Thursday, February 6, 2014

On Thomas S. Monson's Court Date

The Mormon Internet, as glimpsed through the lens of my Facebook feed, has erupted recently with news that a British judge has issued a summons to none other than Thomas S. Monson. As can be expected, this has been accompanied by a flurry of opinions expressed via electronic invectives. I quickly found that I, too, had opinions on this matter; however, rather than express them on Facebook like a mouth-breathing plebeian (hi Facebook friends who might be reading this!), I'm going to put them on a blog. Like a sir.
"I believe I shall use the word 'Plebeian!' Jolly good!"

I had a lot of questions about this whole story from the moment I first saw a link to this article.  The first question for me, as I'm sure it was for most people, was: Is this even real? Granted, The Daily Telegraph is more respectable than its more tabloidy (totally a real word) cousin, The Daily Mail, but there's still this it that makes me wary.
"Slight dash of xenophobia? Brilliant!"
The next question, of course, is: What exactly is the plaintiff hoping to get from all this? I get that he's a disaffected former bishop and stake president, and I understand he's accusing the Church in general (and President Monson in particular) of perpetuating historical inaccuracies and teaching fraudulent doctrine in order to swindle tithing money from unsuspecting Church members. I also understand that he may be hoping for a similar situation to the one Scientology found itself in in France.

Yes, of course the Church perpetuates historical inaccuracies; I'm not arguing against that.  I too get upset when I find that correlated lesson manuals gloss over the really salient (or, more frequently, the really troubling) bits of our history. The multiple accounts of the First Vision, the sordid history of polygamy, the freaking-Adam-God-theory...there's a lot that gets mysteriously left out of Our Heritage.  Or is it mysterious? Is it really that out-of-the-ordinary to find a Church publishing a believer's history of itself rather than something more dispassionate? Is it really any stranger to leave out the bit about Joseph and Oliver using a witching rod than it would be to, say, downplay the fact that a certain church's founder mostly just really wanted to get divorced?
A man of his size would require at least four court summons.
Also, a civil court charging the Church with teaching fraudulent doctrine? I can picture the headlines now: "UK court finds LDS doctrine false, accidentally disproves entire Judeo-Christian religious spectrum; Buddhism, Hinduism put on notice."

The final question that's occurred to me, however, is this: Why are we so upset about this? More than likely, this is some weird judge making a strange ruling that will get thrown out or overturned any second now.  But even if that's not the case, what's so wrong with President Monson going to court? Though it's fallen out of vogue of late, Church leaders being brought before civil authorities is not exactly new.  Plus, why are we pretending like having the Prophet testify in court that he actually believes in the teachings of the Church is somehow bad? Isn't that the secret dream of 50,000+ missionaries around the world?
"A public forum for our prophet to express a heartfelt testimony of God, the Savior, and the Restoration, given in the face of persecution? No, thank you!"


  1. The other day someone linked to a legal analysis of the summons...I think it may have even been written on the exmo subreddit, and the basic reaction, cutting through the legal jargon, was "lol ya right." Long story short, as I remember: the bar for getting a summons like that is extremely low, the church will probably just send a lawyer to get the claim dismissed, and even if a court found the claims to have merit, which is absurdly unlikely, the plaintiff isn't uk citizen and the us would never extradite so it's irrelevant anyway.

    However, Mormonthink will get more page views and donations and can pat itself on the head for standing up for Truth and (self) Righteousness, because hardcore Mormons and exmos really are the same.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to sue the pope (the last one, the guy nobody liked)

    1. wait not plaintif...the other one. Or its UK equivalent. Bishop, maybe?

    2. The Boot, I believe, is the British term you are looking for. And yeah, the whole thing is kind of ridiculous, except as a ratings ploy. Speaking of which, I'm proud to announce that ExpertTextperts will now be suing the Dalai Lama.

      He knows what he did.

  2. As one of the plebian mouthbreathers who spends too much time on Facbeook, I decided I would reach for higher planes and leave a comment.

    I think much of the interest in this is two-fold:

    1.) You have a very loud vocal minority who feels that this suit (which, for all intents and purposes, is a piece of paper right now) is giving them validation for the hurt and pain they've experienced, and are hoping to bring the church to it's knees by this, therefore validating their belief system that the church is a fraud.

    2.) There's a lot of Mormons out there (both believer and exMormon) who find this to be trite, "bizarre" (as many outlets have reported it), and frankly silly for Phillips, Bloor, Ralph et al in involved in the suit. According to many I've talked to, there is a lot of frustration that by those supporting the suit and involved in the suit continuing to act as if this will bring down the church, it perpetuates the stereotype of the angry bitter exMormon, something that many of those who have left the church and are opposed to this suit work actively to correct.

    3.) Most of the active believers don't know about it because either they don't follow the ups-and-downs of the Mormon cultural movement as many online (both bloggernacle and other outlets), or they find it frivolous for the rationale that you posted earlier - the TRUTH will come forth, Pres. Monson will testify, and we are being persecuted for our beliefs.

    If I were to take a step back and think about this from a Mormon cultural movement (taking religion out of all of it), I think the most surprising thing has been the way this suit has been received by the public. I'm not sure if it would make a difference the timing of this, but I would speculate that perhaps 10 years ago this would have been a salacious story, because 10 years ago Mormons were still kind of cultural oddities. However, take the Mormon Moment of 2012, the exposure to Mormonism that many outlets were learning to comprehend during the Romney Primary and Presidential run, and I think you find an American public who still thinks that Mormons are weird, but good-hearted people.

    I posted this on a Facebook group, but the thing that stands out in stark contrast to me is that many, MANY reputable news outlets have found legal experts who seem to express incredulity that this has come this far, and appear to think that the Phillips/Bloor/Ralph group are a bit nutty. I'm not seeing many reputable outlets that are supporting this, or thinking this is a legitimate thing, which makes me skeptical if there's really anything legitimate here at all (despite what /r/exmormon and the other outlets say).

    1. Plebeian mouth breathers are always welcome! I like the point you brought up about the way this has been depicted in the news media vs. how it may have been depicted ten years ago. Interesting stuff.

      Also, I feel for the ex-Mormon community at large right now. It sucks to have someone who's kind of a knucklehead suddenly become the unofficial spokesperson for your beliefs. It reminds me of when Randy Bott suddenly became the voice of Mormonism on racial issues (shudder). Lots of good people on all sides of the issue, and lots of weirdos on all sides as well.

  3. We all need a little weirdness in life, right? If it is true (which they talked about it on Radio From Hell, so it must be true), then it will disappear sooner than later. If it doesn't go away, it will probably end up far less disastrous than a fraud charge against the President of the church could.

    I find the whole thing mildly annoying (what judge with half a brain signs that summons?), and am certain it will be over before it started.

    1. Reading the USA Today piece and hearing the RFH crew (which is made of a nevermo Catholic in Gina, and 2 former Mormons in Kerry and Bill) evicerate the suit was very eye opening to me.

      I mean, from the beginning, all we had was a piece of paper (the summons). You would think that from the Phillips side, they had issued a checkmate to both Monson and the LDS church. Granted, I'm not a lawyer, but a few discussions with US-practicing lawyer friends told me "It's a piece of paper on a website right now - that's it."

      "I find the whole thing mildly annoying."
      I think that, or (as an exMormon friend described) "the exmormon revenge fantasy" are the best ways to describe how I view Summons-gate.

  4. Thank you for your "expert" analysis. If I had come to you for legal advice I could have saved myself a lot of time and money that could have been spent on more worthwhile pursuits.

    I also think comments about a 'half brained' judge extremely unsettling when aimed at a very experienced district judge sitting at the pre-eminent Magistrates Court in England and Wales.

    Maybe the 'half brained' remark should be reserved for anonymous internet posters who pontificate on a matter they know nothing about.

    See you at trial.