What Do You Think About Our Mormon Coverage?


Mitt Romney Source: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Source: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

So... I was halfway through a monster post about religion, when I realized, I need something from you. Yes, you! TOTN listeners! Today, we're talking to NPR correspondent Howard Berkes about your reactions to the coverage of Mormonism and Romney on NPR. We got a ton of mail and comments yesterday from Mormons and non-Mormons alike about how they perceive the much-talked-about religion. Following Mitt Romney's speech on faith today, we're going to take your questions and comments about how we — and the media en masse — have covered this religion. So, if you can, send us your blog comments ahead of time — let us know what you'd like to hear, and we'll ask Howard on the air in a couple of hours.



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Simply put: You (the media en masse) put way too much emphasis on "this religion, that religion"; trying to make plain (boring) facts into a (riveting) story worth covering.

I have worked with (and for) people of many different religions over the last 20 years. They all share one thing in common. Religion is a "personal matter", best kept to yourself! When a person offers "unsolicited" religious advice to others they become a blabbering hypocrite.

I don't care if a person is Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox (Christian or Jew). Do they believe in anything? Can they keep their story straight from city to city?

It's NOT about religion, it's about TRUST! Do you, can you TRUST them? That's why Al Gore (the father of the Internet, 20 years after the FACT)lost in 2000! That's why John Kerry (Mr. Flip-flop) lost in 2004! That's why people don't like Geoge W. Bush now. He has lost their trust.

Sent by Harold | 1:27 PM | 12-6-2007

So how long as Mormonism been inclusive, less than 20 years? And isn't Romney like a Bishop in that church, Any religion that believed blacks were evil up until the early 80s is more than suspect in my opinion.

Sent by Tony | 2:02 PM | 12-6-2007

Today's coverage reminds me of why I have become so dissapointed in NPR of late. Where is the counterpoint to the obvious pro-mormon "neutral guest?" It is simply ridiculous to assume that this religion--or any--has not control over people. The whole point of religion is control. Deciding who gains full membership, who can or cannot enter the temple is scary to me. Gee...do you think that "dark skinned" people got full status right around the time of equal rights? Saying that they were full people before, but could not be full members is like saying: 'What's the problem? They can sit in the back of the bus, just not the front.'

Sent by james king | 4:01 PM | 12-6-2007

I have lived outside the US for the past years, so this is the first presidential race that I have been able to follow in the US. My concern is that the media and/or US population are under the misapprehension that one of the criteria to be president is a Christian faith. The last time I read the Constitution there was a strong separation of church and state.
Many ethical people are of various faiths and beliefs.

Sent by Melvia Hasman | 4:19 PM | 12-6-2007

The idea that Mormon politicians are not influenced by the LDS church does not stand up to scrutiny. Here in Utah, nothing happens in the state legislature without the consideration of the views of Church hierarchy. Take for example the number of bills ranging from liquor laws, to adoption, to the MLK holiday. All of which are run by Church leaders before being voted on. Further, the public disfellowshipping and excommunication of intellectuals or members who speak out against the LDS church's stand on issues such as equal rights keeps the faithful in line. For the most part, I think Mormon citizens in Utah are good people and a reasonable lot, but there is a line not to be crossed. LDS children are often discouraged from playing with non-member children, anything - or anybody - considered to be non-faith promoting is to be avoided, and accommodations are to err on the side of Mormon sensibilities not on the side of inclusiveness. If Mitt Romney considers himself a believing member of the LDS church, how can we not think his Mormonism will inform his presidency if elected?

Sent by Geoff P. | 4:26 PM | 12-6-2007

Howard Berkes sounded like someone who lives surrounded by Mormons. He clearly seemed unwilling to say anything to get his friends and neighbors angry. Isn't there a non-Mormon reporter who knows a lot about Mormonism and doesn't live surrounded by Mormons in there most populous city? It reminded me of when NPR talks to a Cuban currently living in Cuba who tells us how great and benign her government is.

Sent by Rebecca Smith | 8:14 PM | 12-6-2007

Howard Burkes is the first commentator I've heard who has finally answered questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accurately. I am shocked and amazed . . . and hopeful that perhaps national commentary can finally portray the facts accurately. Obviously, he has spent a lot of time trying to understand his Mormon neighbors and their beliefs. Thank you very much for interviewing him and having him field questions about Mormon beliefs.

Sent by bright eyes | 10:21 PM | 12-6-2007

Thank you, thank you, for finally providing some accurate, well-balanced coverage of the Mormon faith. The previous poster is up in arms about Howard Burkes being a "pro-Mormon" under the guise of neutrality, but could it be that your guest was just telling the truth, and the truth about Mormonism shows that there's actually nothing to be afraid of? It's about time a reporter refered obscure doctrinal questions to the source of the doctrine--the church itself. It's about time an objective voice for Mormonism is someone who has lived among and worked with Mormons, but isn't one himself. Other NPR programs and personalities could take a lesson from Burkes in getting their facts straight before they repeat second-hand sound-bytes about what the church is and does.

Sent by Dani (San Antonio) | 11:35 PM | 12-6-2007

By the way, James, why does a guest have to be pro-Mormon or anti-Mormon? This isn't about promoting or disparaging the faith---it's about getting the facts straight.

Sent by Dani (San Antonio) | 11:39 PM | 12-6-2007

I do not understand the point of hosting a show about Mormons but refusing to answer questions about Mormonism. I for one listened to the podcast of the show to educate myself about the Mormon faith. However your guest refused to answer specific question and thus failed to educate the public. The goal was to find out about is unique about Mormonism vs. other Christian beliefs vs. the Jewish faith etc.

1) What are the rituals involved in Mormonism (e.g. how many times they pray, is Sat. or Sunday the Sabbath)?

2) What is their belief about the after-life? Do they faithful become mini-gods ruling over specific domains?

3) Do they believe in the historical Jesus? The savior Jesus?

4) How do you become a Mormon? By heritage, baptism?

5) How was Mormonism found?

The above are all fair questions that a show about Mormons should address. One cannot complain about people spreading lies about your faith if you choose to keep the truth under lock and key.

Sent by Sarah | 11:52 PM | 12-6-2007

Grow up! Attacks on Mormons is so vain. Saying Mormons are anti-black is so stupid. Joseph Smith was anti slavery in a time where that view could get you killed. In fact, Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob of 200-300 men. Part of the reason Mormons were murdered and raped in Missouri in the 1830s is because we were anti slavery in a dangerous time (pre civil war) and in a state that was deciding on free and slave state status. Missouri even issued an extermination order to drive Mormons out or a free pass to kill them. When you attack Mormons on the 1978 change - what about all the Southern "Christian" religions that protected slavery prior to the civil war and even after it (KKK)? Another thing to take into account, Mormon priesthood leaders that were black were probably among some of the first in the nation to be leaders of mainly white religous churches(even compared to other churches). Judge my faith on what it is today - not what it was 30 years ago (1978 change) or what it was 118 years ago.

Sent by Tony in Bakersfield aka The Mormon Hammer | 2:51 AM | 12-7-2007

Mr. Berkus is a "neutral" commentator? What in the world was NPR thinking? Are you spooked by the religious right's contention that NPR is anti religion?
The whole segment was an apologia for the Morman faith. Where was your counter-balance to Mr. Berkus?

Sent by JKB | 10:49 AM | 12-7-2007

I was disappointed to hear Howard side step the question about Morman doctrine which states that Jesus came from the planet Kolob, was a rightious man there and was rewarded with a planet of his own. This is a fundamental (core) belief of the Morman religion and one that has significant meaning in the day to day lives of Mormans. The Celestial Kingdom is the highest aspiration of any Morman and since a woman can't attain this without her man is a key motivator for all Morman women to keep their men on the path.

This tenant of the faith is not an encouraged discussion point for missionaries because it is such an alien (pardon the pun) notion to most people.

If TOTN is reluctant to have the NPR reporter frankly discuss what is common knowledge beliefs of this religion you should seek someone who is not bought into the community in Utah and then provide a counterpoint opinion.

Sent by Gene de Jong | 10:54 AM | 12-7-2007

Of all the accusations against Mormonism, the one that it teaches that "Jesus came from the planet Kolob" is among the silliest. Such a teaching does not and never has existed in the LDS Church. Please, Mr. de Jong, provide a quote from Mormon scripture or Church leader stating such.

Sent by Allen Lambert (Ithaca, NY) | 3:16 PM | 12-7-2007

I am surprised at people's anger that Howard Burkes did not answer some doctrinal questions about the Mormon faith. It was appropriate for him to refer people with these questions to the official website (lds.org) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Nearly every time I hear commentators try to explain a faith to which they do not belong, there are usually inaccuracies, albeit unintentional. It doesn't matter if the faith being explained is Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Southern Baptist, Methodist or whatever. I appreciate it when those commentators send me to the official website of the religion or religious entity they are reporting on, that way, if I have questions, I can go to the source who would best know how to answer them. If people are concerned about getting a so-called balanced view about a religion, then the reporter could also refer listeners to other web sites. I appreciate Barrie Hardymon's recent blog where she has a link where questions can be asked directly of the Mormon church itself.

In my experience, the Mormon church is not afraid or reluctant to talk about its doctrine. It just wants to be able to explain it in context--something that can never be done in a sound bite or sometimes even in a short discussion (depending on the topic).

The website cited by Howard Burkes (lds.org) has areas geared to members of the faith, but which can be accessed by anyone. On this site, users can read the full texts of Sunday School lessons and other teaching manuals word-for-word. They can also read the full texts of the church magazines, which are published every month. The manuals and magazines (and lots of other things, including the Mormon's scriptures) can be found under the link near the top of the page labeled "Gospel Library." The "General Conference" link contains talks and sermons by church Elders.

The lds.org site also has a very useful link to a Newsroom where all sorts of questions can be answered (link in on right hand side of the page). For instance, I just pulled up the newsroom link and on the right hand side of the page is commentary explaining Mormon worship services--both in their chapels and in their temples.

If someone just wants quick answers to basic questions, the best official church site for this is mormon.org., which can also be accessed from lds.org. On this site, the basic principles, ordinances, and doctrines of the church are explained. You can read information and watch short videos. Be aware that this site has two purposes--the inform the curious and also to introduce would-be Mormons to the faith. It is an excellent source for basic doctrines. The more in-depth stuff is on lds.org.

That said, I am still wondering why what Mit Romney believes is even part of this political debate. Doesn't the Constitution forbid a religious test? Didn't Thomas Jefferson say that he didn't care if leaders believed in one god or many gods or none at all? See http://www.religioustolerance.org/jefferson.htm I believe we should judge presidents and would-be presidents on their ability to uphold the constitution, represent "we the people," and be a strong leader.

Sent by Janice | 2:09 AM | 12-8-2007

FYI, here are a few links from the official Mormon websites that answer all the questions about Mormon beliefs that were asked by blogger Sarah and others. From what I see here, the Mormon church is not hiding their beliefs, even the so-called fringe or controversial ones.

This link is an A-Z index to a plethora of topics and Mormon's beliefs about them. Short list: civil government (with a link to church magazine article on Mormon beliefs about the U.S. Constitution), families, heaven, hell, prayer, baptism (how to become a member), priesthood (including ordination of Blacks), temples (what happens in them), service, baptisms for the dead, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith (the founder, also tells how the church was founded), the "Plan of Salvation" (an excellent overview of Mormon belief about life before birth and the afterlife), the Holy Ghost, and much, much more. http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=76bd3f7719605010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD&locale=0

On the above link there is also a place where you can ask your own questions directly. At mormon.org you can also email a question or do a live chat.

Here's a couple other links:

Beliefs about Jesus Christ: http://www.mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/basic-beliefs/jesus-christ-our-savior/jesus-christ

About men and women being the children of God and the potential to become like him: http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=3bf405481ae6b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

I hope this helps.

Sent by Janice | 3:27 AM | 12-8-2007

I am a practicing Mormon, and I assure you that I do not belive Jesus came from a planet called Kolob, nor any of the oddities you wrote. you are mixing different things together that have no relation to each other. Kolob and planets are not a core belief of Mormons and do not impact our day to day life. and what you said about woment not being able to reach heaven without her husband is also completely false. it is actually quite the opposite, women may well reach heaven without husbands. men on the other hand are comanded to marry in order to be able to receive Christ's full grace and thus be allowed to go to heaven.

You are right to be disapointed in Howard sidestepping the question about mormon doctrine since you are so badly in need of proper information and clarifications on the topic. do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions. I will not give you scripted answers, simply what believe, and you might be surprised and learn a thing or two.

Sent by Nathan Schuerch | 6:23 AM | 12-8-2007

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for over 20 years, I can only laugh at the many misinformed comments on this blog. Rebecca is quick to assume that Berkes only answered the way he did because he didn't want to alienate his Mormon friends, rather than assuming he might have just been doing his best to describe a religion he has never even been a part of. Gene, who can't even spell the religion's (nick)name right, professes to know about obscure "fundamental" Mormon beliefs that you'd be hard-pressed to find in any church canon. JKB, like James King, insists that Berkes needed a counterpoint, as if this segment was about whether Mormonism is right or wrong, rather than just what it is or is not. And Sarah expects to get five questions (legitimate but involved questions) answered on a 15-minute news segment rather than visiting the Church's website or other literature for the answers. The church's doctrines and beliefs are anything but under "lock and key," but you'll have to do more than passively listen to one voice on the radio if you really want to learn more. I found Berkes' comments well-informed and honest, and would like to thank TOTN for having him on the air.

Sent by Danielle | 7:05 PM | 12-8-2007

The LDS church has a strict political neutrality policy. They do not tell people how to vote or who to vote for. Yes, there are naturally lots of Mormons in politics, but they aren't "running their bills past the church" for approval. That's a myth that's been perpetuated for as long as I can remember.

Sent by Doug | 3:02 PM | 12-10-2007

Thanks Danielle for pointing out that I was wrong in thinking that this was supposed to be an even-handed discussion of a powerful religion. Even-handed to me means that multiple views are aired. I was looking for enlightenment, not Mr. Berkus' non-ending praise. As you come to this discussion as a member of the church, I come to it as someone who was truly frightened and dismayed by Mr. Romney's declaration that this is a "christian nation". May I point out that a lot of our ancestors came here to escape just that situation. My family came here in 1638 under just those circumstances. I believes we're a nation that allows all beliefs to flourish.

Sent by JKB | 10:16 AM | 12-11-2007

Nathan, In your response you completely side stepped the issue "was a righteous man there and was rewarded with a planet of his own". I was taught that this is a core belief of your faith, am I wrong? You also stated "it is actually quite the opposite, women may well reach heaven without husband". Is this the Celestial Kingdom or one of the lower heavens?

With regard to the question of whether Jesus came from the planet Kolob or not I made the mistake of applying what I take to be logic. The basis of my assertion is what I learned of Mormon doctrine: Jesus was a mortal man on another planet and through his righteousness became the god figure of this planet. In effect he is the God of this planet. Any righteous Mormon male may attain a similar position on his own planet. Kolob is known (obscurely) as being nearest the residence of God. I presumed that the God spoken of is the one known to the Mormons as Jesus, not the higher God who was God over Jesus' home planet. Therefore I assumed that Jesus came from the planet Kolob. Sorry if I was mistaken--what planet did he come from?

Danielle, I ran it through spell check this time, though the doctrine still doesn???t make sense to me. That???s the nice thing about the United States you can believe anything or nothing at all???at least for now.

Sent by Gene de Jong | 6:38 PM | 12-12-2007

Would you , NPR, approach Islam with such candor?
Mohamed the robber...Mohamed the
rapist...Mohamed the pedophile.
Not a chance!!

Sent by David | 11:59 PM | 12-15-2007

I have listened to Howard Berkes for over 20 years - firstly, his 5-day review of the potato economy in Washington State was the best NPR essay I can remember. That kind of in-depth reporting is why I started listening to NPR in the 1970's. Since NPR dropped this kind of coverage, I only listen on Saturdays.

As a Mormon of 54 years, I have always liked his fair reporting of LDS issues.

Sent by Jack R. Wilson | 2:05 AM | 3-10-2008