Monday, February 17, 2014

Public Relations is Not a Priesthood Responsibility

If you are going to have a crisis of faith, I recommend that you don’t do it while serving as your ward’s elders quorum president.  A much better choice would be to initiate your crisis of faith while serving as a nursery leader.  You can go pretty far afield and still maintain a solid testimony of the importance of providing overwrought parents with two hours of relief from their screaming children.  If this warning serves to help just one person, then perhaps my own experience will not have been in vain. 

You’ll see a lot of strange things from now on, George

Cracking your mind open to the idea that the church has gone off course can be like a bad trip from an LDS overdose.  People that you know well and hold in high esteem may start saying outlandish things from time to time.  Things like, “No one will do anything if you don’t follow up with them”, or “we know that people who don’t attend church meetings can never go to the Celestial Kingdom”, or “charity doesn’t mean we can let people think we approve of their bad choices – we need to keep bugging them about it”, or finally, “that scripture is very interesting, but what does the handbook say?”.  It’s even more disconcerting that, apart from these occasional unholy utterances, most of what these same people say and do continues to be perfectly in keeping with your own understanding of Christ’s teachings. 

It’s like the whole world has been infected with a correlation-zombie virus that only manifests sporadically, but with increased frequency and intensity if you happen to be sitting in a leadership meeting or in gospel doctrine class.  And realizing that you didn’t feel this way just a short time ago leaves you with the uncomfortable worry that you might actually be the one infected with the zombie virus.

Marketing Jesus

A major disadvantage of being a questioning elders quorum president is Stake Priesthood Meeting (yes, every man is supposed to go, but it’s harder to avoid as an EQP).  Here is where you may find the most discomfiting incongruities between what you want to believe the church to be and what you actually see preached from the pulpit. 

I was sitting in just such a meeting earlier this month when my image of the church was dealt a particularly heavy blow.  A bishop from our stake began with a PowerPoint presentation full of scary statistics about the likelihood of people joining the church based on their perceptions of church members.  Notably, knowing a church member personally didn’t improve conversion probability as much as one might hope for. 

The bishop’s conclusion (handed down to him from Salt Lake) was: not only do we need to get to know more people outside of the church (I agree here), but we need to LET THEM KNOW that we believe in Jesus, and that we are Christlike, darn it!  I’m thinking, hmmm, I always thought that message was best conveyed by quiet actions, but maybe that’s just me.

Next, the solution!  A sequence of PowerPoint charts advocating more yellow helping hands vests, more publicity for service projects, and most importantly, more Facebook likes of church-produced videos!  We are informed of a major forthcoming push by top church leadership and (gasp) an upcoming handbook change all formalizing our responsibility to create new ward and stake Facebook pages that we will then “friend”, ultimately flooding the social media earth with our perfectly correlated likes (assuming of course, that all of our non-member friends don’t block our feeds once they become conference quote spam machines).

We were then shown some short church-produced videos on the topics of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day.  They were full of feel-good music and images of fathers changing tires and mothers doing crafts with their kids.  I actually wasn’t put off so much by the Hallmarkesque presentation as I was by the stark contrast between the two movies.  Why can’t the dad do crafts and the mom help fix the car tire?  There were other movies about the importance of religion and freedom of expression in society.  I was okay with these movies, except that I had a sneaking suspicion that they were a reaction to the gay marriage thing in Utah, which of course is a much bigger harbinger of doom for our society than something like income inequality, for instance.  Oh, and I thought it was a bit much when the Harvard professor said that the decline of formalized religion would necessarily lead to a police state in America.  Much was made of the fact that these videos do not mention the name of the church.  Oh, except that when we like them right after liking President Monson, it won’t be too hard for people to put two and two together, wink. 

The PRiesthood

Most alarmingly, this new PR push was not considered simply a new policy, but much much more.  Our Stake President actually said these words … “public relations is now a priesthood responsibility.”  Wow, really?  Can you imagine Jesus saying those words?  I mean, he was so obsessed with his image, right?  No!  He said not to let even our left hand know what our right hand was doing, let alone our neighbors and all of our Facebook contacts.  It is no longer enough for the corporate divisions of the church to stay confined within the church office building.  Now, it is every member’s sacred responsibility to further the  work of the public relations department.  Let’s hope that the next department for us to support isn’t purchasing (think City Creek).

The stake president then went on to say that no Eagle Scout project should be carried out without everyone present leaving with the knowledge that they were working with members of the church.  So, I suppose that if it doesn’t come up naturally, there will be this awkward moment where the budding eagle scout clears his throat and announces, “Oh yeah, just so everyone knows, I am a Mormon, and we are doing something Christlike right now.  Okay, you can go back to work now.”  So much for those rewards in heaven.

Reforming a Machiavellian Mormonism

I know I’ve sounded very negative.  That’s because this whole thing really ticks me off.  But, I don’t want to give the impression that I think the church (or it’s leaders) are bad people.  I think my stake president is a really nice man, and he does a lot of good.  I’m just frustrated by the way the church is going more and more toward this corporate mentality.  It seems that the end goal of growing the church is used to justify any means, no matter how contrary to the teachings of Christ. 

My goal is not to tear down the church, but to help reform it.  By posting here and joining a growing conversation, I hope that together we can advocate for change and help the church to become what it used to be and what it can be once again – no more a corporation investing massive amounts of money in new shopping malls, but simply a community of people united in their belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the restoration of that gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith. 

For now, I am posting anonymously under the name of Martin Harris Luther.  It rubs me wrong to hide this way in anonymity.  At some point, I plan to go public with my identity, but even then I don’t want to advertise my views unsolicited.  Also, as I am still in my calling as an elders quorum president, I don’t want my statements to be taken as official by those in my quorum or in the church at large.  It’s just my opinions folks.  In face-to-face interactions with other church members, I think it is usually more effective to carefully test the waters and then let them take the lead on broaching this territory.  For me, being a reformer will primarily mean sharing ideas slowly and quietly.  But I think there will be other times where more boldness is appropriate, such as here on this blog. 


  1. Testing anonymous comments.

  2. Nicely done, Martin! I've added your blog to the famous Blogroll at "Pure Mormonism."

  3. It did work this time!!! Thanks, Martin.

    I liked your article, but I'm probably not a good critic. I take things according to how they 'feel', I'm afraid. Still working on all the logic stuff. LOL!

    I think you could only see this from your position, which is why it is important that honest people accept difficult positions in the church. Yes, it's hard not to be compromised, but I would not have understood this phenomenon so well if you hadn't written about it. Probably wouldn't have even thought about it.

    I'm glad there are people willing to put themselves 'out there' in the Mormon cyberworld.

    I couldn't do a blog.

  4. Thank you for your article. You brought out some things that concern me - and some things I hadn't known before.

  5. Funny that you say "A much better choice would be to initiate your crisis of faith while serving as a nursery leader.", as I wouldn't say that I am having a crisis of faith, but more of an awakening to the truth. AND of course this probably wouldn't have happened if I was serving in the primary, bored out of my mind, and missing any and all types of spiritual enlightenment at church.
    But serving in the primary is what caused me to branch out, and consider new possibilities. I first started with reading The Second Comforter by Denver Snuffer, and if you haven't read that I highly recommend it.

  6. Rock, thank you for adding me to your blogroll (and for inspiring me to see things clearly and join the conversation)!

    Austin, you're right that "awakening to the truth" is a better way to put it than "crisis of faith". I think for me, it started out feeling like a crisis, but ended up feeling like an awakening. It is interesting that you started branching out while in the primary, but I often find my gospel doctrine class to be more boring than when I served in the primary, just because kids will say exactly what they are thinking, unlike most adults. My wife has read The Second Comforter, but I haven't been able to find the time yet. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. Enjoying this site already! Brought up some interesting things to think about.

  8. Thanks Martin! I really enjoyed your wit. I, like Austin recommend The Second Comforter to you, but also all of Denver Snuffer's books. Regarding the topic broached in this post, I believe that the doctrines discussed in all of his books may bring a solid clarity to many of your thoughts.
    Regardless keep seems you have a natural talent.

  9. Thanks E and H! I have a lot of books to read, and Snuffer is definitely on the list. I'll get to them all eventually.

  10. Searching for the like button...

  11. I would really like to know if your stake president was being overly ambitious in his proclamation of the priesthood responsibility or if he heard it from a higher-up. I'm getting pretty sick of the laser focus on PR, as if that could cover up the historical corrections that have been trickling out. And facebook as a PR tool? Sounds like the mother lode for trolls.

  12. Ok, I loved your wit on this. The zombie virus analogy -perfect. My analogy has been the delicious cake that occasionally has dead bugs in it...yeah, that analogy has pretty much already been beaten to death within the church though. The huge push to use social media doesn't always sit well with me either. I actually just blocked a friend (from high school seminary council) who apparently would post nothing except conference talk quotes and church videos. I didn't have issues with the quotes themselves, but more with the principle of the thing -it just doesn't feel like sincere missionary work to me. Plus, it can get annoying. I have enough to scroll through on my new feed as it is. I even wonder if I should stop posting political stuff because I don't want to send the message that I am trying to force others to my point of view. I think you hit the nail on the head there; people have to come around in their own good time. However, I think if the church really wanted to get serious about improving their image via social media, they would talk to the advertisement people who work for Dove. Seriously, has anything ever been shared as much as the "Dove True Beauty Sketches" ad or, more recently, the Father's Day one from Dove? Apparently they have really hit onto something there. Either that or we all have a subconscious obsession with skin and hair products. :)

  13. My husband is a clerk so he overhead a discussion in ward council(?) about affiliating with anti-church groups (like in the temple recommend interview question). (I think some bizarre discussions do tend to take place there.) Someone asked if going to a gay support group with your child would count. Someone else said it absolutely would count as going against the church; it would be a lot like going to a bar. Another, more liberally minded dude, spoke up and said that was complete nonsense and that he had, in fact, gone to the bar many times, it being the only place he felt he could really communicate with his father. I wish I would have been at that meeting. Isn't it the best when someone speaks out against idiocy like that?

  14. @ Isaac

    I don't know if the exact idea of PR as a priesthood responsibility came from higher up than my stake president, but the push for better PR is certainly coming from much higher up.

    @ Anonymous

    I wish I was as courageous as the guy you overheard speaking up for bars in ward council. If I were, I would have openly disagreed with a recent WC discussion over something Elder Ballard said: "It becomes apostasy when people decide to share their unorthodox thoughts with others." To my shame, I just sad with my head hung down and my lips zipped. I didn't share my unorthodox thought when it mattered the most.

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  16. Thank you for your post. We need to all speak out against this trend to focus primarily on image. Heaven help the guy who wears a colored shirt to church, to those who don't have a picture of the temple in every room of their home, to those who do not post quotes from the church on facebook everyday, and to those who don't get excited about another Sacrament meeting full of talks about missionary work.