Rock Center, Mormons, you know.
So, tomorrow is going to be a big, hairy day and I REALLY should be in bed, but I have to write what’s on my mind before I forget or decide there are other things to do instead.
So here goes.
Tonight I watched the special on Rock Center about being Mormon in America. I expected it to be bad. In my opinion, it was most definitely not bad. Let’s talk first about the good things. I’m assuming you’ve watched it, so I won’t go into super deep details here.
#1. The interview with Jet Blue guy was great. Super cute to hear him sing “Put your shoulder to the wheel.”
#2. They could have thrown a dart on a Utah map and easily picked a totally dorky Mormon family to spotlight, but instead, they picked a really great family in Lehi, who, to top it off, was interracial.
#3. The segment on Welfare Square was nothing short of divine. I’m still smiling about it.
#4. So many Mormons they interviewed specifically mentioned Jesus Christ. Yay!!!!
#5. They had a real life church historian answer a few questions about polygamy. Not too in depth, but that may actually be another positive. Overall, consider that unlike most TV specials about Mormons, this one didn’t make us look just like the Warren Jeffs folks. That is one great big gigantic victory in my book. (I do wish they had been able to interview our prophet or an apostle at some point in the show.)
Now for some of the negatives. And some of these actually are still positives in a way. Stick with me here.
First I’ll get the clear negatives out of the way first.
#1. Garments. Tacky to show a picture, of real humans wearing them, no less. I understand why a journalist would want to, because that’s all people ever want to know about Mormons these days. The underwear. But it definitely made me cringe. A little offensive to see it all there out of context. So there’s that.
#2. The account of The First Vision left out the most important part. Sure, Joseph Smith saw Moroni. But first, FIRST, he saw The Father and The Son. I know the special was only an hour long. But that could have been included fairly swiftly, without delving into the whole story.
Those were my two main things. So now for the tricky things.
I’ve seen a lot of people complaining on facebook about the ex Mormons or unorthodox Mormons who were interviewed. Let’s start with the exes. First, Huntsman girl: Probably not the best authority to ask about the temple since she probably hasn’t been. But certainly an expert on the way it might feel to not be able to go there, and that’s fair game for a secular journalist to tackle. Next, Book of Mormon Musical cast guy. Actually I can’t even include him in the negative section at all because I really liked him. It really meant a lot to me that he could say so many sincerely beautiful things about what being an actual LDS missionary did for him. You know he wasn’t lying about it to make the church look good. He had no logical reason to. And he’s in a musical about how dumb Mormons are. (or at least what the writers think about that.) Anyway that was a touching moment to me and I know that was generous of him, considering the pain he’s probably gone through as a gay man leaving the church. So there’s that.
So now we also have the members spotlighted who don’t fit the typical mold. The celibate gay man who holds a leadership position in church. I’ve seen complaints that folks like him were highlighted. I don’t get why that would be a negative. I actually thought that was great.
I also have seen a lot of fuss made over the feminist Mormon woman, Joanna Brooks, pointing out that women don’t hold leadership positions. What about Relief Society and Primary? Well, they probably didn’t have time to include everything she might have had to say about all of that. I’ll bet it’s complicated. But let’s just stop right here and just say that if you were bugged by her, that she might not think the same way about all of those things that you do. You might not have any issues at all about things that are a big deal to her. Does that mean that she should be shut up, or that we should pretend to journalists that women like her don’t exist in our church? Wait a minute. Isn’t there actually something super uplifting about the fact that the Mormon church is capable of having very active members who are not all exactly the same? I think so.
I have seen a lot of different reactions to this TV special. The kind of reaction that makes the least sense to me is outrage and disgust. I’m trying to understand it. Maybe we Mormons get a little too much on the defensive. We huddle together where we can skip over some of the more complicated questions. We stick with people who are just like us. Then we get shocked when people unfamiliar with us want to pry a little deeper into things we might not want to talk about, because they aren’t issues with the people who are all exactly like us.
On the other side, there are these journalists who sincerely want to tell a good story, and I believe, as accurate of a story as they can tell in a short time. Why do they interview ex Mormons? What if all they’ve ever heard about Mormons is that they have to keep all of these big temple secrets. Maybe they could talk to someone who doesn’t feel obligated to keep those secrets anymore, but who might still remember them. In that sense, I think this TV special could have been so very much worse. They could have picked former members who were so much more bitter, who had much uglier stories to tell.
If you’re a Mormon, it’s tempting to want all the coverage of your faith to be just like what you’d see on LDS.org, or in a church video. Like Disneyland, where you see all the clean, shiny stuff and none of the complicated, hard stuff. Maybe you saw this show and you felt persecuted. That’s a little surprising, but maybe that’s how you define the feeling you feel, because of the mocking we Mormons sometimes get, that’s gone on since the very beginning. But maybe what it really is deep down inside is fear. Fear that the few cringe worthy moments are going to make people not like Mormons. Or worse, that people will decide they don’t like you. My wish is that we could all have a little more faith.
I’m rambling now. And I really do need to go to bed. In closing, let me say that I am a devout Mormon, and I really want to thank the folks at Rock Center for doing what I thought was a pretty great piece about my faith. I’m mature enough to believe you did the best you could. The end.