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Big Love’s Big Stunt

I have seen precisely one episode of HBO’s signature series “Big Love,” ostensibly written about a polygamous family in Sandy, Utah, with roots in early Mormon doctrine. What I can tell you, from that episode, is that nothing in the show bears even a passing resemblance to Utah, polygamists, or Mormons. Trust me. I live in Sandy; I’ve lived near polygamists, and I’ve been a Mormon all my life. I really think you can take my word on this.

Yet now, for whatever reason, the show is bringing its cameras inside a Mormon temple, something that the executive producers of the show claims “has never been shown on television before.” So now all the really weird crap that goes on in those temples will finally be exposed for all to see! If that won’t bring ratings, nothing will. (I should note, however, that no one’s ever shown a lemur eating a pineapple on television before, either. I think that’s the final taboo.)

I’m of two or three minds on this issue. On the one hand, I find it offensive, but not in a “Damn you to hell, heathen!” kind of way. Rather, it’s just plain rude. It feels a bit like someone has taken nude pictures of me – or the entire church – and posted them on the Internet. It’s embarrassing whenever anyone violates something private, and most people have the decency to know when they’re crossing the line. This just demonstrates a sort of classless, brutish disdain for my faith that doesn’t sit well with people of good will, no matter what church they go to.

On the other hand, I think it’s ultimately not that big a deal. The mantra in the Church is that what happens in the temple is “sacred, not secret,” and we want everyone in the world to see what happens, just as long as they have the spiritual context to appreciate it. You can debate the particulars of sacred vs. secret all day long, but in the age of the Internet, just about everything is a Google click away. It’s not as if this is the first time this information has seen the light of day. Back in college, I remember hearing excerpts from the temple ceremony on the radio on Walter Martin’s odious “Bible Answer Man” program. Ex-Mormons, Anti-Mormons, and those with more gumption than manners are eager to dish as much dirt as possible. The Church survived them; they’ll survive this without incident.

My third hand, if I had one, says that some good will likely come of this. Too often, we in the church go out of our way to be as inoffensive and generically Protestant as possible. That may minimize opposition, but, at the same time, it doesn’t really advance the cause. I hear and see all kinds of church advertisements filled with nice families and happy, cheery moments, and, yes, many Mormons have nice families with happy, cheery moments, but they don’t have a monopoly on them. I’m kind of tired of selling our church as Presbyterianism with Family Home Evenings on Monday nights.

I know a pollster who’s done a great deal of work for the LDS Church, and he discovered that convert baptisms are always highest in areas where the Church has experienced a great deal of controversy. He focused, for instance, on the firestorm surrounding the attempt to get a steeple placed atop the Mormon temple in Boston. Local newspapers were running all kinds of articles about the evils of Mormons, and, as a result, a good number of decent people approached the Church itself to get their side of the story. (I’d be interested to see if the same things happens, or has happened, in the aftermath of Prop.8 in California.)

So many will watch Big Love, and they’ll be weirded out by something for which they have no proper context, and we Mormons will once again look like circus freaks to the public at large, but a few people of good will will realize there’s probably more to the story. And they’ll seek out those clean-cut guys in white shirts and start asking a few questions. And, at the end of the day, the Church will be a little bit bigger as a result.

As for me, I won’t watch. (But only because I don’t have HBO.)

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