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“Big Love” endowment ceremony — relief or dismay?

March 16, 2009


After all the pre-broadcast anguish,  the  ”Big Love”  episode depicting a Mormon endowment ceremony went ahead as planned and appears to have generated more relief than outrage.

The TV show about a polygamous family has long been a thorn in the side of the growing Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ  of  Latter-day Saints, although the Church refrained from getting drawn into a battle with cable channel HBO over the particularly controversial March 15 episode.

For those who did not cancel their subscriptions to HBO, and who watched Sunday’s episode, many thought it portrayed the sacred Mormon ritual with respect. “I think (actress) Jeanne Tripplehorn did a great job of showing how important this ceremony is to Mormons. She really hit a home run with that scene, ” wrote “Marigoldmama” on HBO’s “Big Love” forum.

One HBO forum poster admitted signing up to the premium cable channel service just to see Sunday’s episode, although that person seemed to object more to the “contrived and dumb writing on the show” than the endowment ceremony scene.

Over on — the social networking forum for Mormons and those interested in learning more about the religion — “aspenmgy” judged the episode “pretty lame” adding “they got it right but it still felt so wrong.”

Did you boycott the show, drop your HBO subscription,  or did you make sure you tuned in on Sunday? And can any TV show accurately portray the complexities of any religion?


I think Mormons and Mormon apologists are really the only people interested in how it came off, as they are the only group with a vested interested in protecting their ceremonies from public purview. To the general population it probably looked weird, but no weirder than any other religious ceremony. By issuing a statement of discontent, the LDS Church probably stoked more interest in it than if they had just stayed quiet.

All in all, it was only a fraction of the ceremony and in my opinion was depicted tastefully, albeit too far removed from the background of the Temple ceremony to make sense to anyone not already familiar with it.

Posted by Justin | Report as abusive

I was relieved with how little the scene showed, however there were enough errors that I found it irritating. I actually laughed when, at the end of the scene the temple worker said that their “15 minutes” was up. There’s never time limits in the temple. Also, the endowment ceremony is about 90 minutes long, and to only show the end stripped the scene of any context. I also found the church court completely devoid of authenticity. They said they researched “up the wazoo”, but they fell far short. They should get their money back from the ex-Mormon consultant they hired.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

As an avid watcher of big love, I am a critic of the LDS church.
I find it funny that Dave, a viewer who posted earlier expected the entire 50 minute duration to revolve around a 90 minute ceremony for the purpose of context.. I also find it funny that enraged mormons critical of the show, gave it their undivided attention. Other mormons even added the channel. Guess what.. HBO won.
I find it really lame that mormons try so hard to disown the practice of polygamy in this lifetime, yet they seldom admit that in the precious afterlife, plural marriage is one of the foundations and must be maintained, as well as having tons of kids. On their own planets right? Isnt that how it goes?
Maybe the producers misrepresented some things about modern day mormons, but they did write in something that is correct. They didnt include any blacks in any scenes, religious or non-religious… not even as extras. That would be 100% accurate to present day Mormon life.

Posted by Sema | Report as abusive

Have been through Temple sessions many times over the past 30 years, Dave, and certainly didn’t detect a host of “errors” as you suggest (actually only noticed one word from “Barb”). Also, the only “context” needed for effect was what HBO presented, i.e., passing through the veil. Did you expect them to portray an entire hour (or 90-minute) endowment session? Still, as a practicing/active Mormon, I felt the portrayal was presented in a surprisingly respectful manner.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

@ Justin –

The statement by the LDS church seemed designed to calm down some of its members who were getting quite excited about the program and calling for boycotts.

Also, it doesn’t matter how “tastefully” it was done. It is something that we consider sacred – too sacred for even us to talk about between ourselves outside of the temple. It is not for public consumption. The only reason they could portray it as accurately as they did was because of someone who betrayed their promise not to talk about it – even though that person is no longer a believer s/he promised not to reveal it.

Furthermore, no matter that they “researched it out the wazoo” they could never accurately portray it because the spirit of the occasion is the MOST important part and that cannot exist outside the temple. What people saw was incomprehensible to them regardless of whether they thought it touching or wacky.

Posted by MinJae Lee | Report as abusive

I am a LDS woman who leads a more liberal life than staunch. Some may consider me “less active”. For me, I totally enjoy “Big Love” and watch it every Sunday. I was concerned about this particular episode with all the whisperings about it.I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was not as invasive or as revealing as I was led to believe. My concerns were more or less pacified. I do wish that the dialogue at the veil was not permitted and so accurate, but what is done, is done.


I think it’s ridiculous how much news and entertainment media bend over backwards so as not to incur the wrath of the LDS. No other religious group gets the kid-glove treatment that the Mormons do.

Posted by Jamie | Report as abusive

My husband and I (mostly me) are interested in the Mormon religion because his daughter converted to the religion about 10 years ago. It was never an issure until she married four years ago. As soon as she married ,our family realtionship decreased in significance drastically and her life now revolves around her Mormon in-laws. There seems to be such a hyprocisy in the Mormon religion to promote family and rituals, yet they can treat family members not Mormon as outsiders and insignificant beings. We live in a predominately Mormon community and what I see in “Big Love” is quite authenic in alot of respects. No matter what your religious affiliation everyone should be treated with respect and dignity.

Posted by Nadine | Report as abusive

To Sema, I find it interesting that someone who is a critic of the church to spend so much time researching the doctrine just to try and find the errors with it. If you are against something, why would you not just stay away from it? But you seem to search it out in an attempt to humiliate those that align with it. Maybe all that energy could be put to better use … like planting trees or volunteering in your community.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

Regarding the comment from Sema about no Blacks be represented. I’m not sure why HBO chose not to show any Blacks but that could be said of many other shows.
And you are incorrect about your 100% there are Black
LDS members as I am one of VERY many.
So it appears you are not 100% accurate either.

Posted by AJ | Report as abusive

Nadine, it seems like there’s a problem with your daughter, not with the Church. If your daughter has chosen not to spend time with you, that’s her choice, not the Church’s. Like you said, the Church does nothing but promote family. It seems like you’re unwilling to admit that your family problems are just that: your OWN problems. Instead you want to blame the Church. How silly.

Posted by Jake | Report as abusive

Revealing any portion of the sacred ceremony that we promise not to disclose is, in and of itself, a sin. By the same token, all Mormons sin to some degree in one way or another. That some choose to disobey one commandment, yet become offended when someone else breaks another is hypocritical. Yes it’s true that Mormons would rather not have their most sacred ceremonies splashed on the screen, out of context and, thus, impossible to accurately represent; but that is simply the nature of media. In India, to show someone desecrating the turban of a Sikh is horribly offensive and would be banned. In Muslim culture, to show someone mistreating the Qur’an in any way is nearly a capital offense. It is not so in America. Religion no longer holds any sacred place in our popular culture. The result is that non-secular belief is folly and nearly all media representation thereof is a mockery. ‘People’ may say they empathize, but it’s impossible to respect what you think to be stupid.

Posted by Pablo | Report as abusive

I have posted many comments and reply’s to Blogs with LDS comments on the show Big Love and the polygamists family scene of the endowment ceremony. My comments have been directed to statements made by LDS members about their fundamentalist mormon perspectives. Although my commments contain no slander, bigotry, or profanity all of the blogs created by LDS or LDS affiliates will not post my comment after I announce I am fundamentalist or point out the disrespect they have shown to our communities.

Posted by Harmy | Report as abusive

To Jake:
I have a question. You said to the lady above that the Church has nothing to do with whether or not someone communicates with their family – but isn’t it true that if your family member is ex-communicated (like in Sunday’s episode) that you are no longer permitted to associate with them? Please correct me if I am wrong!


I would NEVER support anything that shows such disrespect to a group of people and their religous beliefs. I do not understand what makes people think that it is okay to air something that is so special to others. There are so many issues in todays world that need to be addressed why go after this. I have no respect for anyone associated with this show. With a world wide membership of 13 million and growing the Truth of the Lord will prevail.

Posted by Lisa | Report as abusive

AJ – great post. I get so irritated with critics of the LDS church who say that we are anti-black and that there are no blacks in the church. Evidently they haven’t seen the thousands of Church members in the various African nations or even here in America. Heck, we even ahve temples in Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria!

For the skeptics who choose to fight against the Gospel rather than ignore it (great post as well Jim)…

It’s a sad thing that we live amongst so many uninformed and stubborn antis. But the Church will go on with or without the support of folks like Sema.

Posted by Nathan | Report as abusive

Sema –

Enjoy some photos:

Posted by Nathan | Report as abusive

Nadin, with respect to your family you can not blame the Mormon church for your daughters actions.

“There seems to be such a hyprocisy in the Mormon religion to promote family and rituals, yet they can treat family members not Mormon as outsiders and insignificant beings.”

You can not blame the whole group of people because one person of that group is not showing you what the group believes. I don’t know the reasons why your daughter’s relationship has decreased. Her actions are diffidently not taught in the Mormon church. With respect I challenge you talk with the missionaries. They have a message of our savior Jesus Christ.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

HBO subscriber for 24 years, active Mormon and fan of Big Love. I canceled my subscription due to the airing of this episode. I feel it was disrepectful not only to people of the Mormon faith but any other faith that practices sacred and spiritual ceremonies. It was wrong.

Posted by Debbie | Report as abusive

I find Jim’s response interesting for many reasons.
1) He did not dispute anything I said to be false. Rather he is wishing I had not known these things at all. Any religion that has a strong doctrine can withstand any questions raised by providing rational answers. Jim did not do this. Instead he attempts to call me an unproductive person just because I know too much for his liking. As a mormon why would you discourage someone’s attempt to learn about religion and know more about God? I studied theology in college, forgive me. It doesnt mean I do not volunteer in the community.
As for AJ, I never said there were no blacks in the LDS religion. In fact there are, but only because BYU would receive accreditation with the enrollment demographics. My HBO reference was only to point out another inconvenient truth Mormons dont like to talk about. Instead of talking about it, their only line of defense attack the people who bring it to light.
*Ignorance is not Bliss

Posted by Sema | Report as abusive

I also am amused about how, according to Jim,if youre against something, youre supposed to “stay away from it.”
Yet all the mormons who are avidly tuning into, and lambasting HBO are naturally entitled right? Wouldnt you just ignore something you are against? Would love to see you explain that one to me.

Posted by Sema | Report as abusive

“I never said there were no blacks in the LDS religion. In fact there are, but only because BYU would receive accreditation with the enrollment demographics.”

Sema, you are so very incorrect in your assumptions. There are thousands of Black members of the Mormon faith, who have never been to or affiliated with BYU.

Posted by Alisha | Report as abusive

Sema, were there Mexican, Chinese, Italian? Just because HBO choose not to have any blacks in the show does not mean anything at all. You should ask HBO why this is the case. There are more members out of the U.S. than in The U.S. Many different nationalities and backgrounds. Your assumptions are false.

“In fact there are, but only because BYU would receive accreditation with the enrollment demographics.”

This has nothing to do with black membership in the church.

Another false statement,

“They didn’t include any blacks in any scenes, religious or non-religious… not even as extras. That would be 100% accurate to present day Mormon life.”

In my area where I live we have no black members so if this is true than nowhere is there black members. How silly is that. that is a fallacy if I ever heard one.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

I am an active Mormon and a regular watcher of Big Love. I thought the temple ceremony portrayal was very accurate, for the portion that was depicted. While I don’t care for our sacred ceremony to be portrayed, we as Mormons can’t expect to keep secrets in today’s world. As to the comment about ‘your 15 minutes is up’ being innacurate,I have been chased out the Celestial Room several times myself after staying around 30 minutes with my husband. But I was informed I was staying too long in a more discrete way, as temple staff turned off several lights and began moving toward the exit.

More disturbing to me was the depiction of the excommunication of Barb. That it was higlighted in the episode that we excommunicate and cut off a person’s family ties in the hearafter was truly embarrasing to me, and should be embarrasing and mortifying to all of us active Mormons. It is very sad and dark side of our religion.

Posted by mormongirl | Report as abusive

Well then Sema tell me what your purpose or goal is? Of course you’re entitled but that’s not the point. Maybe I just don’t understand your grand scheme. What is your purpose for studying something that you are a critic of and then trying to put down those who are not critics of it? That seems pretty closed minded to me. You don’t have to agree and there’s nothing wrong with making a case against it but there’s no need for belittling. And you know what, I’d love to hear what you believe. Its easy to make fun of someone else for their beliefs but takes guts to state what you believe and stand by it.
And just in case you are wondering, I did not tune in. My purpose in reading this is to try and defend and correct that which I know is true.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

“nstead he attempts to call me an unproductive person just because I know too much for his liking. As a mormon why would you discourage someone’s attempt to learn about religion and know more about God? I studied theology in college, forgive me.”
I have no problem with you knowing those things. In fact I’m happy for you. You’re on the right track!
I never said anything about discouraging you from learning about mormonism. Nothing would make me happier than to have you read all doctrinal books that we believe. I’m trying to do it myself (I’ve done plenty of studying myself). I’m not embarrassed about anything that we believe. I know without a doubt that all the doctrine of the LDS church is true. I’m just think it’s interesting to do it if you have no intention of believing any of it. Again though I want to know what you believe.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

first off, youre asking me why I would even take a religion course. Why not? Personally, I was raised lutheran, and my beliefs follow basic mainstream protestant, but I have taken it upon myself to study many faiths in or out of the classroom, whether it be Jehovahs witnesses, Universal Unitarianism, Bahais, buddhist, shinto, islam, sikhism, judaism, and Taosim. I looked into mormonism a little harder because at the time Romney was our governer, and I wanted to know a little more about what he believed.
My purpose is to get mormons to explain these things in a way that would rationalized it.. it hasnt been explained to me once yet.
I never said that there were no black members, but what the book of mormon teaches about being black and native american is pretty shameful. Also, just realizing that you should include minorities in your faith in 1978 is pretty backwards considering the rest of the country segregated years before. Also, when you look at the quotes recorded of what Brigham Young and Joseph Smith said about blacks, you can tell they never intended to accept them as members and not definitely not clergy. They werent fans to put it nicely. If they are now perceived as incorrect about accepting black members and practicing polygamy in the 1800s given today’s standards, how are they right about everything else? Of course I am skeptical of the mormon faith, give everything I mentioned, how can people not be? I am sorry, but I just dont see how when I have kids,I could hand them a Book of Mormon with damning verses about Native Americans and Blacks, and then raise them to believe its the truth. Then have to explain to them Mountain Meadows even tho there are no good lessons in that story. I find these facts shameful and disturbing and it doesnt matter how many members LDS have in Africa or whether or not polygamy is outlawed in the USA, I wouldnt want to be attached with a religion that is based on a racist carnival worker’s skewed view of the world. If there are any facts I got wrong in this, I encourage corrections. Thank you

Posted by Sema | Report as abusive

Lovable quote from Brigham Young, all wise and knowing “Prophet” Whatever happened to the old fashioned “Love Thy Neighbor?” taken from the book of Exodus?
Taken from the Journal of Discourses:

“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” – JoD: vol.10 p. 110: (March 8, 1863)”

So you tell me.. who is the hater, he or I?

Posted by Sema | Report as abusive

In this local SLC article, they say that blacks make up .6% of the student body at BYU. Pretty lonely number, you think? Someone should write to HBO and point that out, so they can fill in their extra quota by .4%..
i just know that someone here is going to point out to me how wrong I am because the show takes place in Sandy and the fictional town of Juniper Creek, and not Provo.. 4188/is_20041116/ai_n11490125

pretty discouraging article, but notice I am only using it to compare their numbers to HBO’s…

Posted by Sema | Report as abusive

I appreciate you sharing your background and I’ll try to answer your questions the best I can. Whether you accept the answers or not is up to you.
First off, just because there is a small number of african americans attending BYU has nothing to do with the LDS church’s acceptance of them. African americans have been accepted into the church since the beginning along with every other race. They could all be baptized and become full fledged members and receive as great an award in heaven as anyone, there was never a rule saying they could not. There are 13 million members of the LDS church and more than half of them are outside of the USA with over 1 million in Mexico alone. African americans were not allowed to receive the priesthood until 1978, now that is completely different and it was only african americans that couldn’t. Every other race could. In the bible you will find many accounts of God not allowing the priesthood to everyone. For example, in the old testament, out of all Israel, only the levites had the priesthood and none other tribe. Also, there were times when only the oldest son received the priesthood. In the new testament, for a time the gospel was not preached to the Gentiles. So God did not always give everything to everyone. There is also a scriptural based explanation but its kind of long. I would love to explain that another time.
As to your sources of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young I have never read those before and have read the opposite. If you could give me the sources I will look into it but I’d like you to keep in mind that not all you read is true and to try and read both sides. A good book about Joseph Smith I’d recommend is called “Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling” by Richard Lyman Bushman. He is a member of the church but doesn’t seem to take sides in the book. Having studied about Brigham Young and Joseph Smith and the amazing things they did, I find it hard to believe that they were bad people.
About Mountain Meadow Massacre, you can find a good explanation if you go to and search “Mountain Meadow Massacre”. We don’t condone it. It was wrong. We don’t claim that all our members are perfect and believe the men involved will be punished in the afterlife.
Polygamy was practiced in the bible. Abraham and Jacob both had multiple wives and they were not evil in God’s eyes. It was a practice of God at one time which is not to say that he could not bring it back. I can understand it being a tough one to understand but I know it is a true principle.
Your main issue seems to be with racism. I’ve never seen or encountered racism since I’ve been a member. In all the studies I’ve done of past leaders of the church that I’ve done, I haven’t found any of them to be racists. I have no ill feelings towards any race. I served my mission in argentina near the brazil and paraguay border. There are tens of thousands of members there and the teachings are not for any one race.
The advice I’d give to you is study from both sides of the opinions and then pray to find out which is true. One thing to keep in mind is almost all members know of these teachings and still stay in the church. We aren’t embarrassed about it or we wouldn’t be here. We aren’t racist and we aren’t sex addicts desiring many wives. We’ve received an answer from God that these things are true.
I’m sure you still have doubts but I hope this helps some.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

I’ve actually studied other religions too and gone to other churches and talked with many other people of other religions and I’ve never found a church that answers more questions and is more biblically correct than the LDS church.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

Christine: yes, you’re absolutely wrong. Mormons are not told to stop communicating with excommunicated family members. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I have had more than one close family member excommunicated from the Church, and it has never affected our relationships.

Posted by Jake | Report as abusive

Sema, I find it interesting that you have turned this discussion into a Black and White discussion.
Let\’s see.. did our founding Father\’s mean ALL men are created equal when this very important document was drawn up? What were their thoughts about blacks and equality at that time…There are MANY other religions that have had there issues with blacks or other people of color. This has been an age old problem for hundreds of years. I would also like to point out our Church also follows the Bible and the two Books are studied together. Our Nation use to treat Blacks as property and thank goodness and God that no longer is the case. You talk about how long it may have taken for the Church to make changes. But in the same respect in how many other places in the country did it take for people to make changes even though laws had been changed?
There are MANY other shameful facts with other religions so no one has a monopoly on this. But we are not here to point fingers at anyone and make the claim to be perfect. Our goal is to try everyday to be like Jesus Christ. NO ONE on this earth is perfect or without faults. You and I included. But we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints strive to be like our Elder Brother. I wonder what do you strive to do in a positive light for yourself and those around you?

Posted by AJ | Report as abusive

Sema, the more you say, the more you reveal you ignorance about the LDS faith. There are no references in the Book of Mormon about Native Americans or Blacks being bad. Yes, there was a group of “Native American” people in the book who the Lord cursed. But the other group–also Native Americans–were blessed. The Book of Mormon doesn’t say anything about anyone outside that group of people being bad or cursed. As for Blacks, they’re not mentioned in the Book of Mormon. And if you do your research, you’ll find that the LDS Church was one of the first denominations to actually have Black leaders at the head of congregations that included white people. Sure, other churches had Black pastors and so forth, but almost none of them led congregations that included whites. Oh, and you’re silly to say that because a Church changes its policies, then past leaders must have been wrong. When Christ fulfilled the law of Moses and introduced a new law, did that mean Moses and Abraham had been hoaxes? Selma, you ignore the fact that LDS beliefs have parallels in the Bible. But you don’t put down the Bible’s teachings. It’s quite clear that you see only what you want to see and ignore the truth.

Posted by Jake | Report as abusive

From experience, I can say unequivocally that the depiction of the meeting to consider her excommunication took several liberties with normal practice. Many of the phrases used were very contrived and do not reflect the actual tone or intent of actual meetings to consider someone’s membership status, particularly since their primary purpose is to preserve and strengthen the individual’s membership and belief.

Posted by DWmFrancis | Report as abusive

Has anyone considered that the showing of the Mormon temple ceremony may have been a way for the creators of Big Love to ‘get back’ at Mormons for supporting Prop 8 in California? I don’t watch Big Love (although I taped this episode) but that was my first reaction when I heard about the controversy surrounding this episode.

Posted by Christopher B | Report as abusive

If you desire to know what mormons believe, there is a short breif called The Articles of Faith. It is published in the back of the Pearl of Great Price. I especially like number 11: “We clain the privilege of worshiping Alighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” We must all act upon faith and obedience. I believe that God and Jesus Christ loves all of us and that there will be many good people in heaven not just mormons. They know the desires of our hearts.

Posted by ruinedsoldier | Report as abusive

Haha! I am not even LDS and i can see how ignorant you are! I live in utah and geographical fact is that the population of african americans in utah is not even comparable to some other states in this country! So what are mormons supposed to do? Have blacks shipping into the state just to please predjudices of people like you? hahaha i still can’t tell if you are being serious with every post you write or if you are just trying to get a rise. either way the only thing i can see you doing is makeing a fool of yourself with your own ignorance!

Posted by Meg | Report as abusive

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