PBS has produced two thought-provoking programs about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Aspects of the faith covered in the programs were broad and diverse, and the broadcasts are resulting in an equally diverse range of opinions and responses from viewers.
As she has done in similar documentaries, producer Helen Whitney probes at both the center and the edges of Church history, belief, and personal experience. Members, former members, scholars and Church leaders all presented their perspectives. Those interviewed in the program — even though they hold different points of view — were articulate and measured in their comments, giving serious thought and consideration to the topic.
But even four hours and numerous interviews can’t cover everything. No doubt, some Church members will feel essentials were left out (the restoration of priesthood authority and a fuller description of women’s experience in the faith) and non-essentials left in (polygamist Warren Jeffs, for example). In a similar way, the historic practice of plural marriage and the tragedy of Mountain Meadows are far from the whole story of Church history or the experience and faith of members today. (The entire interviews of Church leaders are available on the PBS website at http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/.)
But addressing these and other topics in a forthright way seems to have allowed viewers less familiar with the Church to see a new and broader dimension of the Church, shorn, perhaps, of one-sided stereotypes and caricatures.
At a time when significant media and public attention is being turned to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and when news media is so often accused of superficiality in its coverage of religion, this serious treatment of a serious subject is a welcome change.