Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Did you watch?

Ok, so who watched the PBS documentary on the Mormons? What did you think of it? I'd love to hear your thoughts. I watched all four hours of it. What an investment of my time. I kept thinking, "Only Mormons are going to make time to watch this WHOLE thing." I enjoy learning about other religions, but I don't think I would spend that amount of time over a two-day period watching a show about Catholicism or Buddhism.

I was very nervous the whole time I watched. I was surprised at myself for that. It was almost like the negative things that were addressed were personal attacks on me. I was very defensive throughout the program, so I don't know that I am a fair judge of the content, but here are some of my thoughts.

-I was so surprised to hear one person they interviewed say, "I hear the voice of Joseph Smith when I read the Book of Mormon." How do you hear the voice of an unschooled farm boy when you read that beautiful book of scripture? Call me crazy, but I hear the voice of the Lord.

-One of my favorite quotes of the whole show was a non-Mormon man who said, "If we doubt the origins of Mormons because they seem outlandish, we have to doubt the origins of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All religion is based on miracles." I loved that! Just because our miracle occured in more recent history, people seem more likely to dismiss it or think we're crazy.

-One of the men interviewed said, "Why were the Mormons so hated? It's perplexing." What a good question. I can understand how polygamy would bring hatred and misunderstanding, but long before polygamy was practiced, the Mormons were heavily persecuted. And they talked about how the extermination order issued against the Mormons by the state of Missouri was the only time that has EVER happened in this country. I think that had a unifying effect on members then and continues to have that effect now.

-One of my biggest complaints about the program: I felt like none of the strong, faithful commentators were women. Where was Sheri Dew? Where was Susan Easton Black? I felt like this was a subtle way of perpetuating the notion that women are second class citizens in our faith.

-I understand that they needed to discuss the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but did they have to spend 1/2 an hour--25% of the first show on it? That seemed overboard to me since it was one isolated, tragic incident.

-The program was very clear in stating that polygamy is NOT part of the church's practices at this time, yet they spent a HUGE part of that segment talking about people who are currently living it. That was confusing.

-I've worshipped in dozens of LDS congregations all over the country throughout my life, and I've never sung a hymn where we were standing up and clapping. What was up with that clip on the second day?

-That was a very complimentary, uplifting segment on the welfare and service aspect of the Church.

-They talked about how part of our identity as a church is being a peculiar people, but that we've become so mainstream that we're "wrestling" with the problem of being too much like other religions. I disagree with that. I definitely feel that we still stand out in the crowd and have a sort of mystery and curiousity about us.

-That returned missionary making the "suicide bomber" comment was outrageous.

-I was uncomfortable during the entire segment on the temple. They just came too close to publicizing the things that I hold most sacred.

I realize I've highlighted mainly things that bothered me, but there were lots of good things about the show as well. I love that they interviewed President Hinckley and Elder Holland and Elder Oaks. That seemed like a really neat family of 13 that they interviewed. I enjoyed Elder Jensen's testimony about missionary work. I thought they did a fair job of presenting both angles of most of the issues. If you watched, I'd love to hear what you thought.


Seth said...

While I haven't watched the Tuesday night broadcast yet, I was glued to Monday's broadcast, knowing that several of my coworkers would be watching the same.

One of my biggest pet-peeves is when anyone perpetuates a conclusion they've drawn as fact or historical accuracy.
This seemed to be prevalent on Monday night's broadcast. The interview with which I was the least impressed was Kathleen Flake. She had a blatant distaste for the church.

I was disappointed that 1 hour on Monday night was devoted to the Mountain Meadows Massacre and Polygamy. However, Elder Dallin H. Oaks response to the Mountain Meadows Massacre question was perfect.

By the way, you can find the transcripts of the interviews at:

Carrie said...

As Seth mentioned, we watched the Monday night broadcast and taped the Tuesday night conclusion to watch tonight.

I was uncomfortable almost the entire time. I did not feel like it was an accurate representation of our history. Although they had some accurate historical information, the commentators would skew it with their opinions. Some of those commentators were almost erupting with an intense bitterness and clear hatred of us.

I did not feel like it was a balanced documentary. I think that it was trying to be contraversial to be interesting. I was very glad that I did not invite any family or friends to watch it.

But....I also think that maybe it will open some doors for missionary work. Maybe the missionaries will knock on the door of someone today that saw the program and has questions. Maybe you will get into a discussion with a coworker that might not have happened otherwise. You never know....

Natalie said...

I didn't watch the documentary because I was affraid it would be too negative and burst my bubble. I am in a good place right now with my testimony and faith in the church and didn't want to hear anything that would damage that and wasn't uplifting. David wanted to watch it, but unfortunately the dvr couldn't handle one more show...I took that as a sign for us not to watch it. But I am glad to see that other people watched it and that it wasn't completely one sided (negative that is). I am like you Andrea, I would have taken everything negative as a personal attack!

Greg & Nicolle Sherwood said...

Are you saying that you would like to have someone singing like that Andrea?


andrea said...

Are you volunteering Greg?

Amy said...

I haven't watched the Monday night portion yet (it's recorded), but watched about 75% of Tuesday's. I also felt nervous the whole time they were talking about the temple. It's pretty clear what you absolutely shouldn't talk about, but some of what they said was borderline for me and I would never say - especially the part about what was taken out of the ceremony in the 90's. I never knew that, but even though it's been taken out, I wouldn't talk about it in that much detail. Overall, I don't think I really like documentaries like this. I watch them because I'm curious about what they'll say, but I don't feel uplifted by it.

Jeremy said...

In my opinion, it is impossible to make a fair, accurate documentary on a religion, any religion. If you do not have faith in what you are researching, it all comes across as outlandish and unbelievable, mainly because you don't believe. If you are a member of the faith, you can't be objective because you believe whole heartedly. Therefore, I found most of the documentary to be trite, and sometimes mean spirited in it's commentary on the church. There were some very beautiful pieces that slipped in there and helped uplift us from the negative, but it seemed that for every 1 uplifting look, they had 4 detractors ready to jump. Here are some observations:

-Apparently, everything hinges on money. Joseph Smith left Kirkland because of money troubles, he founded Navoo as a moneymaking scheme, and we as members are forced to pay a "sacred tax", not tithing mind you, a "sacred tax" which we have no clue what it is used for but must be going into someone's bank account somewhere since no one will give a full accounting of how much tithing we pay. Sorry, sore point.

-The inclusion of the suicide bomber comment was a completely tasteless cheap shot from a very bitter person.

-I too was very disgusted that they spent almost 1/3 of the first night on the massacre and polygamy. Also, it was interesting that they played the clip of President Hinkley saying that polygamists were not Mormon, then they continued to refer to them as polygamist Mormons.

-I throughly enjoyed all of Elder Jensen's remarks, as well as Terryl Givens' comments. Givens just made me calm whenever he spoke, and Erika commented on how eloquently he spoke about everything. She said that every word that came out of his mouth should be in a book.

So, before I make this too long, those were just a couple of my thoughts. It wasn't horrible, but without the Faith aspect, it could never be accurate.

Laurie said...

I've only seen parts of it. I thought it was very uncomfortable though. Too many commentators last night were those who had left the church or been excommunicated. They focused on excommunication, polygamy, political strife, the burdens of missions.... The welfare positive seemed buried in all the other. Of course I'm biased, but I felt it was YUCK.

Andi's Dad said...

Haven't watched it yet, but it's on our DVR.

I was reading some of the responses on the PBS website after Monday night's segment. I couldn't believe people were watching the same video. There were critics saying that the video must have been produced by the church because it was so soft on the crticism and there were LDS folks who made it sound like the worst anti- video ever made. I'm still not sure if they were watching the same thing :)

I'll give you more feedback after I watch it (of course there are things on our DVR from when you guys were here in December, so don't hold your breath).

grandpa hiatt in Sandy said...

We watched all four hours and were not disappointed. It's probably as fair as we're ever going to get from the media. Having read "Rough Stone Rolling" (the author was one of those interviewed on the program and is an active church memer and historian) I was prepared for many of the comments about Joseph Smith.
The thing that ticked me off the most was the juxtaposition of some pictures with comments. Two examples: Every time they spoke about how "dictatorial" the early leaders were, they showed a close up of a grim-faced Brigham Young. There are OTHER pictures of Brigham but the editors chose not to any of them.
Most flagrant,to me at least, was the overly-long segment on excommunications. And every time the excommunicated woman spoke about it they showed an obviously carefully-arranged picture of two or three rows of empty chairs, and one isolated chair in the middle of the room, facing the empty rows, thus suggesting, visually, that that is what this woman went through. In more than 30 years of stake positions, involving more than a few excommunications, I have never seen a high council room that looked that austere and forboding. That's pictorial editorializing, in my opinion.

Ang said...

The parts that bugged me the most:

--The ex-Mormon missionary who said he was so pumped up on his mission that he could have been a suicide bomber w/o thinking twice, and that he left the church because he didn't want his kids to "risk their lives" on missions. He was so obviously bitter. And considering how many missionaries have served, we have an extraordinary track record of safety, doncha think?

--All the time given to the Mountain Meadows. I don't think it should have been glossed over, but also think it took up waaaay too much time.

--I wish, too, that there had been more of a focus on the diversity among LDS women. Even the missionary segment really lacked much of a presence of sister missionaries. Although I do agree that it can be tough to live up to the "perfect LDS woman" stereotype, it made us seem more depressed and despairing than we really are.

--Various scholars who spoke with certainty on certain subjects that cannot be substantiated with certainty (e.g. the guy who said that through his studies he became "certain' that Brigham Young was behind Mountain Meadows" . . . because he knew what Brigham Young was thinking at the time!)

That said, I feel like the documentary did a relatively good job given the fact that it was produced by non-Mormons for non-Mormons. Our history, our beliefs and our culture are incredibly complex, and things that may seem simple to insiders like ourselves are quite complicated for those who aren't immersed in Mormonism. Those involved in making the program do not, at their core, believe the church is true, or Joseph Smith talked to God, or that the Book of Mormon is a real historical document, because if they did, they would be Mormon. That said, I believe that the filmmakers did a pretty good job (most of the time, not all) trying to represent the believers' point of view. Things I loved:

--All the quotes by Gordon B. Hinckley. All great.

--Everything the church historian said. (Is it Elder Jensen?) He's so smart and confident and came off as just plain good.

--The wonderful African American woman's conversion story. Made me cry.

--The segment on missions. Almost entirely positive (save for the crazy suicide bomber dude.)

--The segement on church welfare.

--The segment on families.

--The respect shown to Joseph Smith and our theology (like baptisms for the dead) by commentators not of our faith, such as Harold Bloom and the evangelical minister. Obviously, neither of these men are believers (or they would be Mormons) but they both admit to a certain "something" about this church and weren't afraid to say it. I think the non-Mormons were actually more willing to admit this than the ex-Mormons (which is usually the case).

Sorry this is so long, but it's been quite an experience to watch. So, for me, despite some very real issues, I felt that, on balance, this program wasn't bad, considering it was made by and for people not of our faith.

grandpa hiatt said...


KSL reported on the church's
"official response" to the program:
"Thought provoking" "Opens new avenues for dialogue."

Angie --Great comments.

Sandy said...

I missed it - but thanks for your great comments on it! My general opinion about this sort of thing is that there has, to my knowledge, NEVER been a totally accurate portrayal of our church and our beliefs by a non-member. I think without all the perceived drama (polygamy, "what really happens in the temple", etc.) and without any faith in the truly miraculous stuff, it wouldn't make very good TV...

Jayne said...

I'm always cynical of any religion's portrayal in the media. Likewise, it seems to me that the most visible members of a faith (politicians, athletes, entertainers, etc.) are often not the best representatives of their faith which further perpetuates misunderstanding.

Andrea, what is your conclusion? Is it a balanced enough portrayal for you to recommend that non-Mormons watch the show? Does it add to or detract from the interfaith dialogue?

andrea said...

Jayne--I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who didn't know much about the Mormon faith to evaluate the show. (That's not an easy thing for me to do.) I decided I wouldn't recommend it to a non-Mormon. There were some good, historically correct information as well as some accurate portrayals of modern members of our church. BUT, the negative things were SO sensational that I think that's what would stick in my mind when the show was over.

The Normal Mormon Husband said...

I watched most of it while I was traveling and thought that while the number of active members vs. anti-Mormons interviewed was fair, the themes selected as a whole were not. If a documentary focuses primarily on controversial subjects and "peculiar practices" (in LDS speak), the Church and its members will not be accurately portrayed no matter how many of the 12 they interview.

It did present some the good that the Church does in the world. Hopefully it will spark conversations about the Church that otherwise may not have happened.

Grady in Montana said...

My mother is a non-member, and she watched it. And she liked it. She said it answered alot of questions for her.

She has always felt uncomfortable, and ostrasized,(not good at spelling)since i was baptized. She hasn't ever bothered to ask me any questions, she just jumped to conclusions.

After watching to the whole program on the internet, I found it to be not as bad as i did just listening to a couple of peices on the first night. It could have been worse. They could have shown footage of men walking toward a temple with a arm full of chickens, and a few virgins. I have heard that's what we do in the temple.

I hope my mom opens up a little more because of it. Maybe she will even read the Book of Mormon I bought her the last time I saw her.

Good blog. Good responses.