"I'm a Mormon," announce billboards currently popping up in Denver -- and the timing of their appearance have suggested to some observers that they're intended to boost the presidential aspirations of Mitt Romney, the present frontrunner in the GOP presidential sweepstakes. But a local spokesman insists that's not so.
"Whenever there's a correlation between events, people draw conclusions," notes Lynn Southam, speaking for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the metro area. "But I'm a retired lawyer, and as I used to say, 'Wrong assumption, wrong conclusion.'"
Southam says the billboard campaign grew out of a survey conducted four years ago, which suggested "there were a lot of misconceptions, a lot of myths, about the Church." With that in mind, LDS officials set up Mormon.org, a website where people can get their questions answered even if bike-riding youth in white shirts and black ties don't knock on their door.
The billboards are intended to point folks toward the site, Southam explains -- and while the placards are only now arriving in Denver, they began appearing in other places, including New York City and Colorado Springs, last year. Moreover, the current roll-out of twelve cities includes some outside of the U.S., including Brisbane, Australia -- where, presumably, no one is equating the signs with Romney or John Huntsman, the other Republican presidential candidate who's an LDS member (albeit one who typically polls in the single digits).
As for why targeting Denver makes sense, Southam points out that "we have 140,000 members of the church in Colorado," out of fourteen million worldwide, "and 100,000 of those are along the Front Range. And in the metro area, we have 65,000 to 70,000 members, which is quite surprising to some people. They may not realize that some of their neighbors are members."
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According to Southam, the campaign as a whole has three central messages: to set the record straight about those aforementioned misconceptions; to emphasize that the LDS church is indeed Christian (something that should be obvious due to the presence of "Jesus Christ" in its moniker); and to engage members in the broader discussion of the faith.
"There's a conversation going on about the church, and we want to be part of that conversation," he stresses. "If you want to know about the Catholic Church, you talk to a Catholic. If you want to know about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you talk to a member. In fact, members have been given a little pass-along card to give to people, and the benefit of that is, it lets people with questions go to the website and get information -- and get a better sense of who we are and what we're about."
And, in this case, "we" doesn't necessarily equate to Romney and Huntsman.
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