Reflections on the Mormon brand

Several weeks ago, I read with interest Mormon responses to the situation surrounding the Fundamentalist Mormons.  At the time, it struck me that one of the main responses amongst Mormons was to attempt to differentiate us from them.  In context, there were many valid reasons to take such an approach.  But the observation struck me: we Mormons, perhaps because of the marginal role that we feel we occupy and our commitment to a restored gospel, are deeply invested in protecting our religious “brand.”

Over the past few weeks, I have been observing how I participate in this urge to protect and project a certain brand of Mormonism.  When I read newspaper articles on other Mormons, I approach them with a level of scrutiny and concern that I reserve for no other people.  These people, I sense, will inform how other people view me, even I am not sure precisely how I want to be viewed.  When other members observe the Sabbath according to rules that vary from my own, I feel my values slightly threatened and betrayed.  Likewise, I feel hurt when others think that my actions fall outside the norms of our faith.  When people approach me about the gospel, I suppress my own thoughts on the topic, speaking instead according to the official pamphlets and lesson manuals that perpetuate this brand.  In short, my responses register a decided paranoia about protecting and not deviating from what I take to be the Mormon brand when I present my Mormonism to the public.  Admittedly, sometimes it is unclear what constitutes this brand, but I feel urgency of the idea of it nevertheless.

Although Mormon history provides plenty of reasons for understanding how Mormons began to treat themselves as a peculiar people with a culture to protect and define in the face of outsiders, as I examine my own responses I cannot help but think that our anxiety around maintaining a brand of Mormonism carries negative consequences both within and outside of our community.  Within my own community, how often has my concern about our group identity prevented me from viewing and nurturing the wealth of diversity to be found within it?  How often has my refusal to see people as individuals rather than as Mormons prevented me from establishing friendships with those who might have embraced me?  As I have interacted with those outside of my faith, how often have I squandered chances to express what Mormonism means to me in ways that might have resonated with them because I felt too much anxiety about presenting the official story?

My Mormonism gives me an identity that I value. But sometimes my anxiety to protect or live with a particular brand of Mormonism makes my limits my potential to enjoy the gospel’s blessings.  And, sometimes, more importantly, I wonder if our urge to differentiate ourselves prevents us from actually bringing the gospel across the world.  They say that the church is the same everywhere you go, but I wonder – when I sense that the phrase expresses more than a sameness in our core beliefs – if that is always such a good thing if it means that sameness is build on our blindness towards the differences that do and could exist amongst our people.  If we are to move forward as a church and a people, are we comfortable embracing an identity that can include our differences?  Or, in many contexts (and here I wonder in which ones), is it still more important to reaffirm our brand?

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I can really relate to your anxieties about Mormon brand maintenance. I feel the same sorts of pulls–in different directions.

  2. There is a “natural” tension between unity and individuality. It’s finding a balance that works for me personally that is the issue, imo.

    I also am concerned about “branding” issues, but only in cases where real off-the-wall statements or individuals are the subject.

  3. Best comment about distinguishing LDS from other “Mormons”— here (Seth R.’s #1)

  4. i feel like in my profession and among the ranks of its grad-degree toting practitioners, the “mormon” brand is mainly understood as: anti-gay, used to be openly racist (and probably are still racist, just less open), and, to a lesser extent, anti-feminist. (generally, hammering home “we’re Christian too!!!” doesn’t really impress my colleagues any more than “we’re mostly Republican!!!” would.)

    these colleagues usually clue into the FLDS – LDS distinction, but not always. they’ve known enough Mormons to know that not all of us are polygamist, anymore. but i don’t think they’re generous enough to forget that many Mormons, even of our stripe, used to be polygamous. the fact that LDS aren’t anymore doesn’t really make our brand that much more appealing than the “still polygamous” brands of the movement.

  5. I’ve had thoughts about this lately. When Mitt was running for president I read a lot of articles about Mormons and found myself getting offended when I felt Mormons were even slightly misrepresented.

    I have decided what this says about me yet, but perhaps I am insecure.

  6. I’ve caught myself doing it, too. I felt I needed to differentiate myself from the FLDS so much that I forgot compassion and understanding. This is ironic considering how the same thing can happen to me as a gay and active Mormon. People try to separate themselves so much from the pro-gay crowd that they end up turning their backs on those active members of the Church who are gay.

    Oh, how quickly I forget.

  7. Please..no knee-jerks. Go to Wikipedia on “cult”, and see how close it is to Natalie’s “Brand”.

  8. Coming to Utah and eastern Nevada as a foreigner, it struck me how much importance legacy Mormons place on respect. If we evaluate a community by its behavior, it may very well be that respect is the top priority in legacy Mormon culture.
    As a German Mormon, my peers and me shared Amanda’s concern about the Mormon brand but we were not nearly as sensitive as legacy Mormons.

    How often has my refusal to see people as individuals rather than as Mormons prevented me from establishing friendships with those who might have embraced me?

    In the context of your concerns about the Mormon brand, I have trouble understanding this particular concern, Amanda. On the surface, one would think that concerns for the Mormon brand would short circuit relationships with gentiles. Among ourselves, we should be able to let our hair down because interactions with other Mormons should not damage the corporate identity of the Church and our community.
    I suspect that you have a fascinating reason for your observation and would love to learn from your experience.

  9. I already feel the constraint of the branding; I’m moving from Utah in a month, and I know that in IL I’ll probably want to do things in a perhaps… more traditional manner than I tend to do them here, just to protect the Church’s image. I don’t know whether I’ll change or not, but it’s an interesting observation on my own behavior, whether I expected it or not.

  10. Mahonri says:

    What would you do in this situation? You have grown up in a polygamous family, as have all of your ancestors back til the 1840s. You great-great-grandfather was a post-Manifesto polygamist as was his father, both with the approval of LDS Church leaders.

    You grow up reading the Book of Mormon (Doctrine and Covenants, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith etc.). There is nothing in your beliefs that seems to differ from any of your Mormon ancestors, from the 1840s to your own parents.

    Although you realize the word “Mormon” is a nickname, yet you know the early day Saints were nicknamed “Christians” and became proud of it, and likewise you accept the label Mormon with pride.

    Then the LDS Church, another organization of Mormons (for there are many), which is undoubtedly the largest and most powerful of any such group, demands that you stop using that label. They say you should be called a member of a polygamist group, yet you are not polygamist and don’t think of your faith in that way – it encompases (as far as you are concerned) everything you read in the scriptures and teachings of the prophets, and polygamy is only part of those beliefs.

    What do you call yourself? From the 1930s, your ancestors who came home from Mexico found themselves called “Mormon Fundamentalists” by an LDS Church General Authority, by Time magazine and journalists, and later you have been called such by scholars, historians and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

    Is Mormonism a brand like Kellogg? Should of it think of itself in the same category as General Electric, or Coca Cola? Can such a corporation appropriate a nickname. Considering the size of the Catholic Church and its antiquity couldn’t it claims prior rights to the term “Christian”? What is the difference?

  11. Steve Evans says:

    Mahonri, I’d call that person a “double-poster.”

  12. Mahonri says:

    Wasn’t sure what was the better venue, this one probably is, but I don’t have the ability to now delete it from the other.

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