KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A middle-age black woman looks directly into the camera. Her speech is earnest and unrehearsed.

She talks about the Mormon concept of the family being together beyond this life.

"To me, that was absolutely beautiful and correct," she says, her voice slightly raspy and her features strong, compelling one's attention.

"My mother is always going to be my mother," she continues. "My father is always going to be my father. ... And so when the missionaries came and I started to learn and my mind opened to the beauty of eternal relationships, it kind of softened my heart."

She finishes. The screen flashes, "Truth Restored. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon.org."

The Mormon Church is running television spots such as this one as part of a public relations campaign in three areas of the country, including Kansas City, which is home to about 40 LDS congregations and 21,000 Mormons.

The purpose is to help the public understand Mormon teachings. And it just happens to come at a time when eyes are focused on the church from several directions.

In recent months, especially with the presidential bid of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, the Salt Lake City-based church has found itself under increased scrutiny.

This comes at a time when most Americans say they know little about Mormonism.

A slim majority of people recently polled -- 53 percent -- expressed a favorable view of Mormons, and an even slimmer majority -- 52 percent -- said Mormons are Christians. Less than half -- 49 percent -- said they were familiar with the Mormon religion.

The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The timing of the PR campaign in the midst of the presidential primary race raises a chicken-or-egg question: Which came first -- Romney's campaign or the PR campaign?

"We've been developing this campaign for 21/2 years, long before Romney's campaign," said Stephen Allen, managing director of the Missionary Department for the LDS Church. "This doesn't look like a coincidence, but it is. The church takes a neutral position politically."

What is called the "Truth Restored" campaign has been going on since May in test market cities in the East, the West and the Midwest.

Spots similar to those on television also are on radio and billboards and in magazines.

The first phase of the campaign showed interviews with men and women on the street, answering questions most people have about life and God. For example:

"Where did I come from?"

"Does God have a plan for my life?"

"Does God care about my suffering?"

Actors and actresses, not members of the church, were hired for this first phase but were not given a script, Allen said.

The second phase, which is taking place now, features testimonies of people who are not actors who have joined the church and found answers. They, too, were not given a script.

The LDS Church has engaged in mass advertising campaigns for many years.

Historically the LDS Church has been right up there with Hallmark in producing some of the most emotionally astute ads on television, said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.

Thompson, who has seen some of the current ads, said one thing that makes the Mormon ads so effective is their soft sell.

"In 30 seconds or 60 seconds, they really completely pull you in," he said.

They are technically well-done, using brilliant advertising savvy but not selling a commercial product, he said.

Plans are for the advertisements to run through December in the test markets, and then church officials will decide whether to run them in other parts of the country, he said.