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.