Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lessons to Learn from the "Big Love" Fracas: Preparing for Future Temple Depictions

On March 15, HBO's Big Love broadcast its episode 'Outer Darkness,' which depicted less than two minutes of the producers' version of the conclusion of the LDS temple endowment ceremony. In my general-audience blog, "On the Mark," I described the issues this broadcast raised for Latter-day Saints, in one post; I described what the actual broadcast revealed about its producers in another post. Here, I consider what Latter-day Saints might learn from this whole affair. Since the temple doors have been breached, as it were, it is increasingly likely that there shall be other depictions of the temple ceremonies, on television or in general-release movies. How shall we deal with that? Several points come to mind.

Expect the World to Show No Respect for the Temple

In advance of the broadcast, HBO issued an 'apology' to Latter-day Saints who found it offensive--and then broadcast it anyway. Significantly, the producers did not even issue an apology. They claimed to depict the endowment with "sensitivity," somehow missing the point that what the Saints found insensitive was the very depiction of sacred temple ritual.
For many years, the entertainment industry has found it profitable and stylish to offend and ridicule the LDS community. There is no reason for this to change now. We need to develop thick skins about this, although we certainly should respond, as I explain below.

The LDS Response Should Not Take the Form of Economic Sanction

Before the broadcast, some Saints called for boycotts of HBO. The LDS Church authorities took no such position. This latter approach was wise for at least two reasons:
  1. It would have been ineffective. The six to seven million American Saints are simply too few to have any significant effect on a network or its advertisers. Unless your target is a convenience store in Toelle, an LDS boycott is not going to count for much.

  2. Boycotts would make us look like the kind of right-wing Christians who are seen as irrational by the general society--and who would be the first to send each Saint to the stake for 'heresy' if they could. These people are not our friends. They are seen as extreme in American society. We should not do things that make us look like them.

The LDS Response Should Take the Form of Education

Several media critics, viewing advance screenings of 'Outer Darkness,' wondered what all the fuss was about, stating that they did not see what there was in the Temple ceremonies that was worth keeping secret. Essentially, they--and the general audience--did not get it. This works in our favor, by creating an opportunity for the Saints to educate our non-LDS neighbors in several ways:

  • First, we can explain the meaning of the temple ceremonies, in general terms, as the promise of eternal life, and the preservation of the family unit in the eternities. These are new concepts for most people; it may make sense to them that such blessings--unprecedented in their own experience--should involve ceremonies that are extraordinarily sacred, too sacred for casual depiction.

  • Second, we can explain, again in general terms, the spiritual significance of aspects of the temple that may strike the public as unusual. Temple clothing is akin to the clothing worn by the clergy of the world on special occasions (as many Christian clergy wear special Easter vestments); we reserve our special vestments for the temple, a special place, rather than for a special time on the calendar.

  • Similarly, if the matter arises, we can explain in general terms that we do not have 'secret handshakes' of identification such as are found in various fraternal organizations. Rather, we do have symbols of the covenants mentioned above, in which we pledge ourselves to the highest standards of behavior. We keep these symbols confidential because they are sacred, not because we have scary secrets to keep from the world.

  • Third, continuing in this vein, we can explain that the temple ceremonies do not contain "secrets" as the public understands this term. We have no special knowledge to keep from the world, nothing about the location of Atlantis or the Holy Grail. Rather, we reserve our ceremonies for those who are spiritually ready to participate in them, to accentuate the sanctity of the occasion.

Let's be ready, the next time around.

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