“Mormon Fundamentalists” on Law & Order

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Did anyone watch Law & Order last night on NBC? If you didn’t, you missed an interesting parody based on the events that transpired in Texas with the FLDS Church. Instead of the FLDS Church it was The Church of the Path. Today’s guest post is by The Captain.

I was completely taken aback during this episode when a boy that was a suspect in a murder tried to run out of the interrogation room. The police detectives grabbed him, ripping his shirt. Under that shirt were temple garments. Only the top was shown, including sacred markings. Wow. This scene grabbed my full attention.
In the scene after this, the detectives discussed the Mormon Church. It seemed as if this scene was the shows “disclaimer” that the Mormon Church was not being portrayed. It included statements such as (paraphrasing) “Mormons allowed blacks into the Church 30 years ago” when a detective used the Church as a possible reason the suspect didn’t feel comfortable with the black detectives. And the repeated phrase explaining the difference between the Mormon Church and a fundamentalist Mormon Church.
The rest of the show highlighted polygamy, and put it in the worst light possible. But an interesting scene was when detectives captured the Prophet of The Church of the Path on his “pilgrimage” from Salt Lake City to Palmyra. During the capture scene the Prophet gives a brief history on Joseph Smith.
There was not anything that bothered me about this episode EXCEPT the temple garments. As liberal as I am, and as estranged from the Church I feel at times the irreverent showing of temple garments makes my blood boil. Is this an overreaction or was tonight’s episode mockery of the sacred?

Comments 30

  1. Couldn’t say. Based on the promos, I made it a point to watch CSI:NY instead.

    Were the garments portrayed in a way that non-Mormon viewers would recognize them as something other than a normal undershirt?

  2. I didn’t watch it…for much the same reason…

    I saw no need to bother with a show that was going to obviously be covering something that they were going to inevitably mess up.

    No thanks.

  3. 1. Last Lemming

    Yes, they were portrayed in a way that non-Mormon viewers would recognize them. The detective even asked the suspect what the markings were, and the next scene had another detective explain what “The Holy Garments of the Priesthood” were. This drew a response from another detective mocking the “magic underwear.”

  4. I didn’t see the show and have limited my tv viewing to what I select off of Netflix. I don’t have as much of a problem with a glimpse of garments as I do with the tendency of popular media wrapping up a patchy Mormon themed story line mixed in with a time limited action drama that ties it up in an unsavory package for the typical watcher. They have to develop the conflict and resolution within those constraints and it often results in taking advantage of a titillating or controversial tidbit and spinning a conclusion that there is only wierdness or despair in being a part of such a religion. The depiction of the temple rite portrayed in the movie September Dawn cast a similar light. A setting of darkness or the underlying theme of something sinister appears. The watcher has no contrast to see how a member of the religion can find joy, happiness or positive spirituality through the religion.

    I work in health care, so I’m accustomed to non-members having familiarity with the LDS garments. A dramatic encounter of someone seeing garments for the first time would not seem unfamiliar to me. Yes, it seems that the televised ripping of a shirt just exactly so a sacred symbol is exposed is an intentionally irreverent display, but if that had been countered by the inclusion of a well-rounded LDS character then it could have been balanced. Why couldn’t they, for instance, meet an LDS detective who is a good worker and a positive example a typical member?

  5. I didn’t see the episode, but it sounds irreverent, yes. I’m sure many LDS viewers were offended and disappointed, and I think it is appropriate to feel this way.

    I also think it’s appropriate for non-LDS people to speak of the LDS garments however they see fit. Just because something is sacred to Mormons, doesn’t mean it has to be sacred to non-Mormons as well. It is a kind and courteous gesture when people (or TV stations) respect the Mormon request that garments be respected, but I think it’s being overly-sensitive to think they have done us wrongly when they don’t respect the request. They simply haven’t done us a favor.

  6. I saw the episode. when the scene where they discovered the garments came on, I was upset. But as I watched the show it turned out better than I expected. the strange thing was the marks were written on his underwear with black marker – so they were very obvious. That upset me, but then one of the detectives (doing their research online) said that normally the underwear have the marks sewn in, not marked in black like that – so that is how they figured out he was not mainstream mormon, and they said something like this kid must have made up his own garments.
    I didn’t think it was too bad, if you paid attention to everything that was said they were factually correct on everything. the only problem is that many people still miss these details and will come away with the same old stereotypes and misconceptions. oh well, as long they are not blatantly cruel towards mormon beliefs, the publicity also results in some open-minded people looking into the church more – with some positive results.

  7. I was wondering when somebody would post on this. I saw it. It grabbed my attention, to say the least. The show went out of its way (at multiple points) to distinguish between “mainstream Mormons” and the fundamentalists potrayed, but the showing and discussion of the garments left me feeling … I don’t know … violated. I’m not sure the writers intended it to have this effect, but it did on me. I was pretty angry, to be completely honest.

    Also, the fact that the home-made garments were supposedly on a 14-year old boy (as well as other young, single boys) was a bit strange.

    (And did you notice the very beginning of the first scene — where the lost-looking fundamentalist boy stares as two men hold hands walking out of the theater. You don’t think that was intentional…)

  8. What bothered me more than the garments was the way everything about polygamy boiled down to sex-and-nothing-but-sex. They had the young plural wife on the stand describing her wedding night in greater detail than Law & Order usually has any subway rape victim describe her assault — I felt like everybody in the courtroom, on stage during the filming, and in the audience for the broadcast was holding their breath and drooling with glazed eyes as they listened to that testimony. Even their silly parody of a prophet never uttered a single line about religion as religious people (of any stripe) know it — everything he said was the worst possible sex-slave nonsense. It was a disgusting performance, overall.

  9. I missed the first part with the garments. The Sinclair oil can part made me laugh a little, and some parts felt more like a mormon infomercial.

    Not the best Law and Order I’ve seen.

  10. I saw the first part of the show. It was in very poor taste and offended me. Apart from that the story was incredibly far-fetched. Having known some fundamentalists personally, I can tell you that the last place they would ever live or visit is New York City.

  11. The disclaimers were hilarious in this episode of Law and Order. Equally funny was the gay couple exiting the theater at the beginning, and leaving no doubt as to what group has been waiting in the bushes for the right time to strike fear into the hearts of the biggest donators to the Yes on Proposition 8 brigade – The Mormon Church and its members.

    In other words, this chapter of L & O could have been done in many ways, and with many different outcomes, but the points about “magic underwear” and harsh treatment of women were underscored because some people with creative control and Hollywood clout got pissed off that Prop 8 lost in the recent California elections.

    I have just one more comment. The Mormon Church has a very interesting history of defining marriage to suit its own goals and objectives.

    Class dismissed.

  12. I have to say, I was less offended than I thought I would be. The tone of the show was pretty inconsistent, between the far fetched and parts that seem scripted by lds.org.

    – Colm Meaney’s southern fried accent. He’s from AZ, not AL! (Although I am normally a big Colm Meaney fan).
    – That the fundies would head for NYC – kind of like the Beverly Hillbillies or Green Acres, but with FLDS.
    – The knowledge of Mormonism ranged from nonexistent to weird stereotypes to a recitation of the Encyclopedia or Mormonism.
    – That the motor oil from SLC was somehow relevant to the AZ fundies. Perhaps they missed the point that to the fundies the SLC-based church is of Satan?
    – Is Palmyra, NY really big enough to have a car rental company there? Really?

    Other observations:
    – I’ve been to the site that the lieutenant was searching on about garments. It traces the history of garments from JS to the present. The site is factual and interesting, but it is a faithshaker for some. Was showing the site a way to direct people to the story behind the “weirdness” of Mormonism? I would think a non-Mo would find it completely ridiculous.
    – The polygamy angle and religious persecution angle was interesting, which is why I love legal shows. The judge was very pro-religious rights. The ADAs were disgusted by the sex-slaving polygamists. Jack McCoy gave an impassioned speech about the naturalness of polygamy given the male imperative to have multiple sexual partners, and suggested the pligs were “steering into the skid.” I never thought I’d hear Jack McCoy defending any fundamentalists. The fact that they respected the wife’s right to choose to go back was interesting, too. It seems as though they were ultimately unwilling to blame the victim. Very interesting development.

    Just heard tonight on 30 Rock: “I thought you’d be some place US law can’t touch you, like Bali or Utah.” Nice.

  13. I am extremly surpised and I disagree with #6.
    Being respectful is not doing someone a favor.

    You can say that there is nothing we can do to prevent them from talking about it and that we just have to deal with it but being respectful is not a favor.

    And they have the rights to talk about anything they want, this is true. they have the legal right to talk about it and they even have the right to say anything even if it is not true because it is a fictionnal show.

    But then if we accept this as being right why don’t we behave the same way toward other people? Because we know it is wrong to do it to others. therefore there is no reason why we should consider it right when it is about us. I am not advocating for protest or whatever. I just think that we should not accept as being ok.

  14. Hawkgrrrl (#14): in continuing with pop culture references to mormondom, on the night after this episode of CSI aired, Stephen Colbert took a shot a Mormon “magical underwear” as well (reference is at 6:42; 5:22 for full context). Zeitgeist?, Meme? you be the judge!

  15. It’s interesting to compare and contrast how Hollywood portrays fundie Mormons. On Big Love, Bill and his 3 wives don’t wear garments (although I haven’t seen enough episodes to know if Harry Dean Stanton’s Prophet character does). I wasn’t offended by the L&O episode. I thought they did a great job of separating us from the fundies, enough that I felt they weren’t discussing my beliefs at all. It looked like another “ripped from the headlines” episode, this time involving the FLDS.

  16. I don’t understand why Mormons get their knickers in such a twist whenever someone talks about the garments. It’s a fact of life that wearing garments is one of the most unique and bizarre things about members of the church, and that outsiders are naturally drawn to the unique and bizarre. And the more we insist on others ignoring them, the more they will want to know what’s so special about our underwear.

    I am soooo said, “But then if we accept this as being right why don’t we behave the same way toward other people? Because we know it is wrong to do it to others. therefore there is no reason why we should consider it right when it is about us. I am not advocating for protest or whatever. I just think that we should not accept as being ok.”

    As much as you want to believe that we don’t do such things, we do. We routinely treat as common things that others hold sacred. For example, do you refer to “Muhammed” or the “Prophet Muhammed” when speaking of the founder of Islam? Muslims find it very profane not to speak the name without the title. Do you ever discuss or read about the secret rites of Freemasonry? Have you ever discussed the clothing, both mundane and ceremonial that orthodox jews wear? Ever thought that a Sikh wearing a turban was a bit silly?

    I actually thought that the episode of L&O was fairly well done. They went out of their way to differentiate the subjects of the episode from the CoJCoLDS. They didn’t go out of their way to belittle or denigrate religious beliefs any more than usual (can’t claim this was a witch hunt against LDS, I’ve seen much worse in their treatment of Christian fundamentalism).

  17. I must be weird because I don’t do the things you mentioned because I think it would be rude or because it is none of my business (depends on the situation).
    Plus I grew up with muslims all my life.
    I work in an environment that is highly muslim and I only hear people refering to “Prophet Muhammed” when they are freaks on the internet. I have NEVER heard it. But I have heard “Muhammed” from muslims all the time or just “the prophet”.
    Now it can be because I am european but I do live in a city that is over 50% muslim.

  18. I think the real reason Latter-Day Saints would “get their knickers in a knot” is the same reason anyone would be distressed if Holywood (pun intended) exposed their underwear; it’s very personal and totally inappropriate in polite society. How would you feel if someone at work walked up to you and said; Hey let me see your Victoria’s Secrets! You’d get brought up on sexual harassment charges.

    With regard to the LDS garments; They serve the same purpose as the vestments worn by pastors or priests in other denominations; They are a symbol and reminder of the commitment the wearer has to their faith. The big difference is that in LDS congregations there are literally dozens of ordained deacons, teachers, priests, elders and high priests in the congregation, rather than just the one leading the service. Latter-Day Saints not only have a lay ministry, but almost all worthy male members over the age of 12 have some priesthood authority.

    The timing of this seems too co-incidental to not wonder if it isn’t just dirty politics being played by the GLBT agenda in LA. Besides, if you want to see some really strange underwear, have a look at the transvestite protestors of Prop 8. Rocky Horror 2 1/2.

  19. I was waiting for someone to point out that the original poster missed the name of the group — not “Church of the Path” but “True Path.” You know, that word Mormons love so much — true.

  20. Me thinks many of the Mormon faith are not quite as tolerant and forgiving as they would like everyone to believe. Religion, in its purest form, is all about relieving burdens and championing the cause of the underdog (Matthew 28). But not so with the LDS, and they will argue all day long that they are the epitome of this.

    One more interesting item and a rhetorical question re Mormons. Why is it that the LDS semi-annual conference trumps the holiest day of the year in all Christendom? Whenever Easter falls on the first Sunday in April (approximately 25% of the time), the Mormon church conference proceeds on track as if it were any day BUT Easter, and LDS General Conference never has given way to that very holy day. Ever. No wonder people have a difficult time referring to Mormons as real Christians.

    Easter is a movable feast determined by the phases of the moon after the vernal equinox, and it’s been that way since the advent of the Savior himself. So, why do the LDS leaders mess with it? Ignorance? No, highly doubtul? Disrespect? No, not likely. Arrogance??? Bingo. The “one and only true church on the face of the earth” needs to do things the way it sees fit without regard to the feelings and positions of others. Why? Because it can, and it’s just one more way of separating itself from the mainstream religions while proclaiming itself to be just that. And therein lies the rub.

    If you question these precepts, you’ve lost your way, and if you’ve lost your way, you’ve lost your testimony. And if you’ve lost your testimony, you’re a threat to others and are subject to being rejected and dismissed out of hand. Sorry folks. It’s as simple – – – and as disturbing as that.

  21. It SHOULD make your blood boil. This SHOULD make you angry and every other member of the church furious! This was beyond wrong, regardless of who was targeted. NBC and its writer knew the garments are sacred. They knew they are not meant to be discussed (the very fact that they are worn underneath clothing is a dead give away). And yet they aired the program on national TV. Talk about disrespectful. They would never dream of doing something like this for any other mainstream religion because they know the hand of justice would come down on them hard. But the Mormon church has been so persecuted in the past and they have a reputation as amiable and willing to turn the other cheek, people think they’ll get a free pass if they target the Mormons! Talk about disgusting.

  22. As I was flying back from a business trip I watched this episode that was rerun last night. Anyone notice that this occured the day before the CA Judges debate today about Prop 8? and about how bad Mormons are? Coincidence? I think not. For all the comments about why this was a good episode blah blah blah, You need to read the scriptures again to realize that is how the devil works. He takes half truths and distorts it. Don’t assume that those who produced and re ran this episode didn’t know that they wanted to “influence” those who are being blinded. “Pearls before swine”. I was appaled by the discussion and detailed information about our garments. Even if they did say oh it’s not the LDS church is the Fundamentalists… I always laugh when they say please strike that from the records… lol the damage is already said and done… oh well, be strong and faithful, DC 14:7 “.keep his commandments..endure to the end….ye shall have eternal life…”

  23. If you thought this was insensitive, apparently Big Love goes to the temple in the next episode – complete with hiring an ex-Mormon to make sure the temple robes and interior temple scenes are realistic.

  24. I understand some people think the Mormon church deserves to have all “their crazies” made public via tv, but to show the garment, something they hold sacred would be similar to taking a camera into the Holy of Holies in the King Solomon’s time. It just isn’t necessary.

    Should Hollywood showcase beliefs – why not? It is their right. Do what you will, but at least be respectful.

    Big Love is a perfect example of throwing respect out the window. The first seasons made the practice of polygamy seem as if it was about nothing more than sex. Now, ironically after Prop 8 and executive producer Tom Hanks called Mormons un-American, Big Love is directly attacking the Mormon church’s doctrine. Okay, fine. They have the right, but having ex-Mormons who happen to be gay and have publicly stated their disdain for the church’s position become the ex-Mormon experts seems odd. When they filmed Apollo 13, they didn’t have someone who once worked for NASA and then got fired act as the authority on the mission. They used someone who was there. They didn’t use some one who wrote the wikipedia page on Apollo 13, they used someone who was involved with mission control on Apollo 13.

    My, the death of journalism not only promotes “I’m an expert because I said so” mentality, it also throws ethics out the window.

    Go ahead and mock churches. Make fun of their doctrine, make jokes on late night tv. All we ask is a little respect. Too bad Hollywood just doesn’t get it.

  25. As a Bible-believing Christian, I want to offer my perspective. The healthy exchange of POVs here is, to me, remarkable, and is helping me to get beyond my prejudices regarding the LDS church. I teach in a Christian high school that took the step recently of admitting a Mormon girl, and believe me, this had its difficult times; such as when we were discussing “cults” and I made an off-hand remark about what I understood about LDS celestial marriage. My chagrin was deep when I then realized that the Mormon girl was sitting in my class! How I wish my colleagues had told me that she was going to be one of my students! NOW that I knew who the Mormon girl was, did we ever have a “spirited” discussion! Over the past year, I have grown to really love and appreciate her; she is deeply talented, very hard working, and is currently leading a high school service club. She actively participates in our worship activities, and contributes well in our Christian Perspectives classes. Her parents are great, as well:) There are deep and real theological differences between LDS beliefs (as I read above and elsewhere) and Biblical Christians. Yet, I detect vigorous debate here, though with agreement on the fundamentals. No “brain washed” single ideological orthodoxy; almost like “real” Christians:) …Through her example and this site, I resolve to worry less about debating about “cults”, and stick to watching for the planks in my eye. Jesus will judge, and so long as we all look to Him as our Savior,and do our utmost to follow His teaching, we can share the burden of carrying His cross.

  26. I came across this discussion thread while doing brief research on this episode for a blog post I wrote. I read to the bitter end because some of your comments were simply delightful. I was raised LDS and left the church at age 16, been happy ever since, and have no real problem living amongst the Mormons here in Utah. I tend to view Mormons as far more tolerant and considerate than many other Christians (such as Baptists). But I keep forgetting that every religion has a few bad seeds.

    Let me clarify something for you guys: Most of America thinks Mormons are wacky. Why? We’re all used to bizarre Catholic rituals and clothing (seriously, why do Catholic hats get bigger and bigger the higher up the food chain they are?), or yarmulkes and Hasidic Jew hair and clothing, or the “speaking in tongues” amongst evangelicals, or the prayer rituals of Muslims. Really, Mormons don’t believe in anything much more wacky than anyone else. I mean, how do you get any kookier than, say, Jack Chick? Or any of those 700 Club morons?

    So why are Mormons viewed as so weird or odd in ways that these other religions aren’t? Secrecy. Y’all gotta make everything a secret. Everything’s “sacred” and can’t be discussed. You want to get an outsider interested in what you’re doing, make it a secret. Let just little tiny bits and pieces out (like the knowledge that Mormons wear “Jesus Jammies”), just enough to chum the waters, and then clam up about it. Guess what? You DO wear “magic underwear”. And Jews wear beanies. You both have religious reasons for doing it, and calling them beanies or whatever doesn’t change that. Get over yourselves. Really. God isn’t going to punish you for someone else’s lack of respect for your religion. How bizarre would that be? You don’t even believe in God punishing you for Adam’s transgressions, but you believe He’s going to send down the wrath because your fellow man thinks it’s funny that you sew symbols on your underwear? Lighten up.

    Oh, and to P. Henderson: replace the word “Mormon” with “Black” and see how tolerant your message suddenly is. Really, dude, emphasizing over and over what a surprisingly normal, nice and intelligent girl the Mormon was doesn’t make the case for your tolerance. It just makes you sound like a condescending jerk. If you weren’t intending to come across that way, then by all means, simply alter the way you speak about her and other non-“real” Christians and be on your way.

  27. If you have a true understanding of the Mormon faith you would understand that we believe in a living prophet of God and twelve apostles. What would be more fitting on Easter than to hear from the twelve apostles and Gods prophet about the resurrection of Christ?

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