The “Mormon Mask”? Ctd

May 23 2012 @ 4:02pm

A reader fact-checks my post:

First, on the assertion that the LDS church teaches "that white people lived in America long before native-Americans," it's just not so. While the Book of Mormon is the story of a family's travels from Jerusalem to the Americas circa 600 BCE, I've never heard taught in the Church that they were the only ancestors of the Native Americans or pre-dated them in some way. Here's an an article from the Deseret News in 2006, when the Church changed the introduction of the Book of Mormon to say that the people of the Book of Mormon were "among the ancestors" of the Native Americans rather than the 1981 version that they were "the principal ancestors." Perhaps it's a generational thing (I'm 28), but whenever it's come up in discussion at church (which isn't often), the general assumption is that it all happened in a small corner of the Yucatan or the mound-building societies of the eastern U.S.

The different view of mind-body dualism – that God is a physically resurrected being and we can (through Christ) eventually become like him – the location of the Garden of Eden, that Christ will come back to Missouri as well as Jerusalem … all that is doctrine, though not really emphasized on in Sunday sermons or scripture classes. Which gets to my thought on the Mormon mask:

During my missionary service in South Carolina back in 2005, part of my duties was compiling a history of the mission, using a file of press clippings someone had started back in the early '70s. I was struck by the number of short pieces: "Mormon elders arrive in Spartanburg (or Greenville, or Charleston, etc.) to talk about families and 'Family Home Evening'" (an LDS program that combines family council, scripture study, excursions, and the like). I asked my dad, who lived in Tennessee at the time, "Was the Church really emphasizing the family this much, or was this only thing the newspapers would print about Mormons?" His answer, in short, was "Yes": that Mormons outside of Utah (and the LDS Church among other religious organizations) emphasized families and strong family life to shield themselves from anti-Mormon persecution and shunning, and as a way to purchase acceptance at the Evangelicals' "cool kids" table.

Mormon fear of bullying and the desire for acceptance from other religious institutions has led to efforts to be uber-American, to assist (and lead out on) crusades against the ERA or LGBT rights (although many members overlook the Church's real support in Salt Lake for LGBT protections in housing and employment). I think Mitt is part of this "acceptance at any cost" generation, masking his true self to the point that it's difficult to know where the mask ends and the person begins.

Although as a historian, I understand the obsession with acceptance by the larger Christian (and Republican) community, as a young-ish practicing Mormon, it makes no sense to me. We are who we are, we believe what we believe, and when we let desires for acceptance lead us away from core Christian doctrines of respecting other people and fighting for their rights, caring for the disadvantaged, and constructing a just society that emphasizes love, mercy, and peacemaking, it leads nowhere good.

Earlier Dish discussion of the "Mormon mask" here, here and here.