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More thoughts on Mormon and ex-Mormon videos

August 22, 2010

The last time I covered the video of Robert, the ex-Mormon, I focused less on the content of the video and more on how the video was spread. Ultimately, I ended up sticking my foot far in my mouth (pro-tip, it tasted good), missing the entire (and simple) point of promoting good links (you want more people to see great things you’ve seen; it is a gift that the internet allows you to share so easily), and saying some silly things. [To (dis)claim, I still think there can be ways that people go too far, but that won’t be the subject of this post.]

Since then, I’ve been thinking about the original “I’m a Mormon” campaign and also Robert’s inaugural event in the “I’m an ex-Mormon” campaign. I have good feelings about both.

First, to talk about the campaign videos. I have seen so much cynicism and (dis)trust of what the church is doing…are they being duplicitous? Are they really being more open and accepting of alternative viewpoints, or are they only open to certain different appearances (like skateboarders and motorcyclists)? And of course, I have written about those who in turn (dis)trust those who are concerned about the commercials.

I think a lot of the (dis)appointment comes from improper expectations of the goals of the campaign. When I watched many of the videos, the message I got from them was, “Hey, I do many of the same things that you do, and I’m not a Mormon machine cut out of a mold. Still, even if I’m not perfect, I’m striving to follow the commandments of God as they have been revealed through the church’s prophets.”

This latter part is critical. I think that the church wants to show the diversity that can exist among people who are striving to have a kind of orthodox faith. This doesn’t include everyone and all diversity — because apart from the diversity of those striving for orthodox faith, there is also a diversity of those who are *not* striving for orthodox faith. There is a diversity of those for whom the orthodox faith just isn’t working for them.

The question really becomes the slippery one that many people have wondered for a while…what constitutes orthodox faith in Mormonism? Does a white shirt on Sunday satisfy orthodoxy, pragmatic prudence or culture? Is a woman working outside of the home a breach of orthodoxy or a breach of widespread LDS culture? (And even in asking this, how could a woman in the work outside the home still strive for LDS standards regarding the importance of motherhood? Is the church realizing or conceding the possibility that one can have both, and so doesn’t have to make it an either or proposition?)

I don’t think the video is going to do such drastic things to Sunday services (but perhaps it is an aspiration for a future direction), but it points out something that may not be obvious — at least every other day of the week, yes, Mormons can do normal things in normal ways without being chastised by the church, given that they are striving for faith in these things.

I can see how people would (dis)like even that message…because it still hinges on this “striving for faith” aspect, where the faith described is that as revealed by LDS leaders. But…hey, it’s the church’s videos.

But now, what about the ex-Mormon videos?

The best thing about Robert’s video is how positive it is. How it says — like the video — that growing up as a Mormon is not strange. I know many active, faithful Mormons won’t like this, but Robert’s video, I think, also works well — for the most part — for the church. (Of course, the two (dis)positive points about the commercial with respect to the church…Robert says that the integrity just isn’t there…and in a more implied way, these kinds of commercials debase the church’s claim to goodness. How can one continue to be good [or perhaps be better] outside of the church? This question is no problem if one realizes that goodness is portable and nonproprietary, but the question chafes against those who want to say that faith will improve any life.)

The difference in Robert’s video is that it expands and expounds upon the diversity that the campaign shows. It broadcasts, in addition to those the church broadcasts (people for whom the Mormon faith continues to provide benefit), those people who have “grown out” of or who have “graduated” from Mormonism and are still doing well. Just as a student who graduates from college takes certain skills with her for her career and the rest of her life, so too does an ex-Mormon who has graduated from the church take certain skills, life experiences, and lessons on as well.

This video shows not only that ex-Mormons can thrive outside of the church, but that they can do so with a positive attitude regarding that church. Who’s to say that ex-Mos must froth at the mouth in anger? (Or, even if some do for a time, that they’ll never get better?) Who’s to say that ex-Mos can’t hold a sensible conversation about the church?

It is this combination of factors, showing people who can recognize the good opportunities they have had within the church even while recognizing that — for whatever reason — they cannot in good conscience maintain membership and activity with that institution, that make these kinds of commercials so wholesome. I hope this attitude and outlook is catching.

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  1. I guess that’s the secret, right? That former mormons are just as happy as current mormons? That the LDS church doesn’t have a corner on happiness or well-being?

    I still think it’s a little like a divorce (regarding the relationship of former mormons with the LDS church). So, just like with a divorce, there can be anger there. And some of that anger and criticism can last for the rest of a person’s life and that is okay. Most people that I’ve talked with who were divorced – even after years of processing would admit 1 – this is why the marriage didn’t work out and 2 – why it could never have worked.

    Is that really angry? Is it angry to admit the truth (that a marriage wasn’t working and that the couple needed to go their separate ways)?

    The mormon church has made lots of truth claims that it can’t prove. And then, often it will attack former mormons saying they were weak, they wanted to sin, they never really believed it, etc. (ad hominem attacks). They (the leadership) will not (never) admit that the truth claims might have been wrong, misguided. Or will only do so under intense political pressure. It is always the person who has left’s fault for no longer believing. So if a former mormon creates a website/video detailing the truth claims or their experience, it is almost always seen as a threat and an attack. Even Robert’s benign video is probably seen that way – for even daring to suggest that some people leave mormonism _and they are still happy_.

    Maybe someday that will change (blaming the messenger). I would like to see it change.

  2. Yeah, aerin, that’s really the thing that I’m trying to balance here. I think that people have the right to be angry. We shouldn’t think that it’s something people should “get over” in a day, or something that only “weak people” endure. It’s a big deal.

    Nevertheless, I also can’t help feeling doubly bound. If you don’t let your anger out, it will fester inside you. But if you do, then you will promote the “angry exMo” stereotype (and no matter how much you explain that sometimes, the anger is justified, people just won’t get it.) It’s a catch 22.

    But the way I feel is the way I feel on most minority issues. We don’t have the luxury that others have. We have to be twice as good to get half the credit. We have to appear spotless, because any blemish will wipe out any progress that we are making.

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