Your Mormon Friend

Your Mormon Friend December 8, 2011

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.

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  • Michael

    Welcome to the conversation and I’m glad you are here. I have to admit that I have some anti-Mormon prejudice but I’m learning that while I am doing my best, and often failing, I have been discovering that God doesn’t follow my way of thinking very well. So, that said, I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say and it’s good to know that there are allot of different folks on the same journey as I am.
    Peace be with you brother.

  • Bob Halburt

    You talk about diversity in Mormonism, but seriously: There aren’t a lot of happy non-conformists in Mormonism. The Bishop say X and the ward does X. You can believe dissenting views of doctrine, but you cannot teach it in the wards. You can’t criticize the leaders or question problems in Mormon history publically without risking ostracism or pressure to be quiet or believe like everyone else does or be excommunicated or disfellowshipped (like Grant Palmer).

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    When someone goes to the extreme of Grant Palmer, to write a book that attacks the reality of Joseph Smith’s experiences, he has already distanced himself from the body of the Church, so action as to his membership is important to clarify for other members that he has crossed the line. If someone has such unorthodox beliefs but does not seek to lead other church members to follow them, they can generally be allowed to continue as church members.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Let me add that the statement “The Bishop says X and the ward does X” is misleading in this context. First, the word “bishop” is only capitaluzed when used as the title of a particular person. The bishop of a ward leads and cares for around 300 to 500 people. When wards get much larger than that, the geographuc boundaries will be revised to create one or more new wards. Typically every Mormon meetinghouse has 2 to 4 wards meeting in it on overlapping schedules, one ward havings its worship service in the chapel while the other is using the classrooms. A Mormon attends the ward that covers thebarea where he or she lives. You din’t get to pick a different ward or a different bishop.

    Second, the bishop in each ward is just one of the members within the ward boundaries. He is higher level church authorities and serves about five years. He puts in about 20 to 30 hours a week of his personal time, without pay, while suppirting himself and his family with a regular job, whether a lawyer ir truck driver, engineer or farmer, artist or teacher. His primary jib us not to make original pronouncements on doctrinal matters, nor does he preach a sermon most Sundays. He has two counselors ir assistants who help make decisioba, such as deciding who to ask to teachba Sunday School class, and who rotate with him in conducting worship services. The actual speakers are mainly other members of the congregation, usuallyntwo adults and one teenager, who are asked a couple weeks ahead to speak for 10-20 minutes on a particular theme. What they say is not vetted ahead of time.

    The only way the bishop would know about a member’s divergent religious views us if he or she insisted on persuading other members if the Church to follow him ir her in those views. On the other hand, in meetings of adult men and adult women where a doctrinal topuc is being reviewed, the individual members are free to express their views on the topic and offer what they feel is insight or alternativwly ask a question that ithers in the group might be able to answer.

    There is a lot of room for diversity in the certanty of one’s belief in Mormon doctrines. On the other hand, if you are certain in your rejection of basic Mormon beliefs–that Jesus was Jehovah before his birth, performed an atoningbsacrifice thatnreconciled mankind to the Father, died and was resurrected, taught his disciples afternhis resurrection for 40 days before ascendingbto the Father from the Mount of Olives–then your rejection of those core beliefs mean that you would not have been accepted for baptism into membership in the first place, and you should find another church more congenial to your views. It would be dishonest for you to pretend you were a Mormon then.

    Even if you resigned your membership or were excommunicated, you arenstill free to attend thebregular Sunday meetings, which are open to the public. You may end up changing your mind and want to rejoin the membership. The vast majority of people who are excommunicated are notndoctrinal rebels but peopke who have committed serious violations of morality, such as commiting felonies or adultery, and generally don’t disagree with Mormon beliefs, but failed to conform their behavior to them. Other members just decide they want their names removed from the records, usually because they have joined another denomination.

    The role of the ward bishop in checking orthodoxy is limited to when he asks someone to accept a callingbas a teacher or leader, and biannually when a member is renewing their “recommend” to worship in Mormon temples. There is a short list of questions about moral behavior, of belief in Joseph Smith and the current president of the Church as prophets if God, and of belief in the Father and the Son. Aside from that doctrinal core that youbare specifically asked to affirm, as long as you don’t attack church leaders, you can have all sorts of variation in your belief.

  • chris

    Could you elaborate on diversity. Diversity to what purpose? Is there a diversity of belief between the Father and the Son?

    Clearly, a bishop is neither the Father or Son (so I’m not suggesting what the bishop says needs to be undisputed as would a proclamation from the Father). But the point of my example is that ultimate goal is not a diversity of belief, but to take our diversity of belief into a unity of faith in becoming one with Christ as he is one with the Father. (Incidentally, this can only take place through the grace -the enabling and strengthening power- of the atonement wrought by the love Christ has for all of us.)

    In other words, each of us, through of life experiences based on where the Lord has planted us in this vineyard (so to speak), have a diversity of experience with the interacting of the spirit. The spirit of the Lord enlightens the mind of every man (and women!) that comes into this world and they are enlightened in and through their experiences in the world as they hearken to the spirit.

    This is a unique interaction for each of us, but also naturally, bares some commonalities. I see the organization of a church, and the gathering together on the sabbath (and at other times) as an opportunity for us to take our diversity of experiences with the spirit and unit them together and draw one another nearer to Christ to become one with him.

    I’ve now just paraphrased LDS scripture (which includes the New Testament) as well as teachings from modern day Apostles of Jesus Christ. Hopefully, it’s not offensive to you, but perhaps you can appreciate the good that comes from the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Bob, if you’re willing to accept that you’re not perfect, perhaps you’re willing to accept you may be wrong on your understanding of the Church. Note, I’m not insisting you change your belief in doctrines, etc. but perhaps seek to take your experiences with the church (whatever they may be) and try to match them up with my and millions of others lived experience. Perhaps, what you’re describing is at best an isolated framework to view things through, and at worst a misinformed and unfair characterization.

  • Welcome to the conversation Jana. I look forward to reading what you have to say and am glad for the texture you will add.
    Peace and blessing to you.

  • Nicole

    In your comment you say: “…which smacks of the same “love the sinner, hate the sin” nonsense that anti-gay activists like to propagate.”
    But seriously, The Mormon Church actively went against Gay Rights in Prop 8. That is hate. How can you possibly use hate against Gays and use it to make a point of stating that hate against Mormons is the same or just as wrong?
    Please, find a different comparison and leave out African Americans and Gays who have been and still are discriminated in your faith for way too long ! Calling African Americans “Satans representatives on Earth” and claiming that being Gay is yet another trial from God and hence must not be pursued but faught, like it’s a disease or choice, doesn’t exactly speak for your Faith and not being anti-Mormon. 

  • How can she possibly point out that hate against gays is bad, and hate against Mormons is also bad? Um, it seems pretty simple to me.

    Jana has consistently and vocally argued against anti-gay prejudice (including the church’s own anti-gay campaigns). Don’t mix her up with Boyd K. Packer. Mormons are not a monolith, and Jana does not automatically subscribe to every wacky statement that any church leader has ever said.

    Haven’t you ever met a Catholic who used birth control, or a shrimp-eating Jew?

  • Nicole

    Kaimi: that is not what I said. I said, that Gays do not propagate anti-Mormonism, while the Mormon Church actively does propagate Gay-Hate. Therefore, anti-Mormonism is justified.
    Furthermore, if you are Mormon, then you should hand in your Temple Recommend!
    Question 4 in the Temple Interview states: “Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?”

    Packer is not just any Church Leader but according to Mormon belief “the Leading Apostle of the Twelth”. You compare a statement of a General Authority to just any Catholic/Jew, which is ridiculous.

    Calling statements made by General Authorities at General Conference “wacky”, even though their statements are the Word of God – according to Mormon belief – is blasphemous. It shows disrespect and that you do not sustain them as Church Leaders.

    Judging by your logic, no Church Leader can or should be fully trusted, and therefore, not even Joseph Smith. He made a lot of “wacky” statements and still, he was and is called a “prophet”.
    Religion is not a club in which you pick and choose. You either agree or disagree. If you disagree on core issues like handling Gays then please find yourself another Religion.

    Yes, you are right, and I agree: The Church Leaders, in general, make tons of “wacky” statements. But that is also why I’m not Mormon nor will I ever be!


  • Bob

    Some of the earlier commenters defending Jana have essentially said that “although Jana is a Mormon, she isn’t a bigot because she doesn’t agree with the Church’s position on homosexual behavior.” This mistakenly implies that those of us who do agree are bigots – or that it is even relevant to the discussion.

    The evangelical website who rejected Jana almost certainly doesn’t hold our Church’s position on homosexual behavior against us, or consider it to be bigotry. I’d point out that if moral judgments about behavior are bigotry, than that term should not carry a perjorative connotation – but the fact is that the discussion of the Church’s position on homosexual behavior is a threadjack not relevant to the context of this post.

  • Ruthe

    I find it refreshing when people question the doctrines of established religious organizations. Regardless of your religion, “doctrine” begins as man’s thinking on something. Then someone believes that man’s doctrine, and as a natural result of our individual minds, our interpretations of a truth get distorted the same as a secret that is told from ear to ear gets distorted. Does anyone forget how Jesus had many encounters with the “established religious organization” of his time? (the Pharisees) The Pharisees constantly were misinderstanding the bottom line truth of God’s laws, but Jesus managed to point out the flaws in their interpretation. And they were following long time doctrines as part of their teaching.

    The problem is, they’d been relying too much on a religious organization’s “Doctrines” and not drawing close, experientially, to God Himself to know His heart.

  • Nicole

    Bob, you’re missing the point. Jana said that not voting for Mitt Romney merely because he is Mormon simply wasn’t good enough and the guy who stated that was promoting anti-Mormonism.
    My argument was that you cannot be part of a religious community where their Apostles at General Conference (and that Conference states what the Church as a whole believes) propagate gay-hate and then “whine” about anti-Mormonism or even say that being anti-Gay is just as wrong as being anti-Mormon. Not voting for Romney merely Because he is Mormon is totally justified. I mean, would anyone here want a President that is openly part of the KKK ? I realize that this is a harsh criticism, but let’s face it: the Mormon Church has throughout its own history continuously discriminated minorities and practiced things even Evangelicals wouldn’t allow, like polygamy. However, worst of all, they are trying to erase these events by erasing them from their own Church History Books, where Brigham Young all of a sudden never had around 25 wives, but only 2 and the second wife after his first wife had passed away.
    I like Jana’s Blog. But I don’t agree with what she said. That’s all.
    God bless.

  • Nicole

    P.S.: not wanting Gays to get married in a Christian Church because the Bible defines a family as being of a man and a woman is one thing.
    However, making statements like this:
    “If we’re not alert, there are those today who not
    only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that will legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature … what good would a vote against the law of gravity.
    Packer says that being Gay is an “immorality” and “tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural” and claims that if it were “preset” which cannot be overcome, that then it would be a punishment of God, brings us into a whole new ball park. His logical argument is that God wouldn’t punish anyone like this and therefore being Gay is a choice and not Genetics.
    I call this gay-hate propaganda, made officially by the highest Mormon Church Authority !

  • Bob

    No, Nicole, you missed the point of the post. In fact, the only time Jana mentioned homosexual behavior was obliquely, in linking to another post where she disagreed with the Church’s position.

    You’ve got your axe to grind, and it’s clear that you hate us and consider yourself justified. That’s fine; but you come across as a fanatic and a boor whenever you bring up homosexuality at the drop of a Mormon.

    Look, Scout, I’d love to debate our position on homosexual behavior with you, support the inspired leaders of the true Church, explain to you the difference between race and behavior; but it’s clear from comments like yours – such as comparing us to the Klan – that you aren’t interested in any sort of open-minded discussion with those of us who disagree with you. You may stew in your own hate; your expressed opinion of the Church says much more about you than it does about us.

  • An newsworthy discourse is designer scuttlebutt. I imagine that you should pen more on this substance, it strength not be a prejudice topic but mostly people are not sufficiency to verbalise on such topics. To the next. Cheers like your Your Mormon Friend | Emergent Village.

  • Shane

    I was a member of the Christian Medical Student group one Easter when I offered to share The Lamb of God video which has nothing distinctly Mormon about it. I was told in no uncertain terms that that was not going to happen and that indeed they were discriminating against me because I was Mormon, not because of the content of the video. This unapologetic assessment was so candid I couldn’t have been more startled. This article reminded me of those feelings and I hope people can learn enough about Mormons not to embrace the hateful comments I see pervasive following nearly every news article about Mitt Romney.