LDS Church donation to Utah Pride Center
Image: Franco Folini

Written by Marcos Camargo

On Wednesday, July 1, the Utah Pride Center announced they had received an undisclosed donation from the LDS Church in support of the Center’s homeless and low-income youth program. The donation came between the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and a new directive from LDS authorities reaffirming the church’s doctrine supporting traditional marriage. The donation has been hailed by those on both sides of the marriage issue as a gleeful moment of détente, a new beginning for LDS and LGBT dialogue.

Personally, I am glad that the LDS church has found in itself the ability to make a monetary contribution to help LGBT youth, but I think there’s another side to the story that no one seems to want to talk about: the public relations aspect.

What I am about to say will seem to many a cynical and even crass accusation. But I believe it’s important to consider the motivations of an organization before praise is unduly heaped upon it, so I ask that you please not shoot the messenger.

While the LDS Church receives applause for donating to an organization that it utterly opposed just weeks ago, the motivation behind the donation seems suspicious. This is especially apparent when one considers the impact that the Church’s rhetoric has had in causing many of these youth to become homeless and poor in the first place. And if the Church truly wants to help homeless LGBT youth, why haven’t been contributing to this cause for years?

In 2012, Good4Utah reported that Utah has a significantly high number of homeless gay youth who have reported running away because of either familial rejection or community and religious intolerance. The church was not actually telling parents or communities to ostracize gay children in 2012, but it hasn’t been that long since church officials condoned such practices.

In a 1976 address to young Mormon men, the recently deceased Mormon apostle Boyd Packer told a story where a missionary confessed to him that he had “floored” (beat up) his mission companion. When Packer found out that the beating came as a response to the assaulted missionary making advances toward the other, Packer said he responded with, “Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.”

I try to imagine Jesus—the alleged head of the Mormon Church—saying something like that, but for some reason I can’t. Instead, all that comes to mind is the story of Jesus healing the ear of a man who came to take him to his death—a man whose ear Peter the disciple cut off.

But now, after the debacle that was Proposition 8, as well as the nationwide legalization of gay marriage, the Mormon Church is desperately playing cleanup. They need to shine their image using the best polishing tool out there: money.

It’s important to think of the LDS Church as a corporation that needs cash to keep the gears turning. I say this because it is a corporation. Just look at who owns the copyrights to all their materials and ownership of all their monetary holdings. I’ll save you some time and just tell you that it’s a slew of various S-corps and LLCs—The Corporation of the President of the Church, Intellectual Reserve Inc., The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, and the list goes on. To manage the image of these various entities and their holdings, the Church employs a battalion of public relation flunkies—attorneys, marketers, writers—on call every hour of the day to advertise their product and keep their existing customers convinced of its effectiveness.

Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and the father of modern advertising, knew the value of a well-delivered public image to all money making organizations, whether the organization be for-profit, charitable, or governmental.

“The minority has discovered a powerful help in influencing majorities,” wrote Bernays in 1928. “It has been found possible so to mold the mind of the masses that they will throw their newly gained strength in the desired direction. In the present structure of society, this practice is inevitable. Whatever of social importance is done today, whether in politics, finance, manufacture, agriculture, charity, education, or other fields, must be done with the help of propaganda. Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.”

In 1970, the LDS Church took this advice to heart, so much so it made propaganda an integral part of its Correlation doctrine. This Correlation sought to bring LDS teachings in harmony with LDS image.

Dr. Daymon M. Smith, anthropologist and former Church Office Building employee, summarizes it eloquently:

“By May 1970 [President Harold B. Lee], according to summarized meeting minutes, ‘noted the need of bringing in other programs, such as church education, publications, communications, public relations’ under the single eye of Correlation.”

It is exactly this strategy that the church has employed by offering an “undisclosed donation” to the Utah Pride Center.

They know the war against marriage equality is lost, so now they must rebuild their image as a charitable and Christ-like organization, while simultaneously circling the wagons and announcing their continued stance against gay marriage. The only difference is that now they have a paper trail proving their alleged “love for the sinner but not the sin.”