Too Mormon, Or Not Mormon Enough?

A lot of Mormons tell me that I'm not Mormon enough. Criticizing the church or its leaders is reason enough for this boundary maintenance. If I don't wear the right underwear, don't hold a proper temple recommend, didn't pay my tithing, turned down a calling, wore a sleeveless dress (or let my daughter do the same), drank some coffee or alcohol, or anything else against the lost lists of rules that religions tend to proliferate to distinguish the devout from the less devout, I risk being called an apostate, a dissident, a follower of Satan, or an enemy of the Mormon church.

Yet at the same time, when I talk about Mormonism to my non-Mormon friends, I'm "too Mormon." They tell me I should just "quit" and find another church. Or give up on church entirely. Intelligent people don't believe in religion anymore, don't I know that? If I'm a modern woman, how can I accept any of the tenets of any Christian religion, which are clearly sexist? And if I understand even the most basic ideas of science, how can I adhere to religious ideas of an unknowable and unseeable omnipotent being that was clearly created by people who were trying to explain phenomenon, which science now adequately describes without any mystical language?

A couple of years ago, when I was searching for a new agent for my Linda Wallheim books, I discovered quickly that describing my books as "religious fiction" was a quick way to an automatic "no" from most agents. When I tried to explain that they weren't preachy and weren't typical religious fiction books, I realized that I was being as prejudiced against religious fiction as the agents were. Eventually, I stopped describing my mysteries set in Mormon Utah as anything other than "mysteries," and found an agent who wasn't afraid of books with religious content. But this experience opened my eyes to the prejudice against any religion, not just the particular brand that I adhere to.

I understand that religion is out of fashion among many. I also understand that Mormonism never was in fashion to begin with. I'm neither looking for acceptance among other Mormons nor looking to convert my atheist friends to Mormonism as a "better" religion (even if I believe that it is). I realize that we as human herd animals have a deep need to label ourselves and others into neat boxes that may or may not fit. We are tribal and we like to clearly identify who is in our tribe and who isn't. It makes us feel safe and comfortable to exclude this group or that group from our lists of "smart" or "interesting" people. The same thing happens in politics as does with religion, which is why, I guess, we're told not to have discussions about either at the dinner table.

When I was younger, growing up in New Jersey rather than Utah, I got used to being told that Mormons weren't Christians, usually by Christians who had no idea what Mormons believed. When I tried to explain that The Book of Mormon was all about Jesus, they told me I was wrong. When I tried to explain that Mormons worshiped Christ and that we had communion like other Christians, I was also told I was wrong, that I was involved in a cult, and that the Christ I worshiped wasn't really Christ. This kind of an argument was tiresome and I quickly learned to shrug and move on. I did wonder sometimes if Catholics were told they weren't Christian, if evangelicals were told they were too evangelical to be Christian, and so on. I suspect that this kind of boundary maintenance exists in all religions and in fact in all groups of any kind.

I guess I'm not going to say that I wish people would stop labeling and doing boundary maintenance for their groups (though I could argue that when Christ commanded us to "Judge not that ye be not judged, to not call our brothers fools, to not see the mote in another's eye instead of the beam in our own, he was asking us to stop doing this). I'm not going to say that we shouldn't talk or think about things in terms of "us" and "them," because I suspect that we humans just can't live that way. We need the safety and security of our herds, our tribes. We need to see the world in terms of labels and boxes or else we wouldn't know what to make of it.

What I wish then is that we were more aware of the gut reaction we have to label people even before we have a chance to have an experience with them. We may all be surprised to discover unexpected similarities in those we thought were so different, and we may find that the boundaries are not as firm as we expected them to be. If we could see that there are a lot more groups of "us" than just the one or two we tend to think of, I think our lives would be richer and we would trade the sense of safety these boundaries promise us for love and understanding. Isn't that what Jesus would want us to do?

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