Wednesday, May 02, 2007

pbs documentary on the Mormons

I have not yet seen the second part, but J and the girls did. J thought the second part was very well done. The girls watched all four hours, and we've had some really good discussion about it.

I liked the first part. As I said, I wondered at the undue attention to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but in light of Dave's comment that a movie is coming out about it, maybe we should be glad. I thought it was a very fair treatment of that shameful episode in Mormon history. Here is what the WSJ said about it:

On balance, however, the documentary presents even these particularly sensitive topics in an understanding way, overall depicting Mormons more as victims than as anything else. By the time we learn about the 1857 massacre, for instance, we have heard how for decades Mormons were attacked, killed, harassed and driven ever further westward from their homes by other Americans and, in some instances, by threats from the government itself. Whatever really happened at Mountain Meadows, viewers are left with the sense that as awful as it was, the massacre was the result of decades of persecution and the paranoia this created. Much of the other history recounted here could be described as a profile in courage of a misunderstood people.

Really, I'm having a hard time understanding how someone can see this documentary as biased against Mormons. I thought it was very open minded and included lots of different, fascinating perspectives. I can't wait to read all the interviews on the PBS web site. Yes, there were some parts that made me wince. I was fine with the discussion of polygamy in our church's past, but I didn't care for the inclusion of the modern-day polygamists.

There are some wonderful, inspiring stories in our Church's short history. There are miracles and heroes. This is what we talk about at church because we go there to be spiritually fed. However, after reading on the PBS site the many negative comments aimed at the documentary by members of the Church, I begin to think we need to encourage our membership to gain a more balanced view of our history. On the one hand you have the white-washed stuff of Sunday-school classes. On the other hand you have distorted, bitter, anti-Mormon literature "exposing" our dirty laundry. We need to read books like Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling that aim at a more comprehensive view of Joseph Smith, and we need more books like that written.

If it were not for my belief that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, I would not be a member of this church. I don't have a "testimony" of the history of this church. I think that when you remove the Book of Mormon from the picture, you are left with something interesting, but ultimately incomprehensible. My reasoning goes something like this: I have read the Book of Mormon and I believe it to be the word of God. Thus, I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. Thus, I believe he was (though perhaps a strange, enigmatic person in some ways) of good character, good enough to be an acceptable spiritual leader in God's eyes. This does not mean he never made significant mistakes or that he was perfect.

I would like to write more but my kids are sick and they need me.



Anonymous said...

You mentioned the modern day polygamists...I kind of got a chuckle out of one of the families. The man talked about following Joseph Smith's revelation regarding polygamy so he could get to the highest kingdom in heaven. That's fine...however, what about that glass of wine he and his wives were having at dinner? I guess the revelation Joseph Smith had regarding "strong" drink must have slipped his mind.

I thought that the producer might have picked up on something like that as,imo, it makes the man's polygamy explanation a little hard to swallow.

I thought some of the art work they chose to use gave it a sinister feel at times. I didn't always feel like we were walking an unbiased line. I'm sure that's because I'm "in" the church and not "looking in". But...whatever. Documentaries are tricky things. I haven't seen part 2. Will be doing that tonight.


Anonymous said...

Oh! I and I hope your children are feeling better soon!


sippinghotchocolate said...

i haven't seen the documentary and personally i hope it never comes out this way. if anything they should have someone send in a tape of the RM. i was reading terina's blog though and i thought she said something interesting about how she would had like to had seen interviews done by the "average, normal, non-intellectual, non-poet, non-artist, non-author members of the LDS church" or members that aren't excommunicated in order to get both sides of the argument. i don't think i am worse off for not knowing anything about mountain meadow although i use to always roll my eyes whenever utah history was mentioned in sunday school back in australia or new zealand. i always wondered when the folks in utah would hear our history of the church too. it would be great but then no-one is worse off for not knowing.

sippinghotchocolate said...

i was going to say that our testimonies should never be based on what others say about our religion anyway but by what we as individuals have experienced with it. and thank you for your testimony calandria (not only the last paragraph to this post but for everything you share about your experiences here).

ML said...

I was [unexpectedly] fascinated by the part on modern-day polygamists. What surprised me was how much I identified with their comments describing their beliefs and struggles, etc. I can't stop thinking that if there had never been a Manifesto, that would be me.
I do agree, however, that modern-day polygamists have no place in a story about the Mormons if you mean The LDS Church. But if Mormons means religions that use the Book of Mormon as part of their foundation, then I guess they need to be included.

ave said...

Actually ML, most likely you wouldn't be part of a plyg. family as only a very small number of members were called to do the plural thing.

ave said...

I think that Mountain Meadows is an important and powerful lesson for us to learn from. It was shocking and evil, and very much part of human nature. It goes to show you that anyone can be pushed to insanity,and make horrible choices under severe circumstances.

Vanessa said...

I thought the documentary was awesome. Yes they had many people who had been excommunicated but I felt they balanced that with people in the church (I loved seeing Dan Peterson, member of a bishopbric that I belonged to at byu). It was interesting to see that yes they were apostate and had issues with some aspects of the church overall they seem to almost regret their decisions and except for maybe 2 they expressed a great love for the church. Everytime that the documentary explored a sensitive subject they made sure to counter it with what church officials have said. It was interesting to see the church explored in a manner where the spiritual everday mormon was excluded. It's facinating to see what others think of the mormons from a different view point. My favorite was the espicopalian (sp?) historian. It almost felt like if he could only jump the hurdle into believing... fill in the blank. It was almost as if he wanted to believe but was afraid to. Anywhoo. my $.02.

Montserrat said...

{{sigh}} I wish we had been able to see it. I have enjoyed reading the interviews and other info on the PBS website though.

ML said...

I watched it on the internet.

AVE, are you implying that we would not be worthy for that calling?:)

Seriously though, I thought it was a perfectly acceptable documentary, although I do wish I could remember what it was that made me say aloud, "That just plain isn't true." Oh well.

Julie said...

Wow, some great conversation is happening here!

I actually quite liked the documentary so far. (I've only seen part 1. We've got part 2 recorded to watch soon.) I thought it was pretty well done. Everything was kept very objective which might have made LDS members cringe at times, but for the most part everything that was said was totally understandable. I agree with you Calandria when you say you don't think it was biased against the Mormons.

I don't agree with your assessment of the polygamy portion. I thought the inclusion of the modern day polygamists was interesting. It gave me a new perspective on the whole matter. But then I have never had a particularly hard time with the insertion of polygamy in our church's history. It's just never bothered me much. I have many deeper thoughts on that, but this is not the place for them.

The prophets are certainly just men. They have made their mistakes as well - just like all of us. Nevertheless, I know they were (and are) prophets of God and I know for myself of the truthfulness of the Gospel and the LDS Church. I'm grateful for that.

Thanks for these great posts! I was planning on doing my own post on this subject - and I still might - but other things happened this week.