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Latter-day Saints launch "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign

Oct 2, 2011, 9:25 p.m.
Christian street preachers protest as as faithful Mormons make their way to the conference center for the fifth session of the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 2, 2011. REUTERS/George Frey

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - "The Book of Mormon" debuted this year as a Broadway hit that won nine Tonys, and the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination features not one, but two candidates of the Mormon faith.

Now the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is launching a major expansion of its "I'm a Mormon" advertising campaign, which, church officials say, seeks to educate the public and dispel myths about one of the fastest-growing religions in the world.

Beginning this week, a dozen U.S. cities in seven states will be targeted by the Salt Lake City-based church with ads on television, city buses and billboards inviting visitors to the church's website to learn about its beliefs and followers.

Users who log onto mormon.org can see profiles of Mormons from various walks of life, chat with church members and learn about Mormon practices, such as the prohibition against consuming alcohol, coffee and tea.

"Many people are not familiar with our faith, and that can sometimes lead to misconceptions," said David Evans, an elder who oversees the church's global network of 52,000 missionaries. "The best way to understand Mormons is to meet them and get to know them personally. These ads are an invitation to do that."

The church, boasting a membership of 14 million worldwide, including 6 million U.S. followers, has gained new attention in the American mainstream this year from Broadway to the White House campaign trail.

Public opinion polls in recent years have shown large blocs of Americans hold an unfavorable view of the religion, whose image problems are partly rooted in the faith's historical connection with polygamy.

An early tenet of the Mormon faith, plural marriage was renounced by the church more than a century ago, although it is still practiced by members of some breakaway sects.

That legacy has drawn notice from the HBO series "Big Love," about a fictional polygamous family, and "Sister Wives," a reality show that follows an ad executive, the four women he calls his spouses and their children.

But the most common myth, according to church spokeswoman Eric Hawkins, is the perception among some that Mormons are not Christians.

"This will help them understand that we follow Jesus Christ," Hawkins told Reuters.

FROM BROADWAY TO THE PRIMARIES

The ads will run in Denver, Atlanta, Phoenix, Seattle, Spokane, Wash., Indianapolis, South Bend and Fort Wayne, Ind., San Antonio and Austin, Texas, and Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., through March 2012.

The campaign first surfaced in several other U.S. cities last year, including New York City.

While two Republican presidential hopefuls, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, are Mormon, their White House aspirations are coincidental to the church's outreach effort, Hawkins said.

A Gallup poll in June found one in five U.S. voters would oppose a Mormon candidate for president.

The church has long officially avoided taking a partisan role in politics, although it has weighed in on some hot-button social debates, notably its support for a 2008 California ballot measure outlawing same-sex marriage.

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