Transcript of Elder M. Russell Ballard’s speech given at Brigham Young University Management Society in Washington, D.C., April 19, 2008.
I admire the Marriott School of Management at BYU and appreciate the opportunity to be here with you tonight.I would like to thank you tonight for this award.
We recognize Dean Hill and all he has done to make the Marriott School one of the highest rated graduate business schools in the nation — certainly a fulfillment of what the Marriott family hoped for by their generous support and vision.
What an honor for me to be introduced by my good friend Senator Harry Reid. Thank you Senator.
Men and women who serve their constituents and country faithfully in Congress and elsewhere in government service, while also serving God through devotion to their faith, deserve our admiration and respect.
What a year it has been for the Church! Two weeks ago we gathered for the one hundred and seventy eighth time as a Church body in an annual conference.The first time, in 1830, was just a little gathering in an unremarkable log cabin in rural New York State. Six members officially signed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into legal existence. Two weeks ago, the Church announced that the number of members has grown to over thirteen million worldwide.
Our General Conference this year was broadcast to 85 countries and in 92 languages. On the first day of Conference, our worldwide membership stood wherever they were and sustained the new First Presidency with President Thomas S. Monson as prophet and President of the Church. All of us will miss our beloved President Gordon B. Hinckley. He was a remarkable man. But the Church is full of remarkable men and women, and we will move onward and upward under new and inspired leadership just as we have done for this past one hundred seventy eight years.
The past year has also been significant in other ways. Not in the whole of the previous century have we seen as much intense news media interest in the Church, especially in the United States. Over the past year or two, literally thousands of news reports have mentioned the Church either in passing or in detail, largely because of the political events that have been taking place here in this country.
As you know in this city especially well, the hallowed halls of government include Latter-day Saints who serve with distinction at many levels of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches. Senator Harry Reid who so kindly introduced me is the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. Secretary Michael Leavitt heads Health and Human Services, one of the government’s largest departments, and sits in the President's cabinet.But this past year the news media got especially excited because Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, sought to become President of the United States of America.
I think everyone in this room knows of the Church’s position of strict political neutrality in partisan politics, so I don’t need to elaborate on that or to comment on any specific candidacy. Nothing I say should be taken as the slightest indication of any departure from that policy. With the Senate Majority Leader as well as Republican Senators Orrin Hatch, Robert Bennett, and Gordon Smith sitting right in front of me, I plan to choose my words carefully! My purpose in raising the topic is not to be political but to reflect on what was said about the Church during this period of historic attention, and what we have learned from it.
There has been a lot of debate in news columns, on TV and radio talk shows, and on Internet blogs about whether all the attention was good or bad for the Church. Many have wondered how much our religion played a factor in the presidential campaign itself.
Opinions have been across the spectrum. I’m not aware of any formal, reliable studies that measure the so called “Mormon factor” in the campaign, but some observations by media commentators are interesting. At least two writers in the New York Times said that the Mormon factor hurt the Romney campaign. A writer in the Economist agreed, but said that was a reflection of “anti-Mormon bigotry.” Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic said, “It was troubling that so many voters would shun a potentially promising candidate because they found his religion weird.” James Lewis of the American Thinker blog argued that the religious bigotry on display against Mormonism actually hurt the entire country: “Slamming Mormons … [is] bad news for America,” he said, “because faith-baiting is no better than race-baiting. It is divisive and contemptuous of those who deserve our respect."
But there were many journalists and pundits who saw it the opposite way, and who thought there were other factors more important. Writers in forums as varied as Huffington Post and the National Review played down the Mormon factor, and Dan Gilgoff writing for BeliefNet said that the polls are inconclusive on the matter.
All of this is no doubt interesting to those who follow politics and elections and trends. But what’s really interesting to me and our Public Affairs team was whether all of this had any affect on the way people perceive The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. John Green, a scholar at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said, "It was never a majority of people who expressed skepticism of a Mormon candidate, more like 35 percent. It was a problem but not necessarily disabling." And Adele Banks of the Religion News Service noted what may have been one of the great under-reported stories of the campaign, namely that many high-profile Evangelical leaders supported a candidate of the Mormon faith without any reservation towards his Mormonism. I suspect that this is largely the experience of just about every Latter-day Saint who seeks to be elected.
Overall, I personally think the interest in the Church over the past year and a half was a plus. I’d much rather have people talking about us than ignoring us. The biggest problem we face is apathy. Still, we have learned a lot. One thing we have concluded is that even after one hundred seventy eight years, there is more misinformation out there than we had imagined. We learned that opposition to the Church often comes from two sources.
One source of criticism of the Church, clearly, is from some conservative Christians who don’t like our doctrine and translate that into public opposition. We have read, over and over again, accusations that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a cult and not Christian. The implication of that charge is that the Church should not be taken seriously, and that its members should be marginalized. Those who make that claim have their own reasons for doing so, but through our constant effort we are clearing such misunderstandings up.
Elders Cook, Tingey and I represented the church yesterday in New York at the invitation of the Catholic Church to participate in the Christian Ecumenical Prayer Service where Pope Benedict the 16th introduced the theme, "Christ our hope for unity."
We have had a long and pleasant relationship with the Catholic Church working together in Christian humanitarian service around the world. We are also grateful that many people of other faiths acknowledge us as Christians and have spoken up when they felt we were being unfairly maligned.
In some small way, I have felt a special kinship with the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Church's constant battle in his day to be understood for what the restoration of the gospel really means to the world.
Another source of criticism comes from the other end of the spectrum. Some of those who might take exception to Church positions on certain moral issues such as abortion or same gender marriage also made us a target. Again, people are free to believe what they wish to believe, and I don’t raise this to be critical of any group.
What is of greatest interest to me is the perceptions of the great mass of American people who are in the middle of these two extremes. Many of these people are simply puzzled. If they know a Latter-day Saint, they may have a positive impression and consider Mormons model citizens. Still, they hear assertions or descriptions of our Christian doctrines that seem unfamiliar. They hear harsh — sometimes mean-spirited — criticisms or accusations. Many want answers, and the places they are most likely to seek those answers are either on the Internet or from their Mormon acquaintances.
I probably don’t need to tell you that there is much questionable information and even outright falsehoods about the Church on the Internet and in the media–much bad mixed with the good. As an example, in the past two weeks we have seen a flood of publicity coming out of Texas where state authorities have removed women and children from the FLDS polygamous community. This religious group, of course, has nothing to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most of the news media have attempted to make that clear. But a few—especially some in other countries—have confused their readers or viewers by suggesting that this group in Texas is somehow connected to us, and, of course, you know that they are not. This is currently a very difficult Public Affairs challenge.
We are working to rectify that situation, both at Church headquarters and through the actions of our own faithful members. Just in the past several months, Elder Quentin Cook and I, representing the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, have journeyed to Washington, Chicago, New York, Boston, Cleveland, and other cities to meet with the editorial boards, correspondents, and managers of some of the country's major newspapers and electronic media outlets. Yesterday, I was interviewed by Mike Schneider on Bloomberg TV for an hour, in a further effort to do my part.
Gradually, accurate and positive information is rising to the top of lists generated by various search engines. Those seeking information are more likely to encounter accurate information today than at any time since the Internet began, even though we still have a long way to go.
So let me pose a question. What are you prepared to do about it? If you are a member of the Church, what is your responsibility during this period of unusual attention and debate?Interest has continued at a high level and probably will for some time. If a national conversation is going on about the Church, are you going to be an active participant or a silent observer?
Church leaders must not be reluctant to participate in public discussion. Where appropriate, we will engage with the media whether it’s the traditional, mainstream media or the new media of the Internet. But Church leaders can’t do it all, especially at the grass-roots, community level. While we do speak authoritatively for the Church, we look to our responsible and faithful members to engage personally with blogs, to write thoughtful, online letters to news organizations, and to act in other ways to correct the record with their own opinions.
Ralph Mecham served in the British Mission when I did and is here tonight. Last December he sent a wonderful six-page response to the inflammatory falsehoods spewed by Lawrence O'Donnell on the December 9th McLaughlin Group telecast. In clear and precise terms, Ralph, who recently retired as Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, refuted each false statement and then concluded: "Such bigotry and bias ill-becomes a would-be journalist . . . who makes false charges without doing any research."
However, I emphasize that it is not always about correcting misinformation. Sometimes it is about getting solid information and ideas out there in the first place. Share your experiences – those from your own life – that show how your values and your faith intersect. It doesn’t matter whether that’s face to face with another person, or whether you do it by participating from your own blog or contributing to someone else’s blog. The most important thing is that you let people know that you are a Latter-day Saint, and that your behavior and attitude always reflect the high standards of the Church and what is expected as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, you will be speaking as an individual member and not as an official representative of the Church.
Clearly, in this context I am not talking about declaring your testimony of faith in the traditional sense. Naturally, you can and should do that where the setting is appropriate and the audience is receptive, such as a church meeting. Rather, I am talking about taking part in everyday conversations in an unforced way, where your values and your religious beliefs will arise naturally. No one likes to have religion thrust down their throats. Instead, allow people to see how your beliefs lift and shape your life for the better. How does the gospel help you as a parent engage with your teens? How do your values encourage you to participate in civic affairs? How has your experience as a home or visiting teacher enlarged your compassion or care for the sick and needy? How has your Church life helped you to avoid such things as pornography and immorality? How have family councils or home evenings helped you resolve differences of opinion with members of your family? How has your experience in speaking in church helped you address large public groups? Where did you learn to respect and not to criticize other faiths? And so on.
In many of these conversations, you will be sharing common ground with people who will relate to your values. And as people sense that common ground, your relationship with them and their respect for you and for your faith will be enhanced. Even people who may disagree with you philosophically will often accept you more readily for your candid, honest and open observations about how your faith impacts your life. I have a great belief in the basic fairness of most all people. They respect honesty, not timidity. They relate to sincerity, not to pretended piety.
There are guests here tonight who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We welcome you and thank you for your friendship. You may have become somewhat familiar with our beliefs as you have come to know our people. I hope that the impression you have formed of us is a good one, not because we are overly concerned about polishing our image but because we stand for something that I think you relate to also. Whether you are an ambassador representing another nation or culture, a scholar from the world of academia or a captain of industry, I suggest to you that there is a great need at this time of the world’s history for people of good will everywhere to unite. Your voice in helping to defend the Church against outright bigoted statements will say more than perhaps anything the members of the Church might say to help stop the unfair attacks against the Church.
We need people of goodwill to unite because a tide of filth and immorality is sweeping over the world. Pornography has the highest gross earnings industry on the Internet, generating billions of dollars for its purveyors each year. As many as one in ten people admit to Internet sexual addiction. More than a quarter of those are women. Tens of thousands of images of child pornography are posted online every week. I could read to you page after page of statistics from scholarly, serious studies that show the terrible impact of all of this sleaze on our society, on our families and children.
Regardless of our political views, or even whether or not we are religious, this should outrage us all. For Latter-day Saints, our faith should help us rise to our noblest aspirations.
I support the call of the Pope that all who believe in God unite in an effort to stem the tide of evil that is flooding the earth. And so there are many reasons why I ask Latter-day Saints to be more open about their Church membership and about their values. Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Redeemer of the world, taught us how to live.
He spoke in parables. He once compared the good people of the earth to the leaven used in baking bread. A little leaven raises the whole loaf, He said. At another time, He compared His followers to salt.If the salt loses its savor, it is “henceforth good for nothing” but to be cast away and trodden underfoot. Translate that into today’s world, and we can see the parallel.Without being self-righteous or overbearing, we should allow our belief in the basic decency and goodness of humanity to shine through. Both the apostle Paul and Joseph Smith taught that if there is anything lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, we should seek after these things. The term “seeking after” suggests active participation, not passive acceptance. We should be active in our communities. We should join groups where we can exert a positive influence. We should embrace those who have similar values and try to better understand those who don’t. We should join the conversations on the Internet or anywhere else where we can clarify the great purpose of God in restoring to the earth the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
May the Lord so bless us that we let our light shine in the dark corners of the world, by our example, by our faith, and by our common concern for humanity.