It will be business as usual for general conference in 'the Mormon Moment'

Published: Thursday, Sept. 29 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Michael Otterson, director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says that something "transformational" happens in downtown Salt Lake City twice each year as general conference time approaches.

"Temple Square becomes thronged with people of every nationality," Otterson wrote in his regular "On Faith" blog posting in the Washington Post this week. "Across the (downtown LDS Church headquarters) campus the flavor becomes decidedly cosmopolitan, from the cafeteria crowds to the tourists packing the (Main Street) Plaza, the nearby Family History Library or the adjacent Church Museum.

"In short," he said, "things get busy."

But are things any busier this general conference — sessions of the LDS Church's 181st Semiannual General Conference begin Saturday morning at 10, with two more sessions Saturday and an additional two sessions on Sunday — than they have been for general conferences past? This is, after all, the Mormon Moment, so proclaimed by various media outlets because of the intense media scrutiny of the past six months, a perfect storm of independent events and circumstances that have collectively shone a spotlight of unprecedented brightness on the LDS Church. Will general conference in the Mormon Moment be any different than any other general conference?

Probably not, if you ask Latter-day Saints who have been following the Mormon Moment professionally.

"Pundits outside the church may be expecting some church leader to take advantage of the moment to make some landmark speech that will get a lot of coverage around the world," said McKay Coppins, a reporter for Newsweek and The Daily Beast covering politics, religion and national affairs. "My experience is general authorities don't tend to do that. They go in seeking inspiration for what the members of the church need to know at this point in time. There may be a reference or two to the increased media attention of the past few months, but I don't expect any public positioning."

Neither, evidently, do others in the secular media. LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said Wednesday that requests for media credentials for conference sessions this weekend are running about the same as usual, with no requests from media sources that normally don't cover conference.

"There is news, and there is conference," said Carole Mikita, who has been covering The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a reporter for KSL-TV since 1998.

Mikita said she expects a "business as usual" kind of conference, and doesn't expect Church leaders to try to capitalize on "the Moment." And that's OK, she said: "These conferences were not created for news cycles."

"The strategy of the church has been to emphasize the good the church does and the diversity of the church through things like the 'I'm a Mormon' campaign," Coppins continued. "They tend not to directly engage any secular examination that may be taking place. They use the spotlight of general conference to push forward the gospel message to the membership of the church, and to the world — not to engage their critics."

Joanna Brooks, a widely circulated columnist for Religion Dispatches and the "Mormon girl" behind the popular Twitter feed askmormongirl, agreed.

"The American media may have declared this 'the Mormon Moment,' but Mormonism is a global religion, and conference is an important time for church leaders to speak to members around the world," Brooks said. "As fascinating as media coverage of the (Mitt) Romney campaign or 'The Book of Mormon' musical may be to members in the U.S., I doubt that these are major concerns for our brothers and sisters in Korea, or the Philippines, or Chile.

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