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The official blog site of Mormonism Research Ministry

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Latter-day Saints Don't Care for Sugar-coated Mormon History

by Sharon

Sunday's Deseret News (27 May) published the results of an email survey conducted by the LDS Department of Family and Church History. "LDS in survey call for unvarnished history" reports that active Latter-day Saints
want their church to provide a "frank and honest" presentation of church history, unvarnished by attempts to sugar-coat the past in order to make it more palatable…

Church history representative Rebecca Olpin told participants at the annual Mormon History Association meetings on Saturday that Latter-day Saints surveyed "want to be leveled with" when the church presents information about its past…

When questioned about what officials with the church's correlation department -- which edits all church materials -- think about those findings, Olpin said the request for honesty "is part of what members are asking for. We have a responsibility to share that in a way that correlation will agree with, so we understand that we have limits.

While I think this is a hopeful development within the LDS Church, it's interesting that Latter-day Saints need to request an honest portrayal of history from their church. Also interesting is the admission that some compromise will be required to keep both the members who are calling for honesty, and the Church editors, happy.

This Deseret News article reminded me of a conversation I had with some senior LDS missionaries who were serving in Nauvoo, Illinois. I asked, given the heavy emphasis the Nauvoo historic site missionary guides place on the sacrifices of early Church members, why was there no mention of the extreme sacrifices made by the women who were required to live The Principle (polygamy)? The missionary couple were very candid with me and spent the following hour confessing that "Salt Lake" wouldn't allow them to talk about the polygamy that was practiced in Nauvoo; that part of Mormon history was absent from every mandatory script supplied to missionary guides. This LDS couple expressed frustration over inaccuracies and mistakes in the history that was presented to visitors at the Mormon sites, but had found no relief by making requests of those in authority to make corrections. In the end, they told me "Salt Lake" was taking direction from God, and the missionary guides in Nauvoo were taking direction from "Salt Lake," so presenting inaccurate history to visitors must be the right thing to do -- though they could not understand it.

Time will tell how "Salt Lake" responds to the LDS member requests for unvarnished Church history. Honesty doesn't really seem like too much to ask.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Preach the Gospel? Don't Bother.

by Sharon

The March 17th issue of Church News included an article about the LDS Church in Yonkers, New York. The article highlighted the work of a senior missionary couple that sparked "needed growth" of the Church in that area.

According to the article, Yonkers, the fourth largest city in New York, is "just a few miles north of Manhattan" and home to 200,000 people. Even so, the Church struggles there to have enough active members to keep an English-speaking branch going.

Five years ago, the small Yonkers branch was merged into the Westchester 1st Ward "due to insufficient priesthood leadership." The article explains what happened next:
Since then, some faithful members in Yonkers simply could not attend Sunday meetings at the Scarsdale meetinghouse...due to transportation issues.

"The number of cars among the members is limited. Public transportation is inefficient; with no direct routes, it could take members several hours to reach the meeting house on a Sunday morning," said President Taylor.

Missionaries stopped actively proselytizing in Yonkers because most investigators simply had no way to get to Church meetings.

I'm puzzled by this. Mormon magazines are always filled with stories of Latter-day Saints who must walk for miles to get to Church every Sunday, or members who travel for hours each way. LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has stated that the reason the Church is so successful in membership growth is because it is demanding and "expects great things" from its members. But because there is no convenient way for the people in Yonkers to get to an LDS meetinghouse a few miles away the missionaries stop preaching the gospel to them?

To me, this speaks volumes. The LDS missionary's primary message is not "come unto Christ," but rather "come unto the LDS Church." The idea that there is no use teaching people about Jesus and His substitutionary atonement unless they can easily get to a meetinghouse is entirely foreign to Christian missions and the Great Commission Jesus gave to His people. "Go into all the world," He said, "and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Later, the Apostle Paul said, "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ,...preach the word! Be ready in season and out of the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5).

This illustrates the difference between the LDS missionary system (proselytizing) and the biblical missionary system (evangelizing). One is focused on church growth; the other is focused on sharing the Good News of the Gospel -- that Jesus died to set sinners free.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

So is Frank Pignanelli admitting Mormons are bigots?

by Bill

I apologize. I really was hoping to move on from this soapbox, but I could not pass up commenting on a recent article that appeared in the Deseret News titled "Romney campaign has LDS in spotlight." Here, Frank Pignanelli starts off the piece by saying:
Pignanelli; "A person extremely intolerant of creeds, beliefs, etc., other than his/her own." Such is the standard dictionary definition of a bigot. Unfortunately, this describes too many Americans, because of their personal view toward Mormons.

Well, thanks for clearing that up. According to Mr. Pignanelli's dictionary we now have proof that every Mormon who believes in Joseph Smith's First Vision account (at least the one that the Mormon Church considers to be "official") can now be classified as a bigot. According to Joseph Smith, when he asked God which of all the churches were true, he was allegedly told:
"I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof'" (Joseph Smith--History 1:19).

Gee, doesn't this sound rather "bigoted" towards the creeds and beliefs that I and millions of other Christians hold? Doesn't this tend to belittle the doctrinal beliefs of millions of Bible-believing Christians? Now a Mormon may argue, "Wait a minute, this is God talking!" Such a rebuttal becomes irrelevant in that I have yet to meet a Mormon who does not share this view; so if we are to use Pignanelli's standard, all Mormons are bigots.

Now do I personally believe this? Absolutely not! But I hope in repeating this argument I once again demonstrate why it is dangerous to use extreme language to describe what is nothing more than an ideological disagreement. I disagree with what Smith said he heard and saw, but I "tolerate" a Mormon's right to believe it and say it.

Pignanelli must really be blind to his own hypocrisy when he concludes by writing:
Both Mormons and non-Mormons, in a very public manner, must paint this intolerance for what it is: bigotry. This is not the time for passive-aggressive behavior. Indeed, these narrow-minded fools will learn that there are serious ramifications for their stupidity, if we aggressively counter religious discrimination. We may not be able to convince the bigots overnight, but we can at least shame them out of releasing their poisonous thoughts.

Shaming the narrow-minded fools for their stupidity? Frank, you sound a bit intolerant. Don't release those "poisonous thoughts"! Instead, deal with the real issues. People like you and Hugh Hewitt, and the many others out there who overuse the word "bigot" are not helping further meaningful discussion with this manipulative name-calling.

Monday, May 21, 2007

IOUs of Mormon History

by Sharon

On May 10th at Promontory Summit near Brigham City, Utah, visitors celebrated the 138th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike which completed the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The day before the commemoration Lee Benson of Deseret Morning News wrote an article he titled "138 years makes a big difference." Commenting on the fact that Utah's governor would be attending the festivities at one of two Utah celebrations this year, Mr. Benson wrote,
What a difference 138 years makes.

I bring this up because on May 10, 1869, the last place you would have found the leader of Utah's people, Brigham Young -- he wasn't officially governor but as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he might as well have been -- was at the ceremony of the golden spike.

The Mormon leader purposely stayed away from Promontory Summit that day. He left instead for southern Utah, removing himself as far as possible from the historic event.

He had 1.2 million reasons.

That is how much money he claimed the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads owed Mormon workers who helped build the railroad.

As Mr. Benson tells the story, he explains that the railroads ran into money problems and stopped paying the Mormon workers. But the railroad executives reassured Brigham Young:
"You will be paid, be patient," Durant and Stanford told Young, who turned around and told his Mormon laborers the same thing.

But they never were...

Attempts by Young to recover anything -- even at pennies on the dollar -- were rebuffed.

One small concession by the railroads was that any Mormon who had worked on the railroad could ride free to California.

Other than that, nothing.

According to the Utah Historical Society, Mr. Benson has got it wrong. A lesson plan (pdf file) for students and teachers provided by the organization says this:
After the rails were joined, the Union Pacific's financial problems continued to grow. Aside from resources Durant had siphoned off, contractors had stolen much material that the UP had paid for, or at least signed for. Among the many creditors was Brigham Young, who bombarded the company headquarters in Boston with demands for payment in full. The UP had no money, but it did have equipment left over. Young was desperate to have a branch line, to be owned and controlled by the Mormons, running from Ogden to Salt Lake City. Finally, in September 1869 a deal was made. The UP gave the Mormons 4,000 tons of iron rail ($480,000), 144 tons of spikes ($20,000), 32 tons of bolts ($5,600), 4 first-class passenger cars ($5,000 each), second-class cars, mail cars, flatcars and boxcars. The total value that Young signed for was $599,460. The Mormons got started on their railroad immediately and had it in service in a few months.

Six hundred thousand dollars is nowhere near $1.2 million, but it's certainly a far cry from "nothing." Why is it that Mormon-told Mormon history is always exaggerating the "victimhood" of Mormons?

When I first read Mr. Benson's article in Deseret News I had no notion that the report might not be accurate. I only researched the story a bit because it had reminded me of another event from Mormon history, this one coming in the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Most people who know about the Mormon massacre of 120 emigrants passing through Utah in 1857 are horrified by the murders and the treachery of those who did the killing. But many do not know much about what happened afterward. Seventeen young children had been left alive, orphaned after the brutal deaths of their parents. The day after the massacre Latter-day Saint John D. Lee disbursed the homeless children among Mormon households in southern Utah for care and feeding. The children remained in these Utah homes for two years.

In 1859, after much trial and effort, U.S. Indian Superintendent Jacob Forney recovered the orphaned children. The Mormons claimed the children had initially been taken captive by Native Americans, who required the Mormons to purchase the children if they wanted them. This was untrue; the children had never been outside the care of the Mormons. Nevertheless, according to Massacres of the Mountains, if desirous of adding a little more to the awful infamy of this affair, all the Mormons who had custody of these children put in claims for the purchase-money expended in buying them from the Indians, as well as for their maintenance, the total claimed amounting to over $7000. Of this amount Forney paid $2961.77 for what he considered proper charges, and reported as to the rest that he "cannot condescend to become the medium of even transmitting such claims to the department." (J.P. Dunn, 307)

Whoa. I think I'll just stop here and leave it to you to sort out the implications.

Revealing Mormonism's history because Truth matters (John 14:6).


Friday, May 18, 2007

Joseph Smith for President

by Sharon

There's another movie about Mormonism in the works. A French magazine reports,
A Mormon President, the first documentary film to explore the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith's campaign for the US Presidency and its implications for the candidacy of another Mormon, Mitt Romney, has begun production and is slated for a fall 2007 release.

Filmmaker Adam Christing grew up in the Community of Christ Church (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), studied theology at Biola University, and is currently a member of the Mormon History Association. Mr. Christing spoke about A Mormon President:
This film may be upsetting to "anti-Mormons" because it shows what a generous man and visionary leader Joseph Smith was. It may shock some Mormons because it documents the untold story of Smith's secret marriages to more than 30 women and his campaign for President which led directly to his murder in 1844...

This is a serious piece, but it will be very engaging. I've been fascinated by Joseph Smith's story ever since I was a kid. Here's a man who started a religion, built a city bigger than Chicago in its day, became a Master Mason, and ran for President. He packed more adventure into 3 years than most people experience in a lifetime.

This sounds like it will be an interesting film, as the history of Joseph Smith's politics is very intriguing. For instance, many people don't know that Smith was secretly crowned king on April 11, 1844. His campaign for president of the United States was much more complicated than most would imagine.

About Smith's ordination as king, former LDS historian D. Michael Quinn wrote:
William Marks...stated that the [LDS] Council of Fifty performed an ordinance "in which Joseph suffered himself to be ordained a king, to reign over the house of Israel forever."

Some have been uncomfortable with the assertion that Smith became a king. They have claimed that Marks and other critics either confused or misrepresented Smith's reception of the strictly religious ceremony of the second anointing as "king and priest."...

In fact a later revelation to the Council of Fifty affirmed that God called Smith "to be a Prophet, Seer and Revelator to my Church and Kingdom; and to be a King and Ruler over Israel." (The Mormon Hierarchy, Origins of Power, 124)

Joseph Smith told the press that he wanted to create a "Theo-democracy." Quinn wrote,
The phrase was catchy, but what precisely did he mean by "Theo-democracy"? In the spring of 1844 Smith gave the public only an indistinct foreshadowing of the new world order he was formulating in his secret meetings with the Council of Fifty. (125)

I'm not sure how a monarchy fits with a theocracy, a theo-democracy, or a republic. But the subject of the film A Mormon President holds the promise of being fascinating indeed.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Anti-LDS Bias

by Sharon

On Saturday, 17 May, LDS Church-owned Deseret News ran a story titled, "Anti-LDS bias running high" in which was reported the findings of a two-year study done by the San Francisco think tank Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

The survey, The Religious Identity and Behavior of College Faculty (pdf file of the complete report available here), was conducted online, gathering results from 1,269 faculty members from over 700 four-year colleges and universities. It was the second in a three-part series on the political and religious views of American faculty.

Deseret News reported:
Results of a two-year study released this week show one-third of university faculty nationwide have an unfavorable impression of Latter-day Saints, while an equal proportion of the general population holds a favorable view... among social sciences and humanities faculty, the "unfavorable" rating for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was at 38 percent.

The article made passing mention of the fact that the survey showed Evangelical Christians "were also viewed unfavorably," then went on to discuss the possible reasons that Mormons fared so poorly.

It seems reasonable that Deseret News, enjoying a large LDS readership, would highlight the study's results in relation to Mormonism. Yet it seems to me that the story's focus and emphasis on "anti-LDS bias" only fueled the general idea of continuing persecution many Mormons perceive as a major factor in their religious identity.

The result of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research study is really remarkable for what it reveals about faculty attitudes toward Evangelical Christians. The Institute's May 7th press release stated in part,
According to a two-year study released today by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research (IJCR), 53% of non-Evangelical university faculty say they hold cool or unfavorable views of Evangelical Christians -- the only major religious denomination to be viewed negatively by a majority of faculty. Only 30% of faculty hold positive views of Evangelicals, 56% of faculty in social sciences and humanities departments hold unfavorable views....

"This survey shows a disturbing level of prejudice or intolerance among U.S. faculty towards tens of millions of Evangelical Christians," said Gary Tobin, president of IJCR. "What's odd is that while a good number of faculty believe in a close, personal relationship with God and believe religion is essential to a child's upbringing, many of those same people feel deeply unfavorable toward of [sic] Evangelicals."...

A significant majority -- 71% of all faculty -- agreed with the statement: "This country would be better off if Christian fundamentalists kept their religious beliefs out of politics." By comparison, only 38% of faculty disagreed that the country would be better off if Muslims became more politically organized.

The report itself made the following point regarding attitudes toward Evangelicals compared with attitudes toward Mormons:
Faculty Hold the Most Unfavorable Feelings toward Evangelicals

Just one group elicited high negative feelings among faculty: Only 30% ranked their feelings toward Evangelical Christians as warm/favorable, with only 11% feeling very warm/favorable, the lowest ranking among every other religious group, and 53% said that they have cool/unfavorable feelings toward Evangelical Christians. Faculty feelings about Evangelicals are significantly cooler than any other religious group, leading Mormons as the least liked religious group by 20%. These negative feelings are noted across academic disciplines and demographic factors. (12)

The report is both fascinating and somewhat frightening. It's definitely disappointing to Evangelical Christians, though I'm sure these statistics come as no surprise to those who daily experience intolerance toward the Christian worldview. If you get a chance, read the conclusion of The Religious Identity and Behavior of College Faculty report (pages 85-88). These are interesting times in which we live.


Monday, May 14, 2007

The Awful Works of Abraham

by Bill

A decade after plural marriage was announced publicly in a special session of conference, Brigham Young declared,
“Why do we believe in and practise polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord's servants have always practiced it. ‘And is that religion popular in heaven?’ It is the only popular religion there, for this is the religion of Abraham, and, unless we do the works of Abraham, we are not Abraham's seed and heirs according to promise” (July 6, 1862, Journal of Discourses 9:322).
Brigham Young, God’s alleged modern mouthpiece, makes it ultimately clear that God is at the center of the polygamy issue and that this God revealed the practice to Joseph Smith. However, in a recent interview with Mike Wallace, Mormon candidate Mitt Romney stated, “I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy.” Romney could have been using hyperbole, but without knowing for sure, I have to assume that to Mitt Romney polygamy is more awful that hearing your home has burned to the ground, or more awful than hearing a doctor tell you that you or a loved one has cancer, or more awful than hearing that all your children have been killed in a car accident.

This is not the first time Romney has spoken disparagingly about plural marriage, yet I am not aware of any journalist who has asked what I think should be an obvious follow-up question, “If the practice of polygamy is truly awful, doesn’t that make the Mormon God culpable?”

A Mormon fundamentalist who believes in living “the principle,” would immediately say no. Those who firmly believe in plural marriage insist that the idea of assigning blame comes only from those who have denied the faith of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor. Still, I’m curious as to how Romney would answer this question. Did God make a mistake when he revealed this practice to Joseph Smith? Did God require something "awful" as a condition of salvation? If that is so, what does this say about Romney’s God? Or, better yet, what does Romney's display of distain say about Romney?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Shame on Sharpton, Shame on Romney

by Bill

There are times when listening to people in the public arena that I feel like I'm back on the playground at Bostonia elementary school in the 1960s.

Case in point: the "Reverend" Al Sharpton decides to take a swipe at Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney by saying,
"as for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don't worry about that, that's a temporary situation."

A dumb comment? Absolutely. But what does Romney do? Well, he retorts by saying Sharpton is "extraordinarily bigoted." Good grief. What's next, grown men shouting back and forth, "I know you are, but what am I"?

Is there no longer any respect for the English language in our society? Please tell me there are others out there that are also getting tired (and perhaps bored) with the overuse of the words hate and bigot? All this excessive use does is cheapen words that at one time not so long ago, had real meaning. Now they have become mere synonyms for disagreement by people too lazy to respond with sound reasoning.

Sharpton's comment leans more towards being extraordinarily ignorant rather than bigoted. Romney should have been the better man and soundly rebutted Sharpton's statement by simply explaining that Mormons definitely do believe in God. (For heaven's sake, Mormons believe in the potential existence of millions of Gods!). But, rather than do so, Romney responded with a flame word. Sharpton has since apologized.

As disappointing as the Sharpton/Romney exchange was, I guess it shows they are good pupils of 21st century American culture. Accuse someone of hatred or bigotry and there is no need for an intellectual response. Intimidation by ad hominem, after all, seems to work much better than a sound rebuttal. Call someone a name and you can return to your corner with arms raised like Muhammad Ali after throwing a left hook. The difference is Ali's punches had real meaning if you were on the receiving end.

For example, just yesterday I was reading some responses to an article in a Michigan paper that was critical of Mormonism. One upset Latter-day Saints responded by saying in part:
Many people like you, that rage against the Mormon Church, are scared weasels puking anti mormon crap that you picked up at some anti mormon convention or from one of your "let's hate the Mormons", prayer meetings. You are the KKK of our time, veiled in the anonymous cloke of the internet. You are afraid of truth, to seek it and to understand it. You are blinded by your fear and hate.

Does this sound like a convincing argument to you? What can any of us possibly learn from a rant like that?

I fear that if this pattern of name calling keeps up, intellectual discussion in our great nation will be a thing of the past. I'm already convinced that people who must resort to such tactics tend to prove they have no viable answers (the person I quoted above certainly didn't). If they did, ad hominem wouldn't be necessary. If you can attack the issues, you have no need to attack the man.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Regarding Holland’s remark about hate-filled DVDs

by Bill

On the BYU NewsNet blog it stated that Mormon Apostle Jeffrey Holland was the keynote speaker at "The Utah Valley celebration of the National Day of Prayer." The article reported:
The keynote speaker of the evening, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, encouraged prayer as the means for peace and unity in our society.

"Today our nation doesn't fight a civil war, with brother fighting against brother," he said. "But we are plagued with brother fighting brother with handguns in university classrooms, drunk drivers in vehicles on the streets and highways, and hate-filled talk on the radio or in DVDs."

What do you think Holland is talking about when he speaks of hate-filled DVDs? He isn't clear. Was he referring to the Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith DVD that was distributed in Utah and other major cities throughout the US last March? If so, isn't it reasonable to ask Holland and the LDS First Presidency to explain what the DVD said that could be considered hate speech? If he was not referring to the Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith DVD, then shouldn't the LDS Church retract its slanderous charge of hatred sitting prominently on its official web site?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Mountain Meadows and the Honorable Thing

by Sharon

On May 1st, two Associated Press articles related to the Mountain Meadows Massacre showed up in my inbox. Journalist Jennifer Dobner wrote both articles, each discussing different aspects of the 1857 Mormon execution of pioneer emigrants in southern Utah.

One AP article ("Controversial Lee statue may finally have a home") relates the mini-saga of trying to find an appropriate resting place for a bronze statue of John D. Lee, the only man ever convicted (and later executed) for the slaughter of the members of the Fancher wagon train at Mountain Meadows.

In 2004 artist Jerry Anderson was commissioned to cast the John D. Lee statue which was planned to be installed outside the government offices in Washington City, Utah. Before the installation could take place, enough people complained about the inappropriateness of paying tribute to "a killer" that city officials changed their minds. Since then the statue has either been in storage at the artist's gallery or standing outside a souvenir shop. Soon, however, it may be moved to a permanent place at Fort Harmony, a fort that Lee helped build in 1854.

The AP article says of the Lee statue,
"He's just standing there with a book in one hand. He's holding his vest on the left side," said Anderson, 72. "I wanted to capture his face first of all and show the man, not really defiant, but standing up for what he believes in and the church he loved."

Karen Platt, a co-founder of the New Harmony Historical Society, which is involved in the Fort Harmony restoration, said,
"There may be a problem, but we just want to talk about the history of the valley, and we don't want to bring (the massacre) in. It's not [John D. Lee's] total story and a lot of his work gets ignored because of Mountain Meadows. He did a lot of good. He was a good family man."

Furthermore, according to The Associated Press,
[Artist Jerry] Anderson hopes the placement of the statue will comfort Lee descendants, many of whom have come to his gallery for a glimpse and a photograph of their ancestor.

"They've lived in degradation so long, maybe this will help them out," Anderson said. "I think Mormons overall really didn't like what John D. Lee did."

The other AP article ("Movie revives debate about massacre") focuses on the Christopher Cain motion picture, September Dawn, due to hit theatres on June 22nd.
"The reason I made the movie about this specific incident was not to blame anybody," Cain told The Associated Press. "At the core of the whole thing is religious fanaticism. I thought by making this movie we could take a look at how that evolved and how that can happen."

Some people who previewed the movie and were interviewed for the article supported the film's portrayal. Tom Kimball, a spokesman for the Mormon History Association, said,
"The new part that this film brings out is that the Fanchers were probably pretty decent people just trying to get to California. That's the first time that's ever been presented to me as a Latter-day Saint."

Past portrayals of the massacre suggested the Fancher party "brought it on themselves," Kimball said.

"Here's a story that has not been accurately portrayed and has been sequestered by my people, and it's very important that this story is finally told," he said.

Yet one man seemed to disagree. He said,
"I think [the movie] went a little too far in making the Mormons bad, bad, bad and the emigrants good, good, good," said Leroy Lee, a Mormon and the great-great-grandson of John D. Lee.

A businessman offered this opinion:
With its "R" rating, many Mormons may not even see the film, bookseller Curt Bench said. Those who do may walk out, irritated by what Bench and others said was a stereotypical, one-dimensional portrait of blindly obedient church members that bordered on cartoonish at times.

A non-Mormon in Salt Lake City commented,

"It's a story I've lived with my entire life, being a so-called gentile in Salt Lake City," bookseller Ken Sanders said. "It's my belief personally that any faithful, believing Mormon will never accept that Brigham Young had anything to do with the Mountain Meadows massacre. I simultaneously feel that there's no non-Mormon or gentile that will ever believe otherwise."

This is an interesting observation. I see in these AP articles that sometimes people hold unsupportable positions while choosing to remain closed to facts that challenge those positions. Or at least they justify and minimize the issues.

In southern Utah we have people who want to honor John D. Lee -- in spite of his participation in the unconscionable murders of 120 men, women and children -- because apart from leading the execution, "he was a good family man." It's okay to honor him -- the Historical Society just won't talk about the massacre. It's good to honor him, because it will help Lee's descendents rise above the stigma associated with their ancestor's crimes.

Then, in September Dawn, we have the story of Mountain Meadows, 150 years later, being told accurately for the first time. Finally the emigrants are being portrayed as "pretty decent people" who actually didn't "bring it on themselves."

But at least one Lee descendent doesn't like that. He thinks the movie makes the emigrants look too good, and the Mormon murderers look too bad. He wants to cling to that unsupportable position, the fabricated cover-up that has been repeated for so long among Latter-day Saints. This attitude makes me think twice about Curt Bench's criticism of September Dawn's "stereotypical, one dimensional portrait of blindly obedient church members." Is there still a hint of "religious fanaticism" alive and well in the matter of Mountain Meadows?

I really appreciate the contrasting attitude of the Mormon History Association's Tom Kimball as expressed in the AP article:
After 150 years, it would be nice to lay the issue to rest, Kimball added.

"Not in the sense that we're trying to hide it," he said. "But to finally tell the truth about our role in this horrible thing, so that we can tell our children we [have now done] the honorable thing."

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Mormons: People Are Talking

The PBS documentary "The Mormons" has now come and gone. Reactions to the four-hour show are, as would be expected, fairly mixed. Here's a sampling of what people are saying.

"There was too much of those who did not present what Mormonism is really all about, particularly by those who had left the faith and therefore presented a tainted view." (Fred Woods, a religion professor at Brigham Young University, Deseret News)

"Did anyone read who the interview's were? To say that the show used mostly exmormons is not correct. For instance, Daniel Peterson, the man who described Joseph using a peep stone in his hat, is one of the most respected LDS scholars in the religion. He's a professor of Islamic Studies at BYU. From the list, I see only one exmormon, Michael Quinn. The VAST majority of interviews weren't with exmormons, but either current Mormons or non Mormon historians. I'm almost sad at the reaction of current Mormons. As a member, I'm shocked at how little people know about the early history of the faith. The accounts in the documentary are well documented by several LDS sources. I'm surprised how little current members of the LDS faith have read about the early founding of our church." (Steve J, PBS Discussion Board)

"On there's a discussion going on in the Mormon group. All these young kids are up in arms that the Church was portrayed in a bad light. They're complaining that they didn't interview enough members. I told them that most of the interviewees were members of the Church. So, they called into question those members' faithfulness to the Church. I've got a lively debate going with a guy on Joseph Smith's treasure hunting. According to him, Joseph never used a peep stone to hunt for treasure because Joseph never mentioned it in his journal. I sent him some links about Joseph's 1826 trial. Of course he'll say it's anti material even though it's from FAIR. He's also pretty adamant that Joseph didn't practice polygamy secretly behind Emma's back. I'm looking forward to testimony meeting this Sunday. People are going to be railing against the show." (Brett McKay, By Common Consent blog)

"I did not recognize a lot of what I saw in the documentary as my church. I think there may be a bit of a division line in the responses of LDS viewers: Those who are basically happy with the Church found the film disappointing, generally; those who are less happy with the Church think it was generally wonderful." (Ronan, Times & Seasons blog)

"I think the people who did not like it maybe do not know our history? I thought it was great, particularly the first half--I was thrilled with the results. However one of my sisters said it was lies and that her husband was so disgusted he turned it off. It turns out, she didn't know JS had wives who also had other husbands. I explained it was true, and she was confused. My mother was confused as to how she didn't know this..." (mmiles, By Common Consent blog)

"I loved part 2, but overall, at the end of the program, I think someone not of our faith could have watched it and concluded that we don't place very much emphasis on Jesus Christ. That was disappointing to me, because they passed over what I believe to be our central message and concern." (Dan Ellsworth,

"I thought they spent quite a bit of time emphasizing our emphasis on Jesus Christ and our acceptance as christians to some but not others." (KyleM, By Common Consent blog)

"Like many other LDS members, I looked forward to viewing the documentary on mormanism by PBS. I heard that it would be well-balanced and represent both believers and non-believers. I was absolutly shocked at the underlying theme presented in the production. I felt that while chapters such as "Exodus" did well to show the contraversies that faced early saints, most of the film depicted Latter-Day Saints in a negative light. I felt that the film depicted a number of esteemed non-mormons again and again, and failed to continually represent those who belive in, and support this church. It was an absolutly biased film which not only failed to present correct information in many aspects and chapters, but it also took great care to orchestrate a constant attack against our beliefs. I could not bear to watch the second half." (Bakersfield, PBS Discussion Board)

"But addressing these and other topics in a forthright way seems to have allowed viewers less familiar with the Church to see a new and broader dimension of the Church, shorn, perhaps, of one-sided stereotypes and caricatures. At a time when significant media and public attention is being turned to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and when news media is so often accused of superficiality in its coverage of religion, this serious treatment of a serious subject is a welcome change." (LDS Church, Commentary,

"You had two hours and you did not get it right. I hope your next two hours repairs some of the damage. I did not expect a pro-mormon propaganda piece but giving 70% or more to pure anti-mormon topics is not balance. On the other hand I should be surprised you didn't just turn it over to the 'former mormon scholars'. (or did you?) The anti-mormons are dancing with joy tonight. You might notice the anti-mormons are the only happy ones on your blog. Persecution continues..." (Chad Fugate, PBS Discussion Board)

"As a former member of the LDS faith, I found the program to be a fluff piece on the LDS church. It barely addressed the lies and hypocrisy of Joseph Smith and subsequent leaders. this could have been written by anybody in the PR department of the LDS church. Given that PBS has to present what they see as an even-sided view of the Mormon church, I suspect that they feel they achieved this. I felt that it presented the church is a very positive light. I do not believe it was well-balanced at all. But the truth is out there for people to read. So if anybody is interested, they will learn the real truth about Mormonism." (Angie Glover, PBS Discussion Board)