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On Tuesday night, at the height of primetime in the United Kingdom, the BBC premiered an hour-long TV special about the England Missionary Training Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Yes, church leaders granted the BBC rare broad access to the MTC, at least two mission presidents and several missionaries.
No, if you live outside the U.K., you can’t see “The Mormons Are Coming.” Yet.
Here are five things to know about the new documentary:
It aired at 9 p.m.
That’s a prominent placement. Apparently, the BBC has found that viewers are hungry for shows about faith.
“The appetite for content about faith and beliefs is as strong as ever,” the BBC’s head of religion & ethics for television, Daisy Scalchi, told Deadline. “These programs can offer us a unique perspective on some of life’s big questions, provide support and comfort during challenging times and bring us together in celebration for important moments like Advent and Christmas.”
How it’s being marketed
The UK TV guide tagline makes it feel like reality TV:
“Documentary following three young Mormon missionaries in Lancashire through training, giving up their names to become elders and sisters who live under a strict timetable with limited contact with family. They are free to leave at any time. Will they go the distance?”
Spoiler: They do.
The full BBC tagline is this:
“Three newly trained Mormon missionaries in Lancashire search for new converts. But in an increasingly secular Britain, how do you convince people that the Book of Mormon is true?
“Every year, 30,000 missionaries are called to serve (T)he Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across the globe — the largest full-time missionary force of any church. Most are under 25 and away from home for up to two years — and the biggest training centre in Europe is located in Chorley, Lancashire.
“This documentary follows the journey of three young missionaries through the first few months of training and work in the field, which can make or break them.”
There’s some good information
From a BBC.com story about the documentary:
“The Chorley boot camp also teaches missionaries how to use social media to find people for conversion by creating targeted Instagram Reel videos and Facebook posts. And they’re expected to send at least 50 social media messages per day to potential converts, based on who has engaged or interacted with their posts.”
There’s some cringy stuff
Missionaries don’t try to convince people the church is true, so that part of the BBC tagline is cringy. There are a few other things that will sound weird to Latter-day Saint ears.
The BBC.com story calls the MTC a boot camp and says the missionaries are seeking new recruits. My gut reaction was, that’s pretty militaristic language for a program on faith. But having not seen it yet, I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.
There are a number of ways to respond to those terms. Boot camp has become a common phrase in tech and business and entertainment. Recruits is pretty loaded. I don’t think the BBC would use that word for someone converting to the Church of England or Catholicism or Judaism.
It’s a word that shows a real lack of understanding for faith. The story uses “recruit” multiple times, as a noun and verb. If the show does the same, it will reveal a lack of sophistication about religions and religious experience.
But most reports say the documentary shows cheery missionaries earnestly striving to do their best. In the balance, they say the hour is kind to the missionaries and to the church.
In fact, the hour ends with a baptism.
And with a missionary completing her mission and returning home.
When can you see ‘The Mormons Are Coming?’
The BBC hasn’t announced that yet, if you live outside the U.K.
Last night, it aired on BBC Two, which is designed for shows with more “depth and substance” than BBC One, which is more of an entertainment channel.
The documentary will air next on BBC Three, which is aimed at 16-to-34-year-olds.
It’s free to watch online within the U.K. on the BBC iPlayer. It’s heading soon to BBC affiliates in Australia and New Zealand. When it will wash ashore in the United States and elsewhere is yet to be revealed.
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