Despite a strong campaign by supporters of Mormon blogger Stephanie Nielson and fans of singing sensation David Archuleta, the staff of Times and Seasons (http://www.timesandseasons.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.timesandseasons.org) has selected Mitt Romney as 2008 Mormon of the Year.
"During 2008, Romney concluded the most credible presidential campaign of any Mormon to date and dominated the U.S. national news early in the year like no single Mormon has in recent memory," organizer Kent S. Larsen said in an e-mail Wednesday. "He garnered a great deal of both praise and criticism, gaining him significant endorsements as well as important detractors. . .On the international scene, numerous press articles mentioned Romney's membership in the Mormon Church, thus contributing to the image of the church abroad."
The Mormon of the Year designation is a recognition of the effect the person or group of persons has had during the past year and "should not be seen as an endorsement [Romney's] political positions or aspirations," Larsen added.
Last week, Larsen first nominated five well-known members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the honor: Romney, Archuleta, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Mormon novelist Stephenie Meyer, and JetBlue founder David Neeleman. He excluded the LDS Church's First Presidency (including the prophet) and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles because their overwhelming influence would guarantee their selection every year.
Larsen then invited the public to make other suggestions, which he compiled into a lengthy list and asked readers to vote on their favorites.
Several named Nielson, a Mesa, Ariz., Mormon, whose writing about motherhood had attracted a large online following. In August, a small airplane carrying Nielson and her husband, Christian, crashed, leaving the couple with burns covering nearly 30 percent of their bodies. Nielson's sister, Courtney Kendrick, has continued to update Nielsen's blog, nieniedialogues.blogspot.com, as well as organizing online auctions and inspirational messages for her sister.
"The site, a diary of home life that [Nielson] started in 2005 for close friends and family, had attracted a small but ardent following, thanks to its upbeat dispatches about marriage, home décor, entertaining and the art of raising four children ages 6 and younger," Alex Williams wrote in the New York Times on Sept. 6. "To her admirers, she was Supermom."
After the accident, readership on the site spiked from 1,000 to more than 20,000, the Times reported.
Nielson's nomination raised the issue of what constituted Mormon of the Year. Was it fame, moral courage or being a good example of LDS values? Many argued she did more for the faith than anyone else.
"Stephanie and Courtney have changed my life," wrote one voter known only as "SJC." "I knew nothing about LDS before them, and now I have faces and names and morals and reasoning behind the church . . . stories about their upbringing and their community, their traditions."
But Larsen reminded voters that "how righteous the person is or how faithful they are to the teachings of the LDS Church isn't the point. . . [Stephanie and Courtney] obviously have a base of very loyal fans, but most of the world has never heard of them.
In the end, Times and Seasons staff went with Romney, Larsen said, because he had "the greatest impact or influence on Mormons and Mormonism in 2008."