Some years ago I had the idea that Mormonism needs an “anti-defamation league”–a group that reviews news coverage and other public actions and publicly condemns those actions that clearly defame Mormons and Mormonism. But I’ve since decided that this is probably not a very workable idea.
The problem that I’ve discovered is that there is a wide range of ideas about what it means to “defame” Mormons–and a lot of differing views of what is “anti-Mormon.” To put it plainly, I’ve seen way too many Mormons label legitimate criticisms and even simply differences of opinion as “anti-Mormon.”
If we look at some of the major issues from the past year or so, I think you might see where I’m coming from:
- Last February, Mike Huckabee made his unfortunate statement about Mormon beliefs–a cleverly-worded statement clearly meant to connect to anti-Mormon feelings. While I believe the statement is anti-Mormon, I’ve run into other Mormons that don’t. But I would not label Huckabee himself as anti-Mormon because of it (although using such a statement, regardless of what group it attacks, is likely to get me to vote against a candidate as foolish and intolerant).
- With the fall-out after voter approval of proposition 8 in November, reaction from the pro-gay-marriage community has been strong, I think it is fair to say. With public access to records of who made donations to support the proposition, LDS Church members have lost jobs and friendships as a result. I know of a case here in New York City where a man who works in the theater has been unable to find work in his field post proposition 8 because his LDS affiliation is well known (I don’t believe he made any donation). As sad as these situations are, I’m not sure that these reactions are actually anti-Mormon. Yes, the reactions target Mormons, but I suspect they have more to do with the loss at the ballot box than any actual feeling about Mormons (althought the feelings in some cases may be moving rapidly in that direction). If another group was predominate among those who funded the proposition effort, wouldn’t that group now be the target?
- The most recent Big Love episode is another example. Was it anti-Mormon? I don’t want to judge because I haven’t seen the episode myself (don’t get HBO), but the reactions I’ve read cover a very wide range, with some saying it unfairly ridicules what we hold sacred and others suggesting that the treatment is actually somewhat sympathetic or at least artistically fair and defensible. I can’t judge between these two views. But I believe that it comes down to an issue that is a little difficult to know–what the motivations of the shows’ writers and director are.
I guess motivations are the core of the issue. They are often difficult to know. I think that the “persecution complex” we Mormons sometimes unconsciously fall into regularly color our reactions to what we see in the news and what we hear from others, making it very easy to label things as “anti-Mormon.”
Since I first started thinking about a “Mormon anti-defamation league,” one organization has, sort-of, filled that role–FAIR. I don’t have enough knowledge of what FAIR does to really judge if they fill the role the way I think it should be filled (not that my judgment is absolute) or if I have any criticism. At the least, I have the impression that FAIR isn’t looking at the news in a comprehensive way to identify defamation. Nor do I have the impression that any standard, rigorous definition for anti-Mormon or defamation has been set or is in use.
Perhaps that is what is needed–a clear definition for “anti-Mormon” and guidelines for how to apply it. And a way of judging motivations fairly.
In the mean time, we would do well to be very, very cautious about how and when we use the term “anti-Mormon.”