LDS leader says Romney's presidential run was a positive for church

By Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

Posted: 1:25 PM- WASHINGTON -- The news storm created by Mitt Romney's presidential bid was a plus for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

"I'd much rather have people talking about us than ignoring us," Elder M. Russell Ballard told a meeting of the Brigham Young University Management Society in Washington on Saturday.

"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."

Political pundits have spun two opposing theories about the most high-profile Mormon candidate ever to seek the presidency: He boosted recognition of the church and helped stamp down misconceptions, or his bid was a bad experience for the church since it brought out criticism and controversy.

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.

Although much criticism surfaced during Romney's bid, Ballard said a lot of Americans were simply puzzled about who Mormons are and what they believe in. Ballard said he and other church leaders met with journalists from Washington, Chicago, New York, Boston, Cleveland and other cities to help them understand the LDS Church.

But that's not enough, Ballard said. Church leaders must not be reluctant to participate in the public discussion and to engage the news media, and church members must also join the cause.

"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."

Ballard touched on the ongoing situation in Texas, where authorities raided a compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. That splinter group practices polygamy but is often confused by some journalists with the mainstream LDS Church, which officially banned multiple wives in 1890.

"This is currently a very difficult public affairs challenge," Ballard said. "We are working to rectify that situation, both at church headquarters and through the actions of our own faithful members."

Other prominent Mormons in Washington -- including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and several members of Congress -- joined Ballard at the event on Saturday. Ballard challenged them all to be ambassadors for the LDS Church.

"Interest has continued at a high level and probably will for some time," Ballard said. "If a national conversation is going on about the church, are you going to be an active participant or a silent observer?"