The British Press and Mormonism

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Since the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the British Press has had an interest in Mormonism. Over the years there have been newspaper and magazine articles and exposés discussing just about every aspect of Mormonism from polygamy and the anti-polygamy crusades in the last quarter of the nineteenth-century to the building of the London Temple in the 1950s and Mitt Romney’s quest for the presidency of the United States.1 There have also been radio and television pieces showing the Tabernacle Choir, Mormon families worshipping at church and The Book of Mormon Musical which is now playing in London. Overall, in spite of many positive stories that have appeared about the LDS Church, the British press has, overall, had a fascination bordering on infatuation with the perceived sensational and bizarre aspects of the religion.

Last year, for example, the BBC produced a documentary titled, “The Mormon Candidate” in which John Sweeney and his colleagues created a stilted image of Mormonism as an ultraconservative cult. His “gotcha” interviews with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and other faithful Latter-day Saints demonstrated an embarrassing lack of understanding of professional journalism on Sweeney’s and the BBC’s part. In spite of the BBC’s attempts to portray the LDS Church in such negative brushstrokes, as a writer at the By Common Consent blog wrote, “The Mormon church is not the gulag that the malcontents so gleefully interviewed by Sweeney would suggest it to be.”2

The BBC has not been alone in the British media’s preoccupation with what they consider to be the bizarre regarding Latter-day Saint doctrines and practices. Reporting about Mitt Romney’s presidential election defeat, The Sun published an article titled, “Mitt Romney’s pants: ‘Magic underwear’ not enough to hand Mormon keys to White House.” The article, of course, and with complete disregard for what Mormons consider sacred, contained the requisite picture of LDS temple garments.3 Just yesterday, The Sun published an article titled, “My Mormon past left me afraid to have fun – Says Superman’s new Lois Lane, Amy Adams.” The Nation had a similar story but chose to title theirs, “Amy still has Mormon values.”4

These two British news outlets are certainly not alone in what appears to be a quest to publish less than positive stories about Mormonism. Among the numerous stories produced by The Daily Mail have been articles titled, “Mormon facing prison over polygamy,”5 “From ‘sacred underwear’ to Victoria’s Secret: the devout Mormon woman who chose love over faith when her husband became an atheist,”6 and “You’re a s*** and a w****: The abusive emails sent by ‘sexually deviant Mormon stabbed to death 27 times by his girlfriend.”7

Now, BBC has once again shown its antipathy for the LDS Church and its adherents. In a Deseret News article, Julie Boye described how BBC radio “grilled” her husband and international singing sensation, Alex Boye, during an interview about his participation in the LDS Church sponsored, “I’m a Mormon” campaign. Boye, an English black latter-day Saint, was peppered with politically controversial questions. As Julie Boye explained:

While in London, Alex sent me an email saying, “One DJ was firing off questions relentlessly and it was clear that his purpose was to just make me look as clueless, uneasy and embarrassed as possible. Well, he succeeded!”

Alex was given 10 seconds to answer questions on topics we dedicate our entire lives to learn as Latter-day Saints, asked to expound on profound doctrine in small sound bites. He was expected to do it all in a four-minute interview or less — while coming across friendly, humble, normal and knowledgeable.8

So what does this mean for the LDS Church and its members? What can and should be done about some of the outlandish and openly hostile reporting from the British press? In a word, nothing! The LDS Church is not alone as a victim of sensationalism, misrepresentation and downright nastiness. Others have also suffered at the hands of the British press. English film and stage actress Claire Bloom once described the British press as “even more cruel and vicious than the Americans” and novelist John le Carre complained how he had seen “the British press simply go to hell.”9

Such is certainly the case with the BBC. At one time the BBC was deservedly well respected. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. In fact, a poll conducted by the BBC found that viewers and listeners felt there was an anti-Christian bias.10 Their bias is especially expressed against the more conservative religious denominations, the LDS Church being one of them.11 Latter-day Saints need to expect that they and their religion will be misunderstood and misreported by the British press and try where they can to correct misinformation, but do so armed not only with correct information but the right spirit.


  1. There are a number of books and articles about the LDS Church in the British Isles. Bryan J. Grant, “The Church in the British Isles,” About Mormons, http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/daily/history/british.html, accessed 18 June 2013, has an overview of the church in Britain. Craig L. Foster, Penny Tracts and Polemics: A Critical Analysis of Anti-Mormon Pamphleteering in Great Britain, 1837-1860 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2003), discusses anti-Mormon literature and stereotyping in Britain. 

  2. RJH, “Dear BBC,” By Common Consent (27 March 2012), http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/03/27/dear-bbc/, accessed 18 June 2013. 

  3. “Mitt Romney’s pants: ‘Magic underwear’ not enough to hand Mormon keys to White House,” The Sun (7 November 2012), http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4631729/Mitt-Romneys-pants.html, accessed 8 November 2012 and 18 June 2013.
     

  4. Grant Rollings, “My Mormon past left me afraid to have fun – Says Superman’s new Lois Lane, Amy Adams,” The Sun (18 June 2013), http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/film/4971639/man-of-steel-amy-adams-mormon.html, accessed 18 June 2013 and “Amy still has Mormon values,” The Nation (18 June 2013), http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/entertainment/18-Jun-2013/amy-still-has-mormon-values, accessed 18 June 2013. 

  5. George Gordon, “Mormon facing prison over polygamy,” The Daily Mail (n.d.), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-46821/Mormon-facing-prison-polygamy.html, accessed 18 June 2013. 

  6. “From ‘sacred underwear’ to Victoria’s Secret: the devout Mormon woman who chose love over faith when her husband became an atheist,” The Daily Mail (12 June 2012), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2158283/From-sacred-underwear-Victorias-Secret-The-devout-Mormon-woman-chose-love-faith-husband-atheist.html, accessed 18 June 2013. 

  7. “You’re a s*** and a w****: The abusive emails sent by ‘sexually deviant Mormon stabbed to death 27 times by his girlfriend,” The Daily Mail (3 January 2013), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2256887/Jodi-Arias-trial-Abusive-emails-sent-sexually-deviant-Mormon-stabbed-death-27-times-ex-girlfriend.html, accessed 18 June 2013. 

  8. Julie Boye, “My husband Alex Boye grilled in UK for ‘I’m a Mormon’ campaign,” Deseret News (17 June 2013), http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865581686/My-husband-Alex-Boye-grilled-in-UK-for-Im-a-Mormon-campaign.html, accessed 18 June 2013. 

  9. “British Press Quotes,” Brainyquote.com, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/british_press.html, accessed 18 June 2013. 

  10. Paul Revoir, “BBC is anti-Christian and snubs the elderly, according to the corporation’s OWN survey,” The Daily Mail (1 June 2011), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1392947/BBC-anti-Christian-snubs-elderly-finds-Corporations-OWN-survey.html, accessed 18 June 2013. 

  11. Michael Gryboski, “British Radio Personality Decries BBC as Anti-Religious,” CP World (19 September 2012), http://www.christianpost.com/news/british-radio-personality-decries-bbc-as-anti-religious-81909/, accessed 18 June 2013. 

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About Craig L. Foster

Craig L. Foster earned a MA and MLIS at Brigham Young University. He is also an accredited genealogist and works as a research consultant at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. He has published articles about different aspects of Mormon history. He is the author of two books, co-author of another and co-editor of a three volume series discussing the history and theology of plural marriage. Foster is also on the editorial board of the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal.

4 thoughts on “The British Press and Mormonism

  1. The BBC in particular, and the rest of the British Press in general, have been anti-Jewish for decades and more recently have added Christians in general and Mormons in particular to their list of religions they despise. However, they are kind and polite to the Muslims, so it is not religion in general. Hang in there Mormons, other Christians, and Jews. It is going to get worse before it gets better.

  2. I had a remarkably unpleasant experience early last year (I believe), when the BBC asked to interview me. The BBC reporter, John Sweeney, who ambushed Elder Holland later that day or the next day, was as congenial as could be until the camera came on. At that point, instantly, he became a prosecutor on speed, with hostile questions and half-truths hurtling out of his mouth like the staccato firing of a machine gun. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t come up with a single issue that I hadn’t already written (or at least read and thought considerably) about, and he was plainly disappointed that he hadn’t managed to knock me back on my heels. I suspect that’s the reason he didn’t include a single second of my 30-45 minute interview in his eventual report. Apparently he has a reputation as an attack dog. He certainly deserves it. It was, I think, the most unpleasant, adversarial interview I’ve ever done. I wasn’t favorably impressed. He acted as if he were dealing with a Mafia don.

  3. I happened to stumble across this piece via an aggregator and felt I had to point out an egregious error.

    When you write “even the BBC itself admitted to an anti-Christian bias (ref 10)” that is an entirely erroneous statement.

    The survey was conducted by the BBC to find out what people made of its output – and some respondents complained that it was anti-Christian.

    Even the piece you linked to linked to admits: “It is not known exactly how many respondents expressed the view that the BBC was anti-Christian.”

    You’ve taken the words of a few people, carefully selected by the Daily Mail, and used that as your basis for claiming that not only is the BBC anti-Christian, but that it has admitted it is anti-Christian?

    Either you have misunderstood the BBC report, or misrepresented it.

    Either way, may I suggest that you make sure of your facts before making such incorrect statements.

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