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Inside perception of the church

November 29, 2008

It’s so strange seeing blogs talking about the outcome of perception toward the LDS church post-Prop 8. Many insist that the church has ruined months and years of positive publicity (after all, we had our very own Olympics!) Others say that we already had publicity against us (Romney got Romney-fied in the Republican primaries and we had that whole fundamentalist thing in Texas), and still others say that by standing up for traditional values, we will appeal to those who truly stand for “Truth and Righteousness.” Once again, the Mormons are the innocent li’l ole church who The World prevails against but who still stands after repeated onslaughts and protests.

But forget all of that. Outsiders’ opinions of the church…who cares?!

Really, what about insiders’ opinions? Now, some may say that only active members are “insiders” and those who are inactive, or those who are ex, or those who are disaffected, or new order, or whatever the term, don’t count, but I think this is critical to the social politics of the church. I like this Faith Promoting Rumor post on Mormon Anxieties: it points out that sometimes, the insiders’ perspective is colored by anxieties that are unique to the insider. An outsider might look at Prop 8 as something that makes the church looks like bigots…or something that solidifies them as a rare defender of traditionalism in a liberal world. But only an insider might ask, “Hmm…how do the church’s actions impact what I feel about the words of the Prophet? The First Presidency? General Authorities in general? Can I really believe they speak true anymore? What if I’m excomm’d over this?” (And really, my links to Bigelow’s Rameumptom highlight what a more solid believer might ask: how close are we to the cataclysmic events spoken of in past times? These are only questions an insider could ask.)

I don’t know about cataclyms, but I used to think that the church was an organization that even if I disagreed with on spiritual issues was still reasonable.

For example, you didn’t really see a lot of explicit adoption of creationism or intelligent design. Because of the church’s relative silence on the issue, you could actually have flexibility in beliefs on this: you might believe in established science and mesh this with the church, but if you didn’t go for that, you might not. You can’t really do that with some other churches: it’s either creationism or bust!

That was somewhat comforting. After all; it’s not important for my salvation. And so I thought, “My church is reasonable. See?”

And whenever I’d ask others, they’d respond similarly. People would think Mormon spirituality was utterly insane, but crazy in a good way. Crazy in an always-smiling-and-happy-even-though-they-don’t-drink-coffee-and-it’s-7-o’-clock-AM way. Mormons are good to have as friends, but don’t let the missionaries get close!

I think that did more for us as *insiders* to the church than for the nonmembers. But now, we are crashing from our natural high as we realize that the church may not have looked so golden with outsiders.

Did we just ignore all the bad press that was already there? I mean, really, if you look back, the church has been very clear on gender roles and even though they’ve had a spotty record on race, they’ve been trying to sweep it under the rug well enough. They’ve had a predictable opposition to gays that fits in with the worldview of gender — but I guess some people took false hope in some of the things that church authorities said. When God Loveth His Children commented that homosexuality may not be “overcome in mortality” (ok, so not quite a nod from a church suddenly blessing SSA)…people might have had false hopes (but the church shot those down quickly.) When the church claimed that perhaps it might reevaluate its position on gay civil unions if only marriage could be preserved, people wanted to press the church on that bluff.

It seems kinda silly that people should expect the church to take a moderate road, now that I think of it. A religion like the Mormon church thrives on not being reasonable…it thrives on persecution and standing by what it feels is “right.” Can you compromise on God?

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  1. Peter permalink

    As a long time member of the Mormon church, I have sometimes heard the comment that bad publicity is better than no publicity as far as pushing the growth of the church. Today, there is a ton of publicity (mostly ridiculous)about the church. There are so many half baked perceptions that have become internet doctrine. But because of the vast amount of idea’s floating around I think that many people will come to know what the church is really about. The church seems to have growth sperts amid conflict.

  2. I guess I can’t really say if I agree that bad publicity is necessarily better than no publicity, but I can understand why the phrase would come about.

    I guess though, there are enough people on both sides. While you point out (correctly) that there are tons of half-baked ridiculous ideas about the church floating around the internet that must be washed out by facts, the problem is that this also sometimes works against the church which presents a very correlated, safe, “milk before meat” history.

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