This is my second post on my research. To see the first one, click here.
So, I have been doing my research on the response of several local Christian groups to the opening of a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Gardendale, AL in 2000. To briefly summarize what happened, a fluctuating number of locals (up to one hundred at one point) set up a demonstration across the street from the LDS temple during its open-house week when it encourages both LDS members and those outside the tradition to come visit the temple. Once the temple is dedicated, access to it is restricted to only certain LDS members, making this a unique time. During this week, these demonstrators chose to hand out pamphlets and speak to those driving and walking by about both their own theological beliefs and their assertions about what is wrong/problematic with the beliefs of the LDS Church. They also set up an information tent, and one source also reported some signs being held and a few demonstrators yelling loudly until the police arrived and made them stop. With this in mind, I wanted to use this blog post to talk about the issues I have faced while using my sources. Because the event was a local one, it did not make any sort of national publications and did not appear in any major books (at least not that I could find). So, beyond a couple of theoretical sources, I employed sources entirely from internet articles. Because of this, they were largely biased and generally advanced one side of the issue over another. If you would like to read them, they are (broken down into the different perspectives):
FROM THE LDS PERSPECTIVE: Birmingham Alabama LDS (Mormon) Temple, LDS Church News – Birmingham Alabama Temple, Why We Build Temples, Frequently Asked Questions, Birmingham Alabama Mormon Temple
FROM THE DEMONSTRATORS’ PERSPECTIVE: Baptists ‘educate’ Public about Mormon Temple The Alabama Baptist, Site of Controversy: Watchman’s Outreach at the Gardendale Mormon Temple Opening, Watchman Fellowship of Alabama’s Special Events, Witnessing at a Mormon temple opening, Letter to the Editor: Temple’s Brief Closure a Win-win for Gardendale, I Visited the Mormon Temple (note that this one is a Word document)
NEUTRAL: Critics gather at temple
As you will notice, many of them differ in how they portray the events and the public’s reactions to them. I noticed a couple of big ways that the sources differed in how they related certain things:
1. They have different approaches on how they portray the demonstration and the behavior of those participating in it. From the LDS perspective, the event itself barely gets mentioned at all, garnering only half a sentence in the ‘Birmingham Alabama Mormon Temple’ article which states that “a small group of activists demonstrated against the Temple’s presence.” Furthermore, this statement is immediately followed by several different assertions of widespread support from the Gardendale community on the whole, and some quotes included directly characterize the demonstration as “in very poor taste.” This structure by the author would seem to be an attempt to portray the actions of the demonstrators negatively and in contrast to the overwhelming support from the rest of the community. However, some of the articles from the demonstrators’ perspective show a different story. In one of its articles, the Watchman Fellowship reports that “the outreach team was careful not to interfere in any way with the open house. They respected church property, handed out literature in an unobtrusive manner, and even helped to direct traffic.” This article and some of the others repeatedly reiterate the fact that the demonstrators weren’t protesting the right of the LDS Church to be in Gardendale and portray the demonstration as respectful. This picture shows a different story, depicting a more reputable response that was done respectfully. Plus, there is no mention of any sort of lack of support for the demonstrators (except from temple officials, of course). Also, the Watchman Fellowship’s portrayal would seem to be difficult to maintain along with a report (from a demonstrator himself) that signs were held up and that at one point the police were called to stop a couple of demonstrators from yelling and disturbing the peace. As always, it is important to remember that neither source can be counted on as ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Instead, it is more useful to look at what each group emphasizes in their articles, what information they include, and what they opt to leave out.
2. They have different explanations for the ‘secrecy’ of the LDS temple. The allegation that the LDS Church is ‘secretive’ appears throughout most of the articles from the demonstrators, and behind these allegations lies the idea that the LDS Church is trying to hide their ‘errant’ and ‘unbiblical’ beliefs and practices by shrouding the temple in secrecy. They want the reader to think that the LDS Church keeps these rituals and practices under wraps so that those outside the tradition won’t find out exactly what types of things are actually occurring inside the temple. The official LDS website offers a different explanation in their FAQs, however. In it, the website says that “temple covenants and ordinances, including the words used, are too sacred to be discussed in detail outside the temple.” Furthermore, access to the temple is limited “Since the temple is the house of the Lord, dedicated to Him, those who enter must hold a current temple recommend, which certifies that they are living by the standards He has set.” So, from the LDS Church’s perspective, the temple and the rituals performed within it and more ‘secretive’ and limited to certain people because this serves as a way to respect and revere the sacred nature of these practices. These are two extremely different explanations for the reason behind why the temple functions in this way. Like the other point, analyzing the various explanations of each group and recognizing these differences is critical.
So, those are two that I noticed during my research. Do you notice any other analogous issues, or have any other comments on the demonstration or the sources themselves? I plan on focusing my final research post on the more theoretical issues and the ‘terms’ I found significant during my research, so if you have any comments on terms you see in these sources, that would be germane as well.