Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bigotry in Television: Target: Mormons

My Dear Reader,

Imagine that one of the bigwigs at one of those big cable networks has a pitch for a new series called Bjudaism. You see, it's all about this fictional religious group of Americans with big, long beards and funny skullcaps who are trying to hide the fact that they sacrifice animals to their god. Oh, and it turns out that they have this weird thing against Germans. Hilarious, right? "I know what you're thinking," the bigwig says to his colleagues, each with a wig of a similar size, "but even though it sounds a lot like that non-fictional religious group, this is a television show, and we'll make sure that the people in the show are just different enough that the network can legally claim that what we're doing is fiction, but close enough to really, really confuse our audience and completely make a mockery of the religious and moral beliefs of an entire people."

Every Mormon (and some of other faiths) reading this knows exactly what I'm talking about, but let me finish my fictional scenario before I talk about the real one. First of all, there is no way that Bjudaism would ever be green-lighted in any country outside of Palestine, because in most places, Judaism, the real deal, is respected and honored by non-Jews. Second of all, if it actually got green-lighted, there would be a world-wide uproar like you've never seen. We're talking riots, here. And though I don't believe in violence, I would personally be very upset about it, even though I'm not Jewish. I would not be alone, especially among my fellow Mormons. Mormons would stand behind the Jews one hundred percent, to be sure, because we firmly believe that all people have the right to worship as they choose, even if they don't worship how we chose. It's actually number eleven out of our thirteen most fundamental beliefs, to be precise.

This same kind of mockery has been made of our faith. It's called Big Love, and it essentially portrays a parody of the Mormon faith, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They might as well call it Bmormonism. Like Bjudaism, which would make you believe that Jews still practice animal sacrifice, Big Love would have you believe that Mormons still practice polygamy, something we gave up about the same time Americans gave up slavery. Do people ask you if you're "still" a slave owner? Well, people ask us if we're "still" polygamists, and this doesn't help. The most frustrating thing about being a Mormon in this world is that even though we literally go door to door to explain to people who we are and what we believe, there are only a handful of people out there who actually listen to us, and much fewer that understand us. We are probably the least understood religion of our size in the world.

Speaking of size, there's a reason why I chose to contrast Mormonism with Judaism: we are about equal in numbers at thirteen million each, worldwide. In fact, there are actually more Mormons in America than there are Jews. So I figure if the Jews are a people, the Mormons are, too, and that's how I like to think of the members of my church: my people.

Last Sunday,* Big Love just got worse by completely desecrating one of our most sacred practices: eternal marriage. I used the words "desecrate" and "sacred" carefully, because they accurately describe what's happening here. When something is sacred, it is so important, so special, and so holy that it must be treated a certain way. When it's not treated a certain way, the sacred thing is desecrated, or in other words, it has been defiled. The Lord's name is sacred, so when you use the Lord's name when you aren't talking about the Lord, especially when you use the His name as a curse word, then you have desecrated that name. My name isn't sacred, so if you used it as a curse word, it wouldn't really matter. And honestly, if it would stop you from using the Lord's name as a curse word, go right ahead.

To my people, marriage is one of the most important things in this life, if not the most important thing. It's so important that we believe that marriage can last after death in what we call eternal marriage, and eternal marriage is so scared, so holy that the marriage ceremony has to be conducted in a sacred place. We call these places temples, and we have them all over the world. Temples, and more importantly, what goes on inside them are so important that we Mormons have a special way of treating them to ensure that their sacred nature is preserved, just like we have a special way of treating the Lord's name. One of the most important ways we protect the sacred nature of certain things in the temple is that we don't talk about it unless we're actually inside the temple. This confuses a lot of people, and it leads them to believe that we're doing crazy things in temples, and you would not believe the kinds of things that I've heard. The plain truth is that some things are to be kept private not because they're vile, but because they're personal, like medical records or credit scores. More importantly, they're sacred, and broadcasting temple practices violates the sacred nature of the temple.

Big Love doesn't understand this, or if they do, they must really hate us Mormons, because last Sunday, they tried to recreate the eternal marriage ceremony--something that is so sacred and holy that we believe that God has directed us to keep it inside the holy temple--and broadcast it on national television. It's like taking a yarmulke and throwing it like a Frisbee, except for much, much worse. Actually, it's more like taping sex between a married couple and airing it during morning cartoons: an abomination, and again, I'm choosing my words carefully. This is a desecration of my people's most sacred beliefs, and yet, it's perfectly acceptable because we Mormons are not understood or respected enough to get the same treatment as other religious groups, such as the Jews.

The Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has issued a statement on the matter, which you can find here. I highly encourage you to read it, because in my opinion it is not only appropriate, but also very smart. It essentially requests that we all ignore Big Love, and I very much agree. In fact, the only reason I wrote this post in the first place was to help people understand what was really going on here and why it's such a big deal to Mormons.

If you consider yourself to be a tolerant person, or a respectful person, I hope that I have helped you understand that Big Love espouses values that oppose what you believe in, because it is an act of religious bigotry by not only fostering misunderstanding about a religion, but also by desecrating what it believes to be holy. And because Big Love equals bigotry, I would encourage any tolerant, respectful person, of any religion or creed, to do the tolerant thing and not watch it. Ignore it. Watch something else. That's really what will make it go away. In fact, I would say that not watching Big Love is the American thing to do, and remember, Americans are my people, too.

Regards, best wishes, and true tolerance,

-Cecily Jane

*One thing that I do find funny in all of this is that Big Love airs on Sunday, a day that Mormons generally don't watch television because we believe that it's the Lord's day, you know, Commandment Number Four?


~Stappsters~ said...

Very powerful piece Cec! I will recommend this to my friends!

Michele Craig said...

Got your link on Stappsters blog! I love your essay...

I am a Quaker, and know what you mean. People ask me if I eat oats (uh...that guy is like Aunt Jemima to Quakers), drive a buggy (excuuuse me, but that is the Amish), and wear buttons (don't know where that one came from, but one of my Mormon friends said it). I also wore plain dress for a year and then really had people say some wierd things to me.

I gave up my membership in the Methodist Church after listening to a sermon on how the Mormons were a cult (my family came to the west with Brigham Young). I couldn't believe someone was preaching this in a Christian Church! Intolerance and ignorance are wrong in all their forms.

I try really hard to learn for myself about other people's religions and to teach my children about them and to respect their beliefs even if they don't agree. If more people bothered to learn about others, these kinds of shows couldn't exist. This one is based on misperceptions and weird stereotypes.

I had heard of this tv show, but never watched it precisely because it did make fun of LDS members and misrepresent. But thanks for the great analysis.

Bookslinger said...


Don't worry. “Every time you kick ‘Mormonism’ you kick it upstairs; you never kick it downstairs. The Lord Almighty so orders it.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941, p. 351.)

Brigham’s next line in the sermon was pretty good too: “And let me tell you that what our Christian friends are now doing for us makes more for the kingdom of heaven than the Elders could in many years preaching.”

See the sermon here: Online Journal of Discourses, JD 7:145


Also Quoted by Carlos E. Asay, Ensign Nov 1981, in a conference talk “Opposition to the Work of God.”


Cat said...

This is very powerful writing.

Anonymous said...

Do you have copy writer for so good articles? If so please give me contacts, because this really rocks! :)

Anonymous said...

I am reading this article second time today, you have to be more careful with content leakers. If I will fount it again I will send you a link