Mormon Diversity?

In thinking back over my posts regarding Mormonism, I do not believe I have accurately portrayed the kind of diversity that I have witnessed within the Mormon community as I have been learning these past few months. To that end, I thought perhaps the easiest and best way to share this diversity with all of you would be to share a paper that I recently wrote for my class. We were assigned the task of finding Mormon blogs, identifying the issues that Mormons are discussing, and write about what we find. Here is what I wrote…

It did not take long in my research for this paper to come across a multitude of issues being discussed on Mormon blog sites. After reading only three different blog sites, I have found seven+ (depending on how you count them) issues in deep discussion within the Mormon community (as well as between interfaith communities), including personal relationships, women/sexuality, religion and science, homosexuality, liturgical year (or lack thereof), frugality (as portrayed by Mitt Romney), and the general public reputation of Mormonism. Due to the brevity of this paper, I will only discuss the first three in detail. I will walk through each briefly and examine how the comments that I read are similar or different from the comments I would see within my own community.

Personal Relationships. There are two blog posts that I consider to be commentaries on personal relationships. The first is a beautiful, personal eulogy of sorts for a man, Richard Cracroft, a leader within the Mormon community in many ways, including as a professor at Brigham Young University.[1] The blog’s author knew this man as a professor and eventually a friend, but also as the man who would determine the results of her “temple recommend” after her divorce, the approval or disapproval of her entry into the temple. In this article, I was struck not only by Mr. Cracroft’s gentle nature (described by the author as his gentling), but also by how this gentling portrayed itself in an official act of the Mormon church. At the end of the temple recommend interview, Mr. Cracroft asks a question that I understand is always asked, “Do you consider yourself worthy in every way to enter the temple?” My understanding is that the answer to this question needs to be, “Yes,” and yet, the author answered with a tear-filled, “No.” Any church who sees things as black and white would have seen this as a checkbox that must be left unchecked, resulting in a recommendation of no entry. Yet, Mr. Cracroft saw through the black and white nature of a church institution’s policies, and responded, “Margaret, you need the blessings of the temple.” He saw that sometimes, it is precisely the people who do not feel worthy who most need the inclusion, the temple, and the love of the community and God.

The second blog article that helps me understand personal relationships among Mormons is about a man who was recently reconciled with two other men he had previously, “treated… as enemies.”[2] To be honest, I was a bit taken aback that a Mormon was speaking about feeling this kind of enmity at all! All of my interactions with Mormons in the past have always been filled with an incredible sense of community and harmony. I suppose I knew that Mormons would, of course, disagree at times, but I thought they either worked it out, or repressed the more angry feelings in their attempt to be more… well, Mormon.  As I think back on this now, I realize how ridiculous this is, not to mention how unhealthy it would be, but it took reading this blog entry for me to gain a better understanding. Of course, Mormons, just like the rest of us, experience anger, bitterness, and yes, even enmity. And, just like I try to do within my own life, Mormons make efforts towards reconciliation. This blog entry is about a successful attempt towards reconciliation, but I imagine they are not always successful. The point, though, is in the author’s last sentence when Brad explains that, through this experience of reconciliation, he has seen, “the best of what Mormonism, and religion generally, is capable of.”

Women/Sexuality. I greatly enjoyed reading an article by a woman, Rebecca J, who was a young girl in the Mormon Church, now a mother, who is obviously struggling with the way women are viewed, taught, and included in the Mormon Church.[3] I found her post to be an interesting portrayal of herself. She calls herself “a mild-mannered Mormon housewife who actually shares the positively Neanderthal view that men really are much more susceptible to visual stimulation than are women,” and yet she is expressing frustrations that many would probably consider to be feminist. I consider part of the identity of being Lutheran to often hold tensions of seemingly opposing forces or concepts together within one understanding. This is difficult for many people, and definitely different from the more black and white view that many prefer to grasp. Yet, I sense this tension-holding in Rebecca J as she struggles with her identification in the more traditional housewife role, while also feeling frustrated with how women are perceived and treated. I greatly appreciate this ability for people within the Mormon church to hold these tensions.

In this article were also the women’s issues themselves, which I found very interesting. As much as I respect the tension-holding in Rebecca, I also wanted her to stop apologizing for her feminist side. I agree with her that the Box Social, an event where women cook the dinner, men bring dessert and then bid on which dinner (and woman) they would (innocently) enjoy for the event is demeaning and unfair to women. Yet, Rebecca acquiesces after speaking with her husband that it is probably “sweet and harmless.” Perhaps the intention is sweet and harmless, but the activity is portraying certain gender-specific roles to everyone involved, not to mention giving all the power to the men. Rebecca also described a fireside on “practical and spiritual strategies against pornography” that she attended with her daughter. She again recognizes the gender roles that this activity reinforces in the “Warriors of Virtue” for girls involved and the “Warriors for Christ” for the boys, but also again calls the activity “harmless.” Rebecca and her daughter attend, despite her misgivings, and she tries to keep an open mind. It is her daughter who, partway through the event, turned to her mother and asked to leave. The fact that her daughter was confident enough to 1) want to go, and 2) ask to leave, was impressive to me. This shows that Rebecca and her daughter have conversations about women in the Mormon Church, which was also evidenced by other conversations that Rebecca mentions in the end of her blog. The women are not simply accepting the habits and traditions of the Mormon Church, but they are challenging them, even if the challenge is currently a more internal, private one. I expect there are some more public challenges, as well.[4]

Religion & Science. One issue that has caught my attention during the assigned readings for this class has been the Mormon stance on Creationism vs. Evolutionism. I was very interested, therefore, to read a blog post by a British blogger (RJH) who was contacted by a fellow Mormon who was concerned by a BBC program’s depiction of evolution as part of human (pre)history. The friend responded with a letter, and posted the letter as his blog. I greatly enjoyed the letter, probably mostly because I very much agree with it. However, the most interesting part of the blog is the comments. In the very first comment, the author posts a link to the “counter-view” whose author concludes with, “it is very difficult for me to reconcile the doctrine of man’s premortal spirit (as taught by the Church today) with current theories of human evolution.”[5] Following that link to the counter-view, a conversation ensues in the comments where some people weigh in with their own opinions. It is clear from these interactions that, again, Mormons are not simply accepting what may be the official Mormon Church position. People are having the conversation, and many people disagree with the Church while still calling themselves Mormon. I especially respect how the author put forth his own view, while also inviting his readers to consider the counter-argument, as well, enabling each person to decide for him/herself.

The “Science vs. Religion” debate is also referenced in a blog about petitionary prayer.[6] I particularly appreciate how this blog entry ends. There is no real resolution, but rather an acknowledgment that the debate exists, and that we all probably hold some of that debate within us. As much as we all may know cerebrally that intercessory prayer will not actually change the science of an illness, we all often, deep down, have those prayers inside of us anyway.[7] At the end, the author calls for the “caricatures of science” to stop “scowling at the caricatures of religion.” I feel this advice could go both ways. This debate is ongoing within many arenas of Christianity, and I often feel that if we could all stop debating and accept the tension (there’s my Lutheranism again) of the two, perhaps we could focus our energies on more productive solutions that bring healing. This is exactly how the author concludes.

A pattern has been developing as each blog was read and absorbed; a pattern that continued with the blog posts that I have not discussed of homosexuality,[8] liturgical year (or lack thereof), [9] frugality (as portrayed by Mitt Romney), [10] and the general public reputation of Mormonism.[11] Every blog has expressed opinions that are not necessarily aligned with the official teachings of the Mormon Church. Every blog has discussed some potentially divisive issue, and showed that there are many sides to be discussed. And every blog has touched on an issue that is also being discussed within my own church. These are not Mormon issues, they are not Lutheran issues, they are not even Christian issues; they are human issues. Unfortunately, in life, we humans tend to categorize and put people and faith into buckets. In reality, we are all just people who are using our own personal experiences and deep, personal beliefs to make the best of the world we see and feel. Some align more closely with one religion, and some align more closely with another. Some do not align with any. All, though, are much more complex and rich to be bucketized and stereotyped. Every religion and faith deserves more than that.

[1] Margaret Blair Young, “By Common Consent, A Mormon Blog: Richard Cracoft, Go Gentle,” By Common Consent, (accessed October 3, 2012).

[2] Brad, “A Mormon Blog: Enmity, Estrangement, and Reconciliation,“ By Common Consent, (accessed 10/3/2012).

[3] Rebecca J, “A Mormon Blog: The Radical Notion that Women are People: part three of a million parts,” By Common Consent, (accessed 10/3/2012).

[4] This is not to say that all women are challenging these issues within the church. In the blog referenced earlier about Mr. Cracroft (“Richard Cracoft, Go Gentle”), the author tells a story where it seems Mr. Cracroft was thanking the author for her sacrifice of marrying a professor who was in need of finding a wife in order to continue teaching at BYU. It struck me as reinforcing a notion that the women are there to make sacrifices for the men. I wondered, “But isn’t she in love with this man who she is marrying?” I acknowledge, though, that I may be misunderstanding what was said and intended.

[5] R Gary, “No Death Before the Fall: Evolution and the premortal spirit of man, conclusion: The body is the clothing of and looks like the spirit,” No Death Before the Fall, (accessed 10/3/2012).

[6] Sam MB, “A Mormon Blog: Religion, Science, and the Problem of Petitionary Prayer,” By Common Consent, (accessed 10/3/2012).

[7] The author also points out how prayer can be healing in other ways.

[8] Josh Weed, “Club Unicorn: In which I come out of the closet on our ten year anniversary,” The Weed, (accessed 10/3/2012).

[9] RJH, “Liturgical Year,” By Common Consent, (accessed 10/3/2012).

[10] Russell Arben Fox, “Mocking Romney’s Mormon Self-Sufficiency, and What That Misses,” By Common Consent, (accessed 10/3/2012).

[11] Sam MB, “By Common Consent, A Mormon Blog: Religion, Science, and the Problem of Petitionary Prayer,” By Common Consent, (accessed 10/3/2012).

1 Comment

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One response to “Mormon Diversity?

  1. Karen

    Anja – I love this paper – you did a great job of bringing in the diversity of Mormons; and I loveed the part where you talk about these issues being human issues… if we all realized how true this is, there would be far less division in our world!

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