June 30th, 2014

The Public Relations Meltdown Regarding a Renouncing of War

The events of 9/11 served as a catalyst for the neocolonial interventionist power brokers in government to advance their agenda. In the months that followed, fabrications and talking points intertwined to paint a large target on the nation of Iraq. Not three months later, George Bush identified the country, along with Iran and North Korea, as part of an “axis of evil.” Sanctions against the Iraqi people were renewed and focused. World leaders were told by Bush at the United Nations General Assembly that Saddam’s regime was a “grave and gathering danger” and failure to escalate tensions would make the UN “irrelevant.”

Amid all the (supposed) diplomacy and agitation, the flames of fear and revenge were being eagerly fanned by the media. As one commentator has said, “Propaganda is still used more as an antecedent to war; in other words, if war is the paint, then propaganda is the paint primer that makes possible the total devotion of the public to the just cause of the state in wartime.” Americans had to be sold on the idea of fighting in Iraq before politicians pressed too hard.

Days after his speech at the United Nations, Bush pushed Congress to authorize him to use military force in Iraq. A bill was introduced on October 2, 2002. A few days later, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its twice-yearly general conference in Salt Lake City. On Saturday afternoon, apostle Russell N. Nelson delivered an address that any faithful Christian would consider gospel truth. He drew attention to our living in the last days, full of prophesied turmoil. He referenced our mandate to follow the Prince of Peace, and noted that he taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

He highlighted the Golden Rule: “Wherever it is found and however it is expressed, the Golden Rule encompasses the moral code of the kingdom of God. It forbids interference by one with the rights of another. It is equally binding upon nations, associations, and individuals.”

He rightly taught that the scriptures “condemn wars of aggression” and that despite conflict, “Peace is a prime priority that pleads for our pursuit.” Of diplomacy in the post-9/11 world, he said that “Resolution of present political problems will require much patience and negotiation. The process would be enhanced greatly if pursued prayerfully.” Nelson unabashedly affirmed that Jesus Christ’s teachings would bring actual and welcome peace:

These prophecies of hope could materialize if leaders and citizens of nations would apply the teachings of Jesus Christ. Ours could then be an age of unparalleled peace and progress. Barbarism of the past would be buried. War with its horrors would be relegated to the realm of maudlin memory. Aims of nations would be mutually supportive. Peacemakers could lead in the art of arbitration, give relief to the needy, and bring hope to those who fear. Of such patriots, future generations would shout praises, and our Eternal God would pass judgments of glory.

The hope of the world is the Prince of Peace—our Creator, Savior, Jehovah, and Judge. He offers us the good life, the abundant life, and eternal life. Peaceful—even prosperous—living can come to those who abide His precepts and follow His pathway to peace. This I declare to all the world.

Concluding his remarks, Elder Nelson stated that God expects us, as it states in the scriptures, to “renounce war and proclaim peace.” While objecting to aggressive war is part of the equation, it’s only a part—we should also, he said, “follow after the things which make for peace. We should be personal peacemakers.” These, Nelson says, are the true patriots. And lip service is insufficient—”we should live by the Golden Rule” (emphasis mine).

Dissent from the buildup to war being rare at the time, what happened next was unsurprising. The Associated Press issued a brief report, stating:

The Mormon church issued a strong anti-war message at its semiannual General Conference, clearly referring to current hostilities in the Middle East, advocating patience and negotiation, and urging the faithful to be peacemakers.

Some may have objected to this characterization of the remarks, but I find it to be fair and accurate. Renouncing war is necessarily “anti-war,” and Elder Nelson definitely advocated patience and negotiation, calling for peacemakers to proactively let their influence be felt. Of course, different outlets added their twists—one newspaper’s headline announced that he had “railed” against war, though it’s hard to see how a sweet old man, talking calmly and lovingly, could be perceived as railing.

The Church was quick to respond—perhaps anticipating a PR nightmare like the one that happened just five months later to the Dixie Chicks, when one of the band’s members told an audience “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” In that case, massive controversy erupted, boycotts ensued, sales tanked, radio stations stopped playing their music, and the band very quickly plummeted from red hot to has-been. Drowning in war propaganda, Americans were quick to demonize anybody who did not support the war. Of course, this was merely a successful implementation of a long-known strategy perhaps summed up best by Hermann Goering, one of the highest ranking Nazis who survived the war and who was well versed in propaganda. The people “can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders,” he remarked. “That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

One day after the conference concluded—and one day after the media reports began to take off about Elder Nelson’s anti-war remarks—the Church’s PR division issued a media advisory stating that some news outlets had “misinterpreted” the address, encouraging reporters and editors to “consider the full text.” However, it’s difficult to see how a fair reading of the remarks would produce a different conclusion. He condemned wars of aggression, justified war in cases of self-defense, all the while repeatedly emphasizing that peace is possible, peace is optimal, peace is what we should all be striving for—even (and especially) during the run-up to full blown military intervention.

The Associated Press issued a follow-up report, explaining that the Church had “qualified” Nelson’s remarks and “offered support for President Bush’s policy in the Middle East” in the form of an editorial in the Church-owned Deseret News. That editorial, issued on the Wednesday following general conference, completely contradicted the substance of Elder Nelson’s address. “Saddam Hussein and the threat he represents to the United States and her allies will not go away on his own,” it read. “This time, the nation may well have to strike first.” It concluded that “Americans have known they must face Saddam again sooner or later. It appears the time has come.”

Of course, the pro-war Deseret News is not an official outlet for proclaiming the mind and will of Church leaders, but its editorial, accompanied by the Church’s back-pedaling press statement, left clear in the mind of its members—and everybody else—how Elder Nelson’s renouncement of war was to be interpreted. While certainly not privy to the behind the scenes information, let alone any potential divine inspiration there may have been to lead to this PR “spin,” I can’t help but feel that this was a missed opportunity to boldly stand on some of the most important doctrine we have.

Did Jesus back down when challenged? Charged with blasphemy—a “crime” for which capital punishment was mandated—the high priest demanded of him, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus’ response: “I am.” There was no mincing words here, nor walking back of Christ’s claims.

It may have been seen as strategically sound to try and minimize the opposition to and criticism against Elder Nelson’s talk, for fear of incurring the wrath of the citizenry, media, and political leaders—all of which, especially when combined, would likely harm missionary work at home and abroad. I am skeptical, however, in light of popular opinions currently toward same-sex marriage and the Church’s open opposition to that trend. When Church leaders want to, they are content to press an issue despite its unpopularity.

But even if strategy was involved, strategy must succumb to commandments; after saying that “if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me,” Jesus tells his modern-day disciples that we must, presumably as part of this covenant, “renounce war and proclaim peace.” Elder Nelson did that, and getting us to do the same was the entire point of his address.

I suppose what I’m saying is that rather than shying away from the substance of what Elder Nelson said, it would have been great if the PR department doubled down, positioning Christ’s church as the leading voice of peace amid a cacophony of conspiring warmongers in the very act of deceiving the American people to drum up support for an offensive military campaign. Truth may be treason in an empire of lies, but if we’re to follow Christ’s example, let’s boldly say it anyway, come what may.

19 Responses to “The Public Relations Meltdown Regarding a Renouncing of War”

  1. outsidethecorridor
    June 30, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    This had been troubling me lately, after all these years. Thank you, Connor, for being so concise and clear.

    It seems that vagueness is the rule lately in most places, but not here. God bless you.

  2. Trevor Price
    June 30, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    Last year, Kimball’s well-known “The False Gods We Worship” saw much of its anti-war sentiment de-fanged in the Ensign (see this link).

    On a related note, Connor, I’m curious what you think about what PR spokeswoman Ally Isom told Radio West recently:

    “Well first let me be clear that public affairs does nothing in isolation or insulation from our church leaders. We act at their explicit direction. In fact, we have a number of them who chair a committee who sit in counsel with us regularly. They are well aware of our efforts. They are well aware that I’m here today. They are well aware of what the message would be going forward. We do nothing in isolation… [Public Affairs work] is actually a First Presidency assignment and we work in concert with them very closely.”

  3. Ron Madson
    June 30, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

    Thank you! Almost there.
    The PR department is the brethren. It is what they use to avoid having to take a firm, clear stance against a particular issue. Pres. Hinckley had a chance the following April to renounce with clarity and power these last two unholy invasions and he outright failed to do so. Then our church, thanks to BKP, put out the DVD “Let Not your Heart be Troubled” where they made it clear that we should support all our nation’s wars “right or wrong” They have at the highest levels rejected DC 98 in both “word and deed” even as the saints did in 1838, including Joseph and Sidney, resulting in Joseph being incarcerated in Liberty Jail as a covenant curse until he repented (DC 121).

  4. Bruce
    July 1, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    Wow. Thank you for focusing on this important episode. I doubt it will ever happen, but I would love to hear Elder Nelson’s reaction to this article.

    It really makes one wonder about the relationship between the Church PR department and the brethren. We are told that the PR department gets very close direction from them, but stories like this one you wrote, makes me wonder.

  5. Bud
    July 1, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    I know there is a very fine line, but there is a difference between wanting and supporting peace in the world and supporting your country when they go to war. I believe you can be a promoter of peace, even at times of war, even when supporting a war. You can disagree if you wish, but I do think there is a difference if you think about it.

  6. Mike
    July 1, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Thanks for this great article. My wife and I just went to lds.org and watched the “Let Not your Heart be Troubled” video and the video that accompanied it. While we totally agree with the exhortation to stay close to the Church in all the ways that were discussed, the obvious glorification of the military and the ignoring of the preemptive war issue is troubling. We are surely a “warlike people.”

  7. James
    July 1, 2014 at 11:22 pm #

    The positions which the Church’s PR department takes sometimes troubles me. For example, the PR director, Michael Otterson, whom I see as a very capable and articulate man, took a public position that the Gospel of Christ embraces social justice- even state-enforced social justice. Read it on his own article:

    http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/michael_otterson/2010/04/political_not_theological.html

    The content troubles me because so many prophets have denounced this teaching in the past and in order for taking care of the poor to be truly just it must be voluntary.

    Another thing that troubles me about this article is that Brother Otterson points out that when Glenn Beck opposes state-enforced social justice, he is not an official spokesman for the Church. But yet Otterson is! He is in effect pulling his Spokesman card to promote state-enforced social justice.

    Otterson was also the one that announced “the official position of the Church” at a Salt Lake City Council meeting that the Church supports the measure to prohibit employers and landlords from rejecting prospective employees/renters based on sexual preferences. Now while I have a hard time seeing President Monson making that announcement and I definitely have my personal objections to this stance based on the freedom of association principle, I can actually see Otterson doing this as an official assignment. I don’t believe, however, that he was acting within his official role when he wrote his state-enforced social justice article even though he wrote it in such a way that it is likely to be interpreted that way. Ironically, the Church’s apparent stance on forcing private business from discriminating would not bode well with them if they had similar requirements forced on them…

    To the point of the article, I’ve seen the PR department of the Church water down the truth too much for too long. As a marketer by training and trade I can see why the PR department plays the luke-warm position due to a fear of losing face but as a student of the scriptures I see no merit for this. We’re supposed to fear God, not man.

  8. Abe
    July 2, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    Thank you for writing this. I was deeply troubled by Hinckley’s talk the following April and somehow forgot about Elder Nelson’s. The PR efforts of the Church are often startling.

  9. outsidethecorridor
    July 2, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    Well, it sounds as though, from what you’ve said, James, that the “church’s” PR department has hijacked the ‘church’–

    or at least has taken for itself more authority than that of the ‘brethren’.

    Very odd; very odd, indeed.

    I’m not disagreeing at all; it’s just interesting to see it all put ‘up there’ like that–

    I believe that Ether is a warning for the ‘latter day’/gentile church, though–

    about the righteous ‘kings’ being in captivity–

    these men (the 12/15) are most definitely in captivity. Whoever controls PR controls the church, and I do agree that I don’t believe it is all 12/15 men who control it.

    What a . . . well, I think Connor would call it a conundrum–

    Maybe it’s time for *us* gentiles to repent . . . or something.

  10. outsidethecorridor
    July 2, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    @Bud–

    I am going to respond to you. I hope it is not in a spirit of argument. But why would *you* (anyone) want to ‘support’ an unrighteous government or an out-of-control rogue government or whatever on earth it now is?

    Perhaps a person has already joined the military and has no choice, and with that I can certainly sympathize. My heartfelt sympathy has gone out to everyone who has had to go ‘over there’ (for the past 100 years)–

    but in saying, “I support this” about something that is so obviously evil–

    then what are *you* doing? I know it doesn’t matter. Those who are in charge will do what they want to do no matter what ‘outside the corridor’ or ‘Bud’ think or do–

    but wouldn’t you at least want to say, in your heart, “I can’t support evil.”

    I know a few bright-hearted young LDS went over there believing they were freeing people, but after 10-11 years it has been shown that very little liberating took place, and a lot of devastation–

    so why hold on to the illusion?

    It can so easily be shown now how WWI and Viet Nam (a lot of people still have some romantic ideas about WWII) and Korea were ghastly mistakes–

    so–

    why would a person continue to deny the truth and say, “oh, that was good; that was good”–

    what about that scripture in the Book of Mormon:

    20 Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

    2 Nephi 15

  11. outsidethecorridor
    July 2, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    oops–

    Bud, you said “your country”–

    I wonder whose country it really is. Definitions. The definitions have to line up.

    I feel that “my country” was definitely stolen from me long before I was born, but I’ve had to pretend it still exists. Some noble people, places, and principles do, most certainly, exist–

    but a ‘country’ that can be supported–

    seems to have vanished and vanished long ago–

    “They” will do what they will do; my paltry little support (or opposition) will neither stop them nor help them in their downward slide–

    wait a minute, well, if I’m not on the sled with them as they go downwards, maybe there will be a little less weight (very little), and the sled will move almost imperceptibly more slowly–

    if I’m not there cheering on and adding my weight to the decline–

    My perspective is cynical, I realize. But it’s more sad than cynical, more a mournful observation–

    with a lot of sorrow.

  12. don
    July 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    I think Elder Nelson has given some of the best talks of the last two decades and that one in particular. Nobody in my ward paid any attention to him. I distinctly heard our gospel doctrine teacher say “He didn’t say we couldn’t attack Iraq.” And I agree with you 100 percent that the nation went crazy. We wanted to kick someone’s butt and we didn’t care whose. Our great leaders, most of whom never served their country, told us the enemy was Iraq and no one cared, no one spoke out, no one tried to stop them even when it was plain it was all a lie.

  13. Heath
    July 2, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    Sometimes, I just can’t muster the words to convey my utter disdain for the PR department of the Church. It seems that we are not willing to take a stand for the very principles Christ declared. Connor, your analysis is correct. This should have been the time when the Church squared it shoulders and looked Babylon in the eyes. However, we flinched.

  14. James H. Comish
    July 4, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    At the same conference, the President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley presented the Church’s position on War and Peace and yet you made no mention of this in the article. Not that I disagree with anything Elder Nelsen said, it is just that President Hinckley provided a comprehensive position that has since been written into the Church’s official position.

  15. Connor
    July 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    President Hinckley’s “War and Peace” address came at the next conference in April 2003. I have previously written about it.

  16. Nate
    July 6, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

    @Bud

    I think you’ve made a fair point. Mormon continued to lead his people in battle even after he wrote that they had lost the spirit of the Lord (although he did leave for a time).

  17. James
    November 5, 2015 at 9:13 am #

    I wrote this article in hopes that the someone in the church’s PR department will read it:

    http://standfastinliberty.com/2015/01/31/judging-the-baptist-by-his-cover/

    How awesome would it be if someone as principled and unafraid as John the Baptist were the church’s spokesman!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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