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Mormon Media Observer: Suggestion to reporters: Replace polygamy coverage with something deeper

Published: Monday, Nov. 29 2010 5:30 a.m. MST

But there is something deeper and more important here. Prominently mentioning polygamy can be a way to avoid taking Mormonism seriously as a belief system. When writers choose to report on polygamy, they can skirt the central claims of Mormonism, such as the Book of Mormon.

Professor Terryl Givens tells of the 1851 quote from Charles Dickens who said, “What the Mormons do is mostly excellent, what they say is mostly nonsense.”

For Givens, the quotation illustrates the accommodation America has seemed to make with Mormonism over the last century. He said while mainstream society can take Mormonism seriously as a cultural contribution with its clean living, football, singing and patriotic American values, the same society refuses to take the belief system seriously.

However, as Mormon prominence in politics and political disputes remains and grows, I observe this accommodation is shaking, and let’s hope journalists take advantage of this opportunity.

Journalists and Americans are forced to examine Mormon beliefs in ways they haven’t had to publicly in recent decades because Mormon beliefs explain the church’s approach to issues. It also shows why some people don’t seem willing to vote for a Mormon candidate.

Writers are therefore forced to confront Mormon beliefs in new ways, and that is a challenge for them.

Here’s my suggestion to reporters: Don’t avoid the marrow of what Mormons believe by talking about the abstract ideas of polygamy or other obscurities in Mormon doctrine. Drink deeply instead. Get beyond the oblique references to the Book of Mormon, and take the time to read it and to ask Mormons how it has shaped their lives and culture.

It is simple, really.

Mormons believe an uneducated but good young man walked out of the woods with a golden book he received from an angel, and in a matter of three months, translated it through the gift and power of God.

It is a book of substance and depth — a prodigal achievement if it were fiction. But Mormons, and I am proud to be one, say the book isn’t a fiction, but instead, evidence of the existence of God and his miracles, a guide to hopeful living and a true gift to a world, which is in sore need of miracles.

The Book of Mormon constitutes the support of everything else Mormons believe. It is the beating heart of Mormonism and its culture, not the 100-year-old practice of polygamy.

In the years ahead, during political controversies and political candidacies, I am not saying that journalists need to be a conduit for a Mormon missionary message as they tread into what Mormons believe, nor am I saying a focus on the Book of Mormon would or should skirt legitimate controversy. But, to use the language of the Book of Mormon, I would exhort journalists to begin to experiment upon this remarkable and important book.

It seems well past time for reporters to understand what it says, how it says it and how it influences the lives of Mormons. In doing so, reporters can easily leave superfluous polygamy coverage behind.

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