Let’s face it, the “Mormon Moment” is rubbish. First off, I sort of doubt that it actually exists beyond a small segment of the chatterati. And even if it does exist, it is basically a miserable little thing, based on a politician nobody likes and a musical that rowdily takes the mick. So, yes, if that’s your Mormon Moment, it’s rubbish.
What might be the consequences of this un-Moment? Here’s what we have learned:
- People tend not to mind Mormon quarterbacks or singers but they don’t want one running the country. Mitt Romney is, writ-large, the epitome of Mormon social awkwardness. If American politics is now reduced to imagining the president one would like to have a beer with, Mormons like Mitt have no hope. And of course, it’s not about beer, it’s about fitting comfortably into the American landscape. A century past Reed Smoot, it is clear Mormons still do not.
- Evangelical Christians really, really despise Mormonism.
- Liberal Americans (cf. The Book of Mormon, Bill Maher) are happy to describe Mormonism for what they really believe it is: a loony religion for loons. The Parker-Stone musical is on its way to London, so expect this sentiment to be acceptable in Europe if it isn’t already. As one British columnist said about Mormon, “the Mormons are coming (but please, God, not to the White House)”. And don’t give me the “it’s quite friendly really” line: you are just a Mormon wannabee hipster who can’t accept that the class bully’s spit in your face is not meant affectionately.
None of this is surprising. Historical memory being what it is, Mormonism’s public fate was sealed for at least 200 years once Conan Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet. Despite all the missionary work and all the PR, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ public perception is either zero or largely negative. For Mormons who, above all, just want to be heard, this is upsetting. Thankfully, there are articulates such as Matt Bowman, Joanna Brooks, and Terryl Givens who try their hardest to give a good account of their religion. Long may they reign, but speaking only of my country, once Mormon reaches these shores, it will only be about Kolob and Cain’s Curse forever and ever (which is why I want Aaron Reeves to grab the microphone, and fast).
So, is there anything to learn from all of this? It depends on what Mormons really want. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that it would be desirable for Mormons to occupy a more comfortable public space. If that is the case, here could be some of the consequences of the un-Moment based on what we have learned above:
- Mormons will learn that insularity will come back to bite you in the end. Romney strikes me as a person who has had very little social contact with non-Mormons. Busy at work, at home, and at church, and wary of gentile socialising because of the Word of Wisdom, Romney has simply not learned to relax with the people whose vote he wants. Recent disclosures that the vast majority of his charitable giving has been tithing to the church further compounds the image of Mormon insularity. Therefore, Mormons will realise that they need to get out more.
- Mormons will accept that Evangelicals will never like their religion, worlds without end.
- A clear distancing from the past (e.g. blacks and the priesthood) will happen as will the further embrace of faithful Mormon explainers like Brooks et al., who know how to get away from the Mormon vernacular. Kolob and garments can be explained — see our own Sam Brown’s efforts — but it has to come from uncorrelated voices. This will require loosening expectations of orthodoxy. Yes, Joanna Brooks may stand against the church’s efforts regarding gay marriage, but she’s arguably the most effective pro-Mormon voice on the internet. The fact that some LDS thought Terryl Givens was an anti-Mormon after watching him on the PBS series will be seen for the lamentable thing it was.
However . . .
I said above that all this assumes that it would be desirable for Mormons to occupy a more comfortable public space. Actually, that may not be desirable. As one Mormon friend put it to me, “I hate it when the church tries to be popular . . . we offered Wiesenthal’s parents salvation, so what if it’s not PC?! ” I could not say whether this is the majority opinion in the church and among its leaders, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, having had its helmet shot off above the trench, the church does not see the Mormon un-Moment and respond with retrenchment. Time will tell.