By Ruth Cuevas
Book of Mormon figurines, “Follow the Prophet” trading cards, and feature films based on the lives of missionaries can all be found at your local toy store, grocery store or movie theater, and they are raising concern among some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I have a problem with selling church items,” said Jessica Peterson, a BYU Bookstore employee. “The church has asked people not to do it. Yet, we still carry it.”
Some individuals call this trend the commercialization of the Church of Jesus Christ. They feel that more and more individuals are finding ways to use their faith not only for spiritual security, but for financial security as well.
“I just think that they”re focusing on richer people like if you have money you can get things oriented with the church,” Peterson said. “Yet, there are people who don”t have that kind of money to spend.”
Deseret Management, the parent company of Deseret Book, had revenues of more than over $800 million for the year 2001. This included sales of such LDS themed merchandise as books, hobby materials, music, and movies.
Katrina Sine, 24, and producer of three independent films, from Salt Lake City, said she believes that the recent growth of the Mormon movie industry carries this same air of church commercialization.
“I think that there are Mormon culture movie genres that are used strictly to exploit a certain percentage of the Mormon culture, by bringing a subject that relates to them in some way, and using it to exploit their money for strictly financial gain,” Sine said. “It has nothing to do with any type of quality in my opinion.”
She emphasized that the Richard Dutcher film “God”s Army”, released in August of 2000, was the highest grossing independent film of any independent film released during that year.
Creators of such LDS-based products sometimes like to focus on how their works represent a missionary effort, designed to inspire intrigue about the church in the minds of individuals who are not of the LDS faith. Yet not all people believe this is an effective method.
“It has no appeal to anyone that”s not a member of the church,” said Camilla Zimmerman, an accounting major, from Port Neches, Texas. “There is no appeal whatsoever.”
Some people, however, find nothing wrong in using the church as a basis for products and films.
“That”s all anyone”s doing,” said John Perkins, a pre-communications major, from Dayton, Ohio. “They”re making money off of any aspect of life. I don”t see it as a negative thing.”
Perkins said he thinks that the filmmakers are only producing movies that appeal to those of the LDS faith.
“It”s identifying with culture,” Perkins said. “That”s a big thing for Mormons. So, to see feature films of their lives is a big deal.”
Sine agrees that members of the LDS faith are looking for films that represent their interests and belief systems.
“There”s a specific leg of the Mormon culture that are sick of watching shows, movies and music that are geared toward things we don”t believe in,” Sine said. “They are hungry for something about us, something that relates to our morals and value systems.”
Sine also said she thinks there is a place for films featuring LDS culture, if done with sincerity and good intent.
“When something is sincere, when a film or a broadcast or a newscast is sincere and comes from the heart for the purpose of educating people about our religion or an aspect of life they are unfamiliar with, that can only bring positive effects,” she said.