Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You Oughta Know

As I was writing yesterday's post on HBO's portrayal of sacred Mormon rites, I realized I have a whole lot more to say on the matter. I think the problem is bigger than just the controversy around that episode. As a whole, the Latter-day Saints don't seem to get it, they don't understand that they are a minority, and they don't understand why they are a disliked minority.

Robert Novak said, "Mormonism is the only minority category where bias in America has deepened" (Mitt's Mormon Mess). “Few Americans have an accurate understanding of who we are and what we believe [as Latter-day Saints]” "The resulting ignorance is causing increasing antagonism and fear of us," says Gary Lawrence in his book How Americans View Mormonism. A look at the statistics is staggering. (CBS Poll, Pew Forum, Washington Post). Only 25% of Americans, according to the CBS poll, have a favorable view of Mormons. That's 75% of Americans that don't have a favorable view of Mormons. People make similar associations with Mormons as they do with Militant Muslims.

Most of this surprises Mormons (even more so before Romney's bid for President). I've found that because Mormons talk about family values and Jesus Christ and being the fastest growing American religion (which is actually not true), they believe that they are far more mainstream than the rest of America perceives them. When Mormons become aware of other's negative perceptions of them, they seem to always blame the media. HBO's "Big Love." The News and reports of Jeff Warrens. Hollywood attacks because of Prop 8. It's all a big media conspiracy. Well guess what. I don't buy it. I think when facing negative perceptions the Mormons should be looking inward rather than outward, as easy of a scapegoat as the media is.

It is disturbing that most Mormons don't really understand why they are disliked. They don't realize how elitist and exclusive their temples and weddings are, for example, or how arrogant the redesigned is. The Church pumped a lot of work and money into the "Truth Restored" design in 2007 (it introduced the video segments still on the site and on youtube). A friend of mine who works with Church PR told me about how when the Church did studies on people's reaction to the new site, non-members thought it was extremely arrogant while Mormons thought it was amazing. They did the site over again to focus on "answers to life's questions," but I think it still comes across as arrogant.

In Elder's Quorum this past Sunday I was taught that you shouldn't teach nonmembers anything beyond the basic teachings of the gospel because they can't handle it. No meat before milk. Aside from making Latter-day Saints seem secretive, this is extremely patronizing. "We have all the answers and we will decide what to share with you based on how ready we feel you are for the truth (aka how much you can handle)."

What is really sad is that in not fully realizing their minority status, Mormons hurt themselves by mistreating other minorities. I'm sorry, but when the rights of one minority are threatened, the rights of all minorities are threatened. Minorities need to be protecting each other, not hurting each other.


Ezra said...

I couldn't agree more. It's always bothered me that Mormonism says "no meat before milk" because that's how a cult operates--by the time they realize how bubkis the cult is, they've spent so much time in it that it's really hard to leave.

I'm not saying Mormonism is a cult, but if it quacks...then it's a duck.

Alan said...

Nice post Daniel. Part of my own coming out process was a realization of how my entire world view had been colored and filtered by growing up soaked in Mormonism both theological and cultural, and it really compromised my ability to see myself and the Church as others see us. Thank God I broke out of that. I think too many Church members are still in that mindset, believing their own PR, and utterly clueless about how to deal with non-members on their terms and from their perspectives. Hence the massive PR gaffe that was Prop 8, among other things.

Sometimes I wish there was a way to send every active LDS Utah resident to live someplace like NY or Philly or Toronto for a few years so they would learn about life outside the cocoon and realize the world ain't quite as it looks through Utah-colored lenses.

Grant Haws said...

It really baffles me sometimes when Mormons talk about "milk before meat" all sounds so cloak and dagger...or for lack of a better way of describing it: "like a wolf in sheep's clothing."

Last night I was talking to some coworkers about the church, they had a ton of questions about it since a Mormon coworker was trying to do some "missionary work" and when you explain the basics, Mormonism sounds reasonable. But once you get into the "meat"...jaws drop and everyone is shocked.

But yes, Mormons have prophecied of increased persecution in the last days...but it seems it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Todd said...

I have to agree about the Temple wedding business. As a non-LDS person, it is very off putting to not be allowed to attend the actual wedding ceremony, something that no other religion that I can think of does. It contributes to the broader impression that Mormons are a slightly strange, exclusive clique.

The HBO Temple controversy is entirely predictable. In the internet era, there are no secrets, religious or otherwise. If something is a secret, then people will try to expose it.

As a non-LDS person, the LDS policy of not letting non-LDS people ever go in the Temple is off putting. Turkish Muslims didn't care that I wasn't a Muslim and let me go in the Blue Mosque. French Catholics didn't care that I wasn't Catholic and let me go in the Notre Dame Cathedral. English Anglicans didn't care that I wasn't Anglican and let me go in Westminster Abbey. I guess the Saudis won't let me go anywhere near Mecca as a non-Muslim, but that's not the best company to be in for LDS folks.

Bottom line: there is a certain exclusive social tendencies among Mormons--no doubt bourne out of persecution--that makes the faith seem more cliquish than others in modern America, which outsiders find off putting. Committed Christians of other stripes also find the significant departures from Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic orthodoxy (on things like the trinity, a very core doctrine to most other Christians) to be theologically quite foreign.

EJ said...

Hmm... I guess this post surprised me because the things you guys are talking about don't seem to mirror my own experiences very well. Where I grew up, most LDS people are very cool. Yes, we have the crazy ones you guys are referring to, but all in all, we are pretty dang cool! In my high school, we had roughly 2% of the student body who were Mormon, and most of us were very popular among most of the different crowds. Almost all of my non-member friends love Mormon people because we've been so accepting of them, and because they love our upbeat and positive natures. I honestly wonder where that survey was taken, because I think the results would have been drastically different if it was given in the greater Seattle area.

And I think it's unfair to target Mormons as a whole. We aren't all like those people you've described; I'd bet most of us aren't that way. I'm gay, and everyone knows it, and I don't feel like a second-class citizen at church. I'm very well-received there, and well respected. I wish that this experience was more common those of us reading this :(

draco said...


I also lived in Seattle, and my experience was much different than yours. Without hesitation I can say that most non-members I know from Washington have an unfavorable view of Mormons. They think that they are pushy brainwashed extremists.

My immediate and entire extended family also feels this way about Mormons.

This doesn't mean that people are unfriendly toward Mormons; you can be friends with someone and still (whether secretly or openly) have an unfavorable view of his religion.

And I think it's perfectly fair to target Mormons as a whole in saying that they are blind to their arrogance; elitism and arrogance are simply part of Mormon doctrine. "I'm right and you're wrong- I have the answers and you don't" -that's about as arrogant as you can get. Yet Mormons fail to see their fault precisely because they are so arrogant.

Daniel said...

If you had asked me about this when I graduated high school, my comments would have been like EJ's. I went to a wealthy suburban high school in Chicago where there were about 20 Mormon students (out of 4200). We were popular kids with a lot of friends. Students and teachers alike told me how much they respected my beliefs and zealous dedication to Mormonism. They enjoyed my passion for it like they enjoyed anyone who was passionate about anything. I never heard negative remarks about my faith or the church.

After my mission and coming out when I started to distance myself from Mormonism, those same friends and teachers shared things they had felt back then but hadn't shared with me. My attempts to convert them made them uncomfortable. My inability to consider other views made me seem insecure. Sensing I might be gay, they thought my zeal for the church was the result of brainwashing. They were weirded out by the Temple. One teacher told me she very happy to hear I was leaving Mormonism, even though in high school as the head of "diversity club" she had been very supportive.

It is great that parts of America can have diverse populations and peaceful religious pluralism. But that doesn't mean that everyone thinks highly of the religions they show respect to.


Like Daniel's my view of the church has become more and more tainted by, well, reality. While most mormons are truly great people, at the heart of the issue is intolerance and elitism. Without realizing it, this whole idea of "truth restored" and "the only true and living church on the face of the earth" creates a monster. A lot of mormons will be so nice and loving as long as they feel there is an opportunity to convert or set an example, but if you decide the church is not for you, or heaven forbid share negative experiences about your life in the church, then you will feel the harshest disdain and rejection from those very same people.

But the real issue here is the self-perception of the members, and of the church itself. A lot of times when someone makes a comment about the church, people say, well that's not the church, that's individual members. UM. The members are the church. The leaders are the church. What is the church if not a body of constituents. If you're being a arrogant a-hole to someone of a different religion, then the church is an a-hole to that person. Period. And when one of the overriding messages of your faith is that you have something that everyone else needs, then there are going to be those within the faith that take that as a "I have what everyone needs, therefore they are stupid not to accept it, therefore I am smarter, better, and more evolved," and that attitude can not help but trickle down into everything else.

That's what I think.

Austin said...

I just had to say thanks for the comment the other day. It was just what I needed.
I love your blog.