[This piece might make more sense to Mormons, but I think it should be of interest to anyone.]
Defining anti-Mormonism can be tricky, but here’s one pretty good indicator. When the denizens of the ex-Mormon subReddit are calling you out, you must have really crossed some lines. And yet, when it comes to the newly launched FutureMissionary.com, that’s exactly what’s going on:
No question about it the intention of this website is to open the eyes of the youthful TBM to the hairy details of the church, which is something that needs to be done. The idea is to move kids away from the indoctrination of their youth. And if it was advertised in that way, I would be the first to applaud it. Unfortunately, the approach here is to pretend that they are ‘pro-church,’ and simply helping the aspiring missionary in a faith-promoting fashion. This obvious deception undermines the legitimacy of the site.
I got exposed to anti-Mormonism in kind of a weird way: I started finding old anti-Mormon books (novels and such) lying around the house many, many years ago when I was a kid. Turns out it was for my dad’s research on his first book The Viper on the Hearth, which details anti-Mormonism primarily in 19th century literature. (Something Cristine seems to have forgotten in her recent review.) My dad finished the book in 1997, when I was still in high school, so it was a good time for me to begin learning about some of the crazier things that have been believed and promulgated about my religion from the earliest days.
It worked as a kind of inoculation. The Church has historically told a very whitewashed version of Mormon history, and it’s not uncommon for Mormons to feel betrayed and angry when they discover this. But they sometimes seem tragically unaware of the fact that, just as the Church has an agenda, so do anti-Mormons. To wade through the competing claims and–more importantly–interpretations you have to have open eyes to everyone’s motives and objectives.
There are many people who believe Mormonism is a fatally flawed religion for good and sincere purposes, but once you’ve seen allegations (apparently serious ones) that Mormons have to remove demonic horns from their infants, that we sacrifice virgins in the temple, or that we have secret drug-fueled orgies you begin to appreciate that some of the criticisms come from places that are at least as problematic as the Church’s tendency to want to paint all our leaders as heroes.
And that gets me back to FutureMissionaries.com. The real problem I have them is not that they present 1-sided, biased versions of Mormon history and theology, but rather that they do so in a deceitful way. The presentation mimics the Church, the authors claim to be return missionaries and imply they are faithful Mormons, and the whole site is the kind of thing you could see some well-meaning grandparent sending to their teenage grandchild to help them get ready for a mission if they haven’t read the site too closely.
I thought about weighing the pros and cons of driving traffic their way, and I’ve decided (obviously) it’s worth it. First: I just want the word to get out about what this site really is. Secondly: I just can’t take them that seriously. Is it “harmful” content? Yeah, it’s definitely cherry-picked and presented to be as damaging as possible to the credibility of the Church. But their attempt at secrecy is so pathetically bad and the deception so readily apparent that I don’t think it will do much harm to the visitor who knows what to look out for. Here’s just one example, from their FAQ section:
Is the mission a break from stress?
Deep depression, mental breakdowns, and other stress-induced sicknesses are disturbingly common among missionaries…
Stats? References? Any backup whatosever from what is obviously a scare-tactic? The answer goes on to state “the church is great at helping spiritually,” but that if you encounter serious emotional stress (and you will, because it’s “disturbingly common”) you should “insist on seeing a specialist, not just the mission doctor, who rarely has experience with these types of issues.” In other words: you’re gonna get a mental condition from the stress and the Church won’t help you. FTR – I don’t know what a “mission doctor” is. Maybe some missions have them. Mine, in Hungary (2000 – 2002), did not. If we got sick, we just went and saw whatever doctor was around just like any other normal human being.
Another example of the insidious efforts of this site, although laughably bad, comes here:
Are you anti Mormon?
Certainly not. Many members are are made uncomfortable by talking about church history so they think that our site, FAIR, and any other apologists are anti. We’re pro church and pro truth.
First of all, this is obviously a lie. They are anti-Mormon. But note how they manage a clumsy attempt to put themselves in the same bucket as FAIR. FAIR–the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research–is an independent group run by Mormons interested in actual apologetics. FutureMissionary.com, on the other hand, is just a honeypot targeting young Mormon kids.
I should also point out that FutureMissionary.com seems like a fairly shallow site. Within a few clicks, you will almost invariably find yourself at MormonThink.com. MormonThink and FutureMissionary share a lot of infographics and photos in addition to the links, so it’s reasonable to conclude they are run by the same organization. MormonThink is basically the same idea as FutureMissionary, except that instead of targeting kids it targets adults. From their front page:
Welcome to MormonThink
MormonThink is produced primarily by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are interested in the historical accuracy of the church and how it is being taught to its members and portrayed in the media.
There is a lot of misinformation on the LDS Church that is presented by both critics and defenders of the faith – particularly on the Internet. We present both viewpoints fairly and let the reader decide.
Yeah, right. I’m not going to provide any more examples of how and why these sites are so biased. If you already have a good background in Mormon history and theology, however, you can have find spelunking through the sites to find particularly egregious examples all on your own. My goal is just to spread the word: these are dishonset, anti-Mormon sites. They are not particularly clever or well-down, but they are vicious in intent and dishonorable in execution. People should know that.
It’s also interesting that the top story (at the time of this post) on ThinkMormon is about my parents: Professor Givens’ “Crucible of Doubt” UK Tour on the “new” Church History – 6/11/13. As you can imagine, I have some thoughts about that, but I will save them for another post.
Last note–especially to non-Mormons who have read this far–this is one of the fun joys of being a Mormon. In the grand scheme of ethnic and religious oppression, a mean website doesn’t really go very far. And I understand that. But it’s still just a little bit weird to inhabit a universe where people will hate your religion so much that they will go out of their way to create elaborate schemes to dishonestly attack it. I’m not going to lose any sleep over this–it’s not like I haven’t been told I’m going to Hell or accused of being a racist or a bigot or a cultist or whatever before–but it does have an impact.
It’s just a bit sad.
EDIT: By the way, there’s also a Facebook group for FutureMissionary, and judging by the comments I’m far from the first to be worried about the site tricking unsuspecting Mormons. There’s also a post on MormonDialogue that puts out the warning as well. Interestingly, the Facebook group claims to be making positive changes based on the response from MormonDialogue. That makes me think that, as clumsy as version 1.0 might be, FutureMissionary might get more subtle over time.