Russ Gerber, guest blog today
One Antidote to Mistrust
With former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney both believed to be gearing up for a run for the presidency, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has again found itself answering questions about what these two prominent members believe.
Post reporter Sandhya Somashekhar wrote in a story published Tuesday that Mormon leaders see the ascendancy of these and other Mormons (such as convert Glenn Beck) as a sign “that the community has finally ‘arrived,’” but added “researchers say there remains a deep mistrust of Mormons and that little has changed in public opinion to suggest that voters will be more open this year than they were in 2007.”
If conservative Christian and Mormons share a political agenda, why do suspicions still plague Mormon politicians? Do media personalities such as Glenn Beck help or hurt the cause?
I was in Utah many months ago to meet and visit with my counterpart in media relations at the Mormon Church. We spent most of an afternoon comparing experiences as spokespersons for religious organizations that are viewed by a few people as…well…unusual. There we were: “the people who don’t drink” sitting across the table from “the people who don’t go to doctors.” You should have seen the fireworks.
Actually, we had some good laughs talking about the stereotypes we each encounter in our work. It’s less amusing, however, when you realize from someone’s comment that some negative stereotype is believed to be the norm. When the gap between distorted perception and reality widens is when mistrust can creep in.
We instinctively didn’t want that to happen, so we talked. We talked frankly about politics, missionary work, temples, Big Love, genealogy, spiritual healing, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, church membership, Mitt Romney, polygamy, you name it. No subject was off limits and we spoke with candor and respect and listened carefully to what each other had to say. The conversation got slightly rowdy at one point when we talked about the Red Sox, but eventually we gained our composure.
Here’s the point: when we sat down together, we both understood there would be things we didn’t agree on, whether it had to do with politics, theology, or the best sports teams. What we did agree on was never in doubt: we welcomed the opportunity to discuss in an honest and unrushed manner the views we have of one another and to correct whatever misunderstandings there may be.
It may not be the antidote to all mistrust, but I still find that good old fashioned conversation, together with a willingness to listen and learn from others — just as you would like them to learn from you — can go a long way in building trust.