Two-Way Window on the World

By Don L. Searle

Associate Editor

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    Church public affairs efforts are focusing on serving others while telling our story.

    When Dolina Smith of Toronto accepted the invitation to serve as an LDS representative on the governing board of Canadians for Decency, she determined to do her best in the position. Now she is president of the group, a leader in nationwide efforts to stop pornography.

    • In the United States, subscribers to the Vision Interfaith Satellite Network (VISN) can now watch a typical LDS sacrament meeting each week, to see for themselves what the Church and its beliefs are like.

    • In Denmark, the Tabernacle Choir’s television and radio programs have multiple airings throughout the country each month, and in Holland the Church has a weekly half-hour radio program.

    • In Australia, the Red Cross was preparing to scrap part of its Sydney fund drive because it did not have enough collectors. Then an LDS public affairs director learned of the difficulty, and soon there were enough volunteers, from a stake in the area, to do the job.

    Each of these opportunities came through a Church public affairs contact. People in the Public Affairs Department of the Church continue to find new ways to make nonmembers aware of the Church. And sometimes, public affairs contacts open a window on the world to help Latter-day Saints see opportunities for selfless service—the kind the Savior exemplified.

    “Out of Obscurity”

    A year and a half after the Church was organized, the Lord declared to all the world that he had commenced his latter-day work on earth and had given his servants power to organize his church, “to bring it forth out of obscurity.” (D&C 1:30.)

    For more than 160 years, his servants have been laboring to fulfill the prophetic charge in that verse. And yet there are probably hundreds of millions of people who still have never heard the name of the Church; surprisingly, many are found where the Church has long been established—in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. And people who have heard of the “Mormons” often carry mistaken, negative impressions about the Church and its teachings.

    Despite the foundation built by past efforts, there is still much to do in bringing the Church “out of obscurity.”

    In the 1990s—a time of Churchwide refocusing on things that matter most in spreading the gospel—public affairs activities worldwide have a major thrust: to invite all to come unto Christ and be perfected in him. Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of the Church’s Public Affairs Department, says this will be done by making people aware of the Church, showing them that the gospel of Jesus Christ offers answers for daily living, and building bridges to groups or individuals who share our ideals and our concerns about life.


    Telling people that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints exists is only part of bringing the Church “out of obscurity.” It is also essential to give them a clear idea of its teachings—that Jesus Christ is the Savior of mankind, for example, and that salvation comes only through obeying the commandments he taught.

    Bryan J. Grant, director of public affairs in the United Kingdom/Ireland Area of the Church, says that following the counsel of priesthood leaders is the key to doing this most effectively. The Area Public Affairs Council for the United Kingdom/Ireland Area functions under the direction of the Area Presidency. The council includes members with valuable career experience in public affairs and related fields. But they do not steer the projects supported by the Church, Brother Grant explains. The council may make recommendations, but “we must never run ahead of the priesthood line. The priesthood sets the direction.”

    This pattern of a public affairs council responsive to priesthood direction is repeated at the regional and stake levels, and is now functioning well in many areas of the Church. It allows people with valuable experience to serve as resources to inspired priesthood leaders.

    Public affairs directors worldwide are using both traditional and new methods in an effort to tell more people about the Church.

    In Frankfurt, Germany, Michael Obst heads the public affairs office for northern and central Europe. He says news articles about the Church are increasingly common now that Latter-day Saints are becoming more well known.

    But news items aren’t the only way to tell people about the Church. In the spring and summer of 1990 there was a major missionary campaign using an advertisement in a popular German television guide. The ad, featuring the Book of Mormon, carried the headline: “Over 42 million in print. Shouldn’t one be yours?” Twenty thousand copies of the Book of Mormon were distributed as a result, bringing nearly four thousand missionary referrals.

    In Vienna, a million fliers were distributed carrying the same advertisement. It resulted in more than seventeen hundred referrals; many were people visiting Austria from central European countries where they could not have studied the gospel a short time ago. (Now that some of these countries are open to the Church, Brother Obst is dealing with more than twenty different languages.)

    National public affairs councils have been functioning for some time in Scandinavian countries, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. They are now planning for five to ten years in the future, Brother Obst says. The focusing of public affairs efforts on awareness, answers, and bridges to the community has opened “a whole new era” for Church members in Europe, he adds.

    At Church headquarters, the staff in the Public Affairs Department continue to find new ways to get information about the Church to the public.

    For some time now, the Church’s public affairs office has been offering a radio news line, with items about the Church recorded weekly. Some two hundred stations use it, either to record direct “feeds”—news items for rebroadcast—or as a news tip service.

    A series of video news releases was recently sent out to selected television stations. The ninety-second spots offered “feature” or seasonal material—a report on a University of California—Los Angeles study showing that Latter-day Saints who fully obey the Word of Wisdom live longer, for example; or a look at Temple Square at Christmastime.

    Some of the print and broadcast materials produced by the Public Affairs Department are now being translated into Spanish for media outlets serving the estimated twenty-five million Hispanics in the United States. There are three hundred and fifty Spanish-language newspapers in the country; more than two dozen television stations and many more radio stations serve Spanish-speaking people.


    The broadcast of a Church video presentation like Our Heavenly Father’s Plan or What Is Real is one way to share the gospel with a world that sorely needs answers for its problems. Although films like these are most often produced by the Church’s Missionary Department, public affairs specialists are usually involved in helping to publicize them.

    The Public Affairs Department is also involved in other efforts to show people how the gospel of Jesus Christ can apply in their lives.

    One highly visible effort is the programming supplied to the Vision Interfaith Satellite Network, which the Church helped found. VISN went on the air with a limited schedule in 1988; now it broadcasts twenty-four hours a day, with the potential to reach twelve million homes. No proselyting or fund-raising is permitted, but at specified times, sponsoring faith groups may air programs which teach their doctrines. VISN also carries a wide variety of programs promoting righteous living and faith in God.

    VISN programmers invited the Church to produce a series of worship meetings for Sunday broadcast. Those abbreviated sacrament meetings (twenty-eight and one-half minutes) show viewers how Latter-day Saints worship God, and how the Church’s lay clergy functions. The programs went on the air in October 1990.

    Other Church programming on VISN includes “Music and the Spoken Word,” featuring the Tabernacle Choir; “Families Are Forever,” a program on dealing with children and with family life; and “Messages for a Better World,” offering conference and devotional talks by General Authorities.

    Since the spring of 1990, news stories based on talks by General Authorities or on articles in Church magazines have appeared in large and small newspapers across the United States. The stories or talks have been sent out by the Church’s Public Affairs Department. Over the past several years, the Public Affairs Department staff has also arranged hundreds of radio talk show interviews with Latter-day Saint experts on issues affecting daily living. Many talk show producers are eager to find guests who can offer positive “how-to” information on coping with life.

    One of the Public Affairs Department’s most sought-after offerings is the “Times and Seasons” series of radio and television programs. These public service documentary-style programs deal with issues of concern in communities everywhere: alcohol abuse, pornography, child abuse. More than four hundred radio stations have requested the series of programs, which not only describes problems but offers expert advice to solving them.


    “Mormons, who generally have kept aloof from other Christian communities, are gradually—and in expanding ways—moving into a working association with them,” wrote George Cornell, Associated Press religion writer, in a September 1990 wire story which appeared in newspapers across the U.S.

    The working associations he mentioned are bringing not only new friendships but also personal, spiritual rewards to Church members.

    One of the best things about being involved in VISN is “the opportunity of working with and knowing wonderful leaders of other faith groups,” Brother Olsen says. Some of these people have changed their unfavorable opinions toward the Church or have come to see members of the Church in a different and more positive light.

    Sometimes service activities draw unsolicited publicity. In Holland, national public affairs director Robert Kirschbaum began collecting surplus materials from hospitals that closed down and shipping the materials to Poland or other central European countries where they are desperately needed. The media have reported on the project. As a result, many Dutch people now have more positive feelings about the Church.

    The Red Cross drive in Sydney is not the only project that has helped Australians find spiritual growth in service.

    Michael R. Otterson, public affairs director in the Church’s Pacific Area, reports that a group of LDS youth have been involved in a service called Night Patrol, connected with a Roman Catholic charity project. Night Patrol volunteers look for homeless individuals on Sydney streets and offer them food. Leaders of the LDS youth report that they knew the point of this project was getting through when one young man sat down on the ground, took off his expensive, name-brand athletic socks, and gave them to a homeless man who had none.

    Independent-minded Australians judge a church by the way it practices what it preaches, Brother Otterson says. LDS involvement in community service has led to greater acceptance of the Church as a Christian denomination, he explains.

    Members in the United Kingdom and Ireland are finding civic involvement a must in order to preserve the spiritual quality of life in their communities, Bryan Grant says. Speaking as individual citizens, they state their views in hearings or other public forums on topics such as pornography, abortion, or Sunday trading. Further, when some priesthood leaders have had opportunities to speak in their communities, the Church’s public affairs office for the United Kingdom/Ireland Area has furnished them with helpful background material.

    The pronouncements of a church on these issues might go largely unnoticed because so many people are not looking to institutional religion for guidance these days, Brother Grant comments. The big challenge of public affairs work in his area, he says, is to help people “look afresh at what a real, vibrant, living religion has to offer.”

    On issues of deep moral concern, the Church as an institution continues to speak out wherever there is a need. In the United States, for example, the Church was one of the founding members of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography (RAAP). Both Elder John K. Carmack and Elder Richard P. Lindsay of the Seventy have served on its board.

    Pornography is just one subject on which the Church’s views are becoming well known. “When [media] people think of religious issues, one of the positions they want is that of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” says Keith Atkinson, director of the Church’s public affairs office in Los Angeles. He frequently arranges contacts with Church spokespersons in response to media requests.

    Being near the heart of the entertainment industry brings other opportunities. The Los Angeles public affairs office has helped correct false impressions about the Church that might have gone into several made-for-television movies.

    In the Washington, D.C., area, the public affairs office headed by Beverly Campbell serves as a Church resource for U.S. and foreign media based on the East Coast. It’s vital, she says, to be “available and trustworthy.” This is especially important in dealing with press representatives from other nations, because overseas media organizations, knowing the Church has its headquarters in the United States, often check out information about the Church through their Washington bureaus.

    Sister Campbell frequently makes contact with foreign diplomats and their families. Many of them enjoy touring the visitors’ center at the Washington Temple, which is an area landmark, particularly with its Christmastime displays celebrating the birth and mission of the Savior. These diplomatic contacts can prove valuable when the government of a country where the Church is new or unknown seeks information about Latter-day Saints; the country’s Washington representative may know just where to turn.

    Looking Forward

    At Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Bruce Olsen offers high praise for what has been accomplished by the department in the past. He explains that as the expanding Church seeks the best ways to use resources, more public affairs work will have to be done “without a lot of funding. We need many dedicated members to carry it forward.” Brother Olsen points out that these members must be ready to reach out to others in the spirit of Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–28: they must be “anxiously engaged in a good cause,” willing “to do many things of their own free will, and to bring to pass much righteousness.”

    Considering the millions who still know nothing of the Church or who have mistaken impressions about it, the job of bringing truth to the world could seem overwhelming. But, Brother Olsen explains, there are two good reasons not to be daunted: first, “it’s the Lord’s work”—and His voice has decreed that it will come to pass; and second, His ordained servants are directing it.

    Richmond Virginia Stake public affairs programs include assisting the homeless. Here, Daryl Sheley, former supervisor of the Church’s cannery, and Rita Cscrimenti of the staff at the city’s Street Center help two men can food. (Photography by Buddy Williams.)

    Illustrated by Larry Winborg

    A series of videotaped sacrament meetings helps Vision Interfaith Satellite Network viewers learn about Latter-day Saints. (Photography by Peggy Jellinghausen.)

    Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, second from right, and Beverly Campbell, international affairs director for Church Public Affairs, meet with Keith Johnson, Jamaican ambassador; Eugene Morlan, director of the Mormon Choir of Washington; and Miroslav Chrobok, deputy ambassador of Czechoslovakia. (Photography by Scott Sanders.)