The most commonly asked question in Washington, D.C. is, “Where are you from?”
When I say I’m from Utah, the natural follow-up question is, “Are you Mormon?”
When I say yes, I feel a yellow sticky note coming directly toward my forehead – bam, you’re one of those!
I’m never sure what’s written on that sticky note but based on the questions I’ve been asked and the news articles I’ve read, I can make some pretty good guesses.
A saleslady recently asked me about one of my purchases, wondering if it was for a special occasion. I told her it was for my upcoming trip to Utah.
Then the question, “Are you Mormon?”
“Yes, I’m Mormon,” I said.
“Oh, I love Mormons,” she said. “My best friend in the world is a Mormon. We used to live in Arizona and met so many Mormons. They’re such happy, positive people.
Then the saleslady next to her said, “Mormons are polygamists right?”
That would be a big, fat no.
“But aren’t all those polygamists on TV Mormon?” she asked.
“No, they absolutely are not Mormon,” I said
So if you watch “Big Love” or “Sister Wives” or associate any polygamist groups with my church, stop it. Right now.
Polygamy is illegal.
And, we are law-abiding people.
I get this misunderstanding because the church allowed polygamy in the early days of the church and the media love to dredge it up.
In Newsweek’s article on “The Mormon Moment,” they ran pictures of polygamists with their story leading readers to believe they are associated with the LDS church.
They are not.
Polygamy is not approved or practiced by members of the church today and hasn’t been for over 100 years.
There are groups that claim to be associated with the church or at least claim to have the same origins, and some of them practice polygamy. We do not recognize, protect, or affiliate with any of them in any way.
I like what Gary Lawrence, a pollster in California, wrote in his book, “How Americans View Mormonism.” He said, “We do not hold Roman Catholics responsible for those who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, and we are not responsible for those who broke away from ours.”
There is talk about polygamy being okay in Mormon heaven.
First, it’s important to note we don’t go to a different heaven. God doesn’t stand at the pearly gates and sort us out by religious affiliations.
Second, if I get to heaven and find out I have to be a second or third wife to Doug or anybody else I’ll blog about it straight from my MacBook Pro. (It wouldn’t be heaven if I didn’t have one.)
I’ll bob and weave my way up through the line of people waiting to talk to God, and the first question I’ll ask will be about polygamy.
Believe me, I will ask about polygamy.
In one of my writing classes I shared chapters of a memoir I’ve been writing about growing up in a mostly Mormon town in an unconventional Mormon family.
There was drinking in my family, you know, as in forbidden alcohol.
Shocking, I know, but true.
One of the rules was that while the class discussed our writing, we had to remain silent, just taking notes on the feedback from other students.
“These things don’t happen in Utah,” one woman said. “Maybe her family didn’t know the rule against drinking,” another one said. “How could they not know? Everyone in Utah knows that you can’t drink!”
Finally, someone broke the rules and said, “Let’s ask the only Mormon in the room.”
“I thought if you lived in Utah you couldn’t drink, so how could your family drink?” someone asked.
There are more than two-and-a-half million people in Utah. Just over half of them are Mormons. And of that group, not all of them are walk-the-line, churchgoing, and church-loving members. And like all people, Mormons have choices. Not all of those choices line up with church doctrine.
“I have a question,” one classmate said. “Why do Mormons carry dirty Bibles? I mean can’t they afford new ones?”
Now there’s one I haven’t been asked before. “What do you mean dirty Bibles?” I asked.
“Well, it’s like they’re all worn out. They have writing in them and sometimes the pages are falling out, and they are never crisp and clean like most Bibles.”
“I guess that’s because we use them,” I said. “We read and study them. When we learn something new or want to cross reference one scripture with another, we write notes in the margins. We don’t leave them on our coffee tables like family heirlooms. I guess that’s why they look dirty.”
Over the years, I’ve read countless articles analyzing everything from the church’s wealth to the existence of a Mormon Mafia. I’ve been questioned about polygamy, and repeatedly asked about my Sabbath Day observance. But I never imagined I would watch a fresh-faced LDS missionary sing about my religion on the Tony Awards while everyone in the audience laughed.
Are we that funny or that peculiar? My life seems pretty close to the kind of lives my non-Mormon friends live. There are exceptions, of course, like my three-hours of church meetings on Sunday, my dog-eared scriptures, my teetotaler ways, the 10 percent of our income we give to the church to help build new churches and temples, and to help provide humanitarian relief to about 170 countries around the world.
But overall, I feel pretty normal.
The Mormon faith can’t be that weird if people keep joining the church, right? In 181 years since the church began, our numbers have never decreased. We started out with six members, and today there are about 14 million.
Maybe all 14 million of us are brainwashed but I’m a reasonably intelligent woman and I honestly don’t think that’s the case.
And, I can’t deny that being a Mormon makes me a better person.
I’m sure every religion seems weird to somebody.
Am I going too far to say that it seems a little weird to smear ashes on your forehead and leave them there all day?
Yes, on the surface that seems a little weird, but I respect my Catholic friends that do it because it’s meaningful to them.
Every religion has something that appears different or weird. I’m sure people thought Noah was pretty weird when he went around warning people about a flood that would cover the entire earth.
In Lawrence’s book he asked, “Why don’t people know beans about us? Because we members have not told them in words they understand.”
He recommends we cut the jargon when sharing what we believe.
Whether it’s semantics or substance, we obviously need to do a better job of showing who we are and what we believe.
So maybe we will always have to deal with the yellow sticky notes that get stuck on our foreheads, and just stay amused by the flurry of media that can never stop trying to figure us out.
But in the meantime, maybe we need to come up with a new Mormon vocabulary to help us clearly explain ourselves to a curious world. Or maybe there’s another Broadway musical that needs to be written.