Protecting the Church’s Identity

Commentary

In an effort to reduce misunderstanding among the public and occasional misreporting among the media over the question of polygamy and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Newsroom” today is doing something a little different.

The stories and linked materials on this page are designed to help the public — and the news media — draw clear distinctions between the polygamous group associated with the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, Texas, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Once again, as it has done many times, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reiterates that it has nothing whatsoever to do with any groups practicing polygamy.

This is not an attempt to attack the group that now calls itself the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but rather an initiative to draw clear distinctions between two very different religious entities. Like all other religions, the FLDS have the right to worship according to the dictates of their conscience, subject to the law.

To illustrate the confusion, a recent poll was conducted in which 36 percent of those surveyed thought the FLDS polygamous group was “part of” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and 29 percent said they were not sure. These results show that a sizeable portion of the population cannot tell the difference between the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the FLDS group.

Moreover, recent analysis of media around the world indicates that more than 15,000 articles were written about this topic between the end of March 2008 and the middle of June 2008. In Texas alone there were nearly a thousand. During the first month and a half, approximately 5 percent of articles accurately reported on the distinction between the two faiths. But between the middle of May and the middle of June, after the Church began to push for more clarity, the media dramatically improved its reporting, with over 60 percent of articles accurately reporting on the distinction.

Despite its rapid growth and increasing social prominence, The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints remains obscure in many ways to many people. For example, in addition to erroneous associations with the FLDS, some people still confuse the Church with the Amish, the Unification Church and Scientology. In a world of multiple and multiplying religions, it is natural for a busy public to mistake one for another. However, this does not mean that such mistakes should continue to be perpetuated without being challenged. In fact, maintaining the integrity of the Church’s identity requires constant work and attention.

As part of this effort, Elder Lance B. Wickman, Church general counsel and member of the Quorum of the Seventy, has sent a letter to newspaper publishers and editorial staffs across the nation aiming to correct this confusion. This demonstrates the seriousness with which the Church views the situation. Above all, this is a matter of a church being able to define itself. All organizations, including religions, want to be defined by who they are as opposed to who they are not.

In addition to setting the record straight, this package features profiles of ordinary, faithful Latter-day Saints across the state of Texas. Not only do they demonstrate the place Latter-day Saints occupy in mainstream society, but they also show the many good things they quietly go about doing. Perhaps more than anything else, this effort seeks to highlight the fact that Mormons are much like everyone else. Latter-day Saints strive to live happy, productive lives and contribute to the good of the whole by working hard, raising families and helping people in need. They can be found at every level of society — in business and agriculture, education and the sciences, political parties and government, the entertainment industry and news media.

These images of ordinary Latter-day Saints contrast squarely with the now familiar pictures of remote and insular polygamous groups. This contrast may surprise many people who have no tangible sense for the differences. One curious thing is that this false association perpetuates itself in a world of instantaneous information where everyone has unprecedented access to the facts. The only way to sever these associations is to let the Latter-day Saints define themselves by telling their own stories.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.