Mormon leaders have united to confront growing issues about the perception of the American people about their religion; using an advertising campaign, they have already started tackling negative connotations about the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
The religion was used in advertisements featuring average people and the slogan, “I’m a Mormon,” to demonstrate the fact that Mormon’s are indistinguishable from other people.
The campaign seeks to discourage disparaging judgments about Mormonism they gathered from a 2009 survey: the average American found the 191-year-old religion: “secretive,” “cultish,” “sexist,” and “pushy,” among other epithets, according to The New York Times.
The multimillion dollar ad campaign began in 2010, and was recently enlarged to reach a wider demographic. The church claims it does not seek to influence elections, however.
Despite two very high-profile republicans, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, being Mormons, the LDS has taken specific actions to avoid the perception that they seek to increase the chances of a Mormon president. To accomplish this, the campaign purposely avoids states with early primaries, like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.
The church’s 6 million American members may only represent 2 percent of the population, but they have made a huge impact in the United States. It was estimated that Mormons were responsible for at least 45 percent of the fundraising for California’s Proposition 8 gay marriage ban, and vote very conservatively.
However, traditionally conservative Americans, according to the survey, do not think highly of Mormons, despite presidential candidates publicly supporting the religion. One person involved with the LDS advertising campaign spoke to the Times about the image perception.
“You would think that the higher Romney’s profile, the better it is for the church. It’s actually the opposite," said the source.
The person said politicians are becoming “polarizing figures” instead of “uniting figures.”
While there is some evidence for this in the surveys conducted, one could also cite the case of John F. Kennedy, who became the first Catholic president. Although there has not been a Catholic president since the late President, some of the stigma surrounding the option has certainly been eliminated.
“If Romney gets the nomination, ultimately for the church it’s a problem… [People will] say, I know one Mormon - our president - and I hate that guy,” the source said.
As part of the effort to curb potential detrimental sentiment, the Mormon advertisement operation has its church members post profiles and testimonies online. The personal statements are designed to establish dialogue between Americans and the LDS.
So far, the church reports that over a million people have started chats with the Mormons online, but it is currently unknown how many of them have or will become converts.
Mia B. Love, a Mormon mayor of Saratoga Springs, said the chats resemble online evangelism.
“The church has always been incredibly involved in missionary work, and the ads are an extension of that,” she said. “They wanted to get the word out that we’re not a cult, we’re not sitting in the mountains here with five wives. They wanted to let people know that we’re normal."