The OTHER Mormon Moment

Many of you have heard of the “Mormon Moment,” and the items that have happened through the last year:

    Mitt Romney as a legitimately viable candidate for the Republican party candidate for President of the United States
    The Book of Mormon Musical cleaning house at the Tony Awards
     

    The “I’m a Mormon” campaign, focusing on the “everyday” folks that make up the LDS church.

As a matter of fact, if you need a refresher, just pick up the infamous Newsweek magazine from the middle of June this last year.

Many people feel that this our “arriving” moment, where Mormons are now taken seriously as a culture and as a religion. People are now examining the nuances that make Mormons who they are (for example, the the phenomenon of Mormon Mommy Blogs), scholarly interests have been increasing over the years (Oxford University Press seems to have five different books coming out about Mormon Studies), and it being commonplace to hear about Mormons from places like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

I’m sure I know what you’re all thinking. “That’s a lot of patting on the back, Brandt. Isn’t your arm getting tired?”

Well, I think there’s a second Mormon Moment that has been happening recently that has gone under the radar from the general Mormon public, but hasn’t escaped the scrutiny of the all-seeing eye of the Bloggernacle (something akin to the Eye of Sauron) and the attention of the media. And while it might be uncomfortable for some of us active members, it’s something that needs to be out in the open.

Obviously, the two most prominent things on my mind are BYU Religion Professor Randy Bott’s comments concerning the priesthood ban in the Washington Post, and the ongoing practice (and continued scrutiny) of baptising any names in “unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust Victims” (taken from an official letter to be read in Sacrament meetings). While I’m not wanting to go into the details of both of the situations (that have been covered ad nauseum elsewhere), they are on my mind simply because they’ve started dialogue, and have helped draw attention to some issues that get ignored.

In a sense, this puts a different spotlight on the LDS Church. Many of the cultural practices that we have are being further examined, and many of the things that have been a sore spot for members inside the church, people who self-identify as “Mormon” on some level, and people outside of the church are now the source of scrutiny.

Take, for example, Bott’s comments. While I won’t go throwing someone under the bus that I have never met, I also won’t be defending what he said. What did happen was an interesting chain of effects that caused the LDS Church to come out publicly, through their newsroom, and issue some sort of denouncement against what Bott was saying. Believe me – I’d love for it to be stronger. I’d love for the church to issue an apology along the lines of the UK Mormon/Ex-Mormon letter that is being drafted up:

We apologize without reserve as individuals who, having been misled by such misguided teachings, unintentionally gave support to the view that the Black race was in some way inferior to others…We the undersigned ask you, our Black brothers and sisters, to accept our hand in apology, with your forgiveness and friendship, sharing together in the hope and vision of Dr Martin Luther King, that together “we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our [world] into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood [and sisterhood]. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day”.

Here was the church’s response to the Bott situation:

For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.

Rhetoric aside, this statement does something interesting. It acknowledges external influences. It acknowledges the aspect that social media has on some of these unsavory things that people might say or do. I think the 80/20 rule applies here, where 20% of ignorant, bigoted, self-righteous, presumptuous, and stupid members of the LDS church give the rest of the 80% who really try to live their religion, to be Christlike, to be good people, they give them a bad name. And by the public outcry to Bott’s comments, the LDS Newsroom was, in a sense, forced to respond.

Next is the baptism issue. Apparently, people have been submitting names of Jewish Holocaust victims for proxy work in the temples, most notably baptisms. According to the advance copy of the letter that will be read in sacrament meetings, this is what will be re-itterated to church members:

Without exception, Church members must not submit for proxy tempole ordinances any names from unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims. If members do so, they may forfeit their New FamilySearch privileges. Other correct action may also be taken.

Again, if we go back to my 80/20 rule, 80% of the people that I have come in contact with are mostly concerned about their ancestors, and doing their own family temple work. I’m fine with that. This isn’t where I want to debate on the concept of temple work. But there’s the 20% that seem to take things to an alarmingly unncesseary degree. There are entire websites dedicated to people who have done the work for passed-on celebrities, such as FamousDeadMormons.com. This is too far.

I guess in my mind’s eye, I can see these people. They pull the names, submit them for proxy work, and take them to the temple. Then on Sunday, they gather with everyone else, bragging about the amazing things their kids have done, how their kids were either the smartest in their grade, the best athlete, they were asked on so many dates, with all the “Golly gee aww shucks” fake humility they can muster, and when the conversation dies, and they need to assert their dominance, they bring up going to the temple the night before in hushed, reverent tones. And in an act of supreme arrogance, they BRAG that “You know, we were at the temple doing baptisms, and one of the names that came up for me was very curious…”

They leave their friends hanging, like a season finale of a TV Show…and as someone speaks up, urging them to go on, they look everyone in the eyes (because the people who do these things are so desperate for the attention of their peers) to make sure all attention is on them, and in a soft voice, say something along the lines of “Ernest Miller Hemingway.” And then, since they’ve got to leave at the exact right time, as the amazement of the name flows over the group, this person walks off with their head held high, knowing they were able to pull the trump card on everyone in their group.

OK fine, maybe it isn’t as dramatic as I think. It could be “well meaning” people wanting to give those that passed on the opportunity to accept the ordinances. If it’s someone’s grandfather, great grandfather, then they would have to deal with their family in doing it. But my biggest problem is the people who have no familial relation.

So what is the OTHER Mormon Moment? Simply put, I think we’re going to have to start looking at some of these practices and pesky “things” that seem to stick around, and confront them. Bott’s comments were met with the type of backlash I hoped they would be. Same with the Jewish Holocaust victims. We Mormons want to be taken seriously as a serious religion. Well, consider yourselves being taken seriously.

Image via The Daily Beast

As always, contact me at brandt[dot]malone@whitefieldseducational[dot]org