After the November election things were tense in the United States to say the least. That being said, I saw things that contradicted the narrative given by the media almost daily. My favorite example was one day when I was walking my dog and passed a man who was from the Middle East struggling to start his car. The car had been sitting for quite some time and was covered with at least a foot and a half of snow. He eventually got it started and drove it a very short distance across the street where the car got stuck on the icy slope leading to a parking lot. It was a fairly busy street as far as foot traffic goes and I continued walking past as did others. When I came back there were now two men helping the dude push his car up the slope. They were blonde haired blue eyed Mormons, name tags and all. As I rounded the corner there were two more on bikes making their way to the scene. “They called for backup,” I thought to myself smiling. It was a tiny moment but it made my eyes a little watery.
There’s a weird double standard regarding religion in America that continues to puzzle me. Certain religions are praised while others are close to demonized (no pun intended). Some are mocked regularly in Family Guy skits while it’s a hate crime to make fun of others.
In America there are “cool” religions and uncool religions, at least as exemplified by the media, and I mean all media, not just the news. You meet some folks at a coffee shop in Seattle and tell them you’re Buddhist and you’ll get respect, tell them you’re Mormon and the reaction probably won’t be the same.
Now all religions have some wackiness to them and the Mormon faith is no different. This religion is particularly fascinating to me, not just in their inner workings but in the way society treats them.
I think the best comparison I can make is to Islam. Around the world Muslims far outnumber Mormons but in the U.S. they are closer to comparable. There are roughly 3.9 million Mormons in the U.S. and roughly 3.3 million Muslims, so as far as population goes they are similar in the U.S.
They are also similar in the way they both spark controversy. Ask random people on the street what they think about Islam or Mormonism and you are likely to get an emotional response. Ask folks about either religion and you will encounter positive and negative reactions and a lot of false stereotypes as well. Both faiths are generally against gay marriage but very pro-traditional marriage, meaning both religions lead to large families and more traditional gender roles. They both have a male founder who claimed to have revelations and created new religious text. Both religions usually promote socially conservative beliefs. Yet on the social issue of religious tolerance the two couldn’t be treated much different.
The greatest example of this is the very popular Broadway musical called “The Book of Mormon.” This is not a show that celebrates the missionary work Mormons do or their commitment to helping thy neighbor or their general polite and respectful culture. No. It’s a play that mocks the whole faith. And to be honest it’s not difficult to mock Mormons. But let’s try wearing the shoe on the other foot…what if there was a play called “The Quran” that mocked Islam and the beliefs that accompany that faith? Can you imagine the reaction? Well, actually we don’t really have to imagine the outcome as it’s already been tested.
In 2005, a Danish newspaper ran a cartoon featuring the Prophet Muhammad. Eventually, protests broke out all over the world, the artist received thousands upon thousands of death threats, a fatwa, and worldwide leaders took action denouncing, investigating and holding meetings over the series.
Now as far as I know, after The Book of Mormon premiered not a single major protest took place, there weren’t death threats, the playwrights did not need to go into hiding or hire security and the only question being asked around the globe in regards to the show was “when are you going to go see it?”
What’s funny is refusing to make fun of all religions equally is in itself a form of discrimination. When you refuse to touch Islam for fear of what may happen afterwards, the assumption you are making is Muslims are wild humans with no sense of humor. Gays, Blacks, Christians, Jews, atheists, crossfitters, we all get mocked and it’s sort of a badge of honor when it happens. Kind of like when Weird Al covers your song. SNL refusing to do a skit poking fun at Islam is sending the message Muslims can’t take a good-natured joke. It’s an odd parable few like to point out.
And Mormons have seen their fair share of persecution and massacres. Do you know why Mormons populated Utah so abundantly? It’s because they were being persecuted and driven out of New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, usually violently. The founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith and his brother were killed in an angry mob while jailed in Carthage, Illinois. Haun’s Mill Massacre resulted in the death 17 Mormons and their are many other cases of Mormons being injured and sometimes killed in mob like fashion. Even today, Mormon missionaries are attacked for their beliefs, but these instances get little news coverage, if any. Utah was a place no one else wanted, so Mormons were essentially forced to flee there.
I reached out to a couple of folks I know who are Mormon and even today they face discrimination, harassment and general hate despite being law abiding citizens who just happen to be Mormon. One friend had someone yell loudly “YOU’RE A MORMON NOOOOO” when they found out her faith. Another spoke of how sports were more difficult because even though his faith had nothing to with it, his teammates constantly brought it up. Another friend relayed certain people don’t want to be your friend when they learn of your faith. These are similar stories I hear Muslims telling.
People in the LDS church express the same frustrations that Muslims do when it comes to the actions of a few changing the public perspective of the faith as a whole. Muslims get frustrated when a terrorist hijacked their faith to commit acts of terror. Mormons get frustrated when a handful of people who claim and tarnish the LDS name (specifically Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) participate in underage polygamy despite the Mormon faith officially denouncing everything related to such behavior over 100 years ago.
I’ve always viewed the Mormon faith as a little preposterous but well intentioned and worthy of respect (just like pretty much any other faith out there) but my appreciation grew tenfold for the Mormons after the last election. Conservatives were called out for supporting a candidate who was barely that. Those who claim to have Judeo/Christian values but supported Trump were called hypocrites and rightly so. But if you want to play identity politics (which I hate doing) there was one group that held true to their principles, one group you couldn’t call hypocrites… you guessed it, the Mormons.
If conservatives were looking for options outside of Trump, they essentially had two, Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin (who was only on 11 state ballots). Funny enough, the two states with the greatest percentage of voters voting for either of these candidates are also the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. 60% of Utah’s population is Mormon and 24% of the votes went for former Republican third party candidates. Mormons make up 19% of the population in Idaho and 11% of the votes went for McMullin or Johnson. Despite being told by the masses that they aren’t “real Christians,” the LDS church appears to be one of the only groups that voted according to Christian values.
As one Mormon said about Trump, “That’s not the kind of person that I want representing our country. I would hope that our leader would be honest, civil, kind, open.”
It seems many in his church agree.
I want to thank the Mormons. Thank you for being intellectually honest about Trump. Thank you for putting up with mainstream mockery by holding your head high instead of rioting. And thank you for that one time you helped me pull weeds in my yard, appreciate it.