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Having watched the first of two segments last night, I firmly believe that it will only serve to strengthen and solidify previously held stereotypes. Sure, the uninformed viewer might have learned a fact or two for their “gee whiz” file, but the information presented and the manner in which it was discussed was far from what is required to break stereotypes and shatter illusions.
Last night’s two hours were dedicated to the history of the church—or, as much as can survive the editing room and be considered good material. What Whitney apparently deems good material was heavily based around the Mountain Meadows Massacre and plural marriage. An even-handed history of the Church in two hours would require much more emphasis on other subjects left untouched by last night’s segment, and much less emphasis on and rehashing of the very stereotypes Whitney was claiming to “shatter”.
As the Deseret News article points out:
The Mountain Meadows Massacre segment runs 19:34, which seems somewhat excessive in light of the documentary’s length.
And Whitney undercuts her own stated goal of dispelling stereotypes by spending seven minutes on modern-day polygamists. The documentary makes it clear they’re not members of the LDS Church, so why confuse the issue?
Testimonies and opinions were gathered from both sides of the issues, presumably in an effort to be “fair and balanced”. Elders Holland and Oaks had brief statements to share, LDS Church Historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen had a little to say, and LDS author Terryl Givens shared quite a bit, while disbelieving historians, current polygamists, and axe-grinding former Mormons were given equal air time to share their two cents.
Would I encourage non-members to watch “The Mormons”? Probably not. Perhaps tonight’s concluding episode, focusing more on the efforts of the modern Church and its beautiful fruits, will balance out a negatively-portrayed Church history mired in controversy. Such a focus on history, while important, is not without its own complications:
What we do about history matters. The often repeated saying that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them has a lot of truth in it. But what are ‘the lessons of history’? The very attempt at definition furnishes ground for new conflicts. History is not a recipe book; past events are never replicated in the present in quite the same way. Historical events are infinitely variable and their interpretations are a constantly shifting process. There are no certainties to be found in the past. (Gerda Lerner, via Quoty)
The history of our Church should certainly be explored, defended, and explained. We are an organization of imperfect people, with faults of our own, despite any heavenly mandate we may receive. Peter cut off a soldier’s ear and denied Christ thrice; Jonah initially abandoned Nineveh to its own deserving fate; Christ drove out moneychangers with a whip; Moses slayed an Egyptian. Controversy has surrounded men of God from the beginning of time, and our day certainly is no different.
While some may grasp onto the imperfections of others (as is facilitated by last night’s segment), Christ taught us to judge by fruit. Certainly a tree will produce a bad apple now and then, but the bushel should not be judged by the exception or rarity. Christ’s kingdom rolls onward with full force in our day, despite any seeming “controversies” that may have complicated its past.
If anything, “The Mormons” will hopefully encourage people—non-members and members alike—to more fully investigate the history and claims of the LDS Church. There are far better sources, however, than Ms. Whitney’s paltry portrayal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As one viewer has concluded,
While I had hopes that the program would be a fair-minded treatment of the Mormons, I learn instead that it is an ‘exposÃ©’ of the ‘wrongs’ in Mormon history. It is a smooth but bigoted and unprincipled assault on the Church.
Here’s to hoping that tonight’s concluding segment is not as mean-spirited and negatively biased.