Voices

Endemic intolerance: The flippancy of anti-Mormon bigotry

February 23, 2012


This Tuesday, Rev. Franklin Graham, the influential son of the famed evangelist Billy Graham, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that Mitt Romney is not a Christian. Even though Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, considers himself a practicing Christian, Graham said he outwardly respects Romney’s faith but considers it too unfamiliar to be grouped with his own.

Insistence on such distinctions characterizes discussions of Mormonism. The faith is more often treated as an object of ridicule rather than the transformational spiritual guide that it often is. When anyone mentions Mormonism, more often than mentioning its focus on family or missionary service, people decide to tell me that Mormons believe that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, or how Mormons believe that Jesus came to the new world to teach the Native Americans.

How idiotic could they be? Everybody knows that the Garden of Eden was in Iraq and that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples in Galilee, not Mexico.

When looked at from the outside, every religious tradition looks moronic. Just as easily as a Catholic can mock Mormonism’s prohibition against coffee, I can ask questions about Catholicism too. Why doesn’t God have a wife? Why would you follow a savior who was weak enough to be killed? And why would you drink his blood and eat his body?

I know each of these questions has a perfectly respectable answer that does not necessarily oblige anyone to believe the tenets on which they rest, but it does certainly compel the questioner to at least respect the tradition that imbues those tenets with meaning. Human culture encompasses many rich religious traditions, not all of which are easily understood growing up in a different belief system.

The problem, however, is that many Americans—or at least Georgetown students—already appreciate diversity of belief. Religious tolerance is widespread in the United States. Americans were appalled when France banned the niqab, a form of the burqa that involves covering of the entire face. Such a ban on voluntary religious expression was widely viewed to be a violation of natural rights, an abuse on the minority by the majority. Just 28 percent of Americans would approve of a ban, making it less popular than the IRS (40 percent) and only three times as popular as Congress (9 percent).

In the United States, few religious traditions are disrespected with the same flippancy as Mormonism is, even though Mormonism is hardly an outlier in terms of belief. Mormon temple garments, ridiculed as magic long underwear, are intended to be constant reminders to act modestly and in a respectable manner. They can be removed, and do not restrict Mormons from doing anything that a Protestant, for example, could do. The garments are remarkably similar to a Sikh’s turban, which is a symbol of respect, spirituality, courage, and piety. Sikhs wear their turbans proudly as a symbol of their heritage, without any derision from people who don’t share their religious norms. People don’t hush their voices when they insult Mormons, but the same person would be shunned if he or she ever made a joke about the religious headgear. No one would chastise a Jew for eating kosher, but somehow Mormonism’s proscription against tea is funny.

Mormons believe that Jesus came to America. Many Hindus believe that the world was created in an egg, yet Hindus are spared the derision because they are protected by the doctrine of multiculturalism, which does not extend to Mormons. The stereotypical Mormon is a white American from the mountain West, even though 52 percent of Mormons live outside the United States, and a majority are not white. Yet the persistent, popular view of Mormons remains.

Polls vary, but a mere 15 percent of Americans say that they would be less willing to support a Jewish president, whereas the number for Mormons is 36 percent, and the values for gays and Muslims are even higher (46 percent and 59 percent). Neither a gay person nor a Mormon would necessarily make a worse president. Perceptions of what is offensive change over time, and many once-proud racists are now largely quiet. Eventually, Americans will realize that disrespect is inexcusable regardless of how small the minority is. Perhaps, when our generation grows old, we’ll embarrass our grandchildren by joking about Romney’s underwear.


Connor Jones
Connor Jones is the former editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Voice. Before that, he edited its blog, Vox Populi and the features section. He was a double major in mathematics and economics and is from Atlanta, Ga. He can be reached at cjones@georgetownvoice.com.


Read More


Comments 4

  • There are a couple of differences between the LDS faith and mainstream Christianity.

    One is just plain age, the mainstream Christian faith is much older, so time has eroded a lot of the ability to fact check the claims of the religion. But the LDS faith has only been around for a little over 150 years. And there are claims it makes that are not true. Native Americans are not the descendants of ancient Jews (DNA). There was no major war in New York State (no archeological evidence). The Book of Abraham translation was completely wrong. The Kinderhook plates were able to be foisted off on Smith.

    Add to that the hinkiness of the polyandry (some of it perhaps not entirely consensual), whereby married women were assigned to other men, despite having living spouses, in the early church. And the fact that even after the Manifesto that ended polygamy, it still went on via various methods of subterfuge. These particular facts make the LDS organization’s battle against gay marriage on moral grounds look more than a little farcical.

    Perhaps even more offensive, when the LDS organization is confronted with historical facts that don’t fit, their reaction is to either excommunicate the historian (ala the September Six) or attempt to cover up the fact that they ever accepted or believed the disputed fact.

    So the first is age, another is an incredibly retrogressive attitude toward gender relations with the woman clearly put into a submissive state within the family. The Proclamation on the Family is not a view of the modern family that is going to look familiar to a lot of younger people. Other than not requiring a niqab and at least a tacit acceptance of employment for married women, the attitude toward married women is not that different between the LDS organization and Islam.

    And finally there is politics. While yes, the SBC is conservative and probably 90% of its adherents vote GOP and the UCC and TEC tend to be more liberal and probably similar percentages vote for Dems, the LDS organization is the only one that is able to actually require its adherents to participate in political organization activities. It can do that because if you don’t acquiesce to the demands of your Bishop, you might not get a temple recommend. This authoritarianism within the organization and lack of autonomy for the individual adherent is another false note for LDS as a credible faith.

    • Everything you have said is wrong, by reading bad information from liars, or you are just out right lying.
      Whst you said is exactly what the article was about. Other religions with ridiculous beliefs are not ridiculed the way Mormonism is. Why?!

      Mormons are not required to participate politically in order to get a temple recommend.
      Women are not treated badly like in Islam.
      If people would scrutinize mainstream Christianity the way Mormonism is, mainstream Christianity has a more ridiculous history, more bigoted and racist history than Mormonism.
      For some reason mainstream Christians refuse to acknowledge their sordid past, but yet rail on the Mormons. Pull the beams out of your eyes.

  • cermak_rd:

    What flavor of Christianity are you talking about when you refer to the age of Christianity?

    Evangelicals like Jeffress claim that “Our church was founded by the Lord Jesus Christ”.

    Wikipedia says that the Baptist Church’s origins are not totally clear, but it likely started in England in the 16th century. Wikipedia says that the Evangelical movement began in the second half of the 1700s. Mormonism began in the early 1800s, so there’s only a 50-or-so year difference between Mormons and Evangelicals.

  • The problem with people is they believe all bad things they read about someone or something, without doing their own fact finding to see if what they read is accurate, and it is necessary to use a variety of sources which people will not do. Sad. That is why this country is a mess.

    The Mormons do not excommunicate members who expose information. The Mormon church does not try to hide facts. Whst bad things are said about Mormons can be said of anyone and anything. It is easy to spin information to fit an agenda. And make it sound factual and authoritative.

    This was a good post and thank you for speaking up on the double standard mainstream Christians and others practice.