Politico: Mormons Heighten Public Relations Efforts

By: Andrew Glass
April 9, 2007 04:20 PM EST

Amid heightened scrutiny because of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s White House bid, the Mormon church is raising its public relations profile, making moves that reflect deep concerns over widely held myths about the faith and internal anxiety over the need to convince outsiders that it will remain neutral as a Mormon runs in the 2008 contest.

“We have to walk a very fine line to stay away from political issues,” said Michael Otterson, media relations director for the 12.6 million-member worldwide Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “But it is clear that the profile of the church will be raised during this (campaign) period. All of the things that are going on will serve as catalysts to raise questions about us and who we really are.”

In line with its recent restructuring, the church has ended a decade-long relationship with Edelman, the world’s largest independent public relations firm, with 2,500 employees in 46 offices worldwide. Edelman won some distinction in 2002 when it helped the church navigate the Winter Olympics bidding scandal in Salt Lake City.

The local account was handled by Michael Deaver, a former top aide to president Reagan. Deaver did not return phone calls. In response to a query from The Politico, Otterson wrote in an e-mail: “The church uses a number of agencies from time to time, depending on need. Indeed, it still has the option to work with Edelman. Although it’s true we have ended the formal contract, very few such contracts in that industry last so long. You shouldn’t assume that this represents any ‘change of direction’ for the church.”

Otterson, in a phone interview from the church’s Salt Lake City headquarters, said the church is interviewing other firms but declined to name them. Several Edelman staffers who would not talk on the record said the church sought to have increased autonomy in its media relations.

It remains an open question in Otterson’s mind whether Romney’s candidacy will wind up as “an Achilles’ heel for politicians” or whether, as he hopes, the campaign season “will help people address universal ignorance about us. We have a lot of work to do. If we are able to define ourselves, that would be a welcome result.”

Romney, whose family has deep roots in the Mormon faith, raised his political profile last week by reporting that he had gathered $21 million in campaign contributions, the most of any contender for the Republican nomination, since the start of the “money race.”

“While institutionally we are keeping our distance,” Otterson explained, “some Mormons around the country are watching with bemused interest at what is happening out there.” In keeping with his stance, the church spokesman did not observe that Romney’s solid religious ties allow him to tap into a cohesive and relatively affluent network of supporters eager to mount a grass-roots campaign on his behalf.

Republican presidential hopeful former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney talks to state legislators and staff in a closed door meeting at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.

Romney’s recent financial coup, and the attendant media buzz that it generated, is not the only issue driving the church’s nuanced public relations strategy, one that Otterson stresses remains in place despite mounting pressures. A controversy erupted last week over the decision of church-owned Brigham Young University to have Vice President Cheney as its commencement speaker in Provo, Utah, on April 26. The invitation from the school’s board of trustees has triggered protests on the nearly all-Mormon campus. It led one unnamed professor to tell the Salt Lake Tribune, “If BYU seeks to bring a model of abuse of power, greed and political extremism, which seeks to decimate citizens’ rights guaranteed by our laws, then Cheney is a perfect choice.”

But Otterson sees the coming academic event as an opportunity to underscore the church’s institutional noninvolvement in political matters — as separate and distinct from the political views of individual church members, about half of whom are U.S. citizens. That policy is spelled out on a recently revamped branch of the church’s broad website. Called “Newsroom,” it is aimed at the media and maintains links to items critical of the church, including ones that contend the church’s doctrinal stance carries broad public policy consequences. “You have to do that,” he added, “to maintain your credibility.”

The website maintains that the church does not “endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.” Nor does it allow its extensive resources “to be used for partisan political purposes.” Nor does it try to tell its members who to vote for, whether or not the candidate is a Mormon. In positive terms, it does “reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the church.”

Otterson also voiced concern over the potential negative impact of a PBS television documentary, “The Mormons,” that the network plans to air on April 30 and May 1. Though few outsiders have previewed the material, Otterson said he understood that it deals extensively with polygamy, a practice that the U.S.-founded religion has officially banned since 1890. A Gallup poll released last month showed that even among Americans who share the most favorable opinions of the faith, polygamy was the most frequently mentioned single impression of Mormons. On an overall basis, Gallup reported that 46 percent of Americans have an unfavorable impression of the religion, a finding that has since been cited as a political hurdle that Romney has to overcome if his campaign is to thrive.

In contrast to some other religious bodies, the Mormon church remains virtually inactive on Capitol Hill. “Our interaction at that level is minimal,” Otterson says. “That’s not high-priority for us.”

For about two decades, the Mormons have maintained a presence in Washington, primarily to cement relations with ambassadors from countries where the church does extensive missionary work. Since 2005, the six-person staff has been led by M. Kenneth Bowler, 64, who for 16 years ran a $6 million-a-year D.C. lobbying operation for Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company. He estimates that only 5 percent of the office’s work deals with Congress or with the Bush administration. When contacts with lawmakers occur, they tend to deal with issues of direct interest to the church. For example, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a church member, notified Bowler that he planned to amend pending bankruptcy legislation to ensure filers could continue to meet their religious tithes.

As the top spokesman for his church, Otterson has been posting items on WashingtonPost.com’s popular “On Faith” blog. His most recent filing concluded: “Civility and inclusiveness, consensus and reasonableness are — like depth, substance and context — becoming casualties of a mass media trend. Our society will be the worse for it if the trend isn’t checked.”

Carrie Sheffield contributed to this story.


  1. […] swissmiss wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptAmid heightened scrutiny because of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s White House bid, the Mormon church is raising its public relations profile, making moves that reflect deep concerns over widely held myths about the faith … […]

  2. A Soft Answer · Church Steps Up PR Efforts April 10, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    […] Thanks to Mormon Stories. […]

  3. David H. Sundwall April 10, 2007 at 12:40 pm


    Thanks for this.

    I agree that a lot of public perception is a misunderstanding and not malice so its good the Church seems to be stepping up its efforts to address this.

    But did you see yesterday’s NY Times’ Op-Ed on Romney and the Mormon issue? That was by Newsweek’s former religion editor (?!). Similar to your Politico comments, the piece made it sound like any public Mormon needs to perform self-flagellation to redeem themselves of past Church controversies.

    I understand that you have specific concerns about how the Church represents its history but I believe it is unfair for these problems to be constantly hung over the Church and its members in order to access to the public square.

  4. Mayan Elephant April 10, 2007 at 12:55 pm


    As far as I can tell, there is plenty of access to the public square. I think the number of Mormons in the Senate is a larger percentage than their numbers in the population, no?

    I agree that RESOLVED concerns should not be repeatedly hung over anyone or any institution. Perhaps that is the rub; for one person an issue such as polygamy is resolved, and for another it is not. For the leaders of the Church it is resolved because they said it is resolved. For a young woman growing up in the church it may not be.

    The same can be said about politics and the positions of candidates. What is resolved for the candidate may not be resolved for the voter. It is certainly frustrating, but as long as concerns are lingering for the voter, consumer, member, citizen, whoever, they will not be easily and quietly dismissed.

    Fortunately, in our country, one can get elected or have access to the process without having resolved all things for all people.

  5. Doc April 10, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Do Jews have to debate the ins and outs of Passover, Yom Kippoor, or the Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic tradition in the public square to run for office? Do Catholics have to debate Papal infallibility, the immaculate conception, or Transsubstantiation to run for office? Frankly there are nuances, ins and outs, and controversies in every religion. Dragging them into the public debate with trial by the popular media will do nothing to solve any of them. All it will ever do is emphasize the “otherness” of the group and thereby increase prejudice and decrease understanding.

  6. David H. Sundwall April 10, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Mayan – You are right, especially with the Senate. And Harry Reid’s new found prominence has not received such scrutiny. But again, I guess there is a difference between the Senate and seeking the Presidency.

    But, the larger point remains that political reporting just can’t talk about Romney’s campaign without mentioning his faith and the obligatory mention of past controversies and associated stereotypes.

    Some of that is to be expected and I believe that the Church will be better off and stronger for what has been happening. It’s just that the process has been frustrating.

  7. Tom Grover April 10, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    I think all of these fears are unjustified because of the 3 major Republican nominees, Romney will be the first to drop out of the presidential race.

    Romney is a chameleon and all his different shades are now contrasting themselves. He will be defeated early on merit, not on religion.

  8. Equality April 10, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    “a practice that the U.S.-founded religion has officially banned since 1890.”

    Why does Otterson continue to peddle this falsehood? he knows it is not true, yet he still trumpets it. That makes him a liar, no? So much for the 13th article of faith. The Church officially stopped sanctioning new plural marriages in 1904. And unofficially the practice continued long after that. To those who, like Otterson, insist that the Brighamite branch of the LDS movement abandoned polygamy in 1890, perhpas two questions are in order: first, why has section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants remained canonized scripture for the last 117 years and, second, which of Dallin Oaks’ and Russell Nelson’s two (each) eternal wives will they need to divorce?

  9. John Dehlin April 10, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Before I comment, let me copy here what I wrote as a comment on the Politico site:

    “I’m an active, committed Mormon – and I tend to agree with SeattleLiberal.

    When I step out of my own Mormon shoes, based on my interactions with non-Mormons all over the world, I feel as though Mormons are viewed internationally as comparable to Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Moonies — and with good cause. Basically — we are far too new, mysterious, and “out of the Judeo-Christian mainstream” (religiously) as compared to everyone else.

    Would Americans vote for a Scientologist for president? Would the average Mormon vote for a Scientologist for president or governor of Utah? Probably not until they had a better understanding of what Scientology is, and were able to assuage their fears about it. Personally, from what I read about Scientology in the papers, I’D be scared to put a Scientologist in the White House. I’ll be the first to admit that this is based at least partly on fear and ignorance, and I’m open to learning more. That said, I’ve never heard any Scientologist attempt to rebut the Southpark-like claims dealing with space aliens populating earth, etc. There seems to be at least some truth to these claims, and those facts make me uncomfortable when considering someone for the most powerful position in the land (let alone for someone to date one of my children).

    So here’s where I do disagree with the article:

    People do not think Mormonism is weird because of misunderstandings. People think mormonism is weird because of certain ACCURATE perceptions they have of Mormons, and it causes them concern. Some examples:

    –The first thing people think of when they think of Mormons is polygamy. Well, we did practice polygamy for over 60 years. But more importantly, like it or not, polygamy is still part of Mormon doctrine. How? Mormons believe that marriages on earth persist into heaven. And today, Mormons still marry polygamously in the temple (if their prior spouse has passed away). For example, in heaven, my own mother will be eternally married to a man who is also married (in the temple — eternally) to his previous wife. At least 2 current Mormon apostles are also in this situation (Nelson and Oaks, I believe). So, people think polygamy is weird, Mormons did practice, and continue to both practice and believe in polygamy (in a heavenly sense), and so this makes people uncomfortable.

    –Another example is race within Mormonism. For over 135 years (thanks, Kaimi!!!), Mormons taught that being black was a curse from God, and continued making blacks 2nd class citizens until 1978 (by denying the privileges of Priesthood or leadership). These teaching, by the way, have never been renounced by the church — not to this day. Many of us really wish they would be

    Also, in the Book of Mormon, dark skin is assigned as a curse from God to the “wicked” ancestors of the Native Americans. For many, this is not only strange, but racist. Even today, if you scan the faces of top Mormon leadership and the MoTab choir — 98% of them are white. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the LDS Church has worked really hard to make positive progress on the race front — and that we have literally made 180 degree turns in many fundamental ways. Still — associating race with God’s cursing is still part of our doctrine.

    –One final example is our beliefs about Godhood. We believe that God was once a man, like us, who inhabited another world. We believe that we, also, will become Gods if we are righteous enough, and will create new earths, and populate those new earths with spiritual children from our own celestial offspring. This is central Mormon doctrine, and anyone who denies it is not being truthful.

    Which takes me to my final concern. Many Mormons theologically, just like Mitt Romney politically, are not candid about their convictions. Instead of owning up to them (polygamy, race issues, Godhood, etc.), we try to downplay them, or act as though these are not actually our beliefs. But they are.

    So us Mormons need to just face the facts that we’re very different from other religions, and that being too different makes it hard to get elected. This isn’t bigotry. It’s human nature. We need to either rid our books of these “strange” teachings and doctrine, and publicly clarify what we do and don’t believe (internally and externally), or we should become much more comfortable with being viewed as “a peculiar people.”

    Currently, in many ways, we are peculiar. But often in a good way. :) “

  10. John Dehlin April 10, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    OK. My summation is as follows:

    Like Romney, the church PR machine is neither consistent, nor candid about their beliefs. We are VERY different from other churches and mainstream Americans. But instead of being candid about this (like Romney) we spin, and exaggerate, and try to appear as something that we’re clearly not. We DO still believe in Polygamy. We DO believe that we can become Gods someday. We DO baptize folks for the dead in our temples. We DO believe that God curses people with dark skin. We DO believe that all other church creeds, especially the Christian ones, are an abomination unto God.

    This lack of candor, in my opinion, makes us not only weird, but also somewhat dishonest. And THAT is the core problem with both Romney’s presidency, and with LDS Church PR.

    It’s just not credible. It lacks basic consistency, and integrity. It tries too hard to present itself as something that it clearly is not.

    This lack of consistency/integrity, on top of the strange beliefs, makes it VERY difficult for national offices.

    Nevada, Utah and Idaho — definitely. Massachusetts if you do all you can to appear like them (Pro-choice, pro-gay, anti-gun, etc.).

    But nationally, this will be a hard, hard sell. Either we come clean with what we no longer believe (publicly AND privately), or we remain on the fringes of mainstream power, and popularity.

    In my view, this is totally a fair topic for national debate, with every LDS politician that aspires to national office. I’d expect the same thing of Scientologists, Moonies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Wkkans, Fundamentalist Mormons, and Branch Davidians.

  11. Mayan Elephant April 10, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Doc and David,

    Doc asked: “Do Jews have to debate the ins and outs of Passover, Yom Kippoor, or the Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic tradition in the public square to run for office?”

    Obviously the answer is no, based on the previous Presidential Election. I suspect this was rhetorical.

    So, we can argue and debate whether it is fair, and in doing so feed the persecution complex of mormons, or we can figure out why it is different.

    As far as I know, Passover or other Jewish events, activities or rites are spoken of among Jews just as they are among gentiles. My Jewish friends dont explain what they believe or do differently to me than they do among each other. Also, there is not an organized and systematic presentation by any single Jewish organization that speaks for all Jews with an Official Version of the details or truths of Passover.

    The opposite is true of Mormons. Some things are openly discussed among Mormons and blatantly denied by the same person when the topic is discussed in public. The Hinckley interview is a classic example. Otterson’s comments about women, Catholics and Polygamy can also fit in here. Topics that were discussed in my Seminary class, openly, are denied or portrayed very differently by Otterson and other leaders.

    There is another issue here. I have many friends that are Jewish. Some are more orthodox than others. Though, they still describe themselves as Jewish. Ex-Jew is not a common term, regardless of their mixed-faith marriages, sexuality or Sabbath Activities. The same is not true of Mormons.

    Because of that sort of judgment and public scorning of dissenters and non-believers, there should be a complete explanation by a public official for why he has stayed. In all likelihood, he/she has good reason for staying. But, it still merits some explanation.

    David, early in this process, I would have disagreed with you that the Church would be better off after a Romney Campaign. Today, I may agree with you. Though, our description of better may differ. For you, it may be better if it grows or if it is higher profile. For me, it will be better because more of the deception will be blown apart in the public arena. That, to me, is better for those on the inside and the outside.

  12. Bishop Rick April 10, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    Oh if these were the only peculiarities.

  13. Hueffenhardt April 10, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    If Tom Cruise were running for President, and I was not familiar with Scientology, I’d want to know about it. And since so many of their beliefs are secret, I’d want investigative reporters from the media to expose their beliefs so that they could be discussed in the public arena.

    Would Tom Cruise’s religious beliefs affect his public policies? Very likely. For example, Scientologists are very anti-psychiatry and treating mental disorders with medications. That is very important to the public health, and we might not know about Tom Cruise’s views on this important public health issue if his religious beliefs were not exposed. (Caveat: We would know Tom Cruise’s views because of his interview with Matt Lauer, but I did not know that Scientologists thought psychiatrists are brainwashing people, until after that interview).

    Even if that issue did not exist, I would have a hard time putting so much power and trust in a person who believes in the weird stuff Scientologists believe in (Xenu that enslaved human beings with his psychic influence, etc). Why? I don’t trust the judgment of someone who is gullible enough to fall for that weird stuff.

    Many people are like that with Mormonism. A candidate’s judgment is relevant to a campaign, and many believe that they can gain insight into a candidate’s judgment by looking at what they believe. That is perfectly legitimate in my opinion.

  14. Doc April 10, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Eisenhower was a Jehovah’s Witness, what a nation of fools we must have been in the fifties. And John, If we believe God curses people with dark skin, you’ve got some splainin to do with your Darius Gray/Margaret Young Podcasts. What are you spreading such false doctrine around for. Sad to say members of the protestant sects who also promoted and held to that belief have not been called to the carpet on it, nor should they be.

    I would be far more interested in knowing what values and ideas I held in common with the Scientologist candidate, as far as the direction I would like my country to go in than any particular beliefs about aliens. I guess I am just wierd that way. I, thankfully like most Americans, can compartmentalize to some degree religion, work, school, citizenship in such a way that I manage to be a productive part of society without a declaration of Jihad against those who differ with me. In the end we all have much more in common as the human family.

  15. John Dehlin April 10, 2007 at 8:15 pm


    You might want to do your homework a bit more. Here’s what Wikipedia says about Eisenhower and the JW’s:


    Eisenhower’s mother, previously a member of the River Brethren, joined the Watchtower Society (now more commonly known as Jehovah’s Witnesses) in 1895, when Eisenhower was 4 or 5 years old.[citation needed] The Eisenhower home served as the local meeting hall from 1896 to 1915.

    Witnesses are opposed to militarism and saluting the flag; Eisenhower’s ties to the group were weakened when he joined the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1911. By 1915, the home no longer served as the meeting hall, around the same time a prophecy of an Armageddon was not fulfilled.[citation needed] All the men in the household abandoned the Witnesses as adults, and some even hid their previous affiliation.[4][5] However, on his death in 1942, Eisenhower’s father was given his funeral rites as though he remained a Jehovah’s Witness, and Eisenhower’s mother continued as an active Jehovah’s Witness until her death. Despite their differences in religious beliefs, Eisenhower enjoyed a close relationship with his mother throughout her lifetime.

    Eisenhower was baptized, confirmed, and became a communicant in the Presbyterian church in a single ceremony on February 1, 1953, just 12 days after his first inauguration.[3] He is the only president known to have pursued these rites while in office. Eisenhower was instrumental in the addition of the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and the 1956 adoption of “In God We Trust” as the motto of the US, and its 1957 introduction on paper currency. In his retirement years, he was a member of the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church.[6] The chapel at his presidential library is intentionally inter-denominational.”

    Not quite a ringing endorsement.

  16. John Dehlin April 10, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    P.S. If you read carefully, I never argued that a Mormon or even Scientology president would harm the US. Only that suspicion, concern, caution, and questions are totally understandable and appropriate.

    That’s all.

  17. John Dehlin April 10, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    P.S.S. If you won’t acknowledge that “God cursing people with darker skin” is a fundamental Mormon Doctrine (based on both the Book of Mormon and teachings from Brigham Young through Joseph Fielding Smith), then you are an example of the problem/spin I’m trying to highlight.

    This teaching is pretty much irrefutable, in my experience. Am I just crazy?

  18. David H. Sundwall April 10, 2007 at 9:22 pm


    Just to clarify, I don’t necessarily think that the Church will be better off if it grows or gains in public profile. Perhaps more similar your thoughts, it will be a process to clarify and help the Church develop its public presence.

    I take issue with your characterization of “deceptions” but I will have to listen to some of your podcasts to gain a better idea of what you specifically mean.

    I think one thing the Church and its members have to be careful of – regardless of what becomes of Romney – is mainstreaming of the Church at a loss of what makes us so wonderfully peculiar.

  19. John Dehlin April 10, 2007 at 9:54 pm


    I totally agree. Check out the Armand Mauss interview I did for Sunstone podcast if/when you get the chance. The assimilation/retrenchment dilemma is a real one for the brethren, and one I empathize with sincerely.

  20. Tatiana April 10, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Mormon Stories is my favorite site in the bloggernacle. That is all. =)

  21. Left Field April 10, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    John, I think it’s a stretch to make a widower who remarries into a polygamist. Sure, he’s regarded as eternally married to both wives, but that’s not what anyone means by polygamy. Russell Nelson is not regarded as a polygamist by either the Mormon or Gentile communities. It is not polygamy in the eyes of the law or of the church. It is not polygamy in sociology, anthropology, or biology. I doubt that even in 1880s Utah, Russell Nelson would be regarded as really living The Principle. Nobody considers a remarried widower to be a polygamist. Nobody.

    I think it’s disingenuous to redefine the term in that way just to be able to claim that Mormons are really still polygamists. It’s the same sort of playing with words that allowed the Nauvoo polygamists to deny their polygamy, rationalizing that it was really an entirely different thing called celestial marriage.

    It’s a valid point that men can be sealed to more than one wife, but society and the law recognize sequential marriages, and do not regard them as polygamous. If we need to make that point, we can do so without using misleading terminology.

    The common complaint against the Brigham Young manual is that there is no mention that Brother Brigham was a polygamist. Yet the manual does mention his second marriage as a widower. Using our new idiosyncratic definition, we would have to say that the manual does indeed recognize Brigham as a polygamist. It seems inconsistent [1] to insist on an aberrant definition as needed in one context while insisting on the standard definition in another context.

    [1] Not that anyone has done that here, but clearly there are those who will cheerfully insist that remarried widower Brother Nelson is a polygamist, while at the same time complaining that the remarried widower Brother Brigham portrayed in the manual is not.

  22. John Dehlin April 10, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    Left Field,

    Hmmmm…..I totally respect what you’re saying, and the clear thought with which you’re saying it.

    But in my mind, it’s completely honest and accurate to say that today, Mormons both believe in polygamy, and practice it in their temples (acknowledging that because it was forbidden temporally, the only polygamous marriages that are performed are when a spouse has died).

    But I 100% guarantee you that Elders Nelson, Oaks, and even my Step-Father fully expect to have multiple spouses in the afterlife.

    So I think technically you are correct, but in any real/practical sense, to make a claim (like has been made) that polygamy is no longer “doctrinal” is at best, a half truth.

    If things have changed in this regard (doctrinally), then there needs to be a public statement to that effect in GC, and perhaps a slight revision of the D&C.

    Otherwise, the doctrine is the doctrine is the doctrine, the practice is the practice, and we should stand firm and bold in our convictions (assuming we really are God’s one true church on the earth with inspired, divinely guided leaders).

    I hope I don’t offend you in disagreeing with you. I honestly and sincerely believe that this is telling the “whole truth.”

  23. Kaimi April 11, 2007 at 12:54 am

    John Dehlin writes:

    “For over 150 years, Mormons taught that being black was a curse from God, and continued making blacks 2nd class citizens until 1978 . . .”

    I think your numbers are a little off. Weren’t most (all?) of these teachings post-1844? (You know, Elijah Abel, and all the research that Mauss, Bush, Young, Gray, etc. have done). (Or were there earlier JS statements I’m missing or forgetting about?)

    If that’s the case, then the overall time span for this teaching would be about 135 years, not 150.

    (The broader point remains the same; but there’s no need to promulgate an incorrect — if it is incorrect — number.)

  24. Mayan Elephant April 11, 2007 at 2:49 am

    Left Field,

    Some cases, strictly in point, must be produced. You have produced a great case for us today. And for that, I thank you.

    The case you produced, in my opinion, is the case of Mormons speaking/saying/spinning one thing to outsiders and something contrary or different amongst themselves.

    You are of the Otterson ilk with regards to Polygamy. Here is his link regarding the topic:


    We could go through and pick out the spin and lies throughout this piece. Ill simply highlight a few.

    Otterson: “The practice began during the lifetime of Joseph Smith but became publicly and widely known during the time of Brigham Young.”

    Fact: It became publicly known during the time of Joseph Smith, contributing to the destruction of the printing press.

    Otterson: “Even Brigham Young, who was later to have many wives and children, confessed to his initial dread of the principle of plural marriage.”

    Reality: What a farse. Brigham young cursed Monogamy while he was President. Gimme a break, Mike.

    Otterson: “Subsequently, in 1890, President Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the Church, received what Latter-day Saints believe to be a revelation in which God withdrew the command to practice plural marriage. He issued what has come to be known as the “Manifesto,” a written declaration to Church members and the public at large that stopped the practice of plural marriage.”

    Fact: No Mike. The Manifesto did not stop plural marriage. In fact, there was a second Manifesto because the first one didnt really work. If you need examples of the continuation of Polygamy, look them up.

    Manny Ramirez: “It is not polygamy in the eyes of the law or of the church. It is not polygamy in sociology, anthropology, or biology. I doubt that even in 1880s Utah, Russell Nelson would be regarded as really living The Principle. Nobody considers a remarried widower to be a polygamist. Nobody.”

    Yes, by the laws standards, Oaks is only married to one wife. Sociology, Anthropology and Biology, in this case, are about as relevant as Baseball, Hockey and knitting, so I am truly confused by that comment.

    Who knows about 1880’s Utah? Are you speaking to the laws in Utah, the codes of conduct, the Mormons, the migrant workers, what? What is 1880’s Utah and do you have any evidence of a public agreement on widowers and second/third/fourth temple sealings?

    Internally, or, among Mormons and in the “eyes of the church,” you better believe it is ‘one man married to two wives.’ Who are you kidding? Is it illegal? No, of course not. But, it is forever, which is significantly more important and relevant than this ‘brief’ life.

    Nobody considers a remarried widower a polygamist? Yes, by the laws of Box Elder County that is true, but that, again, is not the topic at hand. You tell me, does the current wife of Nelson consider herself to be sealed to him forever? Does the same woman consider his previous wife sealed to him forever? How does she imagine their family unit in the celestial kingdom? Monogamous?

    Again, among Mormons, and in the Temple, this is polygamy. To outsiders, and by external standards, it is not.

    Not only do yours and Ottersons misrepresentations distort the truth by factual historical standards, they dont accurately convey the internal beliefs of members.

    Just for giggles, can you explain this – “Mormon or Gentile communities?” WTH? Since when are the Mormons not Gentiles? Where did that come from? Have you cleared that with anyone?

    A fun tidbit of info. In Utah, many living women were married to Joseph Smith, who was dead. You can look those marriages up at the official Mormon Family History website. Have fun with that. And in the process you might consider whether those women considered themselves part of polygamy.

    I have a few generations of polygamists in my family. They have eventful histories. I am not at all ashamed of it. Nor will I ever apologize for it. I trust they were doing what they believed, and thats fine. I understand there was at least one marriage done outside the country though I dont recall all the circumstances of that marriage.

    I dislike when these arguments/debates get caught up in the history, which is interesting but not everything. There is something even more relevant, in my opinion, and that is the experience of a Mormon today. For example, if a woman is single in the church she must come to terms with the fact that the big-time Mormon heaven is for heterosexually married families. Single people are not invited. She will be told repeatedly in the Mormon Church that a husband will be matched up with her in the next life, so she can go to heaven and be a forever family. Additionally, she is taught that she may be one of many, even an INFINITE number of wives that together with her matched husband, will populate new worlds.

    That is the inside scoop. So a person living in the church, must come to terms with that, or find a way to stay in the church with a blatant and obvious disagreement with the doctrine. This is rarely told to outsiders and will not likely ever be available on http://www.lds.org.

    For lesbians, it is even more complicated. They are told to remain celibate in this life so they can be worthy to be married to a male, along with other women, in order to go to heaven. A lesbians reward for being celibate and Mormon is to be a wife to a man. Believe me ‘Barry Bonds’, it sounds crazy amongst us, imagine how weird it sounds to someone who didnt grow up with this stuff. That is why it is not openly discussed with outsiders and why Otterson and his ilk spin that it is not part of Mormon doctrine.

    Unlike John, I have no qualms with offending you with my disagreement. Honestly, I hope it doesn’t, but I wont apologize if it does.

    On the other hand, Hideki Matsui, I sympathize with your position. It is a damn shame, that an institution with the resources to hire the best public relations firm, cant find the integrity or strategy for synchronizing the internal and external descriptions of its doctrine. Instead, they leave it to good people like you to clarify it for yourself and for them. No wonder Woodward suggested that Romney would need to become the teacher, the Big-16 (Fifteen plus Otterson) refuse to take the real lead.


  25. John Dehlin April 11, 2007 at 9:25 am


    You’re right. Sometimes I get sloppy. Sorry about that, and thanks!

    I’ll fix now.

  26. Doc April 11, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    My argument was not that the teaching that God curses others was not taught in the church, just that it is demonstrably false, and was demonstrated to me on this sight. Therefore, if I ever run into a member who holds to such teachings, I will always disagree. I am certain there are some that will accuse me of mental gymnastics on this point, but I feel quite comfortable that the curse mentioned in the BOM was not the skin, but the withdrawal of the spirit. Yes, I agree, that is nuanced and probably different than many members I have met. I also will hold that prophets of the past and the angophile culture from which it spawned was quite simply wrong and a product of its time.
    I can shout it out if you like.


    You got me on Eisenhower. Nixon was a Quaker, and I could only wish he held more to that religions teachings, it would have saved the country some pain.

    As for ME pulling the “persecution complex” card as the ultimate invalidation of the argument, this is weak. It seems to be a favored tool of yours to invalidate the opinions of others in opposition to your own.

    Call it self serving if you like, but I am honestly looking at the bigger picture here. The way I expect religion to be discussed in public forums is both the way I strive to treat others and the way I, as a human being, expect to be treated. We are very capable as mankind of comitting genocide. We distrust the “other”. We can use their race, ethnicity or religion to do this and we are very good at it. We accept our prejudices often without any critical examination or thought. We ask ourselves, “How can Scientologists believe any of that crazy s***” when the answer is obviously that their understanding of it and reason for it is much, much more complex and nuanced than we realize. It is astoundingly easy to reduce a culture or religion to a caricature or shadow of what it really is, and when something is discussed in the media, it undoubtedly will be as such. This is not only wrong, but dangerous. You can call me paranoid until the lynching begins, and believe you are right but that will not make it so. History says otherwise, over and over again, to the point many reject religion itself on this basis.

  27. Doc April 11, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear. – Bertrand Russell

  28. John Dehlin April 11, 2007 at 1:18 pm


    I actually agree with virtually everything you said in your last post, and respect you immensely for speaking from the heart.

    Sorry the exchanges get rough sometimes, but know that I really do value your perspective, and listen carefully.

    You are a good force and balance here, and I tremendously value your insight.

  29. Mayan Elephant April 11, 2007 at 1:32 pm


    Here is what I said: “So, we can argue and debate whether it is fair, and in doing so feed the persecution complex of mormons, or we can figure out why it is different.”

    Sorry Doc, I didnt realize there was Persecution Complex equivalent to Godwins law. Though, I still fail to see the negative consequences in figuring out why a Jewish VP Candidate and Catholic President may have needed less effort to explain their religion than a Mormon. I have my own ideas. What are yours?

  30. Doc April 11, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    My ideas can be summed up by Martin Luther King

    Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.

    Our numbers are not enough, separating us from the larger culture. I would even go so far as to say the clannishness of the Utah corridor also isolates us. It’s in our history. After 150 years, We are still working ourselves back into society at large after expulsion. I maintain however, that this reason still does not make it right or legitimate.

  31. Mayan Elephant April 11, 2007 at 1:59 pm


    Now we are onto something. I love that quote from Martin Luther King. I really do. Two of my kids recently won awards for their contributions to Museum exhibit. They have both submitted art related to MLK for a few years. I hope they too remember that quote.

    It is interesting to me, that you use the word ‘clanishness.’ On the Hugh Hewitt show, he attempted to skewer Woodward for using that term in his NY Times oped piece. I, like you, find it quite appropriate.

    I would like to challenge you on a few things. Dont take it personally, please.

    First. The few in numbers comment. The number of active, practicing members of the Mormon religion is a minority fraction of the total number of Mormons. I think that one of the biggest hurdles for Mormonism is bridging that divide. The four million active people dont seem to know the eight million inactive people. The four million active people dont communicate with the eight million inactive people. The harsh seperation between the damu and the bloggernacle is a comical view of that seperation.

    MLK was right, they dont know each other and they dont communicate so they resort to hatred – on both sides. Thank Whatever that we have John Dehlin.

    This isolation you refer to, what is it? there are more members in California than in Utah. Would you say Cali is part of the Morridor? Are Mormons really working themselves back into society? what does that mean? Is there an underground network among the Mormons, seperate from the institution to become more integrated? If so, show me where. I dont see that at all. What I do see, on the other hand, is a focus on the part of the Church, including Otterson, to present a Christian integrated image of the Church, without any change whatsoever within the doctrine and practices of the Church.

    Looking forward to your comments….

  32. Left Field April 11, 2007 at 2:25 pm


    Thanks for your response.

    If I understand correctly, you think it’s splitting hairs and playing with words to say that Brother Nelson is not a polygamist; I think it’s splitting hairs and playing with words to say that he is. I 100% guarantee you that if I tell someone that two Mormon apostles are [present tense] practicing polygamists, they will understand that to mean that the apostles have more than one living wife. Once they find out the truth, they might be justified in thinking they had been misled. So I think some other way of making the point would be more honest and informative. If I always have to tack on a bunch of qualifiers about what I do and don’t mean by polygamy, that suggests to me that I’m using the wrong word. How about just stating the facts: “Although mainstream Mormons abandoned the practice of polygamy about a hundred years ago, modern Mormons still believe that widowers who remarry can resume the marriage relationship with both wives in the hereafter.”

    I guess my main issue with calling this polygamy is that it seems like an attempt to re-write history. Mormon marriage practices have changed profoundly since the 19th century. They changed gradually over the course of a couple of decades, not abruptly in 1890 as some would suggest, but they have changed in ways that any reasonable person would recognize as significant and that any reasonable person would recognize as no longer qualifying as polygamy. To say “Mormons really still practice polygamy” sounds like a loophole to deny the reality or importance of that profound change, and it’s a statement almost guaranteed to mislead.

    Mayan Elephant, disregarding stuff that I agree with, lectures about history that I am well aware of, responses to statements that I didn’t make, commentary about positions that I don’t hold, and general ranting about what you perceive as my “ilk,” I do have a couple of responses.

    “Gentile” in the sense of “non-Mormon” is accepted usage (see m-w.com for example), and although I seldom have occasion to use the term, I find it more respectful to refer to a person using a term other than one that highlights what the person is not. My comment about Brother Nelson’s hypothetical status in the 19th century was expressed with some doubt, so I’m open to any contrary information. However, I think if Brigham had called in a widower and told him he needed to start living the Principle, he would be expecting him to live it in mortality. Offended? Not in the least—-that is, until you suggested that I play for the yankees. That’s an insult that hits below the belt.

  33. Mayan Elephant April 11, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Yeah, the Yankees thing even surprised me. That was nuclear warfare on my part. Looks like you came through it OK though.

  34. John Dehlin April 11, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    Left Field,

    I totally agree that calling them polygamists today, and leaving it at that, would be disingenuous. That’s why I always couched the description with clarifications (e.g. polygamists in heaven). No disagreement at all there. I don’t think I’ve been advocating this.

    Here’s where I think we’re missing each other:

    The main points I’m making are:

    1) In my opinion, Mormons continue to have strange beliefs that would be very disturbing to average, Americans (much like the Scientologists). I agree that all religions have weirdness, but most of the mainstream religions have either cut back on/renounced the weirdness, distanced themselves from it, or have found a way to convince folks not to think it to be too weird.

    2) In my opinions, LDS PR efforts and Romney alike try to downplay the weirdness in ways that are not completely honest.

    –We do believe in polygamy (if only in the heavenly sense right now, since we were forced to stop).

    –We do believe that God curses people through skin color (though some apologists are now becoming quite enlightened) — but let me assure you that the overwhelming majority of members today (including the ones with dark skin) still believe that God curses people with dark skin, and the brethren have made no real attempt to disabuse them of this belief.

    –We do believe that God was a man, and that righteous men and women will become Gods, parenting their own worlds in the future.

    –We do believe that Adam and Eve lived in what is now Missouri.

    –We do (sans the enlightened apologists) believe that Native Americans originated from Israel, and not Asia.

    –We do believe that Joseph Smith will help to usher in the 2nd coming of Christ.

    –We do believe that an Angel gave Joseph Smith a golden Bible, and that he produced the Book of Mormon by putting a peep stone in a hat.

    –I could go on, and on, and on.

    This stuff is just plain weird to average Americans — but instead of doing the honest, bold thing (acknowledge and stand up for the beliefs, and face the consequences), we instead co-opt evangelical language, deny or downplay the strange beliefs when speaking to the press or public (“polygamy is not doctrinal”, when asked about God being a man, and men becoming gods, we say “I don’t know that we teach it, I don’t know that we emphasize it).

    In my mind and heart — for God’s one true church — this is not behavior that He would be proud of.

    That’s just my opinion. But I totally hear and respect where you are coming from.

  35. Equality April 11, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Having read Left Field’s latest comment, I will hereby repent of calling Nelson and Oaks polygamists or saying that the Brighamite branch of the LDS Movement currently practices polygamy.

    However, I still think the church (through its official PR reps) perpetuates false impressions about the church’s connections to polygamy. The church consistently tries to “correct” the media when the media call fundamentalist, polygamist communities “Mormon.” The church often asserts that there is “no connection” between the fundy Mormons practicing polygamy and the church led by Gordon B. Hinckley.

    This, of course, is false. The fundamentalist churches would not exist were it not for the church founded by Joseph Smith and led by Brigham Young. And polygamy would not be part of their practice if not for the fact that it was practiced and preached and considered canonical doctrine for decades. And, in fact, the doctrine of polygamy has never been renounced, denounced, rejected, or repudiated (say that in your best Jackie Chiles voice). It’s still in the LDS canon. And it’s the same revelation that is the basis for the church’s “eternal marriage” doctrine, which is still very much taught and practiced today.

    Indeed, it is fair to say that eternal marriage is a central tenet of the religion. So to say there is no connection, that polygamy is all in the past and shouldn’t be mentioned when discussing modern Mormonism is, I think, absurd. And if the church wants to take an absurd position, we should not be surprised or dismayed when the media point it out.

  36. Doc April 11, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    I think the isolation is social. So much of social life, particularly in areas where Mormons are fairly concentrated is focused inward. We don’t get to know others easily. Because it takes more effort, we often inadvertently, I believe, leave those not in the church in the cold. It would have to have been an extremely isolating thing to experience life as a non-member in the small town in Idaho where I grew up. I think it is accurate to say this creates a resentment. That resentment is downright toxic in Salt Lake where I lived for one year prior to medical school and to where I am never, ever going to return. GBH has made I think a real push to help us to reach outside the church in our relationships and be better neighbors. I think this is a worthy effort. I am unfortunately on call tonight and therefore will not be able to continue my thoughts, but there they are FWIW.

  37. ann April 11, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    The Deity Himself has renounced the dark skin thing. It’s in episode 9.

  38. Paula April 11, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    I’m wondering if those of you who aren’t bothered by the practice of men being sealed to more than one dead wife are male. While I’m a bit uncomfortable with calling it polygamy, it certainly does seem to me to be a statement that we believe the proper state of affairs includes more than one wife for a man. And I don’t particularly want to be part of a committee of wives in the after life, and most of the women I know well enough to discuss this with are at least sort of bothered by this idea.

  39. WestBerkeleyFlats April 15, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    “For over 150 years, Mormons taught that being black was a curse from God, and continued making blacks 2nd class citizens until 1978 . . .”

    I think your numbers are a little off. Weren’t most (all?) of these teachings post-1844? (You know, Elijah Abel, and all the research that Mauss, Bush, Young, Gray, etc. have done). (Or were there earlier JS statements I’m missing or forgetting about?)

    Perhaps one could say close to 150 years. The obvious scriptural justifications for the denial of priesthood to those with African ancestry are found in the Book of Moses and even more so in the Book of Abraham. Perhaps we could assign a round figure of 140 years, given that it would be difficult to assign an exact date with much greater accuracy or precision.

    As for the ordination of Elijah Abel to various offices of the priesthood, this certainly occurred, although it would not be a reason to assign the priesthood doctrine to a period after 1844. Joseph Smith showed remarkable adaptability in his reasoning and it would not be unrealistic for him to have known of or authorized the ordination of someone with some African ancestry, particularly if that person was a close associate, and then receive inspiration that those with African ancestry should not receive the priesthood, and then subsequently approve of additional priesthood ordinations for that person.

    Joseph Smith does not appear to have personally believed many of the racialist beliefs of his time, unlike, say, Brigham Young, but he does appear to have been capable of delivering statements or appoving policies that would not offend the racist sensibilities of his audience, as some of his statements regarding slavery addressed to residents of Missouri suggest.

  40. WestBerkeleyFlats April 15, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    I don’t know why people are so exercised by mention of polygyny with regard to the LDS church. The church believes in polygyny; it just doesn’t practice it at the present time in this life.

  41. john f. April 16, 2007 at 6:01 am

    re # 39, I think it would be more accurate to say that the Church believes that if God wants people to practice polygamy or other kinds of polygyny, or other kinds of marriage practices, He is free to command it and some people will obey.

  42. Hellmut April 16, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    In contrast to some other religious bodies, the Mormon church remains virtually inactive on Capitol Hill. “Our interaction at that level is minimal,” Otterson says. “That’s not high-priority for us.”

    And they lived happily ever after.

    The moment the LDS leadership announces its support for an ammendment to the United States Constitution, Bill Frist brings it to the Senate floor. And all of this in the middle of a close race for president. Clearly, the timing has been coordinated.

    Likewise the referenda against gay marriage were carefully designed to increase Republican turn out.

    After the damage has been done, then there is language about political diversity, which merely serves to protect tax exemption.

    Otterson is merely spinning. Everybody in Washington knows where the loyalties of the Mormon establishment are.

  43. Hellmut April 16, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    John, I think it’s a stretch to make a widower who remarries into a polygamist. Sure, he’s regarded as eternally married to both wives, but that’s not what anyone means by polygamy. Russell Nelson is not regarded as a polygamist by either the Mormon or Gentile communities. It is not polygamy in the eyes of the law or of the church. It is not polygamy in sociology, anthropology, or biology.

    Left Field, I agree with you that Russell Nelson’s plural marriages are the least problematic aspect of Mormon polygamy.

    Rather the point is about theology and how it shapes our understanding of female sexuality. In our cosmogony, the saved woman will be a plural wife.

    Since many women will be married to one man, this view inherently diminishes the role of women.

    Most fathers and mothers don’t want their daughters to be perceived that way. Most Americans believe that women ought to enjoy equal opportunity. If salvation means becoming a plural wife then Mormons are having fundamentally different values than most Americans.

    It is only honest to acknowledge these implications of our theology.

  44. Mayan Elephant April 16, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Though Hellmut, does this really matter? After all, arent we working towards the great Millenial Theocracy when the Mormons will rescue the consitution and Jesus will be POTUS? In which case, we should be embracing the one true theology for our inevitable theocracy, no?

    […..now running, ducking and hiding]

  45. kittywaymo April 23, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Where were you when I was News Director and looking for a good Morning Show newsman?

    Excellent content! Thank you very much for these insights~

    Love, Kittywaymo

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