Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #3: Hugh Hewitt, Searching for God in America

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

Hewitt explained: “Ten years ago…I had gone to work for the public broadcasting system in
Los Angeles as the co-host of a nightly news and public affairs show called ‘Life and Times.’ And in the course of that, because I was the person of faith most obvious on the set I would always be assigned the religion stories. … And we always found that religion moved the needle. When you talk about faith, audience went up significantly. So after the election in 1994 and PBS was sort of in a panic to find any conservative, anyone that could do some television for them so that they could show it just wasn’t Bill Moyers wall to wall; the phone rang and they said: ‘What would you like to do?’ And I said, ‘I’d like to do a series of programs on what people believe, and why, with faith leaders.’ And out of that came ‘Searching for God in America,’ a 1996 eight-part series which showed in the summer of that year. It involved lengthy conversations edited down to 30 minutes with high profile people. … And right there in the middle came Neal Maxwell. …

“When I prepared to go to Salt Lake City, I began from the premise that I did not know anything about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t think I knew a Mormon. I certainly didn’t know a Mormon in Warren, Ohio, where I grew up; I didn’t meet any Mormon at Harvard; I didn’t know any Mormons at the University of Michigan law school, and I didn’t know much about the story other than the fact that they believe in the Book of Mormon and once in a while someone would show up at your front door.

            “And so I began to undertake the investigation of what it was—and it’s a fascinating story. Put aside all of what you believe about faith or don’t believe about faith and just consider it as an American drama. A rich drama full of incredible successes and failures, beginning with Joseph Smith’s narrative of how he received the Book of Mormon through their attempt to set up communities, through their persecution in Missouri, their removal to Illinois; the assassination of Joseph Smith; Brigham Young led a great trek out to Salt Lake City. It’s just an amazing story. So I found myself fascinated.

            “Now I do not believe Mormon theology. I’m a fairly traditional Trinitarian Christian. But I began my interview with Neal Maxwell on air by saying: ‘We don’t—can’t possibly believe the same things, but I want to understand what your faith is about and why you believe what it is.’ And that began a tremendous friendship. I became very good friends with Neal Maxwell, at the time a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormons are ruled by a Presidency of three, and then by twelve men in the Quorum of Twelve. Elder Maxwell was one of the Twelve. And I developed a great relationship that continued in phone calls and personal visits, so much so that when they made a documentary of his life, Salt Lake City PBS asked me to come back as a non-Mormon and carry on the conversation with him. And I treasure that [friendship] up until his death just a couple years ago.” (Hugh Hewitt, June 20, 2007, speaking about his book A Mormon in the White House. Unofficial transcript of remarks, n.p. Book TV, C-SPAN2.)

            Hugh Hewitt’s book Searching for God in America contains transcripts of a number of lengthy interviews with prominent religious leaders of the world at that time, including a superb one with Elder Neal A. Maxwell. 

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