The challenges of intense media scrutiny currently being faced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are explored in this week's issue of Newsweek magazine.
"Despite the growth and gradual mainstreaming of Mormonism in recent years, the church is still regarded by many as disconcertingly exotic," writes Newsweek's Michelle Cottle. "Now, with the very real possibility that one of its own could wind up in the Oval Office, the LDS (Church) finds itself scrambling to adjust to life in the global spotlight."
According to Cottle, Michael Otterson, managing director of LDS Public Affairs, says that he and his staff have been "consumed" by media inquiries. While they work carefully to maintain the church's long-standing policy of political neutrality, they are responding to questions about the LDS Church in an attempt to "demystify the faith."
"You only get to understanding if you have conversations," Otterson says.
Otterson tells Newsweek that the public affairs staffers are "not getting as many dumb questions" from U.S. journalists during this election cycle as they did during Mitt Romney's last bid for the presidency in 2008. However, he said European coverage "remains cynical if not outright mocking."
"Lots of Europeans, especially the British — and I can say this because I'm British — have smug, condescending attitudes toward Americans anyway," Otterson says. "Mix into that this idea of religion and the fact that many of them come from a completely secular background, and it's really hard for them to understand the depths of American pluralism."
While Otterson says he believes "there has to be a point of saturation where the media tires of this story," he tends to assume that all of the increased media exposure will ultimately work for the good of Mormonism.
"I don't think you're ever going to see the kind of head scratching we saw 10, 20 years ago when people hear the word 'Mormon,'" he says in the Newsweek piece. "We've moved to a different place."
Dr. Richard Mouw, an evangelical scholar and author and president of Fuller Theological Seminary, also believes Mormons have "moved to a different place," both in terms of how they function in today's religious culture and how they are perceived.
"Evangelical hostility toward Mormonism has been there from the beginning. And it has typically been reciprocated," Mouw writes in Sunday's Washington Post "Guest Voices" blog. "The angry denunciations flowed freely in both directions."
During the past 12 years Mouw and other evangelical leaders have been meeting regularly with Dr. Robert L. Millet of the BYU Religion Department and other Mormon scholars to engage in "ongoing dialogue" about the theological differences between Mormons and evangelical Christians.
"We agree that many of our theological differences go deep," he writes, "but we also have seen some important areas where we have misunderstood each other."
Despite those differences, Mouw says in the Post blog, "nothing that I have learned about Mormonism in the past 12 years of serious engagement with Mormon life and thought leads me to question the ability of a Mormon to serve as president."
He says he urges his fellow evangelicals "to engage in friendly give-and-take with Mormons before simply making uninformed pronouncements about their church's teachings."