An Illustration of Why I Do Mormon Stories Podcast : Anti-LDS DVDs in Arizona

John Dehlin Mormon

For the last year or so, I’ve had 3 primary goals for all I do with Mormon Stories Podcast:

–More Knowledge within Mormonism
–More Understanding/Empathy/Compassion within Mormonism
–Less Pain within Mormonism

When I conduct an interview, it is always with these 3 goals in mind.

Recently I’ve had to discuss and justify (in a friendly setting) the costs/benefits of what I do (which is a very healthy exercise, I might add). Clearly I feel like what I’m/we’re trying to do is a good thing, but sometimes it’s hard to articulate.

Perhaps this recent news article I stumbled upon today helps to illustrate this a bit.

Basically, a group of anti-Mormon evangelicals has developed a DVD entitled “Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith” to convince members of the LDS Church to leave it. They are distributing 20,000 DVDs to members of the LDS Church this week, in coordination with LDS General Conference this weekend. Here is one example of how a member of the bloggernacle handled the issue. It was a very interesting reaction (collect and destroy).

Now, the evangelical group says about their approach, “We’ve found this works very well. We need to step out in faith to do it,” yet the LDS spokesman says, “It won’t phase members of our church one iota. They’re strong enough in their own beliefs. It’s water off their backs.”

Who’s right? I think that both are. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Anti-Mormonism has made a dent in Mormonism over the past few years, AND the testimonies of members are often quite resilient.

But I do think that the LDS representative is perhaps the least accurate of the two. If the DVD will not have an iota of impact on members, then why collect and destry the DVDs before members get a chance to view? What is the fear? Are our testimonies like soap bubbles (to be protected in the palms of our hands), or like jackhammers that can divide rock asunder?

Now, let me be clear: I think that what this group is trying to do is extremely lame for a number of reasons. I feel that they are inaccurate, deceptive, and most importantly, EXTREMELY hypocritical. For a reference, here is FAIR’s response to the video. I also think that their distribution method is tragically flawed — devout LDS folks are clearly just collecting the DVDs off of car windshields in church parking lots and community doorknobs, and throwing hundreds of them at a time into the trash before folks are ever available to actually view.

That said, I feel very confident that the LDS Church is operating from a position of weakness in this very important way: the evangelicals (in many instances) know more about factual LDS Church history and doctrine than the average member of the LDS Church does — and so this puts the Church in the uncomfortable and weaker position of figuring out how to deal with members being blindsided by factual stuff that they should not be learning through 3rd parties. In addition, members of the LDS Church are not generally experienced in thinking about, and even defending church history and doctrine — yet these folks clearly are.

The playing field, for the members, is simply not level. They are left to fight an uphill battle (if they want to interact with people outside of Mormonism).

Well, that’s what Mormon Stories is (or tries to be) all about. Trying to tackle these issues head-on in an honest, candid, open and intellectually accessible (non-academic) way, so that LDS Church members can learn about all this difficult stuff from fellow-members, in the context of faith — so that when the DVD arrives on their door step, they can throw it in, watch it, and have the reaction, “I know all this. This is nothing new. And here’s where they have it all wrong….”

If members were adequately prepared regarding our factual history and doctrine, and were well-versed in being able to discuss and justify it, not only would this DVD initiative be a non-event, but it likely would not have have ever been initiated. It might even become a missionary opportunity. Instead, sadly, we have to pull out the “religious discrimination and bigotry” card as our only real response, and then try to gather and throw away as many of the DVDs as possible before folks actually view them.

That’s how I see it, anyway. And that’s what Mormon Stories is trying to accomplish.

How do you see it?