I wrote recently about the tendency toward rote prayer in Mormon society, and the roots of such tendencies. This got me thinking about how the average Mormon’s choices in speech can be bizarre, ignorant, and painful to others.
I recently received a holiday note from an old church leader of mine, who—unaware of my current beliefs—wrote to me as though I were still a believing Mormon. I was amazed when he started quoting scriptural passages (not that surprising, given the season), but never once quoted the biblical account of Jesus Christ. Every quote was from the Book of Mormon or a recent LDS Church leader. What’s more, the tone shifted quickly from the birth of Jesus and the wonderful example he set to Jesus died for you, so you we’d better feel bad about that and do our best to make it up to him! What started out as a nice message quickly turned into a generic Christian guilt-trip. It felt like someone called up, said “Hey, Happy Birthday, let me buy you a drink!” and then once at the bar, they belittled you and said “This is what you get for walking on my lawn!” before they punched you in the stomach. Okay, that may be a bit extreme, but hopefully you get the idea.
It’s amazing to me how often things like this happen in conversation with active mormons. I’ve mentioned conversations with my sister-in-law before, and I reflect back to the days when I would sit in sacrament meetings and cringe at the things people would say. For example: Church and politics. I would be made to feel out of place in the days surrounding an election because, while I wasn’t a democrat, I most certainly was not a republican. Hearing not only fellow church members but teachers and speakers mock candidates and those who would vote for them would send chills down my spine and cause me to clench my fists. Here are two examples (one is mine, another a friend of mine who is trapped in mormonism by family obligations):
I was sitting in church on the sunday after elections, when an older gentleman approached the pulpit to give the closing prayer to end the meeting. Democrats had just had a large victory in the recent vote, and the largely Republican percentage of the church seemed none to happy about it. The gentleman expressed this disheartened feeling in his prayer, asking the Lord to “bless this country, despite recent misguided choices and misguided individuals recently chosen to help lead it.”
The quote might not be dead on to what he said, but my friend informed me that it was very evident that he was talking about the recent elections and that dark force that is the Democratic Party.
Now, that may resemble hearsay to you, so how about another example, ripped from the pages of my life?
I was helping my mother throw a party at her house a few years ago. She was trying to regain her social life after over a year of real struggles. She’d invited her close friends and a few couples in the neighbourhood. I was there for support and because it meant free food. Plus, I’d known these people all my life, so I figured things wouldn’t be too bad.
I was wrong.
Once the party dwindled down to about 4 main couples, sitting on the patio, eating pie, the conversation turned from the usual chit chat to the dreaded upcoming elections. The usual overarching Republican tone took control, and I started feeling rather uncomfortable, so I went inside to have some more pie and to get away from the conversation. After I didn’t return, someone asked where I’d gone and my mother, knowing my liberal political leanings, realised that I might have felt uncomfortable, and in true style, mentioned this to everyone by stating “Oh, he’s not a real big fan of the president.” They continued their conversation for a bit, then she came inside and invited me back out, saying the conversation has shifted gears. I came back out and slowly, but surely, the talk turned back to politics. One person mentioned a Democratic candidate for some position, and how the man had “spent several year in Europe,” as though such a thing would be degrading to one’s character. I started getting fidgety again. A few more ignorant remarks were made before the grand coup de grâce came.
“Well, I think that anyone who votes for a Democrat shouldn’t be allowed a temple recommend.”
I was floored. I immediately stood up and went back inside, and waited for everyone to leave before I exploded. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a temple recommend is a slip of paper given by the mormon church that states that the bearer has been deemed worthy to enter the mormon temples and perform the ordinances therein. But more so, a temple recommend is very much a status symbol in mormonism. To put it bluntly, if you don’t have a temple recommend (and assuming you are of the right age and situation to have one), you are presumed to be some sort of sinner, deviant or to be “struggling.” Essentially, you’re looked down upon and thought of as something of an outcast, unless of course you change your ways and “make it back” and get a temple recommend, at which point the people who were looking down upon you pat themselves on the back for a job well done in “activating you.” Now, generally speaking, the main reasons for someone not having a recommend are either tithing related (you aren’t paying up!), sexual in nature (are you touching yourself again, brother? are you touching her again, sister?), or food related (are you drinking again while smoking and… DRINKING COFFEE!!?!!). Now, for someone to say that they think all mormon democrats should be outcast members of the fold, for being a democrat in a church that states publicly that church members should make up their own minds about politics and candidates (despite the fact that they rarely do)… well, that’s like stating that black people are somehow inferior to whites and should thus be denied access to the temple. OH. WAIT.
Back to the story, I exploded after they all left. I nearly screamed when I questioned the sanity of the owner of the comment. After calming me down, my mother said “Well, yes, she can be very bold in her opinions, but she doesn’t mean any harm by them…” Wow. Talk about giving someone the benefit of the doubt. She had just essentially said that I shouldn’t be allowed to enter what was considered the holiest place in mormondom, and that I was a deviant on par with sex offenders and alcoholics. And my own mother was taking her side. Now, I love my mother absolutely, but it is clear that in this instance, she’d rather side with a nutball republican church member than her own son who just happened to be voting for a democrat.
The social expectations of mormonism are staggering. If you are not perfectly in line with the unspoken undercurrent of social mormonism, expect to feel abjection from the words of people you are supposed to respect. You are expected to feel bad if you miss church, you are obviously misunderstanding the doctrine if you have problems with mormon scripture, you must be subversive if you believe in evolution, and you MUST be a deviant if you vote for anyone but a Republican.