For a reason that is hard to understand, there have been Mormons that are impressed with how a short CNN web segment explains the Mormon religion. They might not agree with everything on the video, but the respect for it runs strong. Perhaps Mormons are grateful for any perceived neutral or positive presentation of the religion. Perhaps they are happy for any secular mention considering the lack of outraged response to the blasphemous and disgusting “Book of Mormon” musical. A growing and influential religion deserves better than what has come out of obscurity, although a lack of respect and understanding about religion in general is part of today’s society.
The short report by CNN religion editor Dan Gilgoff is bad enough to deserve a critical review. This isn’t even “Mormonism for Dummies,” but just dumb. It doesn’t touch on more than the most basic of basics; some of that only half of the information necessary for understanding. There isn’t much detail to go into to pull from, but that is part of the problem. Superficially it might not have been wrong, yet so far as contexts and relevance it leaves out a lot of important information. This hampers its worth for those who want to know more.
The web segment starts out well enough. He covered the current cultural presence of Mormon candidates and the musical. The idea that people are curious is not substantiated. The press has discussed public perceptions and printed hardly groundbreaking articles, but nothing of real substance.
After introducing the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better information should have been added about the founding prophet. For accuracy sake, they should have called him Joseph Smith Jr. in the first instance of his name, while making it clear that the visions came on or near his family’s farm. It wasn’t his during the pivotal religious experiences.
The story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the scripture, wasn’t too bad. At least he hadn’t followed the more common and misleading press habit of leaving out Moroni altogether that heightens the “treasure seeking” aspect of his life. Problematically, the significance of the vision of God and Jesus Christ is never explained. Listeners would have been more informed by at least explaining that Joseph Smith became concerned over the religious rivalry of his day. Mormons believe he experienced his visions in response to his prayers for enlightenment.
The explanation of how the Book of Mormon was translated has a subtle lack of truth. It would have been better to leave out “hieroglyphics,” because its never explained that way, even by the scripture. Not even what has been considered by Mormons an example of the writings can be considered hieroglyphic in nature. He should have just said “reformed Egyptian” and leave it at that. Of course, Joseph Smith claimed he translated those plates by the Power of God; a very important distinction.
The report missed an opportunity to really explore the Mormon concept of God, regardless of the shortness of time. A few well placed words can go a long way. God might be described by Mormons as of human form, but there is more than immortality that is a distinction. He has a Glorified and Exalted body of transcendent properties. Reducing God to a mere bigger, better human, either by Mormons or others, shows a lack of perspective for who Mormons worship as our Father in Heaven.
Touching on what Mormons avoid eating and drinking while avoiding giving a brief reason why showed a lack of reporting skills. It would have been nice to explain that the restrictions come from a revelation about how the body should be treated, specifically in relation to food. The mention of continual revelation could have been a nice bridge into the “Word of Wisdom” as its called, giving a practical example of the prophetic process.
The garment section made little sense, although at least it didn’t mention “magic” as a main purpose of their existence. How can something be an outer representation of an inner commitment, but still be covered up? The reporter, although respectful to the subject, might have been equally confused and so said what he did. Adding the description of “personal and private outer representation” could have made it easier to understand.
Where the discussion of the history of polygamy goes wrong can’t be pinpointed. There are historical and theological inaccuracies floating around the too quick explanations. Maybe the subject is too complicated for a brief outline that can’t go into a more nuanced presentation. Some of the missed information includes the Mormon desire for Utah statehood with polygamy standing in the way, arrests and incarceration of religious leaders by government enforcement of anti-polygamy laws, and the ending revelation itself that warns of the total destruction of the LDS Church if it continued.
The missionary section was good enough for what he said. It would have been even better to explain, once more, the prophetic nature of the LDS Church in the context of mission callings. In fact, the lay leadership aspect of the church was skipped over entirely. What Mormons mean by prophets and revelation is a highly misunderstood concept by those outside the Church, and some who are members.
The race section falls flat by the standards of even the polygamy portion of the report. There is no context even using the uncomfortable ban on blacks holding the Priesthood. It is so U.S. centric that he left out more than half of the members are now living outside the United States, with a large portion of Latinos and African blacks comprising the religious population. If time constraints were the problem, this should have been left out entirely because of its problems.
Having said all that, the CNN interview with Prof. Richard Bushman is a good read. Of course, this is partly because a real and intelligent Mormon was given a chance to speak more than a few words. What he said about Mormon personal faith, “the process of just believing is not so simple . . . I caught a glimpse of a higher form of human flourishing, something forceful and ennobling which I can only call sacred . . . For me ‘just believing’ meant turning the light on, not turning it off,” needs expanded. Coming to a “testimony” of the Gospel as taught in Mormonism is far more complicated than a single “burning in the bosom” that is mis-characterized and often mocked. That will be left for another day.