Newsweek’s mailbag

mail callThe mail call for Newsweek‘s splash on the Mormon Church was thick and heavy, judging by those letters published in this week’s issue. There are a total of 15, by my count. Here’s a good summary:

One member “anxious about inaccuracies” was “pleasantly surprised at the great job of compactly presenting such a huge topic.” Another insisted that “the Mormon Church has no need to ‘confront’ its past.” Still another wondered how an article by “a current member of the church could offer a ‘fair and balanced’ portrayal.” Many readers took exception to calling Mormonism a Christian denomination, and others criticized the church for its secret ceremonies and exclusivity. “The Mormon Church is a Masonic lodge dressed up for public view as a Christian church,” a former member said. Others questioned Mormonism’s history, pointing to the frequently altered Book of Mormon and founder Joseph Smith’s reported discovery of gold plates. Charged one, “This obviously fairy-tale religion was founded by a boy magician and latter-day con man.”

Some of the letters are quite vicious, many voicing the opinions already voiced on this blog, but in Newsweek, as with most publications, full names and localities are published. The effort involved and the publication of a bit more personal information somehow give them more weight.

The highlight for me was the letter addressing the issue of Newsweek‘s allowing a lifelong Mormon to report the piece:

Elise Soukup may be a lifelong Mormon, but her reporting displays little knowledge of Christianity. She wrote a nice PR piece for the Mormon Church, which fits well into its campaign to promote itself as mainstream and Christian. When Soukup notes the wonderful care the Mormon Church gives the daily needs of its members, she is correct. The Mormons are unlike the Lutherans or Catholics who, with their huge social-service programs, take care of anyone in need. Caring for all, not just one’s own church members, is what Jesus taught his followers to do.
Charles Jones
Chicago, Ill.

So is Mr. Jones being sarcastic? I believe so. But I’m having trouble sorting out his exact point.

More importantly, is this a big issue? Frequent GetReligion commenter Stephen A. first brought this to our attention early on. It’s something I wish I had known for the original post, because part of me believes this should have been disclosed in the article, but that could establish a bad precedent for religion reporting.

In an online chat, Soukup is quick to disclose this fact. Perhaps that’s a more appropriate forum for disclosing personal information like this.

She addresses it later in the chat and is quite upfront about it:

Salt Lake City, UT:
How can you write a cover with your conflict of interest, without disclosing your bias in your article?
Elise Soukup: Good question. In the [editor's] note at the front of the magazine, I’m identified as “a lifelong member of the Mormon Church.” I am definitely upfront about it! But the larger question is the one of, how can you write an article about a church if you are a believing member? First off, I have to say that I am just one of the many people that worked on this article before it made it to print. It went through several senior editors — none of them Mormon. So there’s definitely a checks and balance system! With that said, it’s not uncommon for reporters to write about what they know (e.g. I believe that the person who wrote last week’s TIME article about gay teens was gay himself). But my job became easy when I realized that I didn’t have to take sides. Really, what I tried to do was provide a straightforward and candid account of founder Joseph Smith, the church he established and the most common debates or controversies that are discussed. I’ve gotten angry letters on both sides, so I feel that I’m doing my job.

Just doing her job, trying to be straightforward, receiving angry letters from both sides … as a journalist, this works for me.

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  • Matthew M.

    Call me crazy, but I didn’t see any sarcasm in what Mr. Jones wrote, right or wrong.

  • Kitt

    I didn’t see sarcasm in Mr. Jones’ remarks either.

    My sister is LDS; I’m Catholic. I can just as easily say as Mr. Jones did and without sarcasm or any hint of critcism that the Mormons do an outstanding job of caring for ‘their own’ while “the Lutherans or Catholics who, with their huge social-service programs, take care of anyone in need.” I also make the same observation as Mr. Jones: “Caring for all, not just one’s own church members, is what Jesus taught his followers to do.”

    It’s not an indictment nor a jab at the Mormons; it’s an observation borne thru experience. It may also speaks to how I interpret the gospel of Christ. And – truth be told, the Mormons will help anyone who ‘applies.’ You do not “have” to be a Mormon in order to receive their assistance.

  • Mike Otterson

    It’s amazing how many people think that the Church only “takes care of its own” when a couple of minutes’ checking reveals the truly massive scale of the LDS worldwide relief program.
    In the past few months, millions of dollars worth of LDS aid has been channeled into the tsuanmi-devastated areas and into the Pakistan earthquake zone, where LDS membership is insignificant. This is aside from what has been done in the aftermath of Katrina, Rita and Stan. For a closer look at Church relief efforts in non-LDS communities, visit That site includes this statement:
    “In the past 20 years, the Church has shipped 47,000 tons of food and 63,000 tons of other supplies to more than 150 countries. In 2004, the Church provided $31.1 million (USD) in cash and materials in response to the hurricanes in Florida and the Caribbean, tsunamis in South Asia, war in Iraq, flooding in Colombia, and 110 other disasters.”

  • Dana Del Francia

    The publication of opinions was most enlighteneing. Having searched through various christian churches and finding wonderful people in each, I am appaled at the level of ignorance and judgement regarding the Mormon religion. It appears most so called christians and their misnisters, get their opinions and information from the many anti-mormon books and literature and undoubtably believe all it’s contents. While at the same time calling anyone who writes in support or gives an alternate view of the church in a positive light, purely propaganda. Truth, if it’s against the church, lies if it’s for.
    This behavior is not new. The Jews, who believe in God, did not and do not believe in the continueing revelation that Jesus brought and it appears so called Christians have taken the same stance, insisting that God has “closed the book” on further light and knowledge, except when it comes to their pontification about the purness of the Bible. I have found it amusing to hear ministers and christians cry “foul” for Mormon’s adding to scripture yet every Sunday, these same people listen intently to preachers explaining and expanding on what the Apsotles were saying. Crying that the Bible is the infallable word of God, yet still needs a little tweeking by their ministers for clearer understanding. In their minds, reasoning that the God of 2000 years ago, didn’t realize that we will need uninspired men of the cloth to explain to us mortals, just what He was talking about.
    Which also brings up the point of how these men and women were called of God if they do not beleive in revelation from God, since He closed the heavens, as to further direction at the close of the Book of Revelations?

    Having converted to this Church and being a member for over 30 years, I can categorically deny the false statemnts by those who profess Mormons don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God. From the opening of the Heavens to young Joseph Smith to the opening page of the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ was introduced and proclaimed as the Son of the living God, the Savior of mankind. Every lesson I ever taught as a missionary and still teach is taught in the name of Jesus Christ.
    Our Church bears His name and He is the cornerstone of our faith. Without Him there is no redemption.

    This Church and it’s history is opened for fair and reasonable discussion, but to some, anything that is good or virtueous about the Mormon faith, is purely propaganda and anything negative is to be believed.

    Mormons believe in a loving God, a God who gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for us. We believe in His Son, Jesus Christ and that He too loves us, for He and His Father are one as John 17 so wonderfully testifies. That the Holy Ghost will bring us to all truth for the spirit truely testifies today, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!