My wife and I have been watching on DVD the recent Frontline piece on the Mormon ‘church’ (entitled simply ‘The Mormons’). Overall, I have been pretty satisfied with it. While it is certainly not as helpful as reading a book on the religion, the director has done a pretty good job showing both the good and the bad. It appears to us to be pretty even-handed, but, then again, we do not have a ‘dog in the fight’; at least, we do not have a ‘dog in the fight’ interested in defending the Mormon faith. I suspect that the director has irritated his fair share of Mormons.
What I most object to is the way Frontline subtly demands Mormonism liberalize. It nearly ‘expects’ Mormonism to reject the Joseph Smith ‘myth’ (in the Tolkien sense) as historical rubbish and seems to frown upon Mormonism’s insistence on ‘orthodoxy.’ Those who have dissented were given long sympathetic air-time. This is manifestly unfair.
I took exception with Frontline’s implicit view that the liberalization of Mormonism is consistent with its founding beliefs.* It is fairly evident that the program believes that Mormonism should “come to terms” with the historicity of its founding.** I agree with that Mormonism should do this; they do this in the interest of truth. But Frontline seems to think that Mormonism can continue to exist qua Mormonism while rejecting that very historicity. They seem to believe that Christianity and Judaism have successfully done the very same thing.*** But this concedes the debate to liberalism too quickly.
If Jesus has not risen from the dead, if he is not in fact the Saviour of the world, if he did not do what the Bible describes him to be doing, if he did not die on a cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, then Christianity is a sham. We all ought to pack up our bags and go home. Similarly, if the ‘prophet’ Joseph Smith is not really a prophet, if he really did not see God the Father and God the Son, if there were no gold plates, if the ‘revelations’ are a figment of his imagination, then Mormonism has no right to claim anyone’s service as missionaries, nor demand their members pay a tax to the ‘church’; it is also a sham. They ought to pack up their bags and go home, or turn to historic orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. It is preposterous for Frontline to assume that Mormonism can continue to exist while conceding that the historic events surrounding the founding of Mormonism are not true. Mormon intellectual Terryl Givens correctly concedes as much when he says,
One could no sooner divorce the historical claims of the Book of Mormon from the church than one could divorce the story of Christ’s resurrection from Christianity and survive with religion in tact.
This stems from the low view of religion—the view that all religions are man-made and concocted by fellows who are simply more clever than the rest of us. This point may be true. Yet if it is, to espouse that any religion continue is to espouse that men persist in lying to one another.
I have one more note on this series. I grieve that Richard Mouw said what he said on this series. I understand that he has been trying to get ‘evangelicals’ and Mormons together. Yet his remarks as a ‘representative of evangelicalism’ only added confusion. His patience with Mormons is wholly baffling. One wonders if he has ever read what his New Testament has to say concerning false teachers.
*For example, see the sections ‘The Early Revelations,’ ‘Dissenters & Exiles,’ and ‘Disciplinary Actions’; one wonders why Frontline deemed it necessary to include this latter section.
**They give Margaret Toscano nearly four minutes of the 11 minute segment ‘Disciplinary Actions.’
***The opening of ‘Dissenters & Exiles’ captures what seems to be Frontline‘s perspective:
All religious systems have to move beyond their own founding. And many religious systems have found that very difficult to do. Christianity did it. Islam did it. Judaism did it. The question is Can Mormonism do it? The past is thrusting itself up in front of the Mormon day after day, almost hour after hour, and it’s difficult to deal with it, and, like much of the past, it’s very messy.