Friday, March 13, 2009

The Publicity Dilemma

SALT LAKE CITY 9 March 2009 Like other large faith groups, The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes finds itself on
the receiving end of attention from Hollywood or Broadway, television
series or books, and the news media. Sometimes depictions of the
Church and its people are quite accurate. Sometimes the images are
false or play to stereotypes. Occasionally, they are in appallingly
bad taste.

As Catholics, Jews and Muslims have known for centuries, such
attention is inevitable once an institution or faith group reaches a
size or prominence sufficient to attract notice. Yet Latter-day Saints
– sometimes known as Mormons - still wonder whether and how they
should respond when news or entertainment media insensitively
trivialize or misrepresent sacred beliefs or practices.

Church members are about to face that question again. Before the first
season of the HBO series Big Love aired more than two years ago, the
show's creators and HBO executives assured the Church that the series
wouldn't be about Mormons. However, Internet references to Big Love
indicate that more and more Mormon themes are now being woven into the
show and that the characters are often unsympathetic figures who come
across as narrow and self-righteous. And according to TV Guide, it now
seems the show's writers are to depict what they understand to be
sacred temple ceremonies.

Certainly Church members are offended when their most sacred practices
are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding. Last
week some Church members began e-mail chains calling for cancellations
of subscriptions to AOL, which, like HBO, is owned by Time Warner.
Certainly such a boycott by hundreds of thousands of computer-savvy
Latter-day Saints could have an economic impact on the company.
Individual Latter-day Saints have the right to take such actions if
they choose.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an institution does
not call for boycotts. Such a step would simply generate the kind of
controversy that the media loves and in the end would increase
audiences for the series. As Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Robert
D. Hales of the Council of the Twelve Apostles have both said
recently, when expressing themselves in the public arena, Latter-day
Saints should conduct themselves with dignity and thoughtfulness.

Not only is this the model that Jesus Christ taught and demonstrated
in his own life, but it also reflects the reality of the strength and
maturity of Church members today. As someone recently said, "This
isn't 1830, and there aren't just six of us anymore." In other words,
with a global membership of thirteen and a half million there is no
need to feel defensive when the Church is moving forward so rapidly.
The Church's strength is in its faithful members in 170-plus
countries, and there is no evidence that extreme misrepresentations in
the media that appeal only to a narrow audience have any long-term
negative effect on the Church.


* During the Mitt Romney election campaign for the presidency of
the United States, commentator Lawrence O'Donnell hurled abuse at the
Church in a television moment that became known among many Church
members as "the O'Donnell rant." Today, his statements are remembered
only as a testament to intolerance and ignorance. They had no effect
on the Church that can be measured.
* When the comedy writers for South Park produced a gross
portrayal of Church history, individual Church members no doubt felt
uncomfortable. But once again it inflicted no perceptible or lasting
damage to a church that is growing by at least a quarter of a million
new members every year.
* When an independent film company produced a grossly distorted
version of the Mountain Meadows Massacre two years ago, the Church
ignored it. Perhaps partly as a result of that refusal to engender the
controversy that the producers hoped for, the movie flopped at the box
office and lost millions.
* In recent months, some gay activists have barraged the media
with accusations about "hateful" attitudes of Latter-day Saints in
supporting Proposition 8 in California, which maintained the
traditional definition of marriage. They even organized a protest
march around the Salt Lake Temple. Again, the Church has refused to be
goaded into a Mormons versus gays battle and has simply stated its
position in tones that are reasonable and respectful. Meanwhile,
missionary work and Church members in California remain as robust and
vibrant as ever, and support for the Church has come from many
unexpected quarters — including some former critics and other

Now comes another series of Big Love, and despite earlier assurances
from HBO it once again blurs the distinctions between The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the show's fictional non-Mormon
characters and their practices. Such things say much more about the
insensitivities of writers, producers and TV executives than they say
about Latter-day Saints.

If the Church allowed critics and opponents to choose the ground on
which its battles are fought, it would risk being distracted from the
focus and mission it has pursued successfully for nearly 180 years.
Instead, the Church itself will determine its own course as it
continues to preach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the

This statement is excerpted in its entirety from

No comments: