In a world increasingly defined by division, this episode of the Church News podcast is dedicated to connection — with ward members, neighbors, communities, and those of other faith traditions and friends around the globe. No one is better at this than Aaron Sherinian, the senior vice president of global reach at Deseret Management Corp. This Christmas season, Sherinian invites listeners to connect with those around them as they work together to #LightTheWorld.
Aaron Sherinian: I believe that we are living in a time where we should share both the urgency but the excitement of what it means to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. I believe that being His children right now is important. I know that we are here right now to do great work. I know that the Lord loves effort. I know that our Prophet has taught us that. But that effort means also being enthusiastic about the work. It’s not easy. It’s hard to be enthusiastic when the challenges are real and when everything surrounding us might seem like it’s an obstacle. But I know that our testimony includes being here right now in a time that’s exciting and a time of opportunity. And that opportunity means helping others come with us and see who they are.
Sarah Jane Weaver: This is Sarah Jane Weaver, executive editor of the Church News, welcoming you to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In a world increasingly defined by division, this episode of the Church News podcast is dedicated to connection with our ward members, neighbors, communities, those of other faith traditions and friends across the globe. No one is better to talk about this subject than Aaron Sherinian, the senior vice president of global reach at Deseret Management Corporation. Aaron has more than two decades of accomplished service as a public relations and communications professional in the corporate, philanthropic and diplomatic sectors, building bridges between political ideologies, geographies and industries throughout the world. ...
Aaron, welcome to the Church News podcast. As we start today, I’d love to have you share just a little bit about your background with us.
Aaron Sherinian: Well, thanks for having me. And as far as background, I think I’m a person who loves to communicate. I love the Church. I love the gospel. I love what connects us. And I am a person who’s lived around the world but pretty much feels at home when I’m with friends. So, that’s pretty much me. I’m a dad of four kids, I’m a husband to Emily, and I spend my time between Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And It wasn’t too long ago that we were both in New York City, and the Church did this wonderful event where signage from the Church for the “Light the World” campaign was displayed on Times Square. You were there. Tell us what that was like.
Aaron Sherinian: As a public relations guy and someone who has spent his time in communications, I’ve done a lot of stuff in Times Square. So I have to say I can compare it to a few things. And that was special. It was different. We were there together, right? So we saw it and we felt it. And everybody was asking the question, “What did it feel like when that message came up on the big boards in Times Square?” The most famous intersection in the world, right? It’s probably the most powerful piece of real estate in the world. And for me, what was surprising wasn’t what happened when the screens came up, but what happened right before.
So, there was this moment when all of the advertisements and everybody vying for your attention with every single glossy, glitzy ad that you can imagine trying to compete for you was playing, and then everything went black for a minute. And then all of a sudden, everything was light. And for me as a communicator, it was a good lesson, that sometimes we go right in to talk about our faith and what we love about being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But sometimes we forget that pause to say to people something different, something special, something sacred is coming.
So that’s what I learned. It was wonderfully — “eerie” is not the right word, because I think that that’s different. This was special. Was it sacred? I think it was, and maybe even there in Times Square.
Sarah Jane Weaver: It was this moment when everything is hustling and bustling, as you see in Times Square. And then suddenly it went dark, and then it went quiet. It was like everyone took note of just that pause. And then, of course, as I think most of our listeners would have heard, all the billboards are filled with the Nativity, with messages of the Savior, with an invitation to light the world. And by the time those things came up, it felt like people were ready to listen, they were ready to watch, they were paying attention.
Now, I kind of want to talk about all things connection today. And you’ve also had a key role in promoting public relations with the Washington D.C. Communications Council. And that was never more important during the rededication of the Washington D.C. Temple, when this iconic, beautiful temple that so many people have noticed for so many years on the beltway was rededicated. People had a chance to come inside. What did you learn in that process?
Aaron Sherinian: As it relates to connecting, which is where you’ve brought this conversation, there’s one thing that I’ll always remember. And it’s maybe the takeaway from me of those hundreds of thousands of people that came away from the open-house experience. But as a communications person, again, it took me by surprise; a moment that was unexpected. When a woman from another faith and another group that was coming to visit the open house came in, and when she paused right there, where it says “THE HOUSE OF THE LORD,” right, something that any of us is familiar with, with all of our temples.
And there was a moment, and I won’t go into all of the details of what happened in this moment. But she stopped and she, in a dialogue with some of us, said, “I don’t know if God lives in your temple, but I know He lives in your invitation.” And that, for me, was the communications lesson, that there’s something — really, for this woman, right, she was going to go through the temple and feel all of the things that one feels in an open house. And when we’re sharing with honesty and with total, really courage, what it is for us to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But what she felt was divine was the invitation to learn more about my faith.
So I’ve taken that to be the point of connection, to remember that the invitation to learn more is, itself, a message. And I guess that’s what we’re all doing as we’re listening to “Come, Follow Me” and as we’re thinking about what it means to be “doers of the word” (James 1:22) and also inviters of the word, that the invitation to learn more about someone’s faith is a really — it’s a courageous moment for us. It’s an authentic moment when we’re asking people to learn more about what’s very special to us.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And it’s one thing to invite someone to a temple, which I think is a beautiful opportunity, oftentimes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How do we make our daily invitations with our friends and neighbors divine?
Aaron Sherinian: Well, let’s go back to the pause in Times Square, if we can. I think we’re doing a great job of being authentic and saying, “We’re going to share with you our whole self,” right? “This is who I am. I don’t want you just to know me, the neighbor; me, the guy who’s on the PTA; or me, the guy who’s part of maybe your football match or your soccer team, or whatever it would be. I want you to know the whole me. I want you to know the person that’s not just the member of your community or your neighbor, but the person who believes he and you, that we’re all children of a Heavenly Father who loves us.”
So, I think that that moment in Times Square has taught me that when I’m trying to share about faith, I need to pause for a second and signal to people, “I’m about to tell you something that’s important to me,” or “I want to share with you something that’s sacred to me,” or “I like you,” or “I care about you,” or “I value you” or “I see you, and in so doing, I want you to see a little bit more about me.” That’s the pause-in-Times-Square moment that I think maybe creates a more real connection. Otherwise, I just become another ad, I just become another advertisement on Facebook or on Instagram, or someone screaming to me on Twitter or X or whatever it’s called today. So I think we need to do that pause and say to people, “Let me share with you something that’s sacred in my life.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to talk about a different kind of pause, because not too many years ago, Elder Quentin L. Cook spoke in California at a religious liberty symposium. And in that address, he actually talked about the need for us to defend everyone’s right to share their faith in the public square and for them to be able to take their faith to the public square, or to a job or to any place outside of their own home. And he said that if we will do that, if we see something that is just not quite right, if we think someone is not treating someone of faith the way they should or that someone is being discriminated against because of their faith, if we speak up, it creates a pause in the conversation and resets the conversation and allows people to talk about the things that really matter.
Can someone serve as a president of a university even if they are a member of a prominent faith tradition? Can someone who was religious be in government? And of course they can, but what he was saying is sometimes you need to reset some conversation. Sometimes you just need a little bit of a pause.
Aaron Sherinian: And that conversation includes — if I can, because I’m a guy who loves the media — I think it includes what happens in the media. So right now, it’s easy to say, “Everybody ignores religion” or “Nobody gets it right” or “It’s just something that’s treated poorly.” So redirecting the conversation, based on this counsel from one of our leaders that is clearly something we need to be listening to, includes, I think, sharing and treating differently what we’re seeing in the media.
You know, sometimes when we see an article or listen to something in the media that we know is not right, we don’t have to immediately scream about it or go ballistic about something that we might have seen. Sometimes it’s a matter of asking the question, either of the media outlet or of the person who shared it. And sometimes when we see something that begs questions about someone else’s belief, I have been so impressed by people who are able to say, “Hey, I saw this article. Tell me more about that” or “I saw this article about your faith, Aaron. I don’t understand this. Can you explain a little bit more?” And what they’re doing is they’re treating me with respect, they’re creating the pause, and they’re changing the conversation.
There was a recent survey that was done — and people know this — 53% of the people in a recent survey responded saying they know that the media is getting religion wrong. But it’s not because journalists are bad or media organizations are evil. No, on the contrary. It’s just because we need more conversation about it, and probably some more changed conversation, like the one you mentioned.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And when we talk about connection, sometimes that’s just engaging in a respectful way, right?
Aaron Sherinian: Absolutely. Because what we’re saying is, you know, that — it’s a phrase that’s used a lot right now, the phrase “I feel seen,” you know. You would hear that all the time right now. That’s what we’re doing when we’re saying, “I want to have a respectful conversation with you. I don’t understand something. Can you explain it to me?” or “I don’t feel I have the full picture. Can you give it to me?” That’s for media. That’s for a comment that was made during a dinner conversation. Or that’s for something that you have just heard.
So I think that’s how we change the conversation right now; it’s that pause moment, it’s that changing of the conversation to admit that you don’t know everything, that you’d like to know some more, because then someone’s going to ask us a question about some either misinformation or disinformation related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and during the Washington D.C. Temple open house, I saw you take so many people through that temple who you have connected with over the years, and in a way share our beliefs with them. But what I’m hearing you say is that these conversations are two-sided. We can’t just share what we believe, but we also have to ask and be interested in what they believe.
Aaron Sherinian: One hundred percent. If we’re not asking people about what is special in their life or what helps them feel closer to their Heavenly Father, how are we going to have a conversation that really helps bring it to that next level? I also loved what happened when people would say — whether it’s in media connections or people in a public relations setting or even talking about what I’m doing currently in my current role — I love it when people will say, “This reminds me of something that I learned years and years ago when I was in church” or “at a mosque” or “at a synagogue.”
And they’ll reckon back to years and years and hearken back to something that happened a long time ago. That reminder is a powerful communications tool. And when people will offer that, the first thing I should do as a communicator is say, “Tell me more” or “Tell me a story about how that happened.” And it’s incumbent upon me, not to fill the space, but to create the pause and say, “Tell me more.”
Aaron Sherinian: There’s a growing consensus among a number of sectors, including the interfaith or faith community and the media industry, that the relationship needs to be closer and better. There just needs to be more and better coverage of faith as it plays out in life. Eighty-four-plus percent of people in the world belong to some sort of a faith tradition. Eighty-four-plus percent. And that means it’s something that is not just the majority; it’s really what drives people everywhere in every continent around the world.
So the media that’s present everywhere needs to be given the permission to do more, to do more reporting, not less. You know, the world is, as it should be, talking a lot about diversity right now. Religious diversity means we should be talking about it. Religious diversity doesn’t mean avoiding it. So let’s talk about how religion shows up in communities, how it plays a positive role. Not just when there’s a crisis or a scandal, but let’s talk about how it shows up in crisis situation and in the common situation, everyday life.
So, the Faith & Media Initiative is working to both offer training, where possible, so that we’re talking in more respectful, correct terms about what’s going on. It allows for people to share experiences so that they at least know who to call so they can get the story right. And it’s creating an opportunity for people to really have some real data. There’s not a lot of data about this. And only when we have the data about what readers want, what media organizations say they need, what journalists say are the impediments to getting the story right or better. Without the data, you can’t do a lot. So the data allows us to actually work from some common ground and move forward.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and not too many months ago — this is just a little bit of the same topic — you participated with others at Deseret Management Corp. in a symposium in Rome, where people of many faiths got together and talked about how faith is represented.
Aaron Sherinian: One of the things that we heard there in Rome — in a place that is, of course, an important capital among world religions and a place where you can feel the importance of how world religions play out in every society — one of the things that really struck me — I think it probably was something that struck everybody in the room — was that people were talking about the fact that when reported on correctly, religion is something that’s also, frankly, the most human of stories.
So, there are people who say that that doesn’t quote unquote “sell,” you know. “No one’s going to read a story about religion. No one’s going to read a story about what goes on in a church community or in a service project related to a parish or a ward or a synagogue or whatever you’re going to call the unit.” But the reality is it’s the most human story. And it is the most human story because it’s about who we are. And that came through over and over and over again.
Leaders were saying, “Instead of being defensive, let’s really be artful and truthful about the fact that this is the most human of things going on in people’s lives. One of the most intimate relationships that exist is that between you, your family and your Creator. That’s a special thing. And let’s tell those stories.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: And is there a need in society to actually tell those stories more? This symposium was held at the Vatican; obviously, the Catholic Church cared about that enough to host that conversation. And so, as we talk about connections and we talk about connecting people to stories that matter, how do we get them to connect to stories of faith?
Aaron Sherinian: So, it’s not only something that people think needs to happen more, and it’s not just a nice-to-do, it’s a must-do. Let me explain why. I’ve been impressed by so many people who have explained that having more and better coverage of faith in our media diet today, it matters because it’s people’s lives on the line in a lot of places. Where there’s misunderstanding or polarization, it can lead to some horrible things. It can lead to people who resort to extremism. And when you have more and better content about the media, there’s more understanding, and people are going to say, “Oh, this is more nuanced than I thought. And it takes a little bit more understanding than I’ve got right now.” So it’s not just nice to do, it’s a need-to-do. It’s a must-do, for sure.
And the other thing that I think drives this is, as much as people might not be in the media industry, this is an opportunity for them. People want to, and even a majority of people polled recently said they would subscribe to or pay more for media outlets that they felt comfortable in the reporting about religion and faith issues around the world. So, again, it’s the right thing to do. It’s also a smart thing to do for an industry that is changing. The media industry is changing so fast, and they need to figure out their business model. And this is a way for people to actually do something that brings us together instead of tearing us apart.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to talk about when you realized in your life — there had to be a hinge point in your life where you said, “Connections matter.” I know very few people who have logged as many miles on airlines as you have logged as you’ve traveled around the world, then boots on the ground in so many different nations and have friends of different faith traditions, different cultures, different nations. When did you find the need to connect with others?
Aaron Sherinian: What a tough question, but I’ve got 9,000 ways to answer it and only a couple of seconds with you. But let me tell you. I’m an extrovert, right? No secret. So I love people. I love talking with people and learning from people. I have so much to learn from everybody. But I want to tell you a recent story if I can. And it goes back to days when my family was living in Paris, and we loved that opportunity. We loved that ward in Paris that taught us so much.
And there was a member of the ward who was putting together a program, part of a ward council initiative. It was really, really special people, really — both spiritual and smart and savvy and all the things that go into really feeling inspiration in your calling. And he said that we had to take a chance on people. And that phrase I love; it’s an important phrase in my life, the idea about taking a chance on people, because that’s connecting to. Taking a chance sometimes sounds risky when we talk about it.
So, I don’t know if that was the — that’s definitely not the moment; that was recent, when we lived in that particular ward. But I loved what I learned about taking a chance on people. I have had people take chances on me in my life. I’ve learned from that. I think that’s probably more than just — that’s not hedging your bets. That’s not just about making a good investment calling people. I think that’s about your testimony.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you’ve actually said this leap of faith is something that says, “I have confidence in you. I trust that we can work together, that you’re going to accomplish something with me that’s greater than we could each do individually.”
Aaron Sherinian: I was reading a book and talking to an author who specializes in this idea about human connection and public relations. It is a leap of faith, but she also reminded me that the first time you call on someone or a connection — whether it’s professional, personal, in your congregation or ward or around the world — the best time to call on them isn’t when you’re in crisis and need something. And so there is a reminder here that the best connections are those that live over time and where you give people the chance to get to know you. It’s easy to take a chance on someone when you’re doing it continually. And when you’re — so it doesn’t mean that there’s not a track record.
So I think that in our personal connections, that that’s something to do. And as communicators — I will say to any of those who are listening to this who have a ward or a state calling that’s about media relations or community relations — I think it’s so important that we remember that the first time we should be calling on these people, these contacts, either in the media or in our communities, the first time shouldn’t be when we’re asking them to do something for us. It should be when we are calling them to say, “How can we help you with your initiative?” Not because it’s a quid pro quo, but it’s just because it’s the right way to do things. And it says a lot about who we are.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So treat them as a member of your community, go with them to soccer games, invite them over for dinner.
Aaron Sherinian: Isn’t it powerful when we show up? The power of showing up. Let me tell you a quick example. I used to work for an ambassador in a country in South America when I was in the diplomatic corps. And one of my favorite bosses, a great leader, was a woman who always taught us — she would bring us together, and she would say, “Don’t just show up, but really show up.” And that was a good example for me as a diplomat, the idea that when you showed up at someone else’s initiative — as, in this case, a diplomat representing a country — you were saying to them, “I respect you, but I’m enthusiastic about what you’re doing.” And unless you disagreed with it or there was a moral or ethical reason not to be a part of it, be enthusiastic about what’s going on.
I have a great bishop, the greatest bishop in the world. And when he shows up at my kids’ sporting matches, he doesn’t just sit there; he’s on his feet cheering. And I think that’s a connections example. That’s not just a ministering example, but that’s a connections example and public relations as well. Don’t overdo it. Don’t do it just to be seen, but really be enthusiastic in giving what you’ve got in terms of your connections or your abilities to help people succeed.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And this is something I’ve seen you model. Most recently, on Facebook I saw an image of your Thanksgiving table. Now, you had just a few people over for dinner.
Aaron Sherinian: I love Thanksgiving. And I love that table. I love — I mean, we’re still reeling from it, because wow. Thanksgiving for a lot of people, as anybody knows, means a lot of dishes. But that’s the great part of it, too. Let me tell you what that means. I love a good meal. I love a good meal. And I’ve eaten great meals around the world. And I’m so grateful for each of them.
But I think my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner or any big meal, really, is when you’re doing the dishes. Because you’re sitting around, you’ve enjoyed it, you’ve prayed over the table, you’ve shared stuff around the table. But washing the dishes means that you’re really in it with the family, right? Because you’re able to go behind the scenes, help out, you want people to share and laugh and show that you care. So we had a great Thanksgiving dinner, but doing the dishes was the best part.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you had, what, 30 people over?
Aaron Sherinian: Yeah, and two very good dishwashers. I have a neighbor who is an excellent dishwasher, and a lot of people who — you’re grateful not only for the bounty in your life when you’re saying the prayer, but you’re also grateful when you’re cleaning up. You know, the other table story, if I can, about connections hearkens back to my heritage. I’m Armenian, and my family lived in Armenia for three years, and we loved our association with all of the Armenians and the members of the Church in that place in the world. It’s very special to me.
But when you go to an Armenian table, oftentimes for the first time as a connection, they will refer to the table and make sure that almost every inch of the table is covered in something; a plate or a dish, something for you. And because they’ll say they don’t want to show you a table that is — the word is not “humble,” because humility is important for everybody, including the Armenian people, but they want to show you a table that is for you and honoring you as the guest. And I think as connections, as we do that, we can set the table that way. Now, my table at home, we don’t cover every space. We don’t do that. But that Armenian lesson to me of “Everything we’ve got is for the people we care about, and that just doesn’t include the people that I know well, it includes all of you.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: And when we sit down to a meal to break bread, it’s actually a human need that we all have. We all have to nourish our bodies. And so there is something that connects us just by that very need.
Aaron Sherinian: It’s the most human and probably frequent thing that we do that connects us, that everyone will be doing that together. But, you know, it’s not just that. It’s also what we do by saying we have a place that is ours, you know. I want to share with you something, and I know this is a podcast, so I can share with you what’s in my wallet, but I carry a picture around in my wallet because I was in Bangalore, India, once on a work assignment. And I walk into our church building there. This was many years ago, and the Church has really grown in Bangalore since then.
But I sat down there, and a family sat down next to me. I got the time wrong. I was there early. So there was no one there. The place was open. I think the branch president was doing something and was busy. I had no one to talk to. I’m sitting alone, an extrovert sitting alone in a chapel; it’s kind of a personal nightmare for me. But then a family sat next to me, and the family had — there was a young girl. We did not speak a common language. They did not speak English, and I did not speak their language. But the girl clearly wanted to communicate with me.
And the parents were egging her on and encouraging her to do what she was doing. And she drew a picture for me of her house. And that, for me, was the connection moment that I had. She was telling me she had somewhere where she belonged. Now, how many children around the world don’t have that? How many people around the world don’t have that? And we’ve got to work on that. And we are. But she was saying to me, “I want you to know me. I want you to know who I am. I have a house.” She gave me that picture, and I carry it in my wallet because I think that was probably the most masterful communications lesson I’d ever had. “I want to show with you where I belong.”
So as we talk about our faith, I think about her example: “I want to show you where I belong. I believe that my home is with my Heavenly Father who loves me. I believe that you have that same relationship with your Heavenly Father, and I have a home, and you have a home. And even though we don’t have a language between us, I’m going to do what I can to portray that for you and invite you to tell me about your feelings, and I’ll share with you mine.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: And as we wrap up today, I’d love it if you could talk more about that belonging. We have a tradition at the Church News podcast: We always ask our guests the same question, we always give them the last word, and we invite them to share their testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so, as we wrap up today, what do you know now that you’ve learned after such an impressive, global, illustrious career that has helped you connect with other people?
Aaron Sherinian: I believe that we are living in a time where we should share both the urgency but the excitement of what it means to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. I believe that being His children right now is important. I know that we are here right now to do great work. I know that the Lord loves effort. I know that our Prophet has taught us that. But that effort means also being enthusiastic about the work.
It’s not easy. It’s hard to be enthusiastic when the challenges are real and when everything surrounding us might seem like it’s an obstacle. But I know that our testimony includes being here right now in a time that’s exciting and a time of opportunity. And that opportunity means helping others come with us and see who they are.
I know that we’re all children of God. And I know that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth means that we’re also in a time of Restoration. I’m living the Restoration today. And I share that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News executive editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen; and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channels or with other news and updates on the Church on TheChurchNews.com.