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.
Yeah they gain more members by destroying the cultural diversity of humankind through their annoying missionaries. Mormons are idiotic people duped into believing a 100 year old magical and mythical story of golden tablets that ONLY ONE MAN claimed to see and had no evidence to back up such a claim. This same man then takes a bunch of gullible idiots on a whirlwind adventure through the states, getting kicked out of almost every one I might add, to then find the "promise land" in a desert with a huge salt lake where nothing but brine shrimp grow! The only reason Utah is their "promised land" was because no one else was stupid enough to settle an entire community in the middle of no where!!! Heck, these people also believe that "God" lives on another planet in which they all will travel to once they die, but you're screwed if your woman with out a man or off spring, you don't get to take the magical rainbow tour to Aloheim. Yeah, how's that for chauvinism, or that this organization, like all religions, was created by a man, for men, to control others. Scientology is another religion that grinds my gears!
Just like Christians are duped into believing a 2000 year old story..... wait a second.
You should really read the post just above yours by reallypeeps, learn a little bit more before you ramble a bunch of false non-sense.
Many saw and touched the plates, there's a simple clear explination on one of the first pages of the Book of Mormon. It even has the signatures of those who had seen them. Reading and asking God if its true changed my own life and I know now more than ever that reading and following the words of God in the Book of Mormon and the Bible brings me closer to Jesus Christ. This is why we advertise, to change your life...find out the truth – mormon.org
I'm not so sure about some of these posts. When I was early in my career at a Canadian bank, I used to get moved around a lot. One two year stint was in a small town in southern Alberta that is about 85% Mormon. They were the nicest, most polite customers and very good neighbors and community members. Very family oriented.I was never pressured to join the religion ( I was very politely invited to come learn more about it if I was interested), and was even given a bottle of nice Scotch at Christmas, even though Mormons dont drink. So I disagree strongly with some of the nasty comments being made here.
Jim you are right, you have to forgive these animals they don't have a job and who would hire their anarchist silly selves
Why would they give you something they won"t take or do? They must feel like that's what motivates you. For church people that 's ridiculous. I can't see how you don't see what's wrong with that. They probably should've given out a new bible or something. Christmas is for Christ if you don't drink that's the last thing that you should think to gives others, other than that drunk uncle everyone has.
I'm not sure what is up with that michelle with the little "m" in front of her name...but she is so sad to listen to.
I've on occasion given expensive wine and scotch away to friends. Our church doctrine is based on the principle of free agency. I choose not to drink alcohol in accordance with those teachings. However, I don't expect my non lds friends and associates to share that same view. I grew up in Southern Alberta, spent most of my adult life in Australia, and now live in the Middle East. From my experience, the church is culturally diverse. At my last few church meetings, I visited with people from Uganda, Phillipines, Myanamar, Australia, U.S, Canada, to name a few. We have a multicultural group that enriches our lives.
the religion, tamed by a government that separates church and state, at least on paper, has come a long way from the brutal bigotry of brigham young, whose solution for interracial relationships was "death on the spot." underlying all the surface propaganda about mormonism promoting diversity still remains the cancer of its fundamental doctrine -like the idea that people of color are inferior based on the bizarre assumption that they had not fought valiantly in the war in heaven between brothers jesus and lucifer in the preexistence. also, mormons erase the genetically proven origins of native americans as asiatic peoples by promoting the idea in the book of mormon that they were jews who populated the americas through transatlantic migrations, and as a result of their iniquity, were punished by a mormon god by way of an increase in their resistance to u.v. rays -brown skin. but if the religion continues to evolve ethically and morally and promote the civil liberties and rights of all our human brothers and sisters, you will most certainly see billboards with gays as well as possibly a female president in the future, and it will be the result of the pressures of secularism, not prophecy.
Since most everything you said is absolutely untrue, you might want to rethink any further posts.
Another Market Share war.
WAKE UP PEOPLE,
Do Not Listen To This Mormon Crap all they want is POWER!!
Go Away Mitt !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You can try and polish a turd any way you want, but a turd is still a turd. The LDS is and always has been a heretical brainwashing cult that is fully rejected by Orthodox Christians, Catholics and the vast majority of mainstream Protestants. Although they deny it, they ARE NOT open to just anyone joining, and they are deeply immersed in politics and seizing political power. They are corrupt to the core and attempt to force their beliefs on everyone. Beware of this wolf bearing sheep's clothing. I would not vote for Romney or Huntsman if they were the only candidate's running, so they can take their "I'm a Moron" campaign and shove it. If they knock on your door and you want to get rid of them fast with no hassle, just answer your door in the nude, and they will flee quickly.
The ONLY difference between a mainstream religion and a wackadoo cult is enrollment numbers. Period. There is PLENTY of weird, bizarre ritualistic nonsense and a whole pile of absurd beliefs in Christianity. It's not exactly the standard-bearer for rational behavior.
Your right, we are not open to anyone joining... Only those who find out for themselves that it is the true church. And what power do you think we hold? If we hold any at all, it pails in comparison to any Catholic based church yet you make no mention of that. You say we brainwash, yet we wait until children are 8 till they decided (note I say THEY) to be baptized. We don't lock them into the church at birth (hmm... who does that?).
It it also curious how you never mention that we are the leading organization for care relief... so yeah we are soo evil.
Go on with your slandering. I feel bad about anyone who believes your filth.
Exactly. You forgot to mention that they 'require' you to pony up 10% of your pay check. There is no 'giving', they take it. Then they run out and buy solid gold statutes to put on top of their temples with your money.
Good example of 'cult-like' language Rockboy. An opinion that can be trusted.
Yup they tie us down and FORCE us to give 10%. Otherwise they shoot us.
Man, the ignorance is astounding.
it's not "lilly white" they need to counter, it's the whole, "we're a bunch of crazy people" image that is really the problem. at least the scientologists make mormons look sort of normal.
It's sort of like the guy inside an insane asylum looking out the window and seeing a crazy bum pan handling and thinking "man, what a loon, he could be safe in here!"
I'm black and for them to Plackard a black man would be like the KKK to plackard a black man agreeing with their views. I'm sure you can find someone but when you get down to the meat and potatoes of what you teach ITS RACIST. Its built on Racism. Although they will show you something that Joseph Smith said. Or something early church said. They never show you the fundamental doctrines that seperate white from BLACK. How black people and non whites have to go through the hoops and ladders to get the same privileges as whites. SORRY LDS MEMBERS THIS ISN'T HATE THIS IS FACT.
No... it's your warped ideas. If Mormons are so raciest... how come they had soooo many black memebers even though they were unable to hold the preiesthood years ago? hmm... must have been something else... yeah I know... they believed in the gospel and saw that it was NOT raciest.
I'm a BLACK MORMON and nothng could be further from the truth. Christ didn't take his gospel to the gentiles even though he loved them too. Was Christ a racist? I was member long before bkacks received the priesthood and I was loved by them then just as I'm loved by them now. The HATEFUL comments on this blog are just that... HATEFUL. Try asking a bonafied BLACK MORMON what they think about all this and you'll be very suprised at the answers you will get. I'M A BLACK MORMON and proud of it!
roland you sound uninformed AND racist
I love the Mormon videos at Mormon .org – great insite into what a Mormnon is and how they live their beliefs. Seem like a pretty normal bunch to me. Know a few myself.
Im glad someone likes to go to the correct sources to find out about us. Unlike that guy who got all his information from South Park.
Look Real Close!
And I am not being Rude.
Use your Brain and do not let even Me Persuade You!!!!
Yeah Sonja, be real careful. We brainwash people into having values and morals. 😐
Mormons didn't allow blacks, or any people of color, until as late as 1978 – over 10 years after the Civil Rights Act. 🙁
In 1978 the IRS threatened their tax free status. Suddenly the "prophet" had a "vision" to allow people of color.
Google "Mormon 1978 black people"
It's amazing what the power of money can do. 😉
It was only the allure of statehood and the attendant benefits therein that caused the LDS church to suddenly "have a vision" to do away with polygamy (because Utah wasn't going to be granted statehood as long as polygamy was the order of the day). All religions are equally fictional, but this one is SO brazenly right-on-the-surface absurd, it's stunning that millions of people actually buy into it.
When all you do is study the political side of things... thats the only perspective you will get. Try seeing it from other views and you might be surprised as to what you will find.
It's not the political side, Chris, it's the factual side.
By who... anti-mormons? Great source.
Does the pamphlet say "Attn black people: Please disregard our early beliefs that your skin color was a curse". This is a plain political move in support of Gov. Romney just as they got involved in California's Prop 8. Shameful
i doubt it. They'd have to ripe out a whole chapter of their book.
Jesus is not the son of God.
anyone who believes in Jesus as the son of god is a christian. It's a very simple definition. The only people who argue mormon's aren't christians are idiots.
An absolute truth – It is pointless to argue with someone about religion. Nothing good EVER comes of it.
All the slick advertising and marketing doesn't take away the fact that this group of "Christians" believe if they live the right way they can ascend to the highest level of heaven and become a god on another planet...
At least we have a reason for being here on earth.
Which is no more or less silly than Christians' belief in virgin births, talking snakes, and eternal life in a "streets-paved-with-gold" heaven. It's all imaginary. ALL of it. All religions, all gods, all fictional.
If you don't believe it fine... but why try to tear everyone down?
Because I want our species to wean itself off the need to believe in imaginary beings. Living a life of delusion isn't healthy and delusional religious people have caused far too much grief to the human race than can just be shrugged off or ignored. If you folks who believe this stuff could TRULY just keep it to yourselves, probably no one would care. But no... religious zealots can't leave it at that. Just look at history. They've got to proselytize and advertise and convert and repress science and torture and kill nonbelievers... enough!
That's why. 🙂
Wow. Not a very humble or Christian group of commentators on here. Glad we live in a country with religious freedom!
We have religious freedom? So you would vote for an Athiest or an Agnostic for president? Fuk Christians, you are morons.
LDS people are awesome!
I think you meant LSD people are awsome!
Good to see delusion isn't limited to white people, I guess?? Is that the point of their latest advertising campaign? When cults/churches have to advertise or resort to all sort of attention-getting tactics to get people (and their wallets) into the pews, that can only mean that religion is finally starting to die a slow, long overdue death in America. Can't come soon enough.
Rational human beings unite!
unite with whom? you?
my gosh, so much ignorance in these comments.
Thus, the I"m a Mormon" campaign. Sadly, it is impossible to educate a bigot.
Mormons should stick to playing quarterback. They are good at that.
The South Park episode about Mormonism is all you need to see to understand the ridiculousness of this cult. They explain it exactly as the Mormons explain it themselves. There's no element of satire; the concepts speak for themselves.
Now if they'd just do it with the other faiths...
No wonder you don't have a clue... you get your information from South park.
:: rolls eyes ::
dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb..............
I don't hate mormons, I'll say that first off. Why there are people willing to convert to that religion blows my mind though. Unlike the bible, the book of mormon is 100% absolute fiction. There were never any 'Nephites' and 'Lamanites' in South, Central, or North America. There was never a Massive war lasting for hundreds of years between these 'Nephites' and 'Lamanites' that ended with the entire destruction of the 'Nephite' civilizations in Manchester, New York. There is no archaeological evidence whatsoever to support Any of the stories in the Book of Mormon. Are Native Americans similar to Jews? Nope. Is there any evidence whatsoever that Hebrews came over in submarines and settled South and Central America? Nope. Absolutely none. At least the bible is loosely based on real historical events. I can't understand why people believe in the teachings of the LDS church.
So I guess the Aztecs don't ring a bell?
Sheila, the bible is every bit as fictional. If you think the bible is the wholly unspoiled "word of god," then you advocate slavery, misogyny (odd since I presume you're a woman), animal sacrifice, slaughtering women and children, and more. It's all in the bible, every bit of it.
ALL gods are imaginary. Yours is not the lone exception, I'm sorry. 🙁
I'm familiar with Aztec Mythology, and it is not similar to Christianity, Judaism, or Islam in Any Way. How do you figure the Aztecs represent the Jews? Their language is nothing like Hebrew or any other mid-eastern language, there traditions and history are nothing like anything out of the mid-east. How do you make the connection? There isn't one.
The bible is full of fabricated nonsense as well, but at least there are some people in it that they have verified did indeed exist, and the timeline of events in the bible (including the Romans for example) is somewhat accurate. There are No connections like that in the book of mormon at all.
Sorry, Sheila. You're an ignorant fool.
Laura – care to elaborate on that? you've contributed nothing to support your claim.
Its the elephant in the room. and you just touched the surface of the reality of the LDS's flawed theology.
"I'm familiar with Aztec Mythology, and it is not similar to Christianity, Judaism, or Islam in Any Way."
Then you clearly don't know the Book of Mormon. If you did, you would know the answer.
Laura, resorting to grade-school insults doesn't really contribute anything to the discussion.
Sheila, so we can agree that the Book of Mormon AND the Bible are nonsense? Written by primitive men and not by any supreme, all-knowing, all-powerful deity? Awesome. It's useless to debate over which one is MORE fictional. It's like arguing over whether Twilight or Harry Potter is more fictional. The Bible and the Book of Mormon are both rubbish. As is the Qu'ran. As is the Torah. All fictional, all based on imaginary deities (actually all based on the same imaginary deity, to be accurate).