Mystical undergarments worn by members of the Latter-day Saint Church have been the subject of much media attention recently, and I’m not sure if I’m the best person to critique this coverage.
After all, my own Christian faith is as ancient and Trinitarian as it gets: Eastern Orthodox.
Exactly, the most prominent news organisation in the world relocated there. Of course, seasoned consumers of religion-related media may guess the story’s central message with a 99% chance of accuracy before ever reading the first word.
Frank Talk About Sacred Underclothes
The story must focus on contemporary women navigating a male-dominated religious tradition at odds with the present. There’s no other plausible explanation.
There is, in my view, much to commend in this report. However, two common issues are present in many stories covering the religion beat that deal with controversial topics. First and foremost, look at this:
The issue here lies with the institutional church itself. In contrast to the new norm in many newsrooms (when dealing with conservative religious organisations), which is to quote something from a church website instead of talking to a human being, the Times team did the right thing by reaching out to a Latter-day Saint authority to explain what is going on.
It would have been helpful to hear an authoritative figure discuss the significance of this custom in today’s environment. We don’t know if the Gray Lady tried to acquire comment from other members of the establishment, such church historians, before publishing their article.
It would have been beneficial to at least try, as the lack of action taken by the church’s leadership ultimately resulted in issue No. 2:
Put that thought on hold for a second. It looks like there are three distinct demographics represented here: There are three camps of believers: (1) those who think the tradition is fine as is, (
2) women who want to work with church authorities to modify the undergarments so that they are more comfortable while retaining their symbolism and function, and (3) believers who are ready to switch to some other less controversial, or perhaps (from their perspective) less tacky, symbol of their faith.
It’s worth noting that the article acknowledges the existence of women who, in the digital realm, are arguing in favour of the practise as it is now interpreted.
When do We See them Again?
When the church’s official spokespersons refused to be interviewed, I believe that coverage of that angle of the issue ceased. As a result, the novel leaves readers with characters that try very hard (and succeed) to reflect the perspectives of women in Camps 2 and 3, but not Camp 1. (1).
One of the higher-ups should have given in and done the interview, ideally while recording it so that a transcript could be made available online.
The church official could have gone farther by suggesting a few women who are experts on the topic and giving them a heads up that it would be beneficial for them to give recorded interviews to the Times.
I get the impression that the Times was looking for female voices representing a range of opinions. Lack of leadership support could have stymied efforts to recruit credible advocates for the church’s existing policies.
As a result, readers have a story that is engaging and respectful of women’s concerns. However, the plot is lacking a vital viewpoint.