a Mormon worship service.  Most had a familiarity with Catholics, etc. But these couldn’t even find anecdotal comments.  They felt Mormons were closed off and reluctant to discuss their life.  There was a dichotomy because they thought of the church as active in proselyting.  Lack of substantive info defaulted in anecdotal experiences. They see Mormon values as family oriented, honest and trustworthy.  Illustrates the difficulty in controlling the message.

Second reality, the new social media.  People have so many more information sources, they rely particularly on peers.  This became clear when Pres Hinckely died.  Within the hour it was posted on the Church newsroom website, but before that texting, etc, spread the word.  The next day GBH was the third most mentioned individual on all blogs following The President and Hillary Clinton.

The Public Relations firm does an annual survey, among opinion leaders worldwide.  Peers most respected.  People would rather talk to a peer…this impacts how the Church communicates. With internet, blogs, news aggregators, social media like Facebook, discussed briefly yesterday that another trend, a decline of newspapers.  Pew reported that for the first time newspapers trail internet as news source.  Advertising doesn’t migrate from print to internet very well.

Also a decline in religion reporters. Important for the church, because they can place the church in a context, and are more informed than sports reporters in, for example, the Olympics and political reporters during Romney campaign.  Despite perils, the prospects are bright, particularly with two way communication.

Before the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birthday, 48 colleges and Universities were asked, what would be appropriate for commemorating the event.  It resulted in 40 face to face interviews and hours of interviews over the phone.  A large number of scholars have a deep understanding of Joseph Smith and had read a number of published works relating to him.

Except for developing a quintessentially American religion, however, most scholars don’t see much contribution of Joseph Smith for American culture or thought.  However, they expressed that they would be interested in participating in an event, but cautioned that it should be for genuine academic purposes, affiliated with a university.  This led to the commemoration at the Library of Congress…we’re trying to build relationships everywhere…the best journalists take time, they don’t call two hours before their deadline looking for a comment.  Some have redirected and expanded the story they originally had in mind after talking with Public Affairs.  CBS called during the Romney campaign. They said they wanted to do a story on the three key tenets of Mormonism: The Garden of Eden, Jesus and Satan being brothers, and Polygamy. The 3 key tenets.

So when they ran the story, the 3 tenets were the restoration of Christ’s church, continuing revelation, and that the Church no longer practices polygamy…those relationships create more informed, fair news stories.  We need to push back a little sometimes .  If a journalist missed the story we’ll respond on the newsroom site and post something of the same subject as the original report, sometimes noting the report specifically.

Once during the Warren Jeffs news coverage, Jeffs’ face was superimposed over the Salt Lake Temple.  So we push back sometimes. The editorial board, members of the 12 visit papers, Washington post, etc., to indicate that we were describing ourselves and not just being defined.  We try to relationship build with leaders. The Draper open house was an example, VIP tours, it was good for discussion.

Finally, the use of new media.  The Newsroom uses the tools of Rss feeds, widgets, etc, Public Affairs has a Youtube channel, twitter at ldsnewsroom, we have a Facebook page.  The Church’s reply to Big Love recently was viewed 522,000 times about 38,000 came from Facebook. The tone encouraged its use and the fact that it went so far, relationships with bloggers, we tweet, retweet, I just found out people who do that are called tweeple.

It’s a challenge for us, but the department is very optimistic.


Richard Bushman, Claremont Graduate University

“Public Affairs for the Twenty-First Century”

In NYC we have a pair of Public Affairs missionaries who work alongside the full timers.

I had one experience with Public Affairs in NYC which made me reflect on possible pitfalls of Public Affairs work. One of their main tasks is to cultivate contacts at the UN.  Besides meeting them personally, missionaries devised events to invite them to.
One event was in honor of US Ambassador Bolton.

During the proceedings a video was shown about the Church’s humanitarian work to Africa.  As the video proceeded I could not help but blurt out, What a traesty that video was.  What turned me off was that…it wasn’t about the people being helped, it was all about us.  The do-gooding church.  Why are you, church people going out of your way to do this? Well, we’re such good Christians. Didn’t promote Africa, but the LDS as paragons of virtue.  We’re in danger of making that mistake when promoting the church. We talk of This Great Church, we hear that in conference a lot, we’re tempted to live up to that image, a strong, vital, growing church, sweeping the earth, we like to be seen as an organization, vigorous organization, these things are true, but is that how we want to appear?  Too often these claims are compensation for being small and weak as we really are. The Catholic Church doesn’t do this. There are dangers with power and greatness. More power, more ominous. The more you promote yourself as great, the more arrogant you appear. Rather than promoting ourselves that way, let’s think less about how we want to be seen than what we want to be.  The phrase that comes to my mind when I hear “great church” is that we are humble followers of Jesus Christ, we may be naïve, but we are kind and humble and generous. We strive to Christian virtues the best we can, that’s what we want to be, not a great successful movement, but that would preclude us promoting ourselves at all, we would be content with being discovered, we’d simply be humble followers.  We could take a lesson from Paul, “He that gloreth let him glory in the Lord, for he that glorieth in himself is not approved, but whom the Lord approves.”  Having said this, and believing it, I will now backtrack.

I love to think of us as humble followers of Jesus Christ, it’s a dream of innocence. We are not shepherds tending the flocks and coming to the manger. We are business leaders, politicians, community leaders, mechanics, workers, every Mormon is involved with people if in small ways, we all have public roles of one kind or another. Our involvement requires us to explain our belief, we all have public affairs. There’s a question implied in the panel’s title, “Public Relations in the 20th Century”, in answer to that question, my point is that in the 21st century, Public Affairs will move to the personal level, each individual Mormon will be a Public Affairs department. That may seem regrettable for humble followers of Jesus Christ but also an inevitable requirement forced upon us by circumstance.  We got a lot of favorable publicity in the last decade but also bad.  It creates a problem that affects all of us, a problem of two sides, one side represented by a Pomona undergraduate this fall who came to me and wanted to write their undergraduate thesis on why Mormons get bad press. Why are you interested? I know a number of Mormons (this student was not Mormon) thought they were great people, where does all the negative come from?  That’s one side.  The other side is why do Mormons believe, given all the perplexing things about the church, it’s conservatism, secretive, etc. Why do they think an explanation is required? How can you believe it?  Not meant as critical question, but of genuine curiosity, consequently the more we have of bad publicity, the more we can aid public relations, people really want to know. In my opinion, this situation offers an opportunity to carve out a new realm for Public Affairs.

Traditionally, Mormons have related to the outside world in two molds. First, in the 19th century is debate. BH Roberts and early missionaries were great debaters, early literature were debates or answers to debates.  That’s what we’ve done, that part of our tradition is now largely discredited as bashing, missionaries are instructed to avoid bashing. This is dying, but the other mode very much alive. There is a scriptural injunction to “Preach my gospel”.  We are all enlisted to find potential converts.  One of the duties of every Latter-day Saint. The third way is the way of conversation.  Includes talk about the church, but has a different goal.  Debate aims at conquest, you want to vanquish. You preach toward conversion. Conversation aims at friendship and seeks simply to draw closer to others, form bonds of affection and mutual understanding. It’s not aiming to get people to come to church or listen to missionaries, simply to make friends.  As soon as we try to manipulate people to do what we want them to do, we sacrifice sincerity. Friendship must be free and easy and not coercive.  That’s both easy and hard.  With friends we talk about our experiences, etc.  For Mormons, you’ll talk about your Mormonism.  And your aim is not to get them to come to church or teach them anything, just a part of casual talk. That should be easy.  On the other hand it’s hard. We have to have answers to the question that will come eventually, “Why are you a Mormon?” In this modern world, as people get to know us and risk the possibility of offending us they will ask that question, soon after arriving at Claremont, a colleague in the school of religion, a Catholic Korean, asked me to lunch. I thought he wanted to orient me to political affairs in the department, etc.  I discovered soon after he had only one question, why do you believe in Mormonism.  I was caught off guard. I told him just what I felt.  I’m the kind of person I want to be when I live a good Mormon life.  Is that it?  Yea, that’s’ pretty much it.  That’s not the only answer, maybe not the most powerful answer, some might say not a good answer. Not in any sense an official answer, but it was my answer. I’m an Alma 32 Mormon, a seed was planted, it grew, it’s a tee, I can’t rip it up, the roots are wrapped about every part of my being, pulling it out would destroy me.  We went on to other topics. I would like to ask him why he’s a Catholic. I think we’d be better friends.

It seems almost sacrilegious to call it PA (Public Affairs), but the most important PA will come at the grassroots level. Every Mormon should have thought about why they believe, not with an answer provided you, but an answer that comes out of your life form personal experience. Friendship and conversation are the watchwords of the 21st century and the key to grassroots public affairs. In addition to the motto Every Member A Missionary, we should add a motto: Every member a conversationalist.


The following panel included Claudia Bushman and Gary Lawrence. My notes:


Gary Lawrence, Lawrence Research

“How Americans View Mormonism”

[Lawrence has written a book based on his research]

We conducted a public opinion survey of 1000 Americans.

[From slides]

37% have a favorable impression of Mormons and 49% have an unfavorable impression.

Compares to over 70% positive for Baptists, Jews a 7 to 2 ratio, Catholics 2 to1 ratio.

If Mormons were an animal, what animal would they be?  40% positive type of animals, only 16% negative, so what’s going on?  We have a dual image. I list some in my book, people who will give us credit for being on both sides.

One said: They are a zebra, with two different stripes.

Many statements were given with conflicting perceptions of Mormons.  We put people through a list of 25 things, phrases, yes or no, if they describe Mormons.  50 things tested. On the positive side, 72% to 88% as friendly, strong values, kind, willing to share, honest, happy, normal, gentle, can be trusted…

Negative 38%-45% [I’m not sure how all these numbers actually work] Some phrases:

Blind followers

Keep to themselves

Narrow minded

Self righteous




37% do not know any Mormons

55% do not know any active Mormons

What is the main claim of Mormonism?

14% Know the main claim of Mormonism as being a Restorationalist Church

29% Remember having heard the claim after it is read to them.

84% Have had some exposure to Mormonism

The delivery is arriving, but the freight not getting downloaded.

Are Mormons Christians? 33% say yes.

Do Mormons worship Joseph Smith? Only 16% are sure the answer is no.

Do Mormons practice polygamy? Only 15% are sure the answer is no.

Three sources, the competition, telling them who we are, us, and the media.

Six factors influencing what people know:







Political Power:

If Mormons have enough political power, would they force people to convert?  37% said yes.

Fanaticism. Question: Can Mormons be just as fanatical as Muslims? 47% said yes.

Seven steps to improve our image:

Think new

Think simple

Prepare the stage

Have natural conversations

Expand the vision

Use technology

Guide patiently

5 PR strategies, we’ll call them principles.

1) Eliminate the jargon.

We say “The gospel has been restored.” What does that mean?  [like restore an old car?]

Restate: Christ organized a church, men changed it, it has been brought back.  No religious word, even an atheist can understand that.

We claim to be the reestablished original Christian church.

2) Use contrasts

Should we use a commonality approach?  2 Nephi 2, there is an opposition in all things, opposition necessary for existence, God himself would not exist if not for opposition.  If opposition is necessary, wouldn’t it be necessary for education and persuasion?

At a Temple Open House the number 1 question, What’s the difference between your church and mine?  Be able to answer in good terms.

3) Change the frame

Mormons practice polygamy, Mormons aren’t Christians. How do we respond?

Don’t recite history.  Put it in personal terms.  If I’m a Mormon and I want to be quickly excommunicated from the Church, I’ll practice polygamy, all the other sins take longer.  That’ll stick in people’s heads.  I’ve moved the conversation from 1890 to me now.

Are Mormons Christians?  Explain it.  Well, not only are we Christians, we claim to be the original Christians.

The Bible? You don’t believe it…We don’t want to say, Yes we do, 2 years out of 4 we teach it in Sunday school, etc…

I say, Of course we believe it, our members wrote it.

4) Welcome Buzz

So, we don’t like contention, even negative buzz?  We want especially negative buzz.

What if we have protestors?  Great! Make them feel at home.  If we don’t have protestors at the temple, go hire some. We need negative buzz.

5) Be gardeners, not engineers

If we are gardeners, we deal in providing an environment for growth, engineers deal with inanimate objects.

We have a superior organization, superior doctrine, etc, but that doesn’t mean we are superior.

30% would not mind learning more about Mormons if asked to.

We need a bold message with a gentle approach.


Claudia Bushman, Claremont Graduate University

“Public Affairs in Harlem: A Case Study”

LDS flock to the affordable housing of Harlem, without fear, but it wasn’t always thus.  We visited a woman in Harlem, we were only white faces there and viewed with suspicion. Soon a small branch was held in a restaurant.  Moved to a building, a Kingdom Hall, the place had an adjoining garden.  Still the building was inadequate.  It did much to improve, but not good enough, the branch bought condemned property, rickety old apartment building.  Plans were made to tear it down and build a meeting house.  The proposal reached the power company but they refused to sign off on it.  They disclosed that a paying customer resided in the building, a squatter, was issued papers to leave, but squatters considered to have rights too. He refused to go.  He told the papers of racist carpetbagger Mormons wanting to destroy his happy home, he would not go.  Distant, racist, monolithic church got a lot of play, when our stake president addressed the community board, he was heckled.  Offered buyout, tenant would only accept small bills in a brown paper bag under the table.  When he left the building one day he was locked out.  Building so shaky they fled, unable to bring his stuff down.  Destruction of the building.  Public response bad. The press said an out-of-state organization tread over a local.  Mark Tuttle from Church PR went out and made some friends.  I got a call from the stake presidency. I was to chair the Harlem bridge building committee.  I thought they were building a chapel, not a bridge 🙂  I went from a job where I can fail, Relief Society, to a job I couldn’t succeed in, Harlem.  We began a number of projects, parties, entertainments. We soon learned that if people say they will come to your events they won’t do it. Inviting in did no good, we had to negotiate.  Aimed to do a big Family Home Evening program. It worked well at Columbia as long as funds were provided from the church for renting a building.

Harlem found the language of the manuals condescending and off-putting.  We established our mandate to make friends with churches and politicians, we had success with the churches.  A dozen small living room churches operated within a short distance from our building.  These churches were not happy with our up scaling of the building.  Every block of Harlem has an organization.  We tried to have someone at every meeting even though we were usually not welcomed.

With politicians we made big time progress.  They came to our events, they knew we were a powerful group there to stay.  The neighborhood did not have enough to put up a Christmas tree, so we collected some from our meeting, some were very generous. We went away with 100 dollars. Our group made it possible, but we were not invited to the lighting ceremony. We realized that the people in Harlem were not interested in what we were offering them, then we should figure out what they wanted and do those things.  We developed a new rule, go to public meeting early enough to have one significant conversation with someone there…


I did not take notes of the brown bag panel with the Bushmans, Lawrence, and Edwards, but it was written up here. One statement by Bushman did stand out to me.  In answering a question about missionary work, he said, in effect, that he felt that one way to use the missionary force to build bridges would be to send all missionaries out to bless the world using the humanitarian arm of the Church and that these missionaries go out to fulfill humanitarian efforts and as people ask about the Church, then would the missionaries teach.  The next panel included Grant Underwood, Terryl Givens, and Brian Birch.


Grant Underwood, Brigham Young University

“Antebellum Antagonisms: Making Sense of the Early Mormons”

Mormonism and the public mind, it’s always good to pause and remind ourselves that those are broad terms that need to be regularly investigated and considered. Any one of the three is too broadly stretched to gain all relevant information.

It goes against the grain of our analysis to come up with broad categories that conceal the fragmentary nature of our presentation.  Antebellum antagonisms.  This is not about what Mormons were like before they went to Utah, it’s about perception. That involved the Latter-day Saints and those not LDS, it’s prospectival and it bases itself on the reality that all identities as we’ve come to realize acutely in the last generation are shaped and molded…the construction of identity, the invention if identity, what such terms indicate is that for more than a century now we’re been aware that knowledge in a human mind is not particular to that mind, that the individual human mind is a product of a broader world, a wider society and that societal perspectives and understanding provide a lens, as it were, through which any individual understands or thinks about what they experience, what they see around them.  All of that has led to fresh considerations of the past generation about what used to be static realities, traditions, identities, religions, that have seemed pretty solid and permanent, now they’re seen differently.  All identities are constantly in flux, shaped, molded reconstituted. Rather than have a religion or identity be a process of passive perpetuation, a religion an identity is in the process of continual recreation that’s the perspective of much current intellectual thought.

This introduction brings us to a discussion on the perceptions of Mormonism.  I’ll use the word constructions.  These are perspectives of some versions of Mormonism, both from a perspective of those who eventually affiliated with the LDS and those who advocated the LDS faith.  I’m confining my remarks to the LDS version.  There are other versions and time will only permit us to focus on the Latter-day Saints, and in the period before Utah.  Subsequent speakers will deal with the later period.

I’d like to propose for our conversation that we think about a spectrum. I’m trying to deconstruct rigid concretizations, to suggest that there’s fluidity and movement.  A variety of constructions from the advocate to the antagonist and that we think about individuals as moving in one direction or another, some who affiliated with the Church move to one end of the spectrum or another at differing times in their lives. Historians pay attention to history, to talk about a person’s viewpoint, a historian asks, at what point to you want us to analyze that person’s viewpoint?

I’ll discuss typical perceptions of early Mormonism by setting the stage with regard to one of the most important books at the second half of the 20th century, by Edward Said, Orientalism. It doesn’t address Mormonism, but provided a sea change of perspective with the consciousness of those in the west with how they viewed those in the Middle East and the essence of the insight that he provided is that what Westerners assumed were factual, accurate accounts of eastern societies were really just a construction of their own that reflected their particular world view and their need in part to define something in opposition to what they were and what they stood for that in part collaborated with the colonialist, imperialist moves they had made for centuries.

You could talk about the same activity with any group.  One defines himself with distinction.  People are more adept at creating an image of what they move away from than what they stand for.  In American religion, evangelical Protestantism was in the throes of creating a construct about what authentic, legitimate religion was.  About what appropriate Americanism was.  Mormonism and people who became followers of Joseph Smith got in the crosshairs of that discussion.  They were caricatured and constructed in ways they weren’t making about themselves and their identity.  A few terms became important. Not terms invented to talk about Mormonism. Important to remember that the analysis of Mormonism slipped into well worn ruts of understanding, part of this “otherizing” that had been going on for centuries.  Terms like impostor and delusion were a few expressions, by the early 1800s, firmly in place, we had fanaticism, for instance. Webster summarized what had been said for centuries this was his definition: One who indulges extravagant notions of religion, exhibits sometimes strange motions and postures, fanatics sometimes affect or claim to be inspired or have intercourse with superior beings.

It was common from the get go that the earliest expressions of Mormonism move to this mold.  The very first substantive anti-Mormon critique was by Sidney Rigdon’s old colleague Alexander Campbell. Within a year of the church’s formation and with Joseph and friends only days into Ohio, Campbell writes a piece for the Millennial Harbinger entitled, “Delusions, An analysis of the BOM.” The first pages of that writing are a litany of all the false religions, all the impostures, from Jannes and Jambres with Moses all up to the false messiahs, to a number of recognized (in Protestantism) aberrations.  Jemimah Wilkinson, the Shakers, etc.  Joseph Smith was put right in that list.  All that before the book even began so they could find where Mormonism fit. It was outside the realm of acceptability-fanaticism, delusion.

A few years later, David Reiss published “Humbugs of New York: A Remonstrant Against Popular Delusions”. It wasn’t about Mormons, but at the end he had become aware of them.  That typifies one end of the spectrum.  The other end is important in terms of breaking away from rigid dichotomies.

Joseph Smith was often paired with Mohammed, the anti-hero in Christianity.  Comparisons with BOM and Quran, there was no difference between them, both full of falsehood and error, designed by a designing imposture.

For many, Mormonism was charismatic Christianity.  By 1842 in an interesting turn, Joseph Smith used the same Shakers, French Prophets, Jemimah Wilkinson, that had been used to push them outside the realm of acceptability. They are invoked in an editorial, “Try The Spirits”, to learn that those types of dramatic behaviors, spiritual ecstasies, etc. were outside of acceptability for the LDS. Same images deployed at diff times and places to create this evolving construction that is Mormonism.  That fluidity takes place within the church and takes place outside, constantly in flux. There wasn’t much discussion about plural marriage in the 1830s, but fast forwarding it will be an important one.  I want to conclude by saying that while there are many ways to understand and analyze, its important to see that when we try to recreate the past today that we are operating under the same kinds of restraints and difficulties that folks in and out of the church were operating under.  We can remember what we were talking about.  Whose Mormonism? Which public? Whose mind?  All of which can lead us away from a rigidity and absolutism that will conceal some of the richness that saw the early LDS and their neighbors.


Terryl Givens, University of Richmond

“How to Spot a Heretic”

Mormonism in American religious thought is not necessarily the same as Mormonism in popular thought.  In 2004, I was asked to represent the church in a hearing of the World Council of Churches.  It was a premeditated act of provocation. The Council of Churches refused membership.  When the PR rep persisted, Mormons were granted observer status and one year probation.  They held hearings after a year.  Hence my invitation. I asked the brother if he wanted me in the presentation to represent the more traditional approach (emphasizing the similarities of the LDS Church with other Christian churches). No.  Imaging the ensuing scene, how could I refuse? I expounded preexistence, to become god, three distinct personages, and laid out patristic and NT sources, respected protestant and Catholic authorities also. When I finished there was an uneasy silence. The moderator said, Well, now the Church has made its case, are we ready to vote?  It looked promising for a second.  A loud voice cried out, Wait, what are you doing, they don’t believe in the trinity! By way of repetition, I said that we believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, quoted protestant and catholic scholars that the trinity was an invention in the 4th century.  Nothing to be found in the NT, said one source, The moderator asked again for a vote.  But they don’t believe in the trinity! Again, a short response. His protests continued. Someone asked a reading for the requirements for membership.  Passage refers to a community opened to Christian communion as revealed to the NT confesses JS as savior and Lord.  Faith and conformity to NT Christianity.  Judged by these standards, said one of those in attendance, the Mormons are more NT based than anyone in this room! But they don’t believe in the trinity! He said again. The motion to vote was tabled.

How heresy is determined, not only failing an orthodoxy test.  In an Orthodoxy test of 7 elements, the Church passed all with flying colors.

Some colleagues were engaged in discussion, they asked me, So what do you think of the series Big Love? They knew I was LDS. I said, Let’s imagine it was about being a Muslim married to 4 women in America what would the reaction be from the scholarly community?  Then I meandered off to get refreshments as they flashed awkward grimaces.

One came and said, I can’t get over what you said back there.  You must be the only white people in America who know what it’s like to be black. I said, We’re brothers! [Laughter]

The first example is meant to suggest that there is one type of reaction to Mormon doctrine. In the Second, for most Americans, contact with Mormons has been mediated through sensationalism.  In the 19th century this played out. These two audiences, while not clearly demarcated…After the anti-polygamy crusade concluded said, Those of us who understood the situation were not as opposed to polygamy as to the domination of the church, we realized that we couldn’t make people understand that, so we made use of polygamy as our great weapon.  Universal detestation of polygamy was an effective weapon.

What I want to do is use Mormonism as an instance to show how popular culture gives concrete form in concert with and utter obliviousness to theological concerns.

19th century representations of Mormonism followed 2 patterns, Mormons are coercive and physically distinct.  Both made Americans more secure in their own identity.  First then, media used coercive images to indicate the impossibility of Mormonism rational appeal, they circumvent will, thus we won’t worry that we can succumb to them.  Think back to the experience of the 1950s of those who defected to N. Korea, brainwashing, to show that no American would actually defect in their right mind.  The word first used by a CIA disinformation agent.

Used images of radical difference, show distance.  They’re not at all like us, we can feel good about how different we are from them.  In actual fact, they acted and looked like everyone else. Created a particular anxiety.  The problem was how do you spot a heretic?  Popular portrayals said Mormonism had no power to persuade or seduce and contaminate them.  Here is a quick overview now of some examples of how this operated. That’s one way to spot a heretic, the evil eye [shows a slide from Trapped By The Mormons]

By far, the best selling novel in 19th century was Female Life Among the Mormons.

Illustrations of novels depicted Mormon women as insane. Why else would they remain in Utah? Unless they were restrained. These were plots, over 200 featuring Mormons as villains.  They resort to mesmerism or physical force.  The individual has no will, coerced.

Most widespread depictions clue in to orientalism.  Despotic nature of authority in the church portrayed.

“They ain’t whites…they’re Mormons.” Constructed into a distinct race. -The Star Roer, Jack London

“If the Mormons would scatter around amongst the white folks, they could live in peace.”

-Iowa woman to Warren Foote, 1846.

Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups….The Mormons might be so regarded (a new ethnic group)…”


Brian Birch, Utah Valley University

“An Unusual Excitement: Latter-day Saints in American Christianity”

JS embraced plural marriage, added scripture, etc…all of which undermined the Christian theological establishment of his day.  Question of whether LDS are Christians a nonstarter.  For Phil Barlow, that’s like asking if African Americans are human.  What could cause such a question if not deep misunderstanding? Alonzo Gaskill puts it in more apocalyptic terms, Just as early Christians were persecuted, the LDS will see a manifest increase of persecution by those who profess Christ, because of an increasing ideological divide between saintly and worldly.

We talk of Christ, rejoice…prophesy of Christ… JS sharpened the message…testimony of prophets, apostles of JC…that he died, was resurrected and ascended into heaven and all other things are appendages to it.

Been these “appendages” that have kept churches from recognizing Mormons as legitimate Christians.

The moniker is a term of art not a value neutral descriptor.  In literature, we should be considered Christian because we consider ourselves Christian or, because we affirm the essentials of the Christian faith. Divinity of Christ, divinity of the Bible, oneness of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, resurrection, judgment.  This has been echoed of late in the statements from the LDS Newsroom.  This self conscious Christian identity spurred on by the emergence of Mormonism on the world stage. Not confined to zealous activity of conservative evangelical Christians.

The Catholic church, United Methodist church, Southern Baptist convention, etc.  In 2001, the Vatican ruled that baptisms by Mormons not to be seen as valid.

For a person converted to Catholicism it was not necessary to be rebaptized to take communion, so it was argued that Mormon baptism was not acceptable.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a totally different meaning to Mormons.

The Presbyterian decision in 1995. Findings offer the qualifier that Mormonism should not be in the historic apostolic tradition of Christianity. Most Mormons would be comfortable with that. But as a result, the relationship is designated as interfaith rather than as ecumenical. To the Vatican, the Presbyterian Church decision puts weight on LDS views on God.  Hence, give a reason to exclude them.  While each of these documents merits analysis, there is a common message, despite liberalization of interfaith relations…for these denominations core set of beliefs, Baptists are very anti-creedal, but still Christian.  Not straightforward proposition, the facile response over whether Mormons are Christian is irresolvable because each side has a different starting place.  One of the more interesting things is the theological debate.

Three ways “Christian” is used

1 ) Theologically normative, narrow, as we’ve seen with conservatives, they wouldn’t consider Catholics to be Christian.  Theologically defended and operable within their traditions.

2) Ecumenical criteria.  Refers to those who recognized creeds of Christianity.

3) Last, sociological, secular criteria. Broadest category, most often used in wider discussion of religion.  In my judgment most of the misunderstanding has to do with confusion over these three senses of the term. What LDS want is a broad description of the term.

I’m concerned about media discourse…according to the Presbyterian documents there is nothing in LDS doctrine that would exclude anyone who believes in the Jesus Christ of the NT.

As recent events have shows with the FLDS, these issues are coming to bear on Mormons in their own boundary maintenance over the term Mormon.

One feels the ground shift to protect their identity.  For the past several years, the church has asked the media to make a clear distinction between the LDS church and other groups.  The Church wants to separate themselves in the mind of the public from polygamist groups.  The Church asks that the media refrain from using “fundamentalist Mormons.” As a response, Principle Voices issued a statement, We object to any efforts to deprive us of the opportunity to describe ourselves, we are proud of our Mormon heritage, the LDS Church has…been uncomfortable with being called not Christians.

The Newsroom replied.  The term Mormon has historically been associated with the LDS church, to apply it to other sects creates confusion. (examples) Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mormon temples, Mormon missionaries, the term has been long engrained in the public consciousness…appeals to common usage. No one can really argue that Mormonism is overwhelmingly associated with the LDS church, but others say that the qualifier Fundamentalist is sufficient to indicate something different.

It states that when the term Mormon is stretched out of proportion, only confusion ensues.

The statement reads, All Christian denominations have some distinction to Catholicism, that doesn’t give them authorization to call themselves Catholic.

The problem is, to make this work properly, the only people that can legitimately call themselves Christians are the Catholics, which is absurd, given contemporary usage. What makes this counter example fascinating, the term Catholic is deeply contentious in Christian theology.

Being aware of the subtleties of self understanding of other groups may lead us to a better type of dialogue.


I did not take notes of the final panel featuring Givens, Underwood, and Birch and I’m not aware of any summaries out there at this time.  One statement from Givens, however, caught my attention.  In talking about the LDS desire to claim the name “Christian”, Givens said (in effect),

Mormons may be waging the wrong battle. Christianity is moribund in all but the southern hemisphere. People in American are looking for an alternative.  Maybe we are fighting the wrong fight here.


By way of summary and reflection, I think Boyd Petersen and Brian Birch deserve high props for putting this together and for successfully including not only Bushman and Givens, two of the bigger names in Mormon Studies at this time, but some strong insider voices as well as reaching out nationally to professionals at the Boston Globe and to the University of Nevada.  One of the many high points for me was Richard Bushman’s appeal to Latter-day Saints to seek to build friendships without alterior motives, no matter how noble those motives may seem. The weakest point of the conference for me was Gary Lawrence’s presentation and subsequent panel performance.  I was surprised by the way he framed some of his poll questions and his seeming desire to connect what he was saying to Richard Bushman’s message, when I felt that his message couldn’t have been farther from what Bushman had argued. His manner often came off to me as arrogant and contradicted not only the spirit and substance of Bushman’s message, but undermined in my own mind his own message and credibility.  This was the first conference on Mormon Studies that I have attended at UVU/UVSC, and I look forward to what Petersen and Birch do next year.

Article filed under Announcements and Events


  1. […] on the proceedings, whether by attendance or as reflected in these notes?  See my notes for Day 2 here. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Mormonism in the Public Mind: Perceptions of an Emerging World Faith, April 2, 2009 (Day 1) — April 5, 2009 @ 9:55 pm

  2. Thanks Jared

    Comment by Steve Fleming — April 5, 2009 @ 11:17 pm

  3. Jared, much food for thought! Thank you so much for taking the time to share.

    Comment by Steve Graham — April 6, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  4. Thanks!

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 6, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

  5. […] The most thorough conference notes on the internet. […]

    Pingback by Notes From All Over - Comments | Times & Seasons, An Onymous Mormon Blog — April 11, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

  6. Will the presentations be published in some form? I would be willing to pay for a copy of a transcript.

    Comment by Raymond Takashi Swenson — April 16, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  7. Raymond, video cameras were present for the duration of the conference, so I know it was recorded, but I have no knowledge of how it might be distributed in the future.

    You’d have to ask Brian Birch or Boyd Petersen. Their emails are at the bottom of this page.

    Comment by Jared T — April 16, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

  8. Thank you Mr. Birch for expressing opinions based on objectivity and understanding. As opposed, of course, to emotional extremism and ignorance.

    Comment by Jason — April 20, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

  9. Thanks for the fantastic notes!

    Comment by Christopher Smith — May 18, 2009 @ 5:50 pm


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