As you may or may not know, Newsweek recently did an article on Mitt Romney and how his Mormon faith has shaped his life. It was an interesting article, but some aspects of it rubbed me the wrong way. And it bothered me enough that I wrote a letter to Newsweek. Now, I understand that Newsweek probably doesn't care what I think or what I had to say. But, I feel better having expressed my opinion and aggravation with them. For your reading pleasure, here's the link to the Newsweek article:
And here is the text of the email I sent them in response:
Dear Mr. Meacham:
I was recently interested to see the cover story of the October 8th issue of Newsweek on Mitt Romney and his religion. As a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon church, I was interested to see how your publication would portray my religion and its role in the life of Mitt Romney. As is too often the case when reading a media piece on the Mormon church, I was disappointed in parts of the article. Unfortunately, this time around I also found aspects of the article offensive in its language.
In the past, I have explained away inaccurate media portrayals of the Mormon church as the product of misunderstanding or inadequate knowledge of the subject. However, after innumerable such portrayals, my patience has grown thin and I have become weary of the media trying to explain to the American public a subject of which they do not have an adequate comprehension. Please do not misunderstand. I'm not trying to belittle or criticize the investigative efforts of your staff in understanding the Mormon faith. I admire their willingness to travel to Salt Lake City and spend time in learning about our faith. However, for someone who is not a member of our church to try to explain our church and how it affects our lives to someone else who is not a member of our church is like one American trying to explain to another American what it's like to grow up in Japan. In order to truly understand religion and faith, you must experience them, not just learn about them. The portrayal of our religion, then, by someone not of our faith is inherently inaccurate because it is born of knowledge (supposed or real) and not experience. And because the portrayal is not based on experience, it may grow from false information, biases, and ignorance.
To quote your publication's article, "More than 100 years after it outlawed polygamy, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remains an object of mystery and ridicule for many in the country" (pg. 30). Naturally our church is an object of mystery and ridicule when portrayed in the light with which your publication and almost all media portrays it. Language such as "sacred temple rituals" and "anointings and other secret rites" (pg. 31) lend an air of mystery and darkness which will naturally draw people to look at our so-called "oddball theology" (pg 4, The Editor's Desk) in a negative light. As I mentioned, I found parts of the article offensive in its language. Perhaps this will be difficult to understand without having the experience of actually being mormon. The worship in which we participate in the temples is very sacred and important to us. When referring to our sacred temple worship as "secret rites" or "rituals", it casts a negative and dark connotation to something we hold very dear. It is disturbing to note that the article treats with such levity and disrespect something that has such a deep and profound meaning to me. In a country founded on religious freedom, I would expect more than that.
It's no wonder Mitt Romney doesn't like to expand on his religious beliefs and practices when this is how they are portrayed to the American public. And when the media only focuses on complex aspects of our religion which differ from other religions, such as polygamy or baptisms for the dead, of course the American public will have a hard time understanding our faith. Much of the doctrine the media likes to focus on is difficult to understand without a firm understanding of our more basic beliefs. Presenting these more complex and advanced doctrines to an American public which doesn't have a firm knowledge of our basic doctrines is akin to trying to teach a medical student how to perform surgery when he has yet to learn basic human anatomy.
When you take a closer look at our church, however, you will see that it's not so different after all. We believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. We believe in and are led by prophets and apostles as were the members of Christ's church as he established it when he lived on the earth. We believe in the Bible as the word of God. All of these more fundamental doctrines are not difficult to understand and are actually doctrines that we share in common with other faiths. I believe that Mitt Romney's reluctance to talk about his religion is not because he doesn't want people to understand it. On the contrary, most members of the Mormon church are eager for others to understand what we believe. However, when the media pushes to discuss complex doctrines without an understanding of basic doctrines first, it fosters more confusion than understanding. Forgive Mitt Romney for wanting to focus on politics to win a political election and to refrain from feeding the media fire of misrepresentation of the Mormon church.
I did find the article's background on Mitt Romney interesting and I do appreciate the attention the article brings to our often misunderstood faith. However, I keep hoping to see the media treating the Mormon church with the respect for which this country stands and for which our founding fathers worked so hard. I hope that in the future, you will acknowledge that every religion, regardless of what they believe, deserves to be portrayed with respect and that you will bear in mind the sacred nature of one's religious beliefs.