Q&A with Malcolm Adcock and Fred E. Woods, authors of The Latter-day Saint Image in the British Mind October 13 2022
We talked with Malcolm Adcock and Fred E. Woods about their recent book The Latter-day Saint Image in the British Mind, which explores the multifaceted perspectives of British people outside of the Latter-day Saint faith tradition and how these perceptions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members have generally improved over time.
Q: What motivated you to collaborate on this book? What space in the historical record did you want to fill?
A: Fred and Malcolm first met in 2017, and the idea of collaborating on the book was soon born. They realized that they could each bring a unique perspective, with Malcolm’s background in journalism and Fred’s religious and historical scholarship. It is this combination of skills and approach that makes the book work.
The publication brings the reader up to date. It is especially strong in its new, eyewitness accounts from the 1950s to the 2020s. The book shows how present-day British Latter-day Saints interact and contribute to the modern world. Its special contribution is the unique approach in interviewing those not of the Latter-day Saint faith—from MPs and members of the House of Lords to leading members of the Church of England and prominent thinkers within the interfaith community. We want the book, with its rich new source material, to stimulate discussion within academic forums, and to be widely read by anyone who has a British connection.
Q: What is the earliest British depiction of Latter-day Saints? Do we have any surviving reactions from members of the Church?
A: As early as 1831, a caricature of "the Mormons" traveled quickly across the Atlantic—six years before the first missionaries arrived in Liverpool. British newspaper the Morning Advertiser reprinted an article from Illinois dubbing members of the faith as "unfortunate lunatics." That same year, Joseph Smith described how "many false reports, lies, and fo[o]lish stories, were published in the newspapers . . ."
Q: How did British Saints break through the negative stereotypes and biases to become active participants in British society?
A: Stereotypes are being broken because of the decline in religious tribalism between faith groups and – to some degree – due to the increased secularization of society. But the increased visibility of Latter-day Saints “doing good” is also a significant factor. The Church is increasingly known for its positive contributions, and individual Church members often “do good” in the public square.
Q: What was the most surprising piece of misinformation you found had been spread about the Church while researching this book?
A: Some people, even during the second half of the twentieth century, believed there was a tunnel under the River Mersey (North West England) within which “Mormon” brides were whisked away to Utah.
Q: Who are some of the people you interviewed for this book? What did they add to your understanding of the Latter-day Saint image in the British Mind?
A: Michael Otterson, who pioneered the establishment of the Church’s “Public Communications” during the 1970s, discusses how sensational stories in the tabloid press eventually led to a large upswing in interest about the Church. Baroness Emma Nicholson describes how she introduced an Apostle to her colleagues in Parliament. Relationships of trust and respect established over the years with interfaith communities and members of government have led Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, now Speaker of the House of Commons, to describe Latter-day Saints as "normal, everyday guys."
Q: Tell us more about the documentary you made alongside the book. What does it add to the reading experience?
A: The documentary highlights some of the individual and community outreach that has helped shift opinions of the general British population towards the Church as they have interacted personally with its members. Some of these events include the 1955 UK performances of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, called the "Mormon Tabernacle Choir" back then. The film also refers to concerts in London’s Hyde Park Chapel and the arrival of The Osmonds in the 1970s which gave countless fans the opportunity to appreciate the contributions of Church members to the greater community.
Q: What does the relationship between the Church and the British public look like now? Is there any further progress to be made?
A: The religion was once persecuted, even feared. Hateful epithets are now virtually non-existent. The religion may still face a skeptical public, even hostility in the media. But here is a church, once at the margins, that is increasingly seen as part of the fabric of British society.