Saturday, May 5, 2007

Response to LDS reaction to PBS Documentary "The Mormons

Most of the comments regarding the Documentary have been positive. Most people recognize that it was a documentary made to try to help people understand Mormonism. However, from reading many of the responses by LDS members, it appears that the common consensus is that the film wasn't "Balanced enough". By balanced, they mean it wasn't balanced from their point of view.

It is not a Mormon missionary video

The film was not made for Mormons, and it certainly was not made to try to convince people they should be Mormons. It was made for people that are non-LDS to help them obtain a better understand of Mormonism, even things that the LDS church feels embarrassed about, such as polygamy for example. The point the film was making regarding polygamy wasn't that Mormon polygamist groups exist, in fact, the film wasn't even trying to say that polygamists were in any way affiliated with the church. The point that the film was making, which flew way over their heads, was just how out of touch with reality Gordon B. Hinckley is regarding the existance of polygamist groups.

Gordon Hinckley saying that there is no such thing as a Fundamentalist Mormon would be like the Pope saying that there is no such thing as a protestant. As the film clearly shows, Mormon fundamentalists are people that more closely follow the teachings of Joseph Smith, and therefore are fundamentalists. What is interesting to me is to see how upset and bent out of shape that Church leaders get when they try to distance themselves away from polygamists, yet they don't denounce the polygamist practices of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other early Mormon prophets, leaders and members.

While LDS members can't understand why the PBS special would mention Mormon Fundamentalists, the program isn't about the mainstream LDS church, it is about Mormonism in the broader sense. Look at it this way, if you did a documentary about Muslims, you would most likely talk about Sunni and Sheit Muslims. However, a Sunni would wonder why you would even mention a Sheit Muslim, since according to a Sunni Muslim, Sheits aren't actually Muslim. A Sheit would say the same thing about Sunnis. However, both groups claim to be the true followers of the prophet Mohammad. A Fundamentalist Mormon would say that the mainstream LDS church isn't actually Mormon, just like the mainstream LDS church says fundamentalists aren't Mormon. However, Fundamentalist Mormons have more credibility, because they are following the teachings of Joseph Smith the closest. The mainstream LDS church has become more and more conforming to society.

The Church Today is not the same church established by Joseph Smith

When I started to read about church history and compared what it was before and what it is today, I realized that it is not the same church at all that was established by Joseph Smith. I felt that it was very poetic and appropriate that the film "The Mormons" be shown in 2 parts, because it demonstrates how the church evolved from being an isolationist, theocratic polygamist, anti-government church into what it is today: a worldwide mainstream religion that is asserting itself as a christian church. If Joseph Smith were alive today, he would not be accepted into the LDS church. He would be seen the same way that Warren Jeffs is seen. If Joseph Smith was alive today, he would be seen as an extremist, an apostate polygamist and a great danger to the reputation to the church.

Overall response

Overall, the responses have been fairly positive in the general sense. I don't think this show will change any one's mind about Mormonism, and I don't think it should. However, I do think that it will spark curiosity and interest in both Mormons and non-Mormons in re-searching Mormon history. I find it fascinating that the main problem that most LDS members had with the documentary is that they were upset that the film didn't accurately show their point of view. Again, I say that the film was not supposed to be a Mormon recruitment video, and I think church members have failed to understand that . Although LDS members wished that the film could have shown non-members the point of view of church members, I think members of the church should look at the film to understand the point of view of others.

Skeptical Mormon


Anonymous said...

Great analysis of the reactions to the Mormons. I'm kind of in the same boat as you, it seems - a non-believing, yet active Mormon.

I thought "The Mormons" was fantastic, and was amazed at how positive it was. I was thus, frankly, shocked at the negative reaction of so many members.

I thought your analogy of a documentary on Islam was a very apt one. Latter-day Saints may not consider Fundamentalists to be of the same brand of Mormonism, but clearly find their genesis in Joseph Smith, just as Sunnis and Shiites, as much as they consider the other sect apostate, both spring from Mohammed.

Great post. And great blog. It's always refreshing to find someone who feels similar to me without so much of the rage and bitterness that is too common on the internets.

Anonymous said...

To a non- Mormon, this "documentary" looked like a recruitment video with just enough negative information to make it believable. I looked up the donors knowing there would be a strong Mormon connectioon and was not disappointed.
I was stunned to have PBS and my donnations support the viewing of this video. The editing and use of "experts" who are unknown to the viewer represents trickery unbecoming of my public broadcasting station.
The Mormon religion, like many religions, has not figured out how to evolve as our culture evolves and has becomes incredibly conservative.
A special problem for the Mormons is that because their history is so recent, it is easier to establish the differences between its myths and "objective" history. Thus, for the Mormons, an unwillingness to embrace a metaphoric history looks especially odd.