Each week, it seems that someone in the mainstream press writes something about the church that is annoying or hurtful or misinformed or lazy.
Then there is a blog post by a baptized, but not practicing, Latter-day Saint, in GQ magazine online that’s too cute by half. The article is filled with stereotypes — hurtful and otherwise — of Latter-day Saints, of Southerners and of Evangelical Christians.
For example, he wrote that parts of Ohio “culturally resemble (the South) down to the wrecked Chevy Nova lawn decor and the graphic, fetal Choose Life billboards.”
The easy thing to say is that no such stereotypes of other ethnic or other religious minorities would be uttered or tolerated by these writers. The easy thing to say would be that those comments demonstrate ignorance, bigotry or hypocrisy.
Yes, easy, and perhaps partially true.
But, having spent years working with and getting to know reporters and studying their world, I believe most journalists desire to be fair-minded. Indeed, it can be an extremely difficult task to describe my faith, to describe any faith — especially in the limited spaces journalism provides. It’s unfair to unduly criticize them.
Even those doing their level best sometimes distort inadvertently.
So, what do you say to those who misunderstand, whose ignorance or bile drips out in 140-character bursts on the Internet?
I say: Get to know us where we live. Get to know our young people.
I say: Come with me to Rexburg.
In 2001, President Henry B. Eyring used those words, now often quoted in these parts, as a way of helping us all here see what we can be.
In his talk, President Eyring imagined talking with an employer about amazing BYU-Idaho employees and wondering whence their success. Then, he said, “And I'll smile and say, ‘Well, come with me to Rexburg.’”
To journalists, to scoffers, to the curious and to the confused, I say: Come with me to Rexburg.
See what I see among the young people this church produces. Come and see this remarkable faith for what it is in the lives it touches.
I have seen tens of thousands of Latter-day Saint youths come through this campus. I’ve directed hundreds, even thousands, of class sessions. I’ve never heard a single swearword uttered by my students, not even of the mild variety, nor have I ever heard a racial slur.
I have never had a single student come to class hung over.
None has ever yelled at me, despite my flaws.
I’ve been in the newsroom scores of times and never seen them yelling nor arguing in anger — sure, meaningful, difficult conflicts happen there — but the mutual respect amazes, even on intense deadline.
Each weekday, many exercise, keeping themselves fit. Most do homework with integrity and dedication. Sundays, they dress up and attend church. They smile a lot.
I’ve talked to hundreds of students who have traveled to foreign countries amid difficult circumstances to serve as volunteer missionaries. This morning, I spoke with one who arises weekly at 4:30 a.m. to work a devoted shift at the Rexburg Temple.
I see kindness and prayer, faithfulness and gentleness, discipline and cheerfulness.
Oh sure, these wonderful students have their problems, and some make very serious mistakes. Sure, some deal in stereotypes, too, but they are remarkable. It's impossible for me not to admire them.
In the students I know, I see the best this world has to offer.
So, please come with me to Rexburg, and I’m sure you’ll see it, too.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.