We have never suffered a shortage of outside experts who would explain us to ourselves and the world.
The first clipping in my newspaper file dates to April 1831, barely a year after the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: â€œIn the sixth number of your paper I saw a notice of a sect of people called Mormonites; and thinking that a fuller history of their founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., might be interesting to your community … I will take the trouble to make a few remarks on the character of that infamous imposter.â€ 
The latest entry in the catalog is the four-hour documentary â€œThe Mormonsâ€ airing in two 2-hour blocks: Monday, April 30 on PBSâ€™s American Experience and continuing Tuesday, May 1 on PBSâ€™s Frontline (beginning at 8 p.m. on both nights on KUED and KBYU in Salt Lake City; check your local listings â€“ and if anyone knows whether and where â€œThe Mormonsâ€ can be watched via the Internet, please comment with that information).
What can we expect from this report?
The storytelling and production values will undoubtedly be of the highest quality â€“ the producer is Helen Whitney, whose experience in covering religious themes includes â€œFaith and Doubt at Ground Zeroâ€ and â€œJohn Paul II: The Millennial Pope.â€ In a recent interview by KSL-TV, Ms. Whitney tells us that her film will â€œmake it much easier for people to understand what this church is about. I think so many stereotypes will be shattered.â€ Speaking of LDS members, she says â€œI hope that they will like it and be interested in it and discover themselves in it and perhaps even be surprised by parts of their history they didnâ€™t know about.â€
Ms. Whitney is clearly aware that her work will be viewed by two distinct audiences: Those inside the church, and those outside of it.
We need to keep in mind the existence of those two audiences as we anticipate, view, and later discuss â€œThe Mormons.â€ Whether or not we are satisfied by this program could be greatly affected by whether or not we acknowledge the existence of both audiences.
I am a Mormon. If my expectations are completely shaped by my Mormon interests and loyalties, publicity for â€œThe Mormonsâ€ gives me much reason for suspicious discomfort. I visit the programâ€™s website and discover concerns in three areas:
Accuracy: The website refers to someone named â€œWilfredâ€ Woodruff. If they canâ€™t get their facts right on simple matters that a cursory review should have caught, what hope is there that they will handle more subjective matters with any degree of accuracy?
Stereotypes: Ms. Whitney believes her work will â€œshatter stereotypes.â€ Yet the website prominently features fundamentalist polygamy and Mountain Meadows. While we recognize these as valid matters for press exploration, active Mormons can and do practice Mormonism for a lifetime without such things playing any role in their religious lives. Will the apparently heavy emphasis on these topics shatter stereotypes, or reinforce them? Can we â€œdiscover ourselvesâ€ in this film if these remote and tangential matters take center stage, crowding out a depiction of life in the church as we know it?
Fairness/Context: â€œ”The only marriage sanctioned by God is of a man to a woman,” says Marlin Jensen, official LDS historian. “In the case of a gay person, they really have no hope. … And to live life without hope on such a core issue I think is a very difficult thing.” What a lot of ground might lie buried under those three little dots! I donâ€™t know what Elder Jensen went on to say â€“ that a gay person has no hope of having a homosexual union sealed in the temple, perhaps? â€“ but as the elided quotation now stands someone who falsely believes that Mormonism condemns anyone for orientation can legitimately suppose Elder Jensen was saying that a gay person has no hope of salvation (Mormons, after all, believe marriage is a prerequisite to exaltation), or no hope of full fellowship in the church (Mormon life, after all, is centered on the family), or any number of other stereotypical but inaccurate statements.
If I were not a Mormon, I doubt I would be at all concerned by trivial issues of misspelled names. I would be very much interested in the more sensational matters connected to Mormonism (â€˜fess up, friends â€“ if this program were about the Amish, you would be far more interested in shunning and genetic birth defects and matters of appearance and “wacky” beliefs about pacifism than you would be in subtleties of doctrine and the daily worship that is central to Amish life). The chief audience for â€œThe Mormons,â€ then, is understandably the wider American culture, not Mormons in particular. Thatâ€™s a legitimate target audience â€“ not the audience I care most about, but a legitimate audience. I need to evaluate “The Mormons” for what it is rather than for what I wish it were, or at least I need to realize that I might not be part of the producer’s primary audience.
What are your expectations for â€œThe Mormonsâ€? Make your predictions now, and come back to discuss your reactions after watching “American Experience” on Monday evening.
 “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine & Gospel Advocate (Utica, New York), 9 April 1831.
 This word is used because it was recently applied to Mormon beliefs; I do not consider pacifism a mock-worthy doctrine.