Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — For a solid 45 minutes Monday morning, Michael Otterson, managing director of Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke to members of the LDS International Society about "How the Church is Handling Increased Global Visibility."
In what may be a first for anyone speaking on that subject over the past year, not once during the entire presentation did he mention the name Mitt Romney.
"I have done that deliberately, because it should tell us something about the 'Mormon Moment,'" Otterson told some 300 International Society members, who were holding their annual conference on the BYU campus. "It is much more than politics. It is much more than a moment. After 182 years, the church may have reached that point which the Lord described in (the first section of the Doctrine & Covenants) — finally, the church has emerged from obscurity, at least in some parts of the world."
Otterson was the second speaker on the International Society's conference agenda. Just moments earlier, Elder Anthony D. Perkins of the LDS Church's Quorums of the Seventy, received the society's Distinguished Service Award. Elder Perkins, who was serving as president of the church's Taiwan Taipei Mission at the time of his call to be a General Authority, has served for five years as a member of the Asia Area Presidency. He also spoke about how the LDS Church is emerging from obscurity, only from the perspective of the church in Asia.
According to Otterson, there are two kinds of obscurity: the kind that relates to invisibility, and the kind that relates to misunderstanding.
"Joseph Smith said in his history that he endeavored to 'disabuse the public mind' of false ideas about himself and his work, and we are still working on that project," Otterson said. "If Phase 1 had to do with the church's visibility, then Phase 2 — which will be about achieving understanding — still mostly lies ahead."
Otterson contends that the current period of time, which U.S. media has proclaimed to be "the Mormon moment," is not a moment at all but actually the next logical extension of 182 years of church growth, beginning with LDS founding prophet Joseph Smith's "First Vision" in upstate New York and continuing through to the Salt Lake Winter Olympics and the current presidential campaign.
"Perhaps after 182 years of successive moments, it's time to change the paradigm," Otterson said. "Of course the 'Mormon moment' is going to live on in the journalistic lexicon, but this is not a transitory moment that will end, but simply the latest phase in the historic emergence of the church to a higher level of public consciousness."
Otterson noted seven contributing factors to the LDS Church's growing public profile, all of which he believes are enduring well beyond the current presidential campaign:
LDS celebrities: "This is not a new phenomenon," he said, recalling the huge popularity of the Osmonds in the 1970s. "Today, LDS celebrities are almost too numerous to mention. Many come from the world of sports. Others are in arts and entertainment. Some have made names for themselves in business and industry. Others are emerging in academia. And several have been successful in politics Collectively, they have the net effect of raising the church's profile and adding to the national and international conversation about Mormons."
LDS politicians: "Unquestionably, this factor is driving much of the current media interest," Otterson said. "The presidential campaign presents significant challenges for the church as well as opportunities. The most obvious challenge is keeping the institutional church out of the political campaigning It is not part of the church's mission to campaign for political candidates or influence."
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