Beliefs Culture

The Ten Worst Stories About the ‘Mormon Moment’

On Monday we brought you the 10 best stories about the “Mormon moment,” courtesy of MormonVoices, a subsidiary of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. The foundation aims to counter public criticism of Mormonism, a job that kept them extremely busy through the recently ended presidential campaign. 

To reiterate, the views expressed below belong to MormonVoices, not to RNS, and we would be happy to hear your thoughts and comments on the list. 

(1) In September, Mormon blogger David Twede was summoned by local church leaders for excommunication proceedings. The Daily Beast ran a story accusing the church of orchestrating Twede's punishment in retaliation for his criticism of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, with the implication that the church was willing to act in behalf of a political campaign. In follow-up stories by The Salt Lake Tribune and The New York Times, Twede acknowledged that Romney was probably not the reason behind the discipline, and that the church had ample, non-political grounds to be concerned about his membership.

(2) Two articles are combined here to illustrate a single problem: reporters often try to communicate greater familiarity than they actually have with Mormonism. Jodi Kantor of The New York Times attempted to provide insight in to Romney's candidacy by delving into his Mormon beliefs. The results left many Mormons scratching their heads, as several telling details in her story were incorrect. Worse, Gary Willis in The New York Review of Books relied on his memory of a past encounter with a Mormon to establish faulty conclusions about Mormonism. 

(3) In Business Insider, editor Henry Blodget relied on a single source, Jon Krakauer's book “Under the Banner of Heaven,” to buttress his negative portrayal of Mormonism. Krakauer, however, is more sensationalistic than scholarly, presents as fact what is actually only slim conjecture. 

(4) The blogger Andrew Sullivan, in the name of transparency, posted a video of a secret recording of Mormon temple rituals. Mormons consider it extremely insensitive and sacrilegious to portray the ceremonies outside of the temple. Sullivan's implication seems to be that Mormons are alien and irrational. But the fact that most modern religions do not include esoteric ceremonies does not mean that such ceremonies must, by definition, be sinister.

(5) Ex-Mormon Tricia Erickson has been roundly criticized by many Mormons for her outlandish portrayal of the church. Her writing mixes a few facts, poorly sourced historical stories, and a certainty that Mormonism is plain evil. But CNN repeatedly allowed her a platform, and though they at least allowed respected Mormon scholar Richard Bushman to respond to some of her claims, news organizations would have done well to avoid her entirely.

(6) Lawrence O'Donnell deserves great credit for apologizing to Mormons, but he had a great deal to apologize for. His comments on his MSNBC show claimed that Mormonism grew out of founder Joseph Smith's desperation to cover up an illicit affair. This isn't even a rational conjecture, given the actual sequence of events in Smith's life.

(7) Fred Karger ran for the GOP presidential nomination but never gained much support. Much of the coverage of his campaign focused on Karger's attempt to discredit the Mormon church for its role in California's Proposition 8 vote. That's fine as far as it goes, but several reporters and publications allowed Karger's charges to run unchallenged. For instance, Karger says that the Mormon church “pled guilty” to “13 counts of election fraud” after Proposition 8. This statement is wrong. The unintentional failure to fully comply with California election regulations is certainly not the same thing as criminal fraud, and it is malicious of Karger to say so.

(8) The Book of Mormon is more than 500 pages long. Understandably, many people want to know what it has to say but don't have the time to read it cover-to-cover. This does not lessen the damage done in reports that The Book of Mormon teaches and even encourages racism. In The Huffington Post, Dr. Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. failed to grasp that though The Book of Mormon describes peoples' skin darkening, that narrative has no relation to modern blacks and is not even a straight-forward tale of racism on its own terms. Moreover, though the Mormon church did not extend full priesthood to blacks until 1978, it is welcoming of all converts.

(9) Bloomberg Businessweek's Caroline Winter contributed important reporting on the Mormon church's financial practices. But the magazine's cover featured a mocking scene with an angel, who in Mormon history is said to have conferred sacred priesthood authority on early leaders, instructing the men to invest in crass business ventures. Moreover, it is legitimate to point out that the Mormon church owns commercial interests, but Winter made no attempt to understand this in terms of what options a large organization has for managing its finances, and what demographic and financial pressures the Mormon church might be preparing for.

(10) An opinion forum in The New York Times asked several contributors: “What Is It About Mormons?” Four out of the five had nearly nothing good to say about the faith, and seemed intent on exhibiting and perhaps instigating bias toward Mormons. Readers were told that the church is “smothering,” has a “dark side,” and has been on “the wrong side” of many political debates. Readers learned little about Mormons' own perspectives.

About the author

Scott Gordon and Cassandra Hedelius

24 Comments

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  • Yay! As the maker of the hidden camera video mentions in item #4 I think this should be on the top ten BEST stories from the “Mormon moment.”

    Now potential converts to Mormonism can actually see what they are getting into BEFORE they get into it.

    Truth: 1
    Deceptive cult: 0

  • How is it that Noah can justify behavior that is fundamentally dishonest (i.e. surreptitiously sneaking in a concealed camera and filming a private religious ceremony without the consent of the other participants)? I can only surmise that for him the end justifies the means or in his mind he has totally warped the meaning of “honesty” to justify his actions.

    Geez. This is what anti-Mormons are willing to stoop to, yet we Mormons are the ones who are always said to be “lying for the Lord”. Go figure.

  • If one thing good came out of Romney’s loss – it will be that no one important will give Tricia Erickson the time of day ever again.

    Also, it means that the posted temple footage is probably going to fade off into unimportance as well. Since Romney didn’t win, no one is really going to care about it.

  • It has always amazed me to see the results of “hurry-up and print journalism” or just plain laziness on the part of some who are unwilling to put the time and effort in to checking facts and confirming details. The examples you have pointed out are full of such instances. While casting a dark light on the Mormon church, it nevertheless continued to put the Mormon church out there. And, perhaps as others have said, no publicity is bad publicity. It still provides an opportunity for members of the Mormon faith to talk about their beliefs and engage in more conversations with those who genuinely want to know more.

  • Given the Mormon church’s history and theology, there is enough, and more, to fuel speculative and incendiary comments. I say, let them come. They only serve to raise the curious question, Why do seemingly intelligent and informed folk choose to align themselves with such a “weird” religious tradition?

    Sure, you can slap uncomplimentary and anti-PC labels on them. But how do those labels serve to explain why people who know Mormons call them friendly, honest, family-focused and generally upstanding citizens?

    That seeming contradiction can only serve to attract curious folk who start with an open mind and an honest desire to uncover what’s really going on.

  • Andrew Sullivan and Laurence o”Donald seemed especially misleading and crass in their submissions on Mormonism. As an active Mormon and retired University Teacher, I found their articles full of error and without merit.
    Dr. S.A. Beck, Smithfield, Ut.

  • That was a painful litany, but necessary. Bias against Mormons is the one prejudice allowed openly in society today. These articles are all very good examples of ignorance and bigotry. I appreciate efforts to set the record straight.

  • Mark Twain said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been tried and found difficult and thus abandoned. Considering the number of former LDS members represented and quoted in these articles, apparently the same can be said about Mormonism. These articles are more sad than insightful.

  • The racism angle was a particular low point. The Book of Mormon message is specifically anti-racist emphasizing that whoever keeps the commandments will be favored by God and whoever does not will not enjoy such benefits regardless of race or previous condition of chosenness.

  • That about sums it up. Unfortunately, I read many of those articles. I also commented on the a the time of their publication. I’ll not click on their links any more though. They don’t need the traffic. It must have been a difficult decision to include them.

  • I don’t expect everyone in the media to do the extensive investigation that should underpin every story that is printed! However, after reading some of the articles, and knowing the fuller background, it makes me wonder how accurate is the rest of the information they are reporting. Are the political stories as ‘accurate’ as they claim? One has to wonder if they are so biased in one area, are they biased in any other?

  • Good point Inez! Like most industries, the media answers to the mighty dollar. In this case, there is a deadline, a desire to market any article, and the wish to appear “politically correct” by finding something inflammatory. A writer or commentator is busy. Add those up, and you have an environment that publishes what will sell, and too often throws it together to get it done. What is sad, is how this “microwave-media” influences public perception of everything from religious belief to lipitor. Good job Scott and Cassandra.

  • It’s interesting that so many intellectual people who cry out for tolerance are only looking for acceptance of their own views without extending that same tolerance to others who disagree with them. Thank you for bringing these biased articles to light.

    I agree with Graham A. above. Some VERY intelligent people have studied Mormonism and accepted it for themselves. I understand that it may not work for everyone, but if great minds can accept it, can it be that far out?

  • A double blessing on your heads! After first sharing some of the best articles of LDS beliefs, to then go further and share what ( and why )  some are the worst articles, I believe gives balance.
    ( dogs are smallish animals with four legs and a tail often, kept as pets. However,  all such animals are not dogs, some are cats or even lizards or other animals ) 
    Thanks again !  

  • Especially the negative ten articles reflect the journalism of our times. Journalists finish their formal academic training with an understanding that writing has to “sell” and promote profit for the medium. But they also have an appreciation that their objective is to promote liberal ideas in defense of conservative error. Add to that a dose of generally anti-religious bigotry, which is typical of their day and training and which is enhanced by a sense of anti-Mormonism in particular and you have reason to expect what we got.
    Even in the more positive articles and pieces, I suspect some of us Mormons were pleased that they were simply not as bad as we had expected. So it is a real pleasure to encounter those rare journalists who do allow themselves some objectivity and refuse to begin their queries with an attitude of hostility. Thanks to them for taking the higher road.

  • Eek some of these articles made me shudder a little – I’ve been a Mormon my whole life, and there is no ‘dark side’ of the faith. The temple is a beautiful, peaceful place to go to.

  • Allow though I do not agree with how the articles outlined here where written. I found that it provided a unique perspective. It enabled the sincere truth seeker to dig deeper, to seek after what was true and what was not. Plus, the comments sections on these articles provided opportunity for the truth to be told. Some may have been turned off to the LDS church, but it is my opinion that those that really wanted to know and respect the church’s believes would have sought out the facts.
    Although, these were quite negative I found that overall they helped people build and find a respect for the church by igniting a desire to find out more.

  • It is instructive that criticism of the LDS Church resorts to superficiality, deception, untruth, and plays on paranoia. This becomes plainly evident when a person gains first hand knowledge of the Church and its members and how they treat others. I don’t accept the faiths of Baptists, Catholics, Jews, or Muslims, but I respect their sacred traditions and I recognize the good all do as they love and care for their families, respect the rights of others, and build better communities for all in which to live peaceably. I don’t claim perfection for myself or my Church, but I think most of us are trying to get it right.

  • All groups, whether religious or secular, have aspects that seem unusual or even strange to outsiders, but perfectly sensible and normal to insiders. It’s part of what makes us human, flawed and imperfect. The best impulses in our nature are to give others the benefit of the doubt, to be empathetic, and to try to understand why others believe as they do. The current fragmentation of our society is the direct result of pandering to our worst impulses, with no concerted effort on the part of churches, the media or our political and other secular leaders to turn away from this downward slide. To continue down this path will lead to our destruction as a society. It is incumbent on individuals to speak out against divisive behavior and speech, and to speak truth. The Golden Rule is the perfect place to start.

  • There are many things that are said in the defaming of a church that does nothing but try to help people come closer to Christ through covenant making and service to others. Morality is shunned upon in society today. As you can see by the false claims above!

  • Note what the Book of Mormon teaches:

    2 Nephi 26:33
    33 For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

  • Much that is reported in the news media about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) is at best distorted and often just plain false. These news organizations sensationalize for increased ratings ($$$). I think, in the long run, they harm their credibility. Those who know the facts about Mormon theology, practice, and history know better.

  • The Book of Mormon was published in the year 1830. At that time there was little in the way of scholarly or archeological evidence to support it. Joseph Smith (and Mormons ever since) claim that it is a true historic account that really happened. We will call this claim one.

    The critics claim that the Book of Mormon is false and that it was fabricated by Joseph Smith and/or some of Joseph’s associates. We will call this claim two. Let us, therefore, set up a very simple and common sense guideline for evaluating these two positions:

    If the claim one is true, then we would expect, over time, that science and various branches of archeology, language studies, cultural studies, etc… would produce a convergence of data and evidence that supports the book. Even if there was no, or little, evidence to support the Book of Mormon in 1830, we would expect now, after 181 years, that at least some significant discoveries would have been made which verify or support different parts of the Book of Mormon. These would have to be discoveries or information that was not available to Joseph Smith in 1830 which were discovered since that time and which verify or support various parts of the Book of Mormon. These would be things that an author, who was fabricating a book, could not get right by guessing

    If claim two is true then we would expect the opposite of the above. We would expect that more and more details in the Book of Mormon would be shown to be false as more discoveries in archeology and other fields are made.

    It turns out that the longer we go, the more evidence is discovered which confirms parts of the Book of Mormon. There are literally scores and scores, probably several hundred, Book of Mormon details that are now confirmed or supported by evidence that was not available in Joseph Smith’s time

  • How can you score one for the “Truth” when the video was obtained in an unethical manner by someone who lied to obtain it? Not only did the person lie to get into the temple, he/she swore an oath (e.g., as a member of congress swears an oath to uphold the constitution) not to disclose the sacred and private ceremony.

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