Does the Media Love Mormonism?

 

The media has recently engaged in a spirited defense of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against charges – most notably from Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas – that the LDS Church is a cult.

For example, the Dallas Observer labeled Jeffress’ language “hateful,” and the Daily Beast decried “anti-Mormon cheerleading.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution took a more positive approach, highlighting Mormons happy to demonstrate their well-adjusted states and cultural normativity, and the Washington Post similarly published an editorial by a Mormon English professor describing what it means to be Mormon.

The media’s sudden love – or at least staunch support – for the LDS Church has prompted some to ask whether Mormonism is accepted by the media, or whether there is another purpose behind the tidal wave of positive coverage.

To see part of the answer, roll back the clock three years to late 2008, in which it was discovered that the LDS Church had taken an active roll in supporting Proposition 8 in California (which restricted marriage to heterosexual couples). The Huffington Post then snarled about the Church, “Mormon Church on Prop 8: We Oppose Civil Rights (But Don’t Tell),” while the Los Angeles Times said the Church engaged in “fear-mongering”…bigotry and intolerance.”

The Atlantic magazine, in its attack on Mormon support for Proposition 8, gave a significant pointer as to why the media either attacks or supports Mormonism when it said LDS support “is about consolidating the Mormon church into the wider Christianist (sic) movement. If the Mormons can prove their anti-gay mettle, they will be less subject to suspicion from evanglicals (sic).”

Quite simply, the media will present Mormonism in whatever light is necessary to use the LDS Church as a weapon against evangelical Christians – as Ed Stetzer puts it, some in the media will use Mormonism “as a hammer on evangelicals.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez gives as an example the New York Times’ positive portrayal of Mitt Romney as merely “feed(ing) readers’ bigotry” by deliberately downplaying Mormon distinctives while emphasizing the “anti-Mormon sentiments” he encountered.

A particularly clear example of this can be seen in a column by the Seattle Times’ David Horsey, who concludes, “Mormons aren’t scary, zealots (i.e., evangelical Christians) are.”

Given this, it was very savvy of a columnist in the LDS-owned Deseret News to call on the media “to investigate the “˜countercult’ movement within some branches of Christianity and bring to public scrutiny the connections that have likely led to some of the public hostility against Mormonism.”

Here, therefore, is the question: when using Mormonism “as a hammer on evangelicals” loses its attention-share, will the media continue to argue that Mormonism is acceptably mainstream? I agree with the English theology professor David Murray, who says, “So, here’s my prediction. If Romney is nominated, the media who seemed to support him will suddenly discover he’s a Mormon, and they’ll quickly and easily render him unelectable.”