Will the Fictional Mormons Influence the Real Ones?

| Mormon church leaders have criticized HBO for planning to air a fictional version of a Mormon temple endowment ceremony on Big Love this Sunday, saying the ceremony risks being “misrepresented or presented without context or understanding.” But is it possible that more media exposure of Mormonism — like Salt Lake Tribune reporter Brooke Adams‘s The Plural Life blog — might benefit Mormons like Mitt Romney, who hopes his religion won’t hamper his presidential bid the second time around? Quite a few Mormons are probably hoping the opposite. [%comments]


The Mormon Church leaders have NOT criticized HBO and in fact have released a statement about there apathy 5 days ago that can be found here
While yes individual mormons are up in arms about it it is only to the detriment to the Mormon Church.


I would also point out that Brooke Adams's blog doesn't give more media exposure to Mormonism because it's not about Mormonism, it's about polygamy. Mormon's don't practice polygamy, and haven't for nearly 120 years.


While Freakonomics hasn't written this, the interesting thing here is that there are many people who think the mormons are upset because the series is publishing their "secrets". Everyone knows you can find as much of the mormon "secrets" as you want with google. The bigger issue here is more a matter of respecting a ceremony that the mormons feel is sacred and should be respected. For the same reason that you don't want everything you talk about in the privacy of your home published on the front page news. It's more about privacy and respect for what goes on in the temple than it is about "secrets".

Dropping By

This very short post is a great example of the kind of confusion we Mormons deal with constantly. It's tiresome, and it seems writers who are paid to write in influential papers like the New York Times, would feel some responsibility to get it right.

The headlines starts, "Will the Fictional Mormons ..." and immediately starts talking about Mitt Romney. What? The polygamists of "Big Love" are no more Mormons (or fictional Mormons) than Protestants are Catholics. Those polygamists do not worship in the same religion as Mitt Romney -- but because the issues are routinely linked in the press, even sometimes by well-meaning writers, it's hard to dispel all the misconceptions that arise.

"Big Love" is itself attempting now to collapse this distance and knowingly add to the confusion, for reasons perhaps known best to its writers and producers (one of whom, Tom Hanks, recently called Mormons like Mitt Romney, "un-American" before apologizing). I was personally very impressed -- in the first year of "Big Love" -- how explicit HBO was that the show is NOT about Mormons, but recently they have been much less careful to make the distinction. Much less careful. Hmm, I wonder if Prop 8 in California might have something to do with it ...?

But for a real member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is a bit surreal. Would you grill a Lutheran friend about something controversial the Pope said? Would you shun a Southerner colleague in 2009 as a slaveholder? A long-ago historical link does not create any modern, current affinity -- and that's the real frustration for modern Mormons when it comes to certain weirdos depicted on cable TV.


Krista Cook

Since faithful Mormons promise not to disclose details about the temple ceremonies, HBO's presentation could only be based on information from those who have broken this promise. By definition, these sources are undoubtedly untrustworthy and unethical. This alone should make them suspect. Those of us who are temple going Mormons will neither supply, nor correct, the information HBO presents. HBO MUST rely on ex-Mormons, apostates and the disgruntled for its information -- these are not reliable information sources in my opinion. There is no way anyone who practices polygamy would be temple worthy or even allowed to retain membership in the L.D.S. (Mormon) Church.

The “authority” to marry a man to one wife is not the same as the “authority” to marry a man to more than one wife. No Mormon since the 1890 change has had the authority to marry any man to more than one woman. So, in the Mormon view, none of these so-called polygamist marriages are valid, religiously or legally. None of these “polygamists” are Mormons.

Membership in the L.D.S. Church is not a vague identification or feeling of alliance; it is an actual membership record. You either have a membership record or you do not. You either are a Mormon or you are not. There is no gray area. If you try to practice polygamy your membership is canceled and you are kicked out of the Church (excommunicated).

Polygamists are not Mormons period. Since their marriages are neither valid nor legal, real Mormons consider the polygamist lifestyle not only illegal but immoral as well. No one doing something illegal and immoral would be allowed inside a temple or allowed to retain Mormon membership. The whole "Big Love" story line is completely implausible.



While Mormons like to say they have not practiced polygamy in over 100 years, the Mormon church still says that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were right to do so.

Even though Joseph himself married several teenage girls, as young as 14, and also married women who were married to other men at the same time, you will never find a statement from official Mormon sources that says what they did was wrong.

Even though it appears that Joseph's polygamy was no different than what is practiced today, the Mormons will not condemn it, and accept it as a valid practice, "When the Lord Commands it."


-no, the LDS Church doesn't really care about the HBO segment
-yes, there are a bunch of mormons offended about the whole thing (I'm not one of them)

but I think the point of this blog post is to discuss if the publicity would help real Mormons.

In most ways any (good and bad) publicity helps our Church. Even when there have been very negative stories in the press statistics have shown an increase in inquiries via missionaries and our www.mormon.org website. So to answer the blogger's original question -- anything making us more mainstream should help.

Although I believe the problems people are having with HBO now is they are blurring lines between the Fundamentalist sect/cult and the real LDS church. Based on the events of that cult and the last 12 months . . . . I would say the show is linking us with those who AREN'T mainstream.


I would point out that mormons popularized polygamy in North America. Without their enthusiasm for the practice in the 19th century, it might be almost unheard of in NA today, rather than being the sleazy hallmark of the mormon offshoot, the FLDS.


Krista Cook-

Are you saying there is no such thing as an honest and trustworthy ex-Mormon?

Doesn't that sound kind of cult-like?

Cults often will discredit anyone who leaves their organization. When you come on here and make comments like that, it kind of makes the church sound like a cult, to me at least.

Eric M. Jones

The Mormons?--We live in a global community. It is certainly true that what is portrayed in film and on TV influences reality. Isn't that what the Marshall McLuhan's "Medium is the Massage" argues? --Media ..."will shape the way humans think, act, and ultimately perceive the world around them". Not a very deep thought, but nevertheless true.

Fads and styles and our perception of reality is shaped by countless glossy images. Pamela Anderson's "Barb Wire" tatoos are everywhere. Terrorists watch Sylvester Stallone's flicks for inspiration.



What Krista is saying is that anyone who has participated in an LDS temple ceremony has made a promise that they will keep it private and sacred, specifically (among other things) to avoid something sacred being perverted by being "popularized" in the trashy media like this. Therefore anyone who has described it in detail for HBO's benefit has violated that promise and thus is by definition dishonest.

She's not saying that all ex-mormons are dishonest, she's saying that everyone who breaks what they committed to as a sacred promise are untrustworthy and dishonest.

To compare it to something less controversial, it's the same as if someone promises to be someone's godparents in a Catholic ceremony and then later leaves the Catholic church and refuses to have anything to do with the godchild any longer when the child's parents die. It's not the leaving of the Catholic church that makes them untrustworthy, it's the breaking of the commitment they made.



I have several concerns with the temple ceremonies. The temple ceremonies involve a string of unethical practices that leave a person very little opportunity to change their mind.

1. You are not informed a priori what is going to happen.

2. Without any information you are asked if you want to change your mind before the doors are shut not to be reopened until the ceremony is over.

3. The doors are closed and leaving is discouraged.

4. You have all of the pressure of family and friends surrounding you who would be very disappointed in your "unfaithfulness", "rebellion", and "unworthiness" if you were to not follow through by performing the entire ceremony.

5. The expectancy of a mission or a wedding in the following days. You would need to cancel your mission or wedding if you did not follow through with all that entails. This would include contacting all of the wedding guests. Many people would suspect "immoral behavior" because you were not marrying in the temple. The same would be true of not serving a mission after backing out of the temple ceremony. This would greatly influence the person's standing in the Mormon community, their prospects for marriage, and many friendships would be strained.

6. During the ceremony you swear before god, angels, and witnesses under threat of death pre-1990 and currently under threat of eternal punishment not to reveal what you have learned.

7. Many people feel disoriented after the washings and anointings particularly in the past when you were naked other than a poncho with no sides.

8. You are subjected to the identity masking practice of dressing identically in white with everyone else in the room.

9. You are subject to the disempowering practice of dressing in odd temple robes, faux fig leaf aprons, and unusual hats.

10. Many people are confused and disoriented by the fact that their family and friends in attendance have participated in these bizarre ceremonies repeatedly in the past and have been pressuring you participate too.

11. Many people are also dismayed or concerned that they are participating in secret oaths and combinations that are forbidden by the Book of Mormon.


Give it a rest Dropping & Krista

The LDS Church did not ban polygamy 120 years ago. It continued to allow men to take mulitple wives until 1904. One could be in good standing in the LDS church and cohabit with multiple wifes until the 1950s, as long as one did not marry more wives after 1904 or advocate that others do so. Go read LDS Church president Spencer W. Kimball's (d. 1985) biography and its statements about is polygamist father-in-law living with both of his wives as a member of the LDS church in good standing if you don't believe me. 1950 was only 59 years ago, not 120.

Recently deceased LDS church president, Gordon Hinckley, affirmed that his immediate predecessor will have at least 2 wives in heavan. Go read his funeral sermon for the 2nd wife.

All members of the LDS church believe that their current apostles, L. Tom Perry, Russell M. Nelson and Dallin S. Oaks, will have at least 2 wives in heaven.

Polygamists and the mainstream LDS Church both claim dissent from Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor. Those Mormon prophets all taught that to get into the highest level of heaven one is required to be a polygamist. Joseph Smith's printed revelation on which this teaching is based, Doctrine and Covenants section 132, still appears in the LDS scriptures. From the time it was first published in the 1800s throughout the 1900s it was prefaced as the revelation on "pluraity of wives."

Mitt Romney's father was born in the LDS polygamist refugee colonies in Mexico so don't try and tell people that Mitt and polygamy have nothing to do with each other.

The LDS church does not have a trademark on "Mormon." Polygamists have as much right to the term and others as much right to call them such as does the LDS Church.

The Catholic-Protestant analogy is completely wrong. The correct analogy is Christian-Protestant. If we were to follow you, Catholics could say that Protestants aren't Christian because they are not Catholics.

And yes, in answer to the blog, the LDS church will benefit in the long run from Big Love. The more Americans know about the temple ceremony, the less weird it will seem to them. The LDS church might even change it yet again to make it less strange. Then members of the LDS will appear more mainstream which has been the LDS church's agenda for the last 25 years.


Sam Wright


First, I don't know HOW you make the jump that Krista doubting the accuracy of an ex-Mormon's view is "cult like".

So let's suppose a democrat leaves the democratic party and starts consulting a television show on the inner-workings of the democratic party. The suppose Nancy Pelosi comes out and says she doubts the accuracy of the the former democrats portrayal. Does that mean Nancy Pelosi is acting "cult-like."

Seriously? That's an interesting conclusion you draw. My experience (and reaffirmed by a study at MIT) is that people tend to give more weight to those experiences which reinforce their biases. Thus, if you want to see the Mormon church as cult like, you will tend to view comments through your lens of cult like behavior, labeling everything that comes close to supporting your view as "cult like."

That said, I do AGREE that Krista's comment does not allow for the possibility that the ex-Mormon could be an objective observer just giving insights.

However, the temple for the Mormon church is all about progression back to God. A progression that would not be possible without Jesus Christ. Every symbol and action and covenant performed in a Mormon temple is meant to focus an individual's mind on the love of a Father in Heaven and the absolute necessity of a Savior. While such physical representations have been used throughout history, people often end up focusing more on the physical action than on the symbol and purpose behind the physical action. So for someone who has left the Mormon church, many could be worried that link between the love of the Father and the Son could be lost because the television is obviously focused on the visual nature of the ceremony.

Additionally, if the ex-Mormon consultant never really focused on the symbol themselves, then they will have a hard time representing the ceremony in the right light. I would think most churches (and by the way, almost all have some sort of ceremony that may seem strange without the right context) would want their ceremonies represented by those who have not become unaffiliated with the group.



Ah! Freakonimics has exposed the hidden side of something else! The underbelly of the mormon marketing campaign! This episode: how conniving church leaders team-up with the writers of a dying[1] TV show in a secret plot to generate interest about their faith by irreverently representing sacred, i mean, secret rites. Really fanning the flames, the church responds by telling the world that while HBO's treatment of sacred ceremonies is offensive, it's not worth freaking out about. But now the secret plot has been exposed! What will they do next?

[1] (http://www.businessinsider.com/cable-dramas-hemmhoraging-viewers-2009-2)


I was born and raised Mormon. I recently left this cult after several years of studying its history. I was never taught in Sunday school that the founding prophet, Joseph Smith, had over 30 secret polygamous wives. I also learned that the temple ceremony was “revealed” several weeks after Joseph became a Freemason. I started to question everything about my faith. I started to see that it was a ridiculous religion especially the temple ceremony. I concluded that if there really was a god that there was no way that he would require secret words, signs and handshakes learned in the temple to get into heaven. It made no sense. Of course now I welcome the spotlight on this silly so-called sacred ceremony. I hope that it will keep others away from joining this cult.


There is only one aspect of the endowment ceremony where there is an explicit expectiation of secrecy"

...They are most sacred, and are guarded by solemn covenants and obligations made in the presence of God, angels and these witnesses to hold them sacred and under no condition will you ever divulge them, except at a certain place in the temple that will be shown you. ..'

There is no explicit requirement that any other aspect of the endowment ceremony is to be considered secret.


Erik Jones -

I have to disagree with your analogy.

I don't think we should be beholden to commitments we make when we later find out that the commitment was founded on fraudulent information.

As long as the former Mormons don't lie about, or misrepresent the endowment ceremony, I don't see why there should be any problems with sharing it.


I would like to point out to "Sharper" that, as an ex-member of your religion, the Church does not own my experience of the Temple. Nor am I bound any longer by certain oaths not to speak of those things outside the Temple walls.

I resent the fact that the Church is trying, in its best passive-aggressive manner, to keep people from discussing what is, hands down, the most important rite of the LDS Church. Neither the Church leadership nor the membership own my experience of the Temple. If I want to discuss it, it's my business. Same if I don't want to discuss it. I do not have to get permission from the Church.

Your organization no longer owns me, so stop trying to browbeat me and others like me into silence.


3/14/09 The dust-up over this episode of HBO's popular "Big Love" graphically drives home the old saw, "One person's religion is another person's belly laugh."

Also, since the character "Barb" on Big Love is so religious and devoted to her Mormon gods, I am sure the uber-secret temple ceremony will be depicted accurately and with the utmost respect ... even if an ex-Mormon was used as a consultant (and who swore an oath to have his throat slashed and be disemboweled if he ever divulged the temple goings-on).

We'll see after tomorrow night.