This guest post comes from frequent BCC reader Erich S.
An article about the LDS Church and its members appeared in the Financial Times last week. I have now received it from 5 independent sources, all LDS, and I can only assume you have either already read it or will receive it soon. While it is nice to see these kinds of articles giving us largely positive press, I believe they may also be problematic.
While members of the LDS Church should–like anyone else–try to perform and achieve with excellence, Latter-day Saints could advance our Kingdom-building objective more humbly and effectively by allowing our achievements (the facts) to speak for themselves rather than publicizing them. The following hopefully explains what made me think of this after reading the FT article.
I am already familiar with the events and people in the FT article because I’m part of the LDS culture. So I, like you, just learn about this stuff in the hallways at church and through friends. These events sound exciting to me, and I appreciate them, because it makes us more relevant when recognized. Still, I sort of cringe when I see these events and people summarized so admirably and laudably in major publications like this. Why? Because fear motivates people in ways that harm Kingdom building.
If we look at LDS history (Restoration forward) we might observe that one of the biggest challenges that Mormons have had as a people, and which has led to set backs in growth and even bloodshed, is the fear that LDS prosperity and/or influence has engendered in the non-LDS that are nearby and close to them. In a word, integration. From the perspective of those near us (e.g., Missouri, Illinois, Christian Right, LGBT), our prosperity and growth have translated into an influence with the potential to interfere with their normal way of life and “the way things are and should be.” Mormons think differently. We worship differently. We look different (the “squeeky clean” image). We sound different (“stake”, “ward”, “sealing”, etc.). We behave differently. We are socialized differently. We have buildings that non-LDS cannot go into. We interpret things differently. We are, as President Hinckley said, a “peculiar” people (this statement has always fascinated me because non-LDS agree that we are indeed a strangely “peculiar people” based on the same behaviors and practices that we highly esteem to make ourselves a “peculiar people”). Differences are easy to rally around and to define “whose side” you are on. If differences and “the unknown” were not so innately intriguing to people, this article below would not be printed in the Financial Times.
While our achievements and prosperity are things that we–inside–may view as exciting and positive, how are they perceived from outside of our culture (to those we call “non-members”)? Non-LDS who feel they are affected or threatened by Mormon influence (e.g., Huckabee, non-LDS Missouri settlers and politicians, etc.) watch us closely. I have personally observed this in business and law environments. Fear is a powerful motivator, especially fear of the unknown or of “different” people. It is a fear that stems from a primitive desire to retain control of circumstance, which is the ability to survive. It is perhaps part of the reason why we are prone to initially look for differences and critical distinctions when we encounter others that behave differently than we do (instead of initially asking ourselves what good we can learn from these differences). This survival mechanism, unfortunately, helps people maintain a feeling of safety. For example, to control the politics of Jackson County Missouri and its land holdings was to control the stability of life and the status quo. From the outside, the Mormons disrupted the Missourians’ status quo by creating an influx of population that would (ostensibly) only vote for other Mormons and acquire land.
This fear has led to tragic and growth-inhibiting results against the LDS Church (e.g., Boggs’ Extermination Order, the perpetual reference to practices that LDS ceased long ago, or just simply making up never-observed practices as hit pieces). Fear motivates people to do terrible things. Sadly, the Saints are not immune to the movings of this primitive fear either; for example, some Saints tragically gave into this fear as a motivator in Missouri, at Mountain Meadows (i.e., fear of reprisal leading to preemptive actions). Thus, while it is always nice to see the Church praised in popular print, I think it worth considering how such reporting is likely to be received by anyone who feels they may be affected by the Mormon influence. Whether you supported him or not, I think this type of fear partly explains Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination (I heard distinctions from non-LDS Repubs like, “there’s just something ‘too perfect’ about him,” “he’s too clean,” “I’m not sure America is ready for a Mormon candidate yet.” etc…).
Am I suggesting that we should not continue to strive to achieve excellence? Of course not. I’m simply saying that as an American religious sub-culture we may want to use caution in how we wield our achievements, because–if done too aggressively–it can ultimately affect the progression of the Kingdom.
What is your take on this type of coverage? Remember the Time magazine article, “Mormons, Inc.”? What, if any, comments do you recall hearing about it in speaking with your non-LDS friends? I would describe the reactions that I observed as cautious and skeptical appreciation.