Friday, March 13, 2009

Complaint to HBO

Submitted here

To whom it may concern,

I would like to add my voice to the thousands that I'm sure you have already heard regarding the scheduled airing of an episode of Big Love which contains scenes from a temple ceremony practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I realize that many people find it difficult to understand why Latter-day Saints would feel offended at having this ceremony publicized, that does not excuse ignoring the fact that they will. I am one of them.

We consider the temple ceremonies to be extremely sacred (and beautiful) events, which require a certain amount of spiritual preparation to be understood and appreciated. It is our hope that everyone in the world will experience these ceremonies first-hand, after having prepared themselves for it. However, to broadcast it without discretion for all the world to see is to show a fundamental lack of appreciation (and respect) for the sanctity of these ordinances.

In your official response to criticism regarding the airing of this episode, you apologized to "those who may be offended," but announced that you planned to air the show regardless. I hope that you will understand how shallow this apology sounds to those who you are offending. Likewise, the assurances that you have taken steps "to assure the accuracy of the ceremony" are unconvincing in light of the fact that the character who is supposedly attending the temple session "as she faces losing the church she loved so much" is living a lifestyle that would preclude her from temple attendance in the first place.

While you have made some overtures at explaining that the LDS church does not permit polygamy among its ranks, you still portray the polygamists in this series as being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is patently false. Ever since the LDS church officially banned polygamy well over a century ago, those who continued to engage in polygamous marriages have removed themselves from fellowship with the church. They do not attend church in LDS wards, as they have their own religious leaders. If they go to a temple, it is one that they build (such as the one found on the FLDS compound in Texas recently), which is not associated in any way with the LDS church.

To Latter-day Saints, the Temple is such a sacred place that you must hold a current temple recommend from a bishop to enter therein. In order for a bishop to sign such a recommend, you would have to (among other things) attend church regularly and pay a full tithe. You would almost certainly be asked to participate in a church calling.
A standard temple recommend is valid for two years, and a computerized barcode system keeps records synchronized between the temples and local wards. In and of itself, this does not make it impossible for an unworthy person to enter the temple, but it does seem extremely unlikely.

I do recognize your right as a production company, and as American citizens, to use your resources to portray anything you want--any way you want--on your network. Because Latter-day Saints are a peace- and freedom-loving people, I hope you feel free to air the show without the fear of retribution that you might face if you were offending members of certain other religions.

That said, I hope you will understand that Church members will not see this as a harmless and moving portrayal in a TV drama, but as an improbable excuse to show something that's "never been shown on television before." Don't be surprised, either, if we don't trust the intentions of the show's producers, including Tom Hanks, who has been quite open about his feelings toward LDS members who supported Proposition 8 in California. And although, up to this point, I have not had a subscription to HBO, please be assured that my decision to do so in the future will hinge largely on the respect you show (or don't show) toward that which I hold dear.


James Jensen

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