With the Mormon church increasingly in the national spotlight, including a hit Mormon-themed Broadway musical and two members seeking the White House, a nonprofit group is seeking to set the record straight about the faith's beliefs.
The group has launched the Mormon Defense League in an effort to help journalists, political operatives and others who comment on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints better understand the religion.
The goal is to dispel myths and explain the history, theology and other aspects of the church, co-founder Scott Gordon said.
The idea for the league grew out of what Gordon said were volumes of misinformation about the church that circulated in 2008 when Mormon Mitt Romney sought the GOP presidential nomination.
"What we've seen is that as the church becomes more and more in the limelight, people say and report things that are often bigoted or false," Gordon said. "We wanted to provide an organization that could assist journalists and others get the story right and offer some gentle correction when they didn't."
The all-volunteer organization is an extension the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, or FAIR, which defends Mormon beliefs to critics. Gordon, FAIR's president since 2001, announced plans for the league Thursday during the opening session of FAIR's 13th annual conference in Sandy.
In recent years, the Utah-based church, which has more than 14 million members worldwide, has been increasingly in the spotlight. Romney is again seeking the GOP presidential nomination, as is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Broadway is home to the Tony Award-winning "Book of Mormon" musical, and the church played a central role in a 2008 political battle over gay marriage in California.
Misinformation or misperceptions about Mormonism _ including that faithful Latter-day Saints wear "magic underwear" or still practice polygamy _ stem from a lack of understanding of the church's history, doctrine and culture, Gordon said.
He said a team of Mormon Defense League volunteers will post articles and explainers to the organization's website, MLD.org; will answer questions through email exchanges or interviews; and will monitor news about the church to watch for missteps.
"If you come out with an article that says Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers, we're going to say, `OK, this is why you'll find Mormons objecting to that characterization,'"' said Gordon, who explains that such statements are considered code for suggesting Mormons are not Christians.
"The problem is that you can take any religion or beliefs and look at the doctrine and find ways to make them look silly," he said. "We're going to try and fill in the context and the gaps."
As explained on the league's website, Mormons believe Satan was also one of God's children but was cast out for rebelling against God's teachings.
Neither FAIR nor the Mormon Defense League are affiliated with or sanctioned by the Mormon church, although church spokesman Eric Hawkins told The Associated Press the faith favors "sincere efforts to correct misconceptions and inaccuracies."
Nothing about the Mormon Defense League is intended to replace the work of the church's paid public relations staff, Gordon said. But league contributors aren't hampered by an institutional process.
"Sometimes we might be able to say things that public affairs can't," Gordon said.
Mormon Defense League, http://mdl.org/
Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, http://www.fairlds.org/
Jennifer Dobner can be reached at _http://www.twitter.com/JenniferDobner