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Church criticizes article in journal

Published: Monday, Sept. 3 2001 3:17 p.m. MDT

A Newsweek magazine cover story on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has ruffled some feathers.

LDS Church spokesman Michael Otterson has sent a letter to Newsweek editors, criticizing the magazine article's tone, which implied that the church is trying to appeal more to the mainstream by emphasizing Jesus Christ rather than its founder, Joseph Smith.

And to make matters worse, the magazine's Web site erroneously identified the wrong Smith.

"Incidentally, your photograph of 'Founder Smith' on the Newsweek Web site is actually of Joseph F. Smith, another person entirely, who led the Church several generations later," Otterson wrote.

Actually, Joseph F. Smith was the sixth president of the church and nephew to the founder.

A spokesman for the magazine was not available for comment Monday.

Newsweek magazine's cover headlined "Mormons" hit newsstands Monday. But the story written by Newsweek religion editor Kenneth Woodward appeared earlier online at www.newsweek.com. The story examines LDS doctrine, Utah's culture and preparations for the 2002 Winter Games.

Although not too many Salt Lake leaders are overly concerned about the article, Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney expressed concerned to SLOCtrustees about a fear the story would perpetuate the idea of a "Mormon Olympics."

Otterson was more offended by Woodward's assertion that the church's emphasis on Jesus Christ is all about image and public relations.

"Ken Woodward cheapens the real motivation of most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — their deep personal conviction that Christ is the divine Son of God," Otterson wrote.

He chastised Woodward for wondering why the new Conference Center and many chapels depict Christ rather than Joseph Smith, by remarking, "Could it be for the simple reason that these are buildings of worship for a church that has borne the name of Jesus Christ since its founding over 170 years ago? But there is no de-emphasis of Joseph Smith," Otterson wrote. "A block away from the Conference Center, the former Hotel Utah, now mostly offices, was recently named the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, and a nine-foot marble statue of the Prophet graces the lobby."

Woodward tries to describe Mormons, by writing, "they appear mysterious and clannish with their secret temple rituals, vestiges of polygamy in rural Utah (despite official condemnation of the practice), zero tolerance for homosexuality and readiness to press their temperance code on non-Mormon citizens. But for more than two decades now, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has worked hard to alter its image."

Otterson took exception to that.

"It may be that the world's perception of Mormons is what is really changing," he writes. "Increasingly, Americans are getting acquainted with Mormon associates and neighbors and seeing them as an integral part of the rich and diverse fabric of American life. If that is what is meant by 'mainstream,' we welcome it."


E-MAIL: donna@desnews.com

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