Now that Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee, we’re going to hear a lot more about “those crazy Mormons” and their “magic underwear.” So if you don’t mind, I’m just going to use this post to share my undying love for the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — a love that persists despite my Catholic skepticism with regards to some (but by no means all) of their religious beliefs.
You see, I recently took a short trip to the Salt Lake City metro area to attend my maternal grandfather’s funeral, and the difference between northern Utah and northern Virginia is akin to the difference between night and day. Forget the different climates. Forget the different landscapes. Forget the different elevations. What sets Salt Lake apart is the social capital. While I was there, an unfortunate medical incident (which has since resolved, thankfully) necessitated hailing the ambulance, and the commotion attracted a flock of concerned neighbors who were, to a man, ready to drop everything and come to our aid. In contrast, when an emergency vehicle pulls up to a house in Dale City, VA, people keep their distance.
And what accounts for these divergent responses? Mormonism, in large part. The Mormons are very big on maintaining family and community ties. Indeed, when my grandmother’s Mormon friend heard that a few of the neighbors hadn’t yet brought over comfort food in response to my grandmother’s loss, she threatened to punish them in some way for not living up to The Code. Said Mormon friend, you see, takes it as a given that her co-religionists are obligated to care for others. And by the way, my grandmother is not a Mormon, so it isn’t just a Mormons helping Mormons thing.
Amusingly, the Mormons will jump at any excuse to have a block party. Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, a wedding — regardless of the reason, Grandmom’s Mormon friends will cheerfully spend an entire day rolling up hundreds of taquitos, baking tater-tot casseroles, and/or preparing big bowls of fruited green Jello to share with the residents of their ward. And no — I don’t think that’s creepy. I think that’s charming. I also think it’s charming that, in Utah, your plumber is likely to come to your funeral. True facts!
“But Stephanie,” some may object, “you are only one person. How do we know your experiences are trustworthy?” In response, I shall direct you to John C. Wright’s Shout Out to the Latter Day Saints:
Once upon a time, my middle son flushed a toy down the toilet, and the toy, with a power far beyond that of ordinary toys, managed not only to clog the pipe running under my front yard, but break the pipe during the attempt to remove it, so that my front tree had to be hewn down as if [b]y the cruel Orcs of Orthanc, and all my yard ripped up and despoiled.
Next, the Home Owners Association sent a legal notice saying we had to restore the lawn to good and proper condition forthwith, or face legal penalties. At this point in time my wallet had moths in it, and echoes, but no money. I could not hire a landscaper no[r] do the work myself.
My wife prayed to her God (I was an atheist at the time) and within the same day, two young men, dressed soberly, and with good manners, approached her and said that they were walking the neighborhood looking for good works to do. At first she thought of turning them away, but then realized they were an answer to prayer.
Since they were conservatively and soberly dressed, and spoke politely, and had a shining of grace and good favor about their faces, I knew at once that they were either Agents of the Machine from the movie THE MATRIX or that they were elders from the Church of Latter Day Saints.
Or, if you’d like, you can trust my mother, whose childhood in Salt Lake resulted in an intimate acquaintance with the Latter Day Saints. Though she knows the darker bits of Mormon history – and I’m going to speak to those in a minute – her attitude regarding Mormons is still overwhelmingly positive. She’s a freshly minted convert to Catholicism (and was both a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian earlier in life), but she considers the Mormons to be our allies in the culture wars. She deeply respects their conservative family values and their dedication to community service — and by the way, so do I. Mormonism is a peculiar “Made in America” heresy, but its adherents often behave more like Christians than do their more orthodox brothers and sisters.
Which is not to say that the Mormon church doesn’t have its questionable facets — like every other human institution on the planet. As recently as the 1970’s, Mom couldn’t bring her black friend over to a Mormon household. But in that same time period, there were probably many towns in the (overwhelmingly Protestant) rural South in which people refused black visitors. Racism is a human curse, not a Mormon one. And as for the polygamy thing? That – like the claim that darker skin is demonic – is no longer endorsed by the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (though, yes, it still exists in off-shoot groups like the FLDS).
Now, having said all of the above, I can understand to a certain extent why some people are wary when it comes to the Mormons. They are kind of mysterious. We who are not Mormons are not allowed to visit their temples and observe their most important rituals. But isn’t it the point of small-l liberalism to rise above our reptilian brains? If you’re confused as to why Mormons do the things they do and believe the things they believe, the proper course is not to mock them out of ignorance. The proper course is to turn to a Mormon and politely ask, “Hey, friend. Can you explain?” I’m sure any Mormon would be happy to engage in a good-faith discussion of his church and its traditions.