Sunday, September 09, 2007

Must Read News About Mormons

Here are three of the best news reports about Mormons so far. Two of them are from religious publications and one of them is outside of the United States. What makes them stand out is the amount of accuracy and unbiased information. They treat Mormonism as more than stereotypes. Most importantly, they are insightful and show some respect for the subject. All of these have some connection to Romney's run for U.S. President, as that has sparked the interest of the Press far more than it should.

It still follows too closely to the set paradigms set by other news sources, but Mitt Romney: proudly, quietly Mormon in The Christian Science Monitor personalizes where others have caricatured. Some of the noteworthy paragraphs include:

For three years, from 1982 to 1985, Mr. Romney served as the bishop, or lay pastor, at his church in Belmont, Mass. After that, he served nine years as "stake" president, overseeing about a dozen Boston-area parishes. But it was his time as bishop that gave him the most contact with everyday churchgoers. . .

He says the experience taught him that, despite the sea of happy faces he saw each week at church, everybody faces hardships. That lesson is just as vibrant for him now, as a presidential candidate, traveling the country and addressing crowds.

This could be the only time an LDS Church position was discussed rather than simply mentioned. A Bishop, Stake President, and even the President of the LDS Church are real people who are dealing with real people in the real world. Most of the other news reports have ignored that; and do that even with the leadership of other religions. Another worthy quote is:

But even in that answer, in mentioning Jesus Christ, Romney is treading on sensitive territory. Many Protestants and Roman Catholics do not recognize Mormons as Christian because the church does not adhere to the common view of the Holy Trinity. The Mormon Church, instead, sees God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost as three separate beings – God and Jesus having human form – who collectively make up the Godhead.

This is wonderful. It mentions the specific reasons that other denominations don't believe Mormons are Christians. Any observant reader can realize from this it is a matter of "orthodoxy" that others would find inter-religious bickering. And, best of all, it does not mention the completely false notion that Mormons believe God and Jesus Christ have flesh and blood bodies. Rather, it states the more accurate statement that Mormons believe they have human form that constitute a "Godhead" governing body. Still not a complete statement, but closer to the actual beliefs.

The rest of the news report is mostly about Romney, but touches on the more personal religious life of a Mormon through him. Politics of Romney aside, it is a well rounded report. The other news report Ahead of 'September Dawn,' Mormon Church revisits dark period is equally as well written and fair, not editorializing on any particular side of the story. So far, that makes two better than any other newspaper, including the ones in Utah.

The second read is A Mormon Goes West: The German Apostle that at least recognizes the stereotypes are not a complete picture. It still comes off as slightly condescending toward relgion in general, but has a couple profound statements despite itself. Among the best quotes from the piece are:

And why shouldn't he be doing well? His church now comprises 120,000 members in Japan, he reports, and the number is rising -- not just in Japan but worldwide, from Mexico to Brazil, from Asia to Africa.

This presents a picture of the LDS Church that really is global. Other news reports have said it almost as an afterthought, if they mention it at all. What the article says about the leadership is interesting:

The Mormons take that literally: They view their apostles as prophets in the Biblical sense, as mouthpieces of God, just like in the New Testament. The reference to "Latter-day Saints" in the church's name signifies that its saints are direct successors to Jesus Christ.

Nothing about how other Christians don't believe Mormons belong. They just state how Mormons see themselves. If only that were more common than quoting non-Mormons on what Mormons believe, instead of asking a Latter-day Saint who should know better than others. The insightful examination of leadership authority continues:

Every apostle is a prophet with divine inspiration; each of them is in direct contact with God. But just to be safe, none of them is allowed to turn his own private inspirations into commandments for all the faithful. The 12 can only answer theological questions collectively.

Yes, this is great research. It was much different with Joseph Smith, but a condition that American newspapers don't seem to understand or care about mentioning. That is why the old idea that one leader of the LDS Church can have a new revelation without repercussions is unfounded. There is one thing correct that others get wrong:

the secrecy with which it shrouds the rites celebrated in its temples

It might seem slight, but they point out the "secrecy" is in the rites. Most newspapers talk as if Mormons have everything as a secret. As has been said before, the doctrines are open for anyone who actually takes the time to do research.

There are some things that are completely wrong:

To them, God is a flesh-and-blood being -- married of course.

As was mentioned, this is everywhere and yet is mistaken at best. Then there is:

But the Mormon Church is a church in motion. They are strong believers, and they seek expansion rather than an intensification of their piety.

I'm not even sure that makes sense. At any rate, it is hard to reconcile to a religion that believes in becoming perfect as individuals through faith in Christ.

However, it would be nice if reporters would keep in mind:

There is nothing sophisticated or even intellectual about their faith. Mormons don't strive to harmonize faith and reason, like the pope, any more than they try to develop a theodicy, or a justification of God in the face of worldly misery, like entire armies of theologians from other faiths.

A pinch of Plato (all humans are spiritual beings even prior to birth) plus the Christian Sermon on the Mount and the capricious self-admiration of the first Mormon, Joseph Smith, who said that an angel had appeared to him and led him to a stone case with "golden plates" and ancient characters, which he was able to read using "prophet's spectacles" -- that's all the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expects the faithful to cope with.

The Mormons want their teachings to be that simple, which is why they don't have an elitist body of priests to develop elaborate interpretations of their faith. Theirs is a lay church.

The writer is laying it on a bit too thick, but at least the spirit of the description is on target. It would be nice if other reporters would consider that Mormonism has its complications, but the doctrines are not developed with sophisticated reasoning. It is, after all, a lay church where doctrines are as likely to be populist constructs than dogma.

Finally, there is A Mormon president? The LDS difference from The Christian Century that looks realistically at the political ramifications of Mormon doctrine and personality. For once it is thoughtful more than mere drive-by speculative. It is hard to find any particular quotes when the whole thing is worthy of reading. Some of the most important include:

But even if Romney were to explain his religious beliefs at length, I doubt that most people would feel more at ease. It is hard to imagine that anything Romney says on the subject would be taken at face value by the many Americans already predisposed to be suspicious of the LDS Church.

Regardless of the intention of the writer, I like how this puts the problem on the shoulders of American's with this attitude rather than Romney or the Mormons simply because others are ignorant or fearful.

Variety among Mormons is as common as in many other Christian traditions . . .
The LDS Church itself is only one of dozens of diverse Mormon groups that claim the Book of Mormon as authoritative. Although all share a common core of teachings, the groups range from some that could pass as Unitarian to the polygamist sect led by fundamentalist Warren Jeffs. The LDS Church, by far the largest Mormon communion, falls somewhere between these extremes.

There isn't much else to say. The first step to breaking stereotypes is to recognize there are always differences. And that is what happens with the whole of the article. Basically, what the writer states is that what outsiders have thought about Mormons is more complicated and different in actual practice and insider interpretation. Read this one and find your own good quotes.

1 comment:

Eric Nielson said...

Thank you for passing these along.