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Many faces, one church

Sat., Nov. 12, 2011

Brian Pitcher, shown in front of a billboard on Northwest Boulevard on Tuesday, is a spokesman for the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. He is also chancellor of Washington State University’s Spokane campus. (Jesse Tinsley)
Brian Pitcher, shown in front of a billboard on Northwest Boulevard on Tuesday, is a spokesman for the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. He is also chancellor of Washington State University’s Spokane campus. (Jesse Tinsley)

‘I’m a Mormon’ ad campaign seeks to inspire dialogue

Have you seen those “I’m a Mormon” billboards around Spokane?

Or caught television ads that showcase nonstereotypical Mormons talking about their “I’m-a-Mormon” lives?

Wondered what it’s all about?

Here’s the scoop.

• It’s not about Mitt Romney.

The Inland Northwest is one of just 13 cities/regions nationwide selected for the six-month awareness raising campaign by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Romney, a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is Mormon.

“The idea for the campaign started well before he was even running,” explained Alicia Mattoon, media relations specialist for the Mormon church in the Inland Northwest.

“Our church has been very firm about maintaining neutrality,” she said. “We don’t care who you vote for as long as you vote.”

The church knew the Romney question would surface and intentionally chose not to launch the campaign in early primary states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida, Mattoon said.

• It might surprise you who is Mormon. That’s the idea.

Brian Pitcher is the chancellor of Washington State University’s Spokane campus. He’s also a lifelong Mormon, president of a church “stake” in the Valley and one of the designated spokesmen for the campaign in the Inland Northwest.

He keeps his education work separate from his church work but Pitcher doesn’t hide his religion. However, when this high-profile educator tells people that he is Mormon, silence often follows.

“The conversation stops there,” Pitcher said. “I think because they are uncomfortable, don’t know what it is, or they have a misperception, and they don’t want to explore it further.”

Pitcher, 62, might fit some people’s image of most Mormons. He’s Caucasian, clean-cut, was raised on a farm in Alberta, Canada, did his two-year mission in France.

He’s been married 40 years. He and his wife have five children and 18 grandchildren.

The national ad campaign features some folks who look the part and others who don’t.

For instance, Jeff from Southern California works for Harley-Davidson. Helen, an African American born and raised in the Bronx, says in her ad that she’s an “ophthalmologist, a developer, a researcher, a mother, a grandmother and a visionary.”

The “I’m a Mormon” campaign seeks to reflect a global church that encompasses people in many occupations, from many different countries and from many ethnic groups.

In the Spokane area, two congregations serve Spanish and Marshallese speaking people.

Mattoon said the Mormons selected for the national television commercials were followed around by a film crew for a few days but were told to be themselves.

“No script, no makeup, no wardrobe,” Mattoon said.

At people can plug in their age, gender, ethnic background and keywords. Type in “Spokane” or “Coeur d’Alene” as keywords and dozens of photos of Inland Northwest Mormons pop onto the screen. Click on their photo and you can read about their lives.

A woman named Jan, for instance, wrote: “I’m a wife and mom. I’m a power walker. I had a stroke when I was 25 years old. I live in Spokane and I’m a Mormon.”

On the website, church members also answer dozens of questions, such as “Why don’t Mormons drink coffee, tea or alcohol?”

• The campaign hopes to encourage dialogue, even about the controversial stuff.

Longtime controversies surrounding the Mormon church – polygamy in its early history, the role of women and secrecy about temple rituals – have joined new controversies.

The latest? Several well-known Protestant evangelical leaders believe that Mormons aren’t true Christians.

And ex-Mormons are using social media and comment sites on traditional media to tell their stories. On KXLY’s website, a Coeur d’Alene ex-Mormon named Dianne wrote: “While with them for 40 years, I was taught never to question their authority. When I did read outside the doctrine and question some things, I was invited to leave.”

YouTube (where you can find many of the “I’m a Mormon” ads) is filled with “I’m an ex-Mormon” videos, taking the church to task on a multitude of issues.

Mattoon, Pitcher and other Mormons involved in the campaign acknowledge the controversies and the criticisms and welcome discussions prompted by the campaign.

After all, as Pitcher pointed out: “We learn in our faith to stand on the corner and talk about our religion.”

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