One thing I’ve found to be true about Mormons is that they love to put off an aura of inclusion when proselytising to new members. But once you are in, heaven help you if you break from the herd.
If you don’t show your orthodoxy — instantly, flagrantly, and without thought — when these sorts of moments arise, you may as well just declare yourself an apostate. There is no room for apathy on Mormon matters when you are a Mormon. Before I even began to doubt my testimony, I didn’t have my religious affiliation listed on my Facebook account. Mormons asked me why I didn’t. When I told them I thought is was odd to religiously label myself on a social networking site, they reacted with incredulity and suspicion. When the South Park episode “All About the Mormons” came out and I didn’t join the rabid rabble-rousing at church, I was asked why I wasn’t angry. I shrugged and said that South Park makes fun of everybody, so in a way it showed that Mormons were relevant. Plus, the episode gave the Mormon the last word, with Eric Cartman of all characters declaring him to be cool. I won’t forget the looks of disgust I received. When relatives were collectively fawning over Glenn Beck and I said I didn’t really consider him a news source, but rather an entertainer who used politics for subject matter just like most other talking heads, I practically had my head taken off. Apparently failing to be a Glenn Beck groupie means you are also a bad Mormon.
Tonight at a family gathering my parents and cousin found out about the Hot Mormon Muffins calendar. I’d known about it for a while. Like the Hooters restaurant chain, I found it funny, tacky, and harmless. Big fat prudes will raise their hackles and declare it scandalous, but even big fat prudes know deep down that it doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s slightly less tacky than the “Men on a Mission” calendar. Even if you don’t like it, there are bigger fish to fry as far as visual depictions of the female body go, and the calendar is so blatantly goofy that I don’t understand how someone could think it was worth taking offence at.
Yet my family was horrified that I failed to get as upset as they were. I couldn’t just sit there and not participate in the conversation, which was what I hoped to get away with. They instantly noticed that I wasn’t frothing at the mouth, which made me the collective target. I was asked what I thought of it. I said that I didn’t defend the calendar. I thought it was tacky, kind of funny, and didn’t really do much to harm or help the church, and it wasn’t worth getting anybody’s knickers in a twist. After all, everyone in the room had favourite TV shows that showed far skimpier outfits on women. The calendar didn’t use the term “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and never implied that it was affiliated with any one organization. The term “Mormon” is very broad and doesn’t belong to any one group.
That’s when I really got it. Everyone knows that Mormons and the LDS church are the same thing, I was told, revealing the (unfair) collective opinion that those who are not LDS should be allowed no claim on Mormon culture or faith. The calendar was an assault on the church, they said, and so should be condemned. It was an affront to virtue, chastity, temple covenants, family values, and the children of these horrible slutty irresponsible mothers who thought so little of their own value and the value of their church membership as to appear in images that cover up way more skin than your average billboard.
My mom, someone who constantly complains about “the feminists,” shot out at me that this calendar “did not further the cause of Feminism,” a clumsy and deliberate attempt to use my own Feminist principles against me. I had to bite my tongue to keep from rolling my eyes. A calendar with some fairly tame pin-up style photos is hardly going to raise my hackles compared to more substantial women’s issues. I asked my cousin if she was going to stop watching movies that showed girls in bikinis. In all seriousness, she declared yes. I have no doubt that she really meant it in the moment, but my point was made. A couple of the younger people in the room laughed at her to hear such hypocrisy laid bare, as everybody knew that such a promise would never be kept.
But the worst of it came when my dad turned to the creator of the calendar. He was clearly someone who deserved to have his BYU diploma withheld from him (the church did this because of the Men on a Mission calendar) and be kicked out of the church (because denying someone their diploma isn’t enough). His reasoning? “If you want to be part of the group, be part of the group. If you don’t, get out.”
He looked at me when he said this. He is aware of most of my basic issues with the church, and I was stunned to think that this exclusionary view is actually held by all my family members. There is no spectrum of faith in their view. They see a tight Mormon herd, and instead of roaming around to see the world they stay tight on their little patch of dogma, with everyone clamouring and pushing to stay as close to the centre as possible. After all, they certainly don’t want to be one of those weirdoes on the edges.
I don’t stand in the centre of the herd. And they can all see it. And I suppose they really do think that if I won’t clamour to get to the centre, I should get out.