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Vai's View: 2 stories on LDS priesthood stand in contrast to each other

Published: Friday, March 2 2012 5:56 p.m. MST

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders are Stake President Ahmad S. Corbitt of Pitman (center) standing in front of (from left) Kevin Hein of Pennsauken, Angel Ramos of Pennsauken, Kenneth Peebles of Pennsauken, Edelmiro Gonzalez of Camden, Bishop Julio Ortiz of Camden and Benigno Coyoti of Camden.

Chris LaChall, Courier-Post

I am flattered that readers hold me to such high journalistic standards, but the reality is, I'm just a blogger — which means I'm offering opinions, experiences, thoughts, musings, ideas and whatever stream of consciousness I'm feeling that particular day. Do I have strong opinions? Yep. Do I sometimes ruffle feathers? Probably. Is it ever personal? Nope. I think I keep it focused on professional duties, never someone's personal shortcomings. Last week's column about the differences between Kyle Whittingham's and Bronco Mendenhall's methods are my observations and personal opinions. Do I stand by what I write? Unequivocally and unapologetically.

Now, onto a new issue.

I read the article in Tuesday's Washington Post about Mitt Romney's faith that veered into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' priesthood restriction. It's a subject at which the media love to poke and prod, especially if it can weaken a possible Republican nominee.

BYU religion professor Randy Bott was quoted throughout the piece, and much of what was attributed to him is unfortunate. You can read the article if you're curious or a version in Wednesday's Deseret News, but I'll just say I know Randy Bott and he's a good man.

I don't know him well but we've met several times and exchanged emails on several occasions some years back. He taught all three of my sons' mission preparation classes at BYU, a very popular class among prospective missionaries. I'm sure if he had to do it over again, Bott either wouldn't have done the interview or would have phrased things differently.

Let me further say I don't agree with any of Bott's statements, but he was also naive to think a Washington Post reporter was going to allow him to review his statements or read the article before it went to print, which he was somehow led to believe would happen. In my experience, reporters rarely misquote subjects because they typically use a recording device. Context? That's another matter.

It seems a wise general rule of thumb when answering media questions on blacks and the priesthood restriction to say, "I'm not qualified to comment on that," or "there is no definitive answer" or simply, "I don't know." I would NOT ever delve into the doctrine, policy, practices or theories. It's a minefield, as Professor Bott found out.

Ironically, two days before the Washington Post article appeared, this story ran above the fold on the front page of Sunday's Camden Courier Post — a paper that serves roughly 2 million residents of southern New Jersey.

The front page photo features my stake president, Ahmad S. Corbitt, flanked by the bishopric and branch presidency of two neighboring inner-city units of the Cherry Hill stake, which share a rental building in Camden, N.J.

Pres. Corbitt is African-American and the leaders who stand behind him are a United Nations of local church leadership: caucasian, black, Puerto Rican and Mexican.

Courier Post reporter Joe Cooney's story originated, as was the Washington Post story, from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign that's largely responsible for the so-called "Mormon Moment." Our stake public affairs director, Laura O'Hear Church, a former political journalist for Reader's Digest who joined the church in Washington, D.C., while she worked as a state and federal lobbyist for Blue Cross, was relentless in assisting Cooney with his story.

Sister Church is a divorced, single mother who manages social media and public affairs for a Philadelphia PR firm, and she's terrific at her job and in her calling. I think it showed with how well Cooney's story turned out, but Cooney also did his homework.

Besides being a tireless and gifted local church leader, President Corbitt is the LDS Church's director of public affairs for the International and New York office in Manhattan. President Corbitt was a trial attorney before the church hired him away, so he's an exceptional public speaker and an effective church spokesman.

He's shared with me experiences where major publications set out with an agenda to write something derogatory about the church's race relations and when they come to meet him in his office and see that he's black, they either backpedal or drop it altogether.

I don't think that necessarily happened in the Courier Post story, but my sense is President Corbitt's position in the church and credibility as a church spokesman in the media capital of the world is a huge advantage for the church, especially because he's African-American.

Me, personally? Ahmad Corbitt would be my go-to guy if or whenever I might catch wind of a hatchet job like the Washington Post did on Tuesday.

Ahmad Corbitt is a walking, talking, breathing LDS stereotype-buster: He's black, grew up in inner-city Philadelphia, a teenage convert whose parents were Muslim (hence his name Ahmad Saleem), served a mission to Puerto Rico so he's fluent in Spanish and president of a large geographic and densely populated East Coast stake.

On top of all that, he's doctrinally and scripturally rooted, measured and a gifted orator — and he's already on the church payroll as a spokesman.

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