Politics & Policy

Big Love? Big Deal

Yes, Mormons are targets, but let's not get too excited about it.

In the aftermath of Proposition 8, it’s open season on Mormons, and the producers of HBO’s series Big Love are in the best position to give the Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) a big slap.

The series focuses on members of one of several splinter groups that have left the Mormon Church over the issue of polygamy. To understand what this means to Mormons, it’s worth indulging in a little history.

When the Mormon prophet Wilford Woodruff declared in 1890 that it was God’s will that Latter-day Saints no longer take multiple wives, some Mormons clung to the “Principle of Plural Marriage” and rejected the authority of the president of the church.

This is akin to what happened when Protestants declared that they would no longer follow the pope, and polygamist sects are about as Mormon now as Baptists are Catholic.

#ad#The fastest way to get yourself excommunicated from the Mormon Church is to advocate plural marriage.

But the polygamist sects still do most of their recruiting among Mormons, and there is a constant struggle between the church and the polygamists.

Many of these polygamists still believe that it is in Mormon temples that their marriages must be solemnized. The temple is a focal point in their religion — but if they admit they’re polygamists, they can’t get in.

So it actually makes artistic sense for episodes of Big Love to center on their effort to get into the temple. It reflects the real concerns of some polygamists, and it is accurate to show the official church as doing its best to keep them out.

You’re not supposed to enter the temples, once they’re dedicated, unless you’re a member of the church who is keeping the major commandments — which polygamists most flagrantly are not.

Big Love is not doing anything new. Anti-Mormon groups have been describing, depicting, or showing ersatz versions of the temple ceremonies for many years. Anyone who wants to know what goes on in the temples can find out with very little effort. So why are we Mormons upset about Big Love’s foray into anti-Mormon “exposé”?

It’s offensive when believers in one religion hold up the sacred rites of another religion to public ridicule. So we’re hurt — but we’re not surprised.

Mormons have always been the exception to America’s policy of religious tolerance. Throughout our history in America, Mormons have been oppressed by government, killed or driven out by mobs, slandered, and libeled — always by fellow Americans who professed to believe in religious tolerance.

So while we don’t like what Big Love is doing, we’re not doing much about it. We’ve learned by observation that protests and boycotts merely increase the publicity, and therefore the viewership, of such hostile productions as the Big Love temple episode.

#page#

So the church’s official advice to its members is: Ignore it. (See this, for more.)

My favorite response came from Terrance D. Olson, a Brigham Young University professor who does research in family studies. His essay in Meridian Magazine is a lovely explanation of how tolerance works and why it elevates everyone. Those who refuse to respect other people’s sacred things, he says, hurt themselves most of all.

My own essay at MormonTimes.com, published by the church-owned Deseret News, strongly urges my fellow Mormons not to write angry letters, because anger never persuades anybody, and expressing it isn’t particularly Christ-like.

#ad#Most Mormons are seeing the Big Love temple episode in the context of the recent outpouring of hatred and bile from those who most vehemently opposed Proposition 8. Mormons have been targeted for business boycotts; some have lost their jobs because they contributed to the campaign to defend marriage.

The result is that few of us have any desire to act as the worst of our opponents have acted. After someone has boycotted a friend’s business, it makes it a bit harder for you to want to call for a boycott.

By and large, while we’d prefer that everybody handle differences of opinion peacefully, we’d rather be persecuted than be the persecutors. The few times in our history when we have departed from that principle, the results have shamed us for generations. Tolerance works better.

What Mormons keep foremost in mind is this: We’re a worldwide church. We might be going through a rough patch in America right now, as we butt heads with the oppressive New Puritans of the American Left, but that has nothing to do with how the Mormon Church is growing in Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, or Taiwan.

Big Love is just an entertainment; nothing they do will diminish the sacredness of what goes on inside our temples.

Our primary work is helping people in and out of the church to live a more Christ-like life. Now and then, when a deep moral issue is involved, we get involved in political action. But when we do, we expect that others won’t like it, and we take our lumps.

The more they attack us, the more people they bring to us as allies and, occasionally, as converts to our faith. So rave on, brothers and sisters!

– Orson Scott Card is a novelist and critic. For his take on Proposition 8, as a Mormon and prior to its passage, go here.

Orson Scott Card — Mr. Card wrote Ender’s Game, Pathfinder, The Lost Gate, and the forthcoming Lost and Found, among other books. He and his wife live in Greensboro, N.C., with a constant stream of patio visitors ranging from finches, chickadees, and bluebirds to opossums, raccoons, and squirrels.

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