We may not appreciate the kind of portrayal we receive, but ultimately any kind of attention that gets people asking about Mormonism is better than the opposite: everyone ignoring us.
I was reminded last week, upon reading Simon Critchley’s opinion piece in the New York Times, what a unique stretch of time we’re in. Much has been written about the Mormon Moment. As a columnist, I’ve been watching this moment snowball for more than a decade, from the rustlings that came during the 2002 Winter Olympics up until now.
A lot has changed in that period of time. The number of famous Mormon faces has grown, thanks to reality shows, business success, blogging, politics and some best-selling books. The way we’re scrutinized has changed. A decade ago, the media often deferred to non-Mormon experts on Mormonism. Now they reach more from within the faith to source their stories.
What hasn’t changed is some Mormons’ uneasiness with being in the limelight. I’ve heard from some people, ever since Mitt Romney began his campaign, "I don’t think it would be good for Romney to win the presidency because it would put too much negative attention on the church."
Now, whether you’re for Romney or not (and this column isn’t intended to be political), I am surprised by that reaction. After all, ours is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that sends out thousands of missionaries each year to spread the "good news."
I think some of us are uneasy with negative media attention for several reasons. It’s hard to hear about our faith described in such a clinical way, or to be the punch line on the newest fall comedy show. The roots of our founding and migration were born out of persecution and ridicule, and in an increasingly secular landscape, it’s challenging to be a person of any faith hearing that criticism in the wings.
It isn’t that we don’t want publicity. It’s that we want it on our own terms. We want to be the candle on the hill, but only if we get to hold the match. It’s a natural instinct. Everyone wants to be seen in the most attractive light possible; that is what public relations is all about.
However, with the way the Internet and social media have changed the spread of news, we have to be comfortable with the fact that we often don’t control the message. That doesn’t mean blatantly allowing the spread of misinformation. We should push to have our history and our doctrine portrayed accurately. But to try to buffer ourselves from the attention, especially if it’s negative, is a sign of our own insecurity. It perpetuates the idea that we have something to hide, when we don’t.
We all want to sit at the popular table. As long as we keep winning game shows and elections, we hope to be a people admired for hard work, strong families and an honest work ethic. Those are certainly things worth admiring.
But we need to be comfortable with doctrine and history. If we still believe it’s true, then what do we have to be afraid of?
If the alternative to all this media frenzy is obscurity, which would we rather have? We may not appreciate the kind of portrayal we receive, but ultimately any kind of attention that gets people asking about Mormonism is better than the opposite: everyone ignoring us.
As Mormons, we have a powerful, positive message to share, one that deserves a wide telling. If this kind of scrutiny creates chances to talk openly about our faith, we ought to embrace the opportunity, not fear it as a threat.