This story out of Washington, via the Salt Lake Tribune, will cause some buzz. It will especially excite those who, like Al Mohler, seemed very afraid that Mitt Romney’s success would put the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a positive light. In a public address, Elder Russell M. Ballard, of the Church’s Council of Twelve Apostles, commented on that subject:
“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 178 years, there is more misinformation out there than we had imagined.”
. . .
Ballard, one of the first LDS leaders to speak out about the race’s impact, says anxiety about Mormons primarily came from conservative Christians who are against the LDS Church’s doctrine and, from the other end of the spectrum, those who oppose the church’s position on moral issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. . . .
“While we do speak authoritatively for the church,” Ballard said, according to prepared remarks, “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.”
Well, we’ve certainly seen plenty of that.
John adds some thoughts: While I cannot disagree with the basic analysis Ballard here presents, I would caution our LDS readers to not commit the same “sin” my evangelical brethren have. It is easy to paint with a broad brush. For some Evangelicals “flip-flop” meant flip-flop – they may not have done their homework on Romney’s record, but they did not commit religious bigotry.
So what to do? – and here I do disagree with Ballard. writing letters to the editor saying “Mormons are not like that,” even if they really are not, will tend to perpetuate the battle. I have simply had too many conversations with Evangelicals where they were arguing with the literary constructs of the LDS rather than with LDS people.
The only Mormon most Evangelicals know they have ever met is the missionary that has annoyingly knocked on their door – “annoyingly” because they feel guilty about their own lack of evangelical zeal when it happens.
My suggestion to my LDS friends can be wrapped up in one word – “Engage.” Find an Evangelical neighbor and invite them to dinner, let them know you are LDS (the Evangelicals will be frightened you are going to try to convert them, so once you identify, be quiet about it.) Try to start joint humanitarian projects with more mainline Christian organizations. Yes, such will strip such activities of any “religious content,” but might it not be worth it for the relationship bridge that is built?
My point is simple, the best way to remove the Mormon “stigma” is to be a Mormon that “is not like that.” Most of you that I know are not, but then I KNOW YOU. See my point?
Lowell jumps back in: John’s comments are excellent, and for Mormons who have been paying attention, they mirror what Elder Ballard himself has encouraged members to do. Here’s Elder Ballard’s classic 2003 address about that very subject.
As for engaging, we are now faced with the challenge of engaging in the Internet. I am sure that Elder Ballard’s recent exhortations have been in large part inspired by the way the LDS faith is protrayed in cyberspace. If you Google “Mormon,” 90% of what you find will be anti-Mormon, some of it viciously and virulently so. Engaging with neighbors, whom you can see and with whom you can converse, is hard enough; engaging with nameless folks in the Internet is even more difficult.
But John’s right – both Mormons and Evangelicals need to do a better job of engaging in a constructive and Christ-emulating manner. I see it as an opportunity for everyone. With rare exceptions, neither side is going to convert the people with whom they engage on-line, but we all need more friendships with people of good will and similar values.