Timothy Dalrymple the Director of Content of the Evangelical portal at Patheos recently published a series of articles concerning the publication of hidden camera videos inside a number of LDS temples. One of these videos in particular has recently gone viral (over 1 million views as of this writing).
The first article is an interview with “NewNameNoah”, the individual responsible for creating the videos and uploading them to YouTube. “Noah” is remarkably straight forward about his motivations and I think you’ll probably have an accurate idea of who he is and why he published the video.
In the second piece Dalrymple considers why Evangelicals should defend Mormons against mockery.
Evangelicals are not wrong to be concerned about the growth of Mormonism. The truth matters, and I like many of my evangelical brethren am convinced that Mormonism does not fully teach the truth of Jesus Christ and his gospel. But we are wrong to let that concern, that suspicion, that fear, drive us to treat Mormons worse than any other religious group in America. It’s not a matter of compromising our commitments to truth, but of fulfilling our commitments to love. Just as it would not be loving to let the saving truth of Jesus Christ be distorted, for in that truth is the liberating message of God’s forgiveness and provision for all people, so it’s not loving to misrepresent what Mormons believe and condemn them in vicious and exaggerated tones.
More to the point, it’s unloving to communicate the truth in such an unloving manner that our hearers conclude that whatever is delivered by people who behave in this way cannot possibly be true. God’s Word comes to us “full of grace and truth.” It is never morally or Christianly acceptable to secure the truth by abandoning grace. The end does not justify the means.
The third article concludes Dalrymple’s thoughts on protecting Mormons from ridicule.
Do the rituals recorded in those videos seem weird to me? Yes, of course. Just like the Eucharist must seem bizarre to people who don’t understand its world of symbolism. Is there anything wrong with having ceremonies that are only for the faithful, ceremonies that are meant to be kept secret? Of course not. Should Christians celebrate that someone lied repeatedly to gain admission, breached the rules to secretly record the proceedings, released those films with an obvious political agenda in the midst of an election contest, and invited the world to join in the mockery? Would that be a Christian thing to do?
The answer is obvious. Mormons view us as hypocritical when we tell them they’re not Christian, but then behave in a non-Christian way toward them. And, well…they have a point. To the extent that Christians take advantage of these videos to engage in more Mormon-bashing, they should be ashamed.
Though I’m sure it will distress some of my Mormon friends, I’m not sure my own response to the videos is as clear as Dalrymple’s. To be sure. Some of the videos are intended to mock Mormonism and some of the comments in the most popular video are skewed against Mormonism. I most definitely condemn those actions and comments. I’m not at all interested in that kind of activity. I also have no interest in using these videos as a means of bashing Mormonism. The timing of the release of the videos is certainly an effort to capitalize on the Mormon moment and the Romney campaign. Whether that be for political motivations or an effort to capitalize on the media buzz is of lesser interest to me.
It’s my understanding that the text of the endowment ceremony has been publicly available for close to 100 years. Secretly recorded audio of the ceremony has been available for over 30 years. It’s also my understanding that the only portion of the ceremony that Mormons actually covenant to not reveal are the signs and tokens. Mormons are culturally wary of discussing the temple at all but the vast majority of the ceremonies are not, strictly speaking, off limits for comment.
Someone showed me the tokens at some point in college, well before I had any real interest in Mormonism. Later while on a long car drive, a woman who had left the LDS church described for me what happened in the temple. Shortly after visiting a temple open house years ago my wife and I researched any remaining questions we may have had via Google. Already having knowledge of the tokens and knowing the rest of the ceremony was not off limits I didn’t think I’d be committing any harm by watching the full endowment ceremony (which included no commentary). I didn’t really learn anything new in viewing the videos. That being said, video is certainly a powerful medium and it put all of the elements together in a way I didn’t expect. The story of creation as told in the temple has certainly grown my understanding of Mormon theology. (For instance, I better understand how the Adam/God theory practically plays out in Mormon cosmology and I better understand how Mormons view the Fall as a necessary and positive step for mankind.)
Where I think I most radically depart from Dalrymple is that I’m not as clear headed that viewing the video is participation in mocking Mormonism on something akin to the level of someone defecating in my church baptistry. The ceremony is strange and unfamiliar but viewing it, absent commentary, is an observation that can lead to understanding. If I fail to speak out against the videos am I really doing the same thing as idly watching a Jew be physically abused by Skinheads? Is the existence of a video camera in the temple a desecration in and of itself? I most certainly understand the angst the creation of the video causes and would by no means enter the temple myself or assist in the creation or publication of the video.
I’m not certain that my religious values align with Mormonism in a way that I value secrecy in the same way as Mormons. Particularly considering that Mormonism claims these ceremonies to be an important, salvific part of Christianity. As a devout Christian I feel I have a stake in that claim and want to judge it for myself. I also think that Christianity does not reserve secrets about itself from outsiders. There is clearly an understanding that some things remain a secret to outsiders, but they are nonetheless clearly and openly taught. So to posit that Christian secrets must remain secrets seems to be something of an oxymoron to me. I simply reject that understanding of Christianity.
I think a question that has yet to be answered about these videos is “how will they change Mormonism?” I think it’s a given that these videos will have an impact. Might sealing ceremonies be opened to non-Mormon family members as a result? I think the window for that possibility is now open. I think you can count on a number of pre-initiatory Mormons to seek these videos out before their first temple endowment experience. Having a knowledge of what a member is covenanting to beforehand may have a positive or a negative impact on the willingness of those who have yet to experience the temple first hand. Will the knowledge that open house visitors might seek out these videos change how and why open houses are conducted?
Regardless of your view of the videos I think we can agree that this is a moment where Mormonism changed, be it in policy, practice or perception.