An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for December, 2009

Follow the Prophet, Unless . . . .

Last week a provocative blog post listed the following scenarios and asked what faithful Mormons would do if presented with the following situations:

You are on a jury.  The defendant is accused of heinous crimes.  The evidence clearly indicates that he is guilty.  The defendant is Mormon. The prophet comes to you and tells you to vote innocent.  Would you do it?

The Church comes to you and asks for all of your “excess” possessions to pay off the prophet’s personal debts.  Would you do it?

You hear two Mormon men talking about how they tortured two defenseless Muslims traveling though the Uintah National Forest.  Your Bishop tells you to tell no one about it.  The FBI comes to you and asks you if you have heard anything about the murders.  Do you remain quiet?

The prophet declares he has received holy revelation which states that all LDS women must marry at the age of 16.  You have a daughter who is 16.  Do you sign for her to get married?

The prophet tells you that anyone who harms the Mormons is guilty of a sin against God punishable by immediate death.  What do you do?

A new prophet is put in place.  He makes some bold and aggressive statements.  Certain people publicly disagree with him.  One by one, those people meet fatal accidents.  What do you do?

Those scenarios were a bit over the top for modern Mormons to relate to, but we do have other areas which test our faith. Back in the ‘60s, a Democratic friend threatened to leave the Church if Ezra Taft Benson ever became the prophet. She remains an active member. Fortunately, President Benson refrained from extreme political rhetoric once he assumed the mantle of the prophet which probably saved my friend’s membership.

It’s not necessarily bad when a prophet institutes a policy causing Latter-day Saints to do a 180 on their thinking. A lot of latter-day bigots had to change long-held beliefs about racial inferiority following the 1978 revelation on extending priesthood to all races. Even Utah legislator, Chris Buttars, made an about-face from his gay-hating rhetoric this year after the Church issued a statement supporting civil rights for gays and Lesbians.

But none of the above scenarios holds a candle to the test of faith that could rock the Church to its core. What if the prophet asked members to vote for a Democrat?

The Good Old Days

Watching A Christmas Story this week sent me on a nostalgia trip for my own childhood of the ‘40s and ‘50s—the blue collar neighborhood, vacant lots with junked cars, bullies beating kids up with no adult intervention. Those were the good old days. Life was simpler then. I wish my kids could have experienced the simple pleasures of walking to school on tree-shaded sidewalks—not having to breathe bus fumes or dodge scores of cars from mothers dropping their kids off. Instead of Seseme Street, I wish they’d had radio programs that required imagination for visual images.  I wish they’d had the freedom to roam the neighborhood cutting through backyards because everybody knew them and their parents. And if only they could have had the thrill of after-dark night crawler hunts for bait to sell passing fishermen.

Of course life was simpler back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. I was a kid. No bills to pay, no responsibilities. But those days were not simple for my parents. They had to deal with my dad’s military service, with finding housing during the war, with starting a family business after the war. They worried about polio epidemics in the summer and croup and pneumonia in the winter. For them, the “good old days” were the 1920s when they were kids.

I reread some of my dad’s writings last night—he rhapsodized about herding cows each summer and of sledding in front of their house on Center Street each winter. He learned to swim in the Provo River—no lessons in those days—no swim suits or towels either. Grandma washed clothes with a wringer washing machine, but didn’t have the mounds of laundry modern moms process weekly.

Dad thought his kids missed a lot by being born too late. I don’t know about my brothers, but I never envied his childhood. I wouldn’t have exchanged my library card and radio for the thrill of watching cows eat grass. And freedom to play in the street wouldn’t have compensated for living in a neighborhood swarming with flies from the neighbors’ pig pens, chicken coops, and outhouses. My kids probably feel the same way about my tales of the past. I doubt they would have traded TV, more than one bathroom, malls and movie complexes for my bucolic childhood.

And was life really that safe and secure in the past? Every generation seems to believe the world is becoming increasingly evil and dangerous. Possibly people spend too much time reading the Book of Revelation and too little time reading secular history. The world has always been a dangerous place. The good old days exist mostly in memory. Years from now, people in their 20s and 30s may recall their childhood through the rosy filter of time and wish their children could have lived in the simple, secure world of the early 21st century.

Straddling Two Cultures–Rejected by Both

Non-Mormons tend to love or hate Mormons—kind of the way most people think of licorice—either the pungent flavor adds zest to life or it’s the most revolting substance on the face of the earth. Nothing in-between. The Romney presidential bid perplexed devout Mormons who learned for the first time that many Americans harbor negative opinions about the Church and its members. We’re such nice people and we try so hard to keep God’s commandments and to share our faith with others—how can they not like us? Must be lack of information.  A post from the Mormon bloggernacle encourages LDS college students to submit entries to a short film contest about students’ religious beliefs and practices. We need to get our message out.

 Although I’m not a college student and I have no wish to convert anyone to anything, I like the idea of evaluating my own religious beliefs and the way they affect my life.  I have no plans for making a film, but visualizing some scenes I might include in the saga of my religious practice intrigues me. My film would be unique. I’m not a believing Mormon, but neither am I an angry ex-Mormon.

I’d start my film about the challenges of trying to live in two different cultures with a scene showing me and non-LDS companions at a restaurant. “Do you mind if I have a glass of wine with dinner?” is a question often asked of me. I don’t drink—but not for religious reasons. It’s just that I’ve seen people past college age take up drinking and they generally make fools of themselves. Drinking, like skiing, is apparently a skill best learned at an early age. But people who enjoy an alcoholic drink appear ill at ease when indulging in the presence of a teetotaler. The flip scene is me ordering green tea at a meal with Mormon friends. That beverage clearly sets me on Satan’s side.

Other film scenes would show my social isolation. Until they get to know me, non-LDS acquaintances and colleagues see me as a stereotypical Mormon. The first year I taught in the English Dept. at SUU, I was not invited to a party the women faculty gave. A friend later told me I wasn’t included because they thought I would be uncomfortable with the Lesbian couples there. 

I would enjoy shooting a scene of me discussing politics with non-LDS friends where I feel free to use “damned” to describe politicians.  I’d probably be embarrassed to shoot a scene of me with Mormon friends or relatives who bring up politics. I struggle, not always successfully, to keep the “How can you be so stupid?” look from my face when people I truly like quote Glenn Beck’s wisdom.

I should include a scene of myself attending Sacrament Meeting to keep in touch with my neighbors. You’d see my brow furrow as I mentally debate taking the sacrament when sitting beside a devout member. Will partaking mark me as a cowardly hypocrite? I prefer thinking of myself as a paragon of virtue.  If I don’t partake, my neighbor’s spirituality may suffer as she spends the rest of the service pondering my possible transgressions.

 I guess a fence straddler can’t expect human acceptance when even God prefers hot or cold to lukewarm. If the author of Revelation got it right, I can look forward to being spewed from God’s mouth. (Rev. 3:16) Now that would be a fine climatic scene to my film.

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