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Remembering the ‘Mormon’ Olympics that weren’t

Volunteers carried the day as LDS Church reached a new high by keeping a lower profile.

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It seemed a capstone to Hinckley’s lifetime of work toward improving his church’s image.

"I have to believe," Thomson says, "the church learned a lesson."

At a glance

What they wrote

The Mormon Tabernacle reminded me of so many other good places I have been, places where people share their faith, and try to find some way better than the hurly-burly of the world. For me, in sporting terms, this was like going to Yankee Stadium and meeting solid citizens like Jeter and Rivera and Williams in the clubhouse, knowing it is as awesome up close as it is from a distance. No disillusionment. No bad vibes.”

George Vecsey

The New York Times

There were images of Mormons taking over the flavor of the Games, of church members spreading their beliefs on every street corner. But on the bustling sidewalks of this wide-avenued city, as throngs of parka-wearing sports fans from around the country and world make their way to events, restaurants and shops, there is very little in-your-face religion. Many say the Mormons have been gracious hosts and these Olympics have been a chance for a little more understanding.”

Jenn Menendez

Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine

The Mormon church kept its pledge to keep missionaries from spreading the word among Olympic visitors. In return it got a public relations bonanza from journalists who found a church that didn’t seem as weird as they had believed.”

Tim Dahlberg

Associated Press article published in Los Angeles Times

Source: mormonnewsroom.org

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The 2002 Games, she says, introduced Mormons to the world and allowed them to say, "This is who we are."

But it also introduced the world to Mormons, particularly in the church’s leadership and public-affairs arm.

That has allowed Latter-day Saints to react better to satires such as the "Book of Mormon" musical, several journalists say, and to questions about Mormonism, attacks on it as a non-Christian cult and the fear of Romney being controlled by the church.

The Olympics were a "great warm-up act," Thomson says, "for everything that’s followed."

Mormons showed they could laugh at themselves, Stuever adds, and that they didn’t have to respond defensively to every story.

"They realized that there are many responses to the Mormon faith and that you should roll with all of them," he says. "That kind of sophistication is directly traceable to the Salt Lake Olympics."

In the end, the wildly successful 2002 Games, Shipps writes, largely exploded LDS stereotypes.

"Shattered were the images of Mormonism as a peculiar faith tradition ensconced in the Intermountain region of the American West," she writes, "and of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as spooky clean-cut zealots whose main goal is making converts."

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Unfortunately, Shipps says, all the Mormon stereotypes and controversies came rolling back with the next two Mormon moments — Romney’s White House run in 2007-08 and his current campaign.

The 2002 Olympic Games were uplifting expressions of unity, hope and inclusion, she says. Political contests, by their nature, are not.


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