Headlining today’s “Getting It Right” are Rock Center’s evenhanded treatment of Mormonism and an interview with a Mormon scholar that clarifies misconceptions from The Book of Mormon musical. We also include an article from The Daily Beast that notes the Church’s “efficient relief organization” and additional stories that include misleading statements about Church growth (ABC News) and incorrect information about Mormons’ beliefs (The Herald-News).
The media attention directed toward The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took a unique turn last Thursday as NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams became the first network program to devote a full hour of prime-time television to a report on Mormonism.
Although NBC doesn’t get everything right in this program (titled “Mormon in America”), it was a sincere attempt to know the faith. Thursday’s show is a good example of what we mean when we say we want to be a part of the global discussion of Mormonism.
NBC’s Harry Smith spends significant time at Welfare Square and the Bishops’ Central Storehouse (the largest of over 100 of its kind) in Salt Lake City, showing that Mormons, through the organization of the Church, try to follow Christ’s teachings by providing food, shelter and comfort where and when they’re needed. The Rock Center crew also speaks with a variety of Latter-day Saints and their families in their homes, at work and at Sunday worship services, and allows these members to explain on their own terms why their faith is important to them.
One portion of the program was insensitive to what Mormons consider to be sacred temple garments, even showing a picture of individuals wearing these garments. For the record, temple garments are simple, white underclothing usually composed of two pieces: a top piece similar to a T-shirt and a bottom piece similar to shorts; they serve as a personal reminder of covenants made with God to lead good, honorable, Christlike lives. (See more information about how to report on temple garments.)
Another segment notes that those who are not Mormons cannot enter into one of the Church’s temples. While it is correct that only Latter-day Saints living the highest standards of the faith are allowed to enter Mormon temples, it is also true that the public is always welcome to come to any of the Church’s 28,000 weekly Sunday worship services around the globe. (See more information about the difference between Mormon temples and chapels.)
Finally, another small correction: Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines prohibit alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco, and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. *
Rock Center’s “Mormon in America” broadcast can be accessed online in five parts.
Rock Center’s Jay Kernis interviews Matthew Bowman, author of The Mormon People, about the song “I Believe” from the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon. Bowman clarifies the beliefs and practices the musical attempts to portray.
Bowman provides a brief overview of the Book of Mormon’s narrative and its account of a divinely led exodus from Jerusalem. He also clarifies the misperception about the Mormon afterlife, noting that Mormons believe God prepared the earth for a time of growth and experience for mankind to eventually learn to become like Himself in terms of His attributes — not His cosmological assets. (For more information on the noncanonical status of similar claims, please see our Mormonism 101 page.) In addition, Bowman gives an overview of the priesthood policy regarding race, including the Church’s recent statement on race and “forceful repudiation” of any theories that were generated in order to explain past policies.
Although this article is politically focused (see the Church’s political neutrality statement), author Joel Kotkin mentions several important facts about the Church. In addition to noting the fruits of the Church’s emphasis on families, health and education (53.5 percent of Mormon males have a post–high-school education, compared to 36.5 percent of the total U.S. population, and 44.3 percent of Mormon females have a post–high-school education, compared to a national average of 27.7 percent), Kotkin also mentions the Church membership’s diversity and their “highly structured and efficient” responses to natural disasters.
He notes, “Mormons are remarkable for their ability to rise to the occasion during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti.” The Church provided 200 semi-truck loads of aid and 42,000 man-days of labor in response to Hurricane Katrina; within days of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Church sent more than 80,000 pounds of food and emergency resources to the country. Read more about the Church’s humanitarian efforts.
Getting It Wrong
This interview with Dan Harris and Diane Sawyer attempts to provide insights into Mormonism, but the emphasis on old stereotypes prevails. Harris briefly conveys the purpose of the temple (to worship and make covenants with God in a sacred space of peace and tranquility), but the overarching impression is that temples are secret, mysterious places rarely entered.
Harris describes his visit to the temple (which, along with the rest of the story, was shot in 2009, a point he doesn’t mention) as “rare.” In fact, new temples are always open to the public and hundreds of thousands of people typically visit during the open house.
Additionally, when Harris discusses the rapid growth of the Church, he misleadingly states that the Church claims it is the fastest growing Church in the world and puts “a lot of money and manpower into making that happen.” This statement is false. While it is true that we are growing, the Church does not claim to be the fastest growing religion (though others sometimes do). His statement also fails to convey the extensive personal and financial sacrifices as well as the service that missionaries around the world provide. See more information on our Missionary Program topic page.
The Herald-News: Misunderstanding Mormon beliefs
Though George Gasper at the Herald-News is able to accurately pinpoint a few Mormon doctrines, he perpetuates other misconceptions about Mormon beliefs. Despite his assertion that the supposedly “basic” beliefs he denotes can be “easily confirmed,” he provides no sources for his claims. This lack of confirmed sources is unhelpful for readers interested in an accurate report.
In attempting to address yet again whether Mormons are Christians, Gasper tries to summarize Mormon beliefs about God, the afterlife and Joseph Smith, among others. While he correctly notes certain distinctive doctrines such as Mormons believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit are three distinct beings, and that mankind are spirit children of God who dwelt with Him before this life, Gasper misconstrues or fabricates Mormon beliefs about salvation and the afterlife, the parentage of Christ and the role of Joseph Smith.
Christ’s central role in salvation is at the heart of Latter-day Saint beliefs. Proselyting, or missionary work, is motivated by a love for others and a desire to heed Christ’s command to “go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Because Gasper’s errors regarding other practices and beliefs are too numerous to individually correct, we recommend the following Mormon Newsroom resources:
- The role of Joseph Smith and the Restoration
- Christianity: Following Jesus in Word and Deed
- The central role of Jesus Christ in Mormonism
- Traditional Christianity and Latter-day Saints
- The Godhead
* This posting has been updated since it was orginally published.