Mormon News, January 4–8, 2016

In the News

The seizure of a federal building in Oregon by armed amateur militiamen, many of them LDS, has exposed a rift in LDS culture and politics, said McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed. Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, and about twenty lightpostsupporters, seized the Malheur wildlife refuge headquarters in protest of government land policies. Bundy’s religious rhetoric to defend his actions has many Latter-day Saints—those who long for broad acceptance—cringing, while others support Bundy. “On one side of this rift is the religion’s mainstream majority, heavenbent on assimilating and thriving in American life; on the other is a narrower swath of doomsday ‘preppers,’ Glenn Beckian gold hoarders, and fiercely anti-government libertarians,” wrote Coppins. For its part, the Church denounced the actions of Bundy and his supporters in no uncertain terms.

Sarah Scoles, a former Mormon writing for Slate
, reached out to several Mormon lesbians for their experience in the church and the painful efforts to juggle their faith and their sexual identity. As Scoles related, when one’s entire identity is founded on Mormonism and then, sometimes in an instant, it’s gone, it creates a crisis. The latest policy change in the church caused more challenges. The women made progress and with a single announcement, “it’s like I lost it all.”

On the Blogs

With Ammon and Ryan Bundy dominating Mormon-themed news this week, many Latter-day Saints expressed frustration that church members who openly violate federal laws and seize buildings by force were not subject to the same kind of church discipline—including excommunication—as others. Sam Brunson took issue with this logic and wrote that “Excommunication shunts off some of those imperfect people, and its threat discourages other imperfect people from participating. And that hurts all of us.” Excommunicating the Bundys would only “further legitimize excommunication as a tool for dealing with sinners and bad actors, and would move the church further into the space of a resort for saints, rather than a hospital for sinners.”

In Pop Culture

Star Wars: The Force Awakens rocketed to the number-one domestic grossing film of all-time this week, and it did it in twenty days, a fraction of the time it took Avatar, the previous record-holder. According to Google statistics, Mormons made up a large part of the audiences that saw the film. Matthew Bowman explored why Mormons have such an abiding affection for Star Wars in particular and sci-fi and fantasy in general. He also looked at the (false) rumor that Yoda was based on Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball.

Speaking of Mormonism and science fiction, a new series on the Syfy channel, “The Expanse,” includes interplanetary Mormon missionaries. The show takes place 200 years in the future, which is why the LDS Church has managed to build a massive spaceship called the Nauvoo to transport its missionaries throughout the galaxy. While the Mormon theme in the series is not the main plot, it continues to grow and develop as the show progresses.

Another new TV show, “Those Who Can’t,” takes a subtler, albeit more critical, approach in its nod to Mormonism. The show, about emotionally stunted teachers, takes place in fictional Smoot High School, named for former apostle and senator Reed Smoot. The series creator, Ben Roy, clearly despises Smoot, whom he blames for prolonging the Great Depression, among other sins, and enjoyed the chance to poke fun at him, if only via his name.

News update by John Hatch