The Diverse Voices of Mormonism

I. The New Newsroom

Today, a completely revamped Newsroom goes live on the Internet, providing more flexibility and immediacy in presenting news stories, commentary and insights about issues of public interest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

What do these changes mean for Newsroom’s audience, and how does this website fit into the chorus of voices that seems never to tire of debating Mormonism from every perspective?

Never before has mass communication been so easy. Yet perhaps never before has understanding been so elusive. News sources are rapidly proliferating. Traditional journalism, with its once-clear system of ethics and practices, is giving way to the participatory freedom of citizen journalism, which can provide value and insights to the news gathering process but which sometimes seems to have few rules at all. Forms of social media connect diverse individuals and create distinct “thought communities,” which can both unify and fragment.

II. The Emergence of the Church in the Public Eye

Periodically since its founding in 1830, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has passed through periods of intense public scrutiny and droughts of relative obscurity. The Reed Smoot Senate hearings of the early 1900s, coming soon after the formal Manifesto of 1890 that called for an end to polygamy in the Church, was a period in which America seemed to try, perhaps not very well, to come to terms with a faith that was grown on its own soil.

By the 1950s and early ’60s, however, Church values of family, duty, service and patriotism seemed to line up very comfortably with the values of many Americans, and in the 1970s the Public Communications Department of the Church was established.

During the 1990s, the president of the Church conducted a series of high-profile interviews, including some on national television. The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City opened some of the Church’s people, hospitality and iconic images to a world audience. The 2008 presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney introduced the serious prospects of a Mormon president for the first time. This, together with the Church’s defense of marriage through support of Proposition 8 in California, seemed to initiate an awareness and public discussion on Mormon doctrine and culture that otherwise may not have happened.

While these spikes in public interest between periods of relative obscurity raised the Church’s profile, they did not, in themselves, foster a sustained public understanding of the Mormon faith. To facilitate more dialogue with serious journalists, the Public Affairs Department of the Church in recent years began actively seeking out writers in the nation’s most respected newspapers and journals — the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and many others — suggesting and responding to news stories and presenting to editorial boards. The department also reached out to a range of other opinion leaders including religious figures. At the same time, the Church expanded its online presence. was revamped from the Olympics-oriented site of 2000–2002. Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve began sharing messages on YouTube and encouraging members to participate in social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. This counsel encouraged Latter-day Saints to help shape the public identity of the Church by telling their own personal stories.

III. Diversity of Voices in the Mormon Conversation

Recently, close observers of the Church including scholars, journalists and bloggers have also begun to comment on a new phenomenon: the fact that Mormon membership, at least in the United States, appears to have reached a kind of critical mass. In fact, there are now roughly as many Mormons in the United States as Jews, although Mormon demographics are decidedly younger. Individual Mormon voices — or, rather, the voices of many diverse individuals who also happen to be Mormon — are increasingly heard.

There was a time during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century when Church members gathered from around the world and concentrated their efforts on establishing communities and settlements throughout the Intermountain West of the United States. That is no longer true. Countless students and young families have spread out across the nation and the world to attend prestigious universities and contribute to their professional fields and communities. They serve on city councils, volunteer at schools, and participate in local service projects. As a result, Mormons have become firmly embedded in the fabric of community life. They have become the neighbors and work colleagues of people everywhere. One consequence is that today there is an array of voices and a wide range of perspectives from within the Mormon faith.

The voices that have the largest megaphone are ironically the ones that do not seek it on behalf of the Church. By virtue of their membership in the Church, well-known and influential Mormons such as former governor Mitt Romney, author Stephenie Meyer, Senator Harry Reid and TV personality Glenn Beck represent the diversity of Mormon culture and demonstrate the broad range of personalities within it. However, the causes they advance are political or cultural, and certainly not Church-specific. They would be the first to affirm they have no intention of speaking officially for the Church, especially regarding matters of doctrine or policy. While some people may think these personalities represent the thinking of their faith, they simply do not, and don’t pretend to.

Other voices include media commentators, cultural observers, professional experts, credible academics, active bloggers and news columnists, many of whom embrace the Mormon faith. The proliferation and diffusion of media platforms have empowered countless Latter-day Saints to open up the Mormon story. Often (though not always), these voices provide a valuable perspective on Mormon life. Some reflect the themes and concerns of their own milieu and do not always agree with each other or with the Church. Because these individuals have limited access to the complex internal workings of the Church and the thoughts of those who lead it, they speak independently but not necessarily authoritatively.

In addition, there is a broad spectrum of journalistic coverage of the Church, ranging from non-Mormon writers and publications that try to seriously analyze Church policies and practices, to those who seem to make up facts as they go along. Some thoughtful observers of Mormon life seek to truly advance understanding. For example, Felicia Sonmez and Mary Jordan of the Washington Post, Manya Brachear of the Chicago Tribune, Professor Laurie Maffly-Kipp in The Christian Century, and Noah Feldman in the New York Times have written even-handed treatments of the Church’s presence in public life.

In recent months we have seen yet another, very significant development. In several defined areas across the United States, an advertising campaign by the Church itself has given Church members a platform from which they can speak for themselves. Unscripted, these members have been empowered to express themselves in a way that was unimaginable just a decade ago. The individual profiles that now appear on capture the robust diversity within Mormon life, embody Mormon values and put a personal face on the institution. The premise behind this campaign is that Church members cannot be easily stereotyped and that in their diversity they find a common thread of belief in following Jesus Christ and in their core values.

Amid all of this rich diversity of perspectives stands what we might call “the prophetic voice.” The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve constitute the highest governing bodies of the Church. These leaders pray, counsel and unitedly declare official doctrine and policy. With respect to the institution as a whole, they are the ultimate source of authority. In addition, they administer the ecclesiastical organization of a worldwide church. These weighty responsibilities focus their minds and energies on the big picture and long-term direction of the Church.

IV. The Official Newsroom

And so in what has become a very large conversation, where does the newly revamped Newsroom fit? Newsroom offers an official perspective and inside knowledge on events and developments that are not easily available elsewhere. Newsroom speaks to the growing relevance of Mormonism in public life. Today’s updated version provides a better design, greater flexibility for the reader, an enhanced search capability, improved navigability, and multimedia resources for users, including journalists.

Of all the Church’s media platforms, Newsroom has a unique vantage point from which to contextualize, analyze and position the Church’s public engagement. Through statements, news releases, commentaries, blog posts and background resources, Newsroom takes the complexities of the Church’s interaction with society and breaks them down to formats accessible to a variety of audiences — journalists, opinion leaders, academics, interfaith leaders, Church members and others. Collectively, we might refer to these individual audiences as “Church watchers” — those who like to keep track of Church policies and developments and stay informed through official, reliable information.

Importantly, Newsroom provides an additional platform for Church leaders to occasionally highlight public initiatives, declare public positions and emphasize Church messages in a way specifically oriented to the general public rather than to Church members alone.

During his inaugural press conference in 2008, President Thomas S. Monson urged Latter-day Saints: “I think we should not be sequestered in a little cage. I think we have a responsibility to be active in the communities where we live.” In that same spirit, Elder M. Russell Ballard implored Church members to engage with society through new media: “There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches.”

Following this mantra, the Public Affairs Department engages in a variety of conversations and relationships. For example, the Newsroom blog links to and taps into larger conversations taking place on other media platforms; Elder Quentin L. Cook participated in a series on the Future of Mormonism at; Public Affairs managing director Michael Otterson periodically writes columns at the Washington Post’s On Faith forum; Public Affairs staff engages in interfaith conversations with other religious leaders and representatives; Newsroom content is occasionally posted on other influential websites; and prominent Mormon blogs have conducted interviews with Newsroom staff.

In short, Newsroom seeks to build trust with its audience by demonstrating accuracy, transparency, good judgment and sharing important insights. Its official status as a communications channel for the Church puts it in a unique position to share those insights.

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.