Public Affairs YouTube Video: “Mormons Have Nothing to Do With Polygamous Sect”
Mike Otterson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Public Affairs office, responds to a question about how the press has handled coverage of the Texas raid of an unaffiliated polygamous sect:
“We’re seeing hundreds of news reports around the world dealing with recent events in Texas and some of those reports refer to those practicing polygamy as Mormons. Tell me how the Church feels about the media coverage so far.”
Mike Otterson: “Well, when people [in the news media or people in general] refer to these polygamist groups as Mormons, it always bothers us. I have to say that in the last couple of weeks—or the last week or so--since this story broke about the raid on this Texas polygamous sect, the media has really been pretty good, in the United States especially: CNN, the Associated Press, USA Today, National PublicRadio have all been very, very careful to draw the distinction between the thirteen million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—that is, this global religious faith, the 4th largest faith in the United States--and these small secretive polygamous societies.
I wish it was that clear a distinction to the ordinary member of the public because frankly we still do get confused even though it’s well over a century since the Church—our Church—discontinued polygamy. In 1890 [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] officially discontinued polygamy, and even today, now, if any member tried to practice polygamy, they’d be excommunicated. So we have no tolerance for it.
But in the public mind, people think of the term “Mormon” as…a missionary who’s knocking at a door, or they think of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or they think of, maybe, the Mormon temple on Temple Square. So they have certain images in understanding what the term “Mormon” means. And when the media occasionally uses the term, “Mormons” to describe these fundamentalist sects; if they start calling them “Mormon fundamentalists,” or “Mormon polygamists,” it causes tremendous confusion in the public mind. And frankly, it really irritates us because we’ve really tried to make those distinctions very, very clear over the years.
Some of the international press still gets it wrong. We’ve seen reports coming out of Russia, we’ve seen reports coming out of France, like the Agence France-Presse, the French News Agency, for example posted a photograph of our temple alongside the story on this raid on this polygamous sect in Texas. Well, that frankly is inexcusable, and it took us three days to persuade them to take that picture down which they eventually did and issued a clarification. So we still do get confusion, even though most of the media is now getting it.
I think in the public mind there’s still this, “Well, is that you?”; “Are these Mormons or are they not?” So I want to make it really, really clear, as clear as I possibly can: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this global organization that I belong to, that preaches the gospel in 90 different languages, that has members in all the different countries in the world, that operates Brigham Young University and does all this humanitarian aid around the world, that could not be more different than these small polygamous sects that are scattered around the Intermountain West, and even as far as British Columbia.
So, if people just understand that we don’t look like these people; we don’t dress like these people; we don’t worship like these people; we don’t believe the same things as these people. And the term “Mormon” should never, ever be used to describe these polygamous sects. If we can just get that, if we win that battle, frankly, we’ll have come a long way.”
Transcription by Karen R. Merkley More Good Foundation firstname.lastname@example.org 801.705.5115