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The “I am a Mormon” campaign is not about showing diversity of Mormon beliefs.

April 3, 2012

You are Not a MormonWith his fourth profile submission for rejected, “the Narrator” Loyd has seized another opportunity to write about the flaws of the church’s I am a Mormon campaign.

For a while now I’ve largely felt that the whole “I’m a Mormon!” campaign on had become a sham. While the whole premise of the site is to say “Here, look at real Mormons!,” by moderating the profiles so that only Mormons who follow a prescribed script are allowed, the realness of the profiles and premise becomes fake. It is akin to a biography that purports to present the “real” story of a person–while consciously omitting anything about the person that does not contribute to the narrative that they want to present. While all of the facts presented in the biography may be true, the omissions make the overall narrative false. In this same way, the whole “I’m a Mormon!” campaign is largely undermined by the moderators who get to pick and chose who gets to represent “real” Mormons.

There is something that bothers me even more though. The Church has been heavily promoting the “I’m a Mormon!” campaign and actively encouraging members to submit their own profiles. However, in having these self-described college-student, return-missionary, part-time employees do the monitoring, they are essentially giving these persons the authority to determine who is and isn’t a legitimate (or “real”) Mormon–a power that most bishops don’t even lay claim to. Thus, while a believing member may be deemed worthy to have a calling and temple recommend by their bishop–or even be a bishop himself–that very member may be denied  the right to publicly proclaim “I’m a Mormon!” by a zealous monitor.

And what’s the takeaway of all that? See after the break.

This type of monitoring can be very detrimental to members who may struggle with finding a place in the Church. At the conference last week, the monitor in attendance justified the practice using the example of someone who might say that he is a gay parent and a Mormon. The obvious problem with this rationale is that there are, in fact, gay Mormon parents. While it may certainly be difficult to be one in the overtly-conservative Mormon culture, there is nothing institutionally or religiously wrong with being gay+parent+Mormon. Because of the culture (and because of the less-charitable statements by some leaders) it is nevertheless a challenge to be gay+Mormon, and those who manage to maintain both identities generally do so with a struggle of feeling belonged or having a place within the faith. So when one of these members who has met up with these challenges and wants to say, “I’m a Mormon!” this over-zealous monitor–despite the ecclesiastical approval of the member–can tell that person: “No, you’re not a Mormon!”

I guess there is one issue. The goal isn’t to show the diversity of Mormon beliefs, or even of Mormon (qua Mormon) practices. The goal of the “I am a Mormon” campaign, as far as I can tell, is simply to show some broader sense of the diversity of Mormons themselves, by whatever measures superficial and otherwise.

What’s the difference?

I think the church wants to showcase that someone who is, say, black, can still appreciate and follow the principles and teachings of the church, and love it. I think the church wants to showcase that someone who is an athlete can appreciate and follow the principles and teachings of the church and love it. Someone who is a recognized singer can do the same. And on and on and on.

So, you can do all these cool things, and still believe and do the body of orthodoxy and orthopraxy that the church expects.

If the church can show this, then it can perhaps imply a few other things — maybe that the church helps and assists people in being superstars in their personal lives? Or, alternatively, it can imply at the very least that no one should be paying any more attention to old ideas and stereotypes about Mormons. No one should pay attention to the racial history of the church, because look! There’s a black member! And there’s another! You have heard that Mormons have horns, and as you can see from all of these individuals’ shining faces, you heard wrong.

That’s what I think the church does want to show.

I don’t think the church is purposefully trying to film people who are unapologetic about believing differently than what is taught from the pulpit on “official” matters (whatever “official” is…”official” is something that is a part-time employee, returned missionary knows when he sees, I’m assuming), or who are behaving differently than what is taught from the pulpit with no intention to repent on whatever needs repenting.

Nope. I don’t think the church is about that.

Every podcast should have transcripts or time-marked topical outlines

OK, so let’s move to something completely different. I was listening to Mormon Matters’ latest episodes on Middle Way Mormonism (featuring Jared Anderson, Andrew Ainsworth, Scott Holley, and Dan Wotherspoon.) I still haven’t finished it yet, but I was liking a lot of what I was hearing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you too much about what I liked, because the episodes were long enough that their content has barely broken past my internal mental ability to keep the exact topic outline in my head.

So instead, I remember a lot of great one-liners…but only paraphrastically.

One thing the panelists discussed at some point in the episodes was the idea that Middle Way Mormons (or whatever they will ultimately be called) have a legitimate case to make that they are not only just as Mormon as non-Middle Way Mormons…but in fact, they are more legitimately Mormon than other Mormon. This isn’t to say that some people are Mormon and some people are not Mormon…but rather that based on the history of the Mormon enterprise, Middle Way Mormons may often make the case that they have more continuity with the Mormon tradition than the relatively recent correlated version we see today.

But here’s the thing…the “I am a Mormon” campaign doesn’t want to show Middle Way Mormons…it doesn’t want to give credence to them. I’m not saying that the Narrator is a middle way Mormon (the term is so sensitive these days…no one seems to like it and everyone seems to shun it), but those who advocate for the middle way essentially have to accept that they are in a battle with the church.

I think Jared put it in an interesting way: his Mormonism is a “love letter of protest.”

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  1. Enjoyed reading your thoughts Andrew. Always a pleasure to engage. And YES on transcripts or at least outlines! I think those are in the works, in fits and starts. At least on peoples’ minds.

  2. So, you can do all these cool things, and still believe and do the body of orthodoxy and orthopraxy that the church expects.

    I think it’s true that that’s the goal. Yet it kind of frustrates me in a different direction:

    On the one hand, wants to promote the [ideologically censored] impression that, say, you can’t be Mormon and believe that same-sex unions should be celebrated and cherished. OTOH, individual Mormons loudly complain in liberal circles about Mormons getting “stereotyped” as “homophobes”. But you can’t have it both ways: it’s not a “stereotype” if it’s an actual requirement for admission into the group.

  3. chanson,

    I think, however, that individual Mormons complain about Mormons getting stereotyped as homophobes for very different reasons. Think of how Seth R. often puts it: there is no fear of homosexuality or hatred for gay people, so using the word “homophobe” is as much a non-starter as using the term “cult.”

    It’s not that these Mormons think that Mormonism celebrates or cherishes same-sex unions. It’s that they believe that “homophobe” is an illegitimate term to describe all opposition to same-sex unions.

  4. OK, well your point is well taken that certain words shut down the discussion. Case in point, you you didn’t respond to my point at all, you merely responded to the term “homophobe” (which was merely an example, and wasn’t necessary in the point I was trying to make).

  5. Seth R. permalink

    I guess the real question would be how accurate the labeling is.

  6. chanson,

    I guess I’m continuing to miss what your point was. The church, or even just liberal members thereof, can have it both ways, because one doesn’t necessitate the other.

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