Can you tell me if Tricia Erickson accurately understands Mormonism? She used to be a Mormon, and she has written a book about it. I found an interview she did with a radio show, and I have no way of being able to tell if what she says about Mormonism is true.
Can you help, please? So many Americans have questions about Mormons this year, and I wish that a Mormon blogger would adequately respond to people who are saying all these things about the Mormon Church.
So I've done some research, and read part one of her book, self-published last year through WestBow. Right now it can be downloaded to the Kindle for under $4. Part one of the book deals with Mormonism, and part two addresses Mitt Romney's political history.
Based on the first part I think I can safely say that no, Tricia Erickson is not a reliable, unbiased witness about either Mormonism or the LDS Church. She gets a lot of facts wrong and has a weird obsession with the notion that Mormons are scheming to take over America (I'm always the last to know when we Mormons are doing this). She sensationalizes events and takes statements out of context. Her book is your basic anti-Mormon stump speech. It's not even very well-done. You can find better-executed anti-Mormon literature from Utah Lighthouse Ministry. At least they take the time to do primary source research instead of just rehashing The Godmakers over and over again.
Whatever. The more interesting question is the one suggested by my reader: Who is entitled to speak for Mormonism?
It's a topic very much on my mind as I prepare my remarks for a conference this week on Mormonism in cyberspace. I'm going to talk about my personal experiences as a Mormon blogger over the last two years, a heady and confusing time in Mormon history.
Right now it seems anyone with a megaphone can proclaim himself or herself an expert, which must drive the official LDS HQ a bit barmy. Erickson's bona fides include the fact that she was born into a Mormon family and her father was a bishop. My own background is that I've been an active Mormon for nearly 19 years and I have a PhD in religious history, with particular attention to 19th-century sectarian movements.
Better creds? Sure. But Erickson and I share one thing in common: neither of us can claim to speak in any official capacity for the LDS Church.
In February on this blog I discussed journalist Peggy Fletcher Stack's top six mistakes reporters make about Mormonism. The last one was "treating all former Mormons as whistleblowers who promise to reveal untold truths":
Former Mormons do have important personal stories to tell, but these are rarely balanced by the equally important personal stories that believing Latter-day Saints have to tell. And merely having a personal story, whether pro or con, does not instantly make any source an expert on a religion. Peggy expressed concern that “the New York Times and CNN seem to have given a platform to every former Mormon with a book.”
As an ex-Mormon and a Tea Party-esque conservative, Erickson has axes to grind. But all of us do, to some extent. My own agenda is that there be a place for thoughtful dialogue in my religion, for different points of view, for honest vulnerability about how often we fall short of our own ideals. I am passionate about justice and Jesus' love for all people, including some groups that my religion has historically or presently marginalized.
I think that anyone who speaks to the press about Mormonism should be aware of having an agenda and knowing what that agenda is. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a national network news producer who was pulling together a story about Mormonism. She wanted to get me on camera to share my experiences as a Mormon feminist. I said I would be happy to help, but that the list of people she had talked to did not yet include enough conservative or traditional Latter-day Saints. For balance it would be important to include those voices too.
Everyone who has ever been involved in Mormonism, including Tricia Erickson, has some kind of Mormon story. In that sense they -- we -- can and should speak for Mormonism. We do not speak for the LDS Church, however, and we can't claim expert status merely on the basis of limited involvement and cursory knowledge of Mormonism. Reporters should try to achieve balance (as CNN did by having Mormon scholar Richard Bushman on a panel with Erickson, and as NPR makes a point of doing every day), and Mormon pundits should adopt measures of accountability.