Mitt Romney presidential bid, missionary announcement were among the top LDS-related events of 2012

Published: Monday, Dec. 31 2012 10:10 a.m. MST

Despite Mitt Romney’s loss to President Barack Obama, the 2012 presidential campaign brought unprecedented media attention to the LDS Church.

Stephan Savoia, Associated Press

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, unequaled media exposure and a historic missionary announcement were among the list of noteworthy Latter-day Saint-related events of 2012.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was in the spotlight all year long. In addition to the extended “Mormon Moment” of press coverage, the church continued to grow and increase efforts to spread the gospel through the Internet and social media, offered humanitarian aid, and built temples around the globe. A trio of young Mormon athletes emerged in their respective sports. The church also sought to build better understanding among Latter-day Saints in regard to same-sex attraction.

Mitt Romney’s presidential bid

Despite Romney’s loss to President Barack Obama, the 2012 presidential campaign brought unprecedented media attention to the LDS Church. Romney became the first Mormon nominated for president by a major political party in August. During his campaign, he rarely mentioned his faith, but ultimately, stories of his good works as a missionary and lay leader of the church, along with an emphasis on wholesome living, industriousness, and traditional family values, likely helped his campaign, according to the New York Times. And as the political fervor intensified, the church reissued its long-established statement stressing its political neutrality. This time, however, the statement was accompanied by a new animated video that provided an illustrative explanation of the church's position.

Major change in missionary age

In the Saturday morning session of the October General Conference, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced that effective immediately, young men may begin their full-time missionary service following high school graduation at age 18. Young women, previously eligible for missionary service at age 21, will now have the option of serving at age 19. He reaffirmed that missionary work was a priesthood duty for the men, but women are not under the same mandate to serve. The response was staggering. Two weeks after the announcement, missionary applications skyrocketed from an average of 700 to 4,000 a week, a percentage jump of 471, with slightly more than half of the applicants being women. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve said that prospective missionaries will be asked to enhance their pre-mission preparation and time in the Missionary Training Center would be reduced by approximately one-third to help accommodate an overall increase in missionaries.

The ‘Mormon Moment’ continues

As Romney hit the campaign trail, media scrutiny of the church increased.

In January, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life became the first non-LDS research organization to focus on the LDS Church as it released a survey that explored the beliefs, values and attitudes of church members.

In February, the church responded to a political story in the Washington Post about Romney and the faith’s former restriction on giving black men the priesthood by issuing a statement that condemned racism, “including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the church.”

The same month, the church took a tougher stand against unauthorized submissions of the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism. The church publicly apologized after it was revealed that Anne Frank and other famous Holocaust victims, as well as the parents of Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal, had been baptized for the dead in the temple.

In July, the ABC network aired a two-hour special titled, “Heaven: Where is it? How Do We Get There?” The special, which featured interviews with religious leaders from virtually all the leading world religions, originally aired in 2005. But because of Romney’s candidacy, Barbara Walters included a new interview segment with Elder William R. Walker, an LDS general authority who oversees the temple department.

In August, NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams” devoted a full hour of prime-time television to the subject of what it means to be “Mormon in America.” Correspondents Harry Smith and Kate Snow interviewed Mormons around the country and explored different aspects of the faith.

Other media outlets, including Bloomberg Businessweek magazine and Reuters, wrote controversial articles depicting the church’s financial situation.

In October, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association acknowledged that Mormonism was not a cult and pledged support for Romney’s campaign, which drew more media attention.

LDS Church’s efforts at increased visibility

While the media put Mormonism under a microscope, the church made several efforts to spread its gospel message.

One major operation has continued to be the “I’m a Mormon” campaign with Mormon.org, where common, ordinary members have become the face of the church. In addition to making video and blog-style profiles of members, the campaign recently took a holiday-themed approach with Nativity videos from the church’s New Testament film project.

The church has also continued to develop social media tools like Mormon Messages videos so members can engage in cyberspace conversations to share the gospel. The church also made it possible for members to share general conference on Facebook.

In September, the church purchased advertising space promoting the actual Book of Mormon in the playbill for the Los Angeles production of “The Book of Mormon” musical, a move that public relations experts praised for being “bold” and “savvy.”

In October, byutv began airing a new reality television series called “The District.” The show follows the lives of LDS missionaries serving in the California San Diego Mission. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir joined in by announcing the creation of a YouTube channel later that month.

Mormons and gays website

Earlier this month, the church launched a new website, “Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction,” aimed at providing “greater sensitivity and better understanding” among Latter-day Saints with regard to same-sex attraction. The website is part of an effort by the church to teach and clarify the church’s position on various issues.

Mormon athletes

In 2011, it was “Jimmermania.” This year Mormon athletes in the national spotlight included high school basketball player Jabari Parker, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, and Washington Nationals’ slugger Bryce Harper. All three appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. Parker was named the Gatorade National Boys Player of the Year and committed to play for Duke. Te’o earned several national honors, including a second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting, while leading his team to an undefeated record and the national championship game. Harper was the National League rookie of the year.

In August, about two dozen Latter-day Saint athletes represented nine different countries while competing in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. A number of Mormons also completed in the Paralympics, including Jason Smyth, who set new world records and won two gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter races.

Humanitarian Aid

In March, more than 100 tornadoes touched down across 12 Southern and Midwestern states over a four-day period, claiming dozens of lives and destroying thousands of homes. Church members in the storm-hit regions offered donations and organized work groups to assist with the cleanup.

Volunteers from LDS Charities worked side by side with service members aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy as part of a humanitarian aid mission in the Philippines in July. More than 50 medical volunteers rendered service and the church donated various emergency supplies.

That same month, more than 1,600 volunteers helped to clean up debris following the “Charlotte” fire in the Pocatello, Idaho area.

The church rendered humanitarian aid after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake shook the eastern coast of the Philippines.

In September, roughly 200 members of the Roswell Georgia Stake joined with community members to package 2,000 boxes of food for victims of Hurricane Isaac.

In preparation for Tropical Storm Sandy, the church prepositioned supplies in the bishops' storehouses in the Eastern United States. The resources included items such as food, water, blankets, hygiene kits, tarps, cleaning supplies, chainsaws and shovels. Local LDS leaders were in contact with emergency relief agencies and did their best to prepare for the needs of individuals and families in their areas.

The church offered assistance in Guatemala after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake rattled most of the Central American nation. Working with welfare leaders at LDS Church headquarters, local priesthood leaders implemented a plan to distribute food, building supplies, and other provisions to impacted members and others in need. The church has also followed through on plans to aid 53,000 Guatemalan families that have been impacted by an ongoing drought in the country.

The church has also sent supplies to those affected by Cyclone Evan, one of the most powerful storms to hit Samoa and American Samoa in 20 years.

Temples

Building temples continued to be a priority for the church in 2012.

In May, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson dedicated the Kansas City Missouri Temple and ground was broken for the Provo City Center Temple.

In June, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the Manaus Brazil Temple.

In August, ground was broken for the Tijuana Mexico Temple.

In September, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, rededicated the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple and President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, dedicated the Brigham City Temple.

In November, President Monson dedicated the Calgary Alberta Temple and rededicated the Boise Idaho Temple.

At the October general conference, President Monson announced that temples would be built in Tucson, Ariz., and Arequipa, Peru.

As of the October conference, the church has 139 temples in operation throughout the world, with 27 more announced or under construction.

Church growth

The LDS Church continued to see growth in 2012.

Eight new missions were created in March.

In July, the church was granted official status in Italy.

Earlier this month, the organization of a new stake in Sierra Leone by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve was not only significant because it was the first in that Western Africa nation, but it also marked the 3,000th stake in the entire church. First stakes were also organized in two other countries: Cape Verde (an island nation 350 miles off the coast of West Africa) and India.

100 years of seminary

In January, the church organized a special worldwide broadcast commemorating the 100th anniversary of LDS seminaries with President Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as the featured speaker. Today there are nearly 370,000 high school-age students participating in seminary classes in more than 140 nations of the world. There are also 350,000 young people enrolled in institute classes for college-age students.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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