We Are All in This Together
It is such a delight to be with all of you today. You are my oasis of peace in a very busy public affairs day that started early this morning. I think I want to stay for a while, especially after that beautiful music. Yes, I am the publicist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but I can’t sing, so when I hear such beautiful melodies, I am so appreciative of it and feel so blessed.
I’ve entitled my remarks today, “Church Public Affairs: We Are All in this Together.” That’s why I was so delighted to learn that you are live tweeting and you have that book. I love Elder Scott’s counsel to write down and participate in meetings because that allows us to receive revelation. It’s one of my personal favorites, and I really feel at home knowing you are going to be doing that.
I want to start out by talking about peregrine falcons. Now I don’t know if you know this or not, but over on the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which is the building in which I work, on the 9th floor is a nesting box outside. For over a dozen years, or longer, since I have been there, we have a pair of nesting peregrine falcons that come every single year to nest. What’s really terrific is they have cameras inside of the nesting box, and so we are able to watch the progression of these peregrine falcons right from the eggs to when they actually hatch, are fed, and have flying lessons. We see it start to finish.
It’s a wonderful metaphor for public affairs and how we approach various campaigns, responses, projects, and crisis communications. They all start with an idea being hatched. And once this idea is hatched, we have to sometimes sit on it a while, warm it up, get those proper approvals—and sometimes there are a lot of proper approvals—and finally our idea hatches. And once the idea hatches, there must be careful oversight and sometimes others are thrown in, and at times our ideas fall flat, and then the best ideas—and I might mention that the best ideas are always those that are coupled with revelation and start to grow. Resources and collaboration and careful planning accelerate the idea that has now become a plan. And they grow. And with careful precision, the plan is implemented. And along the way, we have to adjust if things get unwieldy, and they do, or let’s face it, they can get a little bit ugly, and they do. And finally we are ready to launch and fly.
Now this is the time in the Public Affairs department where productivity goes down just a tad because we can watch on our computer monitors when the young falcons are going to fly out of this box. And it’s always the bird—the one you think can’t fly—who’s the bravest. He goes out first. Now can you imagine that moment, standing at the precipice, the edge of that box? You don’t know how to fly, but you’re going to launch out of a nine-story window. So we watch, along with the Utah Fish and Wildlife officials, who are there ready to catch them if they land. They actually have someone assigned to each of those birds and they name them Michelangelo and all those names. They’re very serious about these birds about ready to fly.
So mom and dad, in the days preceding this, stop feeding them. You can see mom and dad squawking at them from the ledges of the Church Administration Building, with pieces of pigeon meat, to try and get them to fly over. And finally, they launch, and you can see them up there. There is always one that is the last one to launch, because he usually watches the others crash land on the way down. So he’s a little bit more cautious and careful.
And they do crash land. In Public Affairs, I want you to know that public affairs is not a precise business in the Church. It can be really difficult at times. It can really be amazing at times. And sometimes we don’t have success. We call those intelligent failures.
But through it all, in my over 17 years at Public Affairs, I have seen great miracles. So today, from my perch in Public Affairs, I want to give you a window of insight into my world. Why am I doing it? Because just for the next few minutes, I want to deputize you all public affairs workers for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With the advent and emergence of social media, everything is public, and you can make a difference in the public affairs efforts in the Church. I’m glad that you’ve been advised to do so today.
I want to give you some insight concerning us, and some principles that we live and die by in Public Affairs. These principles you can adhere to as well, to help bring the Church out of obscurity, and also to attest to its credibility through your online personal communications.
Elder L. Tom Perry, who is 91, is the chairman of the Public Affairs Committee. He is assisted by Elder D. Todd Christofferson in all of our efforts. We receive personal instruction from them in all of our various projects. Someone is called to a calling as a public affairs worker in the Church—and believe it or not, there are public affairs callings just like Primary presidents, just like Relief Society workers—only theirs are a little bit less defined. We actually have a public affairs network behind the Church firewall that they log into to receive instruction. Elder Perry and I put together this video for them so that when they are called to this position and they look like a deer in the headlights and they’re wondering what in the world they have been asked to do, he could give them some insight and, yes, a little comfort. So pretend you are a director of public affairs and L. Tom Perry is talking to you.
Video: Elder L. Tom Perry
“I was in Guam at the time they called me. I’m just not that type—I’m an accountant by profession, green shade, armbands, working over a desk. And they called me to be a chairman of this council. Public affairs is essential to building the kingdom of God on the earth. The Savior, in his final instructions to the Twelve, was “Go ye into all the world, and teach.” Missionaries are called to full-time service to be teachers. In public affairs, we build relationships that open doors and allow the Church to be established around the world.
“One of my earliest experiences with this was during World War II. You’ve never seen such devastation in all your lives. They had been prevented from holding religious service. The chapels had been damaged with the bombings. So we organized and rebuilt the churches. We plastered some of the walls and got them set up, and held the first meetings with them, and that started a community of faith in Nagasaki that of course would only spread. Just as we were leaving, these 200 great Saints, that came over the hill singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” came down, showered us with gifts, then lined up along the train, and as we left we just touched their fingers as the train pulled out. It was a feeling that you’ll never forget. Maybe you had done some good.
“You’ve been called to a very important position in our Father in Heaven’s kingdom. It’s not by chance you’re here. You have the personality, the spirit, the vitality to carry on this work. We want you to use the tools that are available to you, to expand your knowledge and understanding of this great calling which is yours, to be enthusiastic in the work and carry the message out to the peoples of the world.”
Isn’t he wonderful and enthusiastic? In fact, when we filmed that particular piece, it was just a Q&A interview. There was no script, and at the very end—I was exhausted. We’d been about an hour there in his office, and I said, “Can you just lean forward, and just give them some inspiration?” That was the last part of that clip, where he is so enthusiastic.
We are all part of a worldwide team. We actually have a growing and very vibrant public affairs network around the world, with area public affairs directors in each Church area. Everyone wears the same hat—that is the “We Are One” hat, because we really do try to focus on unified goals, even though we speak dozens and dozens of different languages. Our area directors receive extensive training once a year in Salt Lake City, and then we actually travel out to the field to train the people on the ground, which is an amazing experience.
As was mentioned, I work with Europe and the Philippines, and then domestically with the Southeastern and Southwestern parts of the United States, and Idaho. Idaho gets its own area, because it is high maintenance all the time, because of the concentration of members there.
One of the things that unifies us as a public affairs network around the world, and which should unify us all as members of the Church in our communications, is the Church brand. A brand is a collective experience, if you will, that people have with the Church and with its entities. This means that anytime you are dealing with something proactive and something that’s very exciting, like a temple open house, you treat people as you would want Christ to treat them. This also means that if you are faced with a hostile question from a reporter, you treat that reporter as Christ would treat them. So what do we want them to experience? It is as simple as this: our beliefs are centered on Jesus Christ and His teachings. Understanding this leads us to try to live more closely to what Jesus Christ taught, and that we follow Jesus Christ no matter what. And this, I can tell you from personal experience, is something that we have to practice every single day, because sometimes we are the only representative from the Church who interfaces with certain groups of people.
The public perception of members of the Church is usually this (and if I had a dime for every time I heard this, I would be a very rich woman), “Despite the strange things Mormons believe, they help a lot of people through their humanitarian efforts. Despite the strange things Mormons believe, they have strong families. Despite the strange things Mormons believe, they are hard-working and successful.”
How many of you have ever heard this, or had yourselves qualified this way? “Here’s my good friend, so-and-so. He’s one of those Mormons, but you know, he’s a great guy.” So when we work with opinion leaders and with the media, we want them to understand one simple thing: because of what we believe is the reason why we are successful and are able to be collaborative and work positively in communities. And this is a paradigm shift for people we work with.
Because Mormons follow Christ’s example of serving others, they are on the front lines of humanitarian relief. They expect us to be there. The National Guard automatically lets members of the Church in “Helping Hands” t-shirts into areas that are cordoned off because they know they are there to help, and they are trustworthy.
Because Mormons follow Christ’s teachings on the importance of families, they have strong relationships. We are asked all the time about those who serve missions and their dedication and willingness to sacrifice. Why? How? Because we follow Jesus Christ. I have a recently returned missionary at my home from Barcelona, Spain, who, through tears, has told me at times, “Oh, I wish I could return to the mission,” because it was such a seminal time in his life where he could feel the Spirit all the time.
Because Mormons believe in the Christian values of honesty and integrity, they are hard-working and successful. That is why Goldman Sachs often hires at least half of its graduates who are LDS, and half from Harvard and Yale, because they know that we have such values and live them.
So let me give you just a couple of examples. I received a phone call two years ago from Mary Jordan. She’s a Pulitzer Prize winning author from the Washington Post, and she said, “Kim, the Washington Post wants to send me to the place in the world where the Church is growing the fastest, and I have to go right away.”
And I said, “All right.” She thought she was taking a trip to South America. She was quite surprised to find out that she was actually going to Nigeria. Her enthusiasm was not quite as great when she found that out. She spent time with members of the Church, and she in particular focused on a wonderful man whose name is Ndukwe. She talked about how, in all of the chaos in the world around him, he sat on his bed in his one-room apartment with his family singing “I Am a Child of God,” because it was Monday, and that was family night. And then Ndukwe told her this:
“‘I am a changed man,’ Ndukwe said, sitting on a bed that took up most of his apartment. ‘I used to drink. I had girlfriends outside my marriage. I don’t do that anymore, and I feel better. The Mormon church contributed 100% to the change.’” (“The New Face of Global Mormonism,” Lagos, Nigeria, November 19, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/18/AR2007111801392.html )
Why is Ndukwe living the way he is? Because the gospel transformed his life.
One of my favorite stories that I followed for years was written by journalist Ann Cochran for the Washingtonian, about the conversion of her son, Harry. Oh, how distraught she was. Harry started taking the missionary lessons and she became involved, and her friends would say, “What’s happening? You’re going to lose him forever,” and all those things you usually hear that go along with that. Well, Harry ended up getting baptized, and Ann really grew to have a respect for the LDS faith.
She wrote at the end of her article this:
“His faith brings me peace. I watched my son with pride as he finished high school without alcohol fueling his fun, with fabulous friends, and with Christ in his heart and on his bedroom wall. At the same time, he’s still a teen who drives too fast, spends too much, and talks back. But now when he aggravates me, I say: ‘I don’t think nice Mormon boys act that way.’” (“My Son the Mormon,” Washingtonian, published Sept. 1, 2006, http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/people/my-son-the-mormon/ )
I followed his story. Harry goes on to serve a mission in Northern Italy, and I was delighted when I read an article of Ann finally getting permission to visit Harry and running up to him in an embrace in one of the squares in Italy, whispering to him, “Please come home. Please come home.” And him gently hugging her and saying, “No, Mom. I’m here.” (See “Methodist Mom: How My Son’s Mormon Mission Changed My Life,” LDS Living Magazine, July 16, 2013, http://ldsliving.com/story/73032-methodist-mom-how-my-sons-mormon-mission-changed-my-life )
Ann Cochran was baptized when Harry returned home.
We have experiences with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and one of the most memorable of this last year was with Bryn Terfel, who is a renowned singer. He recorded his album Homeward Bound with the Choir. He is a British presence. He is well known and when he started doing a press tour for the album, the British press was questioning him about, “What are you doing with those Mormons?”
So we were surprised by this headline that was in the Independent where he said, “I was going through a divorce, and I was questioning my own spirituality before I went to Salt Lake City. To be embraced by those people in such a manner and to be loved not only as a musician but as a human being is quite an eye-opener.” The headline read: “Stop Mocking the Mormons. Bryn Terfel Has Been Embraced by the Faith.” (See article in The Independent, Thursday, 26 February 2015,http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/stop-mocking-the-mormons-says-opera-star-bryn-terfel-who-has-been-embraced-by-the-faith-8802386.html)
Finally, Elder Russell M. Nelson met with the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, just for an editorial visit while he was in town. He met with quite an acerbic writer named Daniel Ruth who was known for his sarcastic articles. Editorial board visits are mostly informational, but a few months later we were surprised when, in the height of the presidential campaign when Mitt Romney was running, Daniel Ruth wrote this beautiful article about Elder Nelson.
He said, “Nelson readily acknowledged the church’s image problems. His solution? Simply live a moral, decent life. Be a responsible member of the community. And by living a virtuous life, you set an example for others to recognize Mormonism is not a threat to anyone—except perhaps Starbucks.” (“Friend of Perry is enemy of almost everyone else,” Tampa Bay Times, Oct. 10, 2011, http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/friend-of-perry-is-enemy-of-almost-everyone-else/1196133 )
So you can see that it’s happening. One of the reasons I show you these examples is that each and every one of these people that came forward to talk about the Church, came forward because of personal interactions they had with members of the Church. It starts right there at the relationship level. It’s what we call the “Relationship Pyramid.” It’s based on experiences—experiences that people have with each and every one of you that lead them to believe different things about the Church, and to take action. And their action often results in the comments that they make, the things that they write.
In fact, we have found that research shows that when people get to know members of the Church, misconceptions are corrected and they have a much more favorable view, and that members of the Church also benefit by getting to know their neighbors and those of other faiths.
Well, how does this translate into public affairs? First of all, relationships are formed between individuals and not institutions. They are built on common interests and on common ground. They are mutually beneficial and fulfilling. They’re sincere. They’re natural. They’re voluntary. They’re professional working relationships, maintained by diligence and nurturing.
Think about the public affairs network I told you about that operates worldwide. They are reaching out deep into their communities, with opinion leaders, with interfaith leaders, government leaders. They are meeting with anyone who can help or hinder the Church, to dispel misunderstandings or join to help benefit the communities around them. That is incredibly powerful.
They help us in several ways: missionary visas, temple and chapel building permits, balanced media coverage, coalition building, greater involvement in our communities, greater respect and understanding, and resolving conflicts. When we reach out with personal relationships of understanding, I tell you, again and again, I have seen some of the biggest misunderstandings just disappear and turn into wonderful, beneficial relationships.
Let me give you just a couple of recent examples of the Church reaching out and finding common ground. How many of you saw this in the press? This was really great. President Henry B. Eyring was invited to the Vatican, and he joined religious leaders and scholars representing 14 faith traditions from 23 countries to discuss marriage and its importance. What was wonderful is President Eyring was seated front and center. He was one of the few that received a private greeting with the Pope. And he actually had an opportunity to address all of the scholars in that audience.
I have to tell you that was really remarkable because this tended to be more of a religious/academic conference. There were a lot of scholarly-type things being said. If you have a chance to read President Eyring’s remarks—they’re on the Mormon Newsroom—I encourage you to do so because he talked personally about his relationship with his wife. And he wept. It was absolutely groundbreaking. He was referred to several times by others at the conference. (Transcript: “President Eyring Addresses the Vatican Summit on Marriage,” 18 November 2014, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/transcript-president-eyring-addresses-vatican-summit-marriage )
We also heard the Family Proclamation quoted by at least one other scholar. He didn’t give the Church credit, but we’re glad he liked the document.
Just two weeks ago, UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron received his genealogy. Sister Marriott and other leaders of the women’s auxiliaries just returned from a visit to South America, and they met with the First Lady-elect of Uruguay, and also they had a huge meeting with community leaders and members of the Church.
Dr. Ella Smith Simmons, general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, just recently addressed BYU students, and Elder Holland hosted a dinner in London with twelve high-ranking Muslim guests in attendance and eight Church hosts, including MP David Rutley. These outreach visits take place all the time, and we don’t just let them end right there. We follow up with them. We find opportunities to serve with them. That’s relationships, personally and professionally, and you can have that in your own personal circles.
But we also have to deal with the news media. The Church is out of obscurity in the United States. It’s out of obscurity in many countries in the world, and it’s viewed as a curiosity in some. In others, if you bring up The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they will not know what you are talking about. When I go to Europe to conduct training for our national directors of public affairs, I can be sitting at a table with the national director of Spain, Sergio Gudoy, who has over 50,000 members in his country. He’s just so thrilled. Or I can be seated with someone from Macedonia where there are six members of the Church, and five of them are the new ambassador’s family from the United States that just moved in. And yet, the testimonies of those two national directors are exactly the same. It’s absolutely marvelous to see their pioneering efforts.
So I wanted to share with you just a couple of examples in the media I thought you might find kind of fun. You’ve read about us if there are controversies or open houses or RootsTech or those kinds of things. But I want you to know that anything and everything about the Church usually is of interest to the media, including “To Be Hip, Young, and Mormon,” in the New York Times. It’s your fashion sense, or what you wear. Or the New York Times had a great feature in its dining and wine section on funeral potatoes and all the different ways you can make them. We are a curiosity, and we are included in every single reality show on television. They always like to have a member of the Church in the mix, because of our values—they like to contrast us with others. By the way, if you come to Public Affairs and say, “I’ve been asked to be on a reality show,” we will say, “Don’t do it” because it’s not always in your best interests.
We also have hundreds, if not thousands, of articles written about the Church internationally every year, and we have dozens upon dozens of visits. During the presidential campaigns we had hundreds of visits of foreign journalists to Temple Square.
One of the other things we do besides reach out with relationships and work with media is we find we have to do a lot of education in Public Affairs. So we have our own website; it’s our Mormon Newsroom. How many of you have been to it? Oh, you make my heart so happy to see all of those hands. You might be interested to know that there are actually 71 global newsrooms throughout the world, in each and every country throughout the world. And we’re still rolling them out. They have their own hub, in their own language, publishing their own stories. There is this amazing collaboration with the Pacific Area, saying, “Hey, Heidi in the Philippines, we’re having so-and-so go up here to meet with one of your leaders. Can you cover us there?” You can see these networks in this wonderful collaborative worldwide effort, and then you watch it populate on all of these different newsroom websites.
In fact, if you go to the global newsroom, up in the top right-hand corner, it says “International.” Especially for those of you who speak another language, just click on that and you can go to the country. Or find out what’s happening in the country where you served your mission.
One of the things we have on the global newsroom is called “Getting It Right.” Now, it used to be in “the old days” of Public Affairs, when we first had a newsroom, that if you got it wrong we would post your story. It was our way of publicly bringing to attention your errors. Well, that’s not the way we do things these days, because what is our brand? Following Jesus Christ and treating each other in a Christlike way. So following that brand, we post stories of people who get it right. We highlight them, and we compliment them, and because of all of the people who visit our site link to their article, that drives thousands of people to their site to read the article, increasing their social media, which usually is very good for the reporter who is noticed by his editor. It helps us secure relationships in the future.
We try to reach out in ways that are sharable. Let me show you this.
Video: Male narrator
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral when it comes to party politics. Simply put, its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not elect candidates. So just what does political neutrality mean? Let’s take a closer look.
Political neutrality means that the Church does not engage in party politics, endorse candidates or try to influence them. Also off-limits: the use of Church buildings for political events and political messages from a pulpit, or using membership lists for fundraising and campaigning. That’s without exception. Whether they are Mormon or not, it makes no difference.
Does that mean that Mormons don’t vote? Hardly. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to get civically involved. Like other citizens, Mormons vote during elections, are active in the political process, and some may even choose to run for office.
Church leader Elder M. Russell Ballard has said this to Church members: Be involved, but don’t look to the Church as to how to get involved.
Elder Ballard: “The civic duty of any Latter-day Saint, regardless of where they live, or including any country they may live in, is to be actively involved in the political process—meaning that they study the issues, they determine what the needs are as they see it, that they then use their freedom and their agency to vote according to their own conscience. It’s very important that good people everywhere are involved in this process.”
What about speaking out on community and moral issues if they’re not about party politics? Of course that’s okay. It’s a long-held right of all religions to have a place in the public square. Like many of those faiths, the Church may choose from time to time to join the discussion on moral issues that it believes could impact society.
So in a nutshell, political neutrality means that the Church does not back candidates. But Mormons as individuals are encouraged to fully participate in the election process, back the causes and candidates of their choice that inspires good government, and on Election Day, vote according to their conscience.
If you’d like to learn more, go to MormonNewsroom.org.
We have several of these whiteboard animations that you can share on various topics. We also do a lot with infographics. If you are interested, we also have guidelines and helps for how you can participate in the conversation. Above all, I want you to remember to be non-defensive in your responses.
When we first received the phone call from Variety and Billboard Magazine about the “Book of Mormon Musical,” they said, “Are you going to protest?” Instead, we responded with the quote that they had to use as journalists: “Though the musical may entertain people for an evening, the Book of Mormon, as a volume of scripture, will change people’s lives forever by bringing them to Christ.”
That’s all we said. When the producers went out, they read our statement—all the time. Because that was our Christlike response. And then the week after the Tony Awards, when the Book of Mormon Musical won everything, we started a massive “I’m a Mormon” campaign in New York City’s Time Square including the little toppers on the taxicabs. By the way, if you went in the taxicabs, you got a little looped video on “I’m a Mormon.” The national tours included playbill ads: “I’ve read the book.” “The book is always better.” And “Now read the book.” There’s a QR code on it, and we know it works, because people actually go to our website from it.
When the Book of Mormon Musical went to London—you probably didn’t know this, but we engaged in what we call domineering marketing, where we took the world’s biggest subway stations in Piccadilly Square and Oxford Circus, and we had every single solitary frame. And also the double-decker buses. I knew you’d like this. We didn’t know how the British media would respond, but they said, “That’s quite cheeky of those Mormons.”
So here are your closing guiding principles, because I want you to leave here knowing that these principles apply to you. Live the brand. Follow Jesus Christ. Don’t get involved in online conversations with Internet trolls that just want to bait you. Always be positive. Focus on how the gospel transforms your life. Form good relationships. Educate others about the Church in a non-defensive way. And above all, I want you to remember that we are all in this together.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell, was chairman of Public Affairs. He’s the one I interviewed with when I was hired, and I miss him a lot. He is such a wordsmith—he said, “The finished mosaic of the history of the Restoration will be larger and more varied as more pieces of tile emerge, adjusting a sequence here or enlarging there a sector of our understanding.
“…There may even be a few pieces of the tile which, for the moment, do not seem to fit. We can wait, as we must…
[One day,] “the final mosaic of the Restoration will be resplendent, reflecting divine design…
“At the perfect day, we will see that we have been a part of things too wonderful for us. Part of the marvel and the wonder of God’s ‘marvelous work and a wonder’ will be how perfect Divinity mercifully used us—imperfect humanity.
“Meanwhile, amid the human dissonance, those with ears to hear will follow the beckoning sounds of a certain trumpet.” (“Out of Obscurity,” October 1984 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1984/10/out-of-obscurity?lang=eng )
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.