Media interest in 'Mormon Moment' slows, deepens

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6 2013 6:40 p.m. MST

With the first anniversary arriving for a presidential election that could be seen as the pinnacle of the "Mormon Moment," articles are surfacing that consider the question of whether that moment is over.

Jacquelyn Martin, AP

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SALT LAKE CITY — With the first anniversary arriving for a presidential election that could be seen as the pinnacle of the "Mormon Moment," articles are surfacing that consider the question of whether that moment is over.

Buzzfeed examined the question Wednesday in a piece titled "The Post-'Mormon Moment' Moment," and writer Hunter Schwarz — a former Deseret News reporter and a BYU graduate — declared the moment over but Mormonism "more a part of the national conversation than it was before (Mitt) Romney’s candidacy."

Schwarz produced a graphic of the number of times the terms "Mormon," "LDS" or "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" were mentioned in newspaper and newswire stories in the United States — excluding Utah — in each of the past 20 years. The number spiked at 1,644 in 2012, up from 1,068 in 2011.

This year the number has dropped to 977 so far but is on pace to surpass the 2011 total and still significantly higher than the previous best of 854 in 2008 during Romney's first presidential bid. Church spokesman Lyman Kirkland told Buzzfeed that while the number of calls the church's public affairs department receives is down, the requests are more thoughtful.

“The questions we receive now tend to focus on a broader range of more substantial subjects, whereas a year ago they were most often related to the election,” Kirkland said. “In the weeks preceding the election we received a lot of trivial questions from people scrambling to do almost any kind of story.”

Christianity Today finally closed its web comments section on the story it published this week about a waning "Mormon Moment" because so many Latter-day Saints were responding to the author's assertions about Christianity and Mormonism.

The LDS Church's own position on the "Mormon Moment" has been clear since March 2012 when church spokesman Michael Otterson wrote a Washington Post On Faith blog item that pointed out the cliché "Mormon Moment" already was a dozen years old. From the church's perspective, the "moment" is more of an ongoing era.

"After a 180-year history and 12 years of calling it a 'moment,' we should re-examine the paradigm," Otterson wrote — a position he reiterated days after last year's election when he wrote: "The church leadership has never believed this period is merely a 'Mormon Moment.' They have much more of a long-range view."

And, of course, not all of that 2012 interest in the LDS Church sprang from Romney's campaign.

“For a number of years now there has been a rising interest in Mormonism in academia," Matthew Bowman, visiting associate professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and author of “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith," told the Deseret News last December. "You saw a surge of interest 10 years ago with the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. More recently there has been the ‘Book of Mormon’ musical on Broadway and a lot of other Mormon stuff on TV and other media. None of that was related to Romney.”

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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