No Mormon Love for ‘Big Love’

Just think, if Jews objected to their wedding rituals being depicted on screen, a good bit of Hollywood’s film archives would be wiped out. “Fiddler on the Roof,” for example, would have been painfully anti-climactic. What’s a movie about shtetl Jews without the Cossack pillaging of Tzeitel’s wedding?

Mormon church leaders, however, are up in arms over HBO’s “Big Love” and its decision to film a sacred temple rite. “Only church members in good standing can enter temples to perform or witness sacred ceremonies,” wrote Variety. Church leaders argue that because they are so secretive, a television executive couldn’t possibly have accurate knowledge of these rituals. “Members take a vow not to discuss the rituals outside temple walls,” the article in Variety stated, but added, “although details of the ceremonies are widely available on the Internet.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement saying, “Church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding.”

Not to accuse the Mormon Church of ill meddling, but—make up your mind—is the depiction forbidden or is it OK if Hollywood gets their “context” right? Producers of the popular HBO drama, about a polygamous family in Utah, swear their sensitivity to the subject. For this episode, they employed an on-set expert in Mormon rites to supervise the controversial scene. Since the show’s creation, they have consulted with the Mormon Church and promised to distinguish between the beliefs and practices of The Church of Latter-day Saints and the fundamentalist, fringe groups and individuals who merely practice polygamy.

But angry leaders dispute HBO’s religious concerns: “Despite earlier assurances from HBO, it once again blurs the distinction between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the show’s fictional non-Mormon characters and their practices,” the church statement said.

Read more in Variety’s report, Mormon Leaders Take Aim at ‘Big Love’:

“In approaching the dramatization of the endowment ceremony, we knew we had a responsibility to be completely accurate and to show the ceremony in the proper context and with respect,” Olsen and Scheffer said in a separate statement issued through HBO. “We therefore took great pains to depict the ceremony with the dignity and reverence it is due.”

The church declined an interview request by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

News of the episode has sparked an online campaign by individual Latter-day Saints, who are calling for a boycott of “Big Love” and cancellation of subscriptions to HBO, AOL and other Time Warner Inc.-owned entities.

The church itself has not called for a boycott and said in its statement that doing so would just fuel controversy and interest in the program.

Church leaders also said members of the rapidly growing faith should not feel defensive about HBO’s characterization of Mormons.

“There is no evidence that extreme misrepresentations in the media that appeal only to a narrow audience have any long term negative effect on the church,” they said in the statement.

“Big Love” is in its third season on HBO and a fourth is in the works. The program tells the story of Bill Hendrickson, a fundamentalist (played by Bill Paxton) who runs a chain of hardware stores and lives with three wives (Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin) in a Salt Lake City suburb.

Like Utah’s real-life fundamentalists, the Hendricksons’ beliefs are tied to the early teachings of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith, who said polygamy was an essential doctrine for exaltation in the afterlife. The church ultimately abandoned the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s statehood.

When “Big Love” first aired, negotiations between the church and HBO resulted in a one-time disclaimer included in the show’s credits that distinguished the modern church’s position on polygamy from the beliefs of the fictional characters in the series.

This season, however, the show’s polygamy-focused stories have included more mainstream Mormon references.