Talk about overexposure: Newsweek and BusinessWeek in the same week! Prevailing wisdom in media circles is that once the newsweeklies have picked up a trend, it has reached it apex—so I guess the church’s slide back into obscurity starts now. (Don’t worry, Russell!)
What’s striking to me has been the reaction to the different stories. From what I’ve seen in my own social circles on Facebook and elsewhere, we’re supposed to be mad at Newsweek and thrilled about the BusinessWeek article.
But that’s exactly backwards.
The reasons for the ire against Newsweek seem to revolve around the cover and a few snippets of text within the article. Let me briefly debunk two of the phrases I’ve noticed Mormons getting hung up on:
- “Special underpants”: 100% accurate
- “Secretive temple rituals”: 100% accurate
You might disagree with the wording, but I’m not sure why we’d expect a journalist to refer to garments and temple rituals as anything else.
Get past that small stuff. Because the rest of the story is overwhelming positive, calling out the distinctiveness of Mormonism, explicitly downplaying the “quirkier aspects of the sect’s history and practices,” and highlighting many prominent, respectable Mormons from various walks of life.
The other huge positive is the cover. Whether you find it funny or offensive, there’s not a lot of downside for the church. I personally think it’s hilarious, but it’s sparking outrage, and not just from Mormons. For instance, The National Review called it “appalling.” Real Clear Politics’ Tom Bevan tweeted “this leaves me dumbfounded.”
What’s interesting and valuable for us as a church is that the negative reactions to the Newsweek story have largely been against Newsweek, not against Mormons. The religious and political right are speaking out–our persecutions complexes have found common cause.
It’s doubtful the BusinessWeek article will elicit such a response. The potential for negativity in that story will be directed against the church.
Like the Newsweek article, the story is positive overall, with a few negatives thrown in for balance. But in BusinessWeek, the negative aspects aren’t about our theological quirks, but about real cultural issues that many of us in the bloggernacle struggle with.
The most obvious of these is gender norms, with the most egregious quote being “A Mormon woman who has post-graduate education is less likely to attend church.” Ouch. How is that going to play with the BusinessWeek readership? And is it true?
But even worse, in my opinion, is that the article ties us very closely to the “prosperity gospel” that is so popular and so abhorrent. And it uses a quote from Alma to do so.
That’s (happily) not until page 5. But on page 6, we get quotes from ex-Mormons who have left the church because “you had to look a certain way and act a certain way,” or because of “classism.” One source claimed he “attended a ward for half a decade where the chapel would literally, and physically, split itself down the aisle” by socio-economic status.
Let the world say what it wants about our special underpants, secret temple covenants, ambitious politicians, and the raunchy Broadway musical that bears our name. But when they start talking about our un-Christlike actions, our discrimination against the poor, and our quest for worldly wealth and success, we’ve got problems.