Thursday, October 29, 2009

A new report on Prop 8

The Heritage Foundation has issued a new report on the discrimination faced by supporters of Proposition 8. It is a powerful assertion of vicious anti-democratic approaches to an important issues. A worthwhile read for all Latter-day Saints and those interested in civil society.

In defense of the press, many of the stories in the report were reported by the news media.

Read the report here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sad News in New England

A vicious, stabbing, random murder in New England involves a young suspect who is Latter-day Saint, who reportedly had been considering a mission. A horrific crime that seems to have no explanation.

The heart-wrenching nature of this tale must have caused many broken hearts. I have read a few reports about this and see nothing too bigoted in the coverage of Mormons -- indeed, one article seemed to blame that fact that the young suspect had a hard time fitting in, almost as though the community somehow shared some blame for this atrocity, assuming the young man is guilty of what is alleged. While such a linkage between a Mormon missionary and murder is frustrating, but isn't the fault of the press.

Alas, what often riles Latter-day Saints is when the press reports that a suspect is Mormon, but not the religion of other suspects. I am not very troubled by this, actually, for two reasons:

First, as Latter-day Saints, we wish to be seen as examples, as a light on a hill and a peculiar people. If we are to wish that, we should accept the other parts of it, when our members go wrong.

Second, as a Mormon and journalist, I am aware of times where journalists haven't identified Mormons in print, even when there might be nominal news value in doing so. I am aware of a time or two when such coverage may have hurt the church, actually, but wasn't printed as a connection. So, to be fair, journalists generally do follow professional norms in ways that readers don't always understand.

So, no need to complain of the linkage here. It seems relevant to this story -- how could a good kid go bad?

Beyond that, one of the great challenges of being a peculiar people who has suffered persecution, can be a kind of group-think and sense of persecution that can lead to lashing out and pain to others. It can be dangerously isolating. As an LDS member, this sad story again demonstrates the need we have in using care, especially around our teens, in telling the stories of Mormon persecution.

God bless the families involved in this travesty.

Friday, October 9, 2009

My family and the book of Mormon

It has come down to me a late 1800s copy of the Book of Mormon that my 2nd great-grandfather -- and his daughter -- was converted with. It is a family treasure.

My cousin treasures another copy of the book that converted another of our ancestors about the same time.

It needs to be remembered how much this European sacrificed because of the firm testimony they received of this book, fleeing country and family, at times. To come to America where she lived in a tent in the foothills near Provo. My great grandmother suffered a terrible burst appendix as a child and was told she would never have children, but faith helped her have one child, my gentle grandfather.

All this was driven by the results of this remarkable book, the Book of Mormon.

I attach a quote from Elder Holland's talk that critics must answer, if they are serious about their firm attacks on the faith:

For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator. In this I stand with my own great-grandfather, who said simply enough, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.

Another witness

In my study of Mormons and the media, one thing has repeatedly stood out: how little care there is in reporting on the Book of Mormon.

While I am largely grateful for the writings of journalists in that their stories of what Joseph Smith said about the Book of Mormon are largely accurate -- telling as they do about golden plates.

They rarely, if ever, however, go into the teachings of the book nor do they really make the Book of Mormon seem as the profound religious challenges that it is. Journalists never frame the story as: what if Joseph Smith really did see an angel in his small bedroom in New York and if he didn't, how, seriously, did Joseph Smith produce a work of such remarkable depth and breadth amid such poverty in such a short time and how is that he was he willing to die for his testimony of the work.

So, my faith in the Book of Mormon has increased, as has my desire to have reporters get -- and report -- what we are actually saying, in all its dimensions.

Hence, this week, I was greatly moved by Elder Holland's talk at general conference on this remarkable book. I urge anyone to read it. To be a serious critic of Mormonism, you must get through the Book of Mormon's origin. No one has successfully done so.

The return of Angels in Washington

The Washington Times is reporting today that Tony Kushner's play Angels in America, which won him a Pulitzer in the 1990s, is back in the Washington D.C. area.

The stellar review of the play was much like the reviews of the 1990s. As my friend Dan Stout observed back then, there are very few writers who even care to notice how painfully mocking the play is of my Mormon faith. The angel in the title is a deliberate metaphor on Angel Moroni. A dying gay man, the plays hero, in that sense, becomes a symbol of Joseph Smith. One scene was set in a visitors' center.

Mormonism in the play is the symbol of all that's wrong with America. I believe the play, therefore, may well be responsible for some of the hostility gay America has felt for Latter-day Saints.

The play mocks Mormon doctrine and the Book of Mormon origin story. Now, I have never chosen to see the play, but I read it when I was a young reporter so I could carefully write about it at the time, so it remains startling to me how few journalists care to point out the bigotry inherent in the play's heart.

Is it that the stereotypes of Mormons are so unquestioned that people don't even see them as bigotry? Is it that Mormonism is so unknown that people don't realize how offensive it is? Is it that Mormonism is seen as just another religion and there is a general antipathy toward religion?

I urge reviewers to think if an ethnic minority were portrayed as Mormons are portrayed and ask whether the play could, in fact, be deeply offensive and ask why. I suggest that Latter-day Saints quietly avoid seeing it. Its author deserves no more money for this terrible play than he has already received.