Bigotry is bigotry, regardless of whether it is directed against Jews, blacks, gays, or Mormons. Of course human beings disagree with one another; I myself am no yes man, and I certainly don’t cry “bigot” every time I encounter those whose opinions differ from my own. What, then, separates bigotry from healthy disagreement? ()
A desire to understand differing points of view
The intentional spreading of lies to discredit
The intent to slander
Thankfully, our society largely (though not universally) discourages bigotry against most social groups. Strangely, bigotry against Mormons seems to be more socially acceptable — more “fashionable.” A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, for example, indicated that traditional prejudice against Jews and Catholics is fading. Only 15% of Americans stated they would never vote for a Jewish president, and only 10% said the same of a Catholic (see The LA Times). Alarmingly, nearly 40% — including nearly 40% of those who share the same political philosophies embraced by most American Mormons — said they would never vote for a Mormon president. Said Cal Thomas of Tribune Media Services, “The poll found that while anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism are fading among voters, anti-Mormonism is not. Thirty-seven percent of those questioned said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. Article VI of the U.S. Constitution forbids a ‘religious test’ for those wishing to serve in public office, but it can do nothing about voters who wish to apply a religious test to candidates” (see Globe Gazette).
In speaking of anti-Mormons, keep in mind that I am not referring to those who respectfully disagree with certain points of Mormon doctrine, nor do I speak of those who pass along false information about Mormons simply because they are misinformed. I’m speaking of those — and there are many — who despise the LDS Church and actively seek to discredit it by intentionally spreading hatred and falsehoods. It is this type of intentional misinformation that fuels the common misconceptions about Mormons reflected in the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll mentioned above.
Anti-Mormons: Specific Examples
A perfect example of those who hate the church can be seen twice a year in Salt Lake City, when the Church holds its biannual General Conference. Many Mormons travel from distant lands to Salt Lake on a sort of spiritual pilgrimage, excited to listen to sermons by Church leaders. This pilgrimage is often interrupted by the screams of “street preachers” informing Mormon participants that they are going to go to hell. The following video, compiled from other sources, illustrates the extent of the bigotry these pilgrims face.
How would a Muslim feel if this kind of bigotry manifest itself at Mecca? How would the Jew feel if a “street preacher” like this decided to visit the Wailing Wall?
"Another Expert Weighs In" by Darryl Barksdale. The original can be found at www.fairlds.org.
Fortunately, not all enemies of the church are this confrontational, but the world is full of astute and sophisticated individuals who harbor this same bigotry. Many of these even mascarade as “informative sources,” hiding their true agenda behind a mask of feigned objectivity. Even the Anti-defamation League recognizes this more sophisticated breed of anti-Mormon. In response to a bigoted “documentary” produced by one of these seasoned groups, Rhonda M. Abrams, Regional Director of the League, wrote: “I was impressed by the high production values of the show. Clearly, this is not the work either of amateurs or those with very limited resources. The film obviously cost a lot of money to produce and…used the talents of a fairly sophisticated film-maker…Had a similar movie been made with either Judaism or Catholicism as its target, it would be immediately denounced for the scurrilous piece that it is…” (See FairLDS.)
The Internet is likewise replete with anti-Mormon web sites. But if a webmaster who dislikes Mormons is really interested in helping people discover the “truth” about Mormonism, why doesn’t he ever provide links to the official LDS websites (www.lds.org and www.mormon.org)? Could it be that these enemies of the Church know what Mormons believe better than Mormons do? Why let Mormons tell their own story, right? While we’re at it, perhaps we could learn more about the Jews from the Nazis and more about African Americans from the Ku Klux Klan!
Anti-Mormons: A Counter Example
But it doesn’t have to be this way! The LDS Church recently invited prominent teachers of a faith whose members are often critical of Mormon beliefs to speak at the Mormon tabernacle in Salt Lake City in what was called an “Evening of Friendship.” Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the largest seminaries in North America, was the first to speak. Mr. Mouw is a great example of what it means to be a Christian — a real Christian. He said:
“I am now convinced that we…have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe…Indeed, we have even on occasion demonized you, weaving conspiracy theories about what the LDS community is ‘really’ trying to accomplish in the world.” ()
That having been said, I’m sure Richard Mouw does not agree with Mormons on many points of doctrine. But he did not let this philosophical difference lead him to bigotry. Instead, he was frank and open rather than odious and close-minded. We could all — Mormons and members of other faiths alike — learn a lot from this great man.
Unfortunately, many choose not to follow Richard Mouw’s example of mutual understanding and friendship. Many choose to express their bigotry in the form of web authoring. Most anti-Mormon sites adopt one of four techniques for disseminating their message.
They tell outright lies. I’ve been amazed at some of the things the haters have claimed we believe. Some of these claims differ so significantly from actual Mormon beliefs that the possibility of a simple misunderstanding is remote. It is apparent that in many cases anti-Mormons simply invent stories to spread their message of hate. This technique of spreading lies to further a bigoted agenda is not new; in the middle ages, for example, some accused the Jews of eating babies!
They mention some past practice that is no longer relevant to modern-day Mormonism. This past practice is usually misrepresented, and the sociohistorical context in which it took place is ignored. But how can a Church of God change, you ask? Isn’t God the same yesterday, today, and forever? Of course! God is constant, but man lives is an ever-changing world. One of the central tenants of Mormonism is that God is not dead; He continues to speak to His Church, to help it adapt eternal principles to changing times. If Mormonism was static, what would be the purpose of continued communication with God? God helps us navigate changing social circumstances, and so change is to be expected.
They often tell partial truths. This technique has an obvious advantage: Mormon leaders can be quoted as “having said such and such,” lending an air of credibility to the web author’s bogus claims. But what of the context of the quote and the circumstances in which it was given? What of the comments proceeding and following the statement? Was there a general consensus among all Church leaders regarding the matter, or was this a single Church leader expressing his opinion? When these questions are ignored, “quotes” from Church leaders can be made to support just about any ludicrous position.
They take advantage of commonly-held misconceptions about the LDS faith even though they know that those misconceptions are unfounded. By exploiting this misinformation, they intentionally spread falsehoods rather than correct them.
Kittens are Evil
To illustrate these techniques, let’s create some statements that defame kitty cats. First, we could create some outright lies, making them sound official…
“It is known that certain breeds of cats, when young, often acquire distinct cravings for human blood. One kitten, known as Snow Ball, reportedly killed its owner as she slept.”
“Baby cats appear innocent enough, but don’t be fooled! Eons of evolution have made them cuter with every passing generation, cuter so that we’ll let them into our homes and hearts where they can do the greatest damage.”
Now let’s mention some fact from the kitten past that is no longer relevant. Better still, let’s misrepresent it a bit for added bitterness.
“In the centuries following the death of Christ, many Christians were murdered by the Roman empire. One popular method was to place the poor victim in an arena with a lion, allowing blood-thirsty spectators to enjoy the carnage of his death. Many of these lions reportedly began life as kittens, or, as biologists call them, ‘cubs.’”
Now let’s throw in a partial truth to make kittens look really bad.
“If mother cats are allowed to spend time with their kittens outdoors, they often teach the young ones in the skillful art of how to kill.”
Finally, let’s take advantage of some unfounded misconceptions about kittens popular in western culture…
“Witches and kittens have long been bed-fellows. Apparently the feline is drawn to the evil side of human nature.”
Wow! The LDS Church sure is lucky not to have me as an enemy! If I can make kittens look bad, imagine what I could do if I decided to start an anti-Mormon website!