Being Mormon in a Mormon moment

Published: Sunday, Sept. 4 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

"I had a man ask me, 'Well, what are the weak points in the case for the Book of Mormon.' And I was quite willing to state that, because if you can't say that there are any arguments against the church, no one is going to trust you. If all you can see is the positive, you are not going to win anyone's respect," Bushman said. "If there is a real problem you have to be quite up-front about it,"

Givens said the media still seem to focus on controversy or opposing viewpoints in their coverage of the LDS Church. "It strikes me that nobody would say, doing a special on the Amish, 'Well, we want to get both perspectives on them. We want to look at all sides of the Amish question.' Or 'We want to look at both sides of the Presbyterian controversy.' And yet, when it comes to Mormonism, there's always an assumption we have to look at both sides, the pros and the cons."

But both Givens and Bushman are impressed with how things have improved — particularly in the way the press is covering the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. "The difference between 2008 and now is really huge," Bushman said. "We were getting some very vitriolic pieces in 2008. I don't think there have been many lately. … Mormonism is referred to, but it's not the big thing anymore. In a way, we are eroding the prejudices against Mormonism. Having two candidates, in a way, legitimizes it: Mormons are going to do this, get ready for it. Personally I think that we have made big headway."

Bushman also feels he has made headway in the way he interacts with the media. Part of that progress may be in a phrase he sometimes likes to repeat to himself before beginning an interview: "Today I will be a follower of Jesus Christ."

But Bushman realizes that notwithstanding "The Mormon Explainer" nickname, he is only one of several people — like Givens, who are approached by the media to explain their faith.

"I think it's going to happen to more and more Latter-day Saints. If it isn't the Washington Post calling, it will be your local radio station or maybe your partner at work or your neighbor," Bushman said. "So we all are having to find a way to speak about what matters to us. And that is a terrific experience for anybody."

Richard Bushman's rules for talking with the media

1. Be generous, not defensive.

2. Acknowledge problems.

3. Find new ways to say things.

4. Remember reporters want to get it right.

5. Don't try to prove, try to tell the truth.

6. Who you are is part of the message.

7. Speak from the heart.

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com, TWITTER: www.twitter.com/degroote

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