Bold Expressions of Faith
Note: This article is published as a part of a symposium hosted by Patheos' Mormon Channel, entitled "The Mormon Moment."
The term "the Mormon moment" was first used in journalism well before the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, but it was only in the past two years that the media scrutiny catalyzed internal cultural shifts in the way the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perceived and represented itself. The inward examination by church membership—all the way from top leadership down to the lowliest member commenting on a blog post or newspaper article—was the moment within the moment, the crucible in which each of us who are members built cognitive bridges between our faith and the modern American culture around us.
Mormonism's relationship with the external world can be encapsulated by two seemingly contradictory injunctions. The first is a repeated commandment, found in scriptures such as Mormon 8:38, not to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ: "Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?" The second repeated commandment is to preach the gospel to all the world: "And [Jesus] said unto [the apostles], Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk. 16:15). On the one hand, we are commanded to be bold in spreading the word of the Lord to the world, but on the other hand we are to avoid ingratiating ourselves to that same world. In this internal Mormon moment, we as members recognized that not being ashamed of the gospel of Christ had, over time, positioned us out of line with mainstream American culture, making it more and more difficult for us to achieve the second goal: to be a relevant and accepted voice of faith, repentance, and Christian charity.
How to remain bold in our declarations of faith while not being dismissed as so weird as not to be heard and considered? That was the thorny path members navigated—consciously or not—over the past two years as they spoke with friends and colleagues, participated in online discussions, and reacted publically and privately to media ridicule. Historians have posed this conundrum in the context of our historical persecution complex, suggesting that we really just want to be liked. But when one of the central missions of our organization is to spread what we believe to be keys to happiness, how can we not want to have doors opened to us?
I am proud of our membership. I feel we welcomed the scrutiny graciously. We opened ourselves to ridicule, mockery, curiosity, education, and humility. We were not ashamed. And yet we found myriad of ways—institutionally and privately—to make ourselves more relevant, more thoroughly considered, less quickly dismissed, than we had been previously. Although the scrutiny may now subside from the levels of the last two years, I feel confident the evolution of our bold yet germane expressions of faith will continue.
Neylan McBaine is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Mormon Women Project (www.mormonwomen.com). A native of New York City and a graduate of Yale University, Neylan is an associate creative director at Bonneville Communications and the mother of three young daughters.