Thursday, May 03, 2007

official church response and more thoughts

Here is the official response from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the PBS documentary. It's largely positive. "Those interviewed in the program — even though they hold different points of view — were articulate and measured in their comments, giving serious thought and consideration to the topic." I agree whole-heartedly. I did not see any anti-Mormons on this show. I saw some people who disagreed with the Church in some areas and thoughtfully explained why. Why do some of us perceive this as anti-Mormonism? Last night I was telling J how disturbing I find the negative response from members of our church. What were we expecting, Disney? Is that what we really want? This isn't "The Work and the Glory," (thank merciful heavens). By definition, a "balanced view" would include different perspectives.

The Church response says: "...the historic practice of plural marriage and the tragedy of Mountain Meadows are far from the whole story of Church history or the experience and faith of members today" but acknowledges that you can't fit everything into four hours. I thought about this all day yesterday. J and I talked about it a lot last night. What does the Mountain Meadows Massacre mean to Church members in Bolivia? New Zealand? What should it mean? As Athena so rightly points out, those areas of the world have their own rich and exciting Church history. Notice what the Church said in an earlier release: "Elements of Utah [emphasis added] history, including the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the practice of polygamy, were treated at length." That's how I see it, too. It is Utah history, and it doesn't begin to tell the story of the over 6 million members of our church who live outside the United States. I am not faulting Whitney for excluding them, because she was obviously interested in how the Church is uniquely American compared to other world religions. This program is called "American Experience," so it makes sense that they would focus on experiences of members in the United States.

The Church also says: "...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." That's what I thought, too.

Becky, I didn't notice the polygamists drinking wine, but personally I think that's small consolation for having to live in that arrangement. ;-)

Athena, I'm not sure I agree with Terina that I would have liked to see "average, normal, non-intellectual, non-poet, non-artist, non-author members of the LDS church" interviewed. I'm not sure that would have added much. After all, it's practically impossible for people to avoid bumping into an average Mormon now-a-days. We're everywhere and I'm not sure we're all that interesting. Or maybe we are interesting, but anyone can talk to us about how we feel about the Church. Personally, I am very excited about the interview transcripts available on the PBS website. This is a treasure trove. Some of our beloved Church leaders respond to questions you don't get to hear answers to in General Conference. I think our LDS scholars are phenomenal and I've loved reading their interviews. This documentary has really piqued my interest in LDS scholarship. The interviews are available here. I hope they put Harold Bloom's interview up. When he appeared in the first segment I nearly squealed, "Oh my gosh, it's Harold Bloom!" [Edit: I realize Harold Bloom is not an LDS scholar.]

Another boon of this documentary is additional content on the web site. There is a wealth of respectful information about our beliefs on the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Ml, I have to admit I was also fascinated by the modern-day polygamists. But if they were going to talk about all "Mormons," then what about the RLDS? They believe in the Book of Mormon.

Ave, I agree that the Mountain Meadows Massacre is an important thing for Mormons in the U.S. to know about and learn from.

The official Church response closes with: "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."



sippinghotchocolate said...

if the spokeman speaking for the church thinks so then i'll jump on the bandwagon and say amen too. but i think it's hilarious that many wait for what the church had to say about it before thinking what they would have thought.

ML said...

I don't think there is anything left to say about the RLDS--they no longer exist under that name, they have stranded many of the former church's devout, and although they "affirm" the Book of Mormon is scripture, their members are assured that they do not need to use it or even believe in it.

ML said...

One other thing I noticed--I didn't see any of our women leaders. Where were Sheri Dew, Chieko Okazaki, or any of the other impressive women who have so capably served the Church over the years. I guess it wasn't absolutely necessary, but I would have like to have heard their voice.

Joe said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm surprised that your kids watched the whole thing. Impressive. I wonder if my kids would have had the patience.

First a qualification and then some thoughts.

1. I haven't seen the documentary yet. If I get time (which seems unlikely today) I may see it.

1. The documentary was a good thing, even if it may not have been wholly accurate or wholly fair.

2. Any depiction of anything is going to be selective. You can't show everything that would be possible to show.

3. The selection criteria will be influenced by some sort of ideology, artistic or otherwise.

4. MMM isn't even a good representation of Utah history. It is an event that should be frankly acknowledged, but it was hardly representative. Consider the number of non-Mormon immigrants and pioneers that passed through Utah or stayed in Utah and were either well treated or simply ignored. Consider that a federal army came to Utah with the intent to destroy (some soldiers and officers had that documented intent) and that raiding parties of Mormons had many opportunities to kill but did not do so. MMM was an extreme anomaly that has received a significant amount of attention.

5. There are several Restoration churches in addition to the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS). Most are quite small.

sippinghotchocolate said...

i watched the documentary on the internet last night. i haven't finished watching it but i thought it was well done. to an extent i even liked what margaret toscano had to say (they certainly chose the correct excommunicant to speak here). i think it's folks like her that challenge the leaders of the church to face issues (like those she presented) rather than ignore or sweep under the mat like the mmm incident. which brings me to ask, why did we have to wait until the movie to hear of this horrible act and not before? i read what dave wrote about there being a movie coming out about mmm, so maybe this documentary came about in order to soften the blow of that movie. to inform the members before we see it. i'm glad about that but it's a sneaky publicity move on their part.

sippinghotchocolate said...

correction: "why did we have to wait until the documentary to hear of this horrible act and not before?" not "movie."

sippinghotchocolate said...

one more thing, i think it was boyd k packer that said it, but whoever said it, they said that the members of the church like to sanitize history. i like packer but hello? the only ones that sanitize history is the church, not the other way around. if we step out of that "sanitization" in church then we're stepping out of line.

Joe said...

I don't think Mountain Meadows was swept under the rug. There are books about it, and it has been extensively discussed in histories of Utah and of the Latter-day Saints. It was a big deal at the time it happened. It has received additional attention lately, along with some additional books. It certainly hasn't been a secret. But it isn't something you bring up everytime you talk about the Church. What would be the point of that?

Joe said...

What does it mean to sanitize history?

It seems that people use that phrase to mean that someone left something out of a historical account that they thought should have been included. So if a documentary on the Mormons focuses on MMM but leaves out other realities it could be considered a sanitized account.

If you want a fuller view of pioneer Utah, you may need to acknowledge such stories as the story of the frightened non-Mormon family that crept into the Salt Lake Valley in 1849 or so with a damaged wagon, wary of the Mormons they had heard about and even more wary of Indians. They had only been camped for a few hours when they were greeted by a Mormon boy bringing a warm pail of milk, friendship, and the offer of a job.

Or consider the story of Dan Jones (have you read his book Forty Years among the Indians?), who came to Utah half-dead from an accidental bullet wound, frightened because he had also heard about those Mormons and because he was a Missourian, but who was welcomed and nursed back to health and who later joined the Church.

Is a history sanitized that leaves out hundreds and thousands of stories like those and focuses primarily on MMM?

sippinghotchocolate said...

sanitized accounts of joseph smith and his polygamy practices for example. can't touch on that in church; we all know that polygamy is sanitized in the church. and if mmm was a big deal then, it's not now? and it has been a secret otherwise we would read about a hint of it in some of our church manuals.

Calandria said...

There is about a page and a half of information on mmm in the Church History in the Fulness of Times manual. While I certainly want my children to learn about things like mmm, I'm not sure that Sunday school would be the best forum. However, it seems like something that should be brought up in seminary.

I think when we say "sanitized," we mean only teaching the inspiring and uplifting stories about people like Joseph Smith, and like Athena says, never mentioning polygamy. But you know, I'm not sure I'd want someone at church teaching my children about polygamy. It's a messy topic. Also, as Kathleen Flake said, our church experience on Sundays is about holiness. It's not an intellectual endeavor or a place of debate.

Joe, you make a good point about the thousands of people who were welcomed by Mormons in Utah and treated kindly. What about that history? I guess it's just not sensational enough.

We were not planning on our children seeing the entire documentary, but they were completely riveted by it. Lidia thought it was funny that Joseph Smith searched for gold. Georgie was stunned by his multiple wives and she's still mulling over that one.

sippinghotchocolate said...

who's talking about teaching our children about mmm or even polygamy. i'm referring to the number of adults that didn't know about mmm. i had a look at that manual, and for sure it mentioned it. a hint at it. i'm not going to go apostate over this, but even after all that the members went through, there's still no excuse for what they did. why do we have to feel like we have to defend what wrongs were done. what's wrong is wrong. i apolgise for tainting your blog. do feel free to delete anything i have written.

Calandria said...

i know you weren't talking about teaching our children about mmm or polygamy. but i guess if adult members don't know about it and that's a problem, then i was wondering what could be done about it. i think it would be wrong to try to excuse mmm, as it is inexcusable. the act was horrific and the cover up a shameful, cowardly thing. however, we can try to understand it in the context of the times and the climate that led to it.

athena, you do not taint my blog. heavens.

sippinghotchocolate said...

phew thanks.

i have a couple of questions. you mentioned bushman's rough stone rolling on joseph smith. have you read it? looks interesting. also do you know of other books similar to the above in regards to the history of the church? i've always wanted to read more about church history (not the manuals) but with all the reading we are required to already study (ensigns, scriptures, sunday school, relief society lessons) there never seems time to read all these other books. do you feel like that?

Julie said...

Great post! I second your Amen.