Tag Archives: Image of the Church

Mormon Spotlight


Meme borrowed from Bare Record

There’s been a lot of Bloggernacle discussion of late about the Church’s “accidental” news re-release, that touts itself as “the gold standard” when it comes to how the Church handles sexual and child abuse cases.  Apparently the Church had already published this article in 2010 and then republished it again last week as a current news release.  The Church claims there was a “glitch” in their system and that it did not intend to re-publish the article.

Some are suspicious, however, that this release was no accident at all and that the Church has some news agenda it’s trying to push or a news story it wants to get ahead of.  Utah has the highest rate of child sex abuse in the nation after all, as one blogger reminded us this weekIn my experience with how the Church PR machine operates, I can almost guarantee the Church is feeling vulnerable on this issue and wants to paint a different picture to the world than the awful reality.

On one occasion years ago I spoke with a Church PR representative by phone at Church Headquarters.  I was working on a research paper and was very surprised when this brother stated that the Church often intentionally leaks news stories in order to provide context for a message it wants to get out.  The leak is made to seem to be a mistake.  The Church then conveniently responds to the leaked story with its canned message and/or simply relishes that it got its story out when it wanted to.  I don’t know if this is a common practice throughout the PR industry, but as a young grad student not living in Utah and not from Utah, my initial reaction was how dishonest this seemed and I was surprised that the Church would employ such underhanded tactics.  I thought my church would be straight-forward and without guile.

Perhaps the Church’s most recent leak or re-release, as it’s been called, was in hopes to get ahead of this very troubling story that just came out about emeritus GA, Elder Lynn A. Mickelsen.  The video below is about 14 minutes long and if nothing else it demonstrates the influence the Church has on Utah lawyers, judges, law enforcement and LDS clergy.  The story is unnervingly credible.  I highly recommend you take the time to watch it.

As a bishop, I saw firsthand how the Church actually handles child and sexual abuse.  I was required to call the LDS Hotline on several occasions.  In one such instance I was transferred directly to Kirton & McConkie, the law firm that represents the Church.  The advice I received was actually outstanding — aligning with doctrine and scripture.  I was shocked, however, when the counsel that I was given was not followed by the Church.  It quickly became obvious to me in this instance that the Church was only looking to avoid embarrassment and cared nothing about helping victims or reforming perpetrators.

These types of experiences have helped me trust less in the arm of the flesh and have caused me to turn towards God and His Son for comfort.  May good people everywhere stand as witnesses of Their Names, especially in defense of those too weak and tender to defend themselves.

I Met the “Mormons”


“Sweep the earth, as if with a flood,” Elder Bednar prophetically pleads, “But this is not, I repeat, NOT a proselytizing effort!”

I saw Meet the Mormons (MTM) last week and here is my report:

I went into MTM concerned about this project for a variety of reasons and hence had very low expectations.  I arrived at the theater 6 minutes before the movie started in a very populated LDS area where I assumed there would be the best turn out.  I went on Saturday night of opening weekend.  There were no lines and I was surprised the theater was only half full, despite all the advertising and at least two apostolic requests to all LDS members to watch the movie opening weekend.  Perhaps other locations saw better attendance.  If my experience is anything like other areas, then this movie is not likely to be a blockbuster nor is it likely to make much money.

I admit I was touched by those whose lives were being highlighted. As I expected, they all seemed like good people. I do feel like they are being showcased for their “uniqueness,” however, and still think the church’s very choice of this film’s title is a little misleading.  It would have been better to call it, “Meet some extremely unique Mormons” or “Meet 6 Mormons not necessarily from Utah.”

I read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune where the author comments:  “The film is more of a showcase of Mormon wholesomeness than a candid look at the real us. While it’s nice to have my people portrayed as so blissfully positive, I came away wondering if I had been raised in a completely different church” (See article here).

In Elder Bednar’s promotion of MTM and while urging members to flood the earth with social media messages, he warns members:

“Be authentic and consistent.  A person or product that is not authentic is false, fake and fraudulent. Our messages should be truthful, honest  and accurate.” 

I could see how some may not view this film as totally accurate.

The church is encouraging members to use social media channels such as Pinterest to promote the gospel.

I’ll be candid, I was very underwhelmed by the movie itself.  It was dry, slow, non-climactic, and really quite bland. I was surprised that the film was only an hour and eighteen minutes long. Its length was much shorter than I expected.  Most movies are at least an hour and a half or more in length.  I’m not saying longer would have been better, I was just surprised at how short it was.

The coverage of these 6 people was very shallow, with very minimal real details of their lives or their faith. “Mormons believe in God and Jesus and families and the Bible and an interesting book called the Book of Mormon” was the general idea.  As I sat there amongst a mostly LDS audience, I wondered if any of them would have attended a movie that was called “Meet the Jehovah Witnesses, or Catholics or Amish.”  I kind of doubt it, unless the reviews of course were off the charts.

One movie review on Rotten Tomatoes said, “Would you go out of your way to see an infomercial that was more than an hour long?  Would you even pay for the privilege?  That’s what ‘Meet the Mormons’ would have filmgoers do” (See here, and here).  Many other reviews from news outlets were equally disappointed in MTM (see Nearing Kolob for other questions and links).

In all candor, this movie seems out of place being in the theaters.  The quality and story line were simply not there.  I think the Legacy theater would have been a better fit, although I think The Testaments and Joseph Smith movies are much more powerful.  In fact, I wonder if the Testaments would have not been a better hit in the theaters, despite its obvious attempt to share our message.

After seeing MTM, and after contemplating the project more generally, I think focusing on our core doctrinal message would be a better use of our time and resources.  Focusing on highlighting people in a time of such great urgency, may be a luxury we cannot afford.

“Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion?  We have none; for without Zion, and a place of deliverance, we must fall; because the time is near when the sun will be darkened, and the moon turned to blood, and the stars fall from the heaven, and the earth reel to and fro’.  Then, if this is the case, and if we are not sanctified and gathered to the places God has appointed, with all our former professions and our great love for the Bible, we must fall; we cannot stand; we cannot be saved; for God will gather out his Saints from the Gentiles, and then comes desolation and destruction, and none can escape except the pure in heart who are gathered.”

Joseph Smith

UPDATE on 12-15-2014

Meet the Mormons to date has grossed $5.8M.  Reviews from movie critics is averaging about a 5-10% like rating vs. a 90-95% dislike rating.  Interestingly, according to Rotten Tomatoes, 91% of all viewers have liked the movie.  This translates as many if not most or all movie goers likely to be LDS.

“Like” One Another


I recall sitting in a special meeting called by our stake president a couple years ago, where we were asked to make sure everyone in our wards, including the youth, were on Facebook ASAP.  We were then instructed to go to the Prophet’s Facebook page and “Like” him, as well as the other general authorities.  Ironically, at that same time, I was feeling prompted to hold a special fireside for parents of the youth to talk to them about my very serious concerns over our children’s time wasted online and the dangers of pornography and sexting, which were ever so prevalent in our ward.  The message I felt inspired to share seemed to fall on deaf ears with the sudden push by the church to get more connected and to go online more.

Elder Bednar was also simultaneously asking our youth to go online (on their smart devices) to do indexing.  My kids came home from those meetings with all kinds of new “revelatory” reasons for why we needed to buy them iPhones.  It was hard enough that all their church friends all had phones, and now pressure, instead of support, from the top.


“Social media is a gift to accomplish the Lord’s work” Tweeted Elder Bednar recently

And yet not too many years ago it seemed like every general conference talk was warning us about the dangers of the Internet.  “Keep your computer in the kitchen in the view of everyone,” for example.  Now, every 10-18 year old youth in my ward (practically), has their own hand held smart device.  Most kids who confessed a pornography problem during my tenure said their problem began with their smart phone, often while sitting in the living room with their whole family present, “talking.”

The clear message from the church for many years was one of great caution regarding the Internet and such access.   Here’s a sample talk from that era from President Hinckley.


You can read the entire talk by clicking on the image above.

“This is not the only letter I have received. There have been enough that I am convinced this is a very serious problem even among us. It arises from many sources and expresses itself in a variety of ways. Now it is compounded by the Internet. That Internet is available not only to adults but also to young people.

I recently read that pornography has become a $57 billion industry worldwide. Twelve billion of this is derived in the United States by evil and “conspiring men” (see D&C 89:4) who seek riches at the expense of the gullible. It is reported that it produces more revenue in the United States than the “combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises or the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC” (“Internet Pornography Statistics: 2003,” Internet, http://www.healthymind.com/5-port-stats.html).”

And now, the message from the top seems to be, “If you don’t have a Facebook page, or a Twitter account, or you’re not LinkedIn, not texting, or at a minimum equipped with a smart device, get with the program!”  In its desire perhaps to improve its image, to preach the gospel online, do more Family History, to rank higher in the search engines, or perhaps even to fight against anti-Mormon messages online, the leaders of the church now encourage members getting online.  I understand the church has whole departments at the church office building (COB) devoted to such efforts.  Missionary couples and others are also called as full-time volunteers to work in the cyber trenches for the church.  It’s really quite amazing.

The church also seems to spend a lot of money on Google Adword campaigns.  I find it somewhat amusing that when I do a Google Search for “Pure Mormonism,” I often see the LDS Church’s Pay Per Click (PPC) ad, by itself at the top, just above Rock Waterman’s Pure Mormonism blogspot.  This means that the church is paying for that keyword search (Pure Mormonism) and seems intent on intercepting people searching that term.

As a side note, I remember in a leadership training meeting where Elder Bednar told the story of how he was asked the following question:  “How are you guys (referring to the brethren) so in tune with the Lord?”   Elder Bednar’s response was interesting.  “First of all,” he said “we are not ‘guys’.  We are prophets, seers, and revelators.  We are special witnesses.  Don’t refer to us as guys.”  (I caveat that I mean no disrespect to Elder Bednar.  I simply relay the experience as I recall it.)

But, in the same training and later that weekend, Elder Bednar used words like “rad, dude, gnarly, and freakin'” and he gave all the youth “his” cell phone number and asked them to text him.  Oh and to go “like’ their Facebook pages.  The social media push feels very much like a “guys” and “dudes” attempt to make the world “Like” us more.

Showing a further commitment to the church’s new direction, missionaries in many parts of the world are now required to bring an ipad to the MTC.  Now, I admit that it is perhaps easy to critique such decisions from a distance.  Some commentators have already criticized me for doing so.  But, I will say that as a parent, the last thing I want my child to have on their mission is an iPad.  Some of the miracles I saw with young men overcoming pornography were because they were sent to places like Mexico and were disconnected from such distractions.  I could tell numerous stories, were I permitted to, of missionaries who came home early because they went online in the mission field and got into trouble.

Now, some of you may be saying, “But Bishop Anon!  You sound like an old dud unwilling to adapt!  These kids will be online whether we like it or not, so why bury our heads in the sand?  Let’s get them online using such devices to ‘Do the Lord’s work!'”  I get that concern and can respect the argument, to a degree.

I guess my feelings are mixed.  I grew up in the church being told we were peculiar and that we should not try to be like “the world”.  I grew up on the East coast.  We were often confused with Mennonites, Quakers, and the Amish.  I was taught it was okay if people didn’t “like” us.  It seemed like even in a modernizing and changing time, we were still being taught to be somewhat old-fashioned and to be careful about our focus on the worldly and about ever becoming too up with the times or sophisticated.

Here’s an interesting quote from Harold B. Lee:

“Our failure to be a “peculiar” people in maintaining our standards, despite the jeers and the criticisms of the crowd, will be our failure to be chosen for that calling to which we are called. The Lord has told us, “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:34), and then in the same revelation points out two reasons why men fail of their blessings. The first reason he gives is that their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and the second is that they aspire so much to the honors of men. So then as Church members let us beware lest we set our hearts upon the things of this world and lest we aspire so much to the honors of men that we compromise our standards. If we do so, we will be cut off in the Day of Judgment and will lose our blessings. Our reward for daring to live the gospel despite the oppositions from the outside world will be to have blessings added upon our heads forever and forever.”

I not saying that all technology is evil or wrong.  But, I believe our obsession with being popular with the world, wasting countless hours in so called urgent stake meetings teaching other leaders and members how to “Like” each other, and our encouragement of more time online, feels to me like a step in the wrong direction.




Meet the Mormons

Meet the Mormons, coming to theaters October 2014

I just received an email from my file leader encouraging me to share this, like this, dig this, and watch this “real” movie which will be playing in a movie theater near you, maybe.

In all fairness I have not yet watched this movie, but here are just a few observations and concerns based on the very little I know so far:

The church has gone into the commercial movie business, which from the little I know, can be quite risky.  Movies cost a lot of money to make, and judging by the quality of the trailer, this movie seems to be no exception.  My best guess is that the production and advertizing will cost the church (tithing payers) as much as $20M, maybe more.  I remember Living Scriptures owner Jared Brown bearing his testimony in a ward I was visiting in Layton where he said he lost or might lose $50M with The Swan Princess, which he said was a flop because of its poorly timed opening coinciding with Disney’s Lion King.  Perhaps I’m wrong on the costs, but if this is a real movie, there should be a real accounting so the members can voice their opinion (common consent) on such proposals in the future.

Elder Holland, in the promotional email I received, takes about 4 and half minutes to introduce us to this very “bold” and “unique” new endeavor.  You can see his pitch here.  I find it a bit awkward.  At the end he repeats what seem to be talking points and provides a rallying cry to coordinate member efforts to promote this film, stating that “we should buy out a theater if we can afford it, and that all who can should attend.”

Elder Holland states very clearly that this movie is “not a proselytizing effort.”  This begs the question: why not?  The church is spending a very large sum of money and yet the purpose isn’t to attract converts?  Maybe the church had to agree that missionaries would not stand in front of movie theaters, which would be understandable I suppose.  But would it be wrong to state clearly that the real purpose for the project, despite some commercial, public, limitations, is to share the gospel?  Is this not what churches do?  Shouldn’t preaching the gospel be the objective?  Especially when the clarion call from leaders today has been to “Hasten the work!”

I also find it really strange that Elder Holland promotes that the church is “not doing this to make money” and that “all proceeds will go to charity.”  The charity of choice for the church apparently is the American Red Cross.  Wait, I thought the church was a charity?  Why would we want to give the money to a different charity, run by people who take large salaries and waste much of the money it is suppose to give to the poor?  According to Snopes.com the CEO of the American Red Cross was paid $652k in salary plus expenses and given a 6 week paid vacation in 2009.  You can read more about this here.  You can also read here about how the Red Cross supports abortion.

The church, I thought, was the best charity in the world.  Part of its now fourfold mission being to provide relief to the poor.  It almost feels like the church is going out of its way to make itself appear more altruistic by not wanting any of the proceeds and by donating them to perhaps a more “approved” non-religious charity, in the world’s eyes.  I think it’s a missed opportunity.

Why didn’t the church decide to use the proceeds, assuming there will be any, to the build a fresh water system in Congo or somewhere else in need of such simple basics we take for granted?  Where the church could assure the money would not be wasted?  After all, senior couple missionaries can do these types of projects and are free to the church.  It’s almost as if the church is sensitive to recent criticisms of spending money on large and expensive controversial projects.  And so to assuage concerns it’s teaming up with the Red Cross.  I think the move could backfire and as I said, wastes an opportunity to do something more concrete with potential proceeds, that the church could put its name on, that could make a difference.

Elder Holland also mentioned that the church was initially only going to show the film in the Legacy Theater.  But, when their professional research department started to report back polling data, they changed their minds.  The church’s frequent polling is a sore spot for many active members.  Some may ask, “If the church is run by revelation and at a minimum inspiration, then why so much emphasis on such worldly and often unreliable tools?”  How much do such studies cost of the widow’s mite?

I also find it a little odd that this movie is rated PG and that it is not suitable for all audiences.  It just feels like the church is trying really hard to put all the right marketing touches on this effort.  Perhaps in this case, trying too hard.  I assume their analysts advised them accordingly.  Maybe it’s the title that makes it PG.  “Meet the Mormons.”  Makes me think of “Meet the Parents” or its less reverently named sequel.

Lastly, the church seems intent, based on those people being highlighted in this film, to make itself not look like Utah.  The movie by its title leads one to believe it will be talking to a few of its own regular, average Utah Mormons.  Apparently not.  We are going to meet a young, African American bishop, a Polynesian college football coach at the Naval Academy, a kick boxing mom, and a few others.  The church seems to want to show a diverse and interesting group of people.  I actually love the diversity, but it does seem a little misleading.  It provokes the question whether or not the church has an image problem.  Either way, is highlighting the interesting 10% (at most) of the church really accurately portraying who we really are?

I think this is an attempt to show the world how normal we are.  Perhaps not peculiar, but “normal.”  Or better said, extremely, interestingly, and successfully normal.  It’s a logical approach from a marketing standpoint.  I’m just not overly comfortable with it.  Time will tell, but I am hopeful that in this process we will be shown the costs and profits or losses from the project.

UPDATE on 12-15-2014

Meet the Mormons to date has grossed $5.8M.  Reviews from movie critics is averaging about a 5-10% like rating vs. a 90-95% dislike rating.  Interestingly, according to Rotten Tomatoes, 91% of all viewers have liked the movie.  This translates as many if not most or all movie goers likely to be LDS.