SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Commenting in a recent article in the New York Sun, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, objected to the way the “Mormon” faith is being discussed in the public square.
“I think it is disturbing and distressing the way the Mormon religion is being written and talked about in the context of the election,” Mr. Foxman is quoted as saying. “There is a looseness to it and almost a disrespect of it that if it were applied to Catholicism or to Judaism, we would find it offensive.”
Foxman didn’t elaborate in the article on what he referred to as “looseness,” but he is not the only commentator to note the casual way in which some of the news media are directly or indirectly characterizing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Clearly, the public profile of the Church — in the U.S., at least — is being raised by the candidacy of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for president of the United States. Although strictly neutral in partisan politics, the Church recognizes that such increased scrutiny is inevitable when both a Republican presidential aspirant and the present Democratic majority leader of the Senate share the Latter-day Saint faith. But how accurate is this news reporting?
At about the time that Abraham Foxman was making his comments in New York, an online magazine called The Week produced an 1,100-word article for its readers under a photograph of Mitt Romney and the heading “What Mormons Believe.” The article falls into Mr. Foxman’s definition of problematic “loose” reporting. According to the report, Mormons believe that Jesus is only “semi-divine,” that Missouri will be the site of Jesus’ second coming, that “divorce is unthinkable” and that Mormons wear “long, bulky underwear.”
This “looseness” — mischaracterizations, distortions, and errors — is not necessarily typical of news media reports, but it is common. Professional religion writers, on the whole, tend to get it right. Part of the problem for writers who are untrained in the subject may be the difficulty in selecting accurate material from an overabundance of information sources on the Web.
There is much valuable material and good scholarship available about the Church on the Internet, but there is an enormous amount that ranges from the merely dubious to simple anti-Mormon polemics. In addition, all reporters face the challenge of deciding whether to define Latter-day Saints only in terms of their contrasts with other Christian faiths, or whether they should also include beliefs and practices by which Mormons define themselves.
These issues can best be resolved through substantive conversations. The Church fully appreciates that journalists and online writers like to use a variety of sources for their stories and that this is usually necessary to produce balance and context. But we do believe that the Church itself should be one of those sources.
For writers or producers who want to avoid “loose” reporting and best serve their audiences, the core beliefs that define Latter-day Saints are summarized clearly on the church website, www.lds.org . When there are additional questions or a need for clarification, the Church welcome a phone call or e-mail.