I watched on the internet. At first I was a little put off that more time was spent on the negatives than the positives. The it occurred to me that watching with a "stop watch" and keeping score was silly.
If i have an objection it is the accusation of anti-intellectualism. This is just not so, despite one comment by Boyd K. Packer and the comments of a couple of disaffected souls. In fact we teach that the "glory of God is intelligence". Even the Korean Ward I attend has at least 5 active PhD's in it numbers.
All in all, excellent and fair. Thank you.
Bob (Robert) Powelson
Boeun, South Korea
Watching "The Mormons" in order to learn about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was like trying to understand a Beethoven symphony by reading the cliff notes instead of listening to the music. It was like trying to understand the Constitution of the United States by reading a few Supreme Court opinions and the biographies of the Justices without ever reading the document itself. It was like trying to teach someone how the play the guitar by taking them to a guitar factory.
In other words, the producers failed in their task (and what an unfortunate waste of resources it was) not so much because of a lack of objectivity (the actual coverage was uneven and slanted regardless of the intentions) but because it attempted to be so objective that it ignored the essence of the subject in order to explore the periphery. The producers of this program betrayed the expectations they had created and left viewers more confused about Mormonism at the end of the show than they were at the beginning.
My own view of this documentary is somewhat more nuanced. I applaud the attempt by its producers to present a balanced portrait of a complex religion and people, and I recognize how difficult it would have been to create something that provided both sympathetic coverage and unflinching reporting. I am impressed to see the range of opinions and experiences they have uncovered. This should put to rest the idea of Mormonism as a monolithic (or even paleolithic) entity. I do, however, wonder at some of the inclusions, and exclusions in the first (historical) segment. Let's use polygamy as an example.
The Mormon church truly did discontinue the practice of polygamy over a hundred years ago. So why would this documentary display the daily life of modern-day polygamists? The assertion that many members of the church feel like practicing polygamists are the only truly faithful Mormons has not been borne out by any of my experiences living and attending church in four states and three countries. Almost without exception, the members with whom I have talked have found the practice puzzling and disturbing, and struggle to understand why it was ever practiced. They do not secretly long to do it themselves. Is this, rather, the wishful view of the so-called "fundamentalist Mormons"? I admire the courage of the Timpson family in opening their home to close scrutiny, but I question the decision of the producers to include modern polygamists (who by their own admission and by the repeated assertions of the Mormon church hierarchy are not members of the Mormon church) in this documentary. This has only perpetuated the myth of modern Mormon polygamy, instead of dispelling it.
On the other hand, I would have been fascinated to see a study of the late nineteenth-century feminism in Utah that existed concurrently with the practice of polygamy. While the United States was denying women the right to vote, the Mormons in Utah granted the privilege in 1870 and encouraged women not only to vote, but to run for local political office. The suffrage movement in the United States benefited from the articulate and impassioned work of several notable women of the church, who wrote and distributed a newspaper devoted to women's rights and traveled to many suffrage meetings to support the cause. This was all happening at the same time that many of them were involved in polygamous marriages: what a fascinating juxtaposition.
The idea of blind obedience among the Mormons must be reexamined if you look at the well-reasoned (and, indeed, intellectual!) defenses of polygamy and suffrage produced by the women of that time. This would have been an interesting angle to explore, and much more relevant to issues of the role of women in the church than was the rather sensationalistic view of modern non-Mormon polygamy.
I apologize if this long comment could be taken as a criticism. I was saddened to see certain inaccurate stereotypes reinforced, but I do applaud the makers of this documentary for both the depth and breadth of their coverage of an admittedly difficult topic.
I am an inactive member of the Church, having moved on from being a "borderliner" long ago. Nothing can eradicate the stamp of the Church, however, nor obliterate the pain of disappointing devout parents who did their best.
Your treatment of the Church was so evenhanded, so well constructed, and so empathetic that I found myself full of both nostalgia and still bothersome insecurity about my choice to leave.
The central problem for people like me, as your program indirectly suggests, is the elephant in the room. You can be an active Mormon only if you pretend the elephant is either not there at all or easily avoided, a mere trifle. To you, he is huge, but you must honor the brethern by pretending along with the rest. At an early age I decided I could not. Your programmade me wonder if I had made the right choice. I wish so much the Church would make room for people like me without requiring that I adopt blind devotion as the centerpiece of my testimony or at least deceive others that I have done so.
I think the mark of a successful documentary is that viewers coming from more than one point of view are moved. I can't see how this would not have happened, despite the few comments fromiron rodders wishing to have seen something devoted solely to advancing the Church's missionary effort.
By the way, I enjoyed the two hours so much that it shamed me into sending in my delinquent $75 to the local PBS fund raising effort.
When I found out the [film's] director was given unprecedented access to church leaders and historians I assumed that their opinion would dominate the counterpoint coverage.
Instead, the people who know the topics best were rarely given a chance to address the issues directly. This I believe was the fatal flaw of the piece, and it was no more evident than in the coverage of the Book of Mormon. Nowhere in the first or second installment was the book given serious consideration as anything other than an easily identified fraud, plagiarism, poetry, or a product of Joseph Smith's time. Remember this is the central assertion of the LDS church -- God has again spoken to man and the Book of Mormon is the primary evidence of that claim!
After two years working on the documentary, clearly the director explored the arguments in favor of the book, yet not one minute was devoted to its defense (Terryl Givens, one of the shows commentators, wrote By the Hand of Mormon - an outstanding survey of pro-BOM scholarship). This is just one of many glaring examples of how the series manipulated the information.
I was very pleased to see that leaders and members of the Mormon church were willing to participate in a program in which they did not have complete message control. Overall, I thought the program was intersting and well balanced. Most importantly to me, it pointed out the dangers of blind followship. No church will save us from taking personal responsibility for our actions. Although many in the church desire to be "commanded in all things," I believe this program illustrated how important it is for each of us to follow our own consciences. No one, not even prophets of God, are completely free from error, no matter how well intentioned.
I thought the program was insightful and worthwhile. Although an active Latter-day Saint would tell the story differently, I would never expect PBS to become an apologist for our Church. It was far more fair of a treatment by an investigative journalist than I am accustomed to seeing. Throughout I saw a consistent effort to tell a fair version of the events rather than sensationalizing.
The particularly touchy subjects of polygamy and Mountain Meadows were handled with fairness. When even Mitt Romney, a descendant of a polygamous ancestors, condemns polygamy as the "worst thing he can imagine," we can't expect PBS to treat it more favorably than was done here.
As a faithful Latter-day Saint I appreciate the effort. There remain many interesting LDS stories worth telling, and I hope PBS considers revisiting the dynamic, unfolding story of our latter-day Church in coming years.
As a member of the LDS church I would like to credit the director for presenting a side of my faith that is given far too little airplay amongst my fellow Mormons. I know we would all like any documentary on our faith to be fair and balanced, but really...how much do we talk about Mormon history in a fair an balanced way in our Mormon circles? I know many LDS that will hear of the Mountain Meadows Massacre for the first time in this documentary, and will learn for the first time that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by looking at peepstones in a hat.
I have been going to church for 32 years now, but I never heard alot of the facts until I watched this documentary. Really, if we expect others to treat our history in a fair and balanced way shouldn't we, as seekers of truth, be willing to do the same?
It just feels like the idea of this film was to help people understand the doctrines and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but what really happened was just the opposite. I am a member of the Church and what was showed on the film was not me. Why the huge focus on the small numbers, i.e. the excommunicated, the fundamentalists, etc. instead of the nearly 13 million members of the Church who live good lives, seek to continually be shaped and changed by the Savior Jesus Christ, and follow our current prophet?
Bravo! My congratulations on a well-balanced and objective treatment of LDS history, origins, and evolution. As a life-long member and Church history addict, I can honestly say to all that "The Mormons" was more than fair in its presentation and completely factual. This is responsible journalism at its very best. People who think otherwise are probably unaware of all the skeletons in the LDS history/origins closet, and might seriously consider doing some independent study.
Your program was mentioned no fewer than six times last Sunday during my Mesa AZ congregation meetings. It was the best experience I have had at church in ten years. Discussing many historical and intellectual issues objectively is no longer 'taboo' as a direct result of this program. All I have to do was say "The PBS program mentioned ....." and I can safely open the door to a myriad of thought-provoking historical and doctrinal issues. Thanks PBS for making a difference in my life.
P.S."Human beings never welcome the news that something they have long cherished is untrue. They almost always reply to that news by reviling the promulgator." - H.L. Mencken
"One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It's simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back."--Carl Sagan
For those who have ears to hear, let him hear.
I join the camp of those viewers who found the program balanced and fair in its treatment of sensitive Mormon issues, such as Mountain Meadows and plural marriage. I was very pleased to watch the interviews, which were tempered with rational and honest acknowledegements of the less-known faces of the LDS Church.
I'm surprised, however, that the project did not delve deeply into the daily and weekly worship practices of the Latter-day Saints. This, to me, is the core of the religion and the first impression most investigators of the Church have when they research Mormonism. Daily prayer, scripture studying, and Sunday worship are really more central to Latter-day Saint living than temple worship, which is highly valued but not nearly as regular and quotidian as "mundane Mormonism." Future programs should include the three-hour services that faithful Latter-day Saints attend as mark of their devotion to keeping holy the Sabbath day. Home teaching, visiting teaching, and other church callings are centered on strengthening and retaining members, which would fascinate other ecclesiastical leaders in Christian faiths.
Princeton, New Jersey
In reading over so many of these comments, and even listening to comments in church complaining about an unfair portrayal of the Mormon faith, I cannot help but wonder whether I watched the same documentary as my brothers and sisters. Of course active Mormons would have loved for PBS to have published a missionary tract, presenting our religion to the world with faith and credulity, emphasizing our strengths and forgiving our weaknesses. However, I appreciate even more that PBS has fulfilled its mission and has maintained its integrity as a valuable source of unbiased information.
Believing we have the truth on our side, we should have nothing to fear from our history--which I believe was aptly presented in this documentary. People spoke who do not love the church, but impressively no one spoke who hated or despised it. Facts were presented which none of us can call comfortable, but anyone who is unwilling to be uncomfortable does not belong in a religion. To be honest, I am ashamed that so many Mormons seem unwilling to accept anything but pity or praise from the media. Shouldn't we be concerned that we are criticizing the documentary for saying true things just because we don't want to hear them?
Margaret Campbell Hedengren
"Fair", "insightful", and "balanced" were part of the promise we seemed to receive from PBS and Whitney as members of the Church awaiting the program. Active members of the Church, those who live and understand the religion, are extremely disappointed with the show, though the responses you choose to publish on your response page do not reflect that.
The program was built upon the same controversy and scandal that the Church has received publicity for in the past. Viewers of this program, the vast majority of which who will not refer themselves to the "Interviews" section of your site, came away thinking about polygamy and bitterness. Our religion was not a part this show, but perhaps it doesn't sell as well as polygamy and Mountain Meadows.
Having told our friends and family to watch the show beforehand, we have been duped. We feel that we may as well have handed them anti-Mormon literature for them to read. We did not expect this from PBS, Frontline, or The American Experience. Now that we see how "fairly" they portray a subject we know much about, we will have a difficult time believing what they have to say about subjects we know little of.
Las Vegas, NV
I am an active South African born Mormon who now resides in the UK. I too must agree with many others, that too much time was given to the subjects of polygamy and the Mountain Meadows massacre, especially the latter. It seemed to me that the amount of time given to this subject was somehow an attempt to balance the atrocities inflicted upon the Mormons. Although the persecution of the Mormons was broadly documented, it was made to seem that one could equate the decades of brutal persecution with this one incident. I also think that including certain persons' 'opinions' as to whether the incident occurred at the instigation of Brigham Young was irresponsible. Opinions given by supposed experts, are often too readily believed by the uninformed. I find that this is the case with many such documentries.
Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Those who complain that the information presented was too negative clearly missed the exuberance of some of the interviewees, who were obviously excited at having another forum in which to present their views on the church and its history. And it seems these same complainers do not trust that those watching the program are smart enough to question the criticisms leveled by those interviewees who are former members. It is safe to say that the truth about the church likely lies somewhere in between these perspectives.
Confronting, reconciling and embracing the more unseemly aspects of the history of the church is essential to faith. If you cannot take a critical, unsanitized look at your beliefs and history, and come out the other side having a greater love and appreciation for them, it is time to reconsider your choices.
If Ms. Whitney and Ms. Barnes choose to at some point give us another 4 hours on other aspects of the LDS faith and history, I'll gladly watch them as well.