I recently had a near-miss opportunity to have my memoir Flunking Sainthood featured on a prominent evangelical website. Apparently the two editors there who had read it really enjoyed the book and thought its themes of finding joy in spiritual failure would resonate with their readers. They began the process of scheduling an author interview.
And then someone found out the dirty truth that I am a Mormon. Not only that, but a “vocal Mormon,” as an embarrassed, kind editor at the website put it in the apology sent to my publicist. (Apparently it is bad enough to be a member of a religious minority, but far worse not to feel a proper sense of shame.)
Yeah, I’ll admit it. I actually cried. Not because of a lost opportunity — that kind of minor disappointment happens all the time in book publishing — but because someone somewhere thought that the M word was the only thing they needed to know about me or about my book (which is ecumenical). And I cried because that “someone somewhere” actually speaks for millions of people everywhere, because anti-Mormon bias is strong enough in this country that this kind of thing happens to Mormons all the time.
One of the most recent examples occurred last week when a blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education criticized Mormonism as inherently anti-intellectual and stated that it was “absolutely” acceptable for Americans not to vote for Mitt Romney just because he is Mormon. He concludes that “while anti-Mormon prejudice may be wrong, I don’t think that being anti-Mormon is necessarily being wrong.” (I am still attempting to understand the logic behind that fine distinction, which smacks of the same “love the sinner, hate the sin” nonsense that anti-gay activists like to propagate. Hate is hate, end of story.)
With the Romney campaign in full swing it’s been a hard year to be a Mormon. Part of the burden of being a religious minority of any persuasion is that the culture always wants to re-form you as its foil, as when the American right denounces Islam as a religion that oppresses women (because the Christian right has championed women’s equality for, say, two whole minutes already!). The function of any religious minority is to make “mainstream” traditions and ideologies shine by comparison.
This is why, whenever I get an opportunity to speak for myself on a level playing field, I am inclined to take it. What’s wonderful about Doug Pagitt’s multivocal EV blog project is its assumption that ideological diversity exists even within a religious group that is already a niche within a niche: the Emergent Christians I know and love are generally postevangelical Protestants who tend to be left of center socially and politically. But as some of the, um, vigorous discussions on Emergent blogs and websites have demonstrated, even those Emergent Christians can disagree, sometimes deeply, about important issues.
Why should anyone assume that Mormons would be any different? I never ask that people agree with Mormon theology; there are Mormon teachings that I have publicly disagreed with myself. What I ask is to be heard as an individual who is trying (and often failing) to follow Jesus, a person who thinks and loves and prays and then thinks some more. I ask not to be pre-judged based on a single label, a label that is part but by no means all of who I am. I am excited to listen to your voices, and honored to be asked to join the mix.
I’ll be here once a month. Try the veal.