Episode 188: Deseret News opinion editor Jay Evensen on forgiveness and peacemaking

Church News podcast highlights the legacy and mission of the Deseret News and shares the experiences of Deseret News opinion editor Jay Evensen

As early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fled persecution in the mid-1800s and settled in the Salt Lake Valley, they put a printing press in a wagon and moved it across the United States — publishing the first edition of the Deseret News on June 15, 1850. The legacy of that newspaper continues today with editors and writers who still work to spread light and truth around the world on

Jay Evensen, the opinion editor of the Deseret News, joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about the legacy and mission of the Deseret News to inform and influence. He also addresses the power of forgiveness, becoming peacemakers and disagreeing better in a divisive and polarized society.

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Jay Evensen: I believe there’s a segment, a large segment, of the audience out there that is made up of people who believe — who believe in a higher power, who believe in Jesus Christ, may not be members of our Church, but they’re looking for news that is written from the perspective of someone who believes. I think there’s a real niche for the Deseret News out there among those people. And so, I know that Jesus Christ lives and that He’s real. And I know that He cares about everybody on earth. And as I talk to people, as I do stories, I can see His light in people and understand. Every issue that we deal with, I think, has to do with sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, who He loves and cares about. I think that’s become clearer and clearer to me the older I get.


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.

As pioneers fled persecution in the mid-1800s and settled in the Salt Lake Valley, they put a printing press in the wagon and moved it across the United States, publishing the first edition of the Deseret News on June 15, 1850. That legacy continues today with editors and writers who still believe in spreading light and truth across the earth.

Jay Evensen, the opinion editor of the Deseret News, joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about the legacy and mission of the Deseret News to inform and influence. Jay, welcome today to the podcast.

Jay Evensen: Well, thank you, Sarah. It’s great to be here.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m so glad you’re here, both for you to share things about your life personally and to help us get a glimpse into what you do professionally. Because it is an important legacy that dates back a long, long time, including to some really important Church leaders like George Q. Cannon, who actually served as an early editor of the Deseret News.


Jay Evensen: Right, and it is such a privilege to have the stewardship of the opinion pages of the Deseret News. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the legacy of that calling and of that job, going all the way back to Willard Richards. And it’s interesting — so, I have a couple of quotes here. One is from Gordon B. Hinckley, and this was several years ago when he was dedicating a new Deseret News building, I think in 1997. And he talked a little bit about the paper, and he said, “Constant improvement must be the Deseret News’ goal for the future. Truth without favor must be its watchword. Able reporting and editing” — and this is a part I like — “fearless editorial advocacy, a voice strong and bold and clear.” And I have that actually framed, and it’s up in my home, and I look at it quite often.

There’s another quote here from Willard Richards, which was back around 1850. And he was talking about the Deseret News and what it stood for. And he said, “When we speak, we shall speak freely, without regard to men or party.” And then he added, “And when, like other men, we err, let him who has his eyes open correct us in meekness,” which I think is wonderful. There aren’t many people who correct us with meekness. But I found it interesting that those two statements really echo each other, over 170 years apart, about 150 years. And to me, it signals to me personally that the mission of the Deseret News has not changed in that time and that we are still upholding the same standards that Willard Richards set for us way back in 1850.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I was there when President Hinckley said that quote. I think we all felt that and felt not just an energy but a mission, a charge, to accomplish what he envisioned for the Deseret News and its products. It wasn’t too long after that that President Henry B. Eyring was dedicating another building in the Deseret Management Corp. family and talked about the ability of Church media to reach hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. And I think those of us who first heard that thought, “How will that ever happen?” And now, your words are going to millions because the internet took something that used to have to be delivered by a person to somebody’s porch and has made it available to anyone in the world.


Jay Evensen: Try explaining to a young person today that we used to print out papers and hand-deliver them to people in the community. It sounds absurd, but that’s what we used to do every day. And when I first became opinion editor in 1996, we were primarily a daily newspaper. And it would have been difficult to imagine reaching hundreds of millions of people. But today, it’s becoming a reality. And I get feedback from people all around the world on things that I write. And I know that what we write affects and touches people all around the world. That’s a tremendous blessing. But you can really see how the vision of Willard Richards and of Gordon B. Hinckley is coming to pass in a big way.


Sarah Jane Weaver: My daughter recently asked me what I meant by live TV. And that idea actually transcends into our business as well, because in the past, people had to turn on a TV or pick up something and take what we gave them, and now they get to choose. So, how are you relevant in a media landscape that is really, really competitive? And we’re not just competing with news anymore. We’re competing with entertainment, we’re competing with social media and so much more.


Jay Evensen: I believe there’s a segment, a large segment, of the audience out there that is made up of people who believe — who believe in a higher power, who believe in Jesus Christ, may not be members of our Church, but they’re looking for news that is written from the perspective of someone who believes. I think there’s a real niche for the Deseret News out there among those people. And so, part of what I do is try to look at the news through that lens and perspective and try to explain things in a way that a believer can understand and that can move people into action. So I think there’s very much a market out there for what we do.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to help our audience understand some of the things you do. You write the house editorial for the Deseret News. This is an editorial that goes out in an institutional voice, as if from the company itself. And in addition, you write columns. This is where you can express your own personality and share some of your own opinions. And then you have opportunities to do a few other things, which is participate in editorial board meetings, where you interview prominent local and national leaders, as well as help recruit other people’s opinions for the editorial pages of the Deseret News.


Jay Evensen: Right. We like to think of it as kind of a community center for all of our readers, where we present ideas, and we have a rational and a civil discussion about those ideas. There’s so much in the world today of anger and angry rhetoric in politics and issues of the day, and we’re trying to provide something that’s more civil and well reasoned and fact-based. And we welcome opinions from other people in the community who want to engage in that type of discussion.

And yes, I write the house editorial, I write my own column, but it’s very important that I be informed on matters that are happening. And I’m very grateful to the Deseret News that has allowed me to gain that knowledge and information. For many years, I was part of a group of editorial writers that would go to Washington, D.C., every year and meet with State Department officials. We met with Colin Powell, we met with Madeleine Albright, and we met with top leaders at the State Department who had briefed us on things that were happening in the administration at the time and around the world. And there have been many other opportunities the newspaper has given me to inform myself. And hopefully that comes out in some of my writing, that I do have a background that’s broad and well informed.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to have you highlight some of the things that you’ve covered in your career that are meaningful to you. But before we do that, I want to talk about something in your career that was meaningful to me, because it hasn’t been too long ago that President Gordon B. Hinckley actually quoted you in one of his conference talks on forgiveness. Tell us how that actually came about.


Jay Evensen: Well, first of all, that was the most humbling experience I’ve ever had in my life. But yes, it was one of those rare instances where I was trying to find something to write and one of my readers actually emailed me and said, “You might be interested in this story back East,” concerning a woman who had been driving down the highway at night, and a young man, he was with a group of teenagers, and they had stolen a credit card. They’d been to a grocery store and gotten a bunch of items, including a frozen turkey. And as she was driving down the street, they hurled this turkey at her car, her oncoming car; went through the windshield and nearly killed her.

And while they arrested the young man, this woman — her name is Victoria Ruvolo; or she told me to call her Vickie, so Vickie Ruvolo — she wanted to know more about this young man who had done this. And she really wanted to understand his background, why he had done it. And the more she learned, the more she tried to talk the district attorney into going easy on him and giving him a lighter sentence. And she was so persuasive that she got her way. And in the courtroom, she forgave, and she publicly forgave him. And there was a great moment — I wasn’t there, but apparently a lot of sobbing, a lot of embracing. And she told this young man, “I just want you to be the best that you can be.”

And I heard about that, and it reminded me, actually, of Psalm 25:7: “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions.” And I think, wow, we’ve all done really stupid things when we were young. And some of us have even done them when we’re grown-ups. Not probably on the scale of what this young man did, but she gave him a second chance in life. And he’s made the best of it. And he’s, from what I understand, he’s married, and he has been able to go through school, and he could still be sitting in prison if the district attorney had had his way.

And so, I wrote this column on that, and President Hinckley quoted from that in his talk on forgiveness, and it was just — it was one of those — I think it’s probably the highlight of my career so far. The thing just about wrote itself. It took me about an hour and a half to write it. But it’s had a tremendous impact on people. I still hear from people around the world who read that for the first time.

U.S. Senator Mike Lee sits at a table with the Deseret News editorial board on March 27, 2013.
The Deseret News editorial board, including Jay Evensen, center back, meet with U.S. Senator Mike Lee at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 27, 2013. | Laura Seitz


Sarah Jane Weaver: Do you know where Vickie is today?

Jay Evensen: Sadly, she passed away. The interesting thing was — so, in the Church, we often have missionary experiences where we talk to people and we say, “We have a Prophet of God. Would you like to hear what this Prophet has said?” With Vickie, I was able to say to her, “Vickie, we have a Prophet of God. Would you like to hear what he said about you personally by name?” That was a wonderful experience.

And she was a wonderful woman; she was Catholic, remained a very staunch Catholic until she died. She really felt that God had put her in that position, where she got injured the way she did, so that she could perform this duty, this sacred duty, to this young man. What a wonderful outlook on life. What a wonderful way to take something horrible and see a greater meaning and a greater opportunity there. And I think about her often and think, “Wow, I need to be more like that.” But she, unfortunately, she did pass away a few years ago. She had a website, and the parting word on her website was “Go and forgive somebody today.” And I think that’s wonderful.


Sarah Jane Weaver: So, to be in the position we are today, almost two decades after that story published, where there is increasing cynicism and media polarization and a lot of people who are saying, “I don’t have the energy to spend too much time with media; it’s too depressing,” we have a mission to be a voice of light and truth.

How does that influence what you do?


Jay Evensen: Yeah, if all we do is quote politicians who are saying snide things about each other, then I don’t think we’re doing our job well. Our mission is to dig a little bit deeper and to look closer at the issues and actually look for solutions and not just look for problems. And I think that’s very important.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, part of your job has afforded you the opportunity a few times to defend the Church when others are criticizing the Church. And this, I understand from when we were talking earlier, is part of your legacy. You also have relatives that go back to Europe and Scandinavia who also defended the Church.


Jay Evensen: Yes. My hero in my life is my mother’s father, my grandfather, and he lived in Norway, never left Norway. My mother actually was born and raised there and came to the United States to marry my father after his mission. But he was the branch president in Oslo at the outbreak of World War II. And I have my mother’s journal from that time period. And she describes a big meeting of all the members and missionaries, and they knew that the Nazi invasion was imminent, and so the Church was calling home all the missionaries. And I’ve tried to sit and imagine what that would have been like, the loneliness that you would have felt knowing that the missionaries are leaving, the Church is basically severing communication ties with your country, because once the Nazis invade, there will be no more communication.

My grandfather had to lead the branch in Oslo through those horrible years. And there were times once the war broke out, once the Nazis came in, there were a lot of German soldiers who were LDS and who would start coming in full uniform to sacrament meeting. And this was a very difficult thing for the members of the Church in Norway, and a lot of them approached my grandfather and said, “We shouldn’t have this. We shouldn’t allow them. Look at all the horrible things they’re doing.” And he, to his credit, told them, said, “No, we are not going to fight this war in the Church. These are our brothers and sisters.” And so he allowed them there.

But there were times when he was turned into the Gestapo because he was preaching Christ and not Hitler. And he was beaten and then subsequently let go. There was one time that’s kind of legendary in our family, where he had promised to give a member a healing blessing. She was in the hospital, and he had been arrested at that time and thrown into a darkened cell. And he was praying because he knew he had promised to give this woman a blessing. And at the last minute, a Nazi commander came in and yanked him out. And he, as he described it, yelled at him. And, of course, he didn’t speak German, so he didn’t understand. But he said he got the distinct feeling that this person had no control over him, and there were larger issues at work there with the Spirit. And he was let go, which pretty much never happened from that person, and he was able to go and give a blessing to this woman.

So, there are reasons like that that he is my hero, and I got to know him. He passed after my mission, so I actually got to go and visit with him in Norway at the end of my mission, and what a wonderful, wonderful man and example.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And you served a mission in Norway?

Jay Evensen: I served in Sweden. Circumstances happened; my mother actually passed away a year before my mission. She had always hoped that I would serve in Norway. But then my father remarried, and he got a job in Norway. And I’m pretty sure that they weren’t going to send me to a place where my parents or my father and my stepmother were living. So I went to Sweden instead. And because of that, I eventually met my wife, and we have extremely close ties in Sweden. I was just there a month ago. And so, Scandinavia is of great importance in my life.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And you’ve probably seen the Church grow there in a way that few of us here have.

Jay Evensen: I’ve seen, yes. And in Sweden, particularly when they got the temple, there’s been great growth. And when we were there several years ago, they were actually doing tours of the temple grounds. And it was interesting to me to see Swedes coming out of the woodwork and volunteering to go on these tours, when I used to go door to door and have such a hard time getting anybody to listen to me. But yes; it’s slow growth, but there is growth there. And it’s wonderful to see.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, a year ago, in November, President Jeffrey R. Holland went to Germany and Sweden and Finland. It actually became he and Sister Holland’s last international trip before they both got sick and Sister Holland passed away. And there were some really, really powerful moments as President Holland stood up and testified of the truthfulness of the gospel to those faithful members in Sweden. And for the rest of us, first of all, it was such a privilege to be there because it’s charming, right? We were there in late November, early December. Christmas markets were sort of abounding, and there was just such a pleasant spirit around.


Jay Evensen: Probably a little chilly, too.

Sarah Jane Weaver: It was. It was a little cold.

Jay Evensen: Yes.


Sarah Jane Weaver: So, you have carried on some of those Swedish traditions into your own family, I’m sure.

Jay Evensen: Oh, yes. We do all the Swedish traditions, and it’s given our children a real sense of heritage, I think, in a sense of belonging that’s been important in their lives. I’ve also been over there and done some reporting on some of the news events. I was there recently when Sweden joined NATO. And it was wonderful to talk to people about that and about how they view the United States.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And that is a great place to transition into so many of the issues that you deal with every single day on the opinion pages of the Deseret News. And many of those are issues that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also care highly about, like fiscal responsibility, like education.

What are some of the issues that you think are vital for discussion right now?


Jay Evensen: Well, you mentioned one, fiscal responsibility. And we meet often with politicians, and it’s interesting because every politician, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, always talks about this as a huge problem, but then it seems like nothing ever happens. And there have been studies, a recent report — I don’t remember the source of it, but — said that we have about 20 years left at the current rate of accumulating national debt before we’re unable to pay our bills, unable to pay our debts as a nation.

And when that time comes, when investors lose confidence in the dollar, then you begin a downward spiral that you can’t stop. And it leads to inflation. And it leads to higher interest rates, it leads to unemployment, it leads to the loss of influence that the United States has in the world, militarily and culturally and in many different ways. We find this very troubling, and it’s a very important issue. The United States plays a huge role in the Restoration and continues to, to this day. If the United States is weakened and is no longer considered a great influence in the world, I think it will be harmful to the spread of the gospel to new and different places in the world.

So, we’ve tried to, in particular, say, “Look, now is the time to deal with these issues. Now is the time to reform Social Security.” Nobody wants to do it, but we know it has to happen. The trust funds are going broke and are supposed to run dry within 10 years. We’re really good in this country at dealing with crises. When Pearl Harbor gets attacked, when 9/11 happens, we jump into action. Our politicians do something. But when it comes time now to try to solve a problem that you can see on the horizon 10 years away, we’re not so good, because we can really only think in terms of the next election cycle. So, we’re trying as hard as we can to get members of Congress to do something now before it becomes a crisis, because that day is coming soon. So, that’s probably the biggest issue.

Another issue that I’ve been really concerned about in the last couple of years is the rise in legal gambling, and particularly sports betting. You can’t turn on a live sporting event today without seeing ads for sportsbooks. And they’re trying not only to get the traditional “Oh, I think this team is going to beat the other and beat the point spread,” but to bet on every single play on the football field: “Are they going to run, are they going to pass?” Or “What’s going to happen in this drive? Are they going to punt? Are they going to score?” Every single at bat in baseball is proliferating to a point that’s really concerning.

So much money is being lost every year in gambling. We’ve gone through this cycle before in this country. We went through this in the 1800s, and then it became so corrupt and so scandalous that we backed away from it. We have famous pictures of Mayor La Guardia in New York taking an ax to slot machines in the 1930s. And we backed away from it for a time, but now we’ve let it come back into our society again. There are so many people who primarily who are low income who are involved in this activity. And if they would just take that money and put it in an interest-bearing saving account, they would be so much better off. So, that’s one of the issues that we’ve been hitting hard lately.

Deseret News opinion editor Jay Evensen receives the Cameron Duncan Media Award in Washington, D.C.
Deseret News opinion editor Jay Evensen receives the Cameron Duncan Media Award in Washington, D.C. for outstanding coverage of worldwide poverty in 2011. | Photo courtesy Jay Evensen


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and in February of 2023, I was in Chicago with President Dallin H. Oaks, and he was speaking to stake and mission leaders in Illinois and Wisconsin. And he clarified and talked about why the Church supported the Respect for Marriage Act, which, as we all know, provided protections for religious expression while also codifying same-sex marriage. This intersection between religious freedom and LGBTQ issues has to be something that you’ve also dealt with quite a bit.


Jay Evensen: Yes. And Utah has served as a model along those lines with the Church’s help. They passed a bill here about seven or eight years ago that is a successful compromise in protecting religious liberty and the rights of LGBTQ people. And we thought at the time, “This is going to be a great model for the rest of the country.” It hasn’t been. These issues are just so divisive. And so many culture war issues, I believe, are being used as fundraising issues right now. And people — I honestly and unfortunately believe — do not want to solve these issues because it would take away the funds that they’re raising off of them.

And the other thing is that other states don’t have an entity like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that can guide the discussion and that is so well respected. They were such a major player in what happened here with that issue. But we keep writing about it and talking about it and urging, “This doesn’t have to be a divisive problem. This can be something Americans can solve and can work together on.” In fact, I can’t think of any issue that we deal with that there isn’t a solution to and that people can’t work out.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and this comes at a time when the governor of Utah is asking all of us to disagree better.


Jay Evensen: Yes. And, wow, we’re right behind him on that. It’s OK to disagree. It’s always — you go back in the history of this country, and there have been some fierce disagreements. And, of course, we haven’t always lived up to our ideals. We fought a civil war over disagreements that we had. But you can disagree and still respect one another and respect that each person is trying basically for the same thing, to make this a better country, but coming at it from a different point of view.

I think that’s what’s so dismaying to me right now, is that there’s so many people — and opinion polls have verified this — who view the other side as the enemy and who view them as being anti-American. And I don’t know where you go once you reach that point. How do you solve a problem? You don’t. In order to solve the problem, you have to have respect for your opponent and to recognize that their motives are pure; they just come at it from a different worldview, a different background, and to them, different things are important. And once you recognize that, then I think you can begin to work together toward solving problems.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think that is a great place to wrap up today. We have a tradition at the Church News podcast. We like to ask our guests the same question, and it’s: What do you know now? And so, Jay, what do you know now after a career of writing for the Deseret News and shaping opinions that stand on the Deseret News opinion pages?


Jay Evensen: Well, I know that Jesus Christ lives and that He’s real. And I know that He cares about everybody on earth. And as I talk to people, as I do stories, I can see His light in people and understand, even with politicians; you know, there are so many people who say, “Wow, it must be awful to deal with politicians every day.” But honestly, most of the ones that I have met want to do what’s right and are in it for the right reason.

And every issue that we deal with, I think, has to do with sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, who He loves and cares about. And it’s so important to portray them in the right light. It’s so important that we learn to love one another and learn to try to do His will. And I think that’s become clearer and clearer to me, the older I get, that He’s in charge. He’s in charge of this work. And I’m just happy to be along.


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

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