Let me begin with two disclaimers:
1) I do not want to rehash the debates regarding the (in)appropriateness or offensive nature of HBO’s recent portrayal of portions of the endowment ceremony on Big Love. Please take any comments regarding such matters elsewhere.
2) Others who participate on this blog know much more than I do about Latter-day Saint narratives of persecution. If my analysis seems oversimplified and unsophisticated, that’s probably because it is. Hopefully others with more understanding than I will offer their thoughts.
When I read the Church’s response last week to the breaking news that the HBO television hit Big Love would be dramatizing portions of the LDS endowment ceremony, I was struck by the narrative the PR folks crafted, constructing the episode as the most recent example in a growing body of “gross portrayals” of Latter-day Saint religiosity perpetrated by the modern media. JI’s own Matt Bowman has astutely observed that grouping last week’s ordeal with previous episodes of South Park and the motion-picture mega-flop September Dawn is “insufficient” and not entirely helpful for a variety of reasons. Another interesting component of the narrative in the Newsroom’s release is the linking of this persecution (a word, it should be noted, the authors carefully avoid) with the growing number of Mormons that constitute an expanding worldwide membership. “Like other large faith groups,” the document begins, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes finds itself on the receiving end of attention from Hollywood or Broadway, television series or books, and the news media.”
Sometimes depictions of the Church and its people are quite accurate. Sometimes the images are false or play to stereotypes. Occasionally, they are in appallingly bad taste. As Catholics, Jews and Muslims have known for centuries, such attention is inevitable once an institution or faith group reaches a size or prominence sufficient to attract notice. [emphasis added]
The reason given for the “entertainment media insensitively trivializ[ing] or misrepresent[ing] sacred beliefs or practices” was the size of the Church. This trope is again utilized a few paragraphs later when the authors attempt to dispel any notions that such trivializing portrayals would have a negative impact on the Church.
As someone recently said, “This isn’t 1830, and there aren’t just six of us anymore.” In other words, with a global membership of thirteen and a half million there is no need to feel defensive when the Church is moving forward so rapidly. The Church’s strength is in its faithful members in 170-plus countries, and there is no evidence that extreme misrepresentations in the media that appeal only to a narrow audience have any long-term negative effect on the Church.
All of this stands in contrast to many of the ways that Latter-day Saints understood their persecution in the church’s earliest days. While Latter-day Saints have long acknowledged that other sincere Christians throughout history were persecuted, they almost never identified with large, established groups like Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. Rather, they noted the persecution aimed at smaller sectarian groups. And the reason for their persecution was most certainly not their visibility or prominence in the public mainstream. John Taylor, for example, noted in an 1858 lecture that “there has never been a time, since the world began, but men of the most elevated character, of the most exalted natures, of the best and most moral habits,-virtuous men that feared God and worked righteousness, have been persecuted, cast out, and trodden under foot.” 
In his MA thesis, David Grua identified the following religious groups as those receiving some mention by early Mormon essayists as “having some claim in the history of God?s persecuted people.” “[T]he Waldenses, Baptists, Quakers, Shakers, Methodists, the followers of Jemima Wilkinson, the early modern martyr John Rogers, and even such individuals as Christopher Columbus and Isaac Newton.”  A far cry from the large and respectable communities the Catholics, Jews, and Muslims represent today, these groups of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries were largely marginalized as religious and social outsiders. It is with these groups that the earliest Mormon tentatively identified.
But with the growth of the LDS Church over the last 170 years, the narrative has shifted. It is difficult to identify as a small, misunderstood, and persecuted group of outsiders, while at the same time noting the rapid growth and eventual worldwide destiny of the church. Nevertheless, both narratives are compatible with unique truth claims as God’s chosen people—a point proved, at least in part, by the utilization of similar discursive tactics by other religions today. In his book, A Nation of Behavers, Martin Marty identified Pentecostals as one such group. “Whereas once [Pentecostalism] was ‘true’ because it was small and pure, now it is ‘true’ because there are so many drawn to it.” 
It will be interesting to see how such narratives continue to develop in Mormonism as the Church continues to grow and attract more attention from the news and media.
 John Taylor, “The People of God in All Ages Led by One Spirit, and Subject to Persecution-Condition of the World,” January 10, 1858, Journal of Discourses, 7:120; as cited in David W. Grua, “Memoirs of the Persecuted: Persecution, Memory, and the West as a Mormon Refuge,” (MA Thesis, Brigham Young University, 2008), 33-34.
 Grua, “Memoirs of the Persecuted,” 34.
 Martin E. Marty, A Nation of Behavers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 124.