Have you heard about the next episode of HBO’s Big Love, set to air on Sunday (March 15, 2009)? It’s being widely reported that the television show will be depicting the LDS temple endowment ceremony as one of the main characters faces losing her LDS Church membership. Read more about it from The Associated Press.
As would be expected by anyone familiar with Mormon culture, the LDS community is up in arms over the proposition of a public viewing of the restricted temple ceremony. The Mormon Church has issued a formal statement encouraging members not to worry and to “conduct themselves with dignity and thoughtfulness” in the face of this new affront. Yet LDS members are quite upset, calling for boycotts and subscription cancellations of services associated with HBO and Time Warner. Joel Campbell at Mormon Times wrote some characteristically strong words about the issue:
“For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Time Warner’s Home Box Office network will cross a very bright ethical line when it airs an episode of ‘Big Love’ Sunday…
“What [Big Love producers] Olsen and Scheffer have created amounts to religious pornography. It takes something that is sacred and meant for personal reflection and commitment and throws it before the masses…
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe there should be any effort by government to censor HBO, but I do believe those who care about respect for religious ideals should enter the marketplace of ideas and make calm and reasoned arguments about why this show is offensive. The public should demand HBO observe higher ethical standards. HBO ought to make the ethical decision to pull the show based on its offense to members of the nation’s fourth largest religious denomination.”
The Mormon Curtain wrote that, in reporting the controversy, the Salt Lake Tribune originally published a story with an accompanying photo from the Big Love episode which portrayed the series’ character, Barb, wearing temple clothing complete with veil and fig leaf apron. The newspaper later replaced the photo with a more benign image of the Big Love cast and changed its headline from “‘Big Love’ Trampling the Sacred?” to “LDS Temple secrets? ‘Big Love’ TV episode angers Mormons.”
Mormons have long suggested that temple ceremonies should not be exposed to the public because the ceremonies are sacred. It could be that this phraseology has taken root as a natural response to the accusation from non-Mormons that temple ceremonies are secret. The typical Mormon answer to such an accusation is, “Temples are sacred, not secret.” But non-Mormons don’t understand that as a useful expression of the issue at hand.
We reason, the Book of Mormon is sacred, yet the LDS Church publishes and distributes it throughout the world without compunction. The so-called Sacred Grove, where Joseph Smith allegedly met and spoke with Heavenly Father and His Son in 1830, is today considered sacred ground; yet it is promoted by the LDS Church as a tourist attraction. Many people tramp through the spot each and every day. Both of these things (and others) are revered within the LDS community as “sacred and meant for personal reflection and commitment,” as Joel Campbell put it. Therefore, appealing to the sacred nature of the ceremony isn’t really an adequate explanation for why it is so important that the ceremony be kept hidden from the eyes of the public.
Is it unethical for HBO to portray the LDS temple ceremony on television? Is doing so “religious pornography”? Should HBO pull the show because it is offensive to some number of the nearly six million Mormons who live in the United States? What do you think?