Earlier this week I wrote here about the “Mormon Moment,” a phrase gaining popularity throughout the media as Governor Mitt Romney’s presidential ambitions soldier on. We may have been here for over 116 years now, but apparently Mormons are just now getting interesting.
Today there were at least four different articles about Mormons in my inbox – The Mormon Moment (Politico), Mitt Romney’s Mormon Firewall (Politico), Mitt’s Mormon Army: How It Works (BuzzFeed), and MSNBC’s Morning Joe discussed Mormonism with a Mormon! (Ironically, the most biased and negative of these stories was written by a former BYU newspaper reporter.) I’m sure there were many more articles, but these are just the ones emailed to me today. Each article takes a very different approach at discussing who Mormons are and what their religion means to them, and in some cases, what Mitt Romney means to them. As actual members of this Church we know that the Church unequivocally, does not, take a stand on political candidates. We also know that the Gospel is real and true, but people are imperfect. We also know that some people live and die Cougar Blue, while questioning anyone in Utes Red, and have a hard time sleeping at night wondering how it is possible that more General Authorities have attended the U than have attended BYU. While a few (if not most) of our fellow members struggle to define the line between political beliefs and Gospel beliefs.
We Mormons are a loyal bunch. We have much in common, and sometimes forget to celebrate our diversity. Because we so often connect the things we care about (our college, our political candidate) with the things we share in common with them (the Gospel), we forget that one is not the same as the other. Politics and the Gospel can shake hands and be nice acquaintances, but they are, absolutely, not going to be good friends. Some will disagree with this statement. I say, bring it on! Sure, in a perfect world, the people would be so perfect that a theologian society could exist in perfect harmony. But this is far from a perfect world, and we are far from a perfect people. And until the Savior comes and we are all perfected, there will be differences in opinion, objections over differences, and people who use the ward roster as a political polling list.
Last month, the Pew Research Center released a 125-page report titled “Mormons in America” that surveyed over 1,000 members of the LDS Church. According to the poll, the majority of Mormons across the country, 63 percent, said they believe acceptance of their religion is on the rise. When I read that I had to laugh. Apparently, I’m in the 37 percent who don’t believe acceptance is on the rise. I think awareness is on the rise, but I do not think we have reached the point of acceptance. I do think that acceptance is the next step.
I am reminded of schoolyard antics when I think of Mormons being accepted in America. At first, a little boy acts like he doesn’t notice the little girl in pigtails. He ignores her, and she has no idea that she is a problem for him, as she is rather involved with herself. Next, he begins to pull her pigtails and harass her, chasing her around the schoolyard. She runs home to Mommy who explains this means he likes her, which isn’t really true at all. He does it because he knows she is having an affect on him that he is uncomfortable with, so he takes it out on her. The little girl, emboldened by her belief that she and her pigtails are cute, decides to be nice to the boy. For several years they live in estranged silence. She is nice when they pass, but mostly he keeps his distance. Eventually, possibly ten years later, when the boy is close to figuring out how to spell maturity, he realizes she is no longer a little girl with pigtails and has evolved into something good, something interesting, and even attractive. But he’s still not sure how to proceed, so he resorts to the same routine- question, poke, prod, tease, mock. And then, and only then, once she has been good and tortured, and he has seen all the different sides of her, he accepts that she really is something good, and they live in peace.
Sure, this might be the most oversimplified version of how mainstream America is accepting Mormons, but it works for me. America noticed the Mormons, and persecuted them, ran them right out of the country. For decades the Mormons lived on, grew up, and did just fine on their own. And now, many years later, America is noticing something good became of that little girl he used to torture on the playground. (By their fruits ye shall know them!) But before she can really be accepted, America has to put the Mormons through another round of mocking, questioning, and teasing. They will hold her underwear up for the world to see and question it. They will make silly musicals about her. They will make sure that she has been completely poked and prodded to see what sort of reaction might fall out. And then, once he is convinced he is seeing the Mormons for what we really are, we will be accepted. (I apologize for my constant pro-noun and verb tense usage.)