After a yearlong campaign by two Mormon psychologists, the American Psychological Association has apologized to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for likening Mormon practices to “brainwashing” and “mind control.”
The APA, the largest psychological professional association in the United States, published the apology at the bottom of the table of contents in the program for its annual convention, which ended Sunday in Washington. The APA formally retracted an item in the convention program from last year that promoted the film documentary “Get the Fire,” which features extensive criticism of the Latter-day Saints from onetime missionaries who have left the church.
The dispute with the APA does not center on the film, which has been aired on public broadcasting stations in the United States, but on the notice the association printed before screening it for members on July 31, 2004.
“It is a fly-on-the-wall account of how the Mormon religion completely overtakes lives,” said the notice, which touted the documentary as “a must-see film for any psychologist interested in mind control, brainwashing, and self-esteem issues.”
Long struggle for acceptance
Since its founding in the mid-1800s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is based in Salt Lake City, has fought criticism from more orthodox Christian groups that its theology is heretical and cult-like.
Many Mormons hold that the early Christian church was built on an incomplete Bible that church founder Joseph Smith said was translated incorrectly. LDS teachings are based on what the church considers a correct translation of the King James Version and “The Book of Mormon,” both of which are taken as the Word of God.
Popular resistance has receded in recent decades as the church has assimilated itself into mainstream culture through extensive public outreach and worldwide missionary work.
That’s what made the notice in last year’s APA program so inflammatory for church members. For the next year, two psychologists in St. George, Utah — Gary L. Groom and Chauncey Adams, who are Mormons and members of the APA — pursued an apology and a retraction.
A spokeswoman for the APA said Wednesday that the organization responded to the Utah psychologists shortly after last year’s convention and insisted that “there’s no news here.”
But copies of correspondence between the APA and the Utah psychologists do not appear to bear out that assertion, which Groom strongly disputed.
“From the beginning, I felt the responses were dismissive,” Groom said. In the correspondence, the APA leaders thanked Groom and Adams for their comments and promised to look into the matter. But no concrete action was forthcoming. “I was very surprised at that. I guess I shouldn’t have been,” Groom said.
It was not until Groom and Adams put up a Web site to publicize their complaints this year that they got the attention of the APA board of directors, which sent one of its members to Utah to meet with the Utah Psychological Association.
“They responded immediately,” Groom said. “They were anything but dismissive about it.”
The APA eventually published an in-house apology on its list-serv and in the newsletter of the Utah association this summer. It also promised to revise training standards for members of its film committee.
Working for ‘religious diversity’
The retraction in the convention program was the APA’s first acknowledgment of the dispute before the wider public. In the apology, the board agreed that the descriptions in the program were “offensive” and did not “reflect the policies of the Association.” It said the APA was “working to ensure openness to religious diversity throughout the Association.”
The APA has frequently been accused of insensitivity to religion by religious leaders and advocates of spiritually based counseling, among them psychologist James Dobson, head of the Focus on the Family, who is often described as the most influential evangelical figure in America.
Dobson has said he resigned from the APA because its stances on religious issues, most notably homosexuality, were so far from his own, and numerous other psychologists who are religious accuse it of having been taken over from time to time by factions hostile to religion.
In recent years, however, the APA has moved toward greater openness to religious discussions. Since 1997, it has published a handful of books that suggest that therapy may be more effective when it takes religious belief into account.
Groom said that in general, psychologists themselves were “about as unprejudiced as people can be.”
“There are concerns in my mind about the group or the organization — maybe there’s a political side to it, I don’t know,” he said. “But I think individual psychologists take people as they are.”
Officials of the LDS Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.