PROVO, Utah — Significant misperceptions shape the LDS church's image and standing in America, said a church apostle Friday.
Speaking during Women's Conference at Brigham Young University, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve, asked more than 16,000 women gathered in the BYU Marriott Center to dedicate themselves to strengthening the image of the church.
"Your personal experiences can be of comfort and a blessing to many," Elder Perry told the women.
Now in its 34th year, Women's Conference draws thousands to Provo annually. The two-day event is co-sponsored by BYU and the LDS Church's Relief Society.
Offering the conference's closing general address, Elder Perry said that church leaders have been looking at the church's image to better understand how the organization approaches its missionary efforts. "We have employed some professional firms to help us define and project our true image to the world."
Recent studies, he said, found that "51 percent of people have no awareness of Mormon practices and beliefs," that "47 percent of people do not have a favorable view of Mormons," and "that 31 percent of people believe that Mormons are not Christian."
"These statistics clearly show the imperfect way we have communicated who we are and what we believe," said Elder Perry.
Further, he said, one-word impressions of the Church include: polygamy, family, cult, different, and dedicated. Three wrong impressions out of five "is not a good batting average for us," he said.
It is evident, he said, that significant misperceptions exist about the church and its members.
Elder Perry said that although 84 percent of Americans have seen Latter-day Saint ads, been given LDS literature, and/or had missionaries approach them, less than 30 percent can identify the church's main claim — "that we follow Jesus Christ, and are the re-established original Christian church…"
So, he asked the women, "How do we close the gap between how we see ourselves and how the world sees us?"
A person's view of the Church is the sum of personal experiences they have had that relate in any way to the church organization, he said. Outside influences, church media, missionaries and members all shape the image of the church, said Elder Perry. But, he added, the members are the most important.
There are several things church members can do to help people become "more aware of our true beliefs," he said. They can listen, know the doctrine, live their standards, be exemplary citizens, be good neighbors, open their mouths, extend invitations, use technology and be bold but not overbearing.
Elder Perry's address was the second general session address of the conference; Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president, addressed the crowd in the morning session.
She told the group that Latter-day Saint women should be defenders of right and truth and seen as lights in a world where the family is under attack.
"We are in those times, when we are the ones who must preserve our families amidst the gathering of evil around us," said Sister Beck.
LDS women can protect their families by clearly keeping their focus on the temple and the blessings of eternal life, she said.
"We see decline everywhere," she said, noting that marriage rates are down, and there is an increase in unmarried couples living together. Divorce, abortion and out-of-wedlock births have increased and low birth rates are reported and dropping every day, she added.
"Children are less valued and families are less valued," she said. "Families are about (the words) 'us' and 'we.' The doctrines we are hearing preached by the world today are about 'I' and 'me.'"
Quoting from a 1980 address by former church President Spencer W. Kimball, Sister Beck said there are those "who would define the family in such a non-traditional way that they would define it out of existence."
Sister Beck said Christian women should never forget that "anti-Christ teachings and principles are always anti-family" and that "anti-family teachings and policies are also anti-Christ."
"We know and believe and testify of Christ. We are baptized into a covenant with him and we support and sustain his doctrine and his theology," she said.