What a remarkable few weeks it has been for LDS coverage.
First, there has been an outpouring of generous thought toward Latter-day Saints in the wake of the remarkable remarks by a Dallas-area pastor who dribbled the “cult” word in reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than a few times at the Value Voters Summit in his support for Rick Perry.
His comments weren’t surprising, even if they were a little depressing. (However, as it turns out, I do think they helped Mitt Romney’s long-term election chances.)
Many of you might have seen these articles, but here are several worth reading:
At the top of the list is Sen. Joe Lieberman’s passionate defense of religious liberty and Latter-day Saints in the public square at the Washington Post Friday. Lieberman’s clear voice was welcome. I hope his line, “The United States of America was and is a faith-based initiative,” gains a place in our national memory.
Then there was Richard Mouw, the evangelical scholar whose Belief Blog entry for CNN was truly generous. His public argument that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn’t a cult is something I truly appreciate. His point should be remembered by both Latter-day Saints and non-LDS alike: “We evangelicals and our Mormon counterparts disagree about some important theological questions. But we have also found that on some matters we are not as far apart as we thought we were.”
Media scholar James Fallows wrote an excellent defense of religious pluralism in The Atlantic. Bill Bennett, the substantive conservative scholar and former Reagan education secretary, publicly urged voters to not give voice to bigotry in a very public rebuke of those who trafficked in anti-Mormonism.
As Joe Walker at the Deseret News has so ably shown, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, one of the nation’s best news organizations, wrote powerfully about a visit with Elder Russell M. Nelson in the Times newsroom.
I was moved by her final quote:
“I am an extremely lapsed Catholic who hasn't voluntarily attended Mass in more than 45 years. But what if I suddenly faced some personal crisis and I wanted to talk to someone for spiritual insight, guidance or consolation?
“Whom would I be more comfortable with?
“ would it be the octogenarian gentle man, who may hold dogmatic beliefs I don't subscribe to, but nevertheless yearns to simply lead a meaningful life.
“I think I would be on the next plane to Salt Lake City.”
Even the often skeptical Slate online magazine had a generous column.
If that were all, these articles would comprise a week to be grateful for the coverage, but there have been other very nice articles recently.
The conservative, always interesting, evangelical-leaning news magazine World ran a generally nice piece on the trend of Latter-day Saint Mommy bloggers, saying admirably that these bloggers are mission-focused and seem to argue that it is “possible to be happy.” (Likely requires a subscription to read the entire article.)
An interesting footnote for me, however, is that this evidently evangelical writer, while seeming to admire the blogger trend, concluded with this seeming rebuke to her Mormon neighbors: “Christ is our hope, not our cute kids, happy husbands, good cooking or clever craft projects.” I wonder what this writer saw or chose not to see that made her think Latter-day Saints aren’t Christ-centered?
Then there was the excellent way of how AP’s Jennifer Dobner covered The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by focusing on the name of the church. It was typical of her diligent effort over the years.
Many news organizations have lately run articles about the emergence of the church’s advertising campaign, “I’m a Mormon.”
Indeed, in the past 30 days, according to my Lexis-Nexis search, the word "Mormon" has been in more than 1,500 news articles and wire service stories here and abroad.
Weeks ago, I asked that journalists pay more attention to anti-Mormon bigotry in the election campaigns. Now, I don’t pretend that any more than a handful read what I had to say, but it is clear that journalists have paid attention to bigotry and not let bigotry stand unremarked.
As a Latter-day Saint who has tried to study portrayals of my faith in the media for years, one of the things I wasn’t prepared to acknowledge when I first started was how hard journalists work to get it right when talking of my faith and how few of them set out to make us look bad.
But the more I read and thought carefully about it, I realized this was almost always true: Journalists are professionals who do try to get it right and do try to treat us fairly. Covering the church is a big challenge for reporters, and they do make mistakes that frustrate me.
But these past few weeks prove to me again that many writers do as George Washington once said. They give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."
I, for one, am grateful.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion and religion and politics.