Thursday, May 24, 2012
The BBC Interview and Some Thoughts on the "Mormon Moment"
Before we went on the air yesterday, Paul Adams of the BBC asked us each how we felt about the "Mormon moment." Charles Dahlquist, who is a braver man than I, was most optimistic: he called it a "wonderful opportunity for understanding" then (and again, I think, during the broadcast). I really admire his attitude--as long as you believe there's an opportunity for understanding, you'll try to stay open to questions and ready for the people who do really want to understand.
But I was a little more pessimistic. I'm OK with Mormonism in the media and understand that criticism is part of the process, but I'm worried by the combination of debates about Mormonism with the strong feelings people have about national politics. Conversations are good, but what sort of conversations are we having?
If I'm talking about my faith with a friend, we'll probably talk about how it influences my life. But when people talk about faith through the lens of national politics, they seem disproportionately focused on broadly classifying Mormonism as backward or ultra-American or cultish and sinister or just-like-every-other-faith. They want to know how to label Mormonism so much they often seem uninterested in the experiences of individual Mormons. And the common label-and-move-on attitude means it's hard to talk in any depth about how we feel.
I still have these worries. But after the interview, I'm more willing to admit that Charles' view may be correct as well as admirable. A lot of the questions we got were a bit of the label-and-move-on variety. A lot of the questions did invoke negative stereotypes. But I felt like we were also given lots of opportunities to talk about our experiences, to tell our own stories. And it felt nice.
People who have already decided the Church is horrible almost certainly assumed we were brainwashed PR puppets and immediately ignored us. One commenter on the World Have Your Say Facebook, for instance, wrote: "I'm concerned that this valuable airtime is being turned into a public-relations pep rally for the more pleasant sides of Mormonism, avoiding tough current-events questions like the LDS church's rigorous battle against equal rights for gays and lesbians. A useless conversation not worthy of the BBC's journalistic ethics."
It is too bad that LDS perspectives on same-sex orientation didn't come up, since Melissa Leilani Larsen's Little Happy Secrets is a great example of the nuance people miss on that issue. But I'm glad that BBC's journalistic ethics don't force them to reduce people to any given controversy they are tangentially involved with. And I hope (and think) that--for people who haven't already decided that Mormons are enemies of progress unless proven otherwise--the broadcast did help show that a reasonable, decent person can find a lot of meaning in Mormonism and that Mormonism is not the threat that many people present it as being.
If you're interested, you can listen to the broadcast on the WHYS website for at least the next seven days. I believe that after that, it will still be available for some time in their online archives.