Credibility, whether personal or institutional, is one of those things that takes years to build but can be squandered and lost in a matter of days. To whit, one Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packer quarterback who is the reigning MVP of the NFL and who, until last week, was widely regarded as a fairly intelligent guy. He was a serious contender for the new Jeopardy host job and did a guest hosting gig on the show earlier this year. That whole charade unraveled last week after Rodgers tested positive for Covid-19 and was placed on his team’s Covid reserve list. It was disclosed that he would certainly miss the then-upcoming Sunday game with the Kansas City Chiefs and that he would not be eligible to return to activity with the team for ten days — which blatantly signaled that he was not vaccinated, despite his coy comments earlier this season to the contrary. (If he had been vaccinated, he could have returned earlier with two successive negative Covid tests.) In the week since, it has been a media feeding frenzy, fueled in part by Rodgers’ own rambling 45-minute interview/monologue on a sports talk show on Friday, trying to explain his choices and defend his earlier statements.
That sound you heard was the sound of credibility imploding. His credibility would have taken a hit even if he had said nothing, given his earlier misleading (at best) statement implying he had been vaccinated and his rather cavalier behavior over the course of the season (attending press conferences at indoor meeting rooms without a mask, when league Covid protocols clearly required unvaccinated players to wear a mask during such encounters at the team facility). But Friday’s interview really put the nail in the judgment and credibility coffin. This isn’t just me and my slanted opinion. Here, in no particular order, are some of the national media stories that have dropped over the last week:
- At USA Today: “Suspension not expected, but Aaron Rodgers, Packers facing fines for Covid protocol transgressions.”
- At The Atlantic: “Why Aaron Rodgers Felt Free to Mislead People.”
- At WaPo: “Aaron Rodgers said he did the research on covid vaccines. Here’s how he was wrong, according to the experts.”
- At the Guardian: “Anti-vaxxer Aaron Rodgers’ spectacular fall from grace happened in record time.”
- Howard Stern weighed in, suggesting Rodgers should be thrown out of the NFL.
- Terry Bradshaw weighed in: “You lied to everyone.”
- At NBC Sports PFT, reporting that Aaron Rodgers “feels like he’s being crucified” and raising the possibility that Rodgers is so upset by the negative reactions to his Friday interview that he might just retire from football.
The definitive sign that Rodgers the respected and fairly intelligent quarterback is now a national joke was the parody Saturday Night Live cold opening. It wasn’t really very funny. The whole affair is sad, not funny, and it’s not over yet.
So why review all this? Because it’s a ripped-from-the-headlines example of how quickly credibility can be lost. How quickly a good reputation can be squandered. For a corporate example, think Firestone tires from a few years ago. It is amazing how much an unaware person or institution can unwittingly blow their own credibility or reputation by making rash or unwarranted statements or by mismanaging a crisis. Now let’s take a look at the LDS scenario.
Church Leadership Judgment and Credibility
What can we say about LDS institutional credibility? Has it gone up or down lately? Historically, there are some well known 19th-century episodes where LDS credibility took a hit, but the Church muddled on through and, over time, recovered: The Kirtland Bank fiasco. The succession crisis in 1844-45. The public announcement of the practice of LDS plural marriage in 1852. The Mountain Meadows Massacre, accounts of which leaked out in pieces in the years after the event of 1857. Wow, it’s amazing the Church made it to 1900 intact.
But the focus here is on recent years, with the relevant point to carry over from the Aaron Rodgers discussion being just how quickly credibility can evaporate, vanish into thin air. I’m sure loss of credibility varies across individuals, so I’m not ready to make any bold statements based on just my own view of things. Here are a couple of recent events that could, for some people, hurt LDS institutional and leadership credibility.
First, the LDS policy defining being in a gay marriage as “apostasy,” an excommunicable offense, and putting membership restrictions on children of gay-married parents. This was put in place in 2015 (rather secretly, a separate story in itself) then walked back (sort of) in 2019. Here is an NPR article that reviews the whole story and isn’t behind a paywall, but there are plenty of other places to read the story. The 2015 announcement and the strange way it was slipped into the Handbook was off-putting for many LDS. The interview a few days later by Elder Christofferson attempting to defend the policy was painful. Labelling it a “revelation” a couple of months later didn’t seem to solve anything. Then the apparent reversal in 2019 made people even more confused, as if God changed His mind twice in four years. It was a self-inflicted crisis that became a mismanaged crisis, all to little or no benefit to the Church.
Second, the hundred billion dollar fund. Oops, we didn’t tell you about that? Well of course they didn’t tell us. The Church hasn’t released financial statements publicly since roughly the 1950s, although (and this is truly bizarre) they continue to issue a so-called audit report telling the membership that the financial statements they are not allowed to see do, in fact, fairly state the financial revenue and expenditures, as well as the financial position, of the Church. Perhaps the most telling anecdote I heard in connection with the awkward public disclosure of the size of the huge secret LDS investment fund was that Elder Packer attempted to get information about the fund at one point, but was denied access. So of course you and I didn’t know anything about it. Even Elder Packer didn’t know much. I think LDS leadership credibility and candor took a big hit with this recent revelation. To put it bluntly, if they’ll hide a hundred billion dollars, they’ll hide anything, so what else are they hiding?
Now it’s not at all clear that the general membership of the Church felt any loss of credibility toward the leadership about these or any other issues. That’s part of what I am asking here.
- Did your view of the credibility of the Church as in institution or of the leadership of the Church take a hit over these recent episodes?
- Were there any other recent events that might have had this effect for you?
- Do you think the average active and attending member of the Church had any such reaction to these or other recent events?
- If not, what sort of event could possibly call LDS credibility into question for the average active member?
Let me throw in a quick disclaimer. I’m not suggesting you *should* think the Church has a credibility problem because of these or other events. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. I’m sure there are Green Bay Packer fans who bristle at the widespread reaction that Aaron Rodgers misled or flat out lied to the public, put some members of the public (like journalists in the press room) at risk, or let down his teammates (with Rodgers, his team would most likely have beaten a surprisingly weak Kansas City team on Sunday). And I’m sure there are LDS who see no problem whatsoever with anything the Church does or with anything any LDS leaders have said.
As a final thought, let me add the truly strange observation that the publication of the Gospel Topics Essays probably caused more questioning and heartache among the general membership of the Church than either of the two events I have noted above, or any other event you might raise in the comments (seer stone photo in the Ensign, Book of Abraham “translation,” etc.). For the average Mormon, salting away a hundred billion dollars or scapegoating gays and their children are no problem at all — but making a good faith attempt to set out a more accurate account of LDS history and doctrine on various troubling issues, that’s a big problem. Imagine being a random Seventy who is chatting with an Apostle and hearing this comment: “I’m a little surprised more members weren’t troubled by our Hundred Billion Dollar Fund. Some of them were even proud the Church managed to save up so much money for a rainy day. But wow, those Essays sure stirred up some trouble …”