Church history is replete with examples of influential individuals, not of our faith, who have, often courageously, represented and even defended the Church. That these influential individuals would speak favorably in behalf of the Church, sometimes taking an unpopular position to do so, is a testimony to their honesty and integrity. It also speaks well of those who invest their time and effort to build relationships of trust with them, allowing them to see beyond the stereotypes and caricatures to gain a true understanding of Mormonism.
Such was the case with Colonel Thomas L. Kane, a dear friend to Brigham Young and the early Saints. Elder Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy has researched and written extensively on the life and contribution of Colonel Kane. In an Ensign article, Elder Wickman extols the character and courage of this valiant “outrider for Zion,” prepared by the Lord to assist the Church at a pivotal time in its history. He concludes with these words:
“In a larger sense, Thomas L. Kane is but representative of numerous others—some great and others less noticed—down to our own day whom the Lord has posted out on the horizons in all directions and in every land as this great caravan moves on. These also are ‘outriders’—friends to assist His cause and His kingdom. May we be ever vigilant to search them out, to befriend them, and to hold them in honorable remembrance” (“Thomas L. Kane: Outrider for Zion,” Ensign, Sept. 2003, 63).
The following examples are based on actual recent events and illustrate how such individuals can have a significant and lasting impact on the work of the Church in our day.
In 2005, a group known for its history of sometimes violent occupations of private land overtook a Church welfare ranch in central Brazil. The group claimed the land belonged to all people and as a result took control of the ranch.
Upon learning of the takeover, the Brazil Area public affairs director contacted a Brazilian presidential adviser. The director had come to know him and had developed a good relationship with him. The presidential adviser e-mailed the leader of the group and strongly encouraged him to leave the farm. The rebellious group later left and the problem was resolved. The success of this resolution was made possible because the director of public affairs had established a good relationship with the presidential adviser through the Mormon Helping Hands program (see Mormon Helping Hands).
Members of a public affairs council in a large city in the United States sought for ways to more effectively interact with the city’s sizable African American population. Council members and their priesthood leaders were inspired to host a luncheon where Church resources for researching African American family history were discussed. One invitation was extended to the pastor of a large downtown congregation. This led to a series of positive interactions and the establishment of a fast friendship between the pastor and various Church members, including priesthood leaders. Because of his great interest in family history, arrangements were made to establish a family history center in his church.
One Christmas morning, the pastor’s church suffered a devastating fire and burned completely. The public affairs council made arrangements for him to use temporary office space at a nearby stake center. A supply of family history equipment and other resources were donated as well to help re-establish his church’s family history center. As a result, he has become a vocal supporter of the Church and has done many things “behind the scenes” to benefit numerous Church members and people of all faiths. He remains a strong friend of the Church.
A new chapel was needed in a suburban location in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Attempts to obtain building permits were rebuffed by the city council because of protests from local residents. Legal avenues were pursued clear through the state supreme court, but to no avail.
A new approach was tried involving public affairs principles. A local LDS spokesperson was identified from the neighborhood. Leaders in the neighborhood were identified and contacted. Informal community gatherings were held and objections were heard and discussed. Based on the feedback, multiple options for the building site were developed. A Web site was created showing the options, answering questions, and giving examples of other LDS chapels. Vocal opponents were contacted privately and given the opportunity to share their feelings with local Church leaders.
As a result, several who were previously opposed became open supporters of the plan in public hearings. Media covering the process reported on a new spirit of cooperation and a genuine desire among participants to identify a solution that would benefit all interested parties. Following a new vote by the city council, building permits were granted and a new chapel was constructed, adding to the beauty and overall character of the community.