Mormons try to brush up image while in spotlight
The Mormon Church reached a milestone today, as Jon Huntsman Jr. joined the presidential race, adding a second Mormon to the growing field of candidates. Mormon Mitt Romney is also campaigning for the White House.
So what does this mean for the church?
CBS News Correspondent Priya David Clemens reported it appears the Church of Latter Day Saints is seizing the moment to brush up its image.
Reporting from the Mormon central city, Salt Lake City, Clemens noted Mormons view the addition of Huntsman to the race as a positive for them.
One man there told CBS News, "I think it's positive that (it's) letting people know that we're willing to serve."
But Mormons Huntsman and Romney aren't using the moment to preach their religion to the public. In fact, they're doing quite the opposite. Huntsman makes it a point to say that he has a family from diverse backgrounds. His wife was raised Episcopalian and they've adopted a daughter from India and celebrate her Hindu traditions.
Romney has said, "It's important to recognize that, while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions."
Although Romney has addressed his faith publicly, when asked, he usually declines to comment, saying he is not a spokesperson for the church.
Andrew Romano, senior writer for Newsweek, said, "The less that Romney can talk about it, the more de-emphasized it is, the better chance he has at catching the Republican nomination."
According to a recent poll, just 45 percent of the nation's voters have a positive view of Mormons. Only atheists and the Muslims rate lower.
No matter what people's perceptions are, it appears Mormonism is having a moment, thanks in part to shows like HBO's "Big Love," the "Twilight" trilogy by Mormon author Stephanie Meyer, and the wildly successful Broadway musical, "The Book of Mormon."
The musical is a record-breaking hit, but church officials aren't amused.
Stephen B. Allen, managing director of the Missionary Department at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, told CBS News, "I think it's very cleverly done and doesn't represent what we've done and who we are."
So in an effort to re-direct the conversation, the church is sponsoring a new ad campaign in New York City, called "I'm a Mormon" - showing folks of all races surfing, hiking and riding motorcycles.
The "I'm a Mormon" campaign is a tacit admission that the church has an image problem. But church officials say perception does not equal reality.
Allen said, "More than half of the people in this country know little or nothing about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. When you ask for top-of-mind ideas, they will say things like 'polygamists,' or 'secretive' or sometimes 'sexist.' So this campaign is an effort to dispel myths."
They say their research indicates it is working.
Richard Hinckley, executive director of the Missionary Department at the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, said, "We laugh around the department that, in our focus groups, that we went from weird to normal in about 45 minutes."
And that "normalcy" gives them what they want - the opportunity to tell people what they believe.
Newsweek's Romano said, "As there's been more and more success in politics and business and more coverage in the culture (of Mormons), you've seen kind of more prominence broadly in America."
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