“Going to the Show” is baseball slang for being brought up to the big leagues. Here I’m using it more literally–on Tuesday night I was part of a panel that was interviewed on the subject of Mormonism for Chicago Tonight, the flagship program of WTTW, Chicago’s PBS affiliate. The program aired this evening; I just watched it.
This is a link to the page at the station’s website for this segment, where the video is now available for viewing. It lasts about 20 minutes.
This all came about a couple of weeks ago, when I got a call from Eddie, the on-air personality who would conduct the interview. He told me he was putting together a roundtable on Mormonism, including an ex-Mormon and a religion scholar, and he asked if I would participate as the practicing Mormon. (He found me via Mormon Scholars Testify.) I agreed to do it. (I later learned he had asked for an official spokesman from the Church, and they had declined. But the Church knew I was going to do it and no one asked me not to, and having already committed I would have been disinclined to reneg anyway.)
Getting us all together was a scheduling challenge, but we eventually set it up for Tuesday evening at about 4:30. I knew where the studio was, because my daughter lives across the street from there. I decided to take the CTA train up that way to the end of the line and then walk the rest of the way, which worked out just fine.
When I entered the building, the receptionist called an intern, a lovely young woman who is attending the University of Chicago in English and film. (I was curious how she schleps from Hyde Park to this location pretty far on the north side, but I didn’t ask.) She took me to makeup, where the artist mostly put a bunch of powder on my face.
Then we sat in a conference room waiting for the taping. I met the ex-Mormon, a young woman named Heather who grew up in the area and just left the Church this past January, and we had a nice conversation. We were then joined by Chernoh Sesay, a professor who teaches courses in American religious experience at DePaul University. (I really liked him, he was a very charming gentleman.) Just before we went on we were joined by Manya Brachear, the terrific religion editor of the Chicago Tribune. (I know Manya from my work on the Trib’s religion blog, The Seeker; my posts there are cross-posted here at BCC.)
A funny moment was when we were trying to get a handle on Chernoh’s name (which is West African). His mnemonic was “a Chair, no?” To which Manya replied that she explains her last name as “a brazierre with a ch- in the middle,” which I thought was pretty funny.
They lead us into this surprisingly large studio. I had seen it on TV before, so it was pretty cool to actually be sitting there. They miked us up, gave us each a cup of ice water, filled only halfway up, presumably so we’d be less likely to spill.
I had imagined that we’d be sitting more Bill Maher style and engaging each other in conversation, but instead we were sitting in a row and really only engaged the host, not each other. I guess that method was essential, because there were four of us and only 20 minutes of air time; a give and take discussion among us would have required more time.
When he asked me if I ever had doubts about the Church, my thought process was to acknowledge that I had, because I suppose I have and I didn’t want to suggest there was anything wrong with doubts, which are just a normal part of a religious life. But then he asked me for a specific example–I should have realized he was going to do that–and my mind was a blank. The fact is my doubts are low level background things that really don’t bother me and don’t last long. In thinking about it I much later came up with my one big doubt, which was occasioned by the Salamander letter–but even if I had thought of that in the moment, how would one even begin to explain such a thing in a sound bite? It would be impossible. [I much later thought I should have said something about the common issues pretty much everyone has with theodicy.] Still, I kind of like what I did come up with in the moment, saying that I disagree with the Church on various policy issues. This sort of illustrates why it’s better for an ordinary guy like me to do this and not a stake president. Because it would be difficult for a SP to say anything negative about the Church in that moment–most simply wouldn’t do it. But context is everything, and this was a discussion on whether the Church is a cult, for heaven’s sakes. My willingness to disagree with the Church, do so publicly (usually on this blog!), and the fact that It’s never a problem for me was exactly the sort of thing that was needed to suggest it’s ok for one to have one’s own opinions and express them publicly; IE, not a cult.
When Heather gave the line about the Church being a cult because GBH asked women not to have more than one pair of earrings, that was the point where I most wished we could have engaged each other. I wanted to say my wife has six earrings (four in one ear, two in the other), and never for a moment considered removing all but two, and it hasn’t been a problem. I liked Heather, but she struck me as kind of naive about the Church (such as the thought that the prophet has daily afternoon tea with God).
When it was over, I walked to my daughter’s apartment and took her and her boyfriend to Tre Kroner, a cool little Swedish restaurant in the neighborhood.
All in all it was a good experience, and I’m satisfied with the way it turned out. And I was introduced as a blogger for By Common Consent, so BCC is now famous!