Mormons Present New Face in Ad Campaign

VIDEO: Mormons Attempt to Surprise People

The Mormon church has launched a new television ad campaign in an attempt to dispel what it says is the myth that all Mormons are alike.

The ads feature a diverse group of men and women talking about their values and their passions: motorcycles, surfing, skateboarding and families.

"I believe the best dinner conversations are with those who don't agree with you," says sculptor and Mormon Jeff Decker in one ad. "I believe in having friends that pray to a different God. I think they should be able to worship to the dictates of their hearts and I hope they respect my right to do the same."

VIDEO: Mormons Attempt to Surprise People
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Other ads include Alex, a black musician in an interracial marriage; Emily a working mother of three; and Cassandra, a mother and artist who says she doesn't believe a woman's place is in the kitchen. Her husband, she says is the better cook in the family.

"The ads are blasting apart those stereotypes that people have of who mormons are. It's a big tent," says Kim Farah, spokeswoman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "We have members that are very diverse and I think people are very surprised to see that."

The ads are running on the church's web site, Mormon.org, and on television in nine cities: Rochester, N.Y., Oklahoma City, Okla., Colorado Springs, Colo., Tucson, Ariz., Baton Rouge, La., Jacksonville, Fla., St. Louis, Mo., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.

John Dehlin, a progressive Mormon and editor of the web site mormonstories.org, says the ads embody his own values and are a step in the right direction for the church.

"I think it's fabulous. I think it represents in many ways the best impulses of the Mormon people," Dehlin says. "It represents tolerance. It represents multiculturalism. It represents an empowerment of women, inclusivity."

But Dehlin says the ads do not reflect Mormon doctrine and teachings when it comes to race, gender equality and individualism.

For example, he says, "the husband is supposed to work and the mom is supposed to stay home and take care of the kids. There's a difference between what the prophets teach us and what this PR campaign is holding up."

Charges of polygamy, sexism and racism have surrounded the Mormon church for years. The arrest of fundamentalist sect leader Warren Jeffs, along with the popular HBO fictional series "Big Love," which features a modern day polygamist Mormon with three wives, hasn't helped the church's image.

Mitt Romney, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, was asked repeatedly about his faith during his campaign.

"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church will ever exert influence on presidential decisions," Romney said in a December 2007 speech clarifying the role his faith would play were he elected president.

But the latest wave of criticism against the Mormon church comes on the heels of its campaign against gay marriage in California.

The church denies the new ads are an effort to combat the backlash over Proposition 8. Church spokesperson Kim Farah also says the ads have no connection whatsoever to a near certain presidential run by Romney in 2012.

Dehlin says the ads can only help Romney.

"The extent to which the church can get ahead of the game and portray itself as hip, progressive and inclusive paves the way for a smoother Romney campaign," he says.

Still he says the church will eventually need to confront what he sees as a disconnect between its public message and its teachings.

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