May 2nd, 2007

The Mormons, Part Two

The second and final segment of PBS’ “The Mormons” which aired last night was, in my opinion, far better than the first. I was pleasantly surprised to observe the various topics covered in the two hour program, such as missionary work, family history, temple activity, and family unity.

The segment was not without its critical and negatively biased moments, however. Former Mormons shared their feelings on being excommunicated, leaving the Church, or being punished by disciplinary councils. Missionaries were painted as somewhat obsequious peons who were compelled to fit the MTC mold while learning deceptive teaching tactics in the TRC by observing their facial expressions and learning how best to present the message. Lay members were indirectly presented as blindly ignorant individuals who dare not become intellectual, because that would certainly lead to doubt and, ultimately, disaffection.

Despite any minor flaws I found or exceptions I took, I thought this second segment to be more much favorable to the Church and its message than the first. There were fewer errors and the negative bias, purposeful or not, was less prominent. However, all in all it painted a fairly gloomy picture of Church life (coping with terminal illness, homosexual tendencies, intellectual suffocation, loss of a loved one, etc.) that is the exception rather than the norm.

One of the many press releases the Church has issued on the matter states:

But even four hours and numerous interviews can’t cover everything. No doubt, some Church members will feel essentials were left out (the restoration of priesthood authority and a fuller description of women’s experience in the faith) and non-essentials left in (polygamist Warren Jeffs, for example). In a similar way, the historic practice of plural marriage and the tragedy of Mountain Meadows are far from the whole story of Church history or the experience and faith of members today.

That pretty much sums up my feeling on “The Mormons”.

The closing statement in the documentary asked, referring to the Church:

Can it survive the present? Can it move into the future?

Time will show that the answer to both questions is a resounding YES.

12 Responses to “The Mormons, Part Two”

  1. Steve M
    May 2, 2007 at 10:57 am #

    The segment was not without its critical and negatively biased moments, however.

    I’m sorry if I’m misreading your comments, but you seem to group criticism and negative bias together. For the record, I don’t think that criticism should be considered the same as negative bias. I thought the comments from ex-Mormons were pretty well balanced by those from faithful Mormons. I was impressed with how prominently Marlin K. Jensen figured in the production. He seemed to weigh in on almost every issue.

  2. May 2, 2007 at 12:48 pm #

    Part two still left a “so what” feeling with me. Was there anything clearly presented that would move me to inquire further–if I had not already done that, and I have to say “no.” Elder Jensen is a personal favorite of mine, and the bottom line on the Brethren and most of the members is that they did a superb job of relating the truth. My pick for night two was the wonderful Black sister who heard a “preposterous story” and was changed for all eternity.

    As a convert, the story of the Restoration is a fascinating series of waves of fulfillment of prophecy, first from Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ in person, followed by numerous messengers sent by them to carry out the work of bringing everything back for the final dispensation. Very little of this made it into either night. The focus by far was on Joseph, and almost nothing on how we feel about the Savior: as the head of the Church, as our Savior, as our pattern for all we do and for all we are striving to become.

    Although there were opportunities for greater clarity, overall, I would say Helen missed the point.

  3. Connor
    May 2, 2007 at 12:51 pm #

    I also disliked how various persons categorically denied any evidences or proofs of the Book of Mormon’s historicity. There are plenty of examples and explanations for the inquiring mind.

    Although there were opportunities for greater clarity, overall, I would say Helen missed the point.

    I agree with this sentiment. To show the bias the producer had in this film, I suggest reading this person’s experience.

  4. Steve M
    May 2, 2007 at 12:56 pm #

    I agree that the best moment of the documentary was the African-American woman’s experience.

  5. Steve M
    May 2, 2007 at 1:02 pm #

    I don’t know what to make of that person’s comment at BCC, but I really feel that if Whitney wanted to be more negative, she could have easily done so. I mean, she didn’t mention polyandry, blood atonement, Adam-God, Freemasonry and the temple. If you’re trying to attack the Church, these are really easy attacks. And I thought I heard something about PBS rejecting the initial edit of the documentary because it was too positive. Even after another round of editing, I thought the finished version was remarkably positive and even-handed.

    There were certainly things I didn’t particularly like, but it’s about the best treatment the Church can expect from a non-Mormon filmmaker.

  6. May 2, 2007 at 5:16 pm #

    Helen was fishing for doubts because she is not a believer. She’s obviously been curious though or she would not have embarked on this crusade. I would guess that she thinks this is all too fantastic given the dramatic music, art, and naysayers used in her documentary.

    Latter-day Saints who live their religion have ample encounters with the Holy Spirit. Those encounters will cast aside any doubts, and where there is light, there can be no darkness. “True believers” (or TBs as Doug Wright refers to them) make a daily commitment to live as Christ did, and yes, we have mortal slips but, speaking for myself, no doubts.

  7. Steve M.
    May 2, 2007 at 7:36 pm #

    I have a hard time believing that “true believers” seriously have no doubts whatsoever. I don’t think that faith is about the elimination of doubt. Rather, I think we are asked to have faith because of the doubt and uncertainty that are constants in mortality. If doubt were entirely replaced by certainty, then it seems that faith would become obsolete.

    If you don’t have doubts, you probably haven’t thought critically enough about your faith, if you ask me.

  8. May 2, 2007 at 11:07 pm #

    Steve,
    I think it’s a bit of a jump to expect doubt to be an indicator of thinking criticially about your faith, or to suggest that one must think critically enough to get to doubt. Of course there will be unanswered questions, but I think that is different from having doubts. One can have a surety of what is true without knowing or understanding or having answers to all things. After all, if it’s true, what else matters?

    As to Helen Whitney, I was interested to read that she might have been displeased with the final product herself.

    Connor, I agree that the second half was much better. There was a lot of heart, particularly in the piece on the family. Sister Stevenson made the whole thing worth it!

    I would have liked to see more balanced points of view regarding women in the church (we aren’t all depressed and oppressed) and about intellectual pursuits that can be consistent with faith (for each September Six person, there are hundreds of members who approach life with intellectual rigor and still maintain loyalty and faith and activity. Intellectualism does not have to equal excommunication — not by any stretch of the imagination.)

  9. Steve M
    May 3, 2007 at 9:28 am #

    M&M,

    I just don’t think doubt is antithetical to faith. Although, we may be using the word differently. One definition of is “a feeling of uncertainty about the truth.” In the Book of Mormon, Alma says that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things” (Alma 32:21; emphasis added).

    President Alvin R. Dyer once said, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not knowledge. When people say they are glad to have a knowledge of Jesus they speak in what we call a manner of speech. The gospel is a feeling” (“The Challenging and Testifying Missionary”).

    The theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Many Christians, as well as members of other religious groups, feel anxiety, guilt and despair about what they call ‘loss of faith.; But serious doubt is confirmation of faith. It indicates the seriousness of the concern, its unconditional character” (Dynamics of Faith, p. 22).

    In his interview with PBS for this documentary, Elder Marlin K. Jensen said, “And sure, you question, I think that’s part of life. I think it’s in that questioning, if you’re honest and if you’re really a true seeker–if you’re not just a skeptic sitting back and taking potshots at everything and everybody and their philosophy of life–I think it tends to bring one to a deeper seeking, and I hope that’s what my doubts have done.”

    As Elder Jensen points out, doubt isn’t just about being cynical of anything and everything. Rather, doubt is an element of faith. In fact, the uncertainty and imperfect knowledge with which we are blessed/cursed in mortality necessitates our relying upon faith–hoping and believing, even though we don’t know with absolute certainty.

  10. Paradox
    May 3, 2007 at 10:47 pm #

    The more I think about it, the more I realize I didn’t like the documentary as a whole. There were highlights throughout that were well-done. Polygamy had a lot of articulate points raised about it. The Black sister’s testimony was enjoyable, as others have already stated. But it missed the point entirely when it attempted to talk about Joseph Smith, excommunication, the leaders of our Church, and women’s roles within the Church and the family.

    Joseph Smith came off as an enigma instead of a person. And that may be what Joseph Smith is to people on the outside. To those who are a part of the LDS Church, you cannot help but love and cherish him, for all his faults, for what his obedience cultivated for us all. Whitney, as a non-member, cannot fully appreciate who Joseph Smith is to us.

    Excommunication came across as something that constantly hovers over the heads of the Saints, and that’s just not true. How many of us go through our lives thinking about excommunication? The documentary captured the gravity the punishment, but not the rarity. The Church isn’t like some kind of Inquisition that goes around excommunicating people just because it can. I personally never thought about excommunication until I watched the documentary, and I found myself thinking, “Wow. I wonder if I’m next.” And then I remembered I haven’t don’t anything that bad and felt kind of stupid. LOL.

    Did anyone else get the feeling that, in the context of that one sister’s excommunication (the one who now teaches Classics at U of Utah), the Church leaders came across as intolerant and cruel? Elder Jensen countered that well by asserting the Church’s role in protecting faithful Saints from faithless rhetoric. I felt as if the professor was glorified as a victim, and the Church was condemned for making her suffer, when in actuality, she brought her suffering upon herself. The whole point of being an intellectual is to seek knowledge. Just because knowledge isn’t made public in a paper doesn’t mean it wasn’t learned. Publically parading dilluted doctrine is of course going to invoke consequences from the Church. I thought the whole perspective of that segment was warped and unbalanced.

    And, to be honest, I don’t think the documentary made a sufficient effort to really portray the roles of women in the Church. Not once did it mention the Relief Society. Not once did it talk about, in depth, the women of the early Church. AT LEAST go into more detail about Emma. But no, she was mentioned in passing twice, if that. And only as a wife. Before the documentary portrays us Sisters as pill-poppers waiting to happen because we just can’t handle the pressure (or whatever it was they were getting at by the anti-depressant statement there at the end.) Women have their own special place in the Church. We aren’t just wives and daughters that “bake cookies” and try to be the perfect Mormon mothers. We have our own responsibilities to the Church itself, and to ourselves as Saints. Where were the working mothers to counterbalance the “baking cookies” comment? And what’s so wrong about cookies anyway?

  11. Connor
    May 5, 2007 at 4:19 pm #

    The local PBS station, in conjunction with KBYU, aired a program last night as a follow up to Whitney’s “The Mormons” that is worth checking out.

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