I went to church Sunday. This year’s Gospel Doctrine subject is the New Testament, so for most of the class period we watched the church film, “Finding Faith in Christ.”
The film combines scenes from the life of Jesus with a fictional conversation between the Apostle Thomas and an unbeliever named Jonah. A couple of things stood out to me:
First, many of the scenes depicting Jesus are designed to recreated famous LDS paintings. I thought that was kind of a nice touch, as most of the film is instantly familiar to Mormons.
Second, the unbeliever is depicted as being hard-hearted not for any logical or rational reason, but because he’s bitter following the death of his wife. He sneers at the believers not because he has any reason not to believe them but because he’s angry. What struck me was that he went from smug unbeliever to teary eyed potential convert in no time flat. One minute he’s cursing God for taking his wife, and the next he’s practically bearing his testimony.
It struck me that the film hadn’t moved me in the least bit. The approach seemed to be that a combination of touching scenes of Jesus, coupled with earnest testifying, will soften the hardest heart. But it didn’t soften mine.
I think these types of films give us a good view of what the corporation thinks will sell the religion. This is a great example of the church’s “HeartSell” approach, which they describe as “strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response.” That’s really all this film is, an advertisement designed to stimulate an emotional response. It is intended to trigger positive emotions from the life of the Savior and the testimony of “Thomas” and negative emotions toward the unbelieving Jonah, at least until his miraculous transformation.
But I wonder how successful such approaches are. We as Mormons were taught to associate strong emotion with the Spirit, so getting choked up about something is often seen as spiritual confirmation of truth. But people outside the LDS church don’t have that automatic response. People I’ve talked to find Mormon testimonies mystifying, and a few have told me they seem creepy (kind of like my response to those Evangelicals who put their arms up, close their eyes, and mutter during sermons and songs). Witness the response to John Boehner’s emotional election night speech. We Mormons would probably see that as being genuine and sincere and praiseworthy, but a lot of people criticized Boehner for it, calling it “bizarre” and “weird,” among other things.
So, I wonder if the church does its self-promotion assuming that most people are like Mormons. Surely, the emotional-response model works in most church settings. But it may be a hard sell for others.