Conversations help clear misinformation

By Jerry Johnston

Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, May 11 2011 4:35 p.m. MDT

President David O. McKay said in a famous quote, "It's better to be trusted than loved."

In recent weeks I've been wondering if it's better to be ignored than misunderstood.

I'm talking about all the press the LDS Church is getting. So many things I read come across like cables from one of Jupiter's moons.

When you're a missionary church, however, just being noticed has to be a plus. Even though a lot of time can go into setting the record straight.

When I went to Bolivia as a missionary in 1968, nobody there had heard of us. And we did our best to get noticed. We formed singing groups that toured the country. We coached sports teams and put on athletic events. I even hosted a radio show. Whenever a general authority would visit, we'd try to rally all the newspapers and radio stations for a press conference. But everything we did seemed like light being beamed into a black hole.

Toward the end of my mission, one newspaper did make a persnickety remark about "God being a Mormon." It was a slap, but we cheered. Somebody had actually tipped to the fact we were in the country.

Thirty years later, when I returned for the dedication of the Cochabamba Temple, I found that just about everybody had heard of the Mormons; and just about everybody had hopelessly muddled ideas about us.

We were said to worship on Saturdays instead of Sundays.

We were rumored to all be rich tycoons.

We were thought to be good athletes because we refrained from sex and were often accused of being U.S. spies.

I remember thinking, "I guess this is progress."

Looking back now, a decade, I have to say I think it was progress.

People will always get things scrambled up.

I once talked to a guy in Tijuana who said he'd never sneak across the border because the U.S. Army was sending all illegal aliens to Guantanamo to be hooded and tortured by electricity and dogs.

By the same token, I once had a neighbor in Brigham City tell me that the Korean Communists had invented thong underwear to undermine the morals of American servicemen.

Go figure.

What I'm saying is you can never clear up all the misinformation. And since you can't control the flow of information, the best you can hope for is a chance to set the record straight in individual conversations.

The difference is, back in Bolivia in 1968, nobody asked about the Mormons because nobody had heard of them.

Today a lot of people are asking questions about the Mormons.

And answering questions will always be the best way to get the ball rolling for a proselytizing church.

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in Mormon Times.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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