A Mormon Example on Sexuality and Religion
by Krista Tippett, host
Religion Dispatches offers a riveting report of a recent meeting in Oakland in which a leading Mormon authority offered an apology for the pain caused by the LDS Church’s activism on California’s Propisition 8. To an emotional gathering of “LGBT Mormons and their allies,” Elder Marlin K. Jensen reportedly said:
“To the full extent of my capacity, I say that I am sorry … I know that many very good people have been deeply hurt, and I know that the Lord expects better of us.”
I’m on record as saying that we should measure the public virtue of religious traditions not merely by the positions they take, but by the way they treat those with whom they agree and disagree along the way. It is, sadly, rare to witness religious authorities open up to this kind of human and seemingly searching encounter on an issue in which they have staked a theological and political claim. I say, “Bravo.”
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Following this year’s presidential campaigns wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the humorous, and often spot on, commentary of Ana Marie Cox. The former Wonkette blogger and now TIME magazine Washington editor has been covering the Republican candidates on the campaign trail and posting extensively on Swampland, TIME’s political blog, via her twitterfeed (definitely subscribe to this if you like pithy metaphors), and her Flickrfile.
That she even posted the picture was surprising, but what grabbed my attention was item #3 from her “Missing Mitt” vid: learning more about Mormonism. A refreshing take… and then she cited a Jon Krakauer book, Underneath the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, as her source of information about the LDS Church. Now, I haven’t read it, but I kinda gotta think the subtitle isn’t a promising starting point for Krakauer’s narratives, which, in my humble opinion, tend to have a judgmental, condemnatory tone to them. Robert Wright in his review for The New York Times points to this deficiency:
“Certainly the picture of religion presented in the book is unflattering. Linking the Laffertys to Mormon history means stressing its violent and authoritarian aspects. And of course neither of these is an invention of Krakauer’s. (Polygamous societies in general tend toward authoritarianism, as the anthropologist Laura Betzig has shown. She attributes this to the need of powerful men to control not just women but the understandably unsettled lower-status males who, through the grim mathematics of polygamy, go mateless.) Still, it would have been nice to see some of religion’s upside. Something must explain the vibrancy of mainstream Mormonism, and I doubt it’s just the dark energy of residual authoritarianism. Religion, like patriotism, can nurture virtue within the group even while directing hostility beyond it.”
Have any of you read this account? Do you think it’s a good reference book for learning about the LDS Church? Well, after reading a Tom Stoppard play and a biography on Heschel, I might just have to check this out.
Responding to the Feedback on “Inside Mormon Faith”
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
As Krista and I hop from meeting to meeting here in New York, we’re overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of listener response to our program on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’re receiving very positive responses from non-Mormons and Mormons alike, from those who know and have studied the church as well as those for whom this was an introduction; at the same time, some listeners have expressed concern that this program was not critical enough to be journalistically valid.
Speaking of Faith models a distinctive approach to journalism about religion. The ethic of the interview is informed by deep listening and informed questioning. That is purposeful, based on her sense that adversarial questioning simply puts the interviewer on the defensive and shuts down the possibility of authentic and genuinely revealing answers. There are many legitimate ways to approach the multitudes of subjects in the news. This approach works for matters as deep and sensitive as religion and what we believe.
In the case of this show, her questions drew out a great deal of information that was new to many listeners. Some drove to the substantive core of distinctions between Mormon thought and traditional orthodox Christianity. As we also stated throughout the script, there are numerous controversies surrounding this faith in historical, cultural, theological, and social terms.
We didn’t omit to mention these “hot button” topics, nor did we dismiss them. But we did and do feel they have been often reported and examined in the mainstream media. We wanted to cover some new ground. We wanted to explore the basic parts of this faith that make it distinctive, and that are little understood.
We had a journalistic goal — to provide a more basic theological and human context for non-Mormons to understand this faith of 13 million human beings globally — and a broad and basic human foundation on which they might navigate the controversies for themselves.
We tried to determine where to post a response like this — on the show’s reflection page, to each individual, in next week’s newsletter? — and then we had to check ourselves and ask: “Are we too defensive?” “Are we overreacting and should we just allow our listeners to air their grievances?”
What do you think?
Capturing a Conversation in an Image
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
One of the most time-consuming and rewarding parts of my job is sifting through hundreds, if not thousands, of images — usually photographs — for use on the Web site and in the e-mail newsletter for each week’s show. I attempt to bring another layer of meaning and understanding to the broadcast/podcast, and, when I’m on my game, a moment of transcendent elegance and beauty.
Much like the music chosen in our program, each image to me is a unique content element with its own story, even if it’s not clearly defined. One photo may just catch the eye enough for you to read on; another may make you crinkle your nose a bit and wonder why did they choose that one.
I relish ambiguity and subtlety. I prefer photographs that cause the viewer to ask more questions than offer answers. I prefer to honor the viewers intellect and curiosity rather than simply report the story. For SOF, I prefer human images to inanimate objects.
For this week’s program “Inside Mormon Faith” I struggled to create a group of images to choose from. Of course, there were loads of photographs of LDS temples from all points on the globe — some absolutely haunting and dramatic:
(photo: Russell Mondy)
When I was looking for more human, pedestrian moments, I saw photos by a reporter from the Sunday Times of London (don’t you just adore the guy covering his face) of Mitt campaigning :
(photo: Tony Allen-Mills)
But, in the end, the decision came down to two images, with this one losing out by a hair. What I appreciated about it was the repeating patterns of the brick, the interaction of LDS members in different ways in a very pedestrian manner — waiting at a bus stop.
(photo: Simon Knott)
I ended up going with the image leading this post because of one thing. The young man was looking into the camera without posing but was in the background surrounded by other passersby. It had a greater depth I couldn’t ignore.
What would you have gone with? Should I have been looking in different places?
SOF Playlist Track: Cepia, Hoarse
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
Some of the music choices for next week’s show on Mormonism represented, for me, another angle of consideration of this young religion. As I layered in the track above (“Hoarse”) from Cepia, an electronic group from Minneapolis, I considered the rather traditional school of thought that feels electronic, or “computer” music, to be anything but music.
If I had to guess as to why one might feel this way it is perhaps that the sounds in this genre are not generated in the same way as, for example, the “true” sounds of a violin, the rich, pure notes physically scraped off of metal strands which are held taut across a wooden frame, an age-old tradition dating back hundreds of years. Perhaps. However, what of the feelings that this music generates in someone — the joy, the ecstasy, the wonderment — that are a direct result of these sounds, these computer-generated sounds? Does the catalyst really matter, whether it be a 300-year-old violin, or a 2-month-old Mac, if the sounds move the spirit?