Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints LDS President Thomas S. Monson died on Tuesday, Jan. 2 from age-related causes.
In the week since his death, more than 190,000 people signed an online petition asking The New York Times to “rewrite” its obituary on the 16th president of the church.
“Instead of highlighting the positive aspects of his life, or a neutral statement about the facts of his life, they decided to attack and disparage his character and used his obituary as a political statement against him and the Church as a whole and tweeted a click-bait headline to attack even further,” the petition reads.
The criticism drew a response from the Times’ obituary editor, William McDonald, where he responded in-depth to various aspects of the obituary.
“I think the obituary was a faithful accounting of the more prominent issues that Mr. Monson encountered and dealt with publicly during his tenure,” McDonald wrote. “Some of these matters—the role of women in the church, the church’s policy toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and more—were widely publicized and discussed, and it’s our obligation as journalists, whether in an obituary or elsewhere, to fully air these issues from both sides. I think we did that, accurately portraying Mr. Monson’s positions as leader of the church, and those of the faithful and others who questioned church policies.”
During Monson’s tenure, the church faced intense public scrutiny as it dealt with questions on same-sex marriage, same-sex couples and baptising their children as well as women in the priesthood. During Monson’s first year, the church backed California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure that defined marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. Church members raised about $20 million to support the ballot measure’s passing, but it drew national criticism as well as protests at LDS temples.
McDonald pointed out the Times is “not in the business of paying tribute.”
“I think in tracing the life of a religious leader, it would almost go without saying that he or she had won the respect and admiration of those who put them in positions to lead,” he wrote.
He also had an interesting observation about Salt Lake City’s two daily newspapers, The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News.
On each reference to Monson, the Deseret News, owned by the LDS Church, referred each time to him as “President Monson,” McDonald noted, while The Salt Lake Tribune—“like almost every other American publication”—used Monson on subsequent references.
Funeral services will start at noon at the Conference Center on Temple Square and will be broadcast live on KSL 5, BYUtv and online at mormonnewsroom.org, mormontabernaclechoir.org and LDS.org. The funeral will also be broadcast in more than two dozen languages.
A private burial service will be held afterward at Salt Lake City Cemetery.