The Salt Lake Tribune was founded by excommunicated converts to the Mormon church, men intent on giving voice to the minority of nonmembers in the Territory of Utah. Over 147 years, The Tribune has evolved from a newspaper that could be rabidly anti-Mormon to a reliable and respected source of news about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Tribune's coverage of last weekend's LDS Church General Conference drew more than 300,000 page views at sltrib.com. That's a nice, fat figure, about a quarter of our usual weekend traffic for the entire site. It reflects the fact that we are a major source of this news for members and nonmembers alike, in Utah and around the world.
Of the Utah newsrooms that dedicate significant resources to covering Utah's predominant church, we are the only one not owned and controlled by it. Conflict of interest does not filter our perspective.
We cover the LDS Church the way a newspaper should approach the most powerful institution in the state and region aggressively but fairly, with respect for the spiritual sustenance it provides its members and the contributions it makes to the community at large. We strive to offer analysis and scrutiny when church influence meets public policy and societal issues while remembering that faith and doctrinal beliefs are also deeply personal.
The political clout of the LDS Church is a given. While 62 percent of Utahns are Mormons, more than 80 percent of the state Legislature are members, as are the governor and all six men in Utah's congressional delegation. The financial power is undeniable. Consider the $1.5 billion City Creek Center, built during the Great Recession.
That's a lot of weight to throw around, be it in the Legislature when lawmakers are considering liquor laws or in California when a ballot proposition defines marriage.
But to think of the global LDS Church in terms of monolithic absolutes would be wrong. Like any faith group, political party or other large organization, the people at its core come from many backgrounds and experiences and have a variety of opinions. And church policies change.
Last weekend's conference provided a revealing look into matters church leaders and the faithful wrestle with, and don't always agree upon: gay rights and the roles of women in the church and society.
LDS leaders weighed in on major issues same-sex marriage most prominent among them. In addition, a group of 130 women peacefully made their point that it is time to open the LDS priesthood to both genders. How LDS leaders regard feminism was a strong undercurrent through the weekend and a primary topic in a couple of sermons.
Where Mormon leaders and members take these discussions in the future is anyone's guess. One thing you can count on: The Tribune will be there to report and provide perspective. After all, we're covering the most powerful institution in Utah.
Terry Orme is the editor and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.