November 2nd, 2011
11:32 AM ET
With 'I'm a Mormon' campaign, church counters lily-white image
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Washington (CNN) - The scene at a Mormon congregation here on a recent Sunday would surprise Americans who think of Mormons as young white missionaries in stiff white shirts, black ties and name tags.
Yes, there are white missionaries handing out bulletins at Washington’s Third Ward - what Mormons call their congregations - but there's also Ruth Williams, an elderly African-American woman, decked out in her Sunday best, doing the same.
White, black, Asian and Hispanic Mormons mingle before the service begins. As it gets under way, an African-American tween plays a video game on his smartphone in one pew as a 30-something white woman across the aisle taps away on her iPad.
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On this Sunday, the Sacrament - what Mormons call the remembrance of the Last Supper and what other Christians call Communion - is said in French, a nod to the area's burgeoning West African population.
It is not a special multicultural celebration Sunday. For this growing Mormon congregation in northeast Washington, it's just another weekend.
“It’s 30% Caucasian, 30% African-American, and the rest is a combination of first-generation immigrants from around the world,” says Bishop Robert Nelson, the lay leader of this congregation.
Washington's Third Ward is a near mirror image of the diverse neighborhood it serves, jarring with the Mormon Church's image as a faith-based club for upper-class whites.
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And the Mormon Church, officially called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says the ward represents the diverse face of modern Mormonism, a message it has been trying to spread as part of a yearlong nationwide push to counter its lily-white image.
Since January, the LDS Church has spent millions on an "I'm a Mormon" advertising campaign that features television commercials, billboards and bus signs with Mormons from African-American, Asian, Latino and other ethnic backgrounds. Just last month, the campaign entered 11 new major media markets in Texas, Indiana, Nebraska, Washington, Georgia and Arizona, hitting cities like Atlanta, Denver and Phoenix.
(You won't be seeing the ads in Iowa, South Carolina or Florida. With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, both Mormon, competing in the Republican presidential primaries, the church says it wants to steer clear of politics.)
The Mormon Church even used the ad campaign to launch a shot across the bow of the hit Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," buying a digital "I'm a Mormon" billboard just down the street from the theater where the show is playing.
The musical satire, co-produced by the creators of the television show "South Park," shows earnest white American Mormon missionaries and their misadventures in proselytization in Africa.
But the billboard shows a very different face of Mormons. There is an African-American couple playing Frisbee on the beach, a Latino grandfather and granddaughter, a goateed motorcycle sculptor.
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An official church website, Mormon.org, lets those interested in the church search for Mormons from diverse ethnic backgrounds and features videos from the likes of black soul singer Gladys Knight and Brandon Flowers, frontman for the rock band The Killers.
"It's to say, 'We're like you,' " said Kathleen Flake, a religious scholar from Vanderbilt Divinity School. "It's an attempt to combat stereotypes so that absolutely people are more open to see the normalcy of Mormonism."
The LDS Church says its attempt at an image makeover is as much a reflection of demographic reality as it is a PR effort. While young white missionaries may still be Mormonism's public face in the United States, they are no longer fully representative of the Salt Lake City-based church.
“Our doctrine is we’re all sons and daughters of God," says Stephen Allen, managing director of the LDS Church's missionary department. "Skin color or anything else is not a significant issue to us.”
As head of global missions, Allen supervises the 52,000 19- to 25-year-old missionaries knocking on doors around the world.
He's also executive director of the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, which began in nine markets this year.
“In terms of targeting, we’re not specifically targeting or avoiding any particular group," Allen says. "We send our missionaries all over the world to anywhere people will listen.”
As the church’s efforts to win converts has expanded internationally, “following the American flag around the world,” as Flake puts it, the LDS Church has grown more diverse.
“We’re in most of the free world right now,” Allen says. "We have a presence in Russia and Ukraine and the Baltic countries. We have a growing presence in Africa ... Nigeria, Kenya … then we have, Japan, Korea, Taiwan. There are small congregations in India, and the church is growing in those places.”
The church's membership has doubled since 1988, to 14.1 million Mormons worldwide. Six million Mormons live in the United States. Many of the church's members live in the American West and Northwest, in some of the whitest states in the country.
But like many other churches, there has been explosive growth in the LDS Church in Latin America. There are more than a million Mormons in both Mexico and Brazil. There are nearly a million Mormons in Asia and 300,000 in Africa, according to church statistics.
“This attempt to emphasize diversity and to emphasize a wide range of people who are Mormon does reflect, in a lot of ways, what’s been going on in reality for a while,” says Matthew Bowman, an editor at a Mormon studies journal called Dialogue.
Even in the United States, the perception of who Mormons are has changed.
“We’ve done a lot of research to see what people think of us and what their perception is,” Allen says. “Twenty-five or 30 years ago, if you said, ‘When you think of the word Mormon, what comes to mind?’ the answer would have been Mormon Tabernacle choir, polygamists, racists, the Osmonds [singers Donny and Marie].”
While that's less the case today, Allen says many people still don't know what a Mormon looks like - or don't know that there are Mormons from minority backgrounds.
A spokesman for the church said it doesn't keep statistics on members' race or ethnicity.
But “it’s no longer just a predominantly white church,” Allen says. “In our early history, you know, it was founded in upstate New York in the United States and was very much a white congregation, but today it’s very diverse.”
The complexion of the average Mormon ward reflects the neighborhood where the building resides. “Mormon wards are not self-selecting,” says Richard Bushman, a visiting professor at the School of Religion of Claremont Graduate University. “In Mormon congregations, they are just geographical boundaries, and wherever you live, you go to church.”
There is no church shopping. Congregants can’t go to another ward if they don’t like the music or the doughnuts at the social hour, as in many other faith traditions.
In Washington's Third Ward, two new converts who had recently been baptized were welcomed into the church on a recent Sunday. Both women were young African-Americans. The men who formed a circle around them and prayed over them were all white.
Unlike the ward, the church's global leadership in Salt Lake City is mostly white.
It was not until 1978 that African-Americans could serve in priesthood positions in the church, a prohibition that extended back to Mormon leader Brigham Young in the 1850s.
"When you see in that ad campaign Mormons, including African-Americans, they are trying to communicate against that stereotype that Mormons are racist, there's no question about this," says Vanderbilt's Flake. "They are trying to say, 'That's not fair. That is not who we are. Even if we were, we are not now.' "
Allen says the "I'm a Mormon" campaign was designed to assist the small army of young Mormon missionaries out knocking on doors.
"Our feeling was anything we could do to help them was really important," he says. "And helping them means softening people’s hearts.”
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
There was a black president of a branch of the LDS church in 1842... Joseph Ball. Ball was the Boston Branch president from October 1844 to March 1845 – the largest LDS congregation outside of the Nauvoo area. He was ordained a High Priest by William Smith (the first African American HP) and was sent to Nauvoo by Parley P. Pratt in the spring of 1845 to work on the temple. There are records of Blacks being baptized prior to 1830, by Brigham Young.
People do your research. Most everyone in every religion had their opinion about race in that time in history, in every church. The mormons love and Accept everyone and anyone, blacks, gays, hispanics, whites.
find out the truth on mormon.org
Um, yeah. I agree. Do your research.Then you'll see how blacks STOPPED being allowed into the ranks of the Grand Hoozits. It's just another anti black, anti gay, anti women cultish offshoot of another cultish religion.
You don't have a "I'm a Mormon" campaign if your organization is truly inclusive.
We all know the truth that the real first seven blacks were starters for the Jazz, I've lived in a Mormon community for 20+ years, you may sway someone else with your Lilly white stuff but not me and the intellectuals I associate with....! I was told by an elder in the LDS church that "if" I joined I would have all the women and work I could handle..! This was after he introduced me to some attractive females at a social get together...!
Great, the plague is spreading to others now.
Just like your momma's herpes.
How many of Timmy's mommys have the herps?
Wow, if the Mormons are too White, I guess that means the ELCA is ultra White with its 96% White. I actually heard that it is close to 98% White. So I guess I am being very generous with 96%.
It is actually close to 97% White.
Personally, if a person holds up a certain group or highlights them within their own group–I already KNOW I am dealing with racists–from THAT POINT ON. Because the very separation and holding up means they do not see blacks as just like everyone else or they would not be making an example of them.
The worse part of it is that 99% of all large to median size churches in the ELCA have no minority ordained minister in their paying church roster.
The percentage (96%-98%) might be correct. But it is somewhat unfair to say that the ELCA is too White. And as queenbee stated, "aren't you being racist?" Yes, the ELCA is 97% White. Yes, it is a mainline church with the worse minority representation of all mainline churches, but still it seems somewhat unfair.
The troubling thing to me however it that the book of mormon talks about the mark of dark skin as a curse for being from the lineage of Cain. How does the church (especially black members) resolve the issue that they are cursed? I don't get it.
They are not cursed. If you read the Book of Mormon you would understand why the dark skin was given to the people of that time. Scripture that is not read or understood spiritually, can lead to many different assumptions. Reading scripture is not like reading textbooks.
I have read the KJV Bible and nowhere does it mention dark skin as a curse. It does say that Noah cursed his son Hamm but it never says Hamm was dark or that the dark would be cursed–it says that the descendants of Hamm shall be slaves–but after that whites, blacks, Asians , jews, etc have ALL been enslaved at one time or another so who knows which are Hamms descendants?
The book of mormon isn't scripture. It's a fictional work entirely invented by the mind of a single con-man in the 19th century. I couldn't care less what it says.
EnjaySea, how can you know it's a fabrication if you've never read it? That just doesn't make sense.
Very troubling indeed, Just how many times has the book of Mormon changed since the inception? Please be honest..! Is it true a woman must be called up to heaven by a man...? Please be honest..!
Although I'm not a Mormon, not even a Christian for that matter, I think that overall they are very nice people. I was married to a non religious Mormon when I was younger, had a Mormon landlady for 6 years and currently work as a contractor for a Mormon company. Everyone is happy at this company, people don't quit and move on to other jobs. The atmosphere is typical business and not religious at all. I also used to be a ballroom dancer and had a Mormon instructor, also a very nice person. Mormons love dancing! Their formation ballroom dance team out of Provo is awesome!
From what you just posted, we know that you can personally vouch for about 6 Mormons–other than that you can NEVER speak for a certain group–because your personal experiences are very limited.
I'm an indian and I'm a Mormom, I hold the Preisthood, I have a family.
I am Christian, and I am going to Heaven. Good luck with whatever pedophile Joseph Smith promised you guys.
I'm a happy individual who has no religion. I'm not going to heaven or hell because neither one of them has ever been demonstrated to actually exist.
This is pure propaganda. Utah has 2% Blacks. Look at all the Morman families. Blonde hair and blue eyes and 5 kids for some reason.
That's one thing I don't agree with concerning Mormons and Catholics, it's the big families. In our current overpopulated world it's wrong. They should adopt if they want large families instead of adding still more polluters to this already dangerously over burdened planet. It's the locust mentality: Overpopulate and consume everything in sight like there will be no consequences! Mother Nature says otherwise...
Need some votes?
Scientology: Making Mormons Look Sane Since 1952.
And what is wrong with a religion or an organization being majority white? Or even 100% white?
Nothing if they just happen to be all White or are White for religious, cultural or ethnic reasons. As long as the organization does not hold racial views or exclude people based on race it's not racist. Some all White groups were instrumental in the underground railroad as well as the civil rights movement. It amazes me how many people label the NAACP as racist because it it a majority Black organization. The NAACP is actually a multiracial organization open to anyone. Of course any organization is subject to the behavior of them members in a specific chapter.
Read the Book of Mormon and find out for yourself. What do you have to lose... but your ignorance? Changed my life!
So I guess I should read the Torah, Qur'an, King James Bible and all of the other god stories...THEN I can CHOOSE which god suits me best. WHY CAN'T ANYBODY LOOK AT THIS WORLD FOR WHAT IT ACTUALLY IS?!
I'm still trying to get through "Dienetics" by L. Ron Hubbard. I will put it on my list, or maybe just catch the play.
Now why don't you go and read the Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, New Testament, Quran, Sunnah, Nahjul Balagha, Avesta, Vedas, Upanisahds, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Tantras, Sutras, Vachanas, Adi Granth, Purvas, Samayasara, Niyamasara, Pravacanasara, and Pancastikaya; Anupreksa; Samadhishataka of Pujyapada; Tattvarthasutra of Umasvati, Tattvarthasutra, Pali Tripitaka, Jataka,, Visuddimagga, Tripitaka, Lotus Sutra, Garland Sutra, Analects; the Great Learning; the Doctrine of the Mean; the Mencius, Tao Te Ching, Chuang-tzu, Kojiki, Nihon Shoki, K-oki, Ofudesaki, Mikagura-uta, Michi-no-Shiori, Johrei, Goseigen, Netarean Shower of Holy Doctrines, Chun Boo Kyung, Kitab-i-Iqan, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Book of Mormon, Dianetics, and Revelation X.
You've nothing to lose but your biblical bias.
I read all about the Indians being the lost tribe of Israel and Jesus coming to America. And, not to forget Robert Smith looking into a hat in order to read the holy book. Then Satan being the brother of Jesus. God being a man before becoming a God. Strange stuff which is fine with me so long as they stay out of Politics which they haven't done.
Typical, always trying to convert us ignorant sinners.
Okay, so I should read a book transcribed from mysterious plates by a known con-man and former fortune teller, who placed them in the bottom of a top hat and read them through magical transparent stones? If I read it, it wouldn't change my life because I wouldn't believe a single word in it.
I have read the book of Mormon, it's a fantasy story filled with false claims and fictional money, a tablet that has never been found and repeated changes from the beginning to end...! they are obviously a cult and intended to separate Americans with racial segregation, Smith was a very young man with a wild imagination, the American government (Military) has been used to curb and control this cult in the past, they labeled the Blacks as the undecided ones...! and said that's why they are Black? They change with the weather and that's the truth, just like Mitt Romney
Sorry but only white people can be part of the Priesthood or whatever they call it.Check it out if yourNative American.you can't be part of the church.
Wow. Terrible information. Ask the native american members and church leaders in Sisseton, SD if they can have full membership and the priesthood. OF COURSE NATIVE AMERICANS CAN HAVE FULL MEMBERSHIP AND HOLD THE PRIESTHOOD AND ATTEND THE TEMPLE.
Wow, that's a good one. Ignorance is bliss!
This is just completely and utterly false.
Yes, it's true. I grew up in Salt Lake. Had a friend was always trying to get me into his church (actually lots of people tried that) and to get me to join the Boy Scouts, which met in the local church...I told him I wasn't going to any Mormon church, for Boy Scouts or anything else. He told me that was just a convenient location to hold it...then, a little while later, there was a story on 60 minutes about a black kid that couldn't be an Eagle Scout because he wasn't a deacon in the church...couldn't be a deacon in the church, because black people, you see, are the decendents of Cain...(not Herman). So we talked about it, and I asked him how they could keep a kid from being an Eagle Scout when he had all the qualifications...and he said..."If he's black, he's not qualified." But still he persisted they weren't racist. This is Mormonism. Along with the 9 levels of heaven and the fireproof underwear for the end of the world...
No. I'M SORRY. But the continual comparison of race is racist. The need to trot out blacks at certain times or point out their plights, birth rates, crime rates, sports rates, hip hop rates or money making status is RACIST.
ALL stuff like that is racist because it seeks to pit and compare blacks to whites OVER AND OVER AGAIN, MONTH AFTER MONTH, DECADE AFTER DECADE, CENTURY AFTER CENTURY. It also IGNORES all the other races and things they may need or want. What about Native American health numbers? Poverty numbers? Chinese American poverty numbers? I can guarantee you there are Asians who are poor or commit crimes or who are good at sports and can sing and dance. There are whites who are poor or who can run fast or sing their butts off.
BUT for some reason, we keep trotting off and comparing. Blacks are NOT the poster child for measuring who is not a racist. THAT in and of itself is bs. When the country is ready to just accept blacks like everyone else and stop comparing, blacks will also stop acting out and will stop feeling a need to identify themselves ETHNICALLY and not by skin color. But that would take a lot of growing up on the part of everyone and we can start with the politics. Personally, if a person holds up a certain group or highlights them within their own group–I already KNOW I am dealing with racists–from THAT POINT ON. Because the very separation and holding up means they do not see blacks as just like everyone else or they would not be making an example of them.
If it is false, and blacks and other people of color can hold high positions in the church, then it has happened in the last 35 years or so...kind of like how they couldn't drink Coca Cola until the church bought stock in it...then it was ok
Native Americans can and ARE members of the LDS Church. Check your facts.
That has never actually been the case. Where in the world did you hear that? One of, or possibly the first, missions of the church was to native americans to try to bring the gospel to them. It's a central theme and purpose of the Book of Mormon. Look at the church membership demographics of central and south America.
I am Native American, a Mormon, a youth leader in the church, holder of the Priesthood, have two sons who are Eagle Scouts through church sponsored troops and are now US Marines, have been inside multiple Mormon temples (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Salt Lake, Jordan River and Mesa Arizona) and my wife is of German descent. Cal – you are just flat out wrong.
I think it's great that no matter who you are, you too can believe in a super-being overlord, like Zeus, Apollo, Ceres, Ra, Set, Bast, Mars, etc, etc, blah blah blah, the list goes on and on, and will continue to do so as long as you sheep keep brainwashing your kids by forcing them to accept your beliefs, your kids barely stand a chance at making their own decisions, but then that is how religions exist, through ignorance and fear.
Their religion is none of my business, "I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be." – The Beatles
The wicked will continue to keep Heavenly Fathers children from the truth because they know not where to find it. When the wicked rule the people mourn. If you want ice cream, you don't go to a hardware store, if you want a chain saw, you don't go to Dillards. If you want the truth and your honest with yourself and others, go the missionaries of that church and if you are truly seeking the Holy Ghost can and will bare testimony of the truth you are seeking. By the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things. Hippocrites and the prideful will ridicule the truth and mislead honest seekers of truth.
I'm the wicked, and I'm going to possess your soul through this message board....do you feel the evil???
Remember this: Religion is a man-made thing. Those words on those pages aren't from some magical man in the sky. They're from people. Fallible people.
You're willing to put your entire faith in existence into what people over 2,000 years ago said?
Since I see no evidence whatsoever of your so-called heavenly father, I can happily discard the rest of your statement.
Blow up your TV.
Throw away your paper.
Move to the country.
Build you a home.
Plant a little garden.
Eat a lot of peaches.
Try and find Jesus,
On your own.
You must be deaf and blind. If you can't see evidence anywhere, I feel sorry for you.
This religion stuff is a joke. I wish it would just go away.
Sorry, but it will never go away. Without it, you would not exist my friend.
Cara11, I see you slapped Satan. Satan, don't take this personal. I still watch TV and listen to Heaving Metal. I am just saying what I saw. Cara11 is getting a ribbon this Sunday for what she did, but I have nothing to do with that. Satan, if you need a witness to identify the driver than ran over you give me a call.
It's funny how tolerance is preached and demanded so loudly by those who are so intolerant. I've learned a lot in my life, but probably one of the best things is that God is no respecter of persons. I doesn't matter who you are or what you look like he loves us all the same. Religious or not, rich or poor, we all get a shot at life here. The point is to find meaning in it and be the best we can be. That's a personal thing, not a religious thing. It wouldn't hurt you to know a little bit about the people who are likely your neighbors before you start the name calling.
Tolerance is not something to be doled out in the absolute sense of the word. We should use reason and logic to determine whether is something is tolerable or not. I don't have to be tolerant of intolerant, racist organizations, for example. I don't have to tolerate someone trying to subjugate or deceive me. I don't have to tolerate someone spewing nonsense that is easily refutable around as truth. We don't do this in any other aspect of life. Why should we accept it here?
Since there is no evidence that your god exists, what you think he thinks of people is completely arbitrary.
That's not what your "brothers" and "sisters" told me growing up in Salt Lake 40 years ago...but I never took it personally...
"Toleration is a good thing, in its place; but you cannot tolerate what will not tolerate you, and is trying to cut your throat."
It's obvious where the hateful commnets on this blog are coming from... VERY OBVIOUS!
Ridicule does not equate to hate.
Unfortunately there will be hateful comments from people, that's sad but true. I live in a community that is 90% LDS and can offer some incite into their pros and cons, pros are family orientation cons are cult orientation, they do not affiliate with people who aren't part of their cult and look down on those who are different from them. they also are a peer based control system and are harshly judgmental. they are basically honest and decent people but have no flavor (color) in their life, it's extremely difficult for me to imagine them to be excepting of minorities or anyone else who's a different race or color. Take it for what you wish but it's my truth
Equal opportunity brain washing? It is great to see a religion or a sect that gives everyone the opportunity of being controlled to their benefit. Non discriminatory stupidity. I am sure they will catch some fish with that publicity.