Secretive or standard operating procedure?

Having a personal history with the Mormon church, I think I'm more aware than most that the church is controversial. There are certainly elements of the church's theology and history that feed that perception, but the fact remains that much of the news coverage of the church has a whiff of sensationalism. Unfortunately, this Vancouver Sun piece, "B.C. Mormons open temple to counter 'secretive' image," was a bit over the top. It didn't help that this information was right under the headline:

Filed under: polygamy, prophet, Mormon fundamentalists, Mormons, L. Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith, Glenn Beck, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, secrets, conversion

Yikes. That's a lot to wrap into a story. (Though I have no idea why L. Ron Hubbard is listed -- neither he nor Scientology are even mentioned in the story.) It doesn't waste time getting to the juicy details. Here's the lede:

In a province in which a breakaway sect of Mormon fundamentalist polygamists in the Kootenays draws continuing controversy, the main line Mormon Church realizes it has to work hard to show its wholesome face to the world.

That's one reason patriarchs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are this month inviting the public to have a rare look inside the luxurious interior of their new temple in Langley.

Well, that may be one reason the church is opening the temple. But the main reason why the LDS church is opening the temple is that they always open temples to the public for tours before they are consecrated. It's standard operating procedure when they build a new temple, and no where does this article make that clear. The insinuation that the church is taking some extraordinary action here to combat the negative image of some breakaway sect that the church isn't responsible for is a bit over the top. And that doesn't even count that I think the title "patriarch" is misused here. Each stake -- which is comprised of a handful of wards -- has a patriarch that administers patriarchal blessings. But I don't think that's what the reporter is referring to.

The article repeatedly emphasizes that church leaders are at pains to dispel the image of the church being secretive -- which is why they're giving journalists tours of the B.C. temple. But if you're curious about what goes on in the temple and reading this article, you're out of luck:

Walker showed a handful of journalists on Wednesday the extravagant indoor pool, built on the top of 12 sculpted oxen, on which living Mormons are baptized on behalf of deceased loved ones, so the dead can have eternal life.

Walker also guided journalists to a small, 25-seat room reserved for "eternal weddings," in which women and men are believed joined together in matrimony forever, including in an afterlife.

That's all the information the reader is given about the rites that will be performed in the temple. Surely many readers would like to know more about the doctrines and theology involved. But again the writer of this article seems more interested in sensationalist topics:

Most Mormons and most Christians continue to see the two traditions as different religions, [John] Stackhouse [professor of theology at Vancouver's evangelical Regent College] said. "They use similar words -- like 'God' and 'Jesus' and 'salvation,' but mean very different things by every one of them."

This long-standing religious competition came to a head last month when one of the most famous Mormons in North America, popular Fox TV political commentator Glenn Beck (left), told Christians to leave their churches if their clergy ever use the term "social justice."

Despite the outcry from Catholics and Protestants, Walker said Wednesday that Mormon elders are not attempting to rein in Beck. "He certainly doesn't speak for the church," Walker said. "Some Mormons would agree with him, and some wouldn't."

The term "social justice" is fairly controversial even within mainstream Christianity. I'm not sure a conservative cable news host known for dramatic antics inveighing against a term that is frequently a shibboleth for a church's liberal political agenda (but not always, of course) really creates a that much of a rift between Mormons and mainstream Christianity -- particularly since the latter isn't exactly a monoculture.

I suspect Beck's opinion about the term "social justice" would garner from support from Christians, as well as enmity in roughly equal measure. But the suggestion that this created such a rift or that the church is so desperate to be accepted by mainstream Christianity that they would rein him in over his comments is, again, a bit over the top. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey discussed these issues well last month.)

It's also wandering very far afield from an article that's ostensibly about a local temple opening. The article does have some good information, but more hard facts about the church and the temple and a lot less courting controversy would have been a big improvement.

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