"... and I'm a Mormon"

Mormonism / The faith of Latter-Day Saints has been in the news recently and I have been thinking about all my mormon friends.

On top of the media excitement, for months I have been seeing these web commercials showing three scenes of a person, living life in a happy and exciting way concluding with "... and I'm a Mormon." A lot of times these ads feature people of color or people who seem to be near the extremes socially (i.e. hard-core motorcycle riders, hippie looking grandmothers). 

Now I am seeing commercials of the same brand, often back to back.
It even made the news: http://www.q13fox.com/news/kcpq-new-im-a-mormon-ad-campaign-to-hit-seattle-20111003,0,2124694.story

To me, and I am being honest here, it seems like LDS faith leaders are trying paint their members as 'normal.' The "Hey! We're totally normal people..." seems very off-putting to me. Not that I don't think Mormons are awesome, fantastic people. I have close friends who are mormon. But by saying that someone is totally normal and by spending millions of dollars to get that message out to the whole world oddly seems to paint the opposite. When someone tries that hard, our society seems rather distrusting of overt expressions like this.

But more troubling to me, by far, is not the trying to cast a light of 'normal' around it as an institution and around its members but trying to convey a notion of being cool. Clearly these tactics go beyond socializing normalization and acceptance of the LDS faith, but seem to be selling it like a brand. Surfers, singers, artists, action seekers, mayors, etc... it all seems a bit forced. I am part of a faith tradition. My tradition has a lot of old white men making decisions and running things and I know this is true, even more so, for Mormons. And nothing destroys cool like old white dudes calling things cool. As a person who will be an old white male, old white dudes are the death of cool.

But thinking beyond how to achieve 'cool' I think another conversation should be had: should religion be cool? Or even less controversial, should it be normal? Again, as a evangelical who desperately wants to cast off negative stereotypes that society holds, I certainly don't think that my church will ever be normal or cool. Nor do I think it should be. My faith is radical declaration to the world that I no longer play by its rules. I no longer look to it for direction or validation. I know longer call Caesar Lord or am transformed by it. I realize that living in some commune out in the desert is not an option for faith. Neither is embracing the world full on. The tension between these two is a tight-rope. But where are the lines? Do these ads cross it?

So, in humility and with a posture of being willing to learn and listen I am asking you all, especially my Mormon friends, what do you think? Am I wrong? Is this embarrassing for any of you? Is it encouraging to you know that your church is evangelizing? Are you hoping that it removes the stigma that you feel surrounds you or your faith?

To those in other faiths, how would you feel if your particular faith tradition did this? If you are catholic, how did you feel when your tradition did the "Welcome Home" campaign?

Very curious.

Blessings!

Comments

  1. Bust out the camel hair suits, honey and locusts! It's time to be a bunch of weirdos!!!

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  2. @ Matt - I like how you quote an actual way that God told someone to live in, the NT as a way that is weird.;)

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  3. Just thought I'd post my response here for anyone who reads the blog and not facebook:

    I'm too tired to delve into this question as much as I'd like to at the moment, but as a Mormon, I feel the need to respond – I think the point of the ads are not to make people think that Mormons are cool but to wipe away certain stigmas. There are a lot of people out there who are clueless about the Mormon faith and just think we're all a bunch of white people in Utah, polygamist, quaker types or wacky conservatives. I think it’s great that the church is trying to get it out there that our religion is made up of a lot of wonderful diverse people with different ideas and they're all around us. Especially in a time when our religion is getting a lot of publicity. A lot of people try to put Mormons into one cookie cutter shape. My only concern with the ads, is that I do think that it might be perpetuating the idea that we are “Mormons” only and not Christians. We’ve been branded with the name “Mormons” because we believe The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. I get the point of the ad ending with “and I am Mormon” but I hope that everyone realizes that we are followers of Christ… not Mormon. I am surprised that these ads bothered you enough to blog about it though. The new Footloose movie ad on my screen is way more bothersome to me. :)

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  4. Thanks, Sarah, for sharing! I certainly appreciate the first-hand opinion!

    I agree that there is a stigma surrounding your faith and hopefully these ads do help disperse that. I am not so sure showing people who are extreme (speeding motorcyclist, professional squash players, professional artists, #1 rated woman long-boarder, etc...) is the way to do that, but their is definitely a sense of normalcy trying to be put forth. As to your sense of "a bunch of white people in Utah" even one of the videos that I posted made a big deal that she was a rare occurrence in being a "black Mormon" so I don't think people can be blamed for having that perception.

    As to your concern about Mormon vs. Christian, I can definitely see what you're talking about. I thought I recently read that the term Mormon was being dissuaded from being used for precisely that reason (I admit that I can't remember where I read that and my source may have been wrong) in hopes that "Latter-Day Saints" would become the term of choice. I do have contention with the idea that Mormons and Christians are the same. Since you brought it up, I may write to explore some of those. But I agree that my Mormon friends are top-notch human beings who are very normal.

    As to "Footloose," I am rarely surprised or reactive to the world hating those who ascribe to a faith as probably you aren't either :). Christ said that the world will hate us because it hated him. I find it much more interesting to see how faiths reach out to the world.

    Thanks for your honesty that you see some concern but mostly value in the ads. It helps me understand a little bit more!

    Blessings!

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  5. [Erik Scofield has this to bring to the conversation. Erik is one of my BFF's. I would take a bullet for him]

    "Jaymes: you bring up a couple good points, my thoughts on the subject are as follows:
    shouldn't the church stand out: I think the LDS faith does a good job of standing out, and the ads arn't saying so much "Im cool" as they are "mormon people live normal lives" and yeah it might be a bunch of old white guys being cliche, but I think even if it brings one person to know christ better that the 'millions' spent are worth it, right? paul in 1st corinthians 9:20 talks about how he became a jew to the jews to win them over. thoughts?"

    Erik, Thanks for posting. Great stuff you are bringing to the conversation...

    As to the church standing out: I agree and disagree! According to the Biblical canon, the church is called to be the salt and light of the earth but Matthew 5 says that it will be because of our good works. John 13 (14?) exclaims that the world will recognize Christ and his church by their familiam love for one another. Most of the other time, the church is scheduled to be disliked by the world. So I totally agree with you that the church should stand out... but I am still trying to work through the theology of whether that should be self-promotion on national television. I mean that in all sincerity. I honestly don't know how I feel about it. It could be fine, it could be great or it could be horribly misguided and I am not sure, but something sits uneasy with me about it.

    I think you make a great case about converting folks. Evangelical theology says that "God works all things for good for those who love Christ." So, in one sense, certainly I believe that God can use whatever we put out to draw those to God-self. My question isn't whether or not God can or is working through these commercials, but is it the best way to spread the gospel. The church has never appealed to the world as being normal. We have always claimed to be an alternative reality, namely the Kingdom of God as opposed to the kingdom of the world, Kingdoms of the worlds. I would says the same to Paul's idea of "saving some." He would definitely identify with people as to win them over, but he does it in humility. Also, certainly Paul thought there were limits to what he would do to win some. Self-promotion would be one because "...God exalts the humble and brings low the proud." I am not saying that these commercials are all self-promotion, but if they are, this would be a line that Paul wouldn't cross.

    Ultimately what I am saying is I don't know. Maybe it is fine. Maybe it is awesome. Maybe it is not so good. I certainly gain a great deal of understanding from seeing your side. That you think it is more about bringing people to church than making LDS normal, that is certainly helpful.

    Love you brother!

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  6. [Cindy Scofield is Erik's mom and a wonderful woman]

    "My thoughts are: LDS members have been called "peculiar people". Perhaps they are trying to take the mystery out of it. We are just everyday folk like everyone else. I don't think they are tying to make Mormonism look cool, rather to show that it's not just white old men who belong to the church if that is the perception. We LDS come in all shapes & sizes, and are a diverse people. I have watched some and have liked them... I don't think it's a nuance, if it would help to bring even one person unto Christ."

    Thank you, Cindy, for commenting! I guess my question comes from my desire to see Christians look less normal, less like the rest of society. My question to is: why is it important for you or LDS members to be seen as normal?

    With scriptural commands such as "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds..." (Romans 12) or "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1) I just can't wrap my head around this.

    Again, not that I am advocating that we all move out to the desert and live apart from the world (though many awesome Christians have done this see: St. Antony, St. Basil, St. Benedict, etc...), but identifying ourselves with the world and seeking to become normal just seems something that scripture doesn't endorse. But, I don't know. Maybe I am advocating too hard of a break with the world and not giving enough thought for the other side. I could be over-complicating this.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Blessings!

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  7. It seems like you keep going back to this "mormons trying to be portrayed as normal" thing. Maybe the ads are trying to say that mormons are actually not normal at all... It's a good lesson even for Mormons. When I think of a typical Mormon, I do think of a white middle class family, nice clean home, bunch of kids, attending church, sports, and community events, etc. (basically my own personal dream) However, if I saw a biker, he wouldn't scream out Mormon to me. The free spirited mom... not so much. Maybe the lesson is that we shouldn't judge and put a stigma on what a mormon should look like or be. (or any other religion - which I know I'm extremely guilty of) I've been lucky enough to be in several wards (congregations who meet together based on their location) and they have all been very different. In oroville we had a very big hmong population in my ward. In new jersey it was a rainbow of people. It was a very neat experience and a really small ward. It was fun to get the different perceptions though and I am sad that we weren't there longer. In utah... mostly white and what I would consider "normal" mormons to be... although it seemed like they had their own culture too. In Georgia, there were quite a few African Americans in our ward. In Orland/Corning there were a lot of Mexicans - so many that they ended up putting together a Spanish Branch. In my current ward I would say there are more liberals then conservatives. Did you know not all mormons were conservative? I know, blew my mind. :) It is awesome though! Everyone in my ward is so open minded and accepting of everyone. It is a wonderful little community with lots of different views. My point is mormons are all different and not normal at all. I think we are an exception. Maybe that's what the ads are portraying. We definitely don't fit one mold and I think that is wonderful. Shouldn't it be that way?

    -- Sarah --
    I am not trying to be Anonymous, but for some reason your blog wont let me post under my google account. I've been forbidden.

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  8. Hello Sarah,

    Thanks for continuing to talk to me about this. Trying to figure it out. Sorry my blog won't let you post the right way...

    I might be harping on the normal thing, but I feel like I am taking my cues from the Mormons who responded to me:

    you said in your first post, "I think the point of the ads are not to make people think that Mormons are cool but to wipe away certain stigmas."
    ~~Wiping away stigma is making normal or acceptable in my book. You had soc with me, maybe I am wrong. What other ways can it be used?

    Cindy said, "Perhaps they are trying to take the mystery out of it. We are just everyday folk like everyone else."

    Painting a portrait of diversity in a diverse nation seems, to me, to be appealing to the norm. If this were Germany and these ads were highlighting diversity, it would seem counter-cultural and counter-normal.

    I do love that the Mormon church is highlighting diversity. I do think it is a value that our faiths need to keep promoting. I am not such a fan of single-ethnic churches or wards, but that critiques is as much to my church as it is to yours, if not more to mine.

    I am glad there are some liberal mormons. I am assuming this is politically left leaning. All faiths need some spice :)

    So, the two hopes I have perceived from those Mormons who have responded to me is that (1) these ads promote diversity while casting off stigma (what I am calling normalization) and (2) evangelization.

    Honestly, if the ads are about #1, it seems like a lot of money for this purpose alone. Unless something else is going on. If it #2, hopefully it works. I am not sure if it is the best or most appropriate way for my church, but I am not sure it is my place to judge that for yours.

    Thank you so much for continuing the dialogue with me! I have seen more of these commercials and not bus ads on all of Seattle city buses and I am just trying to figure it all out.

    Blessings!

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