Going to the Show

“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!


  1. Steve Evans says:

    Well done, Kevin! Sounds like you did a fine job.

  2. BarefootMike says:

    The world could always use a little more Kevin Barney. Way to represent.

  3. That’s great Kevin. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Very cool, Kevin.

  5. Mark Brown says:

    I just watched it. You represented us well, Kevin. It was also cool to see By Common Consent on TV.

  6. Good job Kevin.

  7. Cynthia L. says:

    Great job, Kevin. It is too bad there wasn’t more time to rebut the earring thing. That was pretty weak sauce as far as illustrative examples go, IMHO. One could much more relevantly point to the example of Romney’s father and the apostle telling him to stop advocating for civil rights, which Romney’s father refused to do. That would also have been fun to hear about your wife’s earrings, Kevin!

    The host was slightly irritating. He didn’t seem to really know anything about the church, beyond some facile criticisms of it. Not terrible, mind you, and he seemed to be trying to be fair in his mind. But contrast with Manya who was not only warmer but obviously way more knowledgable and able to recognize nuances and depth in the church and its people.

  8. I am always impressed by people who can handle situations like this. I have seen too many people express themselves in ways which are unfortunate that I am quite fearful of this type of thing. Kudos for agreeing to this and doing it so well.

  9. It’s nice that Kevin Barney could do this. Along with the recent Joanna Brooks interview, it does bring interesting thoughts about who can speak for Mormons in such a setting. First, it has to be someone who can speak; Spencer Kimball mostly avoided the press for fear that he would say something stupid. Second, a measure of independence is often needed, not a stake president as Kevin wrote, or even a measure of detachment. It calls to mind Sub-Comandante Marcos, the masked college professor whose parents had been born in Spain, who became spokesman for the Chiapas Indian uprising.

  10. Agreed, John, Kevin should have worn a ski mask.

  11. True. That way he would have looked more like any random Mormon and been a more representative symbol of our struggle.

  12. Good Job Kevin. The format reminded me a lot of the Diane Rehm show, except Diane wouldn’t have cut you off as much, and would have probably let you prepare more. In any case, I am glad you are out there representing.

  13. I liked the show, such as it was, and really liked yourt responses, Kevin, but I find these things ultimately very frustrating, because they leave either an incomplete understanding or an incorrect one in the minds of the viewer simply by nature of the abbreviated format. If you are going to have four(!) people on a show like this, it seems almost criminal not to let them talk more and explore the issues thoroughly. Most ridiculous in my mind was when he bllurted out the representative “beliefs” of Mormonism which are supposedly “cultlike” and then asked you to “correct me if I’m wrong” but then gave you no time in which to do so!

  14. One thing I forgot to mention is that after the taping, one of the stagehands, an African American, asked me about the Freedmen Bank records, which I thought was way cool.

  15. StillConfused says:

    “I really liked him, he was a very charming gentleman.” Interesting to hear a man say this.

  16. Two ear rings as a cult qualification? Sometimes I’m disappointed with what seems to me to be pretty vapid criticisms of the Church. When things don’t rise above the level of new-atheist-type criticism I get all elitist up in here.

    Kevin, I’m glad there are Mormons like you to represent.

  17. Thanks. I enjoyed watching the segment. Kudos to Chicago Tonight. And kudos to you, Kevin — you seemed so relaxed and unnervous. Yep, you’re definitely big league!

  18. Loved the “bat phone” reference Kevin! I laughed even if no one else did. Would our phone be in the shape of a temple perhaps? Angel Moroni?

    I’m glad to hear that even intellectuals like yourself look back on conversations about the church and wish they had said something different and come up with the perfect line…later. Of course, my conversations aren’t usually televised. Kudos for representin’ so well.

  19. Chicago kissed the Barney stone! Great job, Kevin.

    I see more and more opportunities like this coming available as the Church gets tons of headlines over Mitt Romney, etc. Already, my stake is setting up a speaker’s bureau, as we have both a temple coming and the “I’m a Mormon” commercial blitz going on in Indianapolis.

  20. Excellent work, Kevin. I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it would be to perfom under such pressure. You really kept your head on straight. I did a spot on a radio program a few years back and, well…completely screwed up would be a nice way to put it. Never again! Which is why I admire those who can do this kind of stuff all the more.

    And I love Tre Kroner. My mom is really big into her Swedish ancestry/geneology and so I took her there once when she was in town. Scored a few mom points that day.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Becca, I appreciate the kind thoughts!

  22. It seemed to me that the former member had some pretty deep issues with the church which are heavily tied up in her family relationships, which is very sad.

  23. My friends that are Mormon seem to have a better clutch on their views than the anti…or former Mormon stated. The one earing thing was strange. I had opportunity to know the Romneys back in the day and Mrs Romney actually removed her mulitple earings when they got into politics. Seemed small minded to me, wonder if her thoughts of leaving her church were as thought out as that reasoning.