Mormon Media Observer: Two articles for which to be grateful
August Miller, Deseret News archives
In my opinion, thanks should go to Naomi Schaefer Riley, a vital writer whose work is frequently published in the Wall Street Journal.
During the 2007-2008 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, she wrote one of the most favorable articles about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that appeared in the nation's press.
What struck me then is how she observed Latter-day Saints at their best.
She had been researching a book on religious colleges in 2001 and was visiting BYU when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 happened. (No one is writing with more passion and more insight about the problems in higher education.)
She attended a deeply patriotic and moving devotional on campus that day and wrote of the humble, decent and fun-loving students at BYU that she met there.
I read hundreds of articles over that campaign and deemed her piece one of the two most favorable articles in the mainstream press produced about Latter-day Saints during that long campaign.
Now she has written another terrific article, for which I am also grateful.
And that's not the only one.
In a week where there were a large number of less-than-favorable articles about the church including some harsh writing about baptisms for the dead, a second article — this one a blog post at the Washington Post — provided useful context and generousity of spirit.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfeld wrote a post about understanding and dialogue relative to this issue. His thoughtful, honest approach is very worth reading. I thank him for his spirit of dialogue and good will.
Here is one of the quotes I liked most about his piece:
"We all have things to work out regarding how we use ritual and liturgy in ways that build a sense of group cohesion, mission and pride, without simultaneously teaching disrespect or disregard of other traditions and those who follow them."
Naomi Schaefer Riley's piece on Saturday (the link may require a subscription) in the Wall Street Journal's opinion section again talked of the strengthes of the Latter-day Saints. She wrote about the church's welfare program this time:
"Ever since Mitt Romney said he was 'not concerned about the very poor' but would fix America's social safety net 'if it needs repair,' conservatives and liberals have been frantically making suggestions. Gov. Romney says he would consider options like restructuring Medicaid. But if he wants to see a welfare system that lets almost no one fall through the cracks while at the same time ensuring that its beneficiaries don't become lifelong dependents, he could look to his own church."
She toured church welfare facilities and wrote of the amazing work done by both the rank-and-file and the organizational church.
From the article, I learned some things that I didn't know: For example, the church has its own trucking company and has stored a year's supply of fuel, parts and supplies for the trucks, all for the purpose of helping the poor. Second, the Defense Department recently toured church facilities to see why it is able to respond so quickly.
In this generous piece, she quotes President Heber J. Grant — when was the last time that happened in the nation's press? — and tells of how the welfare and humanitarian services work across the country and how it is paid for by the tithes and fast offerings of faithful Latter-day Saints. She tells how the system helps people get back on their feet and learn to work.
She writes, "It is safe to assume that Mr. Romney is among (those who donate). The tens of millions of dollars he has given the church over the years have raised suspicion in some quarters. What does the church do with all that cash? Wouldn't that money have been better spent paying a higher income-tax rate? But his donations are supporting the kind of safety net that government can never hope to create. Jesus may have said the poor will always be with you, but he didn't say Medicaid would."
This article is among the best I have seen in recent years — maybe the best I have seen — about church welfare and among the most favorable about the church written during this long campaign.
In short, once again, Schaefer Riley lets Latter-day Saints be seen at their best, for which I am grateful.
One of the wonderful dynamics of new media is that one story doesn't necessarily dominate the news. Alternative voices are easily available — often written by diligent, fair-minded non-Latter-day Saints.
In a week with lots of seemingly unfavorable news coverage of Latter-day Saints, some of the best coverage also came forward.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.
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