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Cultural Mormons, Unite!



City Weekly reporter Jesse Fruhwirth recently made an interesting point, and it struck a chord with me. It infuriates me how often Mormons are unfairly caricatured as mindless automatons with no opinions of their own but those emanating from 50 E. North Temple.---

In his blog entry about the editorial policy of the Deseret News, Fruhwirth wrote:

It's easy to stereotype Mormons as heartless law-and-order jerks who do not have compassion for people fleeing poverty and/or strife for a nation of opportunity that itself was built by immigrants. BUT ... Mormon people's political, world and spiritual views are not monolithic and many strongly defy stereotypes. ... It's quite easy--and increasingly popular, it seems to me--for Mormons to strongly defy church leadership on other burning issues of the day, like gay marriage.

It has become a common error to conflate the official LDS Church hierarchy with the membership of the church itself. But Fruhwirth is right: The faithful are more diverse in their opinions and beliefs than non-Mormons often give them credit for.

In fact, Mormon culture extends beyond the General Authorities, the lay-clergy and the "active" members. There are Jack-Mormons, ex-Mormons, inactive members, gay Mormons, feminist Mormons, intellectual Mormons, liberal Mormons, Mormons who love cats, Mormons who love dogs, Mormons who love all kinds of animals, and Mormons who refuse to allow anything four-footed onto their property. Yes, there is a whole teeming, frothy, individualistic World O' Mormons out there.

Many such folks may not be in good standing with the Powers that Be. But, even among the faithful, there is diversity: There are staunch, doctrine-adherent "Iron-Rod Mormons" and fervent, spirit-driven "Liahona Mormons." (The Iron Rod/Liahona metaphor originated in a wonderful 1960s sermon by BYU Professor Richard D. Poll, later published in Dialogue. True to type, Iron-Rod Mormons such as President Harold B. Lee tended to discredit the whole idea.)

Besides them, there remain a whole bunch of people who may not subscribe to LDS doctrine, but still maintain many of the best Mormon values -- resolute cheerfulness, preparedness, self-sufficiency, thrift, etc. -- and share a common background, with a unique set of cultural references and signifiers. (At parties, these are the ones who sometimes gleefully break out into tipsy choruses of Primary songs.)

Such folks occupy a sort of frontier region -- unclaimed by the official Church and not subject to its realm, yet still connected to its wider community. Who's to say these people are not also part of Mormon culture?

Are those of us raised in the LDS Church not supposed to revere our pioneer ancestors who were, after all, quite remarkable? Are we supposed to feel ashamed of our Mormon heritage, simply because some old guys in suits don't approve of our marriages, our academic research, or our political inclinations? Are we supposed to alienate our families, to stop showing up to reunions, for fear that Grandpa, hopped up on too many graham-cracker lemon squares, might start quoting from the "Proclamation on the Family"?

That's exactly what I did. But, in recent years, I've begun reevaluating things.

I came out at 15, in the early 1980s, long before Kelli Peterson invented gay-straight alliances in public schools. This was a turbulent time for me and my family. I left the church and, for years afterward, I became a hothead, angry at the way I had been treated as a gay youth by LDS officialdom and those misled by its anti-gay policies. This anger led me to dismiss all Mormons as narrow-minded homophobes.

Every time I met an LDS person, the hurt and despair from my youth came flooding back. I became instinctively defensive, convinced this person was eager to judge or condemn me. My assumptions may or may not have been true -- but they certainly aroused my hostility, and made meaningful and compassionate understanding impossible.

Only now, more than a quarter-century later, have I recognized this as my own brand of bigotry. For it is bigotry to judge an individual -- yes, even a Mormon! -- based on the supposition that he or she may have different opinions. This form of anti-Mormon bigotry is pretty widespread -- which must be why many Mormons seem to feel as defensive when dealing with me as I do when dealing with them.

In fact, I'm learning that if I reach out to Mormons as individuals, they are often surprised and react in positive ways. Even though I'm a longhaired, bearded lefty queer, I get the feeling that they're just as sick and tired of being judged as I am.

And perhaps these rank-and-file Mormon folks whom I encounter on a day-to-day basis are also just as sick and tired of the fire-and-brimstone types who achieve prominence, Glenn Beck-style, by hiding behind the shield of their LDS Church membership while using the Iron Rod as a cudgel against their supposed political enemies.

As a political force, these publicity hounds are formidable, and insomuch as they promote antidemocratic principles of discrimination and bigotry, they must be opposed.

Yet, while these Mormonesque political-opportunist divas are gifted at attracting publicity, they unfortunately seem to hold little capacity for Christlike empathy -- and little resemblance to typical, everyday Mormons who, by and large, are a compassionate lot. (OK, that's another generalization, but it is a positive and, I think, accurate one.)

There have always been Mormons who dissent from the official Church platform. Believe it or not, there are many Mormons today who genuinely support marriage equality -- and if they are reluctant to publicly proclaim that view, it understandably is for fear of being soundly cudgeled by an Iron Rod. So we don't usually hear a lot about them.

Of course, from time to time, I'm bound to meet a Mormon who, for whatever reason, chooses not to recognize my family as valid. But must this mean we are mortal enemies? Really?

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!


I was raised Mormon, and I'm no longer ashamed of my heritage. I'll come right out and say it: I bake bread, and garden, and maintain a stock of food and household supplies in the basement, for a rainy day. I love to sing "In the Leafy Treetops" and, as a matter of fact, I think green Jell-O is delicious.

I no longer subscribe to LDS Church doctrine, but the spiritual path I now follow is consistent with the very Mormon principle of personal revelation. My ancestors were pioneers, and some of them were polygamists, which I think is actually pretty cool -- not many people in this country can claim that. (Still, I wish outsider loudmouths would stop trying to make such a big deal out of the polygamy thing. They never get their facts right, and anyway it was more than a century ago.)

I guess all this makes me a "cultural Mormon."

There are lots of us cultural Mormons around these parts ... and, to tell you the truth, I always feel I have a lot more in common with cultural Mormons than with those East Coast, effete, New-Yorky provincial snobs who are supposed to be our liberal intellectual role models, even though they can somehow justify $400 for a pair of shoes. You should hear the idiotic, uninformed Mormon jokes they spew at their upscale cocktail parties. Or maybe you shouldn't.

But screw them. If they don't get it, it's their problem. Cultural Mormons have our own thing going on. And, with a bit of compassion and sincerity, I've got the feeling that our "thing" is about to get very, very cool indeed.

Brandon's Big Gay Blog