I enjoyed Part II of “The Mormons” more than Part I, and felt that PBS made a valiant effort to reflect the diversity of views about the Mormons in modern life. Sure, from my perspective, there was far too much time given to dissidents (though I thought Tal Bachman was quite interesting and in good form). It seemed that over 50% of the time given to speakers was given to critics of the Church. I was also a little frustrated to find far too little on the intellectual and spiritual satisfaction the theology of the Church offers to its members in understanding the purpose of life and our role and destiny. Faithful Mormons can also be intellectuals.
While some members might be disturbed by some of the opinions and the spin given by some, this production was miles away from the “religious pornography” marketed by some of our critics. It struck me as a sincere and honest effort of outsiders to examine the Mormons and show us, warts and all, as we see ourselves and as we are seen by outsiders, including former members (especially former members, I would say). Overall, I applaud PBS for the painstaking work required to make this high-quality production.
How I enjoyed the comments of Betty Stevenson, the African-American convert who said that the missionaries “came in and told me the most preposterous story I have ever heard in my life. They told me about this white boy, a dead angel and some gold plates. And I thought, ‘Mmm. I wonder what they on?'” What a wonderful influence the Church has had on her life. She’s my kind of saint. I loved her testimony, and her singing, and would love to be in her ward. If you know Betty, tell her thank you from me!
Of course, there were plenty of other moments where I wanted to jump into the TV to offer viewers a clarifying comment, or to rebut what struck me as slur. And I suppose the critics of the Church felt the same way. I think that’s a good sign, as one commenter noted in my previous post on Part I.
The spin on the defunct ERA caught me by surprise. Was the Church really afraid that women would start thinking for themselves? Please. It would have been nice to have at least one voice remind viewers that a lot of very liberated and intelligent women view that amendment as a Pandora’s box that would devastate the family and harm women in many ways, especially at the hands of our activist judiciary.
Regarding the repeated assertions that there is no evidence for the Book of Mormon, I wish the producers would have allowed a few concise comments from Dan Peterson, John Sorenson, John Tvedtnes or others offering the other view. Yes, there are many potential evidences for Book of Mormon authenticity, and a robust defense is being offered by scholars in the Church.
I appreciated the views of a Jewish man expressing concerns about baptism of the dead. Though I think they are based on a serious misunderstanding, I think it is helpful for us to understand how others may feel about our practice. Just this week I had marvelous conversation with a Jewish man who told me of these same concerns, and it was helpful to hear it live from someone who has confronted the issue, not just as an abstract concern in print.
Kudos also to PBS for the many notable people they rounded up for this program. Harold Bloom, Michael Coe, Tal Bachman, etc. Nice! OK, they left out the vital LDS blogger community, and Donny and Marie, and, most tragically, the epitome of Mormon success: Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame. Maybe they’ll fix all that in a future Part III?