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What are your thoughts concerning this film on the history and beliefs of Mormonism? Did it broaden your understanding of this very American religion?

I was hoping that you would publish the full text of the transcripts of the people that you interviewed for this work. You have some of them on the web site, but I do not see Elder Dallin Oaks of the LDS Church. I believe that you took his remarks out of context, but I'm not sure. Is it possible to get a copy of the transcript of your interview with this Apostle?

Marc Roddin
Mountain View, California

Our editors respond:

Unfortunately, due to limitations of time and resources, all the interviews conducted for this program could not be published here on "The Mormons" site. However, the LDS Church had also recorded the interviews of Elder Oaks and Elder Packer when they were conducted, and the church has published the transcripts, edited for clarity and length, on their own Web site. Here is the link to read the interviews.

 

I was disappointed and frustrated with this series. As an active member of the LDS church, I was interested to see how our religion would be portrayed. I feel that there were so many things that were left out and so much time focused on things that bear little importance to the modern Mormon religion. The tragedy of the Mormon Meadows Massacre and the interviews with polygamist families that do not even belong to our church should have been given far less time than they were. I definitely believe that time should have been given to unbiased historians and objective sociologists, but to have musicians, authors, "historians" as experts without even defining the extent of their qualifications is just irresponsible. By the time that many of these people stated that they were former members and were unhappy with the church, they had already offered their opinion as fact. This show should have not been presented as a news report unless you were willing to truly give responsible and objective reporting.

M P
Las Vegas, Nevada

Our editors respond:

This discussion area has received to date more than 3,100 letters and while we are unable to respond to all the many points raised in them, we would like to call attention to three concerns about the film that were cited by many viewers.

Many viewers complained that the program did not have many Mormon scholars and church members and leaders in it, and they also were disappointed that we didn't identify who was or wasn't a LDS member.There were several church leaders in the film, as well as many Mormon scholars and writers. We refer you to the "Interviews" section of this Web site where you can read the extended interviews of some of them.

We decided not to label a person's religious affiliation, just as we didn't label who was or wasn't a Catholic in filmmaker Helen Whitney's previous program on Pope John Paul II. There was a concern that people would automatically make judgments, without listening carefully and respectfully, had we labeled whether they were or were not members of the LDS church. We want to point out, however, that the religious affiliation of most of them generally surfaces early in their comments in the program, and certainly it is clear in the extended interviews published on the Web site.

Many viewers faulted the program for spending so much time on polygamy and on the Mountain Meadows massacre. Here is filmmaker Helen Whitney's response, taken from her live chat on Washingtonpost.com the day after the series concluded:

"I spent considerable time on these two areas because they are important in Mormon history and theology. Most people know very little about polygamy. They assume it was not social practice, but are unaware that it was a spiritual principle of utmost importance to Mormons. It was essential to salvation, and as Mormon scholar Kathleen Flake points out, polygamy was as important to the Mormons as baptism was/is to Christians. The Mountain Meadows massacre is a dark chapter in Mormon history. It has been generally treated in a sensational manner. We tried to provide the historical context -- the years of persecution preceding the massacre, the Utah war, the fact that President Buchanan had sent an army to Utah to remove Brigham Young as governor. All these events created an inflamed atmosphere and paranoia that is essential to understanding, though of course not excusing, this terrible event."

Finally, there were hundreds of viewers who complained that we left out some essential topics in the history, culture and theology of the LDS church or didn't go deeper into those topics we did cover. Unfortunately, four hours was not enough to fully explore this rich and complex story, but we believe that what was presented did offer a thoughtful and valuable perspective on the Mormons' story and we invite you to read the LDS church's statement about the film that was published on lds.org the day after broadcast.

 

I felt your program was fairly well done, but did not agree with some parts. I am 72 years old, baptized when I was 20. I love education and the dedication to education in our church is one of the things I love about it. Brigham Young said " How gladly would we understand every principle pertaining to science and art and become thoroughly acquainted with every intricate operation of nature, and with all the chemical changes that are constantly going on around us." How could you have such a long program about our religion and never mention Brigham Young University? We are very proud of our dedication to learning and every young person, male and female is urged to obtain a college education.You made it sound as if we were frightened by learning.

Margie Hall
Santa Fe, New Mexico

 

I am an active and extremely dedicated member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or a person known in slang as a Mormon.) I wanted to share that it seemed to me that this program did make a concerted effort to be unbiased and not-partisan, which I liked. There were many thoughts and insights offered (not all of them by Mormons,) which I appreciated.

I'd like to note, first of all, that I am not in any way, shape, or form, authorized to make statements for the church as a unit. Only The Prophet (currently President Thomas S Monson and other selected and duly authorized officials can do that. Secondly, many of the various views and doctrines examined in this program are held sacred by members of the church today, and all themes mentioned are points of adamant opinion to everyone that I know of Mormon and non-Mormon alike. As such the very topics are liable to spark heated emotions and responses, one way or the other.

I won't deny that some of the things said by non-Mormon scholars were taken offensively, but I truly believe that the church recognizes the right of individuals to have their own opinions what we in the church call agency. I could not be a part of a religion that decreed otherwise. I am sorry, for instance, that the idea of Baptism for the Dead is seen, by some, as an invasive practice. It is a stipulation of the ordinance, however, that those for whom this work is done have the right to reject the action. We simply provide the opportunity, and the person for whom the work was being done can accept or reject it.

I would like to formally declare, from my own experience, that I do not feel nor do my many sisters in the gospel, with whom I am intimately acquainted, feel that we have been deprived of anything by not bearing the Priesthood. Nor is it at all apparent, in any way, shape, or form, that the women of the church are subservient to the brethren. On the contrary, when I am in the presence of the men of the church, I feel deeply honored and respected as a woman. Anyone who doubts that the church honors women to the greatest possible extent need only listen to the General Conference talks addressed to the women of the church, to research any of which, visit www.lds.org)

My final thought: Jesus Christ is the only person to ever walk the earth Who is perfect. The members of our church are not perfect, and whatever imperfections there are that exist in church history, or which can be seen in the church today, are the results of the fallibility of imperfect people, myself included.

Thank you again for endeavoring to listen to both sides of the story, and for trying to be as unbiased as possible.

Sandy, UT

 

Although this show revealed some shockingly unpleasant facts about the origins of Mormonism, itís even more shocking that this "real Mormon history" will come as a surprise to most practicing members. It doesn't match the sanitized, faith promoting version that is heard repeatedly. Hence, the comments from true believers who are offended because they have been taught that anything negative can't be true because the Church is true. It's not so simple. For an organization or culture that brags about being the only true church on the earth, that Joseph Smith IS a true prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, etc., how sad that the search for truth is discouraged. Why go through the pain of doubt when there is only one acceptable conclusion? Indeed, the open-minded treatment and discussion on this program could never happen within the church. It is actually scandalous that exmormons are featured. But it's clear that you have to go outside the official message to get the rest of the story. The implications of the real history are indeed troubling, especially the character flaws of Joseph Smith, but were handled sensitively. There is substantial fabrication in the Church, but there are also beautiful concepts in LDS belief- it's complicated. I'm glad that this program was not a simplistic Mormonism 101, but delved into important themes lurking beneath the iceberg-like issues. People should be informed, and then think.

Dan Sellers
Orlando, FL

 

I view this work as sacred. Upon seeing it a few years ago as a returned missionary for the LDS church, it forced me to explore the history of my faith tradition and confront both the skeletons and jewels that exist in Mormonisms closet. Although for several years I experienced a form of disaffection with my faith because of my need to search my faiths history and what I found, not long ago my search took me to a place where I could see the beautiful tragedy of the human side of Mormonism, and find something new in the divine side of Mormonism. Seeing this documentary again after these experiences was wonderful. Thank you for this wonderful work. In my opinion every Mormon, or Mormon initiate should view it.

Colby Nemeth
Calgary, Alberta

 

I was disappointed somewhat by the researched credibility of your piece. Having studied this subject myself, (consequently running into some of these "authors") I felt 1/3 of it done well, while 2/3rds, I believe, was misrepresented or lacking. the books authored- by the way, are not very objective on the subject.I was also surprised that while knowing Utah is a largely conservative group, many of your"experts" are very liberal politically motivated individuals. In thisdiscussion, you wonder what they would have in common or like about the Mormons. More objectivity and less political, personal ire. A "D " from me.

Cindy Clites
Phoenix, AZ

 

Thank you for opening the doors of my religion to the nation. Although many still find these simple truths difficult to embrace, it is a simple well-founded religion that fills many facets of my life and family.

It is really true that those of us that had family members lost in the conflicts of the early church view persecution in a very different way.

S R Robinson
Ellensburg, wa

 

I have been a great fan of Frontline for its usual objective reporting. I was appalled with the Mormon series. Part 1 was 2 hours of Mormons talking about how great Mormonism is, and providing spin our downright ignoring flaws in the Mormon story. It seemed that at least 80% of the "historians" or "authors" cited were Mormons who are inclined to not say anything bad about the church because of their faith and the obedience requirements. Could Frontline not find non-Mormons who have studied and could talk about the religion. I'm sure there are many folks who could talk about the cultish qualities of the religion (obedience, authoritarian leaders, ex-communications, etc.)

Jeremy Wilson
San Luis Obispo, CA

 

I am suspicious as to the timing for the rebroadcast of The Mormons the week following Super-Tuesday. Can you blame skeptics like me for assuming that PBS expected Mitt Romney to be a still viable candidate at this point, and timed the rebroadcast of a program about his faith that does indeed concentrate out of proportions on two issues that could arguably deepen the widespread skepticism about Mormons in the United States, as a way to influence the campaign?

Guedy Kadosh
Atlanta, GA

 

I'm amazed so many Mormons are commenting here about the misrepresentation they feel their religion has suffered from in this documentary, since to my eyes it is quite clear that this film is biased towards them and presents the history of the Mormons with a relatively uncritical eye and an obvious slant in their favor.

Your decision not to distinguish which scholars were Mormon and which were not seemed only to blur the line even more and left the appearance that almost every scholar was either Mormon or viewed the Mormons in a positive light. The fact that one of the scholars was allowed to say that modern plural marriage has immense areas of gray without any comment from those who have been the victims of polygamy or those who know the devastating damage it can cause to the women and children involved seems careless at best and grossly negligent at worst. Stories about the excommunication of intellectuals were followed by church apologists saying "well, you're only hearing one half of the story," as if that was the last word, leaving the viewer with a contrary impression.

There is no doubt that the institution of the the Church of Latter Day Saints is an archaic, arrogant, and, yes, dangerous group with an alarming amount of power, something which was completely ignored in this documentary. If a viewer didn't know better, they might come away with the impression that Mormonism is nothing but a beautiful, if quirky, religion, woefully misunderstood by the masses and long overdue for a publicity makeover.

I look to Frontline to offer exposes of issues and groups that are important to the understanding of our history and society today. With the sympathetic portrayal given the Mormons here, I feel Frontline has abandoned its investigative mission.

Nicole Raymond
Chicago, IL

 

I just finished watching the broadcast for the second time and I wanted to say thanks for a wonderful program.

I was raised in a very staunch LDS family and up until my mid-30's was also a very active Mormon. Your program has helped me in as I strive to put my LDS experience in perspective and to reconcile those parts of me that believe, with those parts of me that can't accept aspects of the doctrine or culture.

Overall, this program I thought was well-balanced, and thought-provoking. I find that I am neither pro or anti Mormon; I have a tendency to defend the church against those who would seek to discredit it wholesale, yet I cringe at the rigidity and the demand for wholesale acceptence within the culture of the church and their internal belief that the doctrine and leaders are beyond reproach.

My personal journey has been both liberating and isolating, but hearing all the myriad voices in your program has been comforting on so many levels.

Thank you for investing the time and effort to do this.

Sacramento, California

 

It is unfortunate that the series, in my judgment, did not adequately discuss the significant theological differences between the LDS church and the three branches of orthodox Christianity. While there are many differences between Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Reformation and post-Reformation churches loosely called Protestants, these churches are united in certain beliefs that are spelled out in the historic creeds. Even those Christians who do not subscribe to creeds can accept the statements of faith in the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds (LDS members would be particularly interested in the Athanasian Creed, which sets out very clearly the orthodox Christian view of the Trinity).

Every member of the LDS church that I have ever met has proven to be a very fine person; the issue of whether a person is a Christian has nothing to do with one's goodness. However, the reasons why many Christian bodies consider this faith to be outside of Christianity are very clear.

Robert Cooper
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

 

I find the Mormon tenet of baptizing the dead to be deeply offensive. There is something perverse to me about the Mormon conviction that all souls that ever lived must be retroactively made Mormon so that those Mormons who carry this out can get some eternal benefit from it. I am Jewish, but I oppose this practice for any dead person who, by definition, cannot consent to it.

Austin, TX

 

I'm an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Japan. I served my mission at Sapporo, Japan. I graduated from BYU-H.This program is very negative constructed purposely, that made me disappointed. Hope you will research more and bring the truth about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I often wonder why many people gives more attention to the Church.But hope and pray that the people will pay attention to what we preach. May the Lord's special blessing be with you and your family. Listen to the fine young men who are serving their mission so that you will know all about us.I'm very happy what I am. I know the Church is true and the Book of Mormon is the words of God. Thank you!

Seiko Tanner
Peoria, AZ

 

I thought the program was very informative. I have always been fascinated by the Mormon religion and their beliefs. The religion is too strict for me, but I can see how people are drawn to it. The close knit community, family values, their generosity to the poor is wonderful. If I were not such a feminist, the religion would appeal to me. Thank you PBS for shedding some light on the LDS church.

Julie DeLorenzo
Lewisburg, WV

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