Wednesday, April 11, 2012
The Attention and Rejection of the "Mormon Moment"
According to a poll conducted in January of this year, 36% of all Americans would not vote for a Mormon.
How are we Mormons (or, really, this Mormon) coping with the heightened attention and rejection the presidential campaign and other elements (not the least of which is the popular musical just a few streets down from our NYC apartment, The Book of Mormon musical), have brought to bear on my faith?
Quite well, actually. Professor Anthea Butler, Religious Studies Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, commented in the Penn Law forum at which I spoke two weeks ago that Mormons were shocked by the bigotry exhibited in the 2008 campaign.
Not so much. What those not of my faith may not realize is that many of the faithful (including yours truly) have served as the missionaries of which the musical is poking fun. As has-been missionaries, we know rejection better than perhaps anybody else. As a young missionary in Australia, I had people pretend not to be home, not answer my calls, not show up to meetings for which I prepared for hours, turn me away from doors, felt the Spirit and then not follow through on commitments, politely tell me they were too busy, and, the funniest sign of rejection, stick their tongue out at me. I am not alone - other returned missionaries' stories of rejection can be much worse.
Because of the collective experience of rejection, I would say that Mormons on average have been less likely to believe that Mitt could ever have been where he is today. They anticipated that the kind of rejection they experienced on their missions would translate into political rejection.
So the rejection doesn't shock us, nor does it truly pain us. Occasionally it will sting, but we more often laugh than get offended.
In a way, we identify ourselves by our distinctness. Being a good Mormon means it's impossible to escape being singled out. (How many times have I been the only one not drinking, not swearing, not drinking coffee, not watching the rated R movie--sometimes I think our unique health code is designed to help us be bold in telling people who we are and what we believe!)
Now, other than the rejection, to which we are accustomed, how are we responding to the attention?
Officially, the Church doesn't discuss the presidential campaign. Mitt Romney was not once mentioned in the world-wide General Conference (which I accurately predicted, thank you very much) nor this last weekend in my regional Stake Conference.
It does, however, mention The Book of Mormon musical. To this, the Church has responded with an all-out publicity campaign called "I'm a Mormon." Here in New York City, video ads in taxi cabs will show a long-haired man in my congregation talking about his fashion business. Our "pass along cards," which usually invite people to call a 1-800 number for a free book or video give-away, look like that above, picturing people who have little videos or profiles on Mormon.org. Many are in my stake.
Although LDS New Yorkers like to believe that the ad campaign is only running in their city, the campaign is truly global. I was encouraged, and did, create a profile here (sorry it's not updated) while in England. Videos depict members in Australia, New Zealand, France, England, and I think the camera crews are going to India and Africa now.
And we've been encouraged to be more open about our beliefs, not necessarily trying to convert people in the process. I think the ethic of openness is a good thing - for the Church especially, as it is inviting a level of discourse and forcing the Church to be less introverted. I don't believe it will cause too many more than normal to convert, but it should be a proud thing for us to say "I'm a Mormon," rejection or no.