I’m a Mormon, and The New York Times Needlessly Defamed My Church’s Leader

Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died last week at the age of 90.

Revered as a prophet by the approximately 16 million Mormons scattered across the globe, Monson devoted his life to serving God and his fellow men.

So it was with great sadness that I read The New York Times headline announcing his passing, which cast him in a completely unfair light.

The Times wrote: “Thomas Monson, the president of the Mormon Church who rebuffed demands to ordain women as priests and refused to alter church opposition to same-sex marriage, died Tuesday at 90.”

Compare this to the headline announcing Fidel Castro’s death: “Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary who defied the U.S., died Friday. He was 90.”

Or Hugh Hefner’s headline: “Hugh Hefner has died at 91. He founded Playboy magazine in 1953 and became inseparable from his brand.”

The New York Times used an obituary of a man who served his entire life with love to push a political message. In doing so, the Times demonstrated why many Americans cannot and do not take the publication seriously.

Monson was first called as a bishop of the church in his early twenties and served in the church from that time forward. He traveled the globe, administering to the weary and spreading the good word of Christ to all who would listen.

He was even instrumental in the construction of a Mormon temple behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Germany, taking the church to areas of the world where it had been restricted.

Monson was best known for his charitable acts. As a young leader in Salt Lake City, the congregation which he oversaw included more than 80 widows. Monson made it a personal endeavor to regularly visit each and every widow to make sure their needs were met.

Under Monson’s leadership, in 2015 alone, the church responded to 177 emergency situations in 56 countries. The church has spent over $1.2 billion on humanitarian efforts over the past couple of decades.

Above all, Monson was a man of love. I remember gathering around the TV or laptop to listen to his sermons and always leaving with a full heart and a determination to love and serve those around me.

He once said, “Your heavenly Father loves you. That love never changes. It is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is always there.”

His smile was enormous. He often said that love is expressed in many recognizable ways: a smile, a wave, a kind comment, a compliment.

Why would the Times mistreat such a moral man as Monson?

As I scoured his full original New York Times obituary, I read much about his views on marriage and women and very little about his years of loving service to the poor, his empowering and uplifting sermons, and his unwavering love for all humanity.

A few days ago, a petition started circulating asking the Times to rewrite the obituary. That petition now has over 190,000 signatures. The petition, along with other online blowback, prompted the Times to address the issue.

Both Mormons and non-Mormons were right to call out The New York Times for its biased representation of who Monson was. But rather than simply apologizing, the Times tried to justify its actions:

In 20/20 hindsight, we might have paid more attention to the high regard with which he was held within the church. I think by his very position in the church, all that was implied. But perhaps we should have stated it more plainly.

But this statement didn’t suffice. After its release, calls continued to pour in for a change to the obituary. The Times eventually relented—it listened, and rewrote the obituary.

It deserves credit for doing so. But it shouldn’t take hundreds of thousands of complaints for the Times to produce fair and balanced content.

When Monson was called as a prophet of the church, I was a missionary serving in California. I’ve been a member of the Mormon church since my baptism at age 8. I have always looked up to Monson. I’m grateful that I know who he was and what he stood for.

He once said: “We must develop the capacity to see men not as they are at present but as they may become.” I hope to become a man like Thomas S. Monson.

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