Mormon Church applauds media 'watchdogs'

Published: Saturday, Sept. 10 2011 2:29 p.m. MDT

A few media sources around the country are beginning to exert their "watchdog" role over "the Mormon moment" — and LDS Church officials are applauding their efforts.

In a story in the Los Angeles Times, reporter Robin Abcarian wrote about the discomfort some evangelical Christians are feeling in voting for a Mormon presidential candidate.

Abcarian told of one South Carolina voter, a Baptist preacher, who said he was uncomfortable with the idea of a woman president. But given his choice between Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney (a Mormon), he said: "I would probably cast my vote for Michele."

"The devil only wrote one Bible," the preacher said, "and Joseph Smith found it under a rock."

Such thinking, Abcarian writes, could be an obstacle for Romney and fellow-Mormon Jon Huntsman in Iowa and South Carolina, "but one that could be overcome if the weak economy trumps other concerns."

At one point in the story, the reporter quotes a South Carolina Republican leader, who said that "Mormons don't see Jesus Christ for who Jesus Christ really is. That's the big issue. They see him as a prophet, not the only begotten Son of God. They've got a prophet we don't hold to, who gave them the Book of Mormon."

Abcarian follows that quote with this parenthetical comment: "(There are many points of doctrinal disagreement between Christian evangelicals and Mormons, but whether Jesus was the Son of God is not one of them. It is a foundation of the religion.)"

The reporters correction was applauded by Lyman Kirkland on the LDS Church's Newsroom blog site.

"You can almost hear 14 million Latter-day Saints offer a collective 'Thank you!'" Kirkland wrote. "Rather than letting that comment stand as fact . . . the reporter's clear explanation and correction shows what Mormons really believe."

"Journalists aren't expected to have a sweeping understanding of the doctrines of various religions," Kirkland continues, "but understanding at least the basics, especially those things that adherents hold most dear (such as a belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God), enables them to write accurately, despite misconceptions some of their sources may have."

A similar situation with regards to the calling of an openly gay man to serve as executive secretary in a San Francisco-area ward gave another media watchdog an opportunity to provide correction.

In August Mitch Mayne announced on his personal blog that he accepted the calling "because of the opportunity it presents me to serve my Savior and my community."

And, he noted, "I accepted this calling as my authentic self: An openly gay man who loves his Savior, loves his Mormon family, loves his counterparts within the LGBTQ community, and has both desire and opportunity to serve."

A number of media sources did stories on the calling, and other statements and inferences from Mayne's blog. Many, such as the Star Observer in Sydney, Australia, mostly used quotes from Mayne's blog. Others, like the San Francisco Examiner, did interviews with Mayne and his bishop, Don Fletcher, as well as others.

"According to LDS doctrine, members cannot be sexually active until marriage, and only a man and a woman can marry," reporter Mike Aldax wrote for the Examiner. "(Bishop) Fletcher said he still abides by that doctrine and is not trying to change it. If anything, he said, his congregation could potentially spark a cultural shift among Mormons.

"'If our ward in San Francisco can be an example, if that's copied elsewhere, wonderful,' Fletcher said."

In the Religion Dispatches blog, a writer claimed that "in LDS communities, where lay congregational leaders have positions analogous to those of priests, pastors and rabbis, news of Mayne's calling is having an impact, revealing continuing divisions among Mormons and questions about evolving Mormon views on homosexuality."

That statement prompted another blogger, Terry Mattingly on GetReligion.org, to ask: "Mormon views on same-sex relationships are evolving? Back that statement up with some on-the-record quotations from people in positions of LDS authority and you have an A1 story in every newspaper in America. After all, it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of eternal marriage, family and children in the sweep of Mormon theology."

Mattingly concludes his post with this suggestion: "If people make claims about evolving Mormon doctrines, look for names, titles and clear statements of attribution. In other words, look for some journalism."

Kirkland also blogged about Mattingly's comments on on the church's Newsroom website under the headline, "Informed Reading in This Mormon Moment": "There is a lot of interest in the church and a lot being written about it," Kirkland notes. "It's important for the public to distinguish between fact, opinion and personal advocacy."

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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