Please Reassign Michael Otterson

I thought that the LDS Church PR department was maturing.  Unfortunately, I was wrong; a recent blog entry for the Washington Post is a case in point.  In his article, Michael Otterson, Head of Public Relations for the LDS Church, gives his take (and the LDS Church’s take?) on the musical “The Book of Mormon:”

Of course, parody isn’t reality, and it’s the very distortion that makes it appealing and funny.  The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously–if they leave a theater believing that Mormons really do live in some kind of surreal world of self-deception and illusion.

He goes on to give three reasons why there hasn’t “been a huge outcry from Mormons?

  • What Broadway does is irrelevant to most of us;
  • Christians should seek out the positive and virtuous things in life; and
  • We (Mormons) need to turn the other cheek.

Amplifying the third point, Otterson writes:

It takes strength of character to do this, but it’s the Christian mandate.  Sure, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pushes back when the record needs correcting or when legal rights need defending, but the world of popular entertainment is more likely to be met with a collective shrug than by placard-waving Mormon protesters.

Otterson even quotes Christ:  “Do good to them who despitefully use you and persecute you.”

We Mormons need to get over our persecution complex.  Somehow we always seem to get some smug pleasure from being “despitefully used” . . . and then bragging that we can take a punch. 

And enough with the self-righteousness.  To openly advertise that we Mormons have “strength of character” and then whine about being persecuted is ridiculous.

Bragging about our efforts in Africa (which Otterson does in his blog entry) also shows a certain lack humbleness.  Let’s help the Africans because they need help, not because it makes the LDS Church look good, and is good for PR.  Enough with the bragging, in point of fact, we could do a lot more than we are currently doing.

Putting down Broadway, seems particularly silly and unnecessarily mean spirited.  A lot of wonderful plays and musicals have been born or presented there.  I suspect that many have subsequently been performed at BYU and other Mormon venues.  And to assume that Broadway patrons are unable to tell the different between parody and reality is also unnecessarily insulting.

Please find another LDS Church job for Brother Otterson.  He makes the Church look sillier that TBOM musical.

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11 Responses to Please Reassign Michael Otterson

  1. Carl Youngblood says:

    I think you’re being too hard on Otterson. He has done a pretty good job in the past and I think he makes a fair point that Mormons are probably doing a lot more to help and are probably a lot more aware of situations in Africa than the musical portrays. I think my own opinion would probably be different from his but I don’t think his is indefensible or ridiculous.

  2. rogerdhansen says:

    I’m just tired of the “poor-poor persecuted” us routine, and so is the rest of the world.

    A year or two ago, in a op-ed piece in the SLTrib, Otterson implied that a reporter was being an hysterical woman. At least two members of the Church apologized for the statement in subsequent letters to the editor. The original article in the SLTrib had a very valid point. Otterson’s overreaction was embarassing.

    When faced with any kind of issue or PR problem, the Church PR department gets overly defensive. And in so doing it only makes matters worse.

    I’m proud of what the Church is doing in Africa. But I firmly believe that we should not be patting ourselves on the back, period. It only makes our efforts look shallow.

    We need a PR department that has new blood.

    • jeanikins says:

      What exactly IS the LDS Church doing for Africa? What do they have to brag about?
      What is the mandate of Christianity? I think it is loving our neighbor as ourselves. Does Michael Otterson live in a tin and cardboard shack?
      Does he belong to an extremely wealthy Church?
      How much of the money that the Church owns go to help Africa; come on, give me a break.
      I served a mission in Africa and wrote emails to the Area Office requesting help for our faithful members; not hand outs but a hand up. While the church is asking them to pay tithes and offerings on their meager pay if they happen to have any at all, I was asking the Church for gardening tools, hoses, fences and seeds. I had knowledge of gardening; I was willing to work and help but neither the money nor implements arrived to give those people what they needed most of all – FOOD and a roof that didn’t leak.

      When people live in the ‘lap of poverty’ and in the midst of an AIDS pandemic they need more than a copy of the Book of Mormon. They have discovered however, that the books provide great toilet paper.

      • rogerdhansen says:

        I live parttime in Uganda. And I agree with you.

        When a Ugandan friend took me out to his homesite, I asked him about his water supply. He showed me a nearby spring. I was surprised that it had been develop by the LDS Church. I have a friend who works for LDS Humanitarian Services and he is working on similar projects in the Congo (formerly Zaire). The Church has done some work in Africa, but I agree, they could do much, much, much more.

        Thank you for your comment.

      • Lyle says:

        I believe a little more research will bear out the fact the Church is heavily involved all around the globe in ministering relief to the poor and the needy. I don’t think the Church or its public affairs people are “bragging” about anything. The “field is ripe and ready for the harvest” but the laborers are few.

        Were I you, I’d do less criticizing of the Church and encourage more of our neighbors, friends, and fellow Church members to donate more of their time, money, and efforts to helping the poor.

        I’ve been in a few third-world countries long enough to know that we Westerners are so incredibly wealthy compared to the poor in these countries. We don’t need more than we need. Even when we pay tithing and fast offerings not much thought is given to the fact we could give much, much, more to relieve the suffering of these nations.

  3. Carl Youngblood says:

    Roger, I disagree with the implication that PR should only be used for apologies. It can also be legitimately employed as a means of clarifying or justifying a position. I suspect your objections arise more from disagreement with the Church’s positions than from an actual belief that it should not be allowed to defend them.

    I agree that some of the issues Otterson defends are not as important as he makes them out to be. But I get the feeling he thinks they are, and I think many church leaders agree with him. So I guess I’m saying I mostly agree with you but think you are not seeing it enough from his point of view.

  4. rogerdhansen says:

    I don’t think PR should be about apologies (unless there is a need to apologize). It certainly doesn’t hurt to occasionally clarify issues. But to be overly defensive, just doesn’t work any more. To continually claim that we are persecuted is counter productive. To continually blow our own horn is off-putting. Otterson hit the trifecta.

    If we have to comment on TBOM musical, try not to be defensive. Try not to attack Broadway (good things have come out of Broadway). The TBOM musical represents how some other people look at us, make our response positive. As one Apostle commented in the “Ensign,” lets make lemonade out of lemons. Highlight the good things that the musical says about Mormons. The reviewers have called it “surprisingly sweet.” The show may well get some Tony nominations, let’s develop a more positive response.

    A more subtle way to extol the positive humanitarian activities of the Church would be to highlight the efforts of individual members, with the institutional Church not trying to take all the credit. That way it doesn’t look like the Church is patting itself on the back.

    The Church has a feel good message, we need to use it to our benefit. A little subtlety doesn’t hurt. We don’t always need to use a sledge hammer.

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  6. roger hansen says:

    I’m starting to mellow my opinion about the LDS Church PR department. According to a recent article about immigration reform in the SLTrib (Peggy Fletcher Stack, 28 Apr 2011):

    “Throughout the current debate, some Mormon opponents of illegal immigration have tried to pin their church’s position on the faith’s public-affairs department, its lobbyist or individuals.

    These members rightly point out the message has come from new releases and Web postings, not from a First Presidency letter, like it did with Prop 8. . .”

    So for the moment the LDS Church hierarchy is content with letting its PR department take some of the heat.

  7. roger hansen says:

    Lyle, I have encouraged my friends, colleagues and fellow church members to get more involved. To a certain extent, I’m very obsessive about it. But I realize that I need to do more.

    But the LDS Church leadership also needs to do more. I higher percentage of tithing monies needs to go toward helping the poor. There needs to be more concern about the living and less about the dead.

    In a few years, there will be more LDS Church members in developing countries than in developed countries. We as a church need to be more heavily involved in understanding the significance of this shift.

    The boomers are getting ready to retire. The LDS Church needs to figure out how to put these members to useful work. We need to figure out how to better use our sophicated communication systems for distance education. etc.

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