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Mormons, Mormons Everywhere

By Angela Hallstrom

When I moved to Minnesota in 1998, a number of my new Midwestern friends and acquaintances saw my Mormonism as a curiosity. Many of the people I met had never known a Mormon “in real life” before, and a few held some interesting misconceptions. A woman in my MFA program assumed I had left the Church because she was certain that faithful Mormon women couldn’t wear makeup, and I “obviously used mascara.” When my husband and I sat down with a local builder to discuss purchasing a home, he learned we were from Utah and asked the inevitable follow-up question, but with a twist: “So were you guys Mormon?”

“Were?” I asked.

“Yeah. When you lived in Utah. Were you Mormon?”

“Well, yes. We were Mormon then. And we’re still Mormon now.”

He looked puzzled. “So they let you stay Mormon even if you leave the state of Utah?” (I don’t know if he assumed allegiance to the Mormon church was like old fashioned Eastern bloc communist party membership: once we got in our hot air balloon and sailed over Utah’s border during the dark of night, under threat of machine gun attack, all affiliations were thereby severed.) He continued: “Where do you guys go to church?”

“There’s a Mormon church just a few miles away. In fact, there are a number of Mormon churches all over the Twin Cities,” my husband answered.

The builder shifted in his seat, increasingly stymied. “Seriously? I’ve never seen one in my life.” Then he leaned back in his office chair and yelled out into the lobby. “Gloria! Get in here!” The receptionist dutifully poked her head around the corner. “See these guys?” He jabbed his finger in our direction, even though we were the only other people in the room. “They’re Mormons!” he said, astonished.

My husband and I weren’t quite sure how to react to being treated like a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! display called “The Amazing Mormon Couple Who Courageously Escaped From Utah,” so we simply, meekly, waved.

“Huh!” she said. “Wow. I’ve never met a Mormon before.”

No kidding? I thought.

Fast forward thirteen years and things have changed. Although we recently moved back to Minnesota and have met all sorts of new people, I’ve yet to encounter a seriously off-base question, or even a mildly frightened stare. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who’ve never met a Mormon “in real life,” but their numbers are dwindling. And even if they’ve never met a Mormon in the flesh? Here in Minnesota, they’ve been introduced to plenty of televised Mormons during commercial breaks. Minnesota is one of the markets for the new “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign, and Alex Boye regularly proclaims his church membership during Oprah or episodes of Modern Family.

Even if you don’t have the I’m a Mormon ad campaign in your neck of the woods, Mormons are plastered all over TV. Remember when Julie from The Real World was a relative novelty as one of our first LDS reality stars? (Julie’s season was the only time I watched The Real World and I felt a little guilty about how riveted I became. Anybody know what happened to Julie?) Nowadays, you can’t swing a pair of spangly high heels without hitting a Mormon dancer shaking his or her moneymaker on shows like Dancing With the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance. (Benji Schwimmer remains my favorite. That season of SYTYCD? Rocked!) Shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race also enjoy filling their “conservative religious person” or their “used to be a conservative religious person but isn’t anymore” slots with Mormons. The most recent season of The Biggest Loser featured six Mormon contestants who willingly subjected themselves to verbal lashings from Jillian-the-mean-personal-trainer, followed up by compassionate hugs from Bob-the-nice-one. Even Donnie and Marie seem more ubiquitous than ever. Also: that Jimmer guy. I hear he was on TV a few times over the winter.

Mormons outside the entertainment industry have been enjoying (is that the right verb?) a good amount of news coverage as well. In the years since my first Minnesota move, we’ve had the Winter Olympics in SLC; the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping, rescue, and trial; all the Warren Jeffs craziness and the FLDS raid in Texas*; the Mormons’ role in California’s Prop 8; Mitt Romney’s first presidential bid. And that’s just a sampling. The truth is that anybody who’s been paying even the smallest amount of attention over the last decade would know that Mormons are allowed to leave the state of Utah, and that mascara is not only permitted, but occasionally used to excess by faithful LDS women.

And here we are in 2011. Both Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are contemplating the presidency. The South Park people have hauled in a truckload of Tony awards for The Book of Mormon musical. In the last two weeks alone, two major news magazines have run extensive articles on Mormonism: Newsweek‘s cover story, “The Mormon Moment” (with its controversial cover) and Business Week‘s God’s MBA’s: Why Mormon Missions Produce Leaders (with its controversial depiction of Mormon women). The notion of a Mormon in the White House has occasioned a good deal of fair, intelligent coverage, but anti-Mormon prejudice has also reared its ugly head. Reviews of The Book of Mormon musical have often mentioned the “sweetness” that tempers the musical’s irreverent jabs at our theology and culture, but other reviews, like a particularly egregious example from The New Yorker, exhibit a not-even-thinly-veiled contempt toward the LDS church. (I’m not going to link to this one because of its crude language, but you can google it if you like.)

The truth is, while I’m mostly glad that Mormonism is becoming more and more mainstream and many of the most egregious stereotypes and misconceptions about our people are being slowly dispelled, I’m a little protective of my tribe as well. A certain amount of hazing comes whenever a new kid (or a minority culture) deigns to seek respectability within a larger, more powerful society, and I think Mormonism is experiencing that type of initiation. I listened to a few of the Book of Mormon songs — prepared to take a joke like the mature, secure Mormon woman I fancy myself to be — and I was surprised at the humiliation I felt rising up in my chest, making my heart pound like a middle schooler who sits down at the cool kids’ table only to be sniggeringly informed that she has lettuce in her braces. And that New Yorker review? As a longtime subscriber, that review simply made me mad. I even wrote a letter — the first time in my life I’ve ever written a letter to a magazine or newspaper editor.

I never received a response to that letter to the editor, and I’m not really surprised. For all our progress, I don’t believe we’ve quite reached the stage where society is fully able to embrace us. Yes, Mormonism is a worthy subject for a celebrated Broadway musical . . . but only as fodder for a satire that’s written, directed, and produced by non-Mormons. It seems to me that a celebrated Broadway musical about Mormons — satire or no — that’s also created by Mormons remains a long way off. Mormons are a staple of reality shows because our otherness makes us interesting, not because we’re considered representative of average Americans. (But should we even want to be representative of average Americans? I’m not sure about that.) I’m still skeptical that a Mormon could become President, at least this go-round. But I could be wrong. Because when I consider how far and how fast public awareness about Mormonism has increased over the last ten years? Who knows what the future may hold.

*It’s been brought to my attention that some people are a little confused about my inclusion of Jeffs and the FLDS raid in the news, since members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have no affiliation with the FLDS church. First, let me apologize for the confusion. Members of the LDS church aren’t polygamists and anyone who practices polygamy is excommunicated. Jeffs and their ilk aren’t Mormons. BUT . . . whenever these stories get national coverage, we tend to get dragged into the conversation as well, either because news organizations mistakenly conflate the FLDS with the LDS or, what seems to be more common in the last decade or so, at least with responsible news outlets, they briefly explain the difference between the FLDS and the Mormon church. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that all the stories about the FLDS have actually helped clear up some of the confusion about the difference between the two groups. I hope I haven’t added to any confusion here.

How do you feel about current media portrayals of Mormonism? Do you think becoming more mainstream should be our cultural goal, or are we better off being seen as “a peculiar people”? And did the lyrics to The Book of Mormon musical’s “I Believe” give you a tiny stomach ache as well?

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

31 thoughts on “Mormons, Mormons Everywhere”

  1. I think it's quite possible that there is no such thing as bad publicity. I'm all for Mormons becoming more mainstream. I don't think we can ever be "normal" even if we wanted to be, but I think we should at least aim for familiar. Familiar weirdness is a little less scary.

    Mormons aren't anywhere close to being mainstream in my neck of the woods, nor do we get any media attention here. But I still run into people every so often who know who we are (or think we do- I felt like I lived in the Bible Belt after talking to one guy whose ideas about Mormons were pretty strange).

    I hope this isn't too political of a comment, but the only reason I hope for a Romney presidency is the influence I think he could have on the world's opinion of the Church. There are still so many places in the world where the Church is perceived to be dangerous and I'd like to think that a Mormon president might change that perception, at least a little. Of course, s/he might not. But I can dream.

  2. I grew up dealing with, "Mormon? What's that?" I got used to raising my hand every year that we studied the Westward Migration in history to announce that I was a real, live Mormon.

    I make it a point to announce my religion as much as possible because I feel like my family and I are good examples of happy, normal people. To me, that might be the most important missionary work I ever do.

    I just pray that a Mormon never gets elected to the White House. While it seems like a dandy idea at first (maybe the US will suddenly become a happier, more righteous place!), what I think will really happen is that the media will spend it's time focusing on blacks and the priesthood, polygamy and all that other lame stuff that people like to get worked up about.

    Every mistake Mitt or Huntsman make will be blamed on Mormonism, I'm afraid.

  3. I liked your analogy of sitting down at the lunch table with the cool kids. I think it is no surprise that there are (and will continue to be) growing pains as the church comes out of obscurity, especially considering the incompatibility between the teachings of the world and the teachings of the Church. I liked something President Packer said in a broadcast for seminary instructors, β€œIt isn’t 1830 and there aren’t just 6 of us anymore.” It is comforting to remember that there are others to draw strength from when times are difficult.

  4. Jennie said "blacks and the priesthood, polygamy and all that other lame stuff that people like to get worked up about."

    I'm not sure that's lame stuff. As a church, we've never really addressed these issues openly and frankly. We don't have a Gospel Doctrine lesson on either of these topics and everyone, or maybe just me, gets a little uncomfortable when they're brought up. How do we understand the more uncomfortable topics/episodes in our past? The more publicity our church gets, the more we're going to have our dirty laundry aired in public.

  5. I think the idea of becoming more mainstream is what Hinckley was all about. With focus being on ensuring that the right beliefs be shared (eg: by going on television he wanted to ensure that what was shared about the church was correct and not some weird third-party affiliation). Because of that, I personally LOVE the song "I Believe" simply because after watching the writers talk about touring Palmyra and the visitors center it's hard not to give them props for getting it right.

    The url below has a bunch of little mini-films about the play for those who want to gain a better context/understanding of it.


  6. I live in the NE very close to NYC. We were in Times Square just a few weeks ago with our family, young children included. It was interesting to see how uncomfortable the billboards for The BoM musical made my older children (11 and 16 yrs).

    It is very much like sitting at the popular kids table because everyone is laughing at something we don't mean to be a joke.

  7. Hey–just chiming in on your question about what happened to Julie from the Real World. After her stint on the Real World, Julie Stoffer was suspended by BYU for "honor code violations": http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/10478. The story is basically this: the university wouldn't let her re-enroll because she had lived in the Real World house (which also had men living in it), which violated the Honor Code's prohibition against cohabitation. Here's another story focusing on her brother Alan (one of my old roommates and good friends) from about a month later with more information on Julie: http://www.newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/10702 and here's an interview with Julie from a few years later in which she explains her side of the story: http://www.cyberneticlight.com/REDESIGN/JulieStoffer.htm. I've met Julie, she's an outstanding woman and was justifiably hurt by BYU's decision to suspend her from school–she had tried to clear her participation on the show in advance and had been led to believe that as long as she remained true to LDS principles she'd be readmitted when she finished the show–she did her part, but the university still suspended her. She's now married, has a young daughter, and lives on the East coast, where her husband is finishing his ophthalmology residency. Another awesome fact about Julie–her family runs a frozen custard/burger place during the summer in Delafield, Wisconsin (just outside of Milwaukee) called … wait for it … "The Wholly Cow." It's amazing: http://www.whollycow.net/.

  8. If you count the White team there were 8 LDS players on this season's The Biggest Loser. The white team was at home vying for a spot on campus. Remember, on her at-home segment, Kaylee went on a date with Vance?

  9. Nancy R–I meant that blacks and the priesthood, and polygamy are lame because they are moot subjects. What good is there in having a discussion about something that everybody feels is weird and makes little sense? Ultimately there is nothing a RS teacher or sacrament meeting talk is going to say that will make you feel OK about these subjects. I just have to shrug my shoulders and say, "meh, whatever. Is Jesus the head of this church? Yes? Then I'm not going to worry about it."

    In my opinion bringing up "taboo" subjects is just a cheap shot designed either to rile members up or make Mormons look like idiots.

    Besides, why is everyone harping on Mormons about polygamy? Muslims still practice it–pick on them!

  10. I have mixed feelings about the publicity that comes from things like this musical. I doubt anyone enjoys having their faith lampooned. But on my mission I encountered so much apathy. At times I wished I could encounter some rabid anti-Mormons just so I could talk to someone with an opinion. Even "bad publicity" can start a conversation or raise curiosity. This could be a great opportunity.

    I find it hilarious that the church has targeted NYC with the "I'm a Mormon" commercials. I'm glad the brethren had the guts to make lemonade out if this one

  11. We live in a pluralistic society where almost everyone participates in a subculture at the same time that they participate in the mainstream. (I see this as a spectrum where some people immerse themselves almost entirely into their subculture, but most people participate in the mainstream, even if it's just when they run to Wal-Mart to buy something.) It does bother me that people feel embolden to pick on Mormons for the things that are markers for their subculture, when all other subcultures have their oddities as well: Catholics, Hindus, vegans, avid cyclists, extreme couponers, literature porfessors etc. all have beliefs that require a leap of faith and habits that set them apart. I believe in mutual respect and civility.

    I think it's important to build common ground and to avoid demonizing others. I need to be more vigilant to make sure that I don't do this to other subcultures — whether religious, political, ethnic or even to a degree a consumer subculture, like Gleeks. But then again, when does a subculture deserve critique? When it executes systematic violence against others (whether physical or even just symbolic, which can lead to physical violence). It's a judgment call.

    BTW: If anyone is interested in Mormons in reality tv, Austin and Decker included an essay on the topic in their recent collection of essays on Mormons in popular culture, Peculiar Portrayals. Utah State Uni Press.

  12. Brother Brigham had it all figured out. We don't need to worry about bad publicity.

    "Are we in danger from our enemies? No. Have we been? No. Shall we be? No, we shall not. They can do us no harm. Do not be afraid. We have received enough to understand that the wicked are a rod in the hands of God to chasten his children. If we are chastened, it is for a purpose. Shall we speak evil of others? No; why? Because the result of their treatment towards us has made us better than we could have been otherwise. Every time you kick Mormonism you kick it upstairs; you never kick it downstairs. The Lord Almighty so order it."

  13. Such an excellent post Angela. Enjoyed it all. After eight years in DC, and being the "first Mormon" several people were really "friends" with, I found any publicity for the Church, could be turned into good publicity. Romney made his first run during that time, the Smart case was big, and yes there was Warren Jeffs. But it opened a huge amount of dialogue for me and I loved it.

    I think often of Gamaliel's words in Acts 5 when Peter and John are arrested. "Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."

    Loved your Mormons on Display story. It's wonderful that there are Mormons everywhere these days. Thanks for your thoughts!

  14. Personally, I find much about Mormons funny (and yes, I am one!). I've caught shows on tv that had be falling out of my chair laughing because they are so funny. We've got some pretty funny stuff, you have to admit.

    I haven't decided if I'm going to see the play (assuming I have a chance while it's still there), but it's mostly because I don't know enough about what they poke fun at. I'm all for laughing at weird Mormon culture stuff, but make fun of temples and stuff like that and I will just keep on walking.

    Oh, and for the person who wonders why they don't pick on other religions, trust me, they have. And probably more than we have been. Catholic jokes have been around forever; my father was raised Catholic, so I'm pretty well versed in that stuff.

    Really, I think our response is important. There are some things worth getting angry about, and some things that are not. I hope that most members have the wisdom to tell the two apart. I suspect doing that will have a huge impact in how we are ultimately viewed by the masses.

  15. Thanks for all the comments so far. I especially love cadams' Brigham Young quote and Catherine's scripture from Acts 5.

    I have no doubt that the church will continue to progress and move forward no matter our level of popularity or acceptance in the world. And I also think that (almost) all publicity can wind up being a good thing in the end, at least as far as promoting understanding of what Mormonism is or what Mormons themselves are all about is concerned. I realize that even blatant misrepresentations of the faith can cycle around to create a net positive: people sense that the characterization is unfair or prejudiced or somehow "off" and seek to know the truth about us.

    But I also think that as we move toward increased acceptance in the world at large, we will be required to endure a little bit of pain. Some of it will be at the hands of those who do seek to hurt or misrepresent us. But some of it will also occur as we seek to explain or understand elements or our past that even we as a church struggle to discuss. Jennie brought up dread over issues related to things like polygamy and those of African descent receiving the priesthood. For me, I don't dread those questions because they're "moot." I think for many members of the church, those issues remain very real and contemporary and painful (e.g. the vestiges of racism that black Mormons still occasionally contend with, or the struggle of a young mother dying from cancer who realizes that if her husband chooses to marry in the temple again, he'll be sealed to another woman). No, the reason I dread those questions is because they're hard to answer. I do think Jennie's right, though: as the Presidential campaigns continue, and especially if Romney or Huntsman manage to win, we won't be able to avoid them.

  16. The best public relations for the Church?

    L.D.S. members consciously forming relationships; friendships and serving in the community within their particular circumstances so those not of our faith see and feel what we are because of the gospel. And those relationships and service have to be created without ulterior motives.

    If the gospel hasn't made an obvious,happy positive impact in the every day lives of L.D.S. members whom they know and with whom they associate – there's little the Church can do publicity wise that will negate that.

    At the end of the day, each of us is the real public affairs/relation arm of the church.

    Everything else is secondary.

    (speaking from serving 13 years as a stake public affairs director)

  17. I actually was contemplating something similar to the analogy to the "nerd kid at the popular table."

    Being a Mormon means accepting "outsider" status a lot of times. It means disagreeing with sections in parenting books that talk about "normal" sexual behavior. It means wondering if your religion is the reason your next door neighbors aren't friendly. It means having to explain yourself in the workplace, at a friend's wedding, and the neighborhood BBQ.

    All that explaining is good, and it does good. But sometimes it feels weird to explain yourself all the time. And you just sigh when Warren Jeffs is on tv again…

    As an aside, I actually remember long ago having a Muslim classmate in college. When she asked me about the FLDS church I told her I probably feel about them the way she felt about those Islamic Terrorists. She actually thought that was really funny and told all her friends.

  18. Like you, Angela, I feel secure in my testimony- but I think I would probably get a stomach ache (and a loss of the Spirit) if I were to view the clever little award winning musical. I don't get too mad because hey, there is freedom of speech- but like Ana, I keep on walking to one of the bazillion more uplifting media choices.

    I liked the church's response to it, something about the fact that the writers attempted to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon will change your life. I appreciate the church's public relations department and their surely prayerful responses to issues.

    @ cadams, Thanks for the quote, Go Brigham!

    The stone is rolling forth!

  19. Token Lutheran here. πŸ™‚

    My (pastor) husband served his first parish in a small town on the Minnesota/South Dakota border (which bills itself as "the Lutefisk capital of the world") and the only churches in town were Lutheran (two sects), Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, and UCC. No Mormons and no Jehovah's Witnesses (though the JW's did come and tract us on occasion).

    I was curious one day as to where the nearest Mormon presence was so I put my zip code in to find one. The nearest one was at least an hour away in a town where there was a college. I don't think I saw a missionary until I moved to Montana 2 years later and a pair of them helped me haul kitty litter to my car. Mormons would definitely be an oddity in my little town on the Minnesota prairie.

    Speaking as a religious studies person, Minnesota is one of those places where church is ethnic. You have a bunch of Scandinavians who settled there to get away from religious persecution in their countries (long story — email me if you want details) and Germans. The pastor of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — the most liberal Lutheran sect and the one to whom most Scandinavian churches belong) church in town and I used to laugh because people referred to the LCMS (Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod which is more conservative) people as "German Lutherans"… and this pastor (as well as my husband) are German and were part of the ELCA. You would DEFINITELY find Mormons in the Cities — you can find pretty much any group of people in the Cities.

  20. I read Segullah all the time-love it. Such great comments & topics.

    Cadams-any chance you can post your source for the Brigham Young quote. I'm interested in keeping that in my "collection". It's classic!

  21. Jen, I love Minnesota Lutherans. My youngest goes to a great little Lutheran preschool and we've enjoyed attending some Sunday services when he's performed with his class. I get the sense that the school he attends is part of a more conservative Lutheran strain (okay, just looked it up — it's a part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which according to their website is quite conservative indeed).

    And to bring this back around to being accepted as a Mormon, when we went to the very first "parents night" and met the pastor (he was very enthusiastic :-)), I wondered momentarily if my son's being Mormon would be a problem. I'd signed him up for preschool sight unseen, based on location, price, and a phone call with the very nice preschool director — we were moving back to MN from Utah and only had a couple of weeks to make the decision. When we'd lived in MN before, my other kids had gone to a Catholic preschool, but it was really big, diverse school and there were lots of non-Catholics attending. My son's new preschool, though, was small, and I could tell by looking around that most of the kids came from families that belonged to the congregation. I could also tell that the overall feel of the congregation was pretty conservative, and I know that some conservative Evangelicals take strong issue with Mormonism.

    But my worries were laid to rest almost immediately. There was a lot of religious teaching (a lot more than my other kids received in their Catholic preschool), but it was all about Jesus and Bible stories and being kind. Preschool curriculum — the great equalizer! My son learned a ton. In fact, he gave a presentation this Easter for our Family Home Evening on the Twelve Eggs of Easter that he learned entirely at school. When I told his teacher about it, and how well he'd learned it and presented it to our family, it brought tears to her eyes. And that's how bridges are built between religions: through personal relationships, through good will and understanding. My son's preschool teacher cared about my son; he could tell, and so could I. Next year, two more of my son's Mormon friends will be in his preschool class. The Mormons are infiltrating the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod! πŸ™‚ I'm sure that the relationship of mutual respect and goodwill will continue and engender understanding on both sides.

  22. I think that many of the harsh and rude comments about Mormons come from lack of understanding and accurate knowledge. Don't we often tend to make judgements based on what we hear and not fact? I know that we've all heard tales of what Mormons "believe." I've been shocked by many of them. It's almost like they don't believe me when I tell them I've been a member my whole life and I've never been taught that. But then they get to know me and realize I'm a person just like everyone else. I've even have a friend who defends my beliefs all the time. She is an amazing woman who is happy to have friends who are Mormon (oh the horror!). Her daughter even went to prom with a Mormon and members of her congregation questioned why she would allow such a thing. She had no problem with it because she knew her daughter would be respected and the boy would respect her wishes about curfew etc.

    I always tell people who get defensive when I talk about religion that our church teaches that everyone has the right to believe what they want. I cannot force them to believe the way that I do nor can they force me to their way of believing. This even happens with members of the church and church doctrine. I recently heard the hymn, Know This That Every Soul is free. I got home from the meeting and pulled out my hymnbook and read the lyrics. I was overwhelmed by the message of that hymn about the agency that Heavenly Father has given each of us. What a great responsibility! I think that we need to be very clear that everyone from the President of the US on down has that power, LDS or not. There will always be those who mock no matter what we say but I've seen hearts softened simply by building trusting relationships.

  23. I moved to the midwest three years ago and I've been surprised at how often Mormons have come up because of a conversation about "Twilight". In fact the only really anti-Mormon conversation I've had since coming here was about Stephenie Meyer.

  24. Angela: The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) are probably the most conservative Lutheran body in the US. They don't usually play well with other Christians so I'm glad your son's preschool experience has been positive.

    To everyone: I'm sure I'd probably be a religious anomaly if I was plucked down in the middle of Provo or in the middle of a small town in Utah. (I was actually driving down I-15 last year when I moved back to California and was shocked when I saw a church with a cross from the interstate in southern Utah. After seeing all the spires of the meetinghouses, it was a really strange site.) I drink coffee (albeit iced, with milk and vanilla syrup, and in espresso form), I love Trader Joe's iced tea-lemonade, and I have no compunction about doing things on Sunday after church. Going to Salt Lake City is almost like going to another country for me because of the Mormon subculture (I've told people in my husband's parishes about MissionaryMall.Org and they've accused me of making it up) but… I love SLC and every time I've gone, I've gone to Temple Square because it's peaceful and the exhibits are interesting.

    What I'm trying to say is that every religion and sect has its own culture. I read blogs from a huge range of people and it's educational for me. Besides, I've never had anything but positive interactions with Mormons and I believe in keeping it that way. (And yes, I did know Mormons growing up. One of the sweetest people I have ever known was my friend Christine and she comes from a very strong Mormon family.) And seriously, I'd love to know ways to hang out that don't involve meeting for coffee.

  25. Jen, one thing that I have learned since leaving Utah is that Mormons can be just as oblivious about other religions and cultures as those cultures can be about us — especially Mormons who've spent the majority of their time in highly Mormon areas. I remember as a young kid thinking that there were Mormons, Catholics, and Christians (or Baptists–to me the terms were interchangeable) so when a new girl came to town and informed me she was Episcopalian I thought she was making up the word in order to sound fancy. (Yeah–I was young.) One of my favorite things about living outside of Utah is the chance to increase my breadth of understanding and experience with those of other faiths. Who knew that in the Lutheran Church alone there was so much diversity, both of membership and of religious thought?

    It's interesting, too, that in the end, it's always personal interactions that make the difference. I hadn't investigated my son's preschool's affiliation until you mentioned it in this post, and to be honest, a few of the statements of belief on the website made me go, "Wow! Huh!" Who knows if I would have sent him there if I'd really understood the difference between one synod and the other. But after this last year, I know and trust my son's preschool teachers as educators and as people. I can only hope that their experience with me and my family has dispelled some of the stereotypes they may have held about Mormons as well.

    BTW, thanks so much for commenting here. We love to hear from people of other faiths.

  26. It's been brought to my attention that some people have been confused by my inclusion of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS raids in this post, since the FLDS aren't Mormons. They're not. See the asterisk at the bottom of the OP for my explanation. Thanks!

  27. Angela (and everyone else): Lutheran denominations tend to be ethnic though a couple of them like the one we're part of now (AALC — American Association of Lutheran Churches) were formed because of denominational disagreements. (We don't ordain women and we don't ordain practicing gays as clergy. We're doctrinally one step down from the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.) The ELCA is largely Scandinavian and the English-speaking German churches that started in the US. (There's also a whole synod of Slovak-speaking congregations.) The LCMS is almost exclusively German, having been founded by Germans who fled because they didn't want to pray with the Reformed Christians. The WELS is mostly German in background (I think) with some Norwegians.


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