What We Say, Not What They Say
Letters continue to pour into Meridian about the two-part, four-hour documentary The Mormons on PBS.
“American Idol” More Popular
Like many of you, I stayed up past my bedtime to watch both nights of the PBS special on The Mormons. It was a bittersweet experience. The bitterness came about because I felt the pangs of disappointment when Church doctrine was misunderstood or misrepresented by historians or intellectuals and former members who let their own bitterness seep out. Sweetness was found in the statements of official church spokesmen but also from average members who shared very humble, personal experiences of testimony and faith in Jesus Christ.
Overall, I’m ecstatic for the opportunity to inform and educate my colleagues and friends. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are sometimes thin-skinned and overly sensitive to criticism. Too often we expect every media treatment of our religion to be generous, fair-minded or positively glowing. I think the serious nature of this historical review was genuine in its efforts to uncover some of the mystery of LDS theology for non-believers.
While I naturally felt it fell short of this goal, I’m pleased to say that I think it will do measurably more good than harm. Ultimately, I believe the onus is now on us to expound and teach because of this program and the curiosity that will surely follow. This may require each of us to study more diligently. I confess to knowing very little about the tragic events of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but certainly I know enough about misguided polygamists to recognize the irony of watching them drinking wine at the dinner table.
What others come to know about our religion will depend on what we each do and say to inform and educate our friends and neighbors. One wise church leader once counseled me to “never pass up an opportunity to teach.” With that in mind, I broached the subject at lunch with a non-member friend today, who was oblivious to the entire episode. It seems that “American Idol” is more popular than PBS documentaries.
A Letter to Helen Whitney
While I can appreciate the time and research that went into your production of The Mormons, I, as a Latter-day Saint convert of 50 years, must say that your show left me cold, sad and hurt by your portrayal. I felt that there was too much negativism, too many oppositional opinions, too much commentary, and too many highlights of some of the negative things that have happened as the Church has grown.
We are a positive, upbeat people with a faith so strong that we are willing to commit our time, talents, monetary assets, and faith to build up the Church. We follow our prophet because the Spirit bears testimony to us that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. Where were our strong testimonies, our missionaries who have returned with honor and have remained active, our female leaders who understand woman’s role in the Church? Your documentary set us back 20 years in the eyes of the public.
First of all, I did not appreciate all the time you allotted to an ex-communicated feminist woman to comment on issues in the Church. Since she is not a Mormon, why would she become the voice of Mormonism? You seemed to hunt for the sensational (a young woman with a terminal pulmonary disease, the man who had lost his forty-two-year-old wife after childbirth); the disgruntled (an ex-communicated feminist, an ex-communicated gay man who gave up his family to pursue his carnal desires, a rock star who served a mission but decided Joseph Smith’s revelations were wrong); the prejudiced (those who portrayed Joseph Smith as a magician with a divine sense of his own importance, men who say that DNA, archeological findings, copying of passages from the Bible and the 19th century style of the Book of Mormon dispute Mormonism); the fundamentalist polygamists (again men who are not Latter-day Saints but who are illegally practicing polygamy) to act as the voice of the Church? The reformed drug addict who had been incarcerated does not represent the typical Latter-day Saint, but she does show that the Church will help any man/woman turn away from sin and live a better life.
Why did you not interview Bonnie Parkin, the President of the Relief Society? It seems as if you interviewed our apostles but selected only something the least bit controversial that they may have said during the interview. You downplayed the persecution that the early Saints endured but up-played the Mountain Meadow Massacre. You claim that you have tried to dispel the stereotypes that non-members believe about the Church. Sorry. You have perpetuated old ones and created new ones.
I had looked forward to this production with enthusiasm. I was sorely disappointed.
Show General Conference
PBS should show the 2007 General Conference and advertise it as well as The Mormons. This would be an unbiased presentation.
Frances Duzan Herndon
The artwork that the mini-series creators used to depict concepts relating to the Church was dark, bleak, sinister, foreboding, even disturbing. (My grandson said, “Gramps, their pictures of Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Prophet are scary. Should we send them some better pictures?”) Their unfortunate choices were meant, I believe, to offer a subliminal tone that reflects the underlying agenda of he series creators: to marginalize the Church rather than to portray a clear understanding to the public of what Latter-day Saints truly believe.
I believe that had series creators undertaken to portray some other significant religion (e.g., Catholics, Southern Baptists, Jews, or Muslims) using the same techniques and views of many outsiders (with possible agendas of their own), then it would have resulted in virtually universal outrage amongst viewers.
If you want to sincerely understand someone’s beliefs, you focus on gathering the beliefs from the believers, not from outsiders that offer their (possibly misconceived/erroneous) beliefs on what true believers believe, right?
We did not like some of the misrepresentations that the documentary presented. For example, the program began stating that Mormons view Joseph Smith as “the Alpha and Omega.” The viewpoints presented about polygamy with motives solely related to personal sexual gratification and exploitation, Brigham Young being forced to participate in that doctrinal practice and that “he would rather die,” the Mountain Meadows Massacre and Joseph Smith’s selfish desire to have great political and theocratical control of the Church’s members were skewed and distorted in an attempt to shed an unfavorable light upon the Church and its members.
It seemed to us the focus of the first half of the documentary was to intimate that Latter-day Saints worship Joseph Smith, as little was mentioned about our devotion to the Savior and that we believe this is His church, not Joseph Smith’s. Some of the critics seemed almost hostile. The program was not a tool we would use to accurately portray our beliefs.
Jodi and Steve Maner
The documentary portrayed the membership of the Church as being forced to follow the principles of the gospel. It had the same feeling for me that I felt listening to the Warren Jeff people. I resented that representation.
The gospel has been an iron rod for me, not a punishment. I live the gospel because I believe it is true. I pay tithing as described in the Old Testament. This is not a forced doctrine. No one has to pay tithing or live the Word of Wisdom. As we live the gospel there are blessings attached to each requirement.
The program (I thought) portrayed us as blind robots.
The Rest of the Story
After two nights of staying up late to watch the PBS documentary, I woke up this morning with the Prophet Joseph Smith on the forefront of my mind. The thought came to me that the Joseph Smith portrayed by PBS is not the Joseph Smith that I have come to revere and love. I feel the perspective of Joseph Smith that PBS introduced or portrayed to the general public errs on the side of a dark and shady character who has incredible leadership and drive. How sad this is!
Any one of us could look like a very rotten person if our flaws and mistakes were displayed as the makeup of 80% of our lives, or if our choices and actions were taken out of context without the “rest of the story.” The Joseph Smith that I have come to hold in high esteem includes stories of a gentle and happy man; a man of contagious optimism and perspective; a man who lived his life in poverty, and who persevered through all imaginable trials; a man who accomplished the unimaginable; a man who treasured his wife, Emma; a man who gave everything in the name of Jesus Christ, and for the God above; a man we would all do well to pattern our lives after.
With this conclusion in my mind, I rolled out of bed to offer a prayer of thanks for the Prophet Joseph Smith, and for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Though I appreciate the hard work PBS did in providing a documentary about the Mormons that is refreshingly different than presentations of the past, I am saddened by the missed opportunity to tell the true story of Joseph Smith.
Apex, North Carolina
In my opinion, the documentary allowed the critics of the Church (excommunicated members, non-member “authorities,” and intellectuals) to capture way too much of the air time and set a kind of sinister tone for too much of the program. Yes, we have critics and certainly I expected to hear some derogatory comments. However, if PBS had aired a program on the civil rights movement, I doubt, out of courtesy and respect for black America, that much of the program would have featured white supremacists or others with prejudicial views.
Gary C. Tilley
Dobson, North Carolina
Glad Our Children Fell Asleep
In regard to the PBS Documentary, The Mormons, I felt it portrayed the Church rather negatively. I don’t feel Helen Whitney eradicated the stereotypes the Church faces, as she stated she hoped to do. We allowed our children to watch it with us the first evening and my husband and I were constantly having to explain to them that the statements made were opinions, and that some of the facts were not true. Fortunately they all fell asleep within the first hour. We did not encourage our children to watch the film with us the second evening because we didn’t want them to think the heavily biased opinions were the truth. Although I did like parts of the film, overall I found it to be a huge disappointment.
I felt that last night’s presentation was very political. Anyone who tries to analyze a belief system without the guidance of the Spirit is going to run into ideas that are seemingly unrealistic, outright political in nature (priesthood to the Black brethren) or even “kooky.” I was saddened that much of the information was shared by ex-members of the Church. After saying that the Mormon Church was still their core belief they went on to discuss temple rites. I felt that if the Church was still their core belief, they should have honored the sacredness of the temple and kept those things silent.
I saw only half of the first presentation. The history that was discussed was accurate but again without the belief in revelation, prophecy, faith and obedience these incidents can appear to be the result of purely political or individual zeal.
As a friend of mine said, “Either you believe in revelation or you don’t.” I believe that without the Spirit to guide us we can be taken aback by the history and find ourselves questioning the mind and will of God.
Editor: You are assuming that the history presented was accurate, but people who refuse to acknowledge the context of those who experienced it are skewing the history.
Not a Documentary
I tried very hard to be as open-minded as possible about this documentary and simply found myself full of anxiety through most of the broadcast. During parts of the first two-hour segment, I actually had to get up and do a few dishes. Later I had difficulty getting to sleep.
A couple of the commentators inserted their own views and little or no time was spent on the Book of Mormon – the style of its writings, how Joseph, with little education could not possibly have written these pages. They also talked about a second writing as if the book had been re-written and edited by Joseph. I had read your editorial comments the day of the first showing so I was somewhat prepared in regards to polygamy. However, as you stated, why was so much time spent on it and so little on other areas of our religion that are so much more important to present day.
The second night didn’t seem as difficult to watch except for some of the comments made, which again seemed to promote their views instead of actually documenting the Church. The final zinger was the very last comment made regarding polygamy! What a way to end a documentary! Leave that final thought in everyone’s head! I was disgusted.
I will say that there were many parts that I enjoyed as a LDS member and temple worker but I felt that it was slanted and not really what I would call a documentary.
Raleigh, North Carolina
I watched the first episode, and when it was over I had a dark “stupor-y” feeling that stayed with me into the next day. The oppressive feeling only yielded to prayer and scripture reading. Not wanting to risk repeating the previous night’s experience, I chose not to watch the second installment.
The documentary had a couple of touching moments, but I was quite disappointed in their whole portrayal. They seemed to have an agenda and I believe they accomplished it. They portrayed our church as the “anti’s” want to view it. Two-thirds of the “experts” on our religion were nonmembers and several were excommunicated members and historians who did not have all the facts straight.
The amount of time spent on polygamy, past and current, will only confirm to nonmembers their belief that we still basically condone it – maybe even practice it. Also, the amount of time spent on the Mountain Meadows massacre was uncalled for. I’m sure the anti-Mormons are quite pleased with the result.
Insightful and Thought Provoking
As a member who was inactive for 25 years I found the documentary, The Mormons, an insightful and thought provoking view of our religion. I am inspired by the representation of the Church in the documentary and appreciated that the producers did not shy away from issues controversial to the Church.
Blood, Sweat and Tears
The presentation was disappointing and told half a story.
The story of the Restoration was not told. Who Joseph Smith really was, was not conveyed. He was the spiritual, seeking, young teachable youth chosen to restore the Gospel to the earth. He was prepared for a great mission. He was not the money-seeking silver digger.
I felt that the real story, the blood, sweat and tears of those original persecuted Saints was not told. The world has no idea their suffering.
Why did they use apostates, feminists and intellectuals to tell the story? Of course they would be negative.
Hopefully the force of good that is the Gospel, the lives of those who’ve rubbed shoulders with Latter-day Saints will pique curiosity to know the truth about the Mormons.
What a sad day when such an opportunity is lost. Only a total of a couple of minutes were from our LDS leaders from a total of 120 minutes presented the first night. I didn’t bother to tune in the second night. I understand that PBS also failed the Islamic community while recently making a similar documentary on their faith. Why go to all the non-member and disgruntled types to learn what a faith is about and what it teaches?
Shelby Township, Michigan
Disgruntled, Unhappy People
I felt the one that produced this documentary should have done more homework and interviewed the women in leadership positions in the Church – leaders from the Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, and definitely, the seminary program that prepares our missionaries. Far too much time was spent interviewing dissenters and apostates. Disgruntled, unhappy people!
They should have discussed the abstinence of sex before marriage and total loyalty to our marriage partner after marriage. They could have interviewed someone who had a favorable experience with Church courts and the steps of repentance. I have heard about this many times!
I feel you cannot intellectualize spiritual things. It’s too bad they tried to do that.
More Betty Stevenson
I wish that they had let Betty Stevenson talk more and bear her testimony completely. I am so lucky to call her my friend and to have experienced her spirituality. Her testimony is awesome – something she should share with everyone; their own testimonies will grow from hearing it. Especially people who feel like their challenges of life are too hard to overcome. She can testify to you that you can do it. Maybe, they should have her bear her testimony at the next General Conference. It is for everyone to hear.
No Common Thread
There was no common thread through the whole thing. They used too much material from disgruntled Mormons. There should have been more emphasis on what the real church is all about. Was Mountain Meadows really as they portrayed it? Overall I think it was quite well done.
Not a Big Deal
The PBS special was not a big deal, at least in my book. It contained nothing new – same as always when it comes from a majority of nonmembers or those who have had membership actions taken against them. In the end it would be sad if someone either joined the Church or did not join the Church because of that “special.” I would pray those who seek the truth will seek the direction of the confirmation of the Holy Spirit. The truth will endure, and will continue to bless the lives of those of us who have the privilege to know it and practice it.
Jane C. Green Kimmel
Not Enough Real Information
While it seems important for people with different views to share their thoughts, this production showed how little some have in the way of real information. One statement that was made, which illustrates this was about Moses leading the “Jews” out of Egypt. I always thought that he not only brought out the tribe of Judah, but all of the other tribes of Israel as well.
Some who made comments seemed to have an axe to grind because the Church held its ground instead of bowing to the feelings of certain individuals or other seemingly popular views. It was refreshing to hear the remarks of some of the church leaders. That, to me, demonstrated the strength of the Church.
J. Carl Rasmussen
Not a Pretty Picture
I didn’t think that PBS painted a very pretty picture of our Church. I was left with my mouth open at some of the comments. I didn’t like the way PBS referred to Our Church as “Josephs’ Church.”
Myrna R. Jensen
I felt disappointed with the absence of mention of our love of the Savior and desire to be like Him as the motivation for all we do, as mature members of the Church. Historically it seemed like a fairly accurate picture of much of what happened, with the exception of no mention of the Mormon Battalion’s march; that seemed to be an important mission link to our willingness to cooperate with our U.S. President.
I also wondered why they left out the fact that speakers were either active members of the Church, or not. I think that was confusing to someone wondering from whom these opinions came. I did feel a concern for new members watching, thinking this would lead them to question what they were taught to believe. Much was made of Joseph Smith’s weakness of nature, and I felt, an unfair portrayal of his personal strengths. I am always impressed that such a young uneducated man produced the Book of Mormon; why was that thought not included?
Mission Viejo Stake, California.
I was actually impressed how positive it was, particularly the second half. Someone with an open heart could feel the testimonies of those who were allowed to share them. If someone was looking for faults, however, they would find them, too.
Announced in the Ward Bulletin
The only reason I watched the documentary is because it was announced in the ward bulletin. My hopes were that it would be a good representation of the truth. I should have known it would be another way to put doubts into the minds of the Saints.
What disturbed me most was the fact that at every short statement, on any subject of interest, by the prophet or an apostle, a whole story was fed to the effect of the opposite. If I mentioned every instance it would fill several pages. Apostates, clergy of other faiths, intellectuals and excommunicated members gave more input than faithful members to the effect that the Church was founded on a bunch of hype. Those who produced this documentary probably had the idea too of deterring people from supporting a Mormon candidate for President. I would not recommend that “documentary” to anyone. It was designed to put doubts in the minds of anyone who watched it, including members.
We who are faithful members of the Church know, in no way that can be explained through the outward senses, that the Prophet Joseph Smith was and is a true prophet of God and that we do have a true prophet of God at the head of our church today. The outside world will never know, unless through sincere investigation, prayer and the Holy Ghost they too get the same answer we have. At which point they will no longer have any desire to put doubt into faithful members’ minds and deter honest seeking individuals from investigating the truth.
Second Night More Positive
I was so disgusted at the trashing of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon with nary a positive defense in sight the first night, I was not sure I wanted to view the second night. I was pleasantly surprised to see a much more balanced presentation the second night. I appreciated having members in good standing defining me, instead those who are outside the Church as seemed to be about the only responders the first night with a few cameo appearances of General Authorities.
Thank goodness for Terryl Givens, and on the second night Elder Marlin Jensen. When those who write about us feel compelled to go to apostate or disaffected members to find out about us the implication is that only those who have left the Church are intelligent enough to define it. As Davis Bitton so beautifully pointed out, we have fine historians in good standing who could do the job in a first rate professional manner. In the final analysis, as Bro. Bitton also put so beautifully, I don’t have a testimony of church history (nor in this case, TV specials); I have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Salt Lake City
Fair and Balanced
I think the documentary was mostly fair and balanced. The interview segments with different people were especially enjoyable and touching. Having been a Church member all my life and married to a convert of not so many years, I understand the point of view from both sides and appreciated people’s courage in sharing things so personal to them.
Even though there were a few segments that made me a little uneasy, but I realize that there will always be parts of church history that were not “perfect” because the Church is full of imperfect people who make irrational choices at times – which will always affect the whole church image. But then, it just proved the point that, “If the gospel weren’t true, the imperfect people (myself included) in the Church would have messed it up a long time ago!”
I’m sorry I recommended the PBS series to anyone. I felt it was biased and not very balanced. Those who chose to “reveal” certain things will have to account for at judgment time. Too many spokesmen outside the Church or on the fringe were highlighted.
While some of the things brought up may be correct it is still embarrassing the way they were presented. I don’t think the Church should have cooperated as fully as they say they did although I’m sure they had nothing to do with the really bad stuff. People will always dig and usually find what they want to hear or portray.
I guess my overall thought is that it could have been so much worse! I was disappointed that Helen Whitney made the decision to use former members of the Church to the exclusion of current members. I also feel that she was irresponsible in allowing blatant statements (accusations) to be made by former or non-members without including and allowing response from the Church on those matters.
Videoing in the Temple?
I was angry and very disappointed. What I heard before the telecast was that it was to be very positive and an attempt to explain some of the misunderstandings outsiders have of the Mormons. Instead I was angry because all our beliefs of how the religion was founded and our love for Joseph Smith were dashed and his portrayal was one of a sex-starved pervert. I resent these insinuations.
I am wondering how they were able to video the inside of a temple. Did the Church give permission for this to be done? I was under the impression that was against church regulations and laws.
Greenwell Springs, Louisiana
Editor: Footage of the interior of the Nauvoo Temple was taken before the dedication.
As I watched the two nights of the PBS series, I went through many different emotions – mostly disappointment. If the producer truly wished for a balanced view of “Mormons,” I was underwhelmed. I watched and timed the first night’s lengthy and somewhat irrelevant Mr. Jeffs part of the polygamy issue. I timed how much time was spent on the persecution issue. I listened to the story of the Mountain Meadow Massacre. I found that less time was spent explaining how the Mormons would be forced to move into an area, and because of their thrift, intelligence, diligence and industry would create havens of peace, education and commerce. NOT just once, but time after time after time.
I read Sister Proctor’s letter yesterday, and last night I tried to be more open-minded while watching the second segment. I still found the editing of statements to be almost deliberately made to sound less than favorable.
I believe views on Mormons have left more questions for the general public than she [Helen Whitney] answered. I believe the production was not a success for her stated purposes. I was hurt that there was none of the wonderful sweetness and great good humor of President Gordon B Hinckley shared with the world. The times he was shown were not a representation of the compassionate, dedicated servant of the Lord. This is the greatest disservice the production inflicted, I believe.
Nicolette G. Parsons
Biased and Inaccurate
I was disappointed but not surprised by the content and focus of the program. It was particularly unfair to spend so much of the airtime with comments from people who were only identified in the last hour as being former members. The visual representation of a church court was also biased and inaccurate. It also appeared that Elder Oaks’ comments were taken out of context. I was also concerned that all of the people making comments were repeatedly identified by their title, i.e., Historian, Professor, etc., but without any reference to their credentials or affiliations.
Issues of No Real Consequence
My wife and I felt the PBS Documentary was interesting, but it evoked a number of issues that are of no real consequence to the Church. It may put into the minds of many, if not all outside of the Church who watched it, that Latter-day Saints (we regret the nickname Mormons but we are stuck with it now) are unfeeling, uncaring, and unChristian.
This is the stereotype given us by evangelical Christians who adamantly preach that Latter-day Saints are not Christians. The constant need of the media to couple apostates, polygamists, gays and others who have left the Church, as disenfranchised from the Church is unfair, and even untrue. There is room in the Church for all who seek the truth and are willing to put their lives into conformity with the teachings of the Church.
Admittedly, speaking as a convert myself, it is very difficult to come from another church, or to have personal challenges caused by mental or physical abnormalities whether a convert or born into the faith, since most people are not interested in today’s society in being compassionate for the right reasons.
The adage of “we must love the sinner but hate the sin” is true. All of us are born with and carry with us throughout life barriers to salvation. It is the constant and unrelenting struggle of faith that allows us to be saved by accepting the atonement of the Savior and constantly striving to be worthy at all costs.
This Church is not for everybody (sad to say, but it is true). It is for those who are willing to persevere and struggle to become whole – not through their own efforts alone, but by giving themselves over to Christ and allowing Him to heal them. It takes a lot of effort, conviction, and willingness on the part of anyone to do this. It is however, as Christ himself promises, doable.