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So what are you? “I’m Mormon.”

February 19, 2009

I guess nowadays I don’t really get into situations where I have to tell people about my religion, but yesterday was different.

A friend who recently has been proposed to said that her fiance pledged never to drink. So we asked why, and she told us about his alcoholic mother, and all the embarrassing things that she had done while drunk. So the son, the friend’s fiance, pledged he would never compromise himself like that.

We somehow got to recovering alcoholics, and I mentioned that my dad used to drink a lot (and he once fashioned himself alcoholic — I don’t know how far that goes), but obviously, he’s never had a drink in…29 years? Or more. The reason, I pointed out, was he became Mormon.

“Oh.” one of the others said, “So, that makes you Mormon.”

And I said, “Right.”

So then came the other questions, “So you believe in that Joseph Smith story?” And the tone with which he said it, I knew I had gotten into something.

“No, really, I’m a nonbelieving Mormon.”

I don’t know if that really made an impression on any of them — I don’t think they cared either way, but then came the questions. I felt stuck in an awkward position — I didn’t feel obligated to answer with standard church answers (so I like to spice up my answers with some controversy), but I also don’t want to paint the church in an unnecessarily incorrect light. My problem with a lot of antis is that they won’t even use truthful stuff (I’m of the mindset that that stuff is there, so it’s really tacky to pull out blatantly untrue and sensational claims.)

They asked something like, “So, aren’t Mormons the ones who believe Blacks don’t go to heaven?”

Yeowch. Why would you ask a black Mormon that? Good thing I’m just an ex-Mormon and I’m dull to that question since I hear it all the time.

But I answered calmly…the slight only partially stuck in my mind. I said, “Well, first of all, it’s not like that. It used to be an old policy that blacks could not get the priesthood in the church and that would mean they couldn’t have certain priesthood ordinances performed to get to the celestial — the highest kingdom — and be exalted. But that changed in 1978, of course, and so blacks can get the priesthood and everything’s doctrinally politically correct.”

I don’t think I really stressed the differences in kingdoms well enough (I mean, to a nonmember, I guess it’s easy to think that if you don’t make celestial kingdom with exaltation, you aren’t in “real” heaven).

So, came the next question, “But I guess that means women can’t go to heaven, since they don’t get the priesthood?”

I decided to put some spice (and I think if you’re a faithful member, you’ll cringe from this answer — even I cringed a bit because I wasn’t sure that that would ever make it past correlation) into my answer: “Well, women still have had the ability to go to the temple, but in this case, many of the uppermost temple rites require marriage. So, I guess that’s been a popular explanation for polygamy in the past.”

The group kinda talked about how it must suck to be single and alone or without a family, but I tried to mention that with the theology, there still are families in the afterlife and at least theoretically, people will be able to find others in the hereafter (or maybe that’s just a cultural faith-promoting rumor).

I guess I wasn’t a very good missionary. But then again, I’m not trying to go for any awards here. I don’t want to be one of those people who use misinformation blatantly, but I don’t want to parrot official lines. I want to poke fun when there is fun, but at other times, I realize that it’s different for a Mormon or ex-mormon to make fun than for a nonmember to. I can make fun of my family; you can’t.

But I got to thinking…how am I seen? I’d like to think that my actions lead people to think I’m a good person. I’d like to think that if someone found out I were Mormon (or was in the past), that they’d say, “Oh, you’re a good guy.” I guess I don’t really want to be a good Mormon, so I don’t care if people say, “You don’t seem very Mormon,” but I wouldn’t want people to hear me and think that the church is terrible and people with the church are terrible.

So, the big question is…what am I supposed to say? Because in this situation, I’d feel just as easy off saying, “oh, yeah, I’m atheist.” as I would say, “Oh, yeah, I’m mormon.” I’m shifting more to saying, “I’m ex-Mormon” or “cultural” or whatever, but it’s more straightforward to say Mormon and explain more after that than to say ex-Mormon and explain more after that. I remember once, I had to explain the idea of cultural Mormonism because he just couldn’t get it. I still ask myself (and others as me) why I don’t drink if I’m not “confined” to the Word of Wisdom. Well, 1) I’m a stickler for the law, 2) I’m being drug peer pressure, but 3) even without the spiritual dimensions, the Word of Wisdom is in my culture. It just feels natural. (I guess for many *believing* members, they haven’t gotten to this stage yet, haha.)


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  1. Not bad.

    In real-life discussions of Mormonism I strive for accuracy too, but I also shoot for entertainment value. That is, if Mormonism comes up IRL, I try to steer the conversation towards funny stories and stuff that’s most interesting.

    It’s a fine line to walk, though, since (as in the story you linked above) some people will get the wrong idea and take away the message that Mormonism is more weird and outlandish than it really is. Then I have to do the whole damage-control of explaining how this compares to other religions (whose beliefs are also ridiculous if presented in the same way!).

    On the other hand, there’s also the risk of giving people the misimpression that Mormons and Mormonism are a barrel of laughs! (Which contradicts the temple covenant about avoiding “loud laughter.”) But I can live with that little fudge… 😉

  2. Hi there!
    I am writing a series of posts on God concepts and I was wondering if anybody is interested in playing the devils advocate – since all the comments I get are one sided and it just doesn’t make for a good debate. So if you are an intelligent individual that can respect different opinions and would like to pitch in a thought or two stop by 🙂
    Thank you!

  3. I tell people I “grew up Mormon” or was “raised Mormon” when it comes up, but am atheist now. I have fun answering all of their questions, though!

  4. yeah, I think saying “grew up” Mormon leaves a lot more room for explanation

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Every exmember a missionary. | Main Street Plaza
  2. Every exmember a missionary at Mormon Matters
  3. A reminder to be positive and upbeat, especially with members | Main Street Plaza
  4. The story of John Smith « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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