Mormon Media Observer: Several articles about the church still deserve mention

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 29 2011 3:00 p.m. MST

Foliage in the plaza with the Salt Lake Temple in the background in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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Like most Latter-day Saints, I have had callings that have enriched my life. Whether it be Scoutmaster or nursery worker, each call has its joys and challenges. I remember each with fondness.

Yet one often stands out. For a couple of years, I was a ward mission leader just outside Washington, D.C. We lived in Prince Georges County in the wonderful College Park Ward. For those familiar with Washington, Prince Georges is, relatively speaking, the more diverse and also less wealthy of the counties in suburban Washington.

So, the variety of people I met was amazing. Several had emigrated from war-torn regions in Africa and came to America as refugees with horrible stories that really changed my life as I tried to listen and understand them.

Many were the only believers in their family.

At the time, I was in graduate school, and I had had one amazing experience after another with my studies. I had met some terrific people and studied with men and women I had long admired. I was living a dream academically.

Those experiences in graduate school, as it turns out, have largely been forgetten relative to the experiences I had working with the elders as a mission leader. These religious experiences and feelings have stuck. I counted people from more than 20 nations with whom I met.

I remember the late-night climbs up stairs in public housing to preach and to speak with those immigrants with whom I worked, living as some did a floor or two above a lobby with its urine-smelling, darkly lit space.

I remember the poverty and sacrifice to make it to church each week. I remember wanting to be better because I knew them.

All of that came back to me in a recent blog post at CNN. The church is more diverse than it ever before. CNN and the new "I'm a Mormon" campaign showed that. I am better for the experiences I had trying to understand the cultural challenges facing church members.

I became more convinced than ever of the world-changing potential in the church. It isn't just helpful to the descendents of a few people trapped in the Western mountains of the United States, but it also speaks to modern laborers from the Cote d'Ivorie to Sierra Leone and from immigrants Nigeria or Rwanda. It is a world-changing movement.

Each month it seems there are so many articles about the church that it is hard to keep up. But a few need quick acknowledgement. Therefore, this column is a hodge-podge, a catch-up.

Some, like the blog at CNN, seem largely positive. Then there was Laurie Goodstein's excellent front-page piece, which also seemed quite favorable.

Others, like the now much-discussed editorial in The New York Times about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by Harold Bloom was less favorable, certainly.

Maybe a few thoughts about Bloom are in order. For me, the Bloom piece is among the more startling articles about the church run in recent years. To be sure, it builds on what he has written about Latter-day Saints before in his book, "The American Religion." He still calls Joesph Smith an authentic religious genius, but seems to imply that other church leaders are little more than politicians seeking money.

Reading Bloom's descriptions of the church is like trying to catch your reflection on the surface of a lake on a windy day. It's fleeting and distorted. I don't recognize the Mormonism he describes.

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