An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

As Others See Us

Recently I asked several non-Mormon friends and acquaintances for honest feedback on a novel I’m writing with a Mormon setting. My intent is to paint an honest picture of a Mormon couple dealing with marital conflict. Because I’m not writing a “faith-promoting” story where everyone’s problems are solved by fasting, praying, and paying tithing—and the husband has a PG vocabulary—I know Deseret Book and its subsidiaries will neither publish nor stock it.  

Since the marital problems in my story are universal, I had hoped a non-Mormon audience would be interested. But the feedback from my friends stunned me. They don’t want to read a book with anything positive about Mormonism. “I quit reading when it mentioned visiting teaching,” was one comment. “I just wish the Mormon Church would go away,” was another.

I’ve lived in Utah most of my life and have enough non-Mormon friends to know nonmembers don’t see the church with the same rose-colored classes which members do. Still, I was unprepared for the hostility directed at the church when I pressed for totally honest opinions. I questioned my closest friend about her anti-Mormon bias. “It’s the hypocrisy,” she said. “Mormons are always telling themselves how wonderful they are because they don’t smoke and don’t drink alcohol or caffeine—unless it’s in soft drinks.”

Hypocrisy? I thought about a woman I know with a loser husband who refuses to work. She recently posted a note on Facebook saying how grateful she is they are a “forever family.” Maybe that’s not hypocrisy. Maybe she only thinks of her kids when she thinks of her forever family—or maybe she thinks Slug-O will get to work in the next life. But I have to admit that Mormons are encouraged to paint rosy pictures of Mormon life—maybe to give us something to live up to—like the admonition that we need to bear our testimonies to strengthen them. I wouldn’t necessarily call repeating things you want to believe hypocrisy, but I can see how it looks that way to outsiders.

Proselytizing is, of course, offensive to people who are satisfied with their own faiths. Many of my junior high students complained about that. One remarked, “The problem with Mormons is—they always want to change you.”

Clannishness is another complaint non-Mormons make. Mormons generally do limit their friends to members of their faith, but I don’t think the intent is to be exclusionary. We all prefer to spend time with people with whom we have much in common. And active Mormons really haven’t much time for friends outside their church circle.

From comments of non-Mormon friends, acquaintances, colleagues and students—not to mention the message of the failed Mitt Romney presidential-nomination campaign,–I’d say Mormons have a serious image problem. And I don’t think it can all be attributed to persecution by Satan.


Comments on: "As Others See Us" (8)

  1. My experience with friends is that most seem uninterested and a few are curious … not about what we Mormons imagine they’d be curious about but about the thing that we ourselves are curious about: the more bizarre things.

    • Matt
      You’ve got my curiosity going. What kidns of bizarre things?

      • The things that made for non-boring sunday school discussions as I was growing-up: Angels, demons, orbs if glass, last days, the particulars of what it’s like to die by crucifixion, plurality of wives as divine doctrine, the fact that you can’t buy a coke at BYU, etc.

      • Those are the more interesting things. Since that’s what non-Mormons find interesting, maybe they should be added to the misisonary lessons.

  2. Don’t give up the publishing idea with Deseret and subsidiaries. A lot will depend on how you sell your book, how you pitch it. Think about how your book could serve as a lesson for LDS members to better understand non-LDS. Maybe you could have a character, a neighbor or in-law, who is so anti-Mormon, that they are the voice of the outsider. Trough that character’s dialogue, interpretation, response to the LDS inner circle, LDS readers could learn better, and safely, how they are perceived from the outside. This could be an opportunity to “teach” both sides.

  3. I think you need to put me in your book. You have my permission.

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