In the weeks leading up to the 2012 election, a flurry of media articles explored Mormonism and its role in American life. Many of these were very well done (including this CNN piece on what the White House might look like if Mitt Romney were president); it’s become clear to me that most journalists are committed to understanding more about the Mormon faith and its people.
I would say that the quality of journalistic coverage of Mormonism has improved over the course of the year, with highlights from NBC, the New York Times, and many others. This is very good news—not just for Mormons, but for all minority faiths.
However, I’m not so sanguine about the American people who comment on these articles. For example, I tried to read the first comments on the CNN article, but gave up after the first few dozen because they were so dang predictable. Here are some samples (out of order) of the more than 2,000 comments that article elicited:
Side 1: “As a Christian who worked for and with many Mormons during my career as an engineer, I can only say that if Romney wins, GOD HELP US. As a group, the Mormons are self-centered and focused only on spreading their brand of religion to others. Romney would be unable to ignore the years of cult-like brain-washing he has been exposed to by his elders; he would act instinctively in times of crisis to protect fellow Mormons, and turn his back on the rest of us non-Mormons. Again, GOD HELP US if Romney's elected; life as we know it will cease to exist in America, and we'll all be to blame in that event.”
Side 2: "The Book of Mormon says liars go to HELL.”
Side 1: “Where does it say adults who still believe in fairy tales go?”
Side 2: “I cannot believe the comments on this article. Yes Mormons ARE Christian. That is so ridiculous. We believe in Christ. We have faith in him which compels us to follow what he taught. Christ is my Redeemer and Creator. I believe there is good in all religions and it is wonderful that we can all meet together to learn and strengthen each other in our faith. Kathy, on every LDS meetinghouse it says, "visitors welcome". I have invited many people to our services. They are not secret. If you are so curious go sit in on a service. For all of those who hate mormons so much I bet you know and respect a few (there are over 14 million of us and counting). Show a little tolerance, love, and respect for God's children (as Jesus taught).
Side 1: “Well here is another one for everyone... Acccording to the prophecies of Mormanism, when a Morman is elected President of the United States, the government will fall... shortly after, the 100.000 faithful will set out and kill all non-believers. In other words, if you don't belong to the church, you will be executed. This, ladies and gentlemen, comes from the doctrine directly from the church itself. Pretty amazing ‘cult’ mentality, no?”
Side 2: “Yeah, sure. I'll be hanging on every word of some bozo who can't even spell ‘Mormon’ correctly. I'm sure you know ALL about it.”
And they’re off, both sides abandoning reason and civility in their mutual passion for demonstrating that their opponents are imbeciles. Occasionally someone will attempt to provide a voice of balance and reason into the conversation:
Ben: “It seems obvious to me, just from these comments, why this article was written. The amount of ignorance about Mormons and their faith in this country is staggering. While this article does come off a bit patronizing, its still worth mentioning some of the unique scenarios a Mormon president would present.
As a general rule, the Mormons I know have been good and happy people. Of course, I've also known Mormons who had failing marriages and kids straying into substance abuse. In that respect, Mormons are no different from any other people of faith. As to the missionary side of the faith, I find it deeply hypocritical of Christians to find fault with others pushing their religion. As an athiest, I find myself accosted by pushy Christians far more often than Mormons. Perhaps evangelicals ought to find out what that word means before accusing others of pushy evangelism.”
And then someone else will criticize the third party who is seeking balance:
CP: “Ben – If you are a fellow atheist, at least learn how to spell it.”
I look for the day when news stories and articles about some aspect of Mormon life are followed by an insightful discussion of the actual material presented, rather than what it always devolves into: another fruitless debate between anti-Mormon critics on the one hand and LDS apologists on the other, all weighing the merits and demerits not of the specific article itself but of the truth claims of the entire Mormon religion.
I’m not holding my breath, though.
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