SANDY — Jewish people have the Anti-Defamation League "to stop the defamation of the Jewish people." Muslims have the Council on American-Islamic Relations "to enhance understanding of Islam." Now some Mormons are launching their own group to "respond to false information put forward in the media."
The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research is announcing at 9 a.m. this morning the formation of the Mormon Defense League and the new website MDL.org. FAIR is a volunteer organization that attempts to answer criticism and questions about LDS Church doctrine and history. The announcement takes place at FAIR's 13th annual Mormon Apologetics Conference, which runs today and Friday at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy.
Unlike its sponsoring organization FAIR, the new Mormon Defense League project won't be directed towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It also won't duplicate FAIR's scholarly articles that go into small details. Instead, it aims to help journalists do their jobs better.
"We hope to be a resource for journalists," said Scott Gordon, president of FAIR since 2001, "Religion writers tend to do a good job. Problems come when you get political writers or sports writers who are not as familiar with the nuances of the religion. So when you get a Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman or a Harry Reid, and someone makes a comment, the journalist may unknowingly pass on something that Mormons consider to be very bigoted, malicious or just inaccurate."
In addition to having articles on the MDL.org website that address common misconceptions like "magic underwear," "Jesus is the brother of Satan," and "Mormons practice polygamy," Gordon hopes journalists will contact MDL for interviews and to answer questions.
MDL will be staffed by a small group of volunteers who will update the website, field questions from journalists and keep an eye on the news for when they think Mormons or doctrines of the LDS Church are misrepresented. "If somebody writes something — whether a journalist or even a politician — that is egregiously bad, we will correct them," Gordon said.
John Lynch is FAIR's Chairman of the Board. He thinks the Mormon Defense League is a type of anti-defamation league. "Except with Mormon nice. We bite, but we are polite," Lynch said, then added, "And afterwards we show an increase in love."
Gordon said when errors are found, they don't intend to make them all public. Instead, many times they will approach the reporter directly. If that doesn't work, then MDL may post corrections on its website or resort to sending out press releases .
"The LDS Church has a long history of dealing with misrepresentations," said Lane Williams, a communication professor at BYU Idaho who writes a column titled "Mormon Media Observer" for Mormon Times. "In the past they have responded in many different ways. I'm not sure there is one best way to do it. … Different times call for different responses."
Williams said that it is difficult for journalists to convey the essence of what a church believes in a few paragraphs. "My perception is that very few reporters try to demean us."
The key, Williams said, is for reporters to let churches tell their own stories.
Although MDL and FAIR are not affiliated with the LDS Church, Gordon and Lynch hope the new project will make a difference.
"Our primary purpose is to help people tell stories," Gordon said, "not to embarrass people into compliance with what our view of the world is. … We want to be as nice as we can and as informative as we can."
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