NBC’s “Mormons in America”: A Review

On August 23, 2012, Thursday night (10 pm EDT), NBC aired a 1-hour news show titled:  Mormons in America.  The goal of the show was to introduce Mormonism to the viewing public.  I wasn’t very comfortable with the final product, but Richard Otterson, public affairs chief for the LDS Church, should be thrilled.  The church was portrayed in a very favorable light.

I can remember the word “cult” coming up only once during the presentation.  Yet certain aspects of the program, when mentally pieced together, made the church look a little like cult.  The concept of absolute obedience did not come up, but others did like: (1) one interviewee stated something to the effect that that’s what Mormons “are programmed to do”; (2) bonding experience during LDS missions; (3) the excusivity of the temple (including for marriages); (4) Mormon’s group cohesion, etc.  What was particularly unnerving for me was the interview with the multi-racial Jackson family of Lehi, Utah.  There was a certain Stepford-wives feel to their practice of Mormonism.

The NBC program had two very positive segments, both reported by Harry Smith.  One was on the LDS Church welfare system and the other was on the success of Mormons in business.  The latter presentation made me a little uneasy for a  couple of reasons:

  • This segment had a “prosperity gospel” feel to it and
  • The LDS Church has always placed a high value on education.  And I think Mormons, are, on average, one of the better educated religious groups in the United States.  So why can’t we be famous for our scientist, our technologists, our doctors, our engineers, etc.?  Why is it always our business people?

Mormonism, based on the teachings of Joseph Smith, has one the best theological arguments for the compatibility of science and religion (if we can get past the Biblical literalists).  I wish we as a church would emphsize this part of our religion more.  

Probably the most interesting and frustrating interview was with Abby Huntsman.  Even though she is no longer a member, she generally spoke well of the church.  But she did highlight a growing problem in the LDS Church, one which was generally unexplored in the NBC documentary:  the inability of the church to hold on to many of its younger members.  The way that the interview was edited, we only got a slight hint of why she had left the church.

The NBC program managed to superficially mention the usual hot button issues:  polygamy, baptisms for the dead, garments, closed wedding ceremonies, feminism, blacks and the priesthood ban, etc.  They also had a short interview with Mitt Romney, and mentioned Big Love, the Osmonds, Steve Young, Harry Reid and The Book of Mormon musical.  They ended with an interview with Clark Johnson, a gay actor performing in TBofM musical who has given up his LDS Church membership.  Johnson spoke very favorably about his Mormon mission to Mexico and he emphasized that it had been a good experience for him (he was almost in tears when he talked about his mission).  There were really no interviews in the documentary that were overly negative.

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10 Responses to NBC’s “Mormons in America”: A Review

  1. On NBC 8-23-12 there was nothing contraversial about the contents of the Book Of Mormon or The Book of Abraham. LDS members were depicted as lovely, which they are, but for those who have read these two books there can be very disturbing features. A film on youtube about Abraham’s alleged book is very scholarly & well documented and worth reflecting upon.

  2. rogerdhansen says:

    The documentary didn’t deal much with Mormonism’s supplementary scriptures, only the Book of Mormon briefly. There is only so much you can do in a 45-minute presentation. The one issue that was emphasized (that I didn’t mention in my review) is the concept of “faith without works is dead.” And this is an important facet of LDS doctrine that diferentiates it from other conservative Christian religions. For Mormons, the emphasis on works is important.

    • Allen says:

      “Faith without works is dead” is, as you said, important for Mormons. However, it is a concept that is often misunderstood by LDS. Salvation comes through the Atonement. As the scriptures, especially D&C 19, bring out, repentance is necessary before the Atonement will cleanse us. That, along with acts of service, is the works part. The faith part is our acceptance of the Atonement and of Jesus Christ as our Savior. Our works are the “doorway” through which the Atonement can enter our lives. Our works do not save us. We don’t work our way to heaven. Jesus Christ saves us, but he requires repentance before he will save us.

      • rogerdhansen says:

        The concept of the Atonement has been very difficult for me to totally understand. But the need for good works has always been an easier concept for me to understand. But the problem with good works is motive. Are you doing it because it’s the right thing to do? or Are you doing it to buy your way into heaven (or into the Celestial Kingdon)? From this perspective, it’s almost better to be an agnostic. That way no one can question your motives.

        I’m a little uncomfortable with the way you have described the Atonement. It seems closer to Christian conservatives (save by grace alone) than I’m confortable with. I would prefer a stronger emphasis on works, irregardless of motives.

  3. Rich says:

    Yes, you’re right that Mormons believe that “faith without works is dead,” a reference to a scripture in James. Look it up, and you’ll find it enlightening because that’s what Mormons believe. Faith alone is not enough. Even demons believed in Jesus Christ and were not saved. We must show our faith through our works; otherwise, we really don’t have enough faith to save us. It’s not that we earn our salvation. That comes only from the grace of God. But faith alone does us little good unless we truly have faith to implement the gospel in our lives. Mormons tend to live their faith because of this belief while many Christians seem to think all they have to do is say I accept Jesus as my savior and they then can go out and sin all they want and still be saved from spiritual death. Mormons belief that all people will be saved from physical to death through a merciful gift of Jesus Christ, while they believe faith (which is strong enough to be seen through a person’s behavior) is required to be saved from spiritual death, which is separation from God. Mormons also believe that no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God.

  4. rogerdhansen says:

    I’m more comfortable with your paragraph than I am with Allen’s. But, there is still the issue of motive.

    • shematwater says:

      If you read in D&C 136 (I believe, sorry I don’t have it with me at this moment) it states that men will be judged according to their works, according to the desires of their heart. This addresses motive beautifully.
      A person whose motivation is right, but who lacks sufficient understanding, will still receive the greatest reward in heaven (like Alvin, the brother of Joseph Smith, who died before the restoration took place). However, a person whose motivation is not right will not receive the same reward, even if they are able to do more actual works.
      Again, consider Alvin: He is in the Celestial Kingdom, even though in this life he was not baptized, was not endowed, was not cealed, did not hold the priesthood, did not tithe, and did not do a host of other things because he lacked the knowledge of their importance.
      But, one who does do all of these things, but does them to get honor and glory of men will not enter the Celestial Kingdom.

      It is like that one conference talk a little while ago about the difference between “to do” and “to be”. To be describes motivation, while to do describes action. If we do, but are not than we are hypocrites, something that Christ himself condemns on many occassions.

      Speaking of the Atonement and how it works, I always liked the one Seminary video of the young girl who wanted a bicycle. When she asked her father he told her to do what she could to get the money. So, for a number of months she worked hard, doing extra chores, and even trying to run a lemonade stand. After a while she came to her dad and asked if she could go look at the bikes. When the got to the store she looked around and then ran to one saying it was the one she wanted. Then she looked at the price tag and her enthusiasm vanished. “I’ll never have enough, will I?” she said. Her father asked to see what she had saved so far and she pulled from her pocket a few bills and some loose change. He looked at her and said “You’re not going to have enough. But I’ll tell you what. You give me all that you have, with a big hug and kiss, and the bike is yours.” She embraced him, and the video ended with her riding her bike home as her father drove the car beside her.

      This is the atonement. Christ does expect us to do what we can, but he also realizes that no matter how much we do it will never be truly enough. So we go through this life working as much as we can, and in the end, if we have put forth the effort he will make up the difference. However, if we are lazy and do nothing to earn what we can he will not make up the difference and we will find that we have lost the desired goal.

      • rogerdhansen says:

        I found your discussion of motive to be very instructive and useful. However, I’m not sure any of us really understands our own motives. Better to do good for the wrong reason, than not do good I suppose.

        The atonement for me is very problematic. Why was it necessary? Why did Christ have to take on our sins and be crucified? Why was that physical act necessary? Your seminary video isn’t real instructive in that regard.

      • shematwater says:

        To understand the need for the physical act it would be better to watch the video titled “The Mediator.” Also, read Mosiah chapters 2-6 (King Benjamin’s discourse).

        This is the basics. God has given us life, and sustains us in that life. He has also given us commandments to keeps, which we frequently fail in doing. However, when we do succeed he blesses us (or pays us). For all this we are endebted to him.
        Now, if we were to keep all his commandments perfectly we would still be in debt for the life that he has given us, and thus there is a debt that we can never repay. As such we could never inherit the full blessings because we would always be in debt.
        This is where Christ and the atonement comes in. He has paid this debt, a debt that we literally cannot pay. As he is now the creditor he has the power to reset the terms of redemption, which he has done, making it possible for us to repay the debt and be saved.

        The physical act was needed for two reasons. In order for us to be resurrected physical death had to be concured by one who was able to do so, who then would ahve the power to raise us to immortality. Thus the physical death of Christ was needed for him to be able to lay down his life and take it again, by which act he gained the power to resurrect all men, a gift that all men will receive.
        The second reason is more complex. First, Christ had to take upon him the sinsof the world to pay the debt that we owe. This act in itself was not physical, but was spiritual. However, the spiritual pain was so accute that it manifested in a physical pain that cause Christ to bleed at every poor (see Luke 24 and D&C 19). It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that he paid the price for the sins of the world, not on the cross. The cross was part of the atonement, but not that part.
        Along with this spiritual suffering for sin Christ also endured every form of pain and suffering that any person in mortality would ever have to endure, including physical, emotional, and spiritual. This did not happen all at once, but started in the Garden and continued until the very end. He experienced the pain of broken bones, of gun shots, of drowning, of burning, or child birth, of abuse and harassment and all other forms of pain. The reason for this was so that he would understand them and thus be able to give comfort. Once out of the garden he also experienced the abandonment of friends and the apostles dispersed. He experienced the unjust abuse of the pharisees; and at the end he cried “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as, for the first time in his life, he experienced what it was like to have his Heavenly Father withdraw from him.

        We have in Christ not only a savior who has paid the price of our sins, a price we could not pay on our own; but also a comforter who has literally experienced everything we will ever be called to endure, and can thus give counsel and comfort to us. This could not have been possible without the very physical and outward suffering of Christ in that final week of his mortal life.

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