New York Times Makes Monson “Obituary” a Platform for Grievances of LDS Church Dissidents; Surprising—or Par for the Course? I Say It’s The Latter
By Ken K. Gourdin
Following the recent passing of Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly known as Mormons) and revered by the faithful as a prophet, seer, and revelator, the New York Times published a somewhat-cynical obituary.
The Times’ obituary laments President Monson’s obstinacy in the face of agitation by some (many?) for change in the Church of Jesus Christ regarding such issues as its commitment to chastity before marriage and fidelity afterward, its refusal to redefine marriage from a sacramental union between one man and one woman, and who God will allow to be ordained to His priesthood.
I cannot blame many of my fellow Latter-day Saints for being chagrined by the Times’ obituary. Nevertheless, while it is true that mere proper decorum (rather than any hard-and-fast rule) suggests that perhaps it is best to avoid speaking ill of the dead in an obituary (of all places), Alas!, perhaps expecting the secular (not to mention skeptical) media to observe such decorum is a bridge too far.
Some still cling to passe notions that the news media are bound by such notions as objectivity, fair play, and following the facts wherever they may lead. It’s true that the fact is that yes, there are a fair number of people in the Church of Jesus Christ who agitate for such changes as those I mention in my second paragraph. However, it’s not necessarily a “fact” that only the obstinacy of “Mr. Monson,” as the Times calls him, prevents such changes from taking place. (And yet, there is a small-but-often-vocal contingent even within the Church of Jesus Christ for whom, with the passing of each of its earthly heads, hope seems to sprout anew that perhaps a successor finally will see the light and will implement the agitated-for change(s).)
In the end, however, all the cynical media (as well as the agitators, however vocal they may be) amount to are a few desperately yapping dogs nipping at a heel here or there, as I pointed out in response to notice of the Times’ cynical obituary at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion. Another poster posted a link to the Times’ obituary and seemed to hint at at least mild consternation concerning it. He posted, “Wow. Check out the New York Times so-called obituary of President Monson and then read the comments chastising the paper for writing an article that is ‘less of an obituary and more of a laundry list of LDS Church-related controversies’ to quote a commentator.” The quasi-hit-piece obituary can be found at the following address (this and all other links last accessed January 9, 2018): https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/03/obituaries/thomas-monson-dies.html?hpw&rref=obituaries&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region.
A petition has been started in an effort to persuade the Times to moderate its coverage of President Monson’s passing: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/local/2018/01/08/change-your-slanted-monson-obituary-tens-of-thousands-of-mormons-urge-the-new-york-times/. Old sayings about aviating porcines and unusual cold snaps in usually-unbearably-hot places come to mind.
I responded at Mormon Dialogue with relative indifference—or at least with a lack of surprise:
Meh. Controversy … especially controversy concerning matters of faith … is the secular media’s stock-in-trade when it comes to reporting on religion: If it cannot find a controversy with which to paint the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (indeed, with which to paint faiths and their adherents in general) in an unflattering light, it will manufacture one. [Or, it might play up a largely-manufactured controversy, giving it much more attention than it actually deserves.] And of course, the secular media cannot countenance the idea that, perhaps, just perhaps, the things it sees as controversial are the way they are in the Church of Jesus Christ because God wants them that way: No, no; that simply won’t do. And so, the buck stops with “Mr. Monson.”
I’m reminded of Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s address from the 154th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (October 1984), “The Caravan Moves On,” available here and last accessed January 3, 2018: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1984/10/the-caravan-moves-on?lang=eng. In the end, all the cynical media are are barking dogs snapping at a heel here and there. At the close of that address, he says this:
“The Church is like a great caravan—organized, prepared, following an appointed course, with its captains of tens and captains of hundreds all in place.
“What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? Or that predators claim those few who fall by the way? The caravan moves on.
“Is there a ravine to cross, a miry mud hole to pull through, a steep grade to climb? So be it. The oxen are strong and the teamsters wise. The caravan moves on.
“Are there storms that rage along the way, floods that wash away the bridges, deserts to cross, and rivers to ford? Such is life in this fallen sphere. The caravan moves on.
“Ahead is the celestial city, the eternal Zion of our God, where all who maintain their position in the caravan shall find food and drink and rest. Thank God that the caravan moves on!”
Whether I’m disappointed that the Times’ coverage of President Monson’s passing wasn’t more balanced (or whether anyone else is) … or not; whether I’m surprised that the coverage wasn’t more balanced (or whether anyone else is) … or not, the caravan moves on.