Joseph Smith

Nix 'Mormon' talk in news! How can media handle major faith’s unreasonable plea?

Nix 'Mormon' talk in news! How can media handle major faith’s unreasonable plea?

The venerable Mormon Tabernacle Choir has announced that it is now named “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.” (Will newswriters trim that to “Tabernacle Choir”?)

Reason: President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared that “the importance of the name” that God “revealed for His Church,” means believers and outsiders must drop “Mormon” and use that full nine-word name. (Copyreaders will note: definite article with capital T, hyphen, lower-case d.)

Church scriptures say this name was given to founder Joseph Smith, Jr., on April 26, 1838, the same day God granted him “the keys of this kingdom.”

Nelson, a former surgeon who became Smith’s successor as prophet in January, even asserts that use of “Mormon” is "a major victory for Satan." He admits “it’s going to be a challenge to undo tradition of more than 100 years,” but change is “non-negotiable”  because “the Lord wants it that way.” 

The faith will lose something, because the “Mormon” people have long built up respect for their nickname through upright and neighborly living. Indeed, the church spent serious money on an image-boosting “Meet the Mormons” movie and “I’m a Mormon” ads.

The name game is a blame game that puts the media in a bind, as news executives said after Nelson’s August edict, so The Religion Guy adds some guidance to GetReligion’s prior article and this tmatt interview with an LDS journalism professor.

Obviously, The Guy gave this perennial problem considerable thought in co-authoring the book “Mormon America” with his late wife Joan.

The Associated Press Stylebook deems the long-ingrained “Mormon” label acceptable — although it originated with 19th Century antagonists — and was only gradually adopted by the believers themselves.

Since “Mormon” is no slur for 21st Century audiences, what’s going on here?

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Opening up some legends: Mormons reveal founder Joseph Smith's 'theocracy' plans

Opening up some legends: Mormons reveal founder Joseph Smith's 'theocracy' plans

By nature, newswriters abhor secrecy, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon”) is the most secretive of America’s large  religious denominations.

Headquarters provides no information about church decision-making and finances. Believers are oath-bound to reveal nothing about temple rituals. In 1999 church authorities even won a federal court order to halt Internet postings from the secret “General Handbook of Instructions” that defines procedures and policies for local leaders.

However under Thomas Monson, president since 2008, "Handbook” material is now available to members and the public. Also during  recent years a “Gospel Topics” section on the church’s official website has posted revealing historical essays about founder Joseph Smith’s odd “plural marriage” (i.e. polygamy) practices, the ban on full membership for blacks (ended  in 1978), disputed matters regarding the Saints’ unique scriptures, etc.

On Sept. 26th, the Church Historian’s Press issued a first-class, lavishly annotated volume in its ongoing Joseph Smith Papers series: “Administrative Records: Council of Fifty Minutes, March 1844–1846,” ($59.95). That title may not sound like anything to set journalists’ pulses pounding, but there’s a great story here. These legendary texts have been kept ultra-secret the past 170 years. And for good reason.

Background: In tumultuous 1844, Smith was assassinated while being held in jail for ordering destruction of a newspaper shop of dissenters  in Nauvoo, Illinois, who opposed his polygamy and political designs. At the time Smith was running for president of the U.S. after failing to get promises from the presidential candidates to protect his oft-persecuted flock.

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Mitt Romney is still a Mormon: The Washington Post takes a shot at the 'pastor' vs. 'bishop' question

Mitt Romney is still a Mormon: The Washington Post takes a shot at the 'pastor' vs. 'bishop' question

Back in the 1980s, when I was working at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP, maybe) in Denver, I was in regular contact with press officials in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints both locally, especially during the building of the Colorado temple, and those working in the big white tower in Salt Lake City, Utah.

We frequently discussed issues of newspaper style and how the church's unique beliefs were handled in the mainstream press. We didn't always agree, of course, but I knew where they were coming from. We had many discussions, for example, about what to call the leaders of local and regional Mormon flocks. The key: Mormons don't have professional, full-time clergy in the same sense as other churches. The word "ordain" isn't used in the same way.

Thus, it has been interesting to follow the many interesting comments on my recent post about the New York Times story covering the ongoing political and religious pilgrimage of Mitt Romney. The key reference was right near the top:

WASHINGTON -- A prominent Republican delivered a direct request to Mitt Romney not long ago: He should make a third run for the presidency, not for vanity or redemption, but to answer a higher calling from his faith.
Believing that Mr. Romney, a former Mormon pastor, would be most receptive on these grounds, the Republican made the case that Mr. Romney had a duty to serve, and said Mr. Romney seemed to take his appeal under consideration.

It seems clear to me that Mormons have, in recent years, continued in their efforts to find ways to talk about their lives in language that is less foreign to other Americans. Thus, rather than saying that a local LDS leader was the "bishop" of his "ward," it is becoming more likely that -- when talking to outsiders -- Mormons are more likely to say that some is the "pastor"  of their local "church" and THEN go on to explain the differences.

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Pod people: More on Mormon church founder Joseph Smith's 40 wives and the media's delayed bandwagon

Pod people: More on Mormon church founder Joseph Smith's 40 wives and the media's delayed bandwagon

My "big news report card" this week on media coverage of the Mormon church acknowledging that founder Joseph Smith had up to 40 wives drew a humorous response from Daniel Burke, editor of CNN's "Belief Blog".

"Is there a curve?" Burke asked on Twitter, joking that it wasn't fair to "compare hacks" like him to The New York Times' Laurie Goodstein and the Salt Lake Tribune's Peggy Fletcher Stack.

Stack replied that it bugged her that the Mormon essay wasn't seen as big news until the Times reported on it, but she said Goodstein did a good job.

As my post noted, Stack reported on Smith's multiple wives three weeks ago, followed quickly by The Associated Press. 

But most news organizations jumped on the story only after The New York Times published the story on its front page earlier this week.

Over at Religion News Service, the delayed media bandwagon also perplexed Mormon blogger Jana Riess, who wrote a very GetReligion-esque post about it (there's a lot of that going around this week).

 

 

 

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Big news report card: Mormon church acknowledges founder Joseph Smith's many wives

Big news report card: Mormon church acknowledges founder Joseph Smith's many wives

Nearly three weeks ago, the Salt Lake Tribune's Godbeat pro Peggy Fletcher Stack reported on a new Mormon essay concerning church founder Joseph Smith taking multiple wives.

A few days after that (right after reporting on Mormon undergarments), The Associated Press jumped on the story.

But not until this week did The New York Times put the story on its front page with this headline:

It's Official: Mormon Founder Had Many Wives

Apparently, when the Times declares news "official," it becomes much bigger news — because suddenly the story is everywhere.

It's time for another "big news report card," and I'm in a relatively generous mood when it comes to today's grades.

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Is Mormonism 'Christian'? (Cue the theme from 'Jaws')

Is Mormonism 'Christian'? (Cue the theme from 'Jaws')

KEVIN ASKS:

Is the Mormon religion considered Christian? There are radical doctrinal differences.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Depends on who’s talking. 

The steadily expanding Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed “LDS” or “Mormon”) vigorously defends the Christian identity proclaimed in its very name and resents assertions to the contrary. However, the Catholic Church, virtually all evangelical Protestants, and major U.S. “mainline” Protestant denominations all find the label problematic because, as Kevin indicates, the LDS church disputes central beliefs the Christian religion has taught through history.

It’s not The Guy’s journalistic role to settle this, but to note some salient aspects of the debate.

One formula comes from a leading non-Mormon expert, historian Jan Shipps. She says Mormonism is to Christianity as Christianity is to Judaism, obviously related to the older religion that helped give it birth and yet a distinct new religious community.

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Skeptical about the NYT's Mormon skeptic piece

We joke about having guilt files here at GetReligion — folders full of stories that we’d like to look at and analyze but don’t get around to for one reason or another. I have one from May of last year headlined “Mormons struggling with doubt turn to online support groups.” I thought it such an intriguing topic and one handled well by focusing on a particular expression of doubt in a single religious community.

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