J.B. Haws, an assistant professor of church history and doctrine, shared his research on how media has shaped the world’s view of the Mormon culture. He found that the key voice that has helped define the world view of Mormons is the church’s public affairs department.
Over the past few decades the world image of Mormonism has declined. Research found that many people see individuals who are Mormon in a more favorable light than the institution itself. This gap has been increased through increased media coverage. The affairs department was created to help improve the church image.
In 1964 the church participated in the New York World’s Fair. They rented two lots near one of the entrances and created the Mormon Pavilion. At a cost of 3 million dollars to create, this was one of the most costly and ambitious projects the church had approved. “At first church officials balked at the idea of it, but public affairs reaffirmed the benefits of the idea” Haws said. Throughout the fair the pavilion had 6 million visitors and one in every six visitors requested missionaries to learn more. This brought thousands of new converts and was a great investment.
The public affairs department came up with the idea to create TV spots to show the world what Mormons believe. They want to create spots that were “so good networks couldn’t help but air them” Haws said. The department succeeded and many of the spots won national awards. Haws said the “commercials were a work of genius.” Before the spots aired most people associated Mormonism with the Osmonds, polygamy, and the Mormon Tabernacle choir. After the spots, when asked what they thought of Mormonism, the number one answer given was “you’re the church that believes in families.”
At the end of Haws’ presentation he shared his vision for the future. He said he expected to see “growth of respect for independent Mormon voices.” With the increasing media outlets it is becoming easier to share beliefs with a wide range of people. Haws advocated that we use these tools to “converse, not convert” and hopefully continue to improve the image of the church in a continually evolving world.