Written March 13, 2009     

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© 2016 Bob Lonsberry


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It's payback for Proposition 8.

Tom Hanks, who savaged Mormons for supporting California's vote to ban gay marriage, will hold their most sacred sacraments up to public scorn on national television this weekend.

Never argue with a man who's got his own HBO series.

Because he will play hardball.

And he will prove that nothing is sacred. Or that nothing which is sacred is beyond the reach of his dirty, defiling fingers.

Here's the background.

In November, there was a proposition on the California ballot that sought to overturn that state's court-ordered gay marriages. It was an effort to let the people be heard on a fundamental social question.

There was fervent campaigning on both sides. Liberal and entertainment leaders poured money into the state in support of gay marriage. Religious people did the same in opposition to gay marriage.

Some of those religious people were Mormon.

Most of them were Catholic, a fair number were Evangelicals, and many of them were black or Latino. But some of them were Mormon. And when Proposition 8 passed – when the people of California said they did not want gay marriage – it was the Mormons who were scapegoated.

Mormon churches were picketed, Mormon business people were boycotted, disruptive demonstrations were held outside Mormon temples in Los Angeles, New York and Salt Lake City.

Gay activists and their supporters took their rage out on all things Mormon, in spite of the fact that the largest bloc of voters supporting Proposition 8 were conservative Catholics, and the deciding bloc of voters were Latinos and African-Americans – who came out in record numbers to support Barack Obama.

But the Mormons got targeted.

Including by Tom Hanks.

He said that Mormon efforts were “un-American” and he chastised the religion and its members.

Which might have been the end of it, except for his TV show and maybe a little bit of history. That history being the fact that Tom Hanks' step-mom became a Mormon when he was a boy and that seems to have contributed to friction and eventual break up in the home.

The TV show is “Big Love.”

It is about a man and his three polygamous wives.

Polygamy was practiced by the Mormon Church until the end of the 1800s. Since that time, however, various century-old break-off groups have continued to be polygamous. They live in Mexico, Canada, Texas and Utah, as well as other places.

The polygamists in “Big Love” live in Utah.

The show is an interesting combination of spot-on accuracy and glaring innaccuracy. When it comes to realistically depicting the lives and beliefs of modern-day polygamists, it fails completely. There aren't any people like those depicted in “Big Love.”

Where the uncanny accuracy comes in is in the depiction of the Mormon society that surrounds the show's polygamists.

Where some people get heartburn is when the fictional polygamists bleed over and come to represent actual Mormons.

That's a big problem for Mormons. They are protective of their reputation and their name. And they bend over backward to separate themselves from the polygamists. They do not want to be confused with them.

And that issue was discussed before “Big Love” premiered. HBO officials told Mormon leaders that there would be no confusion.

Unfortunately, there has been nothing but confusion. And that seems to be the purposeful intent of the programs writers and producers.

In a recent episode, the “Big Love” characters visited the real-life Mormon Hill Cumorah Pageant in upstate New York. The pageant, which has represented Mormonism in that region for more than half a century, could be seen as having its “brand” damaged in the minds of “Big Love's” 5 million viewers. If any of them, because of the show, believe that the pageant is a production of the polygamous people, its reputation is damaged and their support is diminished.

But this goes beyond damaging the brand.

This isn't about confusing people over what a Mormon is or isn't.

This is about a desecration of the sacred beliefs of more than 13 million people.

This is about the temple.

Mormons have a belief in sacred temple rituals. Like those described in the Old Testament, Mormons believe that symbolic sacraments – including marriage for time and all eternity – take place in special, holy, set-apart buildings called temples.

What happens in them is considered sacred and is not discussed outside the temple. The ritual conducted there, like the ritual of most world religions, is considered an innate part of the relationship between Mormons and God. And, like the ritual of many world religions, it is considered to be appropriate only for the initiated.

So you can't read about it in a book. Or see pictures of it in a pamphlet. It's not secret, but it is sacred, and the only way to learn about it is to be a Mormon living your religion.

But Tom Hanks is putting it on TV.

On “Big Love” this week, Mormon temple ritual will be broadcast around the country. A simulated temple, and simulated ceremony – based on the writings of anti-Mormons and disaffected Mormons – will be shown over and over on HBO.

The magnitude of that offense can only be understood by those who consider those temples and those rituals sacred and special. Others, however, who believe in respecting other people's religion, can understand the hurt this creates.

It is as if someone ran into a synagogue, grabbed up the Torah and brought it outside to use as a table cloth at a picnic. It is as if someone ran, shoes on, into a mosque and threw pork and alcohol all around. It is as if the most sacred relics of the Vatican were passed around to non-believers to be laughed at.

It is as if Tom Hanks thought of the worst heart-ache he could impose on Mormons, short of violence, and sent his cameras to work. It is as if he walked up to God and spit in his face.

And it sure looks like payback for Proposition 8.

And an odd sort of 1930's-Germany approach to religious objectification that hasn't been tolerated in this country since the days of the Ku Klux Klan.

In America, we don't make fun of people because of their religion. We don't discriminate against people because of their religion.

And we typically have the class not to publicly humiliate and defile the most sacred parts of other people's religion.

But in some mix of modern scorched-earth liberalism, angry gay activism and a possible personal vendetta, we have this.

It's like someone once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Or, more appropriate to this situation, “Evil is as evil does.”

- by Bob Lonsberry © 2009

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