For about a decade Mormons have been in the public spotlight while mostly ignored far longer. Not since the early 20th Century has scrutiny reached such high levels. Reporters and commentators are trying to understand the faith and culture of Mormons, with limited success. An article writer boldy claims members want to be considered just another Christian denomination. He also insists Mormons wanting to be included in the mainstream means giving up peculiarities to the faith. Still another claim is that Mormons really want to take over the government in the guise of a politician because of a dismissed and religiously inconsequential prophecy. None of this is remotely true. Each individual Mormon has their own wants and requests as all people do, but there is a desire to go mainstream. Most reasons for this aren’t surprising and can be rather pedestrian.
To start with, it must be asked what does “mainstream” mean in today’s culture? Several historically marginalized groups have broken out into the normative culture at large. Few today worry about the Irish, blacks won major civil rights, Jews are celebrities, and women respected for more than home life. The Catholic and Protestant wars are virtually gone from open view. For every “victory” one identity group has, another is standing in line. Mormons are no exception. History has proven, for those paying attention, that they have already become part of the large tapestry of the U.S. and other nations. They are at least as integrated as Jews have become.
This cultural blending leads to the first Mormon want; the abolition of ignorance and simple stereotypes. Classifying Mormons as a cult, racist, anti-women, and other name calling is pure politics. The past history and current views are far more nuanced than sound bites. The same questions that are asked to a Mormon Republican, as a self styled comedian pointed out while taking his own swipe, must be asked in fairness to a Mormon Democrat such as Sen. Reid. It is a conservative leaning religion with little doubt. That doesn’t make it much different than many religious institutions. Even the more esoteric doctrines and teachings if understood without sensationalism is unique, but not radical. Agree or disagree, but first understand Mormons on their own terms.
The Mormon radicalism was already crushed years ago, leaving tame unorthodox beliefs. Stop with the polygamy jokes and references. Its in the past for mainline members along with communitarian aspirations. Mormons are mostly proud of their ancestors, but just as disgusted at the modern applications of offshoots as anyone else. The abolition of polygamy through to the first “Mormon Moment” with the Sen. Reed Smoot hearings was the clear learned message to integrate or die as an institution. That carries over to the current members and leadership.
Because of the great forced acculturating, The fear that Mormons want to take over the U. S. government and then the World is pure conspiracy fantasy. They have no more means to do such as the Jews who are in much better government, entertainment, and information positions. Assume that a Mormon becomes the most powerful man in the United States, the President, and then throws out executive orders. Unless the Congress and Senate conspire with him, he isn’t getting very far. Even if they do, it is Catholics who control the Supreme Court as the last word on the laws of the land. They hardly would agree to uphold Mormon centric positions when challenged. All Mormons want is fair participation in political and social discourse just like their neighbors.
The question that never gets asked is do Mormons want to be considered “mainstream Christian” or “Evangelical” for that matter? The answer to that might be surprising to outsiders. Part of the problem for people like Feldman is to assume Mormons want to be accepted into the Christian fold (be reconciled together theologically) when that is not the case. Mormons don’t consider themselves Protestant or Catholic, and would rather not have others tie them to any other orthodox branch. Distinctive non-Trinitarian beliefs among others are strictly understood and believed.
What Mormons do want is pretty straight forward; respect as a religion and religious people, and the designation (hyphenated any way you want such as unorthodox or non-Trinitarian) Christian. The reason is that Mormons worship Jesus Christ as a Divine Savior of the World and when called “non-Christian” it is a slap in the face of that personal devotion. A few Mormons designate themselves as “Mormon Christians,” although personally they consider that a redundancy said for effect. A small minority would be perfectly fine not getting called Christian considering the sullied name it has amassed over the years, if it wasn’t for Christ as the center of their worship stopping them. Finally, Mormons have been part of the “Judeo-Christian” political and religious scene for a very long time no matter if others want them to or not. The label “Christian” is part of Mormon life and faith. Mormons would like others to recognize that fact, because it is a fact.
It is far too late to put the “Mormon genie” back in the bottle. The least Mormons want is for society to recognize their accomplishments and contributions. Far too many people have no idea that there are Mormons in sports, entertainment, politics, technology, education, and every other place that can be considered. There has been almost from the founding by Joseph Smith, quietly doing what they do with faith. Some thought Mormonism would disappear when Joseph Smith died, some when they were pushed out of the United States, some when Polygamy was outlawed, and so-forth. Today it seems some believe that mass media, societal liberalization, and education over the Internet will be it’s death. A group doesn’t go through history of persecution, ridicule, the martyrdom of its leader, forced exodus, a standoff with the United States military, mass incarcerations, and a very public grilling, and come out a weak people with a weak faith. Even if the current “Mormon moment” doesn’t come out too good, Mormons will go back to doing what they have always done; quietly living their religion next door with or without acceptance. They are already mainstream. Mormons want others to understand that.
I saw a piece in the Wash Post saying that Mitt Romney’s advisers are constantly challenging reports by saying: “would you say that of a Jewish candidate?” So, for example, if a reporter asks Mitt about his garments or the temple or something else sacred, they respond by saying, “would you ask those types of questions of a Jewish candidate?” I think that is a valid way of looking at things, ie, Mormons would like to be seen as just another religious minority with people trying to live their lives the best they can. And of course we would like to tell you about our faith if you are interested, but if not, no biggee.
Excellent post, Jet.
What I want is for my fellow Mormons to lighten up. Kooks are well tolerated in today’s society. And if loving God makes me a kook, call me a woo-woo tin foil hat kook. Like Mitt.
I think you’ve nailed it, jettboy. “Unique but not radical” is a good phrase. I think it is only radical if you think of it in eternal terms, considering that “our kingdom is not of this world.” We do have great eternal, Millennial goals. But those stand outside today’s political realm. The only reason Mormons get involved in politics is for personal reasons, and because we are told to be “good citizens.” We are “building up the kingdom” by proselytizing and baptizing the dead, but not to take over. We are like Noah, building the ark, preparing for events that are out of everyone’s hands: death, apocalypse, after-life. But no one needs fear that Mormons plan to dominate. Maybe we are a little crazy, like Noah, but harmless.
It’s not quite that simple. Practicing Mormons are a sizable group who report themselves to be very happy in spite of not indulging in drinking, gambling, and whoring. That makes us a standing rebuke to the popular culture epitomized by Hollywood and the mainstream media, and leaves us guilty of giving aid and comfort to all ((including good people of other faiths) who would reject Babylon.
They’re not going to leave us alone. Time to develop a thick skin.
‘So, for example, if a reporter asks Mitt about his garments or the temple or something else sacred, they respond by saying, “would you ask those types of questions of a Jewish candidate?”’
By the way, the L.A. Times is reporting today that both sides are leaving religion alone as there is not enough upside to pressing it:
People still think that we aren’t Christian. Billy Graham’s son was asked if we were. he said something like they are assumed not by other churches (not exact words.)
One on facebook told me he had been given a Book of Mormon by AN ELDER. There was nothing in it about Jesus Christ. I told him to ask the church for one. To go to the closest church. to go to Mormon.org to learn what the Church believed in . To my knowledge he never did. One posted 64 things about the church that were counter to Christ’s teachings. One was we had 4 Gods. he listed the Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit as 2 of them. One said that there is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. One God. (ye have seen me ye have seen the Father) So how can there be three since God is each one. i told him to check Christ’s baptism. God spoke, the Holy Ghost took the form of a dove.
One said Mitt Romney did not believe in the TRUE CHRIST (her caps). Another said we will take over the government and Mormons are infiltrating (by working for it) it so they can anytime. There are many more but these show what little people know and how they use the church to define Mitt Romney Too many people read anti Mormon literature without checking what the Church says. (written by ex member so they should know)
Pardon me for the rant but I get upset about things that are so wrong and that people take as true. i am a convert and tell them if The Church didn’t believe in Christ I would leave fast.