“The Mormons” on PBS

We have never suffered a shortage of outside experts who would explain us to ourselves and the world.

The first clipping in my newspaper file dates to April 1831, barely a year after the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “In the sixth number of your paper I saw a notice of a sect of people called Mormonites; and thinking that a fuller history of their founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., might be interesting to your community … I will take the trouble to make a few remarks on the character of that infamous imposter.” [1]

The latest entry in the catalog is the four-hour documentary “The Mormons” airing in two 2-hour blocks: Monday, April 30 on PBS’s American Experience and continuing Tuesday, May 1 on PBS’s Frontline (beginning at 8 p.m. on both nights on KUED and KBYU in Salt Lake City; check your local listings – and if anyone knows whether and where “The Mormons” can be watched via the Internet, please comment with that information).

What can we expect from this report?

The storytelling and production values will undoubtedly be of the highest quality – the producer is Helen Whitney, whose experience in covering religious themes includes “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero” and “John Paul II: The Millennial Pope.” In a recent interview by KSL-TV, Ms. Whitney tells us that her film will “make it much easier for people to understand what this church is about. I think so many stereotypes will be shattered.” Speaking of LDS members, she says “I hope that they will like it and be interested in it and discover themselves in it and perhaps even be surprised by parts of their history they didn’t know about.”

Ms. Whitney is clearly aware that her work will be viewed by two distinct audiences: Those inside the church, and those outside of it.

We need to keep in mind the existence of those two audiences as we anticipate, view, and later discuss “The Mormons.” Whether or not we are satisfied by this program could be greatly affected by whether or not we acknowledge the existence of both audiences.

I am a Mormon. If my expectations are completely shaped by my Mormon interests and loyalties, publicity for “The Mormons” gives me much reason for suspicious discomfort. I visit the program’s website and discover concerns in three areas:

Accuracy: The website refers to someone named “Wilfred” Woodruff. If they can’t get their facts right on simple matters that a cursory review should have caught, what hope is there that they will handle more subjective matters with any degree of accuracy?

Stereotypes: Ms. Whitney believes her work will “shatter stereotypes.” Yet the website prominently features fundamentalist polygamy and Mountain Meadows. While we recognize these as valid matters for press exploration, active Mormons can and do practice Mormonism for a lifetime without such things playing any role in their religious lives. Will the apparently heavy emphasis on these topics shatter stereotypes, or reinforce them? Can we “discover ourselves” in this film if these remote and tangential matters take center stage, crowding out a depiction of life in the church as we know it?

Fairness/Context: “”The only marriage sanctioned by God is of a man to a woman,” says Marlin Jensen, official LDS historian. “In the case of a gay person, they really have no hope. … And to live life without hope on such a core issue I think is a very difficult thing.” What a lot of ground might lie buried under those three little dots! I don’t know what Elder Jensen went on to say – that a gay person has no hope of having a homosexual union sealed in the temple, perhaps? – but as the elided quotation now stands someone who falsely believes that Mormonism condemns anyone for orientation can legitimately suppose Elder Jensen was saying that a gay person has no hope of salvation (Mormons, after all, believe marriage is a prerequisite to exaltation), or no hope of full fellowship in the church (Mormon life, after all, is centered on the family), or any number of other stereotypical but inaccurate statements.

If I were not a Mormon, I doubt I would be at all concerned by trivial issues of misspelled names. I would be very much interested in the more sensational matters connected to Mormonism (‘fess up, friends – if this program were about the Amish, you would be far more interested in shunning and genetic birth defects and matters of appearance and “wacky”[2] beliefs about pacifism than you would be in subtleties of doctrine and the daily worship that is central to Amish life). The chief audience for “The Mormons,” then, is understandably the wider American culture, not Mormons in particular. That’s a legitimate target audience – not the audience I care most about, but a legitimate audience. I need to evaluate “The Mormons” for what it is rather than for what I wish it were, or at least I need to realize that I might not be part of the producer’s primary audience.

What are your expectations for “The Mormons”? Make your predictions now, and come back to discuss your reactions after watching “American Experience” on Monday evening.

[1] “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine & Gospel Advocate (Utica, New York), 9 April 1831.

[2] This word is used because it was recently applied to Mormon beliefs; I do not consider pacifism a mock-worthy doctrine.

228 comments for ““The Mormons” on PBS

  1. Aargh! My apologies to Ronan, here. I had been working on this post since yesterday and responding to suggestions of my fellow bloggers, and had not seen that he had posted a related piece until after I posted this one.

  2. Thanks for this post. I like the direction you’re going with this.

    active Mormons can and do practice Mormonism for a lifetime without such things playing any role in their religious lives. . . . Can we “discover ourselves” in this film if these remote and tangential matters take center stage, crowding out a depiction of life in the church as we know it?

    I agree wholeheartedly with this statement and think the question is appropriate. Essentially, I think that the answer to that question is that Latter-day Saints actually are not really part of the intended audience of these films at all. They are perhaps a collateral audience — one which the producers know will be watching — but not one for whom the information assembled is meant to address.

    I wonder what Ms. Whitney has in mind when she makes a statement that these films will shatter stereotypes. Is it a cynical/ironic statement meaning that because it focuses so heavily on MMM and on the polygamist practices of people who aren’t even members of the Church, it will shatter the stereotype that many Americans have of Latter-day Saints as being straight-laced goody-two-shoes or great neighbors? Or does Ms. Whitney think that the films will somehow shatter the stereotype that Latter-day Saints belong to a weird religion despite their undue focus on MMM and on fundamentalist polygamists?

  3. A friend of mine attended a preview of parts of the documentary in NY where Ms. Whitney was in attendance. Of the three sections he saw, he was most struck by an the section which focuses, in its entirety, on dance in Mormon culture. Ms. Whitney told her audience this was her favorite part of the documentary because, as my friend related her comment to me, the importance of dance to Mormons demonstrates the integral role the body specifically and the physical world in general play in our theology. She said our love of dancing reflects our belief that the physical world is important in eternity–even God has a body of flesh and bones.

    This comment, assuming my friend relayed it correctly, gives me great hope for the documentary. Contrary to your comment, Ardis, I would be much more interested in what makes the Ahmish “tick” than I would be in their more controversial practices. I want to understand what would motivate such a peculiar people to act so differently from the critical mass of modern culture and society. Similarly, I hope Ms. Whitney can avoid, or at least get past, the “he said/she said” framework which could arise so easily in discussion of, for instance, the MMM (Mr. Bagley v. Bro. Jensen, for example), and instead get inside of us to understand why we are both different from and fundamentally similar to our “Gentile” brothers and sister. I hope she can demonstrate that our blood still runs as red as that of the rest of humanity even though our practices and religious rites are so different from those of much of the rest of the world.

  4. John F.,

    As an investigator, I should tell you that premature defensiveness is a real turn-off.

    Why does shattering stereotypes have to mean ignoring facts? A documentary on the Civil War would almost certainly mention a little pesky thing called slavery. And if the documentary were to focus on the war’s long-term effects in the South, it would also discuss the eventual abolition of slavery, the century-long struggle for civil rights that followed, and the racism that still exists in its most unabashed, unapologetic form in the most rural, backwoods parts of the South.

    Would such a documentary necessarily have to stereotype all modern Southerners as white-sheet-wearing, shotgun-wielding, N-word-spewing racists? No (and I’m a southerner, too! – at least originally). As long as distinctions were made between the mainstream and the fringe, I have no reason to complain, even if 20 minutes or more were spent on… oh, the KKK for instance, or any other solitary zit on the face of the South, despite its not characterizing the whole.

    So what do you call “undue focus”? I fear that many members would call any mention that constitutes more than a quick brush-over (or any mention at all!) to be “undue focus.” And that’s just not reasonable.

    Polygamy and MMM are real, relevant, and to many a distasteful part of the Church’s history, and to ignore them would be irresponsible, on many levels and to outsiders and insiders alike. Those outsiders who are curious are already Googling “Mormon” and finding any number of anti-Mo sites. Better they should hear the more difficult parts of church history from there? Or from a filmmaker who was apparently very careful in enlisting multiple points-of-view, including those of church officials? I can make the same point about insiders. Look, with the proliferation of information on the net, and so much of it falling on vague areas of the accuracy spectrum, the church really has no hope of glossing over what it once hoped to. If members are to learn their history without suffering a blow to their faith, I think they need to learn it early and learn it thoroughly… and learn the whole story.

    I know that there are church-members who believe that any presentation of the faith that does not (either explicitly or implicitly) endorse it must necessarily be suspect. But Whitney set out to create a documentary, not a missionary video. Endorsing the faith would have been irresponsible (and, frankly, taken the film out of the “documentary” category). At the same time, of course, condemning the church would have the same effect… moving the film from “documentary” to “propaganda.” In order to be sure she does neither, Whitney must present both sides, the church point of view and the critical point of view… the favorable, easy to swallow parts and the parts that may make you cringe.

    And Ardis, I would absolutely be interested in the doctrines and daily worship of the Amish.

  5. Anonymous and Interested — John F. echoed my own reservations, so I would appreciate your addressing such personal criticisms to me instead of to a commenter. If you are in fact an investigator (frankly, you use the lingo of online Mormonism far more easily than any outsider I ever heard from), you need to learn that members of the bloggernacle, including longtime participant John F., are not in the least shy of discussing difficult questions or having less pleasant aspects of Mormon history aired for the world to consider.

    We have reservations about “The Mormons” until we see that the program does in fact draw enough of a “distinction” between “the mainstream and the fringe.” No one but you has suggested that such reservations are equivalent to “ignoring facts” or a “quick brush-over.”

    You’re welcome to participate in the discussion, but please pay more attention to the civility that tends to be ignored when some people take advantage of the privilege of being anonymous.

  6. Ardis,

    I really am an investigator. If I seem unusually literate in the lingo, it is only because I read the blogs frequently.

    I realize that John’s comments echoed yours. However, I was somewhat heartened at the end of your post when you made the following acknowledgement:

    “The chief audience for “The Mormons,” then, is understandably the wider American culture, not Mormons in particular. That’s a legitimate target audience – not the audience I care most about, but a legitimate audience. I need to evaluate “The Mormons” for what it is rather than for what I wish it were, or at least I need to realize that I might not be part of the producer’s primary audience.”

    John’s comment, in contrast, read (to me) like more of an implied (and as I said, premature) condemnation (particularly the last paragraph of his comment, and more particularly the last sentence of the last paragraph) — a condemnation made before even seeing the film. It was that attitude that I criticized… an attitude that labels those segments “undue” focus simply because of their length, and without actual knowledge of the specifc content of those segments. I don’t see where I made “personal” criticisms at all.

    Perhaps I mis-read John, but after making the statement, “I wonder what Ms. Whitney has in mind when she makes a statement that these films will shatter stereotypes” (a statement which could pass for simple and understandable “reservations”), he offers two possibilities, both negative in the extreme. I can’t be the only reader who walked away with the impression that, at the very least, John F. disapproves of *outsiders* giving these issues more than a quick brush-over, regardless of his not being the least shy to dicuss difficult issues among insiders.

    I think I made my points both firmly and civilly.

    I have no idea if Whitney’s film has an anti-Mormon bias or not. But I’d like to think that even as a member, I would tune in hoping for the best rather than assuming the worst.

    I should also clarify (just in case) that I didn’t mean to suggest that most Mormons have pre-judged this program as probably anti-Mormon. After reading the blogs, particularly BCC, I actually have quite the opposite impression — I have the impression that most members (on the blogs) are approaching it with a very open mind, despite a reservation or two.

  7. I’d appreciate some help with what it is that is going to be shown on Monday and Tuesday. Is Helen Whitney Productions responsible for both segments (An “American Experience” segment on Monday, April 30 and a “Frontline” segment the next evening) or is her work solely the “American Experience” format, with which she’s worked before? The reason I ask is that my experience has been that the two programs have typically had quite different flavors or tones. In earlier posts I’ve tried to describe my impression of the two by referring to the programs’ narrators: David McCullough (or someone like him) in many “American Experience” programs and an unidentified, almost funereal voice (exuding the conspiratorial) in the other. The latter — accompanied by dark, muted video footage — is what I’ve heard/seen in the advertising on PBS recently. My hope is that Helen is responsible for both segments. I think she’s tried hard to solicit multiple viewpoints and to get it “right,” but who knows what other pressures have been afoot in shaping the final product, perhaps some beyond her wishes or control. Depending on the treatment during these two segments and audience reaction, this PBS offering could have an important impact on Mitt Romney’s candidacy, which comes along coincidentally. (Helen has been wortking on this since 2003 to my knowledge and perhaps even earlier.) My assumption is that this program may well constitute the most significant national focus on the LDS Church and its history this year and beyond. There is bound to be impact.
    By the way, I believe that Helen is a daughter of the late John Hay Whitney (Whitney Communications, including the old New York “Herald Tribune”) and former wife of Benno Schmidt, former president of Yale and now CEO of The Edison Project. The principal writer for “The Mormons” is Jane Barnes of the D.C. area, who has worked with Helen before.

  8. Bill, everything I’ve seen in the coverage in both Salt Lake papers and on local news, and discussions around the blogs, says Helen Whitney is the producer of both the “American Experience” and “Frontline” portions. She has said that she didn’t have control over the final editing of the documentary, which I suppose means at least in part that each PBS series could have edited the material to fit the style of their particuclar programs. Still, it’s her work.

    We’ll know soon enough, won’t we? :-)

  9. Bill, my understanding is that Helen is responsible for both segments. Tomorrow night is devoted to history, and the next night to the contemporary church. Each night is divided into six chapters.

  10. Eek. “Wilfred,” eh? If a news article about the history of the U.S., with a substantial section on the civil war referred to “Abram Lincoln”, what would you think? I would think, “What planet is this journalist living on?” How about “George Busch”?

    (If you missed the analogy, Wilford Woodruff plays an important role in the story of polygamy)

  11. 7 — If you’re investigating the Church, then you need to be aware that Mormon paranoia about being misrepresented and persecuted is neither minor nor without basis in reality. If that repulses you, then sorry, but it’s how it is.

    Now, I don’t have any particular problem with discussing MMM or current Mormon fundamentalism and plural marriage (or, even Nauvoo or Utah plural marriage, even post-manifesto). Those are all cool with me so long as they’re represented fairly and with decent sources. I don’t think the church of God can possibly have anything to fear from the truth. But I’m strange, and I tend to make a fair number of folks in my ward nervous. And I’ve had folks try to tell me what I believe because I’m Mormon (the audacity of which I find just staggering) or try making jokes about Mormonism that show amazing ignorance and insensitivity. I don’t really count that as persecution (sorry, but very few
    American Mormons are actually persecuted these days), but it wasn’t exactly fun either.

    Mormons value their Mormon identity at least as highly as any other group values its identity, and you don’t find many groups who enjoy watching outsiders misrepresent things they care about. I tend to agree with a friend in my ward that we need to uncircle the wagons and dance with the Indians, but that attitude is very slow to catch on thus far. If you want to join us in that effort, you’re going to need to go beyond investigating and become one of us, because this is a change that’s going to grow from the inside if it happens at all. You’re more than welcome to do so.

  12. What are your expectations for “The Mormons”? Make your predictions now, and come back to discuss your reactions after watching “American Experience” on Monday evening.

    I want to focus on my expectations for my own viewer response. I remember watching the Joseph Smith documentary on PBS several years ago and feeling a sense of pride in my Mormon heritage. For me at least, there is something very fulfilling and validating about seeing Mormonism being discussed in main-stream media, whether it is President Hinckley being interviewed on “Larry King Live!” or a light-hearted (light-minded?) mocking context like Southpark. There is something about seeing Mormonism packaged and made ready for main-stream consumption that gives me the sense that “we have arrived.” This may be very silly and naïve of me, but it is this sense of ethnic/cultural pride that I expect to feel when I watch this over the next two nights (and re-watch it any number of times afterwards), regardless of the mistakes and inaccuracies and biases that I just expect to be part of the storytelling.

  13. I am hoping for any sort of finished product that results in people no longer asking me patently stupid questions about my religion. I mean the “do you worship Satan” level ones, mind. I’ve more or less given up hope with regard to the stupid polygamy jokes.

    My bishopric read a letter telling us the Church hopes we’ll take this opportunity to answer questions our neighbors might have. It’d be grand if that would actually happen (and again, the questions weren’t patently stupid.)

  14. Thanks to Ardis and Kevin (#9 and #10) for clarifying the structure of these two segments. My hopes for the PBS program? That it will:
    **Contain an accurate, balanced account of the LDS Church’s history and, in the process, convey the notion that that history is an extraordinary, colorful, and at times even violent one (including persecution and mob action as well as MMM). Coupled with this thought should be, I hope, the overriding one that David Bigler has conveyed in several venues, i.e., that the church and its emphasis/teachings today are quite different in many ways than some aspects of those that were important in the 19th century.
    **Address the myths and misunderstandings that lead to the “dumb” questions broached even today (about whether or not Mormons are Christian, practice polygamy, etc. ), thereby helping to minimize their currency going forward.
    **Clarify unmistakably the separation between the FLDS and LDS churches and the absence of any overlap in membership. IMHO the FLDS Church’s aggressive insistence that it is “Mormon” (together with the compounding influence of the media types) constitues an enormous albatross (confusion factor) for the LDS Church in bringing about non-Mormon understanding of what are and are not its tenents.)
    **Help do for Mormon political candidates and Mormons generally what JFK and his 1960 West Virginia speech did to resolve Protestant fears about Papal influence in the White House and for American Protestant-Catholic relations generally. The success of JFK’s candidacy (partly due to the positive impact of his demeanor and that single speech) proved in retrospect to have been a pivotal moment. Depending upon its character and audience reaction, PBS’s “The Mormons” could be part (but certainly not all) of another such moment during 2007-08. As of today, Mormons have been U.S. Representatives and Senators (including the current Senate Majority Leader), cabinet officers, the head of NASA and the FCC, state governors, the National Security Advisor, senior generals and admirals, diplomats, university professors and presidents, business CEOs, leading scientists, inventors, artists, writers, and musicians, and all the other roles that you know better than I do. At this important juncture, the Presidency is a distinct possibility — far more realistic than in 1968 — if some of the myths and misinformation are addressed effectively. The PBS coverage — perhaps the most extensive national attention the LDS Church will receive during 2007 (and maybe 2008) — will be a positive or negative in this environment. I don’t think that it will be a non-event.

  15. One warning — If you are setting your TiVo’s, don’t just set a season pass for “Frontline” and “American Experience,” you’ll need to search for the program, “The Mormons.” At least in my case, my season pass for Frontline would have missed the program because it is listed by it’s title “The Mormons” and not the series name. This may be different for other people according to your TV Guide listings and cable system.

  16. The only thing up on the web site right now is a press release by a PR flack, so it is really unfair to judge anything about the program based on that. As a non-Mormon who studies Mormon history and culture as part of a larger project on the history of uranium mining in NM, I do my best to both be fair and calls ’em as I sees ’em. I did get positive feedback from Dean May on my discussion of Mormon masculinity and the abscence of Mormons from miner culture in NM (very different from the situation in Utah) but that was after at presented the paper at the WHA. I don’t think I should have run it by Dean before, but he and I did sit down afterwards and talked about it. Since the paper was mostly about drinking smoking and fighting, it seemed only right that our discussion took place in a bar. I had coffee regular. Dean drank decaf. I miss him and the role he served in moving between the two worlds. I really can’t think of anyone who is doing that actively right now in the history community.

  17. One of the local public radio stations in Salt Lake, KCPW, aired an interview with Helen Whitney this morning. Here is a link to the full interview: http://kcpw.org/article/3439. Among other things she tries to explain why she spent so much time focusing on polygamy in the documentary. She also praises the church leadership for offering her unfettered access to people she wanted to interview.

    Also, if you havent seen it there is a very positive review of the program in the New Yiork Times today: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/30/arts/television/30morm.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

  18. Thanks for the link, Porter! Whitney says some quite specific things in that interview about which stereotypes she wanted to overturn. One is that she wants people to know how much spiritual importance was placed on polygamy back in the day–as important for salvation in the Mormon view as baptism in the Catholic view, as she puts it. I’ll be interested to see how she works this part considering I’m not sure Mormons are sure what the spiritual status was! I’m very glad she makes a point of bringing up the fact that there was a federal army on the way to remove Brigham Young as a leader, at the time of Mountain Meadows. We’ll see how that shapes the rest of the presentation.

  19. Anonymous Investigator,

    That’s a fair criticism. I agree it’s better to be optimistic about things, so let’s hope it’s a good show. I think it will be.

  20. Western Dave, your comment about the “absecence [sic] of Mormons from miner culture in NM” prompts me to ask whether you mean the State or Territory of New Mexico. If you mean both or the latter, I’d just note that Mormons weren’t absent from mining in this area , as with the lead mining mission at Las Vegas, NM Territory (later Nevada). As Ardis Parshall has written, Las Vegas was first settled by Anglos in 1855 in connection with a Mormon Indian mission led by William Bringhurst, part of the great thrust of that year to prosletyze the tribes across the virtually the entire West. Soon, however, with Mormon awareness that there were promising lead deposits in the mountains about twenty miles away, Brigham Young sent Nathaniel V. Jones to Las Vegas to exploit them. A struggle developed between Bringhurst and Jones to determine the primacy between the two missions, with Brigham Young eventually ruling in favor of Jones. Jones and his colleagues labored prodigiously because of the daunting transportation challenges and the absence of both wood and water for mining and smelting operations. By about March 1857 it was clear that lead mining at Las Vegas was not feasible because of the scarcity of these resources and difficult Indian relations. Jones was released from his nearly impossible task, but not before he took out 8,000 lbs. of ballistic lead which the Nauvoo Legion put to immediate use during the soon-to-follow Utah War. In the early 20th century, upon becoming the church’s sixth president, Joseph F. Smith recalled that upon arriving home in Salt Lake City in February 1858 from a two-year misssion to Hawaii, that one of the first things he did was to mold bullets from a “pig” mined and smelted near Las Vegas, NM before galloping off to Echo Canyon. So in 1856, what was the miner culture of NM — Mormon or non-Mormon?

  21. Accuracy: The website refers to someone named “Wilfred” Woodruff. If they can’t get their facts right on simple matters that a cursory review should have caught, what hope is there that they will handle more subjective matters with any degree of accuracy?

    To be fair, I don’t think we can call into question the rest of their reporting on the basis of one misspelled name.

  22. As an outsider, I wouldn’t draw conclusions about your faith based on a PBS special. I do, however, look forward to the T&S discussion. I have much respect and trust in the honesty of those of you that I’ve come to know through your participation here. I do not, and I hope you will forgive me for this, have the same trust for the LDS church as an institution. As I’ve posted before, it’s not enough to simply say we don’t believe or do that anymore. Things like institutional racism must be unequivocally repudiated before I can give my trust.

  23. Craig V.

    Please read the attached description of the revelation in 1978 that ended the priesthood ban.

    On June 1, 1978, at a regular temple meeting of the general authorities, Kimball asked the members of the First Presidency and the Twelve to stay for a private conference. In a spirit of fasting and prayer, they formed a prayer circle. Kimball opened by saying he felt impressed to pray to the Lord and asked their permission to be “mouth.” He went to the altar. Those in attendance said that as he began his earnest prayer, they suddenly realized it was not Kimball’s prayer, but the Lord speaking through him. A revelation was being declared. Kimball himself realized that the words were not his but the Lord’s. During that prayer some of the Twelve – at least two have said so publicly – were transported into a celestial atmosphere, saw a divine presence and the figures of former president of the church (portraits of whom were hanging on the walls around them) smiling to indicate their approval and sanction. Others acknowledged the voice of the Lord coming, as with the prophet Elijah, “through the still, small voice.” The voice of the Spirit followed their earnest search for wisdom and understanding.
    At the end of the heavenly manifestation Kimball, weeping for joy, confronted the quorum members, many of them also sobbing, and asked if they sustained this heavenly instruction. Embracing, all nodded vigorously and jubilantly their sanction. There had been a startling and commanding revelation from God-an ineffable experience.
    Two of the apostles present described the experience as a “day of Pentecost” similar to the one in Kirtland Temple on April 6, 1836, the day of its dedication. They saw a heavenly personage and heard heavenly music. To the temple-clothed members, the gathering, incredible and without compare, was the greatest singular event of their lives. Those I talked with wept as they spoke of it. All were certain they had witnessed a revelation from God.

    (Adventures of a Church Historian. Leonard J Arrington Pages 176-177

  24. Thanks for the description BBELL. That sounds like an interesting book.

    Unfortunately, and I mean no disrespect, it’s my understanding that the 1978 revelation didn’t repudiate the practice, it simply changed it. Suppose a bank steals some money from its clients and then, years later, asks you to bank with them. If they were to claim that though there was nothing wrong with their stealing from their clients back then they had decided that it would be wrong to steal today, would you bank there?

  25. Craig, there is much deeper doctrine/history regarding that event, and it cannot be likened to any analogy, especially one relating to theft. Also, it’s not a topic that you reason with by applying circa-2000 American values to it.

    I’m not going to try to explain my view of this topic via a blog. I’d suggest contacting your local missionaries, bishop, or stake president to talk to them about this. I’d even suggest talking to some black members. I know that’s something that helped me when I had trouble with this same topic at one time.

  26. The description of the change in priesthood policy as offered by LeGrand Richards that I have read is similar in structure, but more prosaic in its description of the events. It mentions a telephone call to Mark E. Peterson, who was out of the country on assignment, from the temple, but no account of heavenly ministrations. Oh well, LeGrand was rather down to earth. He also states that a principal motivating factor for the consideration of the matter was the construction of the temple in Sao Paolo. Of course, Hugh B. Brown almost succeeded in getting the policy changed in 1969 in response to the objections of universities such as Stanford, but Harold B. Lee succeeded in blocking the change at that time.

  27. Craig–It’s always a pleasure to see you at T&S. And you know you’ve hit my favorite topic. I don’t think you’ve phrased things quite right, however. You said, “the 1978 revelation didn’t repudiate the practice.” Actually, the revelation did undo the practice of denying priesthood to those of African descent. What was NOT repudiated were the teachings which accompanied and hence justified the restriction. That has yet to be done–and I believe it must be done. I even believe it will be done. And if we use your analogy, whose church could we bank at if racial discrimination were our criterion? The Quakers would get my money. I don’t think anyone else comes close.

    One thing I have found fascinating in working on a documentary about this issue is the number of Black preachers (AME, Southern Baptist, Pentacostal) who have become Mormon. Their stories are fascinating. One thing they mention is the universality of racial discrimination. You’ve seen me quote my favorite pastor, Dr. Chip Murray (you’re right up there in the top five, though). Here’s another Pastor Chip quote, from an interview we did with him: “It is rare indeed to find any religious organization without a dark corner in its past regarding diversity.” And you know what Dr. King said over and over: “The most segregated hour of the week is 11:00 Sunday mornings”–the hour when we get our religious instruction. I wish things were much better as we approach 40 years since Dr. King’s assassination, but that “promised land” he saw on the eve of his death is still some distance off for all of us.

  28. BBell–I’m concerned by the description from Arrington (and a little surprised by it). I will need to look up sources, but I had understood that amidst speculation that there were angels in attendance in the Temple on June 1, 1978, specific statements were made saying that such language was metaphorical. My understanding was that certain of the Brethren were instructed to clarify that, though the Spirit of revelation was present, they were not joined by any visible angels. The best source on what happened that day is Ed Kimball’s book about his father, President Spencer W. Kimball, titled _Lengthen Your Stride_. I don’t have time at the moment, but I believe that book speaks very openly about what happened. We have a tendency to embellish rather than recognize the unadorned miracle.

  29. To be fair, I don’t think we can call into question the rest of their reporting on the basis of one misspelled name.

    Steve M., I agree. As Western Dave mentioned, this website very likely was written by a PR flack and not vetted by any informed person involved in production. The PR department may also be solely responsible for the somewhat sensational flavor of the entire page.

    It would be completely unfair to dismiss the documentary for a PR flack’s mistake, especially if anyone were to do so AFTER having watched it. But until it is broadcast, while we have nothing much beyond publicity interviews and publicity webpages, it’s not entirely unfair to be just a wee bit concerned that such an easily avoidable error in the relatively brief press release could signal more widespread carelessness. (Like I’m so perfect …)

    Only three and a half hours to wait. But who’s counting?

  30. Craig,

    I’ve got to run to teach a class in just a moment, but let me quickly agree with Margaret — there are not a lot of banking options.

    In some ways, the LDS church is more admirable than many other denominations. For example, the church and its leaders were not involved in the lengthy and influential apologias for slavery that sought to give that institution a moral underpinning. (I suspect if you polled Blacks, you’d find that lending moral and religious support to slavery is viewed as more egregious than denying Blacks the priesthood). And Joseph Smith was a sort of intermittent abolitionist — he advocated ending slavery, but not on nearly as consistent a basis as other abolitionists. Utah was a “popular sovereignty” territory, and as such had a public position of not enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act. As a result, Utah’s slave population never rose above a few dozen. All of these are generally positive facts, especially compared with denominations that were actively engaged in slavery.

    In other ways, the church is less admirable. The church kept an official policy against giving Blacks the priesthood until 1978, much later than many other denominations began acceptance of civil rights. Some church leaders in the 1960s and 1970s were highly critical of the civil rights movement. The church has never apologized for its actions; in contrast, the Baptist church, Church of England, and some other churches have apologized for their role in slavery and associated racism. (I can pull sources when I have a moment).

    The question of relative culpability among religious organizations is complex, and I’ll try to touch on it more later today — sorry about the brevity of this comment, I’ve got to go teach now.

  31. It has been a while since the Church offered any explanation for the priesthood ban.

    I was interested to see that Elder Oaks recently told PBS the following: “The Lord revealed through his prophets that people of African ancestry would not have the right to the priesthood for a time. And then in 1978 revelation was received that they should have every blessing available to every other person.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week1034/cover.html

    I am not aware of any reported revelation withholding the priesthood (and temple sealing blessings) from people based on anscestry. Does Elder Oaks’ recent statement mean: 1. A revelation in the Church archives on this matter has been located?, 2. The Brethren have concluded that the long-term practice must have been started by revelation, even though no written revelation (or report of an oral revelation) has been found (sort of like res ipsa loquitur)?, 3. The absence of a revelation to stop the long-term practice was itself a revelation?, 4. The anecdotal reports that Presidents McKay and Lee prayed about changing the practice, and perceived an answer “not yet”, is the revelation to which Elder Oaks refers?, 5. The comfort of the Brethren in continuing the practice was a revelation?

    When interviewed by 60 Minutes, President Hinckley made no claim that the practice was started or guided by revelation, but said simply that it was the way prior leaders had interpreted the doctrine. Can his statement be reconciled with Elder Oaks’ by arguing that interpretations by leaders of doctrine are, by nature, revelatory?

  32. Kaimi,

    I agree that all the banks have rotten activities in their pasts. That’s not the whole story, but it’s a real stumbling block. We don’t have the luxury of investing in the perfect bank. So what can we do? For me, a key question is: Has the bank openly acknowledged its past corruption to the best of its ability? Margaret says that day will come, and when it does, I believe it will open up new levels of communication.

    I look forward to more from you; your info is always impressive.

  33. Margaret, Bruce R. McConkie publicly repudiated his teaching of some supporting doctrines for the priesthood ban. Other leaders have spoken against speculative explanations in a broader way. I suppose you would say that that sort of thing is not official enough, since it isn’t a statement on behalf of the institution. I wonder, though, if you are looking for a repudiation that is more official than any of the doctrines you refer to were. Certainly I would receive it gladly if the church did make some further public statement, but I am not sure it is fair to expect one. The situation is a bit like the recent judgment against the doctrine of limbo by the Catholic International Theological Commisssion–not as official as it could be, but limbo was never an official teaching, so what more would one expect? It is rather rare for the church to take a specific position on theological fine points of any kind, and I think it would be odd if it did so in this case.

    Adding to Kaimi’s point–some would argue that the violent persecution of Mormons in Missouri, Illinois, etc. was driven in significant part by their anti-slave stance. They had the misfortune to be in parts of the country where the slave question was not firmly settled and many wanted pro-slave laws. It is regrettable that a church as far ahead of its time on race issues (and gender issues) at the start later lagged, but if we are looking at history, we should acknowledge the early history as well as the later.

  34. “A documentary on the Civil War would almost certainly mention a little pesky thing called slavery.”
    Mountain Meadows and even, dare I say, polygamy, is not as central to the Mormon story as slavery is to the Civil War.

  35. “I’m concerned by the description from Arrington (and a little surprised by it). I will need to look up sources, but I had understood that amidst speculation that there were angels in attendance in the Temple on June 1, 1978, specific statements were made saying that such language was metaphorical. My understanding was that certain of the Brethren were instructed to clarify that, though the Spirit of revelation was present, they were not joined by any visible angels.”

    During the discussion on the matter, LeGrande Richards did say he saw Wilford Woodruff in the room (someone he’d seen earlier in his life). The Kimball biography mentions Pres. Kimball asking Elder McConkie to clarify his public statement on hearing a voice — didn’t want the impression that it was an audible voice all heard. Other than that, I’m a little surprised by the Arrington description as well in comparison to the accounts in the Kimball biography.

  36. Sorry to continue the priesthood ban threadjack – It is interesting for me to think what six years can do to shape perception. The southern baptist convention (or was it american baptist convention) voted to stop congregational segregations in 1972, and the LDS church nearly the same thing six years later. Yet, the LDS church gets the black eye for it holding out another few years (yet within the same decade). Some groups, including some sects of penecostals didn’t officially take black/white rules off of their books until the lat 1990s. But again, by then it is a moot point. The difference? The LDS church had to claim revelation, not a vote, to remove the ban. I’ll never understand it.

  37. I’ll be interested, by the way, to see how they handle Mountain Medows. My sources tell me that Will Bagley (no surprise) lays it at the feet of Brigham Young (essentially calling him a mass murderer) and that the documentary never really gives enough of an answer from the other side. We’ll see.

  38. I find the final sentence of the church’s press release most interesting: “Later this week, the Church will facilitate feedback from the public and from Church members on this Newsroom Web site.”

    Will we be seeing an official church-sponsored blog, online forum or something of the sort? I’m sure anything the church does along this line will be strictly moderated, but it does sound like a positive and fascinating development.

  39. Were there weird editiing issues for you guys, or was it just the local PBS? (San antonio, TX)

    What I mean is, the Local PBS you could only see half the fonts because they went of screen, and at one point, Terryl Givens was cut mid word to go into the next scene…

  40. Do you think that the titles listed during the interview clips were intentionally vague? There sure were a lot of “authors” being interviewed. I kept wanting to know more about the interviewees, but maybe this was intentional. For example, I was rather taken aback by how well the “professor of islamic studies” knew the Joseph Smith story, but I would have had a much different reaction if they had tacked on “at BYU” to that title. Maybe that was the point though, to keep the viewer from bringing prejudices to the interviews?

  41. Matt W,

    Some weird stuff was occuring with KRLU in Austin. I was watching on the HD channel and didn’t have the half fonts but at times the sound would cut off for no odd reason and then come back on. Probably similar to what you were seeing though.

  42. While I love Terryl Givens, was it a little weird for anyone else that multiple minutes were of dancing mormons and given to the dancing God thing? I mean it was cool, but a little weird.

    And who was that Journalist?

  43. I was expecting a lot more Shipps and lot less Journalist. Not that I didn’t enjoy his perspective, though I’d have thought that the producers would have put one of the foremost non-LDS Mormon Historians in at least once

  44. The dancing part was my favorite!!
    And I liked the art, too. I think some of it was by Trevor Southey.
    I thought the music was biased–sort of a minor key right at the beginning while explaining origins.
    There were several points I could have argued with (Joseph Smith the alpha and omega? Alex Caldiero, a poet, bearded, strange Rasputin type telling the Moroni story, Brigham Young “suddenly” when he meets Joseph says I will follow you, etc, etc) but on the whole I thought it was a balanced presentation.

  45. Does seem strange that the most prominent non-LDS scholar was not consulted (at least on the record). Was it a snub?

  46. The identification that made me stumble so much that I missed several thoughts for thinking of it was Ed Firmage’s “Descendant of Brigham Young” title. That’s hardly an exclusive club, and under what circumstances does that qualify anybody to say anything? Made me laugh.

    The dancing bit is apparently something that Helen Whitney was very proud of — she has mentioned it in several interviews as one of the more intriguing things about Mormonism. Must be one of those things aimed at a non-Mormon audience, since, like Matt W., I thought it was a little odd.

    The journalist — Ken Verdoia? He’s a Salt Lake (non-Mormon) TV producer who has done a number of Ken Burns-like PBS documentaries on Mormon and Utah history. Every once in a while he’ll say something that shows he doesn’t quite get it, but he is so overwhelmingly fair and professional that any of his lapses are like something you’ll hear from a slightly unorthodox ward member, and totally inoffensive.

    I didn’t see much of the last hour, but up until then I was pretty impressed. Some odd choices of experts in a few cases, but not bad.

  47. Kathleen Flake seemed to speak as a non-Mormon, referring to “they” and “them.” But she is a member, right?

    And wow, is Ms. Barringer Gordon ever camera-ready!

    Our bishop announced the documentary from the pulpit, and tonight my visiting teacher called to remind me to watch it. I think there will be some members of my ward who are surprised and distressed to learn about JS’s polygamy.

  48. I liked the piano. I thought they were going to show the Brown family at any moment plinking away. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know what the piece was though.

  49. Jan Shipps isn’t really an historian of Mormonism, although she has studied us so much that of course she is thoroughly familiar with it all. Her forte is more Mormon theology and Mormon life. I wasn’t surprised not to see her on tonight’s installment, but I’ll be VERY surprised if she doesn’t show up tomorrow.

  50. I didn’t mind the journalist Verdoia. I just was surprised he was so used. I am guessing it is because he was an animated speaker, which they desperatly needed to keep these talking head segments alive.

  51. Minor point, but I thought I heard mention that Jesus visited the Americas during the 3 days between his death and resurrection, rather than post-resurrection.

  52. You may be right, Matt. Ken has had so much experience that he would know exactly what the producers needed.

    Any comments about the Nauvoo segment? I felt the description of Joseph Smith hit a bump there — where it had been something I could endorse up to that point (occasional “fraud” comment aside), they painted him as a freak there, with his bizarre doctrines and personal aggrandizement coming out of nowhere. They laid no groundwork for the change in portrayal. (I mean, they seemed to be tying MMM to the fear and persecution that had come from earlier history, but they didn’t acknowledge that the Nauvoo Legion, Joseph Smith’s civil positions, and even the Expositor episode had the same clear roots in earlier history.

  53. I’m not sure what I expected to hear, but one reaction I had was that the program sure glossed over a lot of things.

  54. I really liked Sarah Barringer Gordon’s comment that in leaving Nauvoo for the wilderness, we had “walked out of secular time and into sacred time.” That’s a point that is not easily understood by some of the non-Mormons I work with, who insist on interpreting Mormon words and actions in Utah during Brigham Young’s time as if we had been ordinary Americans, thinking and speaking as if we were still part of that world. We were not. Our worldview was so utterly different that we might as well have been from some hidden island in the center of the world. The fact that we spoke English and had American roots misleads people who try to interpret us from the wrong starting point.

  55. Hah! Sure enough, the first voice talking about Woodruff says, “Wilfred”!

    I thought the first hour was quite good, impressively objective in its treatment of the issues it covered. It seemed a little too concerned to get in a comment on a bunch of standard oddities–treasure hunting, the multiple first vision accounts . . . but in the way it covered these topics it seemed to me very fair. And the key events from the first vision to the exodus west were presented in a way that seems true to the story. Oddly, I thought Brigham Young came across much more as a coherent human being than Joseph Smith.

    The second half was bizarre, though. We get moments of the same impressive fairness, but a whole hour split between Mountain Meadows and polygamy? Now that is myopia. And Johnson’s Army gets a sentence or two. Instead of the Salt Lake Valley we are shown footage of what looks like Goblin Valley! The overall story line of the church is pretty well lost among the minutiae of where John D. Lee was executed . . . I have to say, though, all the totally endearing footage of polygamists long ago and today both was just plain fun–to the point where I wasn’t that bothered by the blurring of the line (in the way the story was presented, despite the Hinckley footage) between contemporary LDS and splinter groups.

  56. I thought that the aspects they focused on were fair and balanced. But the choice of things to focus on was not. As has been stated there was just too much on MMM and polygamy. Things like priesthood and baptism for the dead were thrown out without much explanation. And how about things like keys, the pre-existence, and a multi-level heaven? Even the concept of restoration didn’t get much play. I just didn’t feel like the documentary “got” the things that Mormons really think about and believe in. Maybe some of that with be covered in part 2?

  57. yeah – I gasped when they quoted that we could then baptize our dead, but didn’t explain the vicarious nature of it!

  58. I really liked how Terryl Givens was presented. Just like in his written work, for the longest time there is no indication he is particularly a believer; just that he had some really amazing insights into Joseph and the faith he restored. Then there’s this great segment where he clearly is talking about what “we believe”.

  59. I am totally with you, Katie (#65). It seemed like Whitney was guided by having read a bunch of scholarly controversies, not by actually knowing the church. As a result, the big picture just didn’t come through. We’ll see if tomorrow rectifies this at all.

  60. “Oddly, I thought Brigham Young came across much more as a coherent human being than Joseph Smith.”

    I’m not sure how anyone could read Bushman’s biography and not think this, Ben. Smith’s life and story is strange, inconsistent, sometimes maddening. His life was not one marked by linear development. His whole message and purpose was, at times, no more coherent than you would expect to be the case for some mad prophet on a street corner. Which, I suppose, is very much part of the point.

  61. What a great production. This video will be used by the CES someday (but not quite yet!).

    I was intrigued by the fact that many of the video clips came from official sources (especially “Legacy”). PBS would not have used them so extensively without permission from the Church. Does this imply some type of quiet endorsement?

  62. Connor,
    LOL. It came in the first 5 minutes and I thought, “uh-oh, how well have we done our homework?”

    There was some “imprecise” stuff like that throughout the documentary, but probably a lot less imprecision than I’d have had if I had set out to produce a documentary on a faith not my own. It’s a tough task.

    The other thing I thought was interesting was the choice of paintings early in the production. Looked like something out of a bright eyes video . . .a little sad and dark, and a bit demonic. it would’ve been cool, in a bright eyes video. but it wasn’t a bright eyes video. and i thought the piano piece they chose for that portion was an odd choice, too. disturbing, in a sort of creepy indie-rock way. I kept saying to my wife, “if this was a music video, I’d be into it . . .”

  63. What a great production. This video will be used by the CES someday…

    Right… Just like they’ll show “States of Grace” to prospective missionaries as a model of what they can expect.

  64. re: 70

    That was a bad choice of words, but not necessarily inaccurate. It would have been better to say that Joseph Smith is the keystone of this religion. The GBH quote about the First Vision basically makes the exact same point.

  65. Never say never, Connor. Bushman himself would have been ex’d a few decades ago. That’s the essence of this faith: a virtually limitless capacity to embrace greater light.

  66. I thought the production was quite good. I would have put discussion of the First Vision in the segment on the 1830s, where it would have made more sense in terms of theologic development. I think that it had good discussion of Mountain Meadows and polygamy, including the circumstances surrounding the production of the 1890 manifesto.

  67. It would have been better to say that Joseph Smith is the keystone of this religion.

    And all this time I thought the Book of Mormon was the keystone of our religion…

    That’s the essence of this faith: a virtually limitless capacity to embrace greater light.

    Yeah, because tonight’s segment was filled with so much light…

  68. I thought the program was even-handed and judicious. I think MikeinWeHo’s wrong that this will be used by CES someday, but I think it should be. I showed the trailer to six missionaries a couple of weeks ago and it had quite an impact. I hope all missionaries in the US, at least, will have access to it.

    On the more detailed level: My favorite talking head was was definitely Alex Caldiero — brought back great memories of a “poetry sweat” I saw him do in the Maeser Building. I was happy to see Bloom used at a key point in the narrative. I was surprised that there weren’t more thoughts from Richard Bushman. I was also surprised that Mike Quinn wasn’t quoted at all during the Joseph Smith chapter.

  69. I haven’t seen a mention of today’s NYT review of the program. Go take a look.
    The little anxiety I had felt about the program was completely dispelled by that review.


  70. The BoM and Joseph Smith are one, in a sense, Connor.
    If the book is true, he’s a prophet. If he’s a prophet, the book is true.

  71. Yes Connor, but the Book of Mormon’s authenticity as scripture is dependent on Joseph Smith’s authenticity as a prophet, so I think MikeInWeHo’s comment is fair.

    Not that anyone is wondering, but now that I’ve seen it, I do think the MMM segment ran long… not so long that it became unfair, but long enough that it became boring and perhaps, yes, pushing its own boundaries of relevance. Fifteen minutes may have been better. I slept through the polygamy segment.

    Adam #37, I think that’s a subjective call. But I certainly agree that the analogy is imperfect.

    John F. #20, I appreciate that.

  72. Anyone catch the line about Joseph Smith creating the priesthood to bestow on his followers??

  73. So is anybody else worried about what Fast and Testmony meeting will be like on Sunday? It was what came to my mind first. No threadjackery, please.

    Come to think of it, I wonder what my Seminary teacher will say in a few hours…

    Overall, I thought it was more of topics the anti’s love than an accurate portrayal of things that actually define Church history. Whitney’s statement that she had hoped the stereotypes would be blown away was almost subversive. But I should be reserving judgment until after tomorrow, I suppose, so I will.

    Seeing as I’ll probably be a missionary in a few months, I wonder what kinds of discussions might ensue from this. I suppose, in that context at least, that I may be among the first to see whether the olives that spring up from this dung (Jac 5:64) are good, bad, or just wild. :-)

  74. Bushman himself would have been ex’d a few decades ago.

    Weaaallll…. A few decades ago he was my husband’s bishop. Close enough, I guess. : )

    Does anyone have a link for the 2nd half?

  75. I was very disappointed. About 17% of the first segment devoted to MMM?

    Identifying each participant as either a member or non-member would have been very helpful to get a better understanding of their views and biases. Not doing so, I think, was a major flaw. Yes, I’m a member.

    If some people think that all publicity is positive and that this program will be beneficial to the Church, I think they are sadly mistaken. To exaggerate the point, the publicity the Jews received in Germany during the 1930’s speaks for itself. Do we have such a huge inferiority complex that we welcome even distorted information? Let’s hope not.

  76. I don’t think that we can expect better than this program from a documentary on the Church by non-members. Of course the MMM and polygamy are going to be covered.

  77. Some of the early artwork appeared to be by Trevor Southey. Ironic since he spoke later about how being homosexual in the church was “hell.”

  78. I was less than impressed with it, really. I wasn’t expecting such a strong secularizing bias. Comments like (paraphrasing, and maybe this is just how I heard it) “I think J.S.’s overworked sex drive was responsible for polygamy” being followed up with the clawback “it’ too simple to suggest that J.S.’s overworked sex drive was the only factor” — I think the take away point is about J.S.’s sex drive, and sure, that is a legitimate area to focus, but it felt heavy handed and unfair. Of all the possible explanations for Mormonism’s growth, none of them seemed to give much credence to the possibility that maybe — just maybe — Joseph Smith was actually what he said he was. I’ll watch it again and see if I feel the same way.

    But watching the pioneer treck sure helped me understand a lot more of the Momron mentality I grew up with in my pioneer-stock family — you sacrifice and commit so much to it, it had BETTER be true, and we’ll find ways to make sure it is true every chance we get.

  79. My thoughts:
    I hope Sarah Barringer Gordon keeps doing work on the Church. The Mormon Question was a great book, and she looked almost giddy as she talked about the Church and about polygamy.

    I need to read Teryl Givens’ books. I’ve meant to, but he really impressed me. I’m also sold on Kathleen Flake.

    I loved the art.

    There’s not much I would have changed; I probably would have done Act 5 about economic communitarianism (b/c I think it’s more important than MMM in our history), but I’m glad Ms. Whitney chose MMM. The doc did a great job contextualizing and explaining it from different perspectives, to give people who aren’t familiar with it, and aren’t likely to read Juanita Brooks or Will Bagley, the tools they need to discuss it intelligently. (And speaking of, Bagley came across as more knowledgeable and less ax-grinding than I would have though; he didn’t sell me on BY’s ultimate involvement, but I’ll probably read his book, as I add more and more to my queue).

    I agree that it didn’t hit on everything it could have, but in two (or four) hours, it couldn’t. I thought it was emminently well-researched and well-done; it was an introduction to the Church I’d be glad to show a friend (acknowledging that it may not be the perfect introduction for everybody).

  80. I didn’t watch the whole thing, since I have to get up way too early in the morning, but my reaction was that if I weren’t Mormon, I’d probably be kind of bored by it, and would have quit watching 15 minutes into it. Is tonight supposed to deal more with current Mormonism?

  81. One note on Bagley’s conclusion:

    BY must have ordered it, because nothing happened in Utah Territory w/o BY’s approval.

    Yeah, right.

    Any evidence for your major premise, Mr. Bagley? A territory that in 1857 stretched from southern Idaho to Las Vegas (or San Bernardino), where the fastest means of communication was a man on horseback, and BY controlled everything?

  82. Perhaps this is a minor quibble, but I was really taken aback by the visual images of the landscape that was supposed to represent the Salt Lake Valley. Very strange. And the comment that the redness of the sky and landscape somehow made Mormons hotblooded or whatever — I’m obviously paraphrasing off the top of my head, but it was something along those lines — was a bit over the top. Overall, though, I felt as though the show could not have been a lot better, but it could have been a lot worse, and for that I am thankful.

  83. Re comment 21: Uranium mining in NM was in the 1950s so I have absolutely no idea the answer to your question. In 1950s NM, the LDS folks of Bluewater tended to work topside but for the most part tried to keep their farms running. The wage work subsidized the economically declining farms. But, they wouldn’t work underground, despite the higher wages offered, because they did not want to deal with the rituals of drinking, smoking, and fighting that determined the heirarchy of miners and thus access to the best sections of the mines, the safest, most experienced partners and so on.

  84. Overall, it was nicely done, although one would get the impression that the first fifty years of Utah history boiled down to polygamy and Mountain Meadows. I thought the quotes suggesting Brigham Young was behind Mountain Meadows because he personally controlled everything that happened in Utah were naive — like Brigham could just pick up a telephone and direct events two hundred miles away. And highlighting novelist Judith Freeman for commentary on Mountain Meadows seems almost irresponsible: see this short interview with her at her publisher’s website for a sense of how she thinks. She says her next book might be “a kind of non-fiction book.” I’m not sure she has a firm grasp of the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

  85. “It seemed like Whitney was guided by having read a bunch of scholarly controversies, not by actually knowing the church.”

    You nailed it. She thought she was doing “The Mormons” but she was actually doing “Controversies Related to the Mormons.”

  86. I’m sure this is not a true connection, but Ken Verdoia’s voice sounds an awful lot like at least one of the voices in the temple films.

  87. Re 45: WillF, I think I remember that being Daniel Peterson. Love him or hate him, he hardly needs more introduction as to knowledge of church history.

    Also, did anyone else catch that they used part of the old First Vision video (circa 1975) to portray Joseph walking to the grove? Brought back some memories of sleepy mornings in seminary.

  88. I read Bagley’s book when it first came out, and I recommend it to all of you. It’s not a light read, but if you’re interested in Utah history, you’ll enjoy it. You’ll notice that in the book he doesn’t come right out and say that Brigham was directly involved. Rather he presents the actual evidence and presents in a very fair and even handed way exactly what we know about what Brigham did and did not say, write, and do. Bagley himself has concluded from this evidence that Brigham was at least partially at fault, but I appreciate that the book makes an effort to stick to the primary sources. Of course, in any history there will be a certain amount of “creative reconstruction of the past,” but Bagley is truly restrained in his writing. Check it out!

  89. I wish there had been more on the cultural aspects of Deseret-era SLC, beyond polygamy and Givens’ lovely and surpassingly odd rhapsody on the place of dancing in Mormon history. More on the United Order, the Victorian-style civic life, and the home-art movement would have been a useful counter to and context for the repeated theme of “perfect obedience.”

  90. Anyone else notice that the \”Mormon Fundamentalist\” family dinner included wine? My husband couldn\’t get over that.

    But all in all I think it was a very well balanced historical piece. Yes it focused on the big things as seen from the outside. But wasn\’t that the whole point?

    I\’m looking forward to watching part 2 tonight.

    (Though I do think the whole dancing segment felt out of place)

  91. I was intrigued by the fact that many of the video clips came from official sources (especially “Legacy”). PBS would not have used them so extensively without permission from the Church. Does this imply some type of quiet endorsement?

    I think it implies that President Hinckley is a PR man from way back whose instinct is to cooperate with anything that’s even remotely fair.

  92. “It seemed like Whitney was guided by having read a bunch of scholarly controversies, not by actually knowing the church.”

    A very very good summary of what I saw last night. Hopefully, tonight she will capture a glimpse of the power and majesty.

  93. Did I watch the same program as everyone else? Overall, I thought the program was a pretty good \”hatchetjob\” on the church; yes, I\’m a member.

    For example, JS using a clear stone in a hat to predict the location of treasure to allegedly defraud others and then alluding that the sear stone was a clear stone that was also used in a hat to translate the BoM. This obviously implied that the translation was fraudulent.

    The program dipected JS running (leaving alone on horse-back) from the situation in Kirtland just so he can start anew in Missouri? The implication in the program was that he was a coniver and fraud not a religious leader with problems.

    JS instituting polygamy so that he can satisfy his own sexual desires? I never heard that one before! There was only a peripheral comment later in reference to BY that many polygamists actual married older, widowed women for purposes of providing for them. The program left the impression that polygamy was only so that older men could be with young, nubile girls.

    We baptise dead bodies? The last time I heard that one was when our ward building was being constructed and the community was in an uproar about our obvious agreements with the local undertakers that we\’d get all their dead bodies to baptise them prior to being embalmed. I thought this issue was long gone, why the obvious mis-representation of vicarious work for our dead ancestors? Why not explore vicarious work, what it means, why it\’s important, etc. Why sensationalize a practice that is referenced in the NT?

    Polygamy, why such a long emphasis? Pres Hinckley (as shown from the pulpit during the program) and other prophets before him have clearly stated that polygamy is no longer a tenant of our religion and that from our viewpoint, there is no such thing as \”fundamental mormonism\”. So why spend so much time on an issue that is clearly outside the boundaries of our faith today. I understand the need to explore the issue from an historical context but it isn\’t relavent today as an ongoing practice. It would seem to confuse those not of our faith about whether we practice polygamy or not.

    Overall, I was disappointed in PBS and the producer of the program. To comment that the intent was to dispell myths about the church and then to produce this actually seemed counter to her intent. I would have appreciated more explanations/discussions/differing points-of-view about key topics rather than throwing comments out without background or explanation to help the viewer make an informed decision about our faith. I wasn\’t looking for a warm-fuzzy, just more objectivity.

    I was also taken aback by Kathleen Flakes overall approach to the subject by her constant use of the word \”Smith\” in reference to the prophet without the use of a prefix such as president, prophet, brother, elder, etc. It seemed very vitriolic and I assumed she was either an anti-mormon, a disenchanted member or an excommunicated member. I was surprised to learn that she apparently is a member.

    Many other comments too numerous to mention. I think PBS missed a great chance to produce something of value concerning a home-grown american religion. We need to discuss the tough issues and the church has some tough issues to face, not make them look strange and incomprehensable.

  94. I was not very pleased with this production. I think that several things in the movie were flat out lies about the Mormon church.

  95. Gary S, comment #104, my thoughts exactly!! Thank you so much for that post.

  96. Meli,

    The current understanding of the Word of Wisdom was put into place under Heber J. Grant. Before that, the alcohol/tobacco/coffee restrictions were not consistently viewed as commandments; they were treated much like the meat restriction is today (i.e., as a good idea, but not really binding).

    Since fundamentalists generally broke away before then, they would be operating on a 1890-ish understanding of the Word of Wisdom.

  97. Oh, and one last thing, the artwork, for the most part was great. I did, however, find one particular picture of our Heavenly Father quite disturbing.

  98. Gary (#104),

    …Except that we still do practice polygamy in our sealing policies. I don’t know if that will get any treatment in the next two hours, but it is an ongoing fact we need to own up to.

  99. What does it mean to “own up to” our sealing practices? Is it supposed to be some dirty little secret?

  100. Gary S: ‘I was also taken aback by Kathleen Flakes overall approach to the subject by her constant use of the word ”Smith” in reference to the prophet without the use of a prefix such as president, prophet, brother, elder, etc. (sic)’

    Not having seen the thing, I can’t say for sure, but Kathleen Flake is a scholar doing work on religion, and I imagine she was interviewed and quoted in this context. From a scholarly point of view, it’s innappropriate to call him “President Smith” or “Prohphet Smith” or even “Brother Smith.” Those kinds of terms of address would be appropriate for somebody presented as an official representative of the Church, like a member of Quorum of the Twelve.

  101. I watched this with my family last night, hopeful for a balanced approach, and fearful that instead of debunking stereotypes, that the program would only reinforce them. I have to say that I was given both.

    I really felt that the choices of scholars and historians was well balanced, and while I might have issue with some of the characterizations, I did not have a problem with 98% of the program. The shocking moment for me came when my 29 year old daughter came in after teaching her class at the local community college during the MMM segment, and hearing her announce \”I never heard of this before\”. While I don\’t think it will shake her testimony, it did make me question whether or not I had really done a good job of teaching my children the things that they need to know. I really thought that we had pursued that discussion somewhere in our family over the years, but perhaps not. My 19 year old who is getting ready to go on a mission said that he had learned about MMM from the History channel. Yet I felt that Whitney had done a good job with the MMM segment, albeit a bit dramatic with the \”bloody sunsets\” and pictures of Arches National Park and Goblin Valley.

    So I believe that at least for my family, this is opening the doors to some discussions about those topics that are helpful. Again, I really felt that for every negative commentator, there seemed to be a positive response to balance it. The end result is somewhat enigmatic, but then again much of our church and it\’s doctrines aren\’t that easy to understand, especially in just two hours to cover Mormon history.

    I did feel that they tried to show that the official church policy does not condone polygamy, but the fact is that the fundamentalists only exist because we did practice polygamy, and it is pretty hard to understand without knowing more of the context. The phrase \”perfect obedience\” gets to the heart of the issue that the evangelical right has with Mitt Romney. I am hoping that tonight, we get some discussion from Harry Reid or Marlin Jensen about political diversity (almost an oxymoron in our church).

    Looking forward to tonight\’s program.

  102. I found it boring, believe it or not. And I follow this stuff closely because of the blog I help write. Anytime a movie has be looking at my watch 30 minutes in, that’s a bad sign.

    I woke up this morning and asked myself: If I were completely new to Mormonism, and “The Mormons” were my first exposure to the Church, I would come away from last night’s episode thinking:

    1. Joseph Smith was a charismatic, lovable rogue (and perhaps a charlatan), much like modern-day cult leaders. I would know very little of why so many normal, everyday people loved him. Oh, and he really liked women. Especially young ones.

    2. The Mountain Meadows Massacre, rather than being a horrible atrocity that is not part of virtually any modern Mormon’s religious life, is a crtically important part of the history of the Church and has modern-day significance. (Otherwise, why would the event get 20 minutes of the documentary’s time?)

    3. Will Bagley is simply a “historian” who sure seems to know a lot about Mountain Meadows. I would have no idea that Bagley has published a book sharply critical of Brigham Young’s role in the matter.

    4. Margaret Toscano is just another keen observer of Mormonism, not someone infamously excommunicated over disagreements with the Church leadership.

    5. A talking head’s status as a “former LDS educator” must not raise any questions about his possible bias, otherwise the filmmakers would have disclosed that. Right?

    6. Mormonism is all about polygamy, the splinter groups that still practice polygamy are a significant part of the modern Mormon experience, and many modern Mormons harbor a suppressed longing for the practice. (If I were a very careful and discerning viewer, I might wonder why a non-member anthropologist was the source of that latter interpretation of what Mormons think in their hearts.)

    6. Boy, do those Mormons like to dance! (Anyone else find that emphasis a bit bizarre?)

    I could go on. But those are the items that would stand out for me.

  103. While I might have made different editorial judgments on emphasis–and while there were a few relatively minor factual errors–I thought, on the whole, the first segment was fair and balanced.

  104. (Re: # 107) 19 years old? How about much younger than that – even 14 (Helen Mar Kimball.)

  105. \”JS instituting polygamy so that he can satisfy his own sexual desires? I never heard that one before!\”

    You need to get out a little more, then. Or read more Mormon history. Start with Oliver Cowdery\’s description of Joseph\’s relationship with Fanny Alger (his first plural \”wife\” whom he \”married\” before the sealing power was restored by Elijah): a \”dirty, nasty, filthy affair.\” That\’s the origin of Mormon polygamy, and one of Joseph Smith\’s most enduring legacies. As much as devout Mormons like to pretend there is no connection between sex and polygamy (!) and no connection between their own history and the so-called Fundamentalist Mormons, there is. Joseph Smith\’s sex drive, combined with his desire to be pious, resulted in the introduction of polygamy to America, and the tens of thousands of practicing polygamists today are every bit as much a part of Joseph\’s legacy as the Salt Lake temple and the Book of Mormon.

  106. INM (#111),

    I’m not saying our sealing practices are a dirty little secret; I’m just saying that we announce that we no longer practice polygamy, that is a half-truth. It would be nice if we could get our doctrine and policy statements without a lot of asterisks, footnotes and fine print, don’t you think?

  107. 112: Bushman uses the name “Joseph” in speaking of the prophet, despite the fact that his is a scholarly work. He uses it because that is how he has always been known among his pollowers, which is why “Smith” sounds so harsh.

    Gary S.: While I have some reservations, cheifly the prominence and length given to MMM and polygamy, I think you are wrong. This was no hatchet job. I watched it with my wife and children and we felt the spirit at times during the program and had good discussions afterward. Overall, it was a very well done job, especially if you keep in mind that it was done by non-members trying to educate and present all views. Terryl Givens was marvelous. I learned new things from Elder Holland and Elder Oaks. I loved the Bloom quote about all religions being based on the supernatural and the “impiricists need not apply” sense that he gave. I thought it was imperfect but fascinating.

    Connor: Your sarcasm is very out of place.

  108. EQ: I’m devout, and I have no desire to “pretend.” And I think you’re right as to many members wanting to ignore history. But those facts and history do not make the history on sex and polygamy as black and white as you’re describing; indeed, they tend to make it quite a bit murkier.

  109. I was extremely disappointed and interject that many of our undergraduate (non-LDS) history students have given thesis on 19th c Mormons which have a) more comprehensive content b)more clearly cited the background and bias of the sources used c) taken less than 4 years to compile and d) still managed to spelled key names correctly.

    1) RLDS was mentioned and glossed over in less than two sentences. Is the Community of Christ ticked off that Whitney only used the word ‘RLDS’? Since the C of C is 10 times larger than all the FLDS-type sects COMBINED and happens to be the ONLY global derivative of the church, and is also the most important connection to the LDS in the 19th century (and last night’s segment was supposed to be about the 19th century whereas tonight’s is the 20th and 21st); I’m forced to think that the 30 minute romp into the 20th c sects was an intellectually exhausted plight for drama and sensationalization. Same old rehashing. Booooooring.

    2) There aren’t mountains in the background at Winter Quarters. I’m sorry, there just aren’t.

    3) She was given unfettered access to ANYONE in the church, our libraries, copyrighted materials, etc. etc. etc. . . this is UNPRECEDENTED. Yet she squandered it all away, harping on the same old topics. Great investigative journalism there. (sarcasm).

    4) No mention of the Mormon Battalion? Yet, the production gave us a clear sentiment of 19th century Mormons as being anti-American and unpatriotic. No mention of our beliefs about the country being divinely inspired or our genealogical, cultural and theological links to the American Revolution?

    5) I got out a stop watch. Our ecclesiastical leaders were given CUMULATIVELY less than 4 minutes and 34 seconds of air time (out of 1 hour and 50 minutes). Also, no female church leaders were interviewed. The longest camera shot of an LDS official was was Elder Oaks explaining MMM. Let the historians talk about history, but let us talk about Doctrine. Isn’t anyone else kinda tired of others telling us what we believe and not letting us speak for ourselves?

    6) Anyone else disgusted at that word “ORGY” was used to describe the saints’ worship and sacred revelations? Yes, I know it was metaphorical, but also inaccurate, disrespectful and inappropriate. Let’s try the litmus test and replace “Mormons” with other cultural or religious groups and see if the statement seems biased under other circumstances. Let’s see how it sounds, eh? Take any religion’s sacred practice (prayer at the wailing wall or at a mosque, a revival, transubstantiation, New Testament study, meditation, christening, etc.) and add the adjective “orgy” to it. Anyone else cringing? IS THIS NOT DESPICABLE AND INAPPROPRIATE?!!! Such language needs to be retracted with an apology by PBS and the producers.

  110. As an outsider I learned a couple of things. I think I have a better understanding of why the temple is so important (I didn’t know anything about the first temple). I also think I have a better understanding of what appears to me sometimes to be a disconcerting ‘us them’ mentality. I had read about some of the persecution, but the documentary made me look a little more compassionately. I don’t think the documentary, as a whole, gave me of sense of what it means to be LDS. Perhaps that’s tonight’s focus. By the way, is dancing emphasized as strongly as the film suggested?

  111. Loved it. I learned all sorts of new things about my religion.

    Need reels&reels and hours&hours more of
    archives and scholars (colored and women especially).

    Polygamy still makes me gag.

  112. Lowell Brown #115 said, “4. Margaret Toscano is just another keen observer of Mormonism, not someone infamously excommunicated over disagreements with the Church leadership.”

    And this is important, how? An Ex-Mormon’s opinon is just as valid and important as a Mormon’s and Non-Mormon’s opinion for such a documentary. If her relationship relative to the Church is important, then the disclusure of the relationship of faithful historians like Richard Bushman, Glen Leonard, and Terryl Givens as believing Mormons is just as important. I can easily hear someone say, “I can’t believe they portrayed Richard Bushman as just another keen observer of Mormonism, and not someone who infamously believes Joseph’s Smiths incredible claims.”

    The documentary fairly and professionally refered to each of the talking heads according to their profession (historian, journalist, apostle, scholar, whatever), not by their place on the belief or LDS membership spectrum.

  113. /By the way, is dancing emphasized as strongly as the film suggested?/

    I am a devout, and I HATE to dance. :)

    I thought that the segment about dancing was quite odd.

  114. I think that one very important lesson that I learned from this documentary is…
    If I want to learn about a religion, any religion, I will ask someone who currently practices that religion.

  115. Okay, people, comments this morning have been waaaaay out of line. Stop sniping at each other, and stop acting like any variation in viewpoint by any commenter or by some talking head last night is a calculated personal attack. It isn’t. Grow up.

    What was good about last night’s program?

  116. Re #124: I’ve been a member all my life and this was the first I had ever heard that dancing is such a big deal in the church.

    Re #118: “Joseph Smith\’s sex drive, combined with his desire to be pious, resulted in the introduction of polygamy to America,”

    I have to disagree. I guess you are saying that God said nothing whatsoever to Joseph Smith about polygamy, that he simply made all that up because he was horny?

  117. Overall, it was an excellent treatment. We can always quibble over details and nuance, but we should all remind ourselves of several things in our discussion:

    1. It is truly wonderful that Mormon history is fascinating for many outside the church. Mormon topics are now viewed as a serious issues in history, sociology and theology. In my mind this development is very significant.
    2. This film is aimed at an educated general public. It partly reflects what scholars are saying and also what the public wants to learn about. It is a starting point for many in the discussion. Those who are devout LDS can learn much from watching it with this perspective.
    3. I believe that even an imperfect introduction can have long-term postive results.

  118. I blogged about my responses to the documentary and to the talking heads at:


    Glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed about the wine! I’d be joining a fundy group ASAP, if it weren’t for that pesky polygamy thing. Rats.

  119. >>What was good about last night’s program?

    Givens, Flake and Gordon. All three hit it out of the park.
    To be as articulate as Givens is a real gift.

  120. Jat – Scholars routinely take on the sensuality of the Catholic church up to and including the ultimate metaphoric act of cannibalism – taking communion. That type of stuff comes with the turf.

    On the convention of using last names – that’s the way historians do it (Bushman the exception and only when writing about Joseph Smith). When I teach a history class, it is almost always Jesus and almost never Jesus Christ or Christ because the latter terms only work for believers and I am trying to reach a wider audience. To a non-LDS audience, Joseph seems diminishing, like you are not taking him seriously.

    Are you saying he wasn’t rogueish before his conversion experience at least to our modern eyes? Water dousing and hat seering may have been perfectly normal in upstate New York in the 1820s but to the modern eye they do seem a bit odd. Yet to understand why people would not discard Smiths revelations straight out of hand, you need to understand that context.

    I think it is a stretch to say that Joseph Smith was wildly popular with ordinary folks? During Joseph Smith’s life it was one of a number of new sects that were emerging and not particularly popular (though clearly more popular than say, the Kingdom of Matthais). Their success compared to others can be attributed to either Divine Will or organizational genius or both. Further, he was propbably one of the most unpopular people in the US during his life.

    MMM is an extremely important point in church history although not particularly relevant to current belief. It is the high point of tension between the political entity of Deseret and the US Government. In its aftermath, are the beginnings of political and social reconciliation that culminate in the Wodruff Manifesto.

    Clock how much time current church leaders get tonight. If you included people quoting past church leaders (as would seem appropriate in a history) what’s the timing work out to. I wouldn’t expect a documentary on the crusades to contain much comment from today’s Catholic church or the Wahhabbists.

  121. “Joseph Smith\’s sex drive, combined with his desire to be pious, resulted in the introduction of polygamy to America,”

    Here’s the 10 million dollar question, what on Earth was Joseph using in the 19th Century for Birth control, cause it sure seemed to work some miracles. pregnancies Emma-10, 32 other wives- not one credible.

  122. What if the specific Catholic church and the Wahhabbiests (in question) were themselves scholars in that area? What if they were ALSO related to the event — biologically, culturally, geographically and theologically? Of course, 180 years is hardly a millenia. Too much of a stretch to compare the two. What about the children of survivors of the Holocaust, or the descendants of the Nez Pierce flight?

  123. Doc,

    I’m not sure I understand your point. Are you saying he smoked but didn’t inhale?

  124. What was good: this morning it gave me an opportunity to discuss my faith with my coworkers. I liked the tone– so few Church members are exposed to a discussion of the Church in a more “third person” voice that I think it was, despite it’s flaws, for the greater good of members and non-members alike who may dig a little deeper as a result.

    I agree that Givens, Flake and Gordon were impressive.

    I would’ve liked to have heard less from Ken Verdoia– what makes him an expert?

  125. I, too, fell asleep in certain parts because A) it was late and B) the second hour of the program droned on about TWO issues that felt forced and eventually uninteresting. I understand MMM and polygamy are, in part, largely unadressed issues within church membership and commonly brushed aside as items we either no longer practice or have no REAL proof concerning. Most members would probably do well to know more regarding both \”black eyes\” of LDS history.

    That being said–those items to do not a fair and balanced view make. I agree with previous posts that it seems the documentary was not so true to its name–otherwise, The Mormons would seem to represent the people and the American-grown religion itself and not focus predominantely on conspiracies and dubious historians. Perhaps tonight will prove otherwise.

    Did anyone else find the dancing section to be odd–owing to the background music? I struggled with finding \”joy in dancing\” when such a solemn song as \”A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief\” played behind it. Anyone? Anyone?

    And, I do not believe JS is the alpha and omega NOR the cornerstone of the LDS religion in which I do believe. DO I believe he was a Prophet of God? Yes. Do I believe he restored the keys of the priesthood on Earth? Yes. Do I believe he translated another testament of Jesus Christ? Yes. Do I believe he is the only person who could have done this, if not for him, then the Restoration would have ceased to become? No. With all respect and humility I believe in what he did and what he helped to re-create and for all he and his family went through. I honor him, yes. But if it were not Joseph Smith, God would have chosen someone else. The gospel would still have been restored.

    Anticipate tonight!

  126. 137:
    Doc is trying to point out that if it was all about sex, there would be loads of kids. And there weren’t. Brigham had quite a few (to say the least) but Joseph did not start polygamy for his sex drive.

    I personally found it boring. I only watched the first hour then went to bed. Sounds like it might have gotten more interesting in the second hour, but I sort of upset that I missed “Heroes” for that…

  127. I thought it was great, and other than a few minor quibbles, it seemed spot on. I’m actually a little shocked at the reaction I’ve been reading by some on the bloggernacle, and hearing from some co-workers. People calling it an anti-Mormon documentary, full of lies, extremely biased, etc. I wonder if the general LDS population would have a similar reaction to reading Rough Stone Rolling? Are many of us pleased (or at least not angry) with the documentary because Joseph Smith using seer stones and being a polygamist isn’t a shock to us?

    Really, some of the comments here have been amazing to me, enough that I wonder how we all watched the same program. This is not supposed to be a movie to show at the Joseph Smith Memorial building so we can all feel good about the perfect man that was called by God to start our church. I thought it did a great job of trying to present both sides, and other than a little too much focus on MMM, I believe it succeeded.

  128. I’m a bit bewildered at the criticism of Ken Verdoia. He’s been the greatest producer of Utah/Mormon documentaries. They have all been balanced and honest. He’s sensitive to religious belief and nuance. I’ve yet to see any documentary by an LDS producer that wasn’t at least a partial whitewash job.

  129. I kind of like that people aren’t labeled, “believer”/”unbeliever” in this flick. I think it is basically a good strategy to put a range of views out there and let the audience decide who is credible. It’s not like there is any reliable system for credentialing on this topic anyway. Labels just aren’t very helpful, especially when people like Terryl Givens do such a good job of seeing the church with outsiders’ eyes. On the other hand, a responsible journalist will make reasoned choices about how much of what views to present, and make sure that the most well-informed and reliable sources are strongly represented in the mix. In that light, the amount of time spent on Will Bagley and some of the others is a serious flaw. In Whitney’s defense, though, how many well-informed and sensible non-Mormons are there? Sensible and smart non-Mormons generally don’t bother taking the time to become well-informed about us. She used Sarah Gordon and Ken Verdoia about as much as she could reasonably have done (and very well).

    And I thought everything Margaret Toscano said in her clips was completely fair. Given what she actually said, the suggestion that she should somehow have been flagged precisely shows the wisdom of not flagging people like that. What Toscano said was the kind of thing that could easily come from a believer who was thinking about things from all angles–or from a non-believer who is being realistic about what religion is like–and either perspective is perfectly valid. Who is going to pretend that we have a tidy solution on sexuality today, monogamous or otherwise? Nice job on that part, Whitney and Toscano both.

    Western Dave (#134)–what?? MM was not the high point of tension! Hello, what about that 20% of the U.S. Federal Army that marched through Salt Lake and camped out in the Mormon heartland?

  130. I was very pleased with the first installment of “the Mormons” and look forward to the second tonight. The main points that I took from the documentary were: first, Mormonism is as legitimate as any of the other world religions. I was pleased with the respect that individuals, particularly Harold Bloom, paid to the Church’s history. How can Jews, “Christians,” or Muslims ridicule Mormonism’s creation stories? Theirs are simply cleaner because of the passage of time.

    Second, I believe that the Church will benefit from the “inordinate” amount of time spent on Mountain Meadows and Polygamy. What do non-Mormons know about our Church? First, Polygamy then Mountain Meadows. These issues will not go away by trying to ignore them. Helen Whitney was very generous about presenting the context of Mountain Meadows. She emphasized a persecuted people, time of war, the death of Parley P. Pratt, an apocalyptic world view, and the reformation. Thank goodness she didn’t spend a mere 3 minutes on just the gruesome details of the massacre without providing that context.

    Could an honest observer come away from the section on polygamy and not understand that main-stream Mormonism condemns polygamy? She could have really muddied the water with a discussion of post-manifesto polygamy. If she had avoided the topic of polygamy altogether because it has nothing to do with Mormonism today, it would have done nothing to correct the misperception the majority of Americans have about us. If the message had been, “The Mormons don’t practice polygamy,” non-Mormons would read about Warren Jeffs and other fundamentalists and think, “My foot the Mormons don’t practice polygamy. It’s right here in the newspaper.” It is important to point out that fundamentalists do exist and that they and main-stream Mormons are related only by their 19th century history.

    Our uneasiness with polygamy and fundamentalism makes me think of the country-boy who escaped the farm, went to college, made it big in the city, and hated it every time someone made a comment about his roots and his “hick” relatives. Rather than trying to hide our past, why don’t we embrace it? Many in the world are intrigued by us, so let’s get over this silly inferiority complex we have. If the world doesn’t like who we are, they can go to hell. It’s that type of confidence we should exude.

    Will this film help the Romney campaign? What percentage of Americans do you think actually watch PBS? Next, what percentage of those do you think are conservative Republicans? Perhaps the opinion makers have changed their views a little. I would much rather Americans believed Whitney’s version of Mormon history than what I suspect the majority believe. It certainly could have been MUCH, MUCH worse.

    Can’t wait for tonight.

    P.S. I wouldn’t get too worked up about the Alpha and Omega comment. I took it as meaning that Joseph Smith is central to the Mormon story. Certainly he is the beginning of that story and will likely be in the end. You have to understand him to appreciate Mormonism.

  131. RE claims on the past.

    “What about the children of survivors of the Holocaust, or the descendants of the Nez Pierce flight? ”

    Not much creedence from me except to understand how the descendents understand those events today (or at the time those testimonies were taken). Oral history is way too unreliable. There are exceptions, in oral cultures people are trained to remember history and you can check among different versions. However, even then there is innovation and change.

    What if they were ALSO related to the event — biologically,
    This has no meaning for most historical cases. Unless perhaps we are talking about having resistance to smallpox or something like that. But one cannot be related to MMM biologically.

    Well, of course, but outsiders don’t assume that LDS members are the ultimate authority on truth, otherwise they would immediately join the church. I get how the cultural connection would help for theology perhaps, or for starting to explore the signficance of Jell-O. But how is one related to MMM culturally? Where LDS members have the edge is in asking the questions that lead to historical questions: Why do we do this particular act now? Did we always? But the answers are usually up for grabs to anybody. However, certain exceptions do apply, usually depending on archival access. For example, if you walk into any small town in the Intermountain West, you can usually tell right off the bat if it was founded by LDS folks or not. Heck, there is even a book that gives you a checklist of ten factors to look for. (Wide streets, oriented to N, certain vegetation, hay derricks, garden plots are a few of the indicators if I remember correctly). In fact, a cultural connection to the church might impair your ability to see what makes LDS towns different since they would seem normal to you, but you might not be able to put your finger on what was “wrong” with a non-LDS town.

    You live on the site currently? How is this relevant? I’m an easterner who studies the West. Does that make me illigitimate or give me fresh eyes?

    and theologically?
    From a historical standpoint, this is pretty much irrelevant in so far as the political or social history angles work. Now of course, an intellectual history would have to include changes in theology and church members (but not necessarily leaders) have access to material non-LDS scholars don’t, so they do have an edge there. But do you think the current pope knows the ins and outs of how the Immaculate Conception became official church doctrine in the 19th century?

    And LDS member historians were quoted speaking as historians. Again, tonght’s episode, which is more about the present, should (note: conditional voice) contain more from current leaders speaking to the state of the church, now.

    All of this gets to the problem of there being very, very few people at this point who are comfortable moving in both worlds as academics. Without more people like Dean May and Leonard Arrington it becomes hard to have civil conversations between insiders and outsiders around these topics.

  132. I’m glad they didn’t label individuals “believers” and “non-believers.” My wife and mother-in-law didn’t believe me when I told them that Terryl Givens was a member, and a faithful one at that. Of course, I don’t think they understood half of what he said.

    Historians and scholars could learn a thing or two from Ken Verdoia. He knows how to tell a story and get to the heart of the matter.

  133. Ben H.
    “MM was not the high point of tension! Hello, what about that 20% of the U.S. Federal Army that marched through Salt Lake and camped out in the Mormon heartland?”

    Is there actual shooting? I think the 1857 “war” is the highpoint with MMM as the most significant (albeit most likely renegade) battle in that war. My criteria is that the tension breaks into violence. I can see why you think otherwise, though. At least it is the easiest to hang a narrative structure around without going into overwhelming detail. From founding of SLC to MMM, a trajectory that indicated separatism; from MMM on integration. It’s not perfect. But it’s pretty serviceable.

  134. When the Feds came there was no shooting–that is the part that is so amazing! But it took a huge amount of work to arrange matters so that there would not be any. MMM was planned (and as much improvised as planned, it seems) and executed in a matter of days by a few Mormons in a remote outpost. The Mormon response to the federal army was carefully orchestrated over a period of months, with BY centrally involved in the decision-making, and involved extensive cooperation by thousands of Saints, precisely to make sure that there would not be any actual combat. The foundations of the temple were buried, people filled their houses with straw and stood by with torches . . . If you want to understand how the Mormons related to the U.S. gov from one “high point” event, that would be the place to go.

  135. #130 said:

    Re #118: “Joseph Smith\’s sex drive, combined with his desire to be pious, resulted in the introduction of polygamy to America,”

    I have to disagree. I guess you are saying that God said nothing whatsoever to Joseph Smith about polygamy, that he simply made all that up because he was horny?

    It’s Not Me, you are reading me correctly. I do not think God had anything to do with polygamy in the 19tht century and I don’t think God has anything to do with polygamy today.

    #135 said:
    Here’s the 10 million dollar question, what on Earth was Joseph using in the 19th Century for Birth control, cause it sure seemed to work some miracles. pregnancies Emma-10, 32 other wives- not one credible.

    Doc, I do not know what method of birth control he may have used; maybe Bill Clinton’s method? Perhaps he has descendants whose genetic markers, Lehi-like, disappear due to genetic drift or some such thing. Sarah Pratt said that Joseph employed the services of Dr. Bennett to “take care” of any unwanted pregnancies. The historical sources supporting that allegation, however, are only slightly more credible than the evidence supporting the historcitiy of the Book of Mormon, so I wouldn’t necessarily put too much stock in them. Are you trying to argue that Joseph Smith did not have sex with Fanny Alger or his other wives? And your evidence for that is that you don’t know if he had any children by them? Seems like a weak argument to me, given the historical evidence establishing that he did have sex with at least some of the women he illicitly married.

  136. Overall, I thought \”The Mormons\” was pretty even-handed. I also cringed at the \”alpha & omega\” bit since most Christians associate this phrase with Jesus Christ. I thought it focused too little on the theology of the church and too much on the more sensational aspects, e.g. MMM and polygamy. I found myself becoming impatient with the overemphasis on \”fundamentalist Mormons\” because I felt they really have no relevance to the church today, but they should be mentioned up to place them in a historical context. There was no reason to interview the guy and his wives however.

    Some of the things the scholars said were just bizarre, i.e. that whole section about Utah being like hell with the montage of scenes from southern Utah and the dancing part was so artsy fartsy. It was kind of fun picking out the scenes from various church movies and guessing the locations of the some of the shots.

    Anyway, I\’m hoping tonight that they\’ll emphasize our Christ-centered beliefs more. I\’m sick of people saying that we\’re not Christians.

  137. Craig V. (#137),
    I am saying that maybe, just maybe, their was something more to eternal marriage the way Joseph Smith taught it that sex. Richard Bushman in his memoirs put it this way in trying to explain polyandry to a church member who wrote him a letter.

    “I fear I have little to offer by way explaining polyandry. It remains a puzzle. All I know is that Joseph Smith was preoccupied with sealing—not just husbands to wives, but childrens to parents, and one generation to another. He wanted to lock people into relationships—not necessarily sentimental relationships but ones of mutual obligation and cooperation. Our preoccupation with romance blocks us, I think, from understanding what he was getting at. I am sure he had affection for his wives, but marriage as a culmination of a powerful attraction was not his point. He saw marriage as the formation of a relationship that would in some way make people responsible to one another. All of this was connected in turn with raising up a people. Another element is his concern for lineage—that priesthood comes down by lineage. Forming the right kinds of line or being linked to the right lines facilitates that transmission.”

  138. “I wouldn’t get too worked up about the Alpha and Omega comment.”

    I’m sure it was meant well, but “Alpha and Omega” is a title for Christ in our culture, and Joseph Smith is not our Christ.

  139. The “Alpha and Omega” comment is another example of where the key people involved in making the film are either (a) out of their depth, or (b) intentionally distorting the truth. As Adam says, “Alpha and Omega” in the context of Christianity clearly goes with Christ. If you don’t know that, you have a pretty superficial acquaintance with Christianity. If you do know that, then to say Joseph Smith is our Alpha and Omega is to call us idolaters.

    This is the sort of comment that any decently educated Mormon could have told them was either (a) a stupid mistake or (b) a serious misrepresentation. Why didn’t they have a decently educated Mormon involved in a role that would allow them to catch this sort of thing? It makes it look like they weren’t all that concerned about accuracy or fairness. Of course, in a great many ways they *were* accurate and fair, but at quite a number of places they weren’t.

  140. Rodger,
    Just because someone has formed an opinion one way or another does not mean that s/he has not varied their perspective. (It is kinda condescending to assume so without evidence.) In actuality, by asserting that ALL persons who are A cannot form a reasonable opinion which relates to B is depriving them of the openness and “perspective” that you are claiming is important to consider. Isn’t that in essence saying “only people who don’t choose B have perspective, therefore: anyone who isn’t singing my song obviously doesn’t have perspective.” This attitude isn’t conducive to productive debate.

  141. #149: “It’s Not Me, you are reading me correctly. I do not think God had anything to do with polygamy in the 19tht century and I don’t think God has anything to do with polygamy today.”

    Then I take it that you reject Joseph Smith as a prophet in any sense or to any degree, for, while a prophet may make mistakes, a prophet does not lie about revelation. At least, I don’t know how one would accept a person as a prophet if that person has lied about having received revelation that he didn’t.

  142. And by the way, if Joseph Smith was not a prophet, the LDS Church is a fraud. (For the record, believe he was a prophet).

  143. I understand that polygamy is a valid part of the LDS church’s history. BUT to assume one knows about Joseph Smith’s sexual desires or his like/dislike for plural marriage and younger women is ignorant and grossly speculative. Obviously, members have a great respect for him and revere him as a prophet, so to even write or speak about it is disrespectful and an affront. And I continue to have a hard time with accusations and written documentation that date back to a time of overly-sensitive speculation and maddening hatred. Things can be written that are false; although it appears some individuals believe any and all written historical accounts to be true–I do not. So, seeing as Joseph Smith cannot retaliate and speak for himself, I think it is wise for all parties to not speak of something they CAN NOT know.

    That being said, it was a good documentary, it has apparently opened up discussion and perhaps enlightened members and others to the history of the Mormon church, however one interprets. It is always interesting to hear what scholarly-types have to say (not including the questionable expertise of Ed Firmage “Descendant of Brigham Young”).

    And tonight we shall see ourselves???? Hmmmmm…

  144. Is Terry Givens the man or what? And by “the man” I mean “incredibly articulate.”

    I just love hearing him speak, his elucidation . . .

    He is a great mind.

    (and he wears a turtleneck well, too. All he was missing was a pipe . . .)

  145. WesternDave, #134:

    “Are you saying he wasn’t rogueish before his conversion experience at least to our modern eyes?”

    No, I’m just talking about proportion. Joseph is a very difficult (impossible?) personality to capture, and “The Mormons” focused almost exclusively on the weird-appearing aspects.

    “I think it is a stretch to say that Joseph Smith was wildly popular with ordinary folks?”

    I did not say “wildly popular,” and I was talking about the Saints and their love for him. (Not all, I know; but a substantial majority, according to Bushman’s book.)

    “MMM is an extremely important point in church history although not particularly relevant to current belief. It is the high point of tension between the political entity of Deseret and the US Government. In its aftermath, are the beginnings of political and social reconciliation that culminate in the Wodruff Manifesto.”

    Fair enough, but I do not think the documentary described MMM as such. I also do not think it is essential to an understanding of Mormonism– at least not so essential as to deserve as much time as it got.

    Matt Thurston, #126:

    “And this [Margaret Toscano’s having been excommunicated for apostasy] is important, how? An Ex-Mormon’s opinon is just as valid and important as a Mormon’s and Non-Mormon’s opinion for such a documentary.”

    I guess I can’t help it. I’m a lawyer and I am always looking for bias in “witnesses.” More important, there’s a difference between someone with an apparent axe to grind (Toscano) and someone who simply identifies positively with the subject matter (Givens et al.). I am mainly wondering what Toscano has done to qualify her for elevation to the same lofty plane as people like Givens and Flake and Bushman and Mouw, all seriously recognized scholars or obervers of Mormonism?

    “The documentary fairly and professionally referred to each of the talking heads according to their profession (historian, journalist, apostle, scholar, whatever), not by their place on the belief or LDS membership spectrum.”

    You misunderstand. To flag people that way would be offensive and impossible to do fairly. I am just wondering what Toscano was doing in the film in the first place. Same with Ken Clark, who runs a web site for the Exmormon Foundation. He’d be great for a film about why people leave the Church, but not as a seemingly authoritative commentator on Church history– described as “former LDS religion instructor,” or something like that. Why do you think that was defensible?

  146. “(and he wears a turtleneck well, too. All he was missing was a pipe . . .)”

    Don’t forget about the tweed-looking jacket with leather elbow guards.

  147. Kathleen and Rodger L., I’ve deleted your comments while allowing similar ones to stand because, well, I’m arbitrary that way. Please read the T&S comment policy before again participating in my threads; I’ll thank you for adhering to minimal standards of courtesy.

  148. I have to admit, I am somewhat surprised by the way that Polygamy is treated in this show as well as in the comments from some professed LDS members on this blog.

    I have no question that this practice was both directed by and rescinded by direct revelation from God. I don\’t understand why it is accepted that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Solomon had multiple wives and were directed by revelation to take them (as is apparent from Bible), but that such a practice could and would only happen in today\’s day and age as the result of sexual desires. Does this practice give the Bible a black eye, or are those who practiced it referred to as adulterers or any other negative thing? I would suggest that they are not. In fact, the entire house of Israel commonly referred to as the Chosen people are a result of marriages between Jacob and several wives.

    I, a faithful LDS member, do not look upon the period of time where polygamy was practiced as a negative footnote to the history of the church, The Prophet Joseph, or Brigham Young in any way.

    Having said this, I have no desire whatsoever for this Law to be reinstated in my lifetime. Marriage is an enormous commitment that requires an incredible amount of time an energy to fulfill. It seems ridiculous to me that someone would enter into such a relationship merely to satisfy sexual desires. It is important to remember that the men who took multiple wives did not take them for a day or a week, but that they married them for Time and All Eternity. I may be wrong, but I do not remember the Documentary last night or anything that I have read indicating that Joseph or Brigham would take a wife one day and divorce her the next after some sort of sexual desire was satisfied. Indeed, history shows that these women and their children were housed, clothed, fed and provided for as family (which they were). This must have required incredible effort from men who primarily earned a living from the toil of their own hands.

    It seems to me that if polygamy was truly conceptualized by Joseph out of some sort of sexual frustration or desire and not revelation, he would have been crafty enough about it to exclude the enormous burden of marriage. Why not institute organized prostitution or take concubines or some other such non-binding relationship where sexual appetites could be satisfied? The answer to this seems obvious to me, polygamy was not an invention of Joseph Smith for the purposes of sexual gratification.

    Anyone who suggests that sexual appetites are a reason to marry is uninformed and trivializing the institution of marriage. Certainly sexual desire is a component, I believe it is important to find your mate attractive, but marriage requires much more that this. Anyone in a successful enduring marriage would have to agree.

    I love my wife and I do not want to imagine my life without her, but making our relationship successful requires everything I have to give and more (and well worth it). I cannot begin to imagine how I could handle a \’second wife\’. No matter how strong the sexual appetite may be, the additional complications to my life of multiple wives would not be worth the additional burden unless there was a more compelling reason; for example a commandment of God. I can only imagine that the contemporaries of Joseph and Brigham must have felt the same.

    I do not believe that there is any reason to whitewash, attempt to hide or be embarrassed by this practice. To do so only reinforces the opinions that it was a misguided decision. It was not initiated out of the desires of a man (whom I believe was a chosen Prophet of God) but a commandment of that God who commanded Prophets of old to do the same. This is my faith, and I am not hesitant in the slightest to share it.

    I also disagree somewhat with some who have posted here in regards to the Church currently practicing polygamy as far as the governments of this world are concerned. It is certainly true that we believe that we marry \’for time and all eternity\’ rather than \’till death do us part\’. As a result of this belief, it is true that the Church does consider a widower still married even though the governments of this world do not recognize him as such. If this man were to find another woman that he would like to marry, the church will allow him to marry her as will the government. This practice may be considered polygamy by the church as they recognize both marriages, but not by the government as they no longer recognize the first marriage (it ended with the death of the wife as far as they are concerned).

    I do not support the practice of so called \’Fundamentalist Mormons\’ or any other group that currently participate in polygamy against the commandment of God as revealed by current or past anointed prophets, and do not as was suggested by the documentary secretly wish to emulate them.

    I reiterate that this is one commandment that I am happy to not have to obey at this time.

    Flame me if you must…

  149. Can someone tell me how the Saints got word that a prominent member of the Church in Arkansas had been assasinated and that a wagon train from there was heading for Utah in time to meet up with them as they came into the valley? I’m confused about that.

    Being a convert I don’t know much about the MMM but from what I saw last night, all the persecution they endured, they hear this has happened in Ark. and a wagon train is now heading for THEM. Well, what would you think when your firsthand experience with persecution, with the worst is very real? I’d think they probably weren’t coming all this way to give us their condolences.
    What were they or BY to do? Call 911?

    My point is that it’s a tragedy and it’s horrid. And we all regret that it happened. What does the world want the Church to do about it now? It was a very different life, time and place back then and I don’t see how it pertains to Latter-day-Saints today.

    And Part 2 of the documentary was slanted against the Church I thought. It looked like we indoctrinate children from the time they’re born to go on missions, whether they believe or not, they don’t have a choice but to go. The part about LDS women in Utah and anti-depressants as if it’s the Church that’s hurting them. Clinical depression, the type that requires medication, often runs in families genetically. It’s a physical illness in the brain chemistry and it’s no different than some families being prone to diabetes or other illness. The Church isn’t making them sick.

  150. After the second episode my overall conclusion is: We cannot expect others to tell our story the way we would like it told. They’ll never get it right. We have to tell it ourselves.

    Just one example: After watching tonight, the average viewer would think that missions are terrible, hard regimented experiences that young men are pressured into. Surely the producers could have found a few rank and file members (other than Elder Jensen) who had wonderful experiences on their missions?

    Of course, the funereal music didn’t help much . . . .

    Oh, well.

  151. Huh, Lowell, that wasn’t my impression at all. The mission segments actually made me nostalgic for the intense devotion of my mission (in the funny way you get nostalgic for something insanely, almostly ridiculously hard–and isn’t it true, after all, that a mission is a hard and regimented experience and that young men sometimes are pushed into them?).

    My husband and I were both laughing ruefully watching the poor missionaries try to stop people on the street. Oh, the memories of being an official religious fanatic, cult representative, and gadfly to the general population–albeit a very polite one….

  152. I apologize if anyone has asked this question previously. I haven’t had time to review all the comments. I was interested, and in some disagreement with, the comments of Margaret Toscano related to the expected role of women in the church. I’m certain that, despite my 33 years of marriage and great desire to understand the feelings of women in the church, I cannot fully comprehend the pressures felt by my wife and other women when it comes to what is expected of them in the church. But it seems to me that committed and caring male members of the church, of which I know many, have reverence and respect for women in the church and our expectations of them are no greater than they are for ourselves. If a child goes astray I have never been tempted to blame the mother specifically, or even blame the parents per se. Having raised four children and experience exactly those challenges, I know how much the faith and prayers of my wife helped to turn around the life of the wayward child.

    And so I’m interested in the women contributing to this thread what you thought of those comments relating to the expectations of women in the church? Certainly there are high expectations for all of us but do you actually feel that weight more than men?

    On the other hand, in respectful disagreement with some of the comments mentioned above, I thought the inclusion of some “former” Mormons was interesting in that it seemed that each of them still loves the church and all that it stands for but simply left the church because of a crisis of conscience or because of some specific action on their part that precipitated excommunication. It seemed that even they spoke in respectful terms and, in fact, longed for their association to continue or be renewed.

  153. re # 59, nice comment Lowell.

    You wrote Fair enough, but I do not think the documentary described MMM as such. I also do not think it is essential to an understanding of Mormonism– at least not so essential as to deserve as much time as it got.

    I think this is an essential point that people outside the Church should ideally be able to grasp — and why the documentary was indeed slanted by spending so much time on it at all. Let’s put in this way: apparently, many faithful, active, lifelong Latter-day Saints — even many with pioneer stock or direct descendants of some of the first members of the Church — have never heard of MMM, and yet I think one would be hard-pressed to claim that such people do not have an understanding of Mormonism. Truly, MMM is a tragic historical event but it is only tangentially related at best to the Latter-day Saint experience. More likely, it is entirely irrelevant to the characteristics of Latter-day Saints, to the faith of the Latter-day Saints, or to their collective identity.

    Re my pessimism in # 3 that was objected to, I must say that Whitney certainly will never “shatter” any stereotypes that anyone has about Latter-day Saints if she allows the statement to stand that (paraphrasing) “Joseph Smith is the Mormons’ Alpha and Omega”. A few others on this thread has mentioned this but I think it merits more attention. This is obfuscation of the sort that plays directly into the stereotypes that encumber Latter-day Saints. Specifically, creedal Christians and Latter-day Saints alike regard Jesus Christ as Alpha and Omega, as expressed in the Book of Revelation in the Bible. To state incorrectly that Latter-day Saints view Joseph Smith as their Alpha and Omega seriously reinforces the old-fashioned and ill-informed stereotype from the nineteenth century that Latter-day Saints worship Joseph Smith or have somehow replaced Jesus Christ with Joseph Smith. This is no more true than would be the assertion that the early Christians had replaced Jesus Christ with a worship of the Apostle Peter. It is difficult to conceive of Whitney as expecting to shatter stereotypes when she reinforces them through such incorrect statements.

  154. And so I’m interested in the women contributing to this thread what you thought of those comments relating to the expectations of women in the church? Certainly there are high expectations for all of us but do you actually feel that weight more than men?


    My Dh and I discussed this very thing while watching the program. And the simple truth of the matter is that generally women are more critical of women, then men are of men. We are aware of this fact, but for the most part we still buy into it . We do it, In part, due to comments like Ms. Toscano\’s. It is a problem perpetuated by the women in this church. We keep talking about the \”Mormon Ideal\”, lending it credence in our lives.

    I feel no pressure from my DH, and the leaders of the church have persistently have told me not to hold myself to an unobtainable ideal. We do it to ourselves. Bummer.

  155. john f. (#168) – Yes, I also cringed when I heard the “Alpha and Omega” comment. Call me Pollyanna, but I am writing it off as a gaffe by a writer who doesn’t appreciate the words’ significance — which, if true, raises other questions about the writer, but I’ll stop there.

  156. John,

    It’s a strange argument you make that because most Mormons haven’t heard of MMM then it must be irrelevant. Part One was an explicitly historical piece. When a historian proceeds to tell history, she does not think, “hmmm, I must only tell those stories that people have heard of.” If the criteria was only telling stories Mormons found important, they should have just put a blank screen up for two hours with the text, “Please read ‘Our Heritage.'”

    MMM is an incredibly important story, maybe not for modern Mormonism (and here, your point would be valid), but in the history of Mormonism. As such, it deserved to be treated. And I only counted once voice among several that reduced it all to Brigham Young’s megalomania, and even that voice was fairly soft.

    And you are utterly, utterly wrong about this documentary being slanted, and I am surprised to hear such clannishness from you, John. Sure, it’s slanted in the sense that it isn’t a PR puff piece, and it certainly as inaccuracies and lacunae, but taken as a whole, Whitney has done a marvelous job.

    Did you manage to stream it? I found it painfully slow (rubbish connection), and so have only been watching it in parts. Part II tonight!

  157. The importance of MMM in the telling of Mormon history (eschewing any thought of whether it is relevant today):

    It’s a dramatic piece of Western Americana through which the following issues can be raised:

    The Missouri persecutions, the Mormon refuge from persecution in Deseret, Mormon theocracy, the Mexican War and Utah’s becoming a territory, James Buchanan, the impending Civil War and the federal concern that another part of the US was in “rebellion,” the Utah War, Parley P. Pratt, scorched earth, blood atonement, religious fanaticism, cover-up and denial, etc. etc.

    History needs a backdrop. MMM serves this purpose and as such it is important. It also shows how historical religions deal with bumps in their history: with great difficulty.

  158. I am a good standing LDS. But I have previously been an apostate, so I feel I\’ve been very objective from both sides of the fence. I found much of the programming NOT to be a good representation of the Church in several regards. The issue that was particularly disturbing to me (in the first 2 hour block show) was the Mountain Meadows Massacre (non-LDS biased and unproven theories made to look factual)-they failed to point out that Brigham Young had sent a letter to prevent this massacre, but it did not reach them in time. This should suffice as support that he did NOT order this militia to do this, in addition to other evidences that PBS conveniently left out. Juanita Brooks has a book detailing the Massacre: The Mountain Meadows Massacre, revised ed, Norman OK, 1991. The Fancher (or Baker-Fancher) train was also to blame for the trouble. They had openly ridiculed the Mormons, saying things like \”this is the gun that shot ol\’ Joe Smith\”. They also gave the Indians poisoned meat, killing four of them, and they also poisoned an Indian waterhole. Apparently part of the Fancher train was from Missouri, where the Mormons had been foully treated and Joseph Smith had been killed by a mob. This was an ugly incident from all angles, so you can easily see how this could provoke the Indians and the militia. But again, it does NOT justify their actions, and they will be judged, sorely, in Heaven for this-just as the many mobs that killed many of our (LDS) early saints of the Church. But my point is that this does not fall onto the shoulders of Brigham Young or the general Church. I understand this is a controversial issue, but that is b/c there is NO proof that Brigham Young ordered this. In fact, there IS evidence FOR Brigham Young, but mormon critics fail to mention this out of ignorance or perhaps just the fact that they\’re \”anti.\” It also had no mention as to the ceremony/monument erected for those victims in which LDS Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, spoke and offered his deepest sympathies-along with those victims\’ descendants who have expressed their desire to put it behind them and be at peace with the Latter-day Saints. There were other things that were represented in a negative manner-in which they failed to mention positive things that could\’ve changed a viewer\’s perspective of our Church. I could sit here and dissect so many inaccuracies or context that was twisted, but there would never be enough time in my day to do this. I encourage anyone to research from ALL angles. We must be objective from all angles. PS-Calling Joseph Smith the Alpha & Omega-I can\’t imagine any LDS stating this. We do NOT worship him, and referring to him in this way could lead people to the wrong impression.

  159. Ronan, I have had to watch it in parts, chapter by chapter.

    I agree that MMM is an interesting and tragic piece of history. I just don’t know if it really has anything to do with “The Mormons”, either then or now. Sure, the renegade band who did the killing was comprised of Mormons and Indians and the Mormons involved tried to justify their crimes by referring to tenets of their faith. I fail to see how their crimes, despite their stated justifications, have any relevance to what it means to be a Latter-day Saint or to the faith and values of this people. The documentary is a show about the Mormons, meant to provide information and attempting to be balanced. It just doesn’t seem balanced to spend nearly a quarter of the first half on MMM.

    As for my view that it is slanted, I think that it was very good and, as any good Latter-day Saint, I love it when “they” are talking about “us”, even if things sounds skewed when they say it. Of course I do not expect anything like a blank screen with the words “Read Our Heritage” as you suggest. But what do you make of the eerie music, the bizarre picture of the Moroni-corpse, the Joseph Smith Alpha and Omega statement, and those types of things? Can’t those give slant as well in addition to decisions like spending so much time on something that is not relevant to what it means to be a Latter-day Saint, then or now (the MMM)?

    On the other hand, I agree with the comment some have made above and on other threads that it was a good and conscientious treatment of MMM. If MMM is going to be made into something essential to know about the Mormon religion (which my point is that it is not something essential about Mormons but is certainly essential to any study of that period of the history of that area), then a treatment of it should provide context and both sides to the issue, which this did. In that sense, I think you must be misunderstanding me when I look at the show as somewhat slanted. I agree that it is great that if she was going to mention MMM at all, that she didn’t just give two minutes of the gory details but that she fleshed it out and put it in context.

    I disagree with MikeinWeHo, however, that this should become a seminary video. It doesn’t make sense why people who are already Latter-day Saints (i.e. seminary kids) need to learn about who the Mormons are from a documentary made for an audience consisting of people who are not members of the Church and who have never heard of the Church before. Sure, we can improve our seminary videos, manuals, and other teaching materials, and even make them much more academic, as some seem to place a lot of emphasis on, but we can tell our own story better. So, I would suggest that this video would not and should not make a great seminary video. BUT it would be a great video for an eighth-grade U.S. History class as a resource to rely on when entering the material about Mormons — at least that would be better than what I got in that class: “Joseph Smith was a fraud who started a church so he could have a lot of wives and then directed his followers to vote in blocs which eventually led to Smith’s killing at which time his followers chose to head to Utah where the isolation would allow them to continue in their cult ways.”

  160. John,
    I actually like the music and art. I think theophanies, visions, and angelic visitations are probably terrifying. I think that perhaps we’re used to Mormon “image” and “sound” in a hyper-realist, major-key way and were therefore a little challenged by it. But being challenged is good!

  161. Okay, I couldn’t help myself from typing more…..I wish that something would’ve been mentioned regarding the witnesses for so many events in the Church. Most people are probably not aware of the many people who not only saw the golden plates, but also tangibly held them. Even by some that left the Church, they took this testimony to their death bed. And what about how we were portrayed as a rasict religion? On the issue of men being OVER the women. This was also taken out of context. I am a “mormon” wife and mother. The wife and the husband play EQUAL roles in the home, but the roles are different-not more or less than the other. He does not “dominate” me or silence me, or anything of this sort. I don’t know a single LDS couple that has this “one dominating figure” in their homes (and I know a lot of mormons!). If there ever was this “dominating figure,” then the man should be stripped from his priesthood authority. The prophet is clear on this. And that excommunicated lady that talked last night? She was writing literature that was not Church sanctioned doctrine. Back in the days just prior to the reform, people were considered heritics for this and put to death. But instead, our Church leaders excommunicated her, yet still shook her hand b/c of the love they have for her (and hope that perhaps one day she’ll come to understand her errors and come back…?). Wouldn’t Jesus do the same thing for a sinner? We’re to love those that do us wrong-that is in the scriptures. Why did she portray the handshake after the excommunication as some kind of evil? I’m not saying that Whitney did a terrible job with this production. The efforts were great and many worthy notes were mentioned. But from an outsider looking in, justice can not be done-no matter the sincerety of the intentions. If you want the hard facts, ask a good standing LDS, or go to http://www.jefflindsay.com/index-old.html

  162. Ronan, I guess we simply disagree. I did not recognize a lot of what I saw in the documentary as my church.

    I think there may be a bit of a division line in the responses of LDS viewers: Those who are basically happy with the Church found the film disappointing, generally; those who are less happy with the Church think it was generally wonderful.

    I made a few notes last night:


    The music is like that of a horror film.

    of the very positive story coming later.

    “The questions swirling around Mitt Romney suggest that Mormons haven’t quite yet arrived.” What?

    Do some missionaries actually enjoy the experience? Why are D. Michael Quinn and Trevor Southey used as authorities on what it’s lie to go on a mission? 2 excommunicants?

    No one has enjoyed their mission yet.

    Tal Bachman: “If my mission president had told me to blow myself up like a suicide bomber I would have done it.” This is proportional?

    Finally Marlin Jensen shares a powerful, positive mission story. The only one.

    M. Toscano’s story seems quite self-pitying. Why does she get so much time?

    Excommunication of apostates is a very big deal to the more intellectual element in the Church, but how important is it to understanding your Mormon neighbor?

    Polygamy described as the foundation of our current emphasis on family? An interesting theory, but that’s all.

    Why is Toscano the one explaining what it’s like to be LDS and an LDS woman?

    Temples. Freeman reveals symbolic oaths of former ceremony. Why does an ex-Mormon who hasn’t been there for decades tell the world what happens in the temple? Toscano too. Southey too. Why rely on excommunicants?


    Just my reactions. I will say this: According to some well-informed observers, this documentary may be the first time any news organization actually presented the account of the First Vision correctly.

  163. I have to disagree with the idea that the MMM lacks relevance to the history of Mormonism and for Latter-day Saints today. Any careful study of Juanita Brooks’ great book reveals that the perpetrators felt that they were acting under the direction of church authorities. They had been whipped into a state of hysteria by General Authorities during the Reformation period immediately preceding the event. Brigham Young and other leaders actively covered up the event following the 1857 Utah War. John D. Lee was a scapegoat sacrificed with the aid of Brigham Young and other leaders. Some LDS leaders changed their testimonies in Lee’s second trial to take heat off of the church. It became, and still is, a major point of criticism against the LDS people.

    Juanita’s book led to the restoration of temple blessings for John D. Lee. But Brooks was ostracized by many church members, including General Authorities after the publication of her book. What is interesting is the Juanita really disliked Brigham Young, but once admitted to burning MMM documents that were too damning to the church. Her story was the opening round in the conflict between the intellect and the spirit that plagues the Mormon people to this day.

  164. Those who are basically happy with the Church found the film disappointing, generally; those who are less happy with the Church think it was generally wonderful.

    Sorry, Lowell, but this is rubbish. How can you possibly make such an inference?

  165. think there may be a bit of a division line in the responses of LDS viewers: Those who are basically happy with the Church found the film disappointing, generally; those who are less happy with the Church think it was generally wonderful.

    I am “basically happy” with the church and I really enjoyed it. I am curious if you equate happiness for lassitude? I strive to understand my religion, and in doing so, I question many things. It is, however, simple, blind, unknowing faith that keeps me happy in the church.

  166. Ronan-I agree with Lowell. I have come to find that those who harbor ill feelings for the Church (&/or those that have left it), have done so b/c of their own personal reasons; NOT b/c of the Church.

  167. re 167 and 170

    “And so I’m interested in the women contributing to this thread what you thought of those comments relating to the expectations of women in the church? Certainly there are high expectations for all of us but do you actually feel that weight more than men?”

    Firstly, I disagreed with much that Margaret Toscano had to say regarding the woman’s role in the LDS church. I, do, in fact feel it is a very equal partnership in my marriage. I am not clinically depressed nor do I require any medications for such medical issues. But, in my opinion, that’s an entirely different misunderstanding of women/mothers/wives in general.

    I feel there is a lot placed on both sexes–which in turn keeps us working hard and straight. Certainly men have high expectations to provide for the family, hold the priesthood, fulfill callings, and spend time with their children. It is in that instance I believe men hold a lot of responsibility–if a family goes “astray”, did the father spend time with his family? Was he faithful to his wife? Did he work too much/obsessed with success? There is much to be said for the stresses and responsibilities of the LDS man/father.

    Where I do feel there are higher expectations for women than men in the Church is when it comes to teaching in the home. I believe Ms. Toscano was overly dramatic when explaining the stresses and responsibilities LDS women feel when having a wayward child or going to work, but I do agree there is an issue there. Everytime I stay up until early morning working on freelance work and then being a tired, cranky mother the next day, I do feel guilt. When I need a babysitter so I can make an occasional meeting, I do feel guilt. But I do also feel guilt when I am pregnant/sick and unable to play with my young children and clean the house. I believe the women’s role to be divine as a mother. This is no easy task. I feel the expectation is higher solely because the mother spends the most time with the children, ideally of course. I do feel that if my children were to “go astray”, I would feel it was mostly fault of my own neglect (and of course, free agency).

    So, I think Ms. Toscano was SEMI-correct. But it is an equal partnership, and there are probably a lot of men who would feel as much guilt and stress as the women. But these are the types of issues ALL families deal with and work out, it’s not unique to the LDS families. It only appears as such because there is such an emphasis in FAMILY in the church, so we are more aware and conscious. And there is such confidence and reassurance in the statements of prophets and apostles regarding such eternal issues. One that denies Ms. Toscano her over-simplified statement is Boyd K Packer when he said, “The measure of our success as parents … will not rest solely on how our children turn out. That judgment would be just only if we could raise our families in a perfectly moral environment, and that now is not possible.”

    And Joseph Smith gave peace to the mind and heart of parents when he simply exhorted, “Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.”

    So, in short, no more weight than men in responsibilty–just different–and hopefully continue to be equally yoked!

  168. What is interesting is the Juanita really disliked Brigham Young, but once admitted to burning MMM documents that were too damning to the church.


    No, no no. NO!!

    You have conflated the story of Juanita Brooks with the story of another prominent woman whose sole interest was in preserving unsullied the sanctified memory of the blessed pioneers.

    Juanita Brooks did not destroy records, and no reputable historian charges her with this. Juanita Brooks was a fearless follower of the truth who unflinchingly faced every document she could find. She dedicated much of her life to the gathering and preservation of Mormon records, regardless of their content. Her motto was famously “nothing but the truth is good enough for the church I love.”

  169. Thank you Ardis-Maybe # 179 Utopia is confusing Sandra Tanner with one of her multiple anti mormon books. Or perhaps thinking of Under the Banner of Heaven which is loaded with mistakes. Whatever the case, thanks for clearing Brooks’ name :)

  170. Ronan,

    I would agree with Lowell to this extent–those whose experience in the Church is almost entirely good do not find the program representative of their experience. I would add that those whose experience in the Church is almost entirely bad, similarly, would not find the program representative. My own experience has been a mix, but for me the experience has been mostly good, and the good has significantly outweighed the bad. And, I think that was the overall message of the second segment, that for many of us the good does outweigh the bad.

    I would note that some Church leaders, like Elders Jenson (and Elder Holland in the pbs webpage interview) recognize that experiences in the Church are not unalloyedly good. Elder Jenson, in particular, reaches out to those of us who do not “fit the mold”, so to speak. Of course, he a democrat, and knows what it is like not to “fit in” to a dominant political viewpoint among US members and leaders.

  171. Melodie, I’m sure it was an unintentional error. The story referred to is a well known one attached to another woman’s history, but I refrain from naming her because I haven’t been able to track the rumored document-burning to an adequate source — it’s just one of those tales that “everybody knows” but where everybody has forgotten how they know. No harm meant in this case, I’m sure.

  172. The account was related to me by Dr. Fred Gowans, Professor of History at BYU. I have never read Sandra Tanner’s books or the Banner of Heaven. I have it referenced in my notes. I’m at work, I’ll look it up in my files when I get home.

  173. Ronan, you know that I like the Church and I liked the show. Lowell is probably pretty isolated on that point. But liking it and recognizing its slant and audience aren’t mutually exclusive. I liked it just fine and think that Whitney did a fine job. My discussion of my complaints don’t or shouldn’t contradict that. I just fear that she may have fallen short of shattering stereotypes if she presents that Joseph Smith is the LDS Alpha and Omega. There are other legitimate goals in such a film than shattering stereotypes — for instance, telling a compelling story. I think she has achieved that goal. I’m not sure if she has shattered any negative stereotypes or if she has reinforced old ones or even inadvertently created new ones (by making MMM something definitional of Latter-day Saints).

  174. I found it! The source was Juanita’s friend, the Washington County medical examiner Bart Anderson. She said that the flames turned a freaky color of blue as they burned in her fireplace. I think this account is also in Bagley’s book on the MMM. It is probably fully referenced there. Sorry to crash on a great historian, but she was placed in pressure cooker while researching her book.

  175. Yes, I watched it, both parts.

    Part 1 was excellent. I could use a little less Givens, and much more Flake and Gordon. The balance of a few minutes to Haun’s Mill (17 dead) versus more for Mountain Meadows (100+ dead) seems right. I really wish they had left out President Hinckley’s big polygamy denial. Polygamy is us, and it’s time we realized it, even if we don’t practice it anymore.

    Part 2, oy, too long, and too unclear. I did not need that inspirational section with the budding opera star who was dying.

  176. Ardis-Yes, I’m sure it was unintentional. There is so much to keep up with!

    Utopia-thanks for the author name clear up.

  177. Sorry, Utopia, but you’re repeating a mixed-up story. The one you tell, complete with eerie blue flames, is the one usually associated not with Juanita Brooks but with the other woman. I don’t know whether your notes incorrectly record what was said in class or whether your teacher misspoke, but no reputable historian claims that Juanita Brooks destroyed records.

    As a check to your memory, I quote from Bagley’s book, which does not contain the story you are sure is there: “As her book progressed, Brooks crossed swords with Kate B. Carter, the powerful president of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. The families of pioneer diarists sometimes asked Brooks, ‘Why did you put that in?’ about the contents of the documents she copied. ‘I didn’t put it in,’ Brooks responded. ‘I left it in.’ She was appalled when Kate Carter told Brigham Young University faculty members that she purged documents of controversial passages before publication. ‘I never allow anything into print that I think will be injurious to my church,’ Carter insisted, ‘or that will in any way reflect discredit upon our pioneers.’ Brooks directly challenged such duplicity when she published an article called ‘Let’s Preserve Our Records’ in 1948. ‘The first requirement in the preservation of the documents is that they should stand absolutely unchanged,’ she wrote. Legend has it that Carter excised and destroyed all references to Mountain Meadows in documents that came into her possession. Brooks may have heard that Carter boasted of burning the critical minutes of the September 6, 1857, Stake High Council meeting in Cedar City, which voted to destroy the Fancher party.” (BOTP, 355-56)

    I stand by my defense of Juanita Brooks. You have conflated Juanita Brooks with Kate B. Carter. Juanita Brooks did not destroy records.

  178. I found the MMM section very balanced. The Mormons did it, in strict obedience, at a time of great tension — they felt they were at war. It’s a horror, but luckily for us in the distant past.

  179. Ardis,
    I found an even better source for the account I related. Check out the letter from the editor in the Salt Lake Tribune dated dated March 12, 2000. The author is James E. Shelledy. Here is the quote:

    Brooks once told a friend in St. George, current Washington County medical examiner Bart Anderson, that she even burned several important historical documents regarding Mountain Meadows. The flames in her fireplace, related Brooks, turned an eerie blue as she placed the old papers in the fire.

    “I asked her why she would ever burn such important documents,” Anderson told reporter Smith recently. “And she told me, ‘Bart, they were just too incriminating.’ ”


    Ardis, never let your zeal to defend obscure the truth.

  180. Ronan (#181): I think my inference is pretty sound. My friends who tend to be critical of the Church were very comfortable with the documentary and, like you, insisted there was no imbalance whatsoever. I am no PollyAnna about the Church, but I try hard not to be critical, and I thought much of the film was out of proportion. I also did not recognize much of the Mormon Church the filmmakers were showing. My friends who share my attitude toward criticism of the Church all tend to agree with me.

    Now, admittedly I am making a broad generalization and I know there are exceptions. Just the way I see it. But I do think the inference deserves more of a response than simply labeling it “rubbish.”

    No. 181: Equating happiness with lassitude is a pretty big leap, isn’t it? (No, I don’t make that equation, by the way.) I don’t understand what you are saying about “simple, blind, unknowing faith” keeping you happy in the church. How can faith be blind and unknowing?

  181. Utopia, I think that Ardis’s point is that the sources you are quoting have it wrong, i.e. those sources themselves are repeating the mixed up story. I’d have to go with Ardis and Bagley on this one, I must say.

    With regard to that Bagley quote, Ardis, I wonder if you could clarify an ambiguity. Bagley writes that “Brooks may have heard that Carter boasted of burning the critical minutes of the September 6, 1857, Stake High Council meeting in Cedar City, which voted to destroy the Fancher party.” Does Bagley mean, by this, that we know that Carter burned those minutes and that Brooks “may have” heard about it, i.e. he is only speculating here as to whether Brooks knew of this particular instance of destroying documents; or are we to understand this as Bagley speculating that Carter “may have” burned the minutes through the vehicle of musing on whether that was something that Brooks heard as part of the legend. The latter interpretation of Bagley’s sentence is actually consistent of his speculation about BY’s hidden message in a letter that Bagley has never read.

  182. James Shelledy is the former editor of the Salt Lake Tribune.

    I’ll retract my earlier supposition that your notes may have been in error (you’ll notice that in more than one of my comments, I’ve tried to give you a gentle “out” for retreating from your incorrect portrayal of Juanita Brooks), but I stand by my defense of Juanita Brooks.

    Exercise your reason, Utopia. You are relying on at least a third-hand account distributed by a non-historian, purporting to relate an apparently recent (ca. 2000?) anecdote that, even if true, would have had to be how old? The anecdote concerns a conversation by someone who is identified as a friend — if this is the Bart C. Anderson, folklorist, who is currently at the height of his professional career, he is how many decades younger than Juanita Brooks? They were friends of such a close nature that she confessed to him such a secret that made a liar out of her published claims and risked destroying her reputation as an historian?

    I’ll need a little time to research the background of this incredible claim, but I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, you can be less concerned about my zeal and more concerned with your gullibility.

  183. john f (198) — Will’s most direct source for the Kate B. Carter story is an unpublished article by Russell R. Rich held by the Marriott Library, University of Utah. I don’t have a copy of that to be able to evaluate Rich’s reasons for retailing the story. It is, however, consistent with stories that have been afloat in the historical community for two generations. I think that Will is saying that there is neither absolute proof that Carter did burn records, or that Brooks had heard the story; he is saying, I think*, that it was likely Brooks had heard the story because it was so widespread, regardless of the story’s ultimate accuracy.

    *I have to say “I think” because Will has charged me with misrepresenting his views. I’m trying to be very careful in all these related threads not to misstate his position, and in a case like this that I agree is somewhat ambiguous, I admit that I might not understand precisely what Will intends.

  184. Utopia, of every person I have ever read discussing mountain meadows, Ardis is the one who has impressed me the most.

  185. Re: #167

    \”And so I’m interested in the women contributing to this thread what you thought of those comments relating to the expectations of women in the church? Certainly there are high expectations for all of us but do you actually feel that weight more than men?”

    I thought the comments (and visuals) for the expectations of women were a little short-sighted, only because that has not been my experience at all. I\’m one of those \”failures\” the program alluded to: I\’m a 33 year old, return missionary, single woman (it was nice that Elder Jensen acknowledged it is difficult for church members who are not married), and my experiences, as I have grown older, have never made me feel like I was subservient to the men who run the show. Again, my experience is limited to just dealing with church leaders and not a husband, but no matter where I have lived since I returned from my mission, I have felt like a peer when serving in the church.

    As for the expectations, sure, there are times when I might feel like a big ol\’ slacker, but when I strip away all the to-do lists and those expectations (which I believe are largely cultural), really, there is only one expectation that God has for me: to be His faithful daughter. How I fulfill that expectation on a day-to-day basis can vary, and should never be compared to another woman\’s efforts to fulfill the very same expectation.

    I enjoyed the program–to be honest, I was expecting a lot worse, so that may have augmented my enjoyment a little. Of course there was bias and some imbalance and even some errors (laughed out loud at \”Wilfred Woodruff) but overall I enjoyed it.

  186. Okay, Utopia, I’m back. I’ve learned quite a lot about Bart C. Anderson (“Ranger Bart”) in the last half hour. He is a local history buff of southern Utah, a folklorist of sorts (although I suspect genuine folklorists like Austin Fife and William A. Wilson might object to the characterization), a tour guide who depends on storytelling for his trade, and an occasional contributor of folklore to The Spectrum newspaper. He is not an historian, not really a journalist even, and his work contains exactly no paper trail, no way for a serious scholar to track back and understand or evaluate the origins of his statements. I see that his Spectrum columns have, on occasion, shall we say “recycled” material, word for word, without attribution, from the Utah State Historical Society’s website.

    I do not attribute malice or deliberate error to him, but his work shows all the hallmarks of the careless and undiscriminating mind, soaking up, mixing up, and recycling tales — “never let the truth stand in the way of a good story” — without understanding that what he is doing is not history. It’s up to his audience to use the discretion he lacks.

    From what I have learned about his work, I suspect this is what has happened: Ranger Bart hears a story somewhere about a Mormon woman (Kate Carter) burning MMM records; not being familiar enough with historiography to keep his Mormon women historians straight, he assumes (forgets, misunderstands, errs) that the story belongs to the only Mormon woman historian whose name he knows (Juanita Brooks) and transfers the story to her; he mentally edits the story to put himself at center stage (another habit we frequently find with those who are more interested in a good story than in historical accuracy) and becomes a “witness” to the confession; and begins to include the story in his tours and local speeches. James Shelledy picks it up somewhere and repeats it (Shelledy is reputable enough to recognize that he needs to attribute his story to its source, a recognition not consistently present in Ranger Bart’s writing), and your professor mentions it in class. This is part of the normal “legend process” recognized by scholars.

    Utopia, you may think I’m dismissing Ranger Bart only to bolster my own argument. I’m not, sincerely not. I dismiss him as a credible witness because of the general tendency of his tales, because I see how clearly he fits into the legend process, and because his tale is so unlikely, given Juanita Brooks’ well documented respect for the historical record, and the sheer unbelievability that she would have confessed such a thing to a man who may have known her but who could hardly have been a trusted colleague, given the difference in their ages and in their scholarly pursuits. If Ranger Bart stands by his tale, he needs to produce some reason for believing it that overcomes contrary evidence.

    I have no hesitation in repeating my statement: No reputable historian believes Juanita Brooks burned documents.

  187. By skipping entirely the Church\’s laudable effort to offer the Mormon Battalion to help the nation (irrespective of the need for the soldiers\’ compensation) and including the laughably twisted comments about 1) the Church publishing a \”new version\” of the Book of Mormon when \”ATOJC\” was added as a sub-title, 2) wheat being saved for the \”tumult\” that proceeds Christ\’s second coming, 3) Blacks representing Satan, and 4) the \”new and strange doctrine of baptism for the dead\” absent any Biblical reference to a time-honored practice, all compel the conclusion mentioned above: Whitney\’s production was an indisgestible hodgepodge of Mormon controversies rather than an objective effort to explain a religion that alone reflects the church as organized by the Savior. Yes, there were grains, perhaps even nuggets, of wisdom and light, but to find them one had to slog through a swamp of distortions and half-baked perceptions, most of which showed a reckless disregard for the truth.

  188. Mark Brinton, you’re the first, so far as I’ve seen, to have been jarred, like me, to the reference to wheat in the Salt Lake grain elevator as “to be used ONLY” (my emphasis) in the tumultuous days preceding Christ’s second coming. You’ll notice, however, that that bizarre statement — delivered by Frontline’s usual conspiratorially-voiced narrator, suggesting that perhaps that was one of Frontline’s insertions rather than part of Helen Whitney’s original documentary — was immediately followed by the wonderful account of Mormon response to Katrina. In other words, the refutation of that inaccuracy was given in the very next seconds! Which do you think will be retained in the minds of viewers? the inaccurate statement by a narrator, or the emotional, detailed description that followed, illustrated by irrefutable images of Mormon food being distributed here and now?

    That’s why I think we’re over-reacting to the inaccuracies. Very often, corrections were provided, and usually the corrections far outshone the original inaccuracies. I think you’re so busy looking for the swamp underfoot that you forgot to look up and see the glorious dawn!

  189. The non-Mormon that I watched the program with laughed outloud a long, long time over the wheat reference. The second coming…um, what?

    Fortunately, the program did not dwell on that.

  190. Ardis,

    Thanks for your efforts. But this story was discussed in my presence by several reputable historians (college professors) from BYU and Weber State at Weber State University approximately five years ago. I believe they understand historical research. As you know, the article that I drew the quote from is part of the series that the Trib published on the MMM. Since we believe Anderson is alive and kicking, it would only be fair to confirm the story with him. In your examination, did you learn of any way in which we could contact Bart Anderson? However this falls out it will be kind of fun!

  191. Just for fun I thought I’d look up Ranger Bart. The first press release for him really amused me. Here is an excerpt:

    Ranger Bart Anderson, an extraordinary folklore and history enthusiast of the southwest, shares his wealth of history and folklore with various groups on a daily basis. Sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank, Anderson lectures to different groups three to five times per day. He draws from 96 different subjects or lectures; three-fourths of those are on historical sights and folklore while the other third are religious.

    3/4 + 1/3 = ???

  192. I should mention the same press release also mentions his relationship with Brooks…

    Anderson became a good friend to an eminent author of Dixie history, Juanita Brooks. Brooks inspired Anderson with her many books and stories of the area. She also encouraged him to begin lecturing. Anderson took her advice to heart and immersed himself in southwest history that grew into a passion

  193. Utopia, google Ranger Bart. He apparently enjoys being contacted and has gone to considerable effort to be sure his contact information is easily available.

    “Discussing” is not “endorsing.” I have, for example, discussed Ranger Bart’s allegation, without endorsing it.

    The burden of proof in overturning the established scholarly record is up to the challenger — in this case, you. Ball’s in your court. Absent your presentation of some defensible reason for taking the word of Ranger Bart over that of Juanita Brooks herself, I don’t see that a further exchange on this subject is necessary.

  194. C’mon, Ardis. Lighten up, this a blog! I wanted to demonstrate that I had it straight from what most would regard as reasonably reliable sources. I appreciate the dialogue, the corrections and your efforts. As for “overturning the established scholarly record” of the Grand Lady of Utah History, that was never my intent and it will take more than a couple of curious bloggers chasing down one amateur historian in southern Utah to do that! Indeed, since the story is public record, a clarification from the source would be valuable. I’ll see if I can get him to respond.

    And even if it is in any way true, Juanita Brooks literally went through h*** to write and edit the historical works that she produced…. People questioning her faith and devotion. I can see her dealing with enormous stress and tension. If I’ve heard correctly, she was so personable that the most common of people loved talking to her. She loved the people of southern Utah. I still can’t see it as such a stretch that she confessed an error in judgement to a friend, especially a friend who wouldn’t judge her harshly.

  195. Okay, Utopia, I’ll accept your good will while continuing to reject your conclusion. I have to point out, though, that I am a little more than a curious blogger idling away a lazy day by speculating with friends about an irrelevant and trivial hobby. Utah and Mormon history, particularly the period and events that Juanita Brooks specialized in, is my profession.

    Nothing gets my goat more than having people of the past misrepresented when they left an unmistakeable record — and I’m not pointing at you in this case, but at Ranger Bart. If someone gives a half-@$$ed talk in 2057, stating that he and I had been close friends in the last years before my death, and, by the way, I had told him that I never really believed the major claim of my professional life, and in fact had deliberately undermined everything I stood for, I hope some blogger stands up in my defense.

    Juanita Brooks — who was anything but an amateur — did go through hell to do her work. You think it’s a casual matter, something we should take lightly, to say her life was a lie? I can’t lighten up in this kind of thing. It matters.

  196. I think they were not only fair but went out of their way to highlight the good and interesting aspects of Mormonism. For example, the church\’s welfare system aided victims of Katrina.

    They could have been really mean and made it an expose. The could have interviewed polygamist families who call themselves Mormons. They could have interviewed only unbelievers and non-Mormon historians.

    Even the harshest critics were counterbalanced with the good. No DNA evidence for the Book of Mormon? Well, there\’s also no historical proof for the book of Exodus either.

    You even had excommunicated Margaret Toscano talking about how wonderful her first temple experience was.

    I find it hilarious when a Mormon says the program gets a \”C\” for accuracy and then goes on to say they\’ve never heard of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. This person should never attempt to assess the accuracy of anything. The biggest massacre in American history (until the Oklahoma City bombing) and you don\’t even know it was perpetrated by members of your church? I\’d say that person is the victim of somebody\’s propaganda.

    Also the included touching vignettes of Mormon life such as the young opera singer whose family recorded her voice because she was about to die. I\’m skeptical about their heavenly reunion but I would never try to persuade them of this. That was a truly beautiful expression of faith. And it shows the sympathetic nature of the film\’s creators.

    One final comment. The poor guy with 7 kids who decided to go for an 8th was extremely sad. I liked this man and had pity for him. This was an interesting piece to put into the film but I think it amounts to an argument for skepticism because it is a clear example of the abuse of faith. Getting a nice feeling after praying is not a license to risk your life. This is how suicide bombers are born and how kids get to grow up with no mother.

  197. While I agree with the point that someone who’s never heard of MMM isn’t in a position to assess the accuracy of the documentary, I’ll note that MMM wasn’t the biggest massacre in American history prior to Oklahoma City — the treatment of native Americans wins that prize, hands down. Google “Sand Creek Massacre,” for an example.

  198. Quite right. Thanks for the reminder. If the Native Americans aren’t Americans then no one is.

  199. Ardis, I replied twice to your mesage but keep getting an delivery error message. Que pasta?

  200. #215 “Getting a nice feeling after praying is not a license to risk your life.”

    This is a prime illustration of why we don’t “cast our pearls before swine.” It’s doubtful the man in the documentary gave a full description of his family’s experience of prayerfully considering another child. But because he gave a description at all, others are given material with which to criticize and explain away his personal, spiritual experience.

    I’m sure there are many who post here regularly who’ve had a number of spiritual experiences as a result of prayer. I know I have. But you can bet I’m not going to share them here.

  201. How can the founder of the mormon faith claim that god told him to lead people into plural marriages, and then the modern day followers try claim they are being stereotyped by people bring up the facts of the past?! The reason plural marriage keeps coming up in modern day mormon issues is because it further supports the reality that Joseph Smith lied, and his followers are deceived.

    \”…active Mormons can and do practice Mormonism for a lifetime without such things playing any role in their religious lives. Will the apparently heavy emphasis on these topics shatter stereotypes, or reinforce them?\”

  202. Utopia,

    I’m coming out of lurk mode to explain that if you knew ANYTHING about Juanita Brooks you would understand what a tragedy it is that this Ranger Bart is claiming she destroyed historical documents. NOTHING could be further from the truth. Juanita absolutely despised any whitewashing of history, and especially condemned destruction of historical documents.

    Ardis is correct. The person who did destroy documents is Kate Carter, the then president of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. Carter was involved in a project publishing pioneer diaries, and Juanita “listened with mounting disgust as on a Sunday evening Carter told a BYU faculty group that she insisted upon purging documents of offensive passages before permitting their publication. For Juanita, such bowdlerizing of historical sources was as alien to the authentic Utah as a modernistic art show or a fourth-rate western. ‘”When [Carter] talked of ‘editing’ journals, one of the audience . . . asked specifically what it was that she called ‘editing.’ She explained that she omitted material that seemed not important or that seemed repetitious, and then said ‘I never allow anything into print that I think will be injurious to my church, or that will in any way reflect discredit upon our pioneers, I hope if I ever do, I shall lose my position and my power to do.’”

    This is from Levi Peterson’s “Juanita Brooks, Mormon Woman Historian”

    Juanita is a hero of mine, and someone needs to set “Range Bart” straight, as he is telling an egregious untruth. “Mountain Meadows Massacre” is a testament to her commitment to telling the truth, no matter the cost. Destroying documents offended her to the core.

    This really is no little thing, as Juanita Brooks is Utah’s most courageous historian.


  203. Utopia,
    Oral historians even have a name for the processes Ardis described. One the one hand there is a horizontal shift (like on a timeline)- moving an event to a different time to tell a better story, often with the teller at the center of the action. This is different from a vertical shift which moves the meaning of the event to better fit the narrative of the teller. See, “The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories” by Allessandro Portelli. In this case Ranger Bart has a clear vertical shift going on, by changing the actor he severely changes the meaning of the story (which makes a clear distinction between antiquarian and historical conciousness) into one that says, “Mormons cannot be trusted to write history, thier own or anybody else’s.” The guy is a storyteller and should be regarded as such.

  204. This was an interesting piece to put into the film but I think it amounts to an argument for skepticism because it is a clear example of the abuse of faith. Getting a nice feeling after praying is not a license to risk your life. This is how suicide bombers are born and how kids get to grow up with no mother.

    It would be “judgmental” for anyone to question any Mormon couple’s decision not to have kids. We can’t question their revelation, etc.

    But if a Mormon couple feel inspired by God to have risks to have children, they’re fanatics who are risk to become suicide bombers and who are clearly abusing the faith.


  205. Saying it’s “Nice” with sarcasm doesn’t exactly amount to a counter-argument, now does it?

  206. I didn’t get to see any of it. What was the John Taylor quote refered to towards the top of this tread?

  207. Thanks for the comments. It’s been a hearty and healthy discussion on Ranger Bart’s statement. Nothing builds character like a good bashing in a blog, eh?

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