At the end of a recent White House meeting with a Mormon focus group White House officials asked an illuminating question: Who are the LDS Community leaders that the White House should try to recognize?
The White House officials at this focus group were not political operatives, and weren’t looking for those who would help President Obama get re-elected. Nor were they necessarily looking for religious leaders. They were reacting to the comments of the focus group, suggesting that the White House could better communicate with Mormons by publicly recognizing their good work at the grass roots in the community. According to one focus group participant, Whoa-man, who wrote about the meeting on the Exponent II’s blog, the focus group was silent in response — they simply could not come up with any obvious Mormon to suggest.
No doubt most Mormons would suggest general authorities, but wouldn’t the White House be well aware of who they are and many of their activities? And while recognizing general authorities might be good (and I believe the White House is interested in working with the Church to some degree), I’m not sure that recognizing general authorities would be seen as particularly helpful if the object is to recognize grassroots efforts. Likewise, I’m sure the White House is well aware of the national LDS politicians (as well as their agendas), so suggesting politicians isn’t as likely to be useful. Instead I believe that what is needed in this situation is Mormon community leaders.
I suspect the concept of Mormon community leaders might be a bit uncomfortable for many LDS Church members—outside of local and general Church leaders I’m not sure we have much that would be considered as community leaders. We don’t have the same decentralized structure that other religions have, and as a result we don’t have a lot of organizations independent of the Church that are well known and somehow represent the Mormon community. If there is a Mormon “Focus on the Family” or a Mormon “Southern Poverty Law Center,” I doubt many Mormons are aware of them. The few charities we have aren’t necessarily focused on Mormons (either in terms of fund raising or in terms of the services and goods provided). And even the businesses that exist to provide materials and services to Mormons (bookstores, publishers, music providers, clothing and ring producers, travel agents for LDS curises, etc.) are either small or are owned by the Church and aren’t seen as really community leaders.
So, what reply should those at this meeting have given? Should Mormonism even have the kind of community leaders we’re talking about here?
None of this suggests that we don’t have such Mormon organizations or community leaders; just that they aren’t well known and aren’t as significant to the community. Unfortunately, I think that the chances are slim that anyone could reach a level of notoriety and respect that would make them a community leader outside of the Church hierarchy. This is true, I think, for several reasons:
- The Church already provides what members need in most major areas, both in terms of the assistance provided, and in terms of the opportunity to serve others
- Historically the Church has tended to absorb the independent efforts of members who have come up with good ideas — Church schools, many charitable efforts, and many other things all came from member ideas.
- Members are reticent to be seen as in competition with the general authorities or to be promoting their own agendas in the community.
- Our emphasis on family tends to leave the community (outside of the Church) as a less-important secondary area.
- It is difficult to get the word out because of the paucity of widely-read LDS media.
[There are probably other reasons why, and I'd appreciate other thoughts on why in the comments below.]
Despite these reasons, I do think that some members are doing good or have the potential to do good that eventually might be recognized by the White House (regardless of which party occupies it at the moment) or even by the Church or by Church-controlled organizations. I gave it some thought and came up with the following possibilities:
- Richard and Claudia Bushman
- Warner Woodworth
- Steve Young
- Lavell Edwards
- Jereby Guthrie
- Peter Vidmar
FWIW, below is a list of the possibilities mentioned in the comments to the post on Exponent II:
- Marlin Jensen
- H. David Burton
- Quentin L. Cook
- Neil A. Andersen
- Walter F. Gonzalez
- Mormons for Marriage
- Mormons for Equality and Social Justice
- Chuck Kuck (Atlanta immigration attorney)
- Carol Lynn Pearson
- Ardeth Pope
- George Handley
- Shropshire Music Foundation (Liz Shropshire)
- Inside Out Learning
- One Heart Bulgaria (Debra Dusku Gardener)
- Casa de Sion (Vicki Dalia)
- Mormon Women’s Project
- Judy Dusku
- Maxine Hanks
- Neylan McBaine
- Claudia Bushman
- Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
- Laura Compton
- Joanna Brooks
- Courtney Cook (Talents of Sisters)
- John Dehlin
- John Burger (Abolitionistjb)