Mormon News, December 8–12

In the News

An interesting aspect of Dr. Marie-Theresa Mader’s study of the LDS Church’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign is that the ads caught her attention at all. Dr. Mader is at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. That alone testifies to the global reach of the ad campaign. What Dr. Mader found is that the church is “eager to show its global nature.” Nearly half of the individuals profiled are foreign and about a third are people of color. But despite this emphasis on racial and ethnic diversity, there is no genuine difference Kate Kelly, John Dehlinbetween the individuals, she said. The ads all show family life at the center of the subject’s existence, but no distinctive Mormon beliefs. None of the individuals struggle with problems. The church members appear to be props being used to sell a product.

University of Utah Professor Colleen McDannell responded by saying that her impression of the videos was that they depicted people who were “nearly perfect and incredibly busy.” In all of the scenes, she said, the individuals are busy doing something; “there are no slacker Mormons” in the ads. The report on Dr. Mader’s study came from Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack, who was in San Diego covering the meetings of the American Academy of Religion where Mader and McDannell spoke.

One year ago the LDS Church released a “Gospel Topics” essay on priesthood and the temple ban, in which the church conceded that its former exclusion of blacks was because of nineteenth-century racism. Now African-American church members say they are frustrated that even in the wake of nationwide protests over the deaths of unarmed black men, racial issues cannot be discussed in LDS chapels and activism is not encouraged. It is too painful a reminder of the church’s racist past, so it remains off limit. But it is an essential topic, they insist, and one that could use the support of LDS voices and could lead to healing within the church itself.

On the Blogs

John Crawford, writing at By Common Consent, condemned the Mormon role in allowing torture of U.S. enemies. Jay Bybee and Bruce Jessen, two key architects of the torture program, are Mormon. If this is the best we can do, Crawford wrote, to produce such men, while the church during that time joined in ecumenical efforts to oppose gay marriage but avoided cooperating with other churches opposed to torture, then “we are morally bankrupt.” Many commentators took exception, insisting that church teachings oppose mistreatment of enemy combatants.

Nathaniel Givens, blogging for Times & Seasons, explored the increasing insularity of online forums and the hypersensitivity and trolling behavior of online commentators. Social media allow people to tailor what they are exposed to, leading to an echo chamber effect where one only hears ideas and beliefs one approves of. Givens found this to be unhealthy. “We need to reach beyond our comfort zone,” he wrote, to maintain a “healthy diversity” and “consider alternative ideas.”

John Turner, author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, has suggested a positive role for exposés in contributing to Mormon history. There are problems with the genre, he admitted, but apostates sometimes provide information that would otherwise be hard to come by. He cites Lynn Wilder’s Unveiling Grace as an example. Wilder was a BYU Associate Professor of Education when she left the church and converted to mainstream Christianity. Turner found it instructive to learn about this individual’s experience at a church school and what repelled her from Mormonism. In this same light, Signature Books is preparing a new edition of an 1834 exposé, Mormonism Unvailed, with useful historical information from eyewitnesses to the church’s founding that are not available elsewhere. The book is annotation by Dan Vogel, who provides context and helpful fact-checking.

News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor