The British Press and Mormonism – Craig L. Foster

Since the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the British Press has had an interest in Mormonism. Over the years there have been newspaper and magazine articles and exposés discussing just about every aspect of Mormonism from polygamy and the anti-polygamy crusades in the last quarter of the nineteenth-century to the building of the London Temple in the 1950s and Mitt Romney’s quest for the presidency of the United States. ((There are a number of books and articles about the LDS Church in the British Isles. Bryan J. Grant, “The Church in the British Isles,” About Mormons, http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/daily/history/british.html, accessed 18 June 2013, has an overview of the church in Britain. Craig L. Foster, Penny Tracts and Polemics: A Critical Analysis of Anti-Mormon Pamphleteering in Great Britain, 1837-1860 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2003), discusses anti-Mormon literature and stereotyping in Britain.)) There have also been radio and television pieces showing the Tabernacle Choir, Mormon families worshipping at church and The Book of Mormon Musical which is now playing in London. Overall, in spite of many positive stories that have appeared about the LDS Church, the British press has, overall, had a fascination bordering on infatuation with the perceived sensational and bizarre aspects of the religion.

Last year, for example, the BBC produced a documentary titled, “The Mormon Candidate” in which John Sweeney and his colleagues created a stilted image of Mormonism as an ultraconservative cult. His “gotcha” interviews with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and other faithful Latter-day Saints demonstrated an embarrassing lack of understanding of professional journalism on Sweeney’s and the BBC’s part. In spite of the BBC’s attempts to portray the LDS Church in such negative brushstrokes, as a writer at the By Common Consent blog wrote, “The Mormon church is not the gulag that the malcontents so gleefully interviewed by Sweeney would suggest it to be.” ((RJH, “Dear BBC,” By Common Consent (27 March 2012), http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/03/27/dear-bbc/, accessed 18 June 2013.))

The BBC has not been alone in the British media’s preoccupation with what they consider to be the bizarre regarding Latter-day Saint doctrines and practices. Reporting about Mitt Romney’s presidential election defeat, The Sun published an article titled, “Mitt Romney’s pants: ‘Magic underwear’ not enough to hand Mormon keys to White House.” The article, of course, and with complete disregard for what Mormons consider sacred, contained the requisite picture of LDS temple garments. ((“Mitt Romney’s pants: ‘Magic underwear’ not enough to hand Mormon keys to White House,” The Sun (7 November 2012), http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4631729/Mitt-Romneys-pants.html, accessed 8 November 2012 and 18 June 2013.
)) Just yesterday, The Sun published an article titled, “My Mormon past left me afraid to have fun – Says Superman’s new Lois Lane, Amy Adams.” The Nation had a similar story but chose to title theirs, “Amy still has Mormon values.” ((Grant Rollings, “My Mormon past left me afraid to have fun – Says Superman’s new Lois Lane, Amy Adams,” The Sun (18 June 2013), http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/film/4971639/man-of-steel-amy-adams-mormon.html, accessed 18 June 2013 and “Amy still has Mormon values,” The Nation (18 June 2013), http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/entertainment/18-Jun-2013/amy-still-has-mormon-values, accessed 18 June 2013.))

These two British news outlets are certainly not alone in what appears to be a quest to publish less than positive stories about Mormonism. Among the numerous stories produced by The Daily Mail have been articles titled, “Mormon facing prison over polygamy,” ((George Gordon, “Mormon facing prison over polygamy,” The Daily Mail (n.d.), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-46821/Mormon-facing-prison-polygamy.html, accessed 18 June 2013.)) “From ‘sacred underwear’ to Victoria’s Secret: the devout Mormon woman who chose love over faith when her husband became an atheist,” ((“From ‘sacred underwear’ to Victoria’s Secret: the devout Mormon woman who chose love over faith when her husband became an atheist,” The Daily Mail (12 June 2012), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2158283/From-sacred-underwear-Victorias-Secret-The-devout-Mormon-woman-chose-love-faith-husband-atheist.html, accessed 18 June 2013.)) and “You’re a s*** and a w****: The abusive emails sent by ‘sexually deviant Mormon stabbed to death 27 times by his girlfriend.” ((“You’re a s*** and a w****: The abusive emails sent by ‘sexually deviant Mormon stabbed to death 27 times by his girlfriend,” The Daily Mail (3 January 2013), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2256887/Jodi-Arias-trial-Abusive-emails-sent-sexually-deviant-Mormon-stabbed-death-27-times-ex-girlfriend.html, accessed 18 June 2013.))

Now, BBC has once again shown its antipathy for the LDS Church and its adherents. In a Deseret News article, Julie Boye described how BBC radio “grilled” her husband and international singing sensation, Alex Boye, during an interview about his participation in the LDS Church sponsored, “I’m a Mormon” campaign. Boye, an English black latter-day Saint, was peppered with politically controversial questions. As Julie Boye explained:

While in London, Alex sent me an email saying, “One DJ was firing off questions relentlessly and it was clear that his purpose was to just make me look as clueless, uneasy and embarrassed as possible. Well, he succeeded!”

Alex was given 10 seconds to answer questions on topics we dedicate our entire lives to learn as Latter-day Saints, asked to expound on profound doctrine in small sound bites. He was expected to do it all in a four-minute interview or less — while coming across friendly, humble, normal and knowledgeable. ((Julie Boye, “My husband Alex Boye grilled in UK for ‘I’m a Mormon’ campaign,” Deseret News (17 June 2013), http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865581686/My-husband-Alex-Boye-grilled-in-UK-for-Im-a-Mormon-campaign.html, accessed 18 June 2013.))

So what does this mean for the LDS Church and its members? What can and should be done about some of the outlandish and openly hostile reporting from the British press? In a word, nothing! The LDS Church is not alone as a victim of sensationalism, misrepresentation and downright nastiness. Others have also suffered at the hands of the British press. English film and stage actress Claire Bloom once described the British press as “even more cruel and vicious than the Americans” and novelist John le Carre complained how he had seen “the British press simply go to hell.” ((“British Press Quotes,” Brainyquote.com, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/british_press.html, accessed 18 June 2013.))

Such is certainly the case with the BBC. At one time the BBC was deservedly well respected. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. In fact, a poll conducted by the BBC found that viewers and listeners felt there was an anti-Christian bias. ((Paul Revoir, “BBC is anti-Christian and snubs the elderly, according to the corporation’s OWN survey,” The Daily Mail (1 June 2011), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1392947/BBC-anti-Christian-snubs-elderly-finds-Corporations-OWN-survey.html, accessed 18 June 2013.)) Their bias is especially expressed against the more conservative religious denominations, the LDS Church being one of them. ((Michael Gryboski, “British Radio Personality Decries BBC as Anti-Religious,” CP World (19 September 2012), http://www.christianpost.com/news/british-radio-personality-decries-bbc-as-anti-religious-81909/, accessed 18 June 2013.)) Latter-day Saints need to expect that they and their religion will be misunderstood and misreported by the British press and try where they can to correct misinformation, but do so armed not only with correct information but the right spirit.

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