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What does The Mormon Candidate really say about the church?

March 29, 2012

John SweeneyA few days ago, I wrote about an article by John Sweeney for the BBC’ that featured some quotations from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. Well, it turned out that the article was simply the prelude to an hour-long BBC program, The Mormon Candidate. By Common Consent liveblogged the program when it premiered, and afterward, BCC’s Ronan Head wrote up a letter to the BBC featuring his thoughts about the program. I’ll summarize Ronan’s post with his last paragraph:

The real fact is that at the core of Mormonism is a rather plain, low church Christianity, with decaffeinated adherents who go about their lives paying their taxes, loving their families, serving in their communities, helping the poor, and making mistakes along the way. The vast majority of Mormons would not be able to see themselves at all in Sweeney’s documentary. The British public, who could do with a sensible education in this interesting faith — let alone the tens of thousands of British Mormons who help fund the BBC — deserved much, much better.

I think these are sensible comments. From my own post on the article, I thought that much of the article was bizarre…and when I finally saw the documentary, I still felt that way.

That being said, I think that there were some things that The Mormon Candidate was able to point out about the whole Mormon experience. At Main Street Plaza (where the program may be found in six parts in 720p youtube links…although it appears BCC has posted the entire video in one par that is at 720p quality), Chino Blanco discussed the documentary and described it as “a Mormon documentary for the rest of us.”

I can get what CB is saying. One thing that the faithful bloggers at BCC decried in their discusssions was how lopsided the coverage was…the program featured several ex- and post-Mormons, evangelical Christians, and even polygamists, but was comparatively light on heavy hitters in defense of the faith.

As kuri and Angela commented over at MSP, however, I don’t think that the most damaging part of the video are what ex-Mormons have to say about the church. Rather, especially with Park Romney, the ex-Mormons for the most part seemed paranoid. The eagerness of everyone to bandy about the “c” word with aplomb didn’t really help matters much — I still feel that the word “cult” doesn’t really encourage productive conversation.

And other than the people interviewed, the editorial direction (videographical direction?) was kinda tasteless, what with ominous or weird music being cued in strategically when Mormons were around. I mean, it definitely got weird at some points.

That being said, I think that Mike Rose (commenting at LDS & Evangelical Conversations) is able to capture what the most damaging part of this program is:

The thing that makes this documentary amazing isn’t the amount it relied on ex-members, but the amount it relied on the LDS Church to be embarrassed about its past, to lie about its past and then finally to admit the claims that were being made.

Here is the section of the video in which Sweeney talks with Holland:

At the end of this section are interviews with Michael Purdy and Elder Holland on the SCMC…and that leads to Jake’s post today from Wheat & Tares. In reaction to the ignorance (feigned or otherwise) that Michael Purdy and Elder Holland expressed with respect to the Strengthening Church Members Committee, he asks: “So who on Earth knows what the ‘Strengthening Church Members Committee’ is or does?

…even if the documentary was heavy-handed and polemic, I am still really confused about what the Strengthening Church Members Committee is all about. The official church release said that it was about teaching members about doctrine and alluded to gathering anti-mormon documents. The old spokesman, Don LeFevre, said it was about  collecting information for potential disciplinary action regarding criticism of the church, but Elder Holland is now telling me its all about Polygamy. With so many conflicting statements the whole thing is turning into a surreal Kafkan mystery in which we are like K in the Castle, who struggle to find out about a mysterious organisation that no one really knows what it is, not even the people who work for it.

Which leaves me to wonder…who on earth knows what the committee is or does? Do they even know themselves?

Are they letting on what they know?

So, the major issue here is whether Purdy or Holland are hiding something that they know, or if they simply do not know. If it is the latter, then the next question is: how can an apostle and the head of church PR not know these things? …That’s the rock.

But if it is the former, then the church shoots itself in the foot. If people suspect that the church is hiding the most distasteful aspects of its organization by playing dumb, then that’s the real PR nightmare. …and that’s the hard place.

I can understand that in a no-win situation like this is, then one is going to want to respond in such a manner…but at that point, there is basically no way out…no way to salvage the discussion.


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  1. Ironically, it may be easier for an outsider to un-abashedly defend the Church. Many faithful members have an instinctive wince or defensiveness. They want to drop uncomfortable subjects without discussion, or claim ignorance. Ignorance, or feigned ignorance is generally the preferred tactic.

  2. Jared,

    But without that instinctive wince or defensiveness, what would that outsider be “un-abadeshly defend[ing]”?

  3. (I mean, I know she’s not an outsider, but I think that someone like Joanna Brooks does a lot better job at defending things related to Mormonism because she’s more on the “fringe”. But let’s not kid ourselves: she is not *unabashedly* defending the Church, but rather an ideal church where the issues she doesn’t like can be renounced or set aside.)

  4. I think an outsider can look at Mormonism and see a robust spiritual community that produces great people without worrying at all about the origins or bureaucratic excess. When you abandon the idea that Mormonism is the end-all, be-all you can fully admire and defend its beauty and success without feeling at all uncomfortable that somebody might think you are weird.

  5. Jared,

    I’m not sure I agree. I think that Mormonism especially is something for which that one expression applies: “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it…from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” I don’t think that outsiders would be able to “fully admire and defend” its beauty and success…maybe partially, but not fully.

    Or, to put it in another way, if someone “fully” admired the beauty in Mormonism, then they would *be* Mormon.

  6. Right, “fully” is problematic. I suppose my point is that an outside admirer won’t feel the concern over appearances that the inside admirer will.

  7. matthewslyman permalink

    My own reaction:

    Sweeney claimed that the “I'm a Mormon” promotion campaign was set up to capitalise on Romney’s election campaign!  His criticism is anachronistic: I set up my own profile on before Romney announced his 2012 candidacy.  Has Sweeney considered other possible motivations?  After all the church has been actively & vigorously promoting itself for a LONG time, and against Sweeney’s theory of cynical opportunism, the “Mormon” church fastidiously avoided religious self-promotion during the SLC Olympics.  (This is just ONE representative factual complaint — I have no doubt I could list more if I spent the time to dig deeper and do that.)
    BIAS OF PERSPECTIVES.  Sweeney's documentary left me wondering how he would like it if someone published a documentary about his life in which his two ex-wives were given over 2/3 of the time in the final cut, and his only chance to speak for himself was to respond to ambush “gotcha” questions based on their weird & wild accusations? Or how the BBC would feel about a documentary “about the BBC” that focused similarly on interviewing disgruntled ex-employees.  The “Mormon” church would NEVER, EVER do that but just as a purely hypothetical question?
    Sweeney expressed SOME desire to learn about ordinary church members. He’s personally most welcome to pop into any of the hundreds of UK LDS congregations that meet every Sunday and find out which of his neighbours attend!Come and see for yourself how many of your respectable neighbours and countrymen attend the “Mormon” church: Map of LDS meetinghouses

  8. ashley permalink

    This documentary, if it can really be called that, is a joke. It’s obviously one-sided, hyperbole, lies, and half-truths. The entire documentary was about disgruntled ex-members of the LDS church sprinkled with a few moments of interviews with two church officials. I’ve been a member of the LDS church my entire life, and I happen to be a fourth generation member on both sides of my family. I, nor any of my friends and family, have ever seen any of this conspiracy hoopla. I’ve seen hundreds of members come and go over the years, and NONE of these people have ever been shunned, followed, or such. Most ex-members I know that have bad things to say about the LDS church are disgruntled because they were excommunicated for things like adultery and other serious offenses against commandments. It’s just really sad, in any case, that this show was supposed to be about the ‘Mormon Candidate’ but showed little about the actual Mormon candidate and his relationship with the church. Funny how a Republican Mormon candidate must undergo all this hoopla, but Harry Reid, a Democrat Mormon, is a-okay!

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