In my last post, I highlighted some of my feelings about vociferous theists and truculent atheists, and how their perpetual pas de deux (or is it pas de Deus?) seems somewhat removed from Mormons insofar as the atheists are usually picking apart doctrines to which we do not adhere, and Religion is defended by those who likewise do not represent our specific tenets or speak on behalf of our unique beliefs. And whenever Mormonism is specifically singled out for criticism or ridicule by either atheists or other religionists, (like when a Mormon is running for president, for example) those attacks still tend to either grossly misrepresent or misunderstand our doctrines, or else, like most anti-mormon rhetoric, they miss the vast, complex, and nuanced forest for the tired, decrepit Spaulding manuscript trees. Or to put it another way, “The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.”
At least Romney’s campaign managed to bring those two disparate groups together, atheists and theists, in agreement on at least one thing: A Mormon shouldn’t run the country. Now, I don’t want this to get political, and for another thing, I’m in Canada anyway, where religion has quite reasonably never been an issue in our elections. In fact, I guarantee that if you asked ten random Canadians the religion of our Prime Minister, I doubt three of them could tell you with any accuracy. (For that matter, a few might not even be able to tell you his name…)
I didn’t agree with a number of Romney’s policies, for what it’s worth, and I probably wouldn’t have voted for him. (My earlier posts about Glenn Beck might have tipped you off.) The Church is, thankfully, politically neutral, and always counsels its members to vote according to their conscience, and my conscience has tended to be decidedly left of centre in the last few US elections. But that’s neither here nor there. (And if I have to listen to one more person try to explain how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Christian, my head may explode.)
For the record, I’m not a huge fan of the way Obama is handling transparency and privacy in his current administration, and that is something that affects me way up here in the True North. But I digress.
Perhaps it’s in the nature of Mormons to feel persecuted, given our history of, well, persecution. When I read the derisive things written about Islam or Scientology, I reflexively bristle, if only because I know what it feels like to have your belief system, no matter how apparently peculiar to others, scorned and ridiculed. Now, Mormons, Muslims and Scientologists might not have a whole lot in common, doctrinally speaking, but I think when it comes to intolerance, we might have some broadly similar anecdotes we could share at our next (herbal) tea party. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to rank world religions in terms of who has had it worse in the persecution department. (Obviously Judaism wins that particular battle.)
It’s just too bad that neither the left or the right really wants us. The left thinks we’re bigoted nut-jobs, and the right thinks we’re a dangerous un-Christian cult. No wonder the Church’s public affairs department has shifted gears over the last number of years toward highlighting the normalcy of our members. It helps when we have a celebrity to whom people can look and say, “oh, he’s not crazy”, the way people used to about Tom Cruise. But our list of practicing non-political celebrities is not that long.
To put it another way, the people who tend to be poorly disposed toward Mormons are the ones who have never met one. To know us is to love us!
Okay, maybe not, but it’s hard to think bad things about someone that you know personally to be a good neighbour, a hard-working person, with a loving family, who serves their community.
Of the Mormon “celebrities” that were featured in I’m A Mormon ads, we have that You Tube violin playing dub stepper Lindsay Stirling, and Brandon Flowers, the rock-star lead singer of The Killers. And probably some others, but those are the only two I remember off the top of my head from the campaign who could arguably be considered celebrities. (Does Jenna, the cute comedian who works on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart count?)
It’s a good strategy, that I’m A Mormon campaign, because it dispels a lot of tenacious myths about who we are, and what we look like, and how we act. It’s a low-impact way for non-members who don’t know us to have an opportunity to “meet” a Mormon. It’s like Michael Otterson, Managing Director of the Church Public Affairs Department, said:
“What we have found, again, in research – this is not guesswork – is that people tend to have a better perception of individual members of the Church than they do of the Church as an institution. That’s not unusual. And so when people have met our missionaries, or they’ve interacted with members who are maybe their neighbours, they’re likely to have a much better perception, and that is very significant… If every member were to understand the collective power, the collective influence, that their interactions with their neighbours [have]… That is about the most powerful component of our collective reputation. The burden of responsibility actually rests with the individual member. Not to try to preach theological sermons, but to live their religion in such a way that people see their values.” (Transcribed from Conversations #42; from The Mormon Channel.)
Brother Otterson’s comments should be at the very least reassuring to those Latter-day Saints who struggle with member missionary work, since he appears to suggest that merely being a good example and letting other people know you’re a Mormon is half the battle. (At least when it comes to general public perception of the Church. Conversion, (i.e. the purpose of member missionary work), will require more effort I’m afraid…)