It's much more than a Mormon moment, church official says

Published: Monday, April 2 2012 4:45 p.m. MDT

Academics: Otterson referred to "a new generation of scholars which is being more and more frequently quoted in the mainstream media," specifically citing David Campbell, co-author of "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us;" Matthew Bowman, author of "The Mormon People"; and J.B. Haws, author of an upcoming history of LDS Public Affairs. "The serious work in which they and others are engaged is raising the church's public profile in significant ways with thoughtful observers."

LDS bloggers: "Just how much influence individual LDS bloggers as a whole have on public perception of the church is a matter of conjecture," Otterson said. "Some bloggers push themes that are very different from the official voice of the church, and we sometimes have a challenge in explaining that to journalists." However, other bloggers are having a positive impact, he said, referring specifically to "thousands of LDS women who are writing about familiar themes of home and family (and who) seem to have created a new media niche that is raising the church's profile in unexpected places."

Popular culture: "Popular culture is an incredibly powerful force in conditioning public opinion and increasing awareness," Otterson said. "It may be the factor over which we have the least influence, but it may be one of the most significant in terms of how many of the general public see the church." He referred to the church's response to "The Book of Mormon" musical on Broadway as an example of how the church tries to elevate "above the fray onto higher ground."

Church initiatives: Otterson referred to the LDS Church Missionary Department's "I'm a Mormon" campaign as a way to allow "members of the church to tell their own stories honestly and in unscripted ways." There are also outreach efforts from the church to interfaith leaders, leaders of ethnic or cultural minorities, members of Congress, state governors, ambassadors, academics, think tanks and those who represent advocacy groups. "All of these groups have members who from time to time have interests that overlap with the church," Otterson said, "hence our interest in helping people better understand who we are and the values we represent."

Church growth: "In my view, ultimately the rising public awareness of Latter-day Saints in almost all of the categories I have mentioned is a subset of one major factor, and that is the continued growth of the church," Otterson said. "Our members everywhere are our best advertisement. They are school teachers and students, professional associates and fellow factory workers, bankers and businessmen, artists and musicians. All form a part of the rising tide of church membership with its potential for interaction with the nonmember public, and for greater education as to our beliefs and practices."

Because of all of these elements, Otterson is confident the end of the current American election cycle will not mean the end of public attention to the LDS Church — for good or ill.

"While there are opportunities for the general public to better understand the church, it is obvious that dissenting voices and anti-church critics will seek to exploit this higher profile for their own objectives," Otterson said. "We know that there will be times when we need a thick skin. We may also need a sense of humor. Above all, we will need a spirit of kindness and forgiveness, remembering that our claims to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are most convincing when our actions are in harmony with our beliefs."

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