A short post on why people don’t like Mormons

Kathleen Flake, professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University, recently published a column in the Monterey County Herald. Flake cites research concerning the public’s unfavorable opinion of Mormons, then postulates some reasons for this dislike. Flake writes:

. . . [W]e the Latter-day Saints are again being invited by presidential politics to dither about Mormonism. Is it Christian? Is it American? Is it safe?

In 2007, when [Mitt] Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, made a presidential run, many people seemed to answer no to those questions. Polls showed that a majority of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Romney’s church. According to a 2007 Gallup survey, the only people less likely than Mormons to be put into the Oval Office were homosexuals and atheists.

What is it that people dislike about Mormons? Flake’s column proposes that it is the church’s teachings on modern-day revelation, among other things, that make modern-day Gentiles grimace when the word “Mormon” comes up. While I agree with Flake that Mormons are often unfairly castigated for their “weird” beliefs while other American religions get a pass on their strangeness simply because those beliefs are so much more common in our society, I want to offer my own speculations on the PR plight of my LDS friends.

I suggest that the general public is prone to dislike for Latter-day Saints because:

  1. Mormons are overwhelmingly conservative and traditional, which grates on the left-leaning faction of the population.
  2. Mormons specify that the beliefs of their Christian cousins are abominations in the sight of God, which causes a theological divide that grates on their fellow religious conservatives.
  3. Mormons have a proclivity for failing to own up to the foibles of their religion, which grates on just about everyone. Flake’s column could even be considered an example of this.

I am not commenting on whether these are valid reasons for disliking Mormons. I am only speculating on what is.


Comments

A short post on why people don’t like Mormons — 74 Comments

  1. true, true. mormons are fighting an uphill battle to be accepted into the mainstream whilst maintaing their exclusionary truth claims. (is anyone buying the “i’m a mormon, and i’m a normal person” ad campaign?) it does not help that the church has historically been on the wrong side of every social issue ever. as far as the political quandary, a mormon politician can’t be trusted, so long as the “world” (rightly) interprets the church’s political passive-agressiveness as a behind-the-curtain kind of control over its members. no one wants to see mitt romney twitch when the prophet raises an eyebrow.

  2. Mormon in-group attachment is off the charts, higher than any other major religious group. That’s a fact. And I think it’s one of the reasons Mormons get away with being really obnoxious to outsiders and it doesn’t even register with Mormon onlookers to step up and help the group self-regulate. They simply fail to see how ingroup bias has blinded themselves and huge swaths of Mormonia to just how awful certain behavior looks to those on the outside peering in.

    Anyways, forget the school marm reviews of BOM, did you see Ken Jennings take? Brilliant and funny. See, if Mormonism made sense, that guy would have TSM’s job.

  3. I definitely get the sense that many folks today dislike Latter-day Saints because of the conservative traditionalism, and lately in particular because of Proposition 8. And another segment of the population knows Mormonism only as a ‘cult’ with relatively little other information, and that certainly isn’t optimal, to say the least. I also concur with Chino Blanco that trends towards insularity contribute to the problem. I think a fourth reason is that the few things that are publicly associated with Mormonism – namely, polygamy and the garments – are persistently understood only out of context. Fifth, I imagine that the historical tension between Mormonism and mainstream society has a contribution to make here in some way, even after the thoroughgoing Americanizaton of LDS culture. And sixth, it’s unfortunately the case that another part of the LDS image is that of pushy proselytism, and neither the pluralist/’tolerant’ nor the non-LDS exclusivist strands of thought in our culture tend to take kindly to that.

    I think an even more fascinating question is what the LDS Church and its members could do to address these PR problems, and that’s much more tricky. Insularity is a fairly natural problem for traditionalist religious groups in our day and age. I suppose it might help if the General Authorities encouraged Latter-day Saints to be conscious of the temptation to be insular and to deliberately fight it by cultivating a diverse range of friendships; on the other hand, I imagine that would risk certain other dangers, and thus it comes down to the Church’s weighing of the pros and cons. As for the proselytism, all I could think to suggest – were I in a position to do so – would be to place greater emphasis on being sensitive and diplomatic in the MTC program. I’ve known some wonderful LDS missionaries, and I’ve also known others who were phenomenally grating. As a third suggestion, perhaps the “I’m a Mormon” campaign could be replaced or supplemented with another video campaign consisting of videos that honestly and calmly address many of the public deficiencies in knowledge about the Latter-day Saints, perhaps by explaining the significance and rationale underlying some of the ‘weird’ practices of Latter-day Saints and comparing them to similarly functioning features of more mainstream religious groups. I doubt this approach would wholly resolve the popular dislike of Mormons, but I imagine it might alleviate some of the excess here or there.

  4. I think the best blog post ever written on this subject is this one by Rock Waterman:

    http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/08/why-dont-they-like-us.html

    I highly recommend it.

    Also, like Rock Waterman, I have had my own fly on the wall experience when I have heard people talking about Mormons, not knowing I used to be one.

    The main sticking point was polygamy. In the mind of this group of people Mormon = polygamists. I don’t think they think that Mormons currently are polygamists, but in their minds it’s still the case that Mormons = polygamists. And since most people have a visceral reaction against polygamy, this leads to a lot of animosity towards Mormonism.

    I think Mormons need to wake up to the fact that the campaign to disassociate Mormons from polygamy over the past 100 years has been, and probably will continue to be, a complete failure. The Mormon response of “We don’t practice it,” I think sounds non-committal to most people, probably because it is.

    This is a long term problem for Mormons that I think requires something drastic if they want to leave that baggage behind. Suppose the church were today to say something like: “Polygamy is wrong, and it should never have happened. We are sorry we did it, and won’t ever do it again. We are decanonizing section 132 and issuing new D&C’s.” It would probably still be 20 years before Mormonism would no longer be associated with polygamy. 20 years because changing a brand perception generally takes a generation, AFTER you have already solved all the problems.

    But even then, it still might not work. Various flavors of FLDS are still going to exist, and will still keep up the association in most people’s minds when they make headline news.

  5. Well, don’t be so quick to rule out “weird” as a reason. I don’t think weirdness alone does it, but “weird” plus “aggressive proselytizing” plus “effectively controls at least one state government” is not something that adds up to positive public sentiment.

    That said, I think Jack’s first two points are likely also major contributors, but I don’t know if the third (failure to own up to own foibles) really accoutns for much outside of those who know a lot about Mormons, which is not most people.

  6. Mormons specify that the beliefs of their Christian cousins are abominations in the sight of God, which causes a theological divide that grates on their fellow religious conservatives.

    Mormons have a proclivity for failing to own up to the foibles of their religion, which grates on just about everyone. Flake’s column could even be considered an example of this.

    Jack, I see this as a legit concern for you and other informed (or even mis-informed) Christians. But, my own experience tells me that most Americans don’t know enough Mormon history to even be aware if Mormons are/not owning up to it.

    I think the reasons are much more practical and current. For example, they base their opinions on Mormons they’ve met/know or what they’ve heard most recently in the media (and whether or not they agree/disagree). I think doctrinal issues come in at a distant 3rd.

  7. “I think an even more fascinating question is what the LDS Church and its members could do to address these PR problems, and that’s much more tricky.”

    I agree … this is the question that really fascinates me, although I’m no longer sure that will forever be the case. Losing my testimony of the Gospel was one thing, but what’s really bugging me now is that I’ve recently begun developing serious doubts about PR.

  8. I will throw my agreement in with the insularity issue. I think the intense intrachurch networking to the exclusion of outsiders (whether intentional or not) can be offputting and contributes to the mindset that Mormons will only take care of their own. Even growing up, there was a clear divide in things as random as where we took music lessons, which in turn led to deep suspicions about who had the advantage in school extracurriculars. In speaking with my parents and grandparents, the business circle had the same characteristics.

    I’ve even seen this since moving to DC…when I joined an Idaho Senate office as an intern, there was a heavy slant toward LDS students from BYU-I and the northern Utah schools. Not a bad thing–just unbalanced given the number of colleges in Idaho. When I took over the program and started recruiting more heavily from the other schools, the proportion (of applications and hires) evened out almost immediately. The “other” Idaho office is now known for hiring interns almost exclusively from Utah. And the ratios can almost always be traced to the affiliation of who’s doing the hiring. Whether it’s conscious or not, I don’t know, but it was definitely noted by non-Mormon staffers.

    Not everyone has first-hand experience like that, but word and impressions certainly spread. Combined with the theological and political questions…it’s a tough PR battle.

  9. JB said:

    I suppose it might help if the General Authorities encouraged Latter-day Saints to be conscious of the temptation to be insular and to deliberately fight it by cultivating a diverse range of friendships

    That’s been done multiple times. A prime example: Doctrine of Inclusion.

    I agree that insularity is a serious problem, especially in areas where LDS are in the majority or the dominant minority.

    I have a lot I could say, and maybe will later. But just three quickies now:

    1. I agree with CJ Douglass that theological differences aren’t a primary factor. Our theological views aren’t that well-known (and when they supposedly are, they are often misunderstood), and anti-Mormon preaching by evangelicals isn’t the factor that it was, say, 20 years ago.

    2. I agree with Kullervo that weirdness alone isn’t a factor, but when coupled with other things (not necessarily his list) it can be.

    3a. I’m not sure how true the premise is of the original post. I agree we’re not the most popular folks around, but in some circles we can be well-respected, and I was pleasantly surprised recently to see how we were frequently praised for our integrity when BYU sacked a key basketball player for violating the school’s policies (even as the policies themselves were ridiculed).

    3b. And I’m not sure that among those who dislike us because we’re, well, religious, that other groups fare much better. Sarah Palin, for example, has been ridiculed for her religious beliefs just as bad as has Mitt Romney (interestingly, Harry Reid has been ridiculed very little), and Mike Huckabee would be ridiculed more if he weren’t so likable.

  10. I don’t know that I think that there’s a big difference in pre-South Park public perception of Mormons and post-South Park public perception of Mormons.

  11. Eh, maybe not in a way that’s easy to define, but for those who don’t pay attention to the theological debate and would rather just point and laugh, I think it can color the issue ever so slightly. Like ManBearPig and cars that give off smug.

    Or maybe it just made me more curious about Messrs. Stone and Parker’s other pre-puppet work, “Orgasmo.” (Which was always checked out in my home town. Virtually impossible to get ahold of.)

  12. Maybe, but I think that the demographic that is mostly likely to have been exposed to Mormonism via Stone and Parker is already pretty freaking jaded and information-saturated.

    Does South Park give those people more grist for the cynical mockery mill? I guess so, but they were going to grind that mill anyway.

  13. Insularity is only half the story. Lots of religions and communities can be insular. It only seems to rub people the wrong way when the group holds some power or influence (politics, school system, neighborhood) Mormon communities outside of the Western U.S. are still insular, for example, but less people seem to care.

  14. You mean liberal Mormons might actually be the salvation of the public image of our church? Wow, maybe I really do have a reason to go on living.

  15. To CJ–I agree that insularity isn’t the whole issue, but I think it’s a huge factor. People will be nonchalant about tight-knit religious groups and those groups’ views as long as they keep their heads down. When those groups assert some dominance but continue to show the same strong cultural solidarity, and (as Kullervo summarized in comment 5) you have other factors like “weirdness,” proselytizing, and conservative activism, people get way more suspicious about the motivations and endgame.

  16. I should clarify…I think the “other” factors might not be such an albatross were it not for the insularity. People can put up with some level of weirdness from individuals, but when they think they’re facing it en masse, they get agitated.

  17. I agree Whitney. When I said “Insularity is only half the story”, I meant that people don’t care as much about it – until the the group holds some influence/power. Hence the lack of hostility toward hyper exclusive groups like the Omish.

  18. To be fair, the Amish are pacifist, produce beautiful housewares, and have the benefit of a really good Harrison Ford movie. Plus, they’re pretty localized and non-provocative. The Mormon church is aggressive, widespread, and more vocal. People have reason to think more about how they “feel” about Mormons simply because the church has more of a presence. And when they see generally friendly and clean cut people who nevertheless limit their socializing to their own wards, they have more reason to think about what makes Mormons “separate.” I think oftentimes that translates to “distrust.”

    (But even the Amish aren’t immune to criticism…there have been plenty of stories highlighting/condemning the practice of shunning, limited education, gender roles, etc.)

  19. In all seriousness (i.e., I was serious about my profound doubts re PR), does the public image of the LDS church even matter? I get a whiff of the Reed-Smoot hearings every time I hear this PR mantra repeated. It made sense back then, but now … not so much. In 2011, would the North American conversion rate start ticking upward if suddenly Mormons were viewed differently? I mean, imagine all the stars in alignment, imagine all your PR objectives were suddenly realized, and then tell me what exactly would change? At the end of the day, respect or no respect, the LDS project requires warm bodies that believe tithing brings blessings, that ordinances matter, that service guarantees citizenship. It’s entirely possible that you could wind up earning the respect of everyone and find yourselves occupying the same cultural space as the Quakers.

    I mean, I’ve followed dozens of Mormon blogs for several years now, and I can’t remember the last time I heard a first-person account of someone actually joining the LDS church. Come to think of it, for as long as I’ve been online, I can’t recall a single convert wandering in to introduce his/her self. Does anyone else find that odd? Even heading over to outreach central, aka Mormon.org, as far as I can tell, there are less than 900 converts among the tens of thousands of profiles. And while I’m pondering this, has the Bloggernacle ever brought a single soul to Christ? It’s a friggin’ demographic winter and the best anyone can do is offer tips on constructing an igloo in the Tudor style?

  20. To be fair, the Amish are pacifist, produce beautiful housewares, and have the benefit of a really good Harrison Ford movie. Plus, they’re pretty localized and non-provocative. The Mormon church is aggressive, widespread, and more vocal. People have reason to think more about how they “feel” about Mormons simply because the church has more of a presence. And when they see generally friendly and clean cut people who nevertheless limit their socializing to their own wards, they have more reason to think about what makes Mormons “separate.” I think oftentimes that translates to “distrust.”

    (But even the Amish aren’t immune to criticism…there have been plenty of stories highlighting/condemning the practice of shunning, limited education, gender roles, etc.)

    I’ve known non-Amish Pennsylvanians from Amish country who just rabidly hate the Amish.

  21. Well…I think it was the guy from the New York Dolls who saw the ad on TV while he was in the hospital after nearly killing himself and converted. So a positive public image via the commercial helped there.

    But I think bad PR certainly dissuades people from converting, and it clearly has the potential to limit opportunities for members, which is problematic. As a comparison, I’ve never been to a church that speaks in tongues. But almost my entire perception of those churches is what I’ve read in a Rolling Stone article and seen in “Saved.” It’s not fair, but I can honestly say I don’t ever see myself giving those churches a fair shot. I don’t know if “good” PR would help at this point, but the negative PR was very effective in keeping me disinterested.

  22. I mean, I’ve followed dozens of Mormon blogs for several years now, and I can’t remember the last time I heard a first-person account of someone actually joining the LDS church. Come to think of it, for as long as I’ve been online, I can’t recall a single convert wandering in to introduce his/her self. Does anyone else find that odd?

    Chino, I don’t want to challenge your ‘nacle chops – I know you’re an old timer. But, may I suggest that you look a little harder. One blogger that immediately comes to mind is Tracy M. See here – http://bycommonconsent.com/2006/11/02/of-a-convert/

    I could find more if you give me some time. Strangely enough, I’ve also read countless women claim to have joined the church, in no small part to the the women at FMH. Who knew?

    They’re out there, for sure.

  23. The majority of people in America who have a religion (and half of those who claim not to) fail to own up to the “foibles” of their own religion.

    It’s a rare person who is really all that historically savvy in the genesis of his or her own ideas.

  24. Here’s one example of what I’m talking about:

    Unfortunately, racism—the abhorrent and morally destructive theory that claims superiority of one person over another by reason of race, color, ethnicity, or cultural background—remains one of the abiding sins of societies the world over. The cause of much of the strife and conflict in the world, racism is an offense against God and a tool in the devil’s hands. In common with other Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regret the actions and statements of individuals who have been insensitive to the pain suffered by the victims of racism and ask God’s forgiveness for those guilty of this grievous sin. The sin of racism will be eliminated only when every human being treats all others with the dignity and respect each deserves as a beloved child of our Heavenly Father.

    How grateful I am that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has from its beginnings stood strongly against racism in any of its malignant manifestations.

    Alexander B. Morrison of the First Quorum of the Seventy, September 2000 Ensign

    Show me a contemporary Baptist leader who thinks his or her religion has always been on the right side of the race issue. Or in other words, I deny that this problem is found equally across the religious spectrum.

    I’ll get back to other comments tomorrow.

  25. It’s a good question. Why do people hate Mormonism more than, say, Buddhism even though Mormonism, unique as it may be, is actually closer to Mainstream Christianity than Buddhism is.

    Here’s my theory. Most people in America are mainstream Christians and thus believe this to be best. Some (about 20% of the US population from the polls I’ve seen) believe you HAVE to be mainstream Christian in order to go to Heaven, so they don’t like it when others have different religious views. Even those who believe that all good people get into Heaven (about 70% of the population) find it strange that anyone would believe differently than themselves (they all, of course, consider the members of their denomination to be smarter on religious matters than anyone else on the planet.). So when they find out what Mormons believe, they are shocked and worried. They want to make sure that everyone knows that following Christ isn’t that. So they say “Oh well, they have crazy beliefs but as long as they don’t try and call themselves Christian most people will probably stay away from them and it’ll be okay.”

    Well, turns out they DO want to call themselves Christian. This presents a problem for Mainstream Christians because they constantly have to worry about people searching for Christ and ending up Mormon, something Mainstream Christians feel is far too much of a detour. The Mainstream Christians sigh and think to themselves “Well, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, keeping people out of Mormonism, but at least the Mormons are a small cult. As long as they don’t try to grow any bigger, we might be able to tolerate them.”

    Well, turns out they DO want to grow bigger. Boy to they want it! They want it enough to make it a rite of passage for their boys and invest a huge amount of money and time, much more, per capita, than the mainstream Christians have been. Suddenly this is a crisis for the Mainstream Christians. Heresy is spreading faster than truth! America is threatened with a future where it falls away from God! Suddenly Mormons are the enemy, a foe waging war on God Himself. No pleasantries can be spared for people like that. If you are willing to join the Mormon cult, these Mainstream Christians believe, you have no right to call yourself American.

    So, just like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons represent the “other” that threatens American religious culture. One way of measuring hate is to ask a person “If there was a presidential candidate that you agreed with 100% on the issues and was a great guy personally, but who was also a Mormon, would you vote for him?” If the person says no, then you can assume that his decision is based entirely on the candidate’s Mormon faith. And since that faith doesn’t necessarily have to clash with the duties of the Presidency at all, you can also assume that the person’s decision is based on irrational hate.

    So how much of the country is like this? I’ve heard the number put at 28%. That’s a pretty high number…but it isn’t the highest, as the quoted article notes. 37% would refuse to vote for a Gay person. 38% would refuse to vote for a Muslim. And a full 50% would refuse to vote for someone who didn’t believe in God. (and for those who are wondering, for Evangelicals it is 15%) But none of that has anything to do with running the country, so we can assume that these people’s decisions are based on hate. So while there are 11 Congressmen in the House of Representatives which are Mormon, there is only one openly Atheist member (though there are probably many more who won’t admit it lest the population turn on them, and fear they might even lose their friends and family).

    In the past, there was large numbers of people who wouldn’t vote for a black person, a woman, or a Catholic. Nowadays, there are large numbers of people who wouldn’t vote for a Mormon, a Muslim, a gay person, or someone who didn’t believe in God. Can we please move to a time when their won’t be ANY bigotry? Is that really too much to ask? I’ve had Muslim friends, gay friends, and friends that didn’t believe in God and any one of them would make a better president than some of the supposedly good Christians that run for President every four years. It disturbs me that my friends are limited by the hate of others. We need to fix this and make sure our votes are only on the issues, not on someone’s religion or sexuality.

  26. “How grateful I am that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has from its beginnings stood strongly against racism in any of its malignant manifestations.”

    The problem with lying is that it’s so often the most effective approach. But for those who know better, reading that sentence is sure to stir up enmity. Really. That’s just shameless.

  27. Chino, who says he was lying?

    My experience of racists is that they often believe their own rhetoric.

    My experience of them is also that they aren’t all that quick to come clean when society moves on without them. The deep south is full of holdouts like that – people just sitting quiet still convinced they didn’t do anything wrong, but realizing they’d better just keep quiet about it.

  28. Rollingforest, I think it’s a mistake to say that an “unfavorable opinion” equates to hate. I have an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party, but I don’t hate them. I have an unfavorable view of the DC City Counsel, but I don’t hate them.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t people who hate Mormonism…I just think there’s a lot more nuance than unadulterated bigotry.

  29. Put another way…my humanist uncle has an unfavorable view of Christianity, but a) he’s pretty fond of my sister and me, and b) if he’s in alignment with a Christian candidate on multiple policy issues, he will still vote for them.

  30. How come no one has said it?

    Culty cult acts cultish

    That is the #1 reason why Americans have a low view of Mormons. The culture as a whole still views Mormons as a cult. And I’d be willing to wager that Jehovah’s Witness are less likely to be viewed as a cult for one very simple reason. Their missionaries don’t look all alike. (and JWs are MUCH more cultish than Mormons have ever been).

    For those unfamiliar with me, I am not saying that Mormonism is a cult. It’s not. But it does some cultish things and for a time was most definitely a cult. Until the LDS church takes some active steps to clean that stuff up out of its culture that perception will remain.

    Perception is the reality that you must deal with.

  31. Tim — That’s one of the things I could have said when mentioning “weirdness.” I’m no fashion guru, but in my opinion taking our most visible representatives and putting them in uniforms that are 40 years out of date doesn’t help.

    I do think that the recent “I’m a Mormon” campaign was a step in the right direction. Actually, most of us a quite normal people (for better or worse!). But you’d never know it from the 1960s-era corporate image the church often projects.

  32. 40 years out of date by whose standards?

    And believe me – letting those boys dress themselves would be an unmitigated fashion disaster.

    Remember, I WAS a missionary. I know how they dressed on their day off. They looked absolutely awful, not a bit of fashion sense.

    In fashion-progressive Japan, it would have been a disaster of public relations. Believe me when I say in that country, we were far and away better off dressed exactly the way we were. The opportunities for fashion screw-ups were severely limited.

    And in the 3rd world, the uniform is really the best thing you can be wearing. Anything else would cause more problems than it solves. Trying to dress the missionaries in some more hip uniform under American standards would only alienate the population in the third world and associate us more firmly with out-of-touch American imperialism.

    White shirt and slacks is actually a universally accepted mode of dress for men, and is accepted in a very wide range of cultures.

    Better to leave well enough alone.

    Besides, changing the uniform wouldn’t satisfy our critics anyway. Evangelical counter-cultists would consider it sneaky and underhanded and misleading. And the DAMU would sneer at it just as much as they sneered at the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign.

    Those people aren’t going to be happy – no matter what we do. So why not just save time and energy and not change anything?

  33. No desire here to satisfy the critics; that isn’t my motive for my comments. I’d be happy to see the missionaries dress in a way that’s appropriate for the culture — and for all I know, in some areas a dark suit and white shirt with tie may be best.

    But in most areas of the United States, I think, the uniform tends to make the missionaries seem inaccessible and, well, unnecessarily weird. I think the uniform gets in the way of them doing what they’re here to do.

    I’m not saying I wouldn’t impose a dress code, nor am I saying that the goal would be to be “hip.” I have no intent to emulate the last megachurch I visited, where the pastor preached with his shirttail hanging out (yes, it was intentional); frankly, his choice of attire caused him to lose credibility. (OK, evangelicals, call me judgmental, see if I care.)

    Overdressing can do the same thing, but in different ways. Yes, I think missionaries should put their best foot forward in the way they dress. I just don’t think that looking like someone who worked at IBM in 1967 is the best way to do it.

  34. “So why not just save time and energy and not change anything?”

    Why not just call it Octogenarianism? ‘Cuz that’s what it sounds like.

  35. @Whitney: But being a Tea Party member has a direct affect on how that person would vote if they were in Congress. Being a Mormon, as we can see by Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid, does not mean they are going to agree on every issue, especially issues that don’t have anything directly to do with the religion, which is most of what Congress does.

    In the poll I mentioned, it made clear that the candidate agreed with you on all political matters. By very definition a Tea Party member can’t satisfy that requirement for you. But a Mormon can. Since Mormonism, like all religions, is seen as an identity that you are born into, it stands to reason that people within the faith would have different views on many different unrelated topics. So in the poll, where it states that the candidate agrees with the person on all political positions, this should sooth any fear the person has about the Mormon Church, because if the candidate agrees with that person politically what does it matter what church he belongs to? But if the respondent still doesn’t want to vote for the Mormon, that means that they voted against him purely for his faith which is bigoted because as we’ve already pointed out that the candidate agrees with the person on all relevant issues.

    We’ve all heard the bigoted clichés before: All Mormons are slaves to the Prophet/all Muslims are terrorists/gays are horrible sinners who can’t be trusted/if you don’t believe in God you must be an evil person! These statements are based on bigotry because they are lies made to make the other side look bad. True, the bigot actually believes them, but he should know better. This isn’t an example of a simple misunderstanding, but rather a prolonged attempt to ignore evidence to make themselves feel superior and it should be opposed.

    But the minority groups are pushing back against the hate. You have the “…and I’m a Mormon” campaign to prove that Mormons can be good neighbors too. You have various Muslim groups promoting that they can be American patriots. You have the “It Gets Better” campaign to help suicidal gay youth find support against a hostile world. Finally, you have the “Good without God” campaign to show that non-religious people can be ethical as well.

    (P.S. I totally would have put more spaces between my paragraphs in the last post if I knew it was going to turn out that way. I don’t know if there is a way to fix it. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read it anyway.)

  36. Darn it! I put extra spaces between the paragraphs and it didn’t do a thing! Would people be too annoyed if I posted several times in a row from now on just to make it easier to read?

  37. That is the #1 reason why Americans have a low view of Mormons. The culture as a whole still views Mormons as a cult.

    Tim, I’m seriously interested in how you’re determining what the culture as a whole thinks. My experience on the east coast tells me that most non-Evangelicals wouldn’t even think to use the world cult. And if they did have an opinion of cultish behavior, it wouldn’t be limited to Mormonism. White shirts or Jesus Camp – the perception is that we’re all in the same cooky club.

  38. RF, I wasn’t speaking to the political aspect so much as I was the nuance. It doesn’t have to be hatred or bigotry that’s holding back someone’s vote…it could be an ill-defined distrust (stemming from the issues discussed throughout the comments) that’s just enough to sway someone a different direction. I agree that there are totally people who are acting out of hatred and bigotry, but I don’t think it’s that simple for everyone who holds an unfavorable view.

  39. And I’m going to agree with CJ on that last comment. I haven’t picked up on “cult” concerns as much as general “Jesus Freak” suspicions (and the accompanying questions about the moral agenda that may be foisted upon others).

  40. Non-member, non-religious person jumping in here.

    Things I think are factors:

    1. As many people have said, proselytizing. I think it makes most people feel anxious and uncomfortable at best. As a non-religious person, it often feels like the implication is that your morals are terrible and you’re probably going to burn in hell. Add in the distinctiveness of Mormon missionaries, and…Plus the fact that Mormons are very inclined to say theirs is the one true church.

    2. Polygamy, certainly. Especially since I’ve learned it’s still a part of the doctrine in many ways. The fact that the Church doesn’t denounce it definitely contributes.

    3. Prophets, and modern-day revelation in general. While this may not be exactly unique to the LDS Church, the idea of modern-day revelation leaves many people a bit uneasy and very skeptical. The idea of a modern-day prophet gives a particularly culty feeling.

    4. Political involvement, especially Prop 8. I think particularly the fact that the LDS Church seems to wield influence disproportionate to its size. The fact that it was the driving force behind the Yes on 8 campaign, despite the fact that so few Californians are Mormon.

    To give another example, its influence on the Boy Scouts. There are Scouts all over the country, and if you live somewhere liberal they may have few or no ties to the Church. But, the Church was, for instance, a main factor in the Boy Scouts’ policy towards gays. I would guess this sense of disproportionate influence really weirds some people out.

    5. Ban on blacks. This is perhaps less of an issue with some groups of people, but it’s a huge, immediate red flag to others. From what I know now, the fact that it’s not renunciated and continues to be defended by both leaders and the membership is one of the things I dislike most. Also, I would guess it’s a big turn-off for black people.

    6. I do think the interaction issue is a big factor. Interacting with Mormons has definitely kept me from holding wide stereotypes and given me a good personal impression of Mormons, although I wouldn’t say it’s changed my impression of the Church as a whole all that much. Mormons are geographically clustered and, as many people have suggested, seem a bit socially isolated.

    7. Oh, and this is a misconception, but for a long time I thought non-believers weren’t allowed in Mormon churches (I must have mixed up churches and temples.) I don’t know that this is a common misconception, but it certainly added to a sense of insularity.

    The Pew Center has some interesting research:
    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/602/public-expresses-mixed-views-of-islam-mormonism

    You should also read the Religious Landscape Survey if you’re curious about this type of thing:
    http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf

  41. CJ, if you’re not aware. i offer platitudes on teh intrawebs and they are true because I said them. That’s how I know what the entire culture thinks.

    You live in New York, everyone there thinks you’re in a cult if you’re not Catholic or Jewish. Whitney is from Idaho where it’s normal for young men to where white short sleeve shirts and bicycle helmets.

  42. I was speaking to my experience in DC, Tim. I’ve been out here 6 1/2 years. The vast majority of my social circles do not attend church, but many of them have brought up Mormons at some point or another.

  43. I thought this article was interesting and relates to this discussion as well as the last one.

    “In fact, Mormons offer the largest single example of spiritually motivated utopian living in America. Motivated by a faith native to the United States, they overcame persecution, assassination and the rigors of the wilderness to create their heaven on Earth in the Utah desert. Today, almost no community of any size in the nation lacks a local church of the denomination.

    On average, notes historian Thomas F. O’Dea, Mormons live more than a decade longer than other Americans, partly because there is low poverty among them. They are notoriously clean-living, denying themselves alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and other stimulants.

    …the Mormon quest for success is uncompromised by workaholism and Type A behavior, favoring dedication and optimism. Professor Harold Bloom calls Mormons “perhaps the most work-addicted culture in religious history.” This work ethic suits a people who believe that worldly success translates into industrious eternal fulfillment.”

    I think most of the world agrees that the LDS Church is a great organization that engenders good values and good people.

    I think the main reason why some people don’t like the Church is because of jealousy. They have a difficult time living up to the standards of the Church, but wish that they could. For most people, the negatives that they pull out (see Ada’s list), are just covers for their jealous feelings.

  44. I think the main reason why some people don’t like the Church is because of jealousy. They have a difficult time living up to the standards of the Church, but wish that they could. For most people, the negatives that they pull out (see Ada’s list), are just covers for their jealous feelings.

    False. Demonstrably false, actually. Please stop using your sense of moral superiority to make assumptions for other people.

  45. Interesting post. Reading through the comments and thinking about my own experience, I think it boils down to aggressive proselytization. When people feel like you’re trying to “sell” them something, they don’t trust you. Period. And, let’s be honest, we come across that way because — for the most part — we are.

    Our emphasis on aggressive proselyting has other impacts, too, beyond the inconvenience of having an uninvited visitor show up on your doorstep. It manifests in the way we interact with people, which, I think, feeds the scenarios Whitney and others have alluded to. We tell ourselves that we don’t have anything to learn from other people and cultures. We befriend people with ulterior motives. We are phony and fake because we’re constantly trying to put our best foot forward and show people how “awesome” it is to be Mormon.

    Now please don’t misunderstand me. I think this represents the very worst of Mormon culture. There are LOTS of redeeming characteristics and beautiful aspects, too. But this is the ugliest. And it’s a shame.

  46. Tim. I’m fine with using broad personal experience in making vague assumption – just wanted to confirm you were doing just that.

    I will just mention that you’re dead on with your assumption about NYC. But I’ve lived and traveled all over the EC. and my perspective is drawing from all of it.

    Of course, I agree that there are a lot of people out there who don’t like Mormons. I just don’t think you can sum it up easily.

  47. CF said:

    For most people, the negatives that they pull out (see Ada’s list), are just covers for their jealous feelings.

    Do you see how that comes across? To paraphrase: If you don’t like me, it’s because I’m better than you.

    I don’t like people who think that way either. It comes across as arrogance (because it is arrogance).

  48. “I think the main reason why some people don’t like the Church is because of jealousy. They have a difficult time living up to the standards of the Church, but wish that they could. For most people, the negatives that they pull out (see Ada’s list), are just covers for their jealous feelings.”

    Oh, CF, you gave me a great laugh here. Delightful. I’m not sure why you pointed to my list in particular. Do you really think dismissing the Church’s history of racism and polygamy with “you’re just jealous” is persuasive?

    “Our emphasis on aggressive proselyting has other impacts, too, beyond the inconvenience of having an uninvited visitor show up on your doorstep. It manifests in the way we interact with people, which, I think, feeds the scenarios Whitney and others have alluded to. We tell ourselves that we don’t have anything to learn from other people and cultures. We befriend people with ulterior motives. We are phony and fake because we’re constantly trying to put our best foot forward and show people how “awesome” it is to be Mormon.”

    Katie–this is another thing I think is interesting. My impression, from my limited experience, is that if I ask a Mormon friend a question about religion, they jump to give the official, Church-approved answer. I don’t get the same sense if I talk to Muslim, Catholic, or Jewish friends–it seems like people of other faiths usually give more personal answers. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly, but I think there’s a way of talking about the Church to non-members that’s really different.

  49. My impression, from my limited experience, is that if I ask a Mormon friend a question about religion, they jump to give the official, Church-approved answer.

    You hear that one Internet Mormons? Even people who aren’t religious think that Mormons have official, Church-approved answers. Shocking!

    Sorry, Ada, that probably meant nothing to you, and it was definitely a threadjack. My apologies, carry on.

  50. Ada,

    That may have come across wrong. I should have wrote, “Even people who don’t have a horse in the ‘Do Mormons have official doctrine’ race, seem think that Mormons have official, Church-approved answers.”

    Again, sorry for the threadjack.

  51. No problem, David. I’m not quite sure where the argument is leading, but I’d agree with that statement, at least on most issues.

  52. Whatever the reason people started not to like Mormons, I think it feeds on itself until it is just an emotional reaction. For example, I once told the guy who was my boss at the time that I’d seen Mormon missionaries riding their bikes down the street nearby (this was in an area with a very low Mormon population). He just smirked and rolled his eyes. If asked, he’d probably just either say that he’s annoyed by the Mormons knocking on his door or just that he thinks they are weird. There probably isn’t any deeper thinking than that.

    Emotion leads people’s thoughts far more than they like to admit. Once Mormons are branded as a group you can mock, that is how they stay in people’s minds without need for any rationalism to back it up.

  53. Seth,

    I’d love to answer your question, but I find it a bit vague. Can you pleas clarify what you mean by “So What?”

  54. It basically means I know where you are going with that train of thought. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t want to be bothered giving it a lot of time or energy – especially not on a thread where it would constitute a tangent anyway.

  55. Katie–this is another thing I think is interesting. My impression, from my limited experience, is that if I ask a Mormon friend a question about religion, they jump to give the official, Church-approved answer. I don’t get the same sense if I talk to Muslim, Catholic, or Jewish friends–it seems like people of other faiths usually give more personal answers. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly, but I think there’s a way of talking about the Church to non-members that’s really different.

    I have pointed this out to friends and family before. Ask a lot of Mormons what they believe, and they will respond by telling you what the Church teaches.

  56. Ask Mitt Romney what the church teaches, and he’ll refer you to Salt Lake City. As if he’s somehow unqualified to answer yes or no to the location of the Garden of Eden. It’s a level of caginess that makes it very difficult to sympathize. I mean, y’all have brightly-lit temples with strict door policies and then you want to act put out when curious outsiders badger you with questions? C’mon. But, wait, I didn’t come over to complain about that. Just wanted to ask if anyone saw the latest post at T&S (Be Ye Perfect)? Here’s what cracks me up, the gospel according to that T&S post:

    “This is the gospel: be impartial in your love by greeting *whatever* comes, good or bad, friend or enemy, with the *same* care, attention, and compassion.”

    Why does it crack it me up? Because bloggernaclers love them some bannination, gives ‘em a warm thrill, even more exciting than closing threads.

  57. Chino, was there an invitation in the original post to unload every random gripe you may have about Mormon culture, and I just missed it?

  58. Just doin’ my part to help “ClobberBlog” live up to its name.

    Anyways, if you were lookin’ for a short thread on why people don’t like Mormons … yeah, like that was gonna happen.

    And for what it’s worth, CF reminded me that you internet Mormons are generally way more likeable than the chapel variety.

  59. Awesome! How many of your neighbors in the pews find themselves peregrinating the ‘nacle Saturday night? Or do y’all not talk about that?

  60. I did a super-official lunchtime poll of my NY-bred Jewish friend and my Floridian not-really-anything friend. They agreed that they hold the same view of Mormons as they do any conservative Christian group, but that they totally get that there are pockets of intensity/crazy for any religious group.

    Their opinion toward conservative religious groups is more one of strong disagreement on a variety of political topics and severe skepticism about supernatural claims. They just happen to have more questions about Mormons because things like sealing are totally foreign concepts to them.

  61. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Gender Equality Edition! | Main Street Plaza

  62. So I have a question… I started reading the http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/
    and was a bit shocked to see all the references to Baker (there was a council of God’s Elohim and Yahweh was the local god for Israel), a rather gnostic (small g) approach to prophecy, lots of focus on inner mysticism… I had heard that Joseph Smith was into Hermeticism and hadn’t believed it, but my opinion on that is starting to change. I knew they were into Christian primitivism but I had assumed it was more like the Adventist or the Landmark baptist variety with a totally falsified view of the early church that in their minds looks a lot like Millerite churches of NY.

    Admittedly I’m incredibly ignorant about Mormonism, though that first taste was exhilarating. I’m having some trouble though figuring out how to reconcile the Mormonism that’s into strict codes of conduct, heavily focused on anti-gay activities, Republican with a full blown American form of Hermetic Christianity. And I would have figured if those beliefs were common in Mormonism, that anti-Mormon literature would have focused much more heavily on that.

    Is http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/ just totally unrepresentative or is the public image of Mormonism unrepresentative? When I read sections of the D&C, the first thing that strikes me is a 19th century American trying to speak in 17th century English; kind of like a renfaire, but after that the content seems extremely autocratic Ezekiel style prophecy without the sort of open exploration. At the same time it does have a Hermetic feel to it. And the reference to Urim and the Thummim, are they really doing divination? That’s so cool.

    Sorry if I’m offending anyone here, I sure I am. I’m not trying to, just sorta excited to find something I never expected. Sorry the question is a big jumbled but I’m having trouble making sense of what I’m seeing.

  63. Whitney –

    OK that post was sufficiently vague I’m not sure what you are going for.

    I’d actually seen that Jesus + wives image several times before.
    The discussion was kinda cool, “we can depict Jesus artistically however we want” rather than say the blowing the top reaction you would get from most Christian groups when confronting an alternate image. like the Catholic reaction to using elephant dung (a sign of adoration in African culture) mixed with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holy_Virgin_Mary

    And then there is a kitch aspect which is kinda exactly what I’m talking about having trouble reconciling.

  64. You have failed, young seeker. You clearly did not read the entirety of the comments. There you will find enlightenment.

  65. “a**a**in” = “assassin”

    Perhaps it’s just because I’m tired, but when I glanced at the title of this post just now, I could’ve sworn it said, “A post on why short people don’t like Mormons”. Because that sounds like something worth investigating.

  66. I am Mormon and there are a few things I want to clear up
    1) we don’t have many wives
    2) we don’t worship Joseph smith
    3) we DO NOT believe we are perfect or that all non members go to hell.
    4) we don’t force people to go on missions
    5) we don’t believe that Jesus was born in Nebraska
    8) we are not racist towards blacks
    why do people not like us: I DON’T KNOW

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