SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church has a new spokesman.
The First Presidency announced Tuesday it has hired Richard E. Turley Jr., 60, to replace Michael Otterson, 67, who is retiring on Aug. 31 after eight years as the managing director of the Public Affairs Department.
The managing director of Public Affairs leads an office of spokeswomen and -men engaged in public relations works for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Turley spent the past eight years in the ecclesiastical position of Assistant Church Historian and Recorder. In all, he has spent the past 30 years working in church history positions that often provided experience interacting with news media on major news stories and church history topics of broad international interest.
“We are thrilled to welcome Rick Turley to the Public Affairs Department and look forward to serving with him and benefitting from his leadership, knowledge and experience,” said Elder Von G. Keetch of the Seventy and executive director for Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Otterson and Turley will work together to transition over the next four months, according to a news release issued by the church Tuesday afternoon.
"Dealing with parody and satire is always a tricky thing for churches," he wrote. "We can easily appear thin-skinned or defensive, and churches sometimes are."
The church won universal goodwill for buying ads in the musical's playbill that showed a Mormon next to the words, "I read the book" or "The book is always better."
Otterson oversaw the church's media responses during the "Mormon moment," including the 2011 "I'm a Mormon campaign" and Mitt Romney's presidential run in 2012. Last year he explained the role and structure of the Public Affairs Department, noting that all statements it makes are approved by church leaders.
"We don't freelance," he said.
Turley, a prolific writer and historian, wrote a book about the Mark Hofmann murder and forgery cases and a history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
He also played important roles in the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the Gospel Topics essays on church history and doctrine and the professionalization of and increased transparency in the Church History Department.
Turley earned both a bachelor's degree in English and a law degree from BYU, then joined the Church History Department in 1986. There he watched the end of criminal case against Hofmann, who murdered two LDS Church members in an attempt to cover up fake church documents he forged. Turley wrote "Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case" to clear up misperceptions about the church and to tell the inside story of the victims.
He also co-authored a highly regarded, clear-eyed look at a controversial moment in Mormon history, "Massacre at Mountain Meadows," with Ronald W. Walker and Glen M. Leonard.
Turley has served on the editorial board of the Church Historian's Press and is the co-editor of the three-volume series "Women of Faith in the Latter Days," with Brittany A. Chapman. He is the general editor of the print volumes of "The Journals of George Q. Cannon."
In a 1992 LDS Church News profile a month after his Hofmann book was published, Turley said one of his conclusions was that historical information can be useful, interesting and insightful but cannot be a sure foundation of faith.
"The sure foundation of faith is spiritual and not physical," he said. "The more an individual learns about the history of the church, the greater that individual's understanding will be of the overall picture. Thus, every piece of evidence will be viewed against the total picture. Otherwise, people who do not have much knowledge of church history may find themselves being tossed to and fro by tidbits from the past."