Links Threading through the Mormon Moment
Note: This article is published as a part of a symposium hosted by Patheos' Mormon Channel, entitled "The Mormon Moment."
Even the very term the "Mormon Moment" was debated by LDS members and others online. Was it truly the "Mormon Moment"? Or more of a "Mormon Moment"? Or not really a moment at all? While it was true that many Mormons felt that their faith was being studied under the microscope of a ravenous media with good reason to feel suspicious, others just felt pride that one of their own was on the national stage. Still others believed the Mormon Church was being misunderstood and misconstrued, but that Mitt Romney was not helping nor clarifying as he campaigned. And still others hoped that being under the microscope might nudge the church to look at some of its more controversial history and practices.
In that latter vein, I observed some movement. After some controversial remarks on the place of Blacks in Mormon theology at the Washington Post, the LDS Newsroom denounced certain lingering speculations. Anger bubbled up over proxy sealings and baptisms and now the LDS Church is moving toward family-lines-only-based temple work. And the role of women in the church and homosexuality suddenly erupted as hot-button issues, but whether those issues remain heated as the media microscope powers off, remains to be seen.
But overall, this "Mormon Moment" acted as a sort of mirror (skewed at times) for Mormons to take a good, hard look at their image as seen by outsiders to the faith. Were they defined by their business acumen? Or their yellow-vested service to others? Or even their American-ness? Or something else entirely? The church itself seemed to present itself as a non-partisan religion who wanted slicked up portrayals of diverse members to proclaim their testimony while controlling much of the message, which is understandable as they worked overtime to stay out of the negative spotlight.
Scholar Patrick Mason opined that "The Mormon Moment was good for Mormon Studies. It raised the profile of Mormonism in universities, media outlets, churches, and living room conversations across the country. The fact that a devout Latter-day Saint was a serious contender for the White House made his religion a serious topic of conversation, even for people who find the religion's faith claims anything but serious. Like it or not, academics, journalists, and public intellectuals learned, Mormonism is a force to be reckoned with." While reporter McKay Coppins astutely observed "...the rising relevance that Mormonism has enjoyed in 2012 cuts both ways for the church, which now faces the task of disentangling its public image from polarizing Republican politics."
Thus I believe that detangling from political perceptions of Mormonism while finding a comfortable seat at the academic table is the next moment for Mormons.