My letter to Meridian Magazine

April 14, 2004 | 28 comments
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I’ve been silently stewing for the past few days about Meridian Magazine’s endorsement of Holocaust denial. (I know, there are ways to read it that make it look marginally less ugly — it’s still problematic, I think).

And then, today, a family member forwarded me a Meridian article (“look at this cool article!” — not the same one, I should add) and I finally flipped, and decided to act.

I get a _lot_ of forwarded e-mail protest letters from friends and family. Protest this, protest that, write a senator, write CNN. I usually ignore them. But I’ve become quite familiar with the form. And I put that familiarity to use.

Here’s what I wrote. I know that it’s a little over-the-top; I think that’s the convention with such letters, but please let me know if I overdid it:

Dear Culture Clips,

Shame on you for endorsing the idea of Holocaust denial! (See http://meridianmagazine.com/cultureclips/040406.html ). Shame on you for running an article by John Kekes that lists, among allegedly positive ideas, the idea “that the Holocaust is a fiction”! What exactly are you trying to do — bolster your neo-Nazi readership?

This is not the kind of writing that I want to be associated with as a church member. Holocaust denial has no place in our religion. Indeed, church leaders have made clear their views that the Holocaust was “among the bloodiest crimes ever committed against humanity.” (See http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/1990.htm/ensign%20may%201990.htm/world%20peace.htm ). This idea of Holocaust denial should be especially repugnant to us as church members, since we are members of a religion that has also been severely persecuted.

I sincerely hope that you will, in no uncertain terms, distance yourself from any statements encouraging Holocaust denial, including those that you have printed. I also hope that you will review articles from outside contributors carefully, to ensure that they do not endorse wrongful ideas, including Holocaust denial.

Sincerely,
[me]

I would like to invite T & S readers, to the extent that they agree with these sentiments, to join with me in urging Meridian to rethink its ideas in this area. (Feel free to use my template, steal my links, etc). I’ve sent this to three e-mail addresses:

cultureclips@meridianmagazine.com
proctor@meridianmagazine.com
feedback@meridianmagazine.com

I think it’s important to establish that ideas like Holocaust denial have no place in our religion. However, I really don’t know if these kinds of letters are the best way to convey this idea. I’m not all that much of an active activist (sending an angry e-mail is perfect for an armchair activist like me). I remain open to other suggestions. In the mean time, I’m forwarding this information to some family members and friends.

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28 Responses to My letter to Meridian Magazine

  1. Jeremy on April 14, 2004 at 12:49 am

    Kaimi,

    When I blogged about the same article, one of my readers, Bryan, commented that he’d actually been at the Kekes speech that was excerpted in Meridian. Says Bryan:

    “Kekes was not endorsing the idea that the Holocaust didn’t happen. He was using this as an example of something that “left-wing” academics would censure. He was arguing that ALL ideas should be open to debate and discussion. Kekes was obviously conservative, but he didn’t seem personally to endorse the Holocaust denier’s position.”

    Whether or not that’s true (and within Keke’s speech itself, it’s extremely problematic, as Bryan pointed out), Meridian was extremely negligent in excerpting it in such a way that seemed to endorse holocaust revisionism.

    My beef isn’t just that Meridian endorsed (or, I hope, negligently appeared to endorse) holocaust revisionism, but that they routinely excerpt (and occasionally commission/publish) articles that express viewpoints that fall far to the right of the church’s position (if the church even has one), while presuming to be the voice of Mormonism (or at least lots of Mormons). The holocaust revisionism thing is just a particularly egregious example.

    I’ve written to Meridian before, and their response was more or less “this is what our readers want.” So perhaps a few more letters about the shameful holocaust bit will convince them otherwise.

  2. Mike on April 14, 2004 at 1:05 am

    Yeah, I also didn’t take it as an endorsement of that position- but it isn’t real clear and it is easy to see how even if not endorsing, it is saying the argument has merit.

    But, if read that way, it would also seem that meridian is endorsing smoking cigarettes. I am pretty sure they are not.

    The argument that free speech has to extend to hate speech or things that are offensive can actually be a pretty compelling one- but the meridian article didn’t do a very good job of making the argument.

  3. John H on April 14, 2004 at 1:28 am

    I’ll join in writing to Meridian. They’ve published some good things, but I’m pretty bothered by a handful of other articles lately, including Sheri Dew’s on homosexuality. (I promise I’m not trying to derail the thread to the gay issue – hear me out!)

    In that article, Dew said that those who do not stand up and make a choice to fight against gay marriage are making a choice for it, just as those who didn’t stand up and fight against Hitler were actually making a choice for him. I’m not as bothered by her strongly worded comments (gay marriage is a topic that creates strong emotions on both sides) as I am by her ignorance of her own churches position on Hitler. The Church issued exactly ZERO statements denouncing Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. In fact, keeping with its own policies, they released a statement urging members to support their respective governments. In at least two extreme cases, German Church members who did speak out against Hitler were excommunicated.

    I don’t have a problem with the Church’s response to Hitler during the war. As a religion with members throughout the world, they were in a tough spot. But I’m surprised Sheri Dew would say something so very foolish, that basically incriminates her own religion – and I’m equally surprised that Meridian ran it without doing a teeny bit of fact-checking.

  4. Kevin on April 14, 2004 at 4:13 am

    I thoroughly enjoy many of the authors at Meridian, e.g. Sean Brotherson, Wallace Goddard, Davis Bitton. It’s the polemicists, both religious and political, that I can do without. Even Dan Peterson and Bill Hamblin succumbed to the temptation and included an apologetic piece recently. (I realize they’re both avid apologists, but they’ve generally restrained themselves on Meridian and heretofore contributed very informative articles.) If I wanted polemics, I would come to a board like this. Oh wait, I *do*….

  5. Aaron Brown on April 14, 2004 at 4:22 am

    Kaimi,

    I have read the Meridian excerpt several times, both today, and back when you linked to it originally. I like to get riled up as much as the next guy (or even more so), but quite frankly, I think you’re reading more into the piece than is really there.

    I don’t read the piece as necessarily endorsing any of the “conservative” views that it enumerates. The author’s point about double-standards is a fair one (IMO), and a frequently voiced one (by the Right), and although he has picked some rather inflammatory examples from the left and right to make his point, I don’t see an “endorsement” of any kind going on.

    I’m afraid that your email will be perceived as an overreaction and an out-of-context, erroneous interpretation of what the excerpt was trying to say.

    Aaron B

  6. Mike on April 14, 2004 at 5:41 am

    I am going to agree with Aaron here- BUT I think that meridian should have made sure the article was written in a way that made it mroe clear that the denial was not being advocated, simply the rejection of a double standard.
    I don’t fully agree that the double standard should be entirely removed, because much of what society says you can’t say in actuality are “fighting words” not simply meant to make an argument. These words are meant to offend, and often go further than simply desiring to offend, but to mobilize action that is damaging.
    Yes, there should be more freedom, yes arguments should be able to be made even if they are horrible. Yes, it is true that there is no constitutionally protected freedom from being offened. BUT there can be reasonable limits set on what can be said.

  7. Kaimi on April 14, 2004 at 8:55 am

    I got a very prompt reply from Sylvia Finlayson at Meridian, who said essentially the same thing. She said that “we are in no way endorsing holocaust denial. Only a wacked out handful of people believe such nonsense.” but that the article was meant to address free speech concerns.

    I realized before posting this that that innocuous reading is available. I still think Meridian went too far.

    First, the fact that an innocuous reading is available does not innoculate them if the piece can reasonably be read in a non-innocuous way. If I make the statement, “Aaron Brown may be a homosexual,” Aaron could reasonably be upset with me. My protests that I haven’t actually said that he _is_ a homosexual will be unavailing. It’s the same if I say, “There are many grave sins — homosexuality, murder, lying. Aaron Brown is one person who has committed such sins.” I can always say that I just meant that he has lied, but he could reasonably be upset, because people could reasonably connect the dots to come to a different conclusion.

    Meridian has argued in the past that traditional gender roles are discouraged by society, but are good. They have also argued that homosexuality is a perversion. And they have argued that America is good, but not appreciated by liberals.

    So, here are some of Meridian’s relevant statements.

    1. Gender roles are good, but maligned. (http://www.meridianmagazine.com/familywatch/040326defeating.html )
    2. Homosexuality is a perversion, that people wrongly defend. (http://www.meridianmagazine.com/familywatch/040326defeating.html )
    3. America is great, and liberals don’t realize it. http://www.meridianmagazine.com/exstories/040325building.html

    4. In fact, here’s a list of suppressed ideas: That gender roles are good, that homosexuality is a perversion, that America is great, that the Holocaust is a fiction.

    While the innocuos reading is certainly a possibility, I think that, read in the context of prior Meridian statements on the other list subjects, it looks uncomfortably close to an endorsement.

  8. Melissa on April 14, 2004 at 11:13 am

    I never read Meridian Magazine, so thank you Kaimi for alerting me to this issue.

    The editors at Meridian Magazine take reader response VERY SERIOUSLY. They often get hundreds of letters a week and respond personally to each of them (or Sylvia will). If there are enough letters sent they may even respond in some more public way via the magazine. However, your letter as it now stands will be seen by the Proctors as somewhat inflammatory and unnecessarily accusatory, and thus, will be easy to dismiss. If you write a more diplomatic letter with suggestions on how you think such issues should be handled, you will get a better response. Watch out though, if they like you too much, they might ask you to write an article for Meridian.

  9. Josiah on April 14, 2004 at 12:23 pm

    Well, I’m not Mormon myself and am not familiar with Meridian Magazine, but I have to say I find this post at least as disturbing as the linked to article. If we’ve gotten to the point where we can no longer distinguish between defending a person’s right to speak and endorsing the content of that speech, then the free society isn’t long for this world.

  10. Gary Lee on April 14, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    When writing letters like this, it is important to carefully consider what result you are trying to achieve. If your goal is simply register your protest and alert the editors that some people are offended by what they have done (a perfectly legitimate goal, by the way), then your letter serves its purpose well. However, if your goal is persuade them that they have made a mistake, I think you would be more likely to achieve your objective by beginning with something other than “Shame on you . . .” People don’t usually change their minds when called to repentance so directly. I think you are more likely to persuade if you explain that you understand the point they are trying to make, but their article gave the impression that they endorse, or at least tolerate, holocaust denial. In so doing, they have offended some of their readers and have detracted from their own arguments.

    Incidentally, I find it a little ironic that Meridian would be defending a rather absolutist position on free speech that could be used just as easily to permit many forms of speech that the editors of Meridian would undoubtedly oppose.

  11. Connie on April 14, 2004 at 3:12 pm

    “In at least two extreme cases, German Church members who did speak out against Hitler were excommunicated.”

    Is this statement for real? Why would the church excommunicate someone who spoke out against a heinous, homocidal leader who was attempting to kill an entire race of people? Would the leadership do the same thing to members in the middle east who publicly decry Saddam or Al Queda?

    That thought alone is disturbing.

  12. William Morris on April 14, 2004 at 3:40 pm

    Yes, it’s for real.

    Thomas Rogers groundbreaking [in terms of Mormon literature] play “Huebener” deals with one of these episodes.

    The Church sometimes is forced to engage in realpolitik. That is a disturbing thought for some — and I must stress that

    What’s more disturbing — the excommunication of these members or the idea that all German members could have become Hitler’s targets?

    This is not to say that I’m defending this episode. I don’t know if this truly was a “Laban situation.”

    And I also think it’s shameful that, for instance, a BYU Newsnet story on a documentary about this valorizes Huebener for his opposition to Hitler, but makes no mention of his excommunication: http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/41777

  13. Connie on April 14, 2004 at 3:46 pm

    Honestly, the “speaking out” had already been done (can’t unring a bell), and they were willing to face the consequences of those actions, knowing full well they would already be targets. But for their church to excommunicate them for standing up for true injustice… that leaves me with my head shaking. So, they were left as traitors to Hilter, and without the ability to be exhaulted in Heaven, as well.

    Isn’t it times like those the Church needed to be a refuge for them?

  14. Nate Oman on April 14, 2004 at 3:54 pm

    Connie: While I can understand your head shaking at the excommunication of Hitler-opposing Mormons, I think that you are being a little simplistic. The Mormon church was a tiny minority in Germany. It was viewed as foreign and American. The Gestapo (as I understand it — others with more knowledge can correct me if I am wrong) were monitoring LDS meetings. The excommunication was largely about placating Nazi authorities. The reason for this was — at least in part — a real fear that Mormons would be labeled as subversive and all Mormons would be subject to the tender mercies of the Gestapo. As I understand it, one of the young boys who spoke out was tortured and executed by the police. The local leaders had an understandable desire to keep something similar from happening to the other members of their flock.

    A little less righteous indignation and incredulity and a little more sympathy and understanding for those caught in a horrible situation seems in order.

  15. Nate Oman on April 14, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    BTW, it is my understanding of church doctrine that excommunication does not necessarily mean that one is precluded from exaltation.

  16. Jeremy on April 14, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    William,

    Huebner’s case (like that of his friend, whom I presume is the second case you’re referring to) must be considered in context, otherwise it sounds more titillatingly conspiratorial than it really is (newsnet probably left it alone for precisely that reason). According to the documentary, Huebner was excommunicated only in that his bishop, a Nazi party member (there were lots of those in Germany at that time, so it should come as no big shock that there were some in the church), wrote “excommunicated” in red pencil across Huebner’s membership record. He may have done this as an ecclesiatical act (albeit a misdirected one conducted without the proper hearings, etc.), but more likely out of fear that he or other members would be implicated in Huebner’s resistance activities if the S.S. were to search the church files.

    The Church in Salt Lake waited until after the war to deal with this “excommunication”–probably in the interest of the saints in Germany, since there was reason to believe that they were further down on the list of groups to be purged.

    Incidentally, the film itself, which was made by people from BYU, discusses the excommunication at some length, even if Newsnet leaves it alone, so it’s not like there’s some cover-up going on.

  17. Lyle on April 14, 2004 at 3:59 pm

    re: “And I also think it’s shameful that, for instance, a BYU Newsnet story on a documentary about this valorizes Huebener for his opposition to Hitler, but makes no mention of his excommunication: http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/41777

    Hm…Perhaps this is because the excommunication was latter rescinded by the LDS Church leaders?

    Have you watched the movie? It is a very very dry documentary…but worth the effort.

  18. William Morris on April 14, 2004 at 4:03 pm

    Connie:

    As I understand it all the excommunications were rescinded. Also: I can’t remember all the details on who did the actual excommunicating — whether it was local or a directive from the U.S. I think it was local, and then the brethren in Salt Lake either upheld or were silent on the decision [which was later rescinded].

    To answer your question: Sure.

    But I would remind you that while we look at that era and see only the horror of Hitler — those who actually lived in Germany had to make all sorts of not-so-clear-cut decisions and accomodations.

    And the Church can’t be a refuge if all its members are in jail. I don’t know how realistic of a threat there was, but certainly LDS weren’t the only ones who remained silent.

    Reams have been written on the whys and hows and the morality of such silence.

    It *is* a troubling episode in LDS history. But one that, for me at least, sparks sadness — not outrage.

    Follow up: While I stand by my comments about the Newsnet story stand. I do want to make clear that BYU did at the very least screen this documentary, and despite claims to the contrary, Tom Rogers was not reprimanded for his play, and it has been performed semi-recently in Utah.

  19. Kaimi on April 14, 2004 at 4:05 pm

    Nate,

    I’m aware of all of those practical considerations. Nevertheless, the decision to excomuunicate seems hard to reconcile with images of Abinadi, Alma, Elijah, and other church members who opposed evil regimes.

  20. Kaimi on April 14, 2004 at 4:11 pm

    William Morris wrote:

    “And the Church can’t be a refuge if all its members are in jail.”

    And yet it was — we read about Alma’s experience with this in Mosiah 23-24. He certainly chose not to hide his beliefs, which might have been considered the more prudent course of action.

  21. Lyle on April 14, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    The local branch president did the excommunication. Local leaders & SLC did the rescinding later.

  22. William Morris on April 14, 2004 at 4:25 pm

    Everybody posted while I was writing the above so I’ll just add that I agree with what was posted.

    Jeremy and Lyle: Quite right. Thanks for the reminder. I still think that the Newsnet item should have mentioned the excommunication bit. It’s an important part of the whole discourse about this story.

  23. John H on April 14, 2004 at 4:27 pm

    “Local leaders & SLC did the rescinding later.”

    My understanding was that it was much later – not like a few years, but several decades. But I could be wrong.

    I agree that this is a sad episode in Mormon history. German saints were a very small part of the Church, but for them, very real. It seems like one of those impossible situations – had the Church supported Heubner and others, the consequences could have been disastrous for Mormonism in Germany. On the other hand, Kaimi is absolutely right – it seems tough to rectify what happened with stories in the scriptures and in LDS history of standing up against evil.

  24. Karen on April 14, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    Interesting note: Thomas Rogers was my mission president, and while we were in St. Petersburg, he translated Hubener into Russian, and produced it as a mission play, with the local Russian members acting in it. That was such a fascinating experience, because there is still a lot of animosity in Russia towards Germany. But I think it was a good opportunity for the Russian members to see themselves as part of a larger church, and not the only ones to be in “pioneer” like congregations facing difficult situations.

  25. Connie on April 14, 2004 at 4:50 pm

    “A little less righteous indignation and incredulity and a little more sympathy and understanding for those caught in a horrible situation seems in order.”

    I apologize if my comments seemed drizzled in righteous indignation, as they were not meant to. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I was simply questioning the actions of the Church in response to the Nazi regime.

    I don’t see the link between safety and excommunication. An earlier post suggested that there were actually Nazi leaders who were members of the Church, so a dissenting opinion about Hitler would not have necessarily lead to a further precarious position for ALL of it’s members. It would seem to me that the objecting members knew that they were speaking out and in doing so, were putting themselves at serious risk, regardless of their religious affiliation. Hitler didn’t care, he would kill you no matter who you were.

    For the Church to then excommunicate them seems so cruel. I am not saying they had much choice and that they didn’t do something they thought was right, but how disheartening for those who were excommunicated. It salves a bit to know they were recinded later.

    I am reminded of the bravery of Joseph Smith, who continued to believe in his Church and to preach to others, regardless of persecution – and was jailed and murdered for it. Isn’t that the finest example of living your beliefs?

  26. Nate Oman on April 14, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    “I am reminded of the bravery of Joseph Smith, who continued to believe in his Church and to preach to others, regardless of persecution – and was jailed and murdered for it. Isn’t that the finest example of living your beliefs?”

    I am not so sure. During the last half of the 19th century, the Mormons were locked in a struggle with the federal government. There were some who wanted the entire church to go down to glorious martyrdom at the hands of the feds. Wilford Woodruff, however, led the church in a different direction. I am not convinced that there is less nobility in his choices than in Joseph’s

  27. Karen on April 14, 2004 at 5:17 pm

    Actually, I think the earlier post suggested that there were church members who were members of the Nazi party–not Nazi leaders.

    And yes, it is troubling and saddening. I think the purpose of reading the books and watching the plays is to evaluate what the choices were, and how they could have been made better, and what implication that has for future interactions between church members and corrupt government regimes.

  28. Connie on April 14, 2004 at 5:25 pm

    I concede – it was stated Nazi members, not leaders. My mistake. I apologize.

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