A day or so ago, I wrote a post about Mike Huckabee using a standard Anti-Mormon trope in an article that will be published in the New York Times Magazine. I pointed out why I thought the trope was silly. Since then, Huckabee has apologized. Perhaps it is time for me to do the same.
I try to be honest about who I am. I am, although I am not proud of it, a little sexist, racist, and ethnocentric. I try to overcome these elements in myself, but I know that the problem is what I don’t notice that I am doing. The assumptions I take into any conversation or situation that I don’t realize I have to tamp down. There are attitudes in me that I fight against and seek to destroy. I am more or less successful in this.
My greatest prejudice is against Evangelical Christians. Most of this has to do with my upbringing. I grew up in the Evangelical South and I was faced frequently with questions about my religion. Usually, people were very nice about it (as they are in the south), but it was ever present. The people in my neighborhood mostly attended a very conservative Evangelical school in the area (the cheerleaders had skirts down to their ankles). As a child, I often attended parties and church functions with friends who were Baptists (it was a primarily Baptist area). No-one ever said that I belonged to an inferior religion or that I was going to hell. But the members of that church were closer than we were in that neighborhood. I was always a little bit of an outsider.
As I got older, I would attend occasional functions with my Baptist friends. We would go to lock ins and so forth. I would be invited and go to their functions; they would be invited and not attend mine. Is that prejudice? I don’t know. I remember a conversation once where I had told a friend in 6th grade that I would debate his sister about the church. We did it on the phone. I had a copy of Mormon Doctrine in my lap. She asked me who the prince of this world was. I said Jesus. She said the devil. I looked it up and read her the entry in MD, telling her that I was wrong and she was right. I don’t remember the outcome of the conversation. In 8th grade, one of my friends, who I really liked, entered into a conversation with me wherein he told me what I believed. He calmly explained why I belonged to a cult and why I didn’t believe in Christ. My defense was that I had a pretty good idea of what I believed and that he wasn’t describing it. We weren’t so close after that.
One of my defining characteristics growing up was being Mormon. I gave a presentation to my high school’s faculty describing Mormons as an ethnic group, of whom they needed to be culturally aware. I was well known as someone who wouldn’t have sex or drink coffee or smoke. Of course, I was also a normal hormonal teenager, so some of this chafed, but I managed. I was always, everywhere, a spokesman for the church, for better and for worse. As such, I occasionally found myself in discussions with my Evangelical classmates about God. I did my best to explain LDS positions, but I didn’t really have much ammo that I didn’t come up with myself. They had books and things. They were prepared by occasionally “cult week” lectures that let the world know that I was a brainwashed freak. Everyone was nice to me, but I was always different. Parents were unsure around me. Friends sometimes audibly censored themselves. I was desperate to fit in, but knew that I never really would unless I gave up the church.
Sometimes people talk about the persecution complex that Mormons or other minority groups get. Maybe that’s what this was. I just always felt my religion was a sticking point with some people, when it shouldn’t have been. I dated a girl once who dated me half out of genuine teenage crush and half out of a desire to redeem my soul from the eternal flames of hell. My neighbors knew about the word of wisdom, but consistently offered me tea.
I suppose that I went through a period much like what some Mormons do when they arrive in Utah and find people just as thieving, murderous, unpleasant, and smelly as they are everywhere else. You say to yourself, “But these are Mormons?” In my case, it was “But these are church-going, morally upright Baptists? And they don’t really like me. Without even knowing me, they are suspicious of me.” In this, I lost my faith in the Christian right. For a long time, my general rule was if the Christian right is for something, I am against it (or, at least, deeply suspicious of it). I suspect President Bush, at least in part, because I am pretty sure that he doesn’t believe that I belong to a real religion and that I am incapable of having a real religious experience. I have become someone who is always, always deeply suspicious of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (although I still respect Billy Graham). I see them all as used car salesmen, using the Lord’s name to get ahead. I don’t believe in the faith of any of them.
This is my prejudice. I was reminded of it again in the past two days because I realize that if I don’t think that Romney’s Mormonism should be a factor in his getting elected, then I am not sure that Huckabee’s offhand anti-Mormonism should be either. I don’t think Huckabee is a practiced anti. I’m sure that as a Baptist preacher he has conducted his share of “cult weeks” but I doubt he really thinks that we are a force for evil in the world. It is just so easy for me to see that in him, because of my own prejudices. Should Huckabee’s beliefs about Mormonism matter? It isn’t as if his first order of business would be to investigate the church’s tax-exempt status or to file an extermination order. I should give him the benefit of the doubt. It is just hard because I am so used to not doing it.
So, I am sorry, Mr. Huckabee. I should give you the benefit of the doubt. I am sorry that I haven’t up to this point. But, I will also watch you very carefully on this point from here on out. While I am not sure that your beliefs about Mormonism should matter, they probably will (with me, at least).