After months of communication with two Utah psychologists and their local professional organization, the American Psychological Association has formally apologized for negative characterizations about the LDS Church.
Meeting this week in Washington, D.C., the APA’s formal convention program contains an apology for statements made in last year’s program regarding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its missionary program.
The statements were printed in reference to a documentary film that was shown during that convention, titled, “Get the Fire.” The film followed a pair of LDS missionaries in Europe and included interviews with former missionaries who had left the LDS Church after returning from their missions.
Advertising for the film in the APA program characterized the church’s methods of retaining members and motivating its missionaries as “brainwashing” and “mind control” using “powerful psychological techniques.”
Such language is often used by groups seeking to characterize religious organizations outside historical Christianity as “cults.” Drs. Chauncey Adams and Gary Groom of St. George learned of the characterizations last year and contacted the national association to complain.
Months of letter-writing between the two men and APA officers failed to elicit a formal apology, so the two created a Web site, www.biasfire.com, to document their communications and ask for public feedback.
Earlier this year, the Utah Psychological Association became involved, and the APA sent a board member to Utah to discuss the concerns. Barry Anton, professor of psychology at the University of Puget Sound, told several UPA members earlier this year that such an incident “won’t happen again.”
He took feedback from his discussions to the APA board of directors, and a formal apology was crafted and placed in this year’s APA program.
In part, the statement expresses the board’s “sincere apology for the offensive description of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . . The board rejects the characterization of the church used in the program and regrets any harm this has caused. The language used in the film’s description does not in any way reflect the policies of the association.”
Contacted about the apology, Adams said: “Basically we’re calling it a day in terms of what we asked for. We wanted them to apologize. We wanted an apology and a retraction to begin with,” and for several months “we got all this convoluted sort of response.”
Adams said the biasfire.com Web site became something of a “lightning rod” for people who believe the APA has an inborn bias against religion in general.
The apology also said that “In response to this unfortunate occurrence, APA is taking steps to protect against the use of offensive language in the convention program in the future and, more generally, is working to ensure openness to religious diversity throughout the association.”
Adams said he won’t try to interpret what that means. “I have no idea what they’ve got in mind or how serious they intend to take that.
“I think there is a bias there. There are studies that have found psychologists as a group are less religious than other people.” The history of psychology is filled with theories about religious “oppression,” he said. Many practitioners “still have some of that old-time thinking.”
From his perspective, the issue has now been resolved. “We don’t want to be sore losers or people carrying a grudge. We want to bring it to an end and not carry it any further.”