|Salt Lake Temple|
(One of the featured members - the coach - is Samoan and is the son of one of my former bishops while I was in college.)
Based on some pre-releases and other information, I have a pretty good idea of what the film is about. It’s educational and instructional especially in hopes of dispelling and assuaging some common misconceptions and stereotypes about Mormons. Perhaps more than these, is the lesson of Faith in God and Jesus Christ. The film has been commissioned by the leaders of the Church and it premieres tomorrow (October 10th) at more than 300 theaters across the US. View the trailer here.
Already, however, there are some “pre-views”, anticipative online comments and criticisms to some articles about the film. Here are some of the main ones, with my responses and comments.
1. Members of other churches and faiths do the same things and good deeds that Mormons do. So what’s the big deal?
First the film tries to get across the message that Mormons are normal people just like everyone else. Contrary to some common misconceptions, Mormons don’t lead cloistered and secluded lives. They do however have beliefs that may go against the grain of contemporary society.
Mormons are different - in some respects - but not strange. A lot of the peculiarities stem from their beliefs. For example Mormons don’t smoke or drink because of the Word of Wisdom revelation which has been given as a code of health (both physical and spiritual). The healthy lifestyle of Mormons has been admired and lauded by many including health professionals Also, Mormons do genealogical work and research because of their beliefs - not as a hobby or for other worldly purposes. For example, the Samoans keep and safeguard their genealogies mainly to secure titles, lands and property rights. Mormons research their genealogy for their deceased ancestors, and others, for temple work. (Watch for a post on this topic soon.) The focus, reach and mission of the LDS Church are inclusive of all mankind - living and the dead. Mormons are also consistently ranked as being more generous and more charitable than their religious counterparts. Mormons may be similar to other Christians but not the same, even in their desire to live good and exemplary lives, serve others and extolling altruism.
2. Are the 6 individuals and their families representative of the Church membership? How about the poor Mormons?
The people/families in the film are somewhere in the middle of most contemporary scales. By the more common and popular standards of today, they’re neither poor nor rich. In such presentations, like the film, it’s always a challenge and an arduous task to try and obtain an accurate cross-section or sample of a much larger group with a diverse makeup. As a result the middle and average are usually depicted in such an undertaking - it’s normal. Furthermore, the underlying message of change in people’s lives is a popular one for any religion. The poor and the needy are the ones to which the churches minister. As the poor change spiritually and temporally then churches want to present them as fruits of their labors and ministry; hence the emphasis on the middle and average members. It’s the same concept as the middle class in any society; it is a better measure and representation of the welfare, economy and progress of a country. In other words, the rich and poor may not the best representative sectors though I'm sure the families in the film may have been "poor" once too. It is the mission of any church to raise the standards and improve - spiritually and temporally - their members' circumstances. And no other church does it better than the LDS Church. Relatively speaking, therefore, a member serving a life sentence for a hideous and heinous crime may not be the best representative of any church membership either. Moreover, though the changes may be depicted more through physical and temporal lenses, most - if not all - of these changes have their roots in, and/or triggered by, the spiritual transformation in the lives of the members.
3.. Some have a problem with the people who were invited to the special screening. They were mostly the rich and famous Mormons (Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge, Mitt Romney, Marie Osmond, Napoleon Dynamite filmmakers, members of the Neon Trees band, etc.) Is the Church spotlighting its rich and famous?
I’m sure there were some rank and file members of the Church there too, but the media always is after the popular and the famous. It comes with the territory. They may have treated the whole screening in a Hollywood premiere fashion. So do not blame the Church for such spotlights. The Church cares for the poor a lot. Just recently, it has added to its traditional three-fold mission (Redeem the dead, Proclaim the gospel and Perfect the Saints) a fourth one: “To Care for the Poor”. The Church’s humanitarian services and programs are unmatched by most organizations and churches.
And so in defense of the rich and famous Mormons, let me say that many of these services and programs of the Church are helped if not made possible by donations from these members. One of the best examples is the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) that helps needy member students pay for their education with repayment loans. Click here to read about a Samoan lawyer/student - and many others from poorer countries - who benefited from the Perpetual Education Fund.
The Church is wealthy by most modern standards and a major part of that wealth - which is to help further the work - comes from the well-off members and other Church sources/investments. With many other churches declining and closing because of the lack of funds and donations, the LDS Church is better off, comparatively, because of the tithes and donations of these and other members. I believe that many of these members adhere to the scripture: “Of whom much is given much is required”. They then give freely and generously.
If you have a chance to see the film, please go. By the way, all proceeds will go to the American Red Cross. So if not to learn more about the Mormons, see the film as a donation to the Red Cross to help others. It's a win- win.