As I was writing yesterday’s post on HBO’s portrayal of sacred Mormon rites, I realized I have a whole lot more to say on the matter. I think the problem is bigger than just the controversy around that episode. As a whole, the Latter-day Saints don’t seem to get it, they don’t understand that they are a minority, and they don’t understand why they are a disliked minority.
Robert Novak said, “Mormonism is the only minority category where bias in America has deepened” (Mitt’s Mormon Mess). “Few Americans have an accurate understanding of who we are and what we believe [as Latter-day Saints]” “The resulting ignorance is causing increasing antagonism and fear of us,” says Gary Lawrence in his book How Americans View Mormonism. A look at the statistics is staggering. (CBS Poll, Pew Forum, Washington Post). Only 25% of Americans, according to the CBS poll, have a favorable view of Mormons. That’s 75% of Americans that don’t have a favorable view of Mormons. People make similar associations with Mormons as they do with Militant Muslims.
Most of this surprises Mormons (even more so before Romney’s bid for President). I’ve found that because Mormons talk about family values and Jesus Christ and being the fastest growing American religion (which is actually not true), they believe that they are far more mainstream than the rest of America perceives them. When Mormons become aware of other’s negative perceptions of them, they seem to always blame the media. HBO’s “Big Love.” The News and reports of Jeff Warrens. Hollywood attacks because of Prop 8. It’s all a big media conspiracy. Well guess what. I don’t buy it. I think when facing negative perceptions the Mormons should be looking inward rather than outward, as easy of a scapegoat as the media is.
It is disturbing that most Mormons don’t really understand why they are disliked. They don’t realize how elitist and exclusive their temples and weddings are, for example, or how arrogant the redesigned mormon.org is. The Church pumped a lot of work and money into the “Truth Restored” design in 2007 (it introduced the video segments still on the site and on youtube). A friend of mine who works with Church PR told me about how when the Church did studies on people’s reaction to the new site, non-members thought it was extremely arrogant while Mormons thought it was amazing. They did the site over again to focus on “answers to life’s questions,” but I think it still comes across as arrogant.
In Elder’s Quorum this past Sunday I was taught that you shouldn’t teach nonmembers anything beyond the basic teachings of the gospel because they can’t handle it. No meat before milk. Aside from making Latter-day Saints seem secretive, this is extremely patronizing. “We have all the answers and we will decide what to share with you based on how ready we feel you are for the truth (aka how much you can handle).”
What is really sad is that in not fully realizing their minority status, Mormons hurt themselves by mistreating other minorities. I’m sorry, but when the rights of one minority are threatened, the rights of all minorities are threatened. Minorities need to be protecting each other, not hurting each other.