Last June Dave Banack discussed the idea that LDS Church members should be inoculated for troubling LDS doctrinal and historical issues. I don’t think that idea has been completely explored, but I do think inoculation might be useful in one area where our (i.e., Mormon) sub-culture doesn’t use it: the news.
I’ve been told many times by members of the Church that they want to limit what they read, hear and see to that which is “uplifting.” And at least in terms of entertainment, General Authorities have given counsel along those lines. But I don’t understand how that can be extended to the news.
News is not entertainment. We shouldn’t pick and choose what news we consume based on what news we like. Doing so could easily leave us ignorant or ill-informed of what we should know and even more vulnerable to evil. We do need to know about gangs in our neighborhoods, pedophiles, and even about those con men to prey on LDS Church members — so that we can take precautions and so we can urge our governments to act as we want them to. In our Mormon sub-culture(s), don’t we deserve the kind of coverage that we get from local newspapers? Would anyone want the local news sources to exclude things just because we find them distasteful?
It is true that news reports on Mormonism often contain errors or are based on misconceptions, which may be one reason why we should have Mormon news outlets. Mormon news items are also often excluded from most news outlets for not being of interest to the broader community, or because they involve a community outside of the area that the news outlet covers. The rise of the Internet has led a number of Mormon news outlets to develop beyond the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, which often end up excluding some Mormon news items because they don’t involve Utah. Now we also have outlets like the Mormon Times, Meridian Magazine, LDS Living, The Beehive, Desert Saints and the news efforts of many blogs here on the Bloggernacle. But still, “distasteful” news is often excluded from most of these publications.
Let me throw out some concrete examples of recent news items that might give some LDS Church members pause:
- In Maricopa county, Arizona, Susan Brock, wife of County Supervisor Fulton Brock and an LDS Church member, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for a three-year sexual relationship with a teenager. She apparently gave her victim, among other things, a Temple photograph in order to attract him. Her husband apparently tried to hide evidence of the affair, and even national media has looked a the case wondering what it means for church reporting requirements, after it was reported that allegations of the affair were brought to the attention of her LDS bishop.
- In Philadelphia, recent LDS convert John Thomas, 28, known to his friends as “Jay,” stoned 70-year-old Murray Seidman, a friend that he had earlier baptized a member of the Church, claiming that Seidman had made homosexual advances. However, Seidman was not gay, and Thomas is apparently schizophrenic.
- Christopher A. Gribble, once a “devout Mormon,” was given a life sentence for his role in a home invasion attack in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire. Gribble claimed insanity, but admitted he could kill again and when experts testified against him a court ruled against him and gave him a life sentence, without the possibility of parole.
There are, of course, other incidents, perhaps less salacious, which would perhaps make us uncomfortable.
In theory, news stories about a Mormon or a group of Mormons behaving badly shouldn’t bother us. Just because Mormons do something wrong, doesn’t mean all Mormons do those things. When pressed, most people agree with this idea. Still, public perceptions aren’t based on logic and one additional Mormon behaving badly (MBB anyone?) does add something to their perceptions of Mormons.
On the other hand, not mentioning these issues feels like hiding from the truth. It doesn’t meet our conception of Mormonism or of its role in the world, so we ignore it expecting it to go away int he news cycle (as it will). or, we are paralyzed, not knowing how we can react—somehow thinking that if we don’t know what to do, it is better not to do anything. Or we label the story as “anti-mormon,” which allows us to dismiss it as not worth reading, reinforcing thus the persecution complex that is a part of Mormon culture.
I’m not looking here for explanations for the actions of these Mormons behaving badly or how they don’t represent the Church. We know that they don’t, and we repudiate their behavior. What I do want to know is how Mormon news outlets should react? Should they carry “distasteful” news items even though many Mormons don’t want to know things that aren’t “uplifting?” Can carrying these stories in a Mormon news outlet “inoculate” readers, so they aren’t surprised when the news comes up elsewhere or when their friends ask about them? And if these are published for Mormon readers, how should they be published?