Group Identity

The ever-useful Urban Dictionary tells us that PLU is an acronym which stands for People Like Us. Every group has insiders and outsiders; the insiders are PLU, the outsiders are not.

Mormons divide and subdivide themselves into an amazing number of groups, and each group has PLUs and non-PLUs.  You might think that biologists are the only ones who create order by classifying life according to phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species, but think again, and consider the following taxonomy:  Mormons, Jackmormons, inactives, temple Mormons, chapel Mormons, foyer Mormons, three-hour Mormons, one-hour Mormons, Ensign Mormons, Sunstone Mormons, iron rodders, liahonas, Freeman Mormons, cultural Mormons, Mormons for Equality, Evergreen Mormons, Skousen-ites, Nibley-ites, FARMS Mormons, Marxist Mormons, conservative Mormons, liberal Mormons, converts, BICs, nazi Mormons, Utah Mormons, mission field Mormons, etc.  I find it amusing, and also quite telling, that you can say “anti-Nephi-Lehi” in church and nobody thinks it is funny.  Are all these factions a good thing, or are they an impediment to Zion?  Do we create those categories just so we can look down our noses at those who aren’t PLU?

I believe the differences we observe are probably a good thing, and they help to account for the variations in temperament, talents, and interests that are inevitably part of being human.  Most of us belong to many sub-groups anyway, and it is good to remember that we have a lot in common.  A Venn diagram of the various groups would show a lot of overlap, and while the differences are important and shouldn’t be ignored, neither should they be emphasized unduly.  The problems arise when we vigorously police the boundaries of our group in an effort to define PLU, because that effort almost invariably yields false results. 

For instance, a Freeman Mormon might think that Marxist Mormons are not PLU, but several hundred thousand of his hermanos y hermanas in the Latin American church will prove him wrong.  And if you heard a group of LDS people described as a petulant, paranoid, self-important, self-referential, self-congratulatory bunch of big-mouthed whiners who engage in sloppy faux-erudition to extend their influence, who comes to mind?  Bloggernacle Mormons?  Absolutely.  Conservative Mormons?  Absolutely.  Sunstone Mormons?  Absolutely.  BYU religion professors?  Absolutely.  The boundaries just aren’t as clear as we might initially think, so it behooves us to be careful when we want to declare somebody else to be beyond the pale, and therefore not PLU.

On multiple occasions, Gordon B. Hinckley recited this bit of doggerel:

He drew a circle that shuts me out–
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

Our challenge is to expand our capacity to love, and to extend our circles of inclusion.  For now, as far as God is concerned, we’re all PLU.

Comments

  1. That’s a great little poem. Did Hinckley lift it from somewhere else, or compose it himself?

  2. Chris, it was written by a man named Edwin Markham.

  3. MikeInWeHo says:

    There’s a certain irony to this post. It starts out referencing the phrase “People like us…” which was often used as code by gay men, as noted in the link. It ends with a quote about inclusiveness, and of course gays are still excluded from Church membership.

    The Mormon circle has yet to be drawn wide enough to take my family in.

  4. Some of us are trying really, really hard to stretch that circle. My kids have three gay uncles- and nothing the church says changes that fact in our family.

  5. Mike,

    We had a gay LDS man in our ward for a while after his partner died. He was totally included for the two or three years he lived with us, until he also died. This was some 10 to 12 years ago. It’s not all there yet, but we’ve got to hope it’s getting better. Understandably, other gay men I have had acquaintance with through church have excluded themselves.

    I think there are two sets of circles involved here, and it’s not clear where it will ultimately end. The first is the one that excludes GLTB members, and a larger one we seem to have trouble fitting into, which includes all of God’s children, regardless.

    I read some of the responses in the SL Tribune article noted in the sidebar about Elder Jensen’s recent comments in favor of compassion for illegal immigrants. I was saddened to see the vitriol poured out against him and the church’s efforts at promoting compassion. Some of those were obviously by church members, drawing a very tight and small circle, that may ultimately include only people just like themselves. How sad and pathetic that would be.

  6. Mike, sorry, I think the correct acronym is GLBT. My bad.

  7. First of all, I highly recommend NOT randomly browsing the Urban Dictionary. (!)

    I wish someone would explain the whole “Anti-Nephi-Lehi” thing to me. It really has never made sense.

    —FHL doesn’t want to belong to a PLU that would have him as a member

  8. Timburriaquito says:

    Interesting comment about the codename. I’ve always been fascinated by one of the codenames for knowing someone is in the mafia; “He’s a friend of ours.” If you say “He’s a friend of Tonys” you know that he’s not a “made guy.” But if you say he’s a friend of ours, then you know you can trust him.

    At least that’s what I learned from Goodfellas and The Sopranos. So if you know the name of the brother of Jared, you’re a friend of ours!

  9. Anti-Nephi-Lehi link at lds.org

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/gs/a/52

  10. Doesn’t really explain the “Anti-” part, though. Anti-war? As it is, makes it sound like they’re against the Nephites.

  11. “Anti-Nephi-Lehis”

    If you say if fast, it sounds like opposition to levi cutoffs.

  12. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 6

    No worries, I’m not sure about those letters either. Gosh, do I come across as that thin-skinned???

    I think it’s wonderful that some members are trying to find ways to include gays. It moves me to tears sometimes when I read these comments. I hope and pray that President Monson will be inspired to stop the automatic excommunication of acknowledged non-celibate gays. It all kind of hinges on that change at the top, imo. Once that happens, gay Mormons will be able to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord, but in fellowship with other struggling saints and not alone out in the world.

  13. Mike, no, you don’t come across as that thin-skinned, but then I am often that clueless.

    Anecdotal evidence only is that automatic ex-ing of non-celibate gays may not be quite as automatic as it used to be. Combined with recent statements about rethinking the status of gay members in the church and the reluctance I see about excommunicating for a lot of reasons, has created some gray areas.

    No changes in the CHI, mind you, but I think there is a little more tolerance these days.

  14. Nick Literski says:

    Doesn’t really explain the “Anti-” part, though. Anti-war? As it is, makes it sound like they’re against the Nephites.

    I always took it as meaning they rejected the political sovereignty of Nephi and his heirs to the throne, but embraced their identities as religious (and literal) descendants of Lehi.

  15. I’ve never heard half those labels you listed. And I pretty much feel outside the line than in it with most Mormons.

  16. NHL–I always assumed that ‘anti’ was some lamanitish prefix that meant ‘joined with but still retaining uniqueness.’ (Just kidding, it doesn’t make sense to me either.)

  17. I once inadvertently embarrassed a gentleman over the anti-nephi-lehis. I was the teacher and was late to class in Sunday School, so he (a visitor well-versed in CES teachings) took over. When I arrived breathlessly, I apologized for my tardiness, thanked him for his pitching in, and started teaching by talking about Nibley’s rather idiosyncratic reading and the ways it distracted us with lower-quality apologia from the more important issues in the story.

    I discovered afterwards he had spent the ten minutes of his cameo laying out the Nibley apologia in careful detail and fervent testimony. I regretted my presentation of that point because it embarrassed him.

    A reminder that we can hurt each other’s feelings even by accident. Building the community Mark proposes can be tricky but is worth it.

  18. Susan M.,

    You are in the category called cool Mormon. The rest of us hope that you consider us PLU.

  19. Sam MB,

    If you’re referring to Nibley’s bit about “anti” meaning “opposite” (in the sense of “mirroring”) then I’d like to know what might be a better interpretation–and I mean that sincerely. What are folks (apologists) saying about it nowadays?

  20. Once that happens, gay Mormons will be able to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord, but in fellowship with other struggling saints and not alone out in the world.

    Mike, it makes me ache that good people are to left to struggle alone out in the world. And no, you never come across as thin-skinned.

    Susan, it’s true. You’re the Cool one.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    On Anti-Nephi-Lehi, I speculated on it a little bit here (scroll halfway down).

    There are two broad approaches: do we consider the anti element a translation into English (and thus the Greek-derived preposition “against”)? Some people analyze it this way. Or do we consider it a transliteration of something from the original language, just as the names Nephi and Lehi are transliterated? If so, we don’t really know what the anti element means and the best we can do is speculate about it (as I did above). Personally, I think it’s a transliteration, not a translation.

  22. “Anti” means “not” with no stretching at all. So, “Anti-Nephi-Lehis” easily can be read as “descendants of Lehi who did not come through Nephi” – a way to claim their initial ancestry through Lehi without acknowledging Laman and Lemuel explicitly. That makes perfect sense to me, and it’s the only explanation that I have heard that does.

    Personally, I view PLU and non-PLU like I view whatever-American. It’s fine as long as the focus is on the unity of the main descriptive word (Mormon or American); it’s divisive if the emphasis is on the qualifying adjective – used to separate the main body.

    When I taught Seminary in the greater Boston area in a mixed-Asian branch, there was tremendous unity expressed in the fact that there were so many different types of Mormons in the branch. Ironically, there were so many different non-PLUs in the congregation that there were almost no “pure PLUs”. That is as close to a true Zion as I have experienced; since differences were the standard, they simply didn’t matter.

  23. Personally I think you are overplaying the catagories. To be honest I doubt I could put more then one or two people in my ward into any of the categories.

  24. Random question: what’s a “Freeman Mormon”?

  25. bbell,

    I believe Brother Brown was likening the scriptures unto himself.

  26. Random question: what’s a “Freeman Mormon”?

    The opposite of a king-man Mormon

  27. It’s actually “Fremen Mormon” and refers to followers of Muad’Dib.

  28. Last Lemming says:

    I’ve always fantasized about belonging to some kind of PLU. No luck so far.

    Another take on the “anti” thing. The bank in Kirtland was called an “Anti-Banking Company” to avoid laws regulating banks (the Church having failed to get a bank charter). But it functioned as a bank. Perhaps something similar was going on with the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. They did not meet the technical requirements to be called Nephites (or, arguably, even Lehites), but they functioned as such and wanted to be identified with them. So maybe they pulled the same trick as Joseph Smith with his nonbank.

  29. I followed the link about Elder Jensen’s remarks about more compassion for illegal immigrants, and I thought about the PLU concept.

    When my wife and I moved from Utah 14 years ago, we said we’d never go in for Utah bashing. Given the furor over Elder Jensen’s remarks, on assignment by the FP, mind you, and the clown-masquerading-as-a-legislator Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, it’s getting harder all the time.

    I think the First Presidency has not liked the anti-illegal immigrant tone taken in Utah, and by members of the church elsewhere in the US during this election cycle. Perhaps they are trying to remind us that as children of God, they are PLUs as well.

  30. While we are encouraged to be one, I like the categories as an acknowledgment of the diversity in our midst. If using those categories promotes that diversity and makes those outside the Church aware that not all Mormons are robots, I’m all for it.

  31. My fav PLU is child of God :)

  32. Kevinf, I know it seems we have an inordinate number of crazies and Pharisees here, but we really aren’t all like that here in Utah. (I sure hope no one would judge us by the actions of Chris Buttars, yikes!!,

  33. Oops, clumsy fingers. I get the shudders just typing Chris Buttars’ name. I hope no one would judge all of us here in the land of Zion by his mind-boggling stupidity, or by what you read in the Tribune’s online comments — the Mos Eisley of the Trib site.

  34. Kevinf (#29),

    The problem with the Church’s position is how open ended it is. Everyone has a tendency to read exactly what they want into it – all the way from ‘immigration laws shouldn’t be enforced’ to ‘enforcement should be done in a kinder and gentler manner’. Who can tell?

  35. re 32-33

    I will be more impressed by the Christlike people in the land of Zion when they start removing Chris Buttars et. al. from public office.

  36. #34 – That’s the beauty of the statement; it’s moral, not political. It focuses on a principle (compassion) and leaves the people to govern themselves.

    #35 – AMEN!

  37. I am an Inactive, Liberal, Jack, convert who left the church in ’98. In fact, the bloggernacle has been my only contact, and I read you guys, well, religiously. I live in North Texas, and would actually consider going back to church if I could find People Like Me to roll my eyes at. Any Plano/Friso-ites out there?

  38. MikeInWeHo says:

    I suspect the lack of liberal Mormons in your area may have something to do with the fact that you’re in North Texas, Susan. Rumor has it some of the urban wards (NYC, LA, SF, etc) are just crawling with them. Here’s an idea: Go to a Sunstone Symposium (www.sunstoneonline.com). I went to the one in SLC last fall and it was fantastic. You’ll meet plenty of people you can relate to there.

  39. Cathy, et al, re Chris Buttars:

    Yeah, I know he’s not representative of all Utah, but he does seem to be representative of his West Jordan district, where rumor is that he gets 60% of the vote, which is not atypical for a Republican candidate in most Utah elections. I like your comparison of the SL Trib comments section as the Mos Eisley of Utah. Perhaps then Chris Buttars is really Buttars the Hutt. Maybe you can dump him off his sail barge somewhere near the Kennecott Sarlac Pit?

    Mark D, I anticipate the church being somewhat open-ended and not exactly precise about something they view as a moral issue, but pretty hot in the political arena right now, such as immigration. However, on the old MX missile deal in the 80’s they were anything but unclear. I’m sure that the FP and Q12 listen to the Latino members of the Quorums of 70, and are getting an earful themselves about the perception of an Americanized church being harsh on immigration issues, just as I suspect that some US members of those same quorums from Texas or Arizona may have strong feelings about enforcement.

  40. Adam Greenwood says:

    Are you saying that non-inclusivist Mormons aren’t PLU?

  41. Good one, Mr. Greenwood, but you are too cute by half.

    Off the top of my head, I’d say that non-inclusivist Mormons could easily fit into the following groups: Temple Mormon, Chapel Mormon, Ensign Mormon, three-hour Mormon, iron-rodder, and conservative Mormon. So non-inclusivists are PLU all over the place.

    Oh, and since non-inclusivists presumably reject the idea implied in Pres. Hinckley’s verse, they also belong in another group: cafeteria Mormon.

  42. Regarding “Anti-Nephi-Lehis” I found this site – askgramps.org – with a very reasonable explanation. Of course anything outside of a statement from a prophet is pure speculation….

    http://www.askgramps.org/in-book-mormon-term-anti-nephi-lehi-what-does-anti/

    Regarding “People Like Us” – every social organization has its cliques and clubs and little social circles. From high school cafeterias to political parties – birds of a feather flock together. It can’t be avoided en masse – but I think individuals can work to minimize their contribution to the exclusiveness of the circles they follow.

    Regarding gays in the church – I have many gay friends of both genders and I don’t think any less of them as individuals. However their choice to practice in that behavior is one with eternal consequences, and those consequences will not go away no matter whether they are “included” in church or not. After issuing the proclamation on the family, I’d be severely disapointed if the church softened it’s official stance on homosexuality. But again, individuals can do more to accept and befriend people of different ideologies, even gays.

  43. Steve Evans says:

    Gosh, even gays Thomas??

  44. Thomas, after issuing the proclamation on the family, the Church HAS softened its stance on homosexuality. Read the latest pamphlet and listen to Elder Jensen and Elder Oaks, then compare those words to what was current when The Proclamation was published. There definitely has been a softening.

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