- Public relations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Public relations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has become of increased importance to the church's hierarchy since the church's increased international growth after World War II. By the 1960s and 1970s, the LDS Church was no longer primarily an Intermountain West-based church, or even a United States-based church. Rather, it had become a worldwide organization.
The church, mirroring the world around it, felt the disunifying strains of alien cultures and diverse points of view that had brought an end to the idealistic modern age. At the same time, the postmodern world was increasingly skeptical of traditional religion and authority, and driven by mass-media and public image. These influences awoke within the church a new self-consciousness.
Notable changes within the church
It felt a need to sell its image to an increasingly jaded public, to jettison some of its Utah-based parochialism, to control and manage Mormon scholarship that might present an unfavorable image of the church, and to alter its organization to cope with its size and cultural diversity, while preserving centralized control of Latter-day Saint doctrine, practice, and culture.
Thus, the church underwent a number of important changes in organization, practices, and meeting schedule. In addition, the church became more media-savvy, and more self-conscious and protective of its public image. The church also became more involved in public discourse, using its new-found political and cultural influence and the media to affect its image, public morality, and Mormon scholarship, and to promote its missionary efforts. At the same time, the church struggled with how to deal with increasingly pluralistic voices within the church and within Mormonism. In general, this period has seen both an increase in cultural and racial diversity and extra-faith ecumenism, and a decrease in intra-faith pluralism.
Until the church's rapid growth after World War II, it had been seen in the eyes of the general public as a backward, non- or vaguely-Christian polygamist cult in Utah — an image that interfered with proselyting efforts. As the church's size began to merit new visibility in the world, the church seized upon the opportunity to re-define its public image, and to establish itself in the public mind as a mainstream Christian faith. At the same time, the church became publicly involved in numerous ecumenical and welfare projects that continue to serve as the foundation of its ecumenism today.
Public Relations on the part of the Church in an organized way have deep roots. The Bureau of Information, the predecessor of the Temple Square Visitors Centers was started on Temple Square in Salt Lake City with Le Roi Snow, a son of Lorenzo Snow, as the first director.
History of church public relations
The origins of the use of the media to spread the message of the Church can be traced to the formation of the Radio, Publicity and Missionary Literature Committee in 1934. This organization was headed by Elder Stephen L. Richards of the quorum of the twelve, with Gordon B. Hinckley serving as the executive secretary and initially the only employee. During the 1930s they developed film strips for missionaries to use.
In the 1957 the Church split the Radio, Publicity and Missionary Literature Committee into the Church Information Service with the goal of communicating the Church's message to the media and an internal communications department. The Church Information Service worked with the goal of being ready to respond to media inquiries and generate positive media coverage. The organization kept a photo file to provide photos to the media for such events as Temple dedications. It also would work to get stories covering Family Home Evening, the Church welfare plan and the Church's youth activities in various publications.
In 1972 the Church Information Service was renamed the Department of Public Communications. In 1973 it was renamed again to the Public Communications Department. It was also placed directly under the supervision of the First Presidency unlike most Church departments that were directed through the Quorum of the Twelve. At this point Wendell J. Ashton was the director. Shortly after this supervision of LDS Vistitors Centers and production of ads produced by the Church was added to this departments responsibility. To assist with these aspects, Heber Wolsey, BYU's public relations director, was recruited. The department then came out with the Homefront ads with their tag line "Family, Isn't it about time".
As part of the church's efforts to re-position its image as that of a mainstream religion, the church began to moderate earlier anti-Catholic rhetoric by members. In Elder Bruce R. McConkie's 1958 edition of Mormon Doctrine, which was not an official publication of the Church, he had stated his unofficial opinion that the Catholic Church was part of "the church of the devil" and "the great and abominable church" because it was among organizations that misled people away from following God's laws. In his 1966 edition of the same book, the specific reference to the Catholic Church was removed.
See generally: Armand L. Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994); Gordon Sheperd & Gary Sheperd, "Mormonism in Secular Society: Changing Patterns in Official Ecclesiastical Rhetoric," Review of Religious Research 26 (Sept. 1984): 28-42.
Disseminating church principles
The first church-wide standardized plan for teaching church principles to potential proselytes had been created in 1953 and named "A Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel", this had built on the foundation of Legrand Richards' A Marvelous Work and a Wonder and Richard L. Anderson's organized set of discussions for the Church. In 1961, this system was enhanced, expanded, and renamed "A Uniform System for Teaching Investigators". This new system, in the form of a hypothetical dialogue with a fictional character named "Mr. Brown", included intricate details for what to say in almost every situation. These routinized missionary discussions would be further refined in 1973 and 1986, and then de-emphasized in 2003.
In 1973, the church recast its missionary discussions, making them more family-friendly and focused on building on common Christian ideals. The new discussions, named "A Uniform System for Teaching Families", de-emphasized the Great Apostasy, which previously held a prominent position just after the story of the First Vision. When the discussions were revised in the early 1980s, the new discussions dealt with the apostasy less conspicuously, and in later discussions, rather than in the first discussion. The discussions also became more family-friendly, including a flip chart with pictures, in part to encourage the participation of children.
In 1982, the church renamed its edition of The Book of Mormon to The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
In 1995, the church announced a new logo design that emphasized the words "JESUS CHRIST" in large capital letters, and de-emphasized the words "The Church of" and "of Latter-day Saints". According to Bruce L. Olsen, director of public affairs for the church, "The logo re-emphasizes the official name of the church and the central position of the Savior in its theology. It stresses our allegiance to the Lord, Jesus Christ."
It was also in the 1990s that the Church came to have more members living outside the United States than inside.
In 1999 the LDS Church launched a second website, FamilySearch.org, this one containing the Family History Library Catalogue, databases such as the International Genealogical Index and Ancestral File and a limited number of search aids as well as a system to search for the nearest Family History Center.
Into the 21st century
On January 1, 2000, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles released a proclamation entitled "The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles". This document commemorated the birth of Jesus and set forth the church's official view regarding Christ.
In 2001, the church issued a press release encouraging reporters to use the full name of the church at the beginning of news articles, with following references to the "Church of Jesus Christ". The release discouraged the use of the term "Mormon Church". This request has been almost universally ignored since.
Church leaders at the same time realized that the connection of the term "Mormon" with the church was not going away. In October 2001, the church officially launched a new web-site, mormon.org, which was aimed at providing information about the church to assist in missionary efforts.
Key Cities Plan
By the early years of the 21st century the LDS Church had developed a "Key Cities Plan" to focus various efforts of outreach. One part of this program was the use of Family History to reach ethnic groups that had not been traditionally attracted to the church. Various outreaches to African-Americans were conducted, especially with the compilation of the Freedmen's Bank Records and presentations given by Darius Gray.
Other outreach efforts included those to the Haitian Community in Miami, with specifically targeted activities and efforts connected with the dedication of a chapel in the Haitian area.
Cooperation with other religious groups
- The church has opened its broadcasting facilities (Bonneville International) to other Christian groups, and has participated in the VISN Religious Interfaith Cable Television Network.
- The church has participated in numerous joint humanitarian efforts with other religious groups.
For example, the LDS Church teamed up with Islamic Relief USA to send aid in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
In the 1990s the Church donated money to help re-build to several Protestant congregations with substantial numbers of African-Americans in the southern United States that had had their buildings burned in arsons.
The church and the media
- Official press releases 
- Explanations of basic beliefs found at lds.org and mormon.org
- Our Heavenly Father's Plan, Together Forever, What is Real, Prodigal Son, etc.
- Legacy, etc.
- President Hinckley's appearances on Larry King Live
- Communication with foreign countries to allow entry of missionaries
- ^ Keith Atkinson and LeAnne Hull. "Public Affairs" in Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon and Richard O. Cowan ed., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000) p. 963-964, ISBN 9781573458221 OCLC 44634356
- ^ Richard O. Cowan. The Church in the 20th Century (Bookcraft: Salt Lake City, 1985) p. 289
- ^ Atkinson and Hull. "Public Relations" p. 962
- ^ LDS Church Almanac, 2007 Edition, p. 125
- ^ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Style Guide - The Name of the Church". http://newsroom.lds.org/style-guide. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
- ^ BYU Daily Universe, 5 April, 2004
- ^ LDS Church News, Nov. 9, 1996
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.