Tonight on PBS –“The Mormons”

Tonight (and tomorrow) on PBS be sure to catch the documentary “The Mormons”. It’s tough to say if this will be slanted one way or the other. It sounds like the LDS church is tempted to distance themselves from it for fear of the content. But they did cooperate a great deal in the production. Daniel Peterson, “the church’s highest paid apologist”, is in both part I and part II. Meanwhile “notorious” ex-Mormons Steve Benson (grandson of Ezra Taft Benson) and Dan Vogel (author of LDS history books) were both cut out of the program all together.

Here’s my guess. The program will generally show Mormons to be normal, happy, successful citizens. This image will be contrasted against anti-Mormon rhetoric about cult members, occultic practices, secrecy and polygamy. But it will also show historical information that the average LDS member (12 million and growing) is unaware of. I think we can expect to see at least a reference to the following: seer stone in a hat, Masonry, further investigation into Joseph’s polygamy and the circumstance surrounding the Nauvoo Expositor, The Book of Abraham discovery in the 1960’s, American Indian DNA, Mountain Meadows Massacre, and post-manifesto polygamy in Utah.

Should be interesting. What do you think will be in the program?

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10 thoughts on “Tonight on PBS –“The Mormons”

  1. I think you about covered it, Dando.

    I wish they would explore relationships of the LDS Church with American Zion and American government.

  2. I watched it last night and although I did notice some things that were wrong or stated badly. I thought the reference to Joseph Smith as the Alpha and Omega of Mormonism was a bad choice of words, since that title is reserved to describe Christ. Also, I remember them saying that Mormons believe that a child’s spirit before the age of eight is not fully formed, this is also not true. There were a few other things, but I don’t remember what they were right off hand (I took notes!!). I appreciated the coverage of the mountain meadows massacre. I had never realized what a horrible event that was. I can only image what the victims must have gone through. I noticed that they left a lot out that an “anti-Mormon” would have wanted to include, but they also left a lot out that I’m sure the LDS church would have wanted in there. I really do think it was well balanced.

  3. Yeah, I’m not sure what to think of it. I too thought it was well balanced but I recognize my bias. I’m most interested to hear what LDS thought of it.

    Personally I think the LDS church officials woke up this morning regretting their involvement. First Daniel Peterson explains the stone in the hat, then Richard Bushman states that Joseph had 30 wives and at least 10 of them were already married to other men, and then Dalin Oaks confirms and mourns the events of Mountain Meadows Massacre. Any faithful members who were unaware of these things is left scratching their head; “if those guys say it’s true, why didn’t I know?”

    I think there’s going to be a lot of talk about how this wasn’t Helen Whitney’s cut (as if that matters to the relevance of the issues) and William Bagley is going to be smeared.

    Here’s a link to people’s reactions on pbs.org http://www.pbs.org/mormons/talk/

  4. I imagine there are going to be a lot of members of the Church who are upset, but really the only thing that would not make them upset would be indistunguishable form a Church-produced documentary. Anything negative is going to come across as an attack, especially because Mormons cultivate a bit of a siege mentality (not that much, really, compared to other groups- and given Mormon history a siege mentality isn’t all that unreasonable, even if it is no longer warranted), and because criticism of church leaders is such a no-no, and the history that many Mormons are confortable with is the whitewashed “correlated” version.

    On the other hand, plenty of Mormons who know their history and are familiar with the issues will probably walk away form the documentary with a few nitpicky corrections they’d like to make, but mostly they’ll feel it was pretty balanced.

    Bear in mind I haven’t seen it, just read about it. So I’m making all kinds of assumptions here.

  5. Yeah, in the comments I’ve read, the LDS who are most upset with it are the ones who were hoping for a straight evangelistic piece. They aren’t interested in “where did the Mormons come from” as much as “why you should become a Mormon”. They were filling out their missionary referral cards before hand and don’t feel like they can use them now.That is a simplistic and unreasonable expectation.

  6. I have to say of my extended family I’m the only one that actually enjoyed it. Everyone else thought it was a hatchet job. Some thought they didn’t give a balanced view of what it is really like to be Mormon because they spent most of the time talking to excommunicated Mormons. But I thought even they were extremely kind to the LDS Church. I think I may have raised some eyebrows when I said I like it. I am glad the church gave it a favorable view in their respones. Not a comprehensive poll of LDS Church membership, but the best I can do.

  7. Oh come on, they spent a huge chunk of the program talking to the Tilleman-Dick family (some of whom are incidentally good friends of ours, and absolutely wonderful people)- absolutely active members of the active-st kind.

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