Question: Does the Church's public affairs department act independently of direction from Church leadership?

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Question: Does the Church's public affairs department act independently of direction from Church leadership?

This idea is illogical and somewhat offensive

This page addresses two related criticisms of the Church:

  1. Some claim that official statements issued by Church public affairs are only the output of a bureaucratic Church department, and do not necessarily represent the views or intended message of the prophets and apostles.
  2. Others complain that receiving information from Church public affairs is not "as good" as hearing from prophets and apostles, and claim that Church leaders are hiding behind public affairs spokespeople.

It is ironic that the same critics who complain about a "rogue" Public Affairs department also often claim that individual apostles have the power or influence to insist that dissidents be subject to Church discipline. How is it, then, that these apostles are so powerful that they can unilaterally demand that someone be excommunicated, while remaining either so clueless or impotent that they cannot rein in a Public Affairs department that will not stay on message?

Does Church Public Affairs "freelance"?

Church Public Affairs has issued statements that make their role clear:

Church Public Affairs "does not act independently of church leadership,” spokesman Scott Trotter….“Official statements on the [LDS] church websites are approved at the highest level.” He added, "The church is naturally concerned when some members deliberately misrepresent its leaders and actions. In such cases, the church reserves the right to publicly correct the record."[1]

In 2014, Michael Otterson (managing director of Church Public Affairs) wrote:

First, it’s important to understand that the Public Affairs Department of the Church does not freelance. For Public Affairs to initiate or take a position inconsistent with the views of those who preside over the Church is simply unthinkable, as anyone who has ever worked for the Church will attest.

As managing director of the Public Affairs Department, I work under the direct supervision of two members of the Twelve apostles, two members of the Presidency of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishop, and alongside a remarkable and devoted staff of men and women.

This group of senior General Authorities often refers matters of particular importance to other councils of men and women leaders, to the full Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and to the First Presidency for further discussion or decision.[2]

He elsewhere wrote:

Please also understand that no Church spokesperson...issues statements on behalf of the Church that are not either initiated or approved by members of the Twelve and, at times, by the First Presidency. We stand by the statement that was issued on their behalf, and which was accurate in every detail.[3]

Why use a public affairs department?

Elder Quentin L. Cook explained that a Public Affairs department is sometimes the most effect way to disseminate prophetic and apostolic messages. He also emphasized that anything produced by Church Public Affairs is reviewed and approved at the highest levels of Church government:

It’s interesting. People who disagree with anything that is either sent by letter or put in the Newsroom, or however it’s done, can find interesting ways to say that it really doesn’t mean what it says.

You look back at the history of Wilford Woodruff’s announcement on polygamy in 1890 and there were still people quibbling about that for a long, long time.

The Church uses, the First Presidency and the Twelve use, whatever means will be most effective depending on what the issue is and who it affects. Most often that will be a letter to stake presidents and bishops, and it will be sent all over the world. But sometimes it’s for a particular area.

Sometimes we use news releases. Sometimes we use the Newsroom site to put those up, particularly with community issues that are important. When something is put up on the Newsroom or an announcement is made in a different way, that is the Church’s policy.

It’s interesting to me that the announcement that the priesthood would be available to all worthy male members regardless of race was a news release. Ultimately there was a letter sent out, but it was announced at a press conference with the Managing Director of Public Affairs. Some people have chosen to say they’re not going to believe it unless it’s in a letter. Others have said that the prophet will have to tell them personally. I think that kind of tells you where they are when they make those kinds of statements.

When something goes up on the Newsroom site, you can be sure that the approval process is such that those official statements have the complete support of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[4]


Notes

  1. Peggy Fletcher Stack, "Some LDS conservatives now at odds with their church," Salt Lake Tribune (28 April 2011).
  2. Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church Public Affairs), "Context missing from discussion about women," letter (29 May 2014), 4.
  3. Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church public affairs), "Dear Sister Reynolds," letter (April 2014).
  4. Quentin L. Cook, "Understanding Our External Environment," Leadership Enrichment Series (23 February 2011).