Regular readers will recall that I am archiving all entries from the wonderful PostSecret project that explicitly reference Mormonism in some way. The following postcard appeared in today’s batch of secrets:
I’m a little disappointed in the lack of creativity in this Secret. The postcard artwork is generic and decidedly not Mormon. Also, it’s hardly a secret to wonder if Mormons are wearing their “Holy Underwear.” It’s a favorite pastime among Mormons themselves to see if other Mormons are wearing the underwear (because if they’re not, NAUGHTY NAUGHTY). I generally assume when I meet someone new and they find out that I’m Mormon that they’re wondering whether or not I’m wearing garments.
You can see all the LDS Postsecrets I’ve collected here.
How about you? If you’re not LDS, when you meet a Mormon, do you try and figure out if they’re wearing “Holy Underwear”?
Regular readers will recall that I am trying to collect all secrets from the PostSecret project that explicitly reference Mormonism. You can see all the installments here.
For those not familiar with LDS culture, this secret shows a picture of a “future missionary” nametag (it’s a real thing). It looks just like the tags worn by all LDS missionaries, except instead of the individual’s name it just says “future missionary”. It’s just a little gimmick tag worn by kids. Teenagers, generally, don’t wear them, because the tags are stupid.
My impression is that this Secret was created by a teenager who is unsure about whether he or she will be able to “stay good” long enough to be permitted to serve an LDS mission.
Huzzah! Another question in the inbox! This one comes from my friend Andy.
I’ve recently become hooked on the Book of Mormon musical. Have you listened to it? It’s certainly offensive, given the writers, but in a fairly general sense. It didn’t really come off to me as Mormon bashing. I think you might like it… or at least the first half of it.
Anyway, having listened to this so many times I’ve become a bit more intrigued and somewhat confused by LDS theology. I figured you can fill in the gaps – but please don’t send missionaries to my house. 🙂
I’m mainly trying to understand what is insufficient about the gospel as presented in the Bible that necessitates the Book of Mormon at all? And why would Jesus need to come here to teach the gospel if he left his Apostles to do that job with the Great Commission?
Even the LDS website seems primarily focused on the Bible and the death and resurrection of Christ – so what do people need the Book of Mormon for? I tried reading more about it from their website, but that sort of information seems kind of buried… or I just might not be looking hard enough.
I’ve found some answers elsewhere, but they seem to primarily be from ex-Mormons or on fundamentalist Christian websites – so I’d be interested to hear an opinion from someone on the pro-Mormon side.
Do I get a prize for the longest question?
Good Essay Question! Clearly this question is too in depth for me to answer here on the blog, so I’ve sent some missionaries over to your house to tell you all about it. They’ll be there Thursday at 4:00. I told them you’d feed them dinner.
JOKE! Ha! Just kidding.
So.. why do people need the Book of Mormon? I thought I’d bring in a little help to answer this one, so I asked my friend John how he would answer. Here’s part of his answer:
From an LDS perspective, it isn’t the teachings or message of either the Bible or Book of Mormon that make salvation possible. It is our covenant with a living God, embodied in priesthood, in ordinances, and in the gifts of the Spirit.
For Mormons, the Book of Mormon — and other texts in the LDS canon! — embodies the principle of continuous revelation. Mormons believe that where we find a “true church,” we will also find God actively communicating with human beings. […] For Mormons, the primary value of the Book of Mormon is it’s witness to this fundamental principle. Most Mormons would also insist that the Biblical witness is made stronger if it is confirmed by other witnesses — such as the witness of the Book of Mormon and of living, modern-day prophets. […]
John confirmed exactly what I was thinking. The content and teachings of the Book of Mormon aren’t nearly as remarkable as the fact that it exists at all. Believing specifically in the Book of Mormon or its teachings is secondary to a belief in a God that still can and does reveal things to us, be it through modern prophets or through ancient texts. Note, for example, that the temple recommend questions (more or less a litmus test for orthodoxy) don’t mention the Book of Mormon (or Bible) at all.
As to the Bible being insufficient… I’d use the word incomplete instead. With the LDS emphasis on allowing our understanding of God and His gospel to grow and be continuously evolving, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or any other text will, by definition, be incomplete. That’s not to say that new revelations can’t be gleaned through the study of old texts, but the new revelations are much more important in Mormonism than static texts. Much the same way Mormons believe that the gospel taught by Joseph Smith or [insert your favorite LDS President here] was also incomplete. In fact, it means the current gospel, as taught in our churches every Sunday is incomplete.
Oh, and I’ve only heard portions of the Musical (which I enjoyed), but haven’t gotten around to listening to all of it yet.
Huzzah! Another question in the inbox! This one was asked anonymously:
Growing up, my sister and I were BEST friends with 2 neighborhood girls who happened to be Mormon. The 4 of us played almost every day until one day, out of the blue, our friends’ parents peeked out the front door of their home and notified my sis and I that their children were no longer allowed to associate with us. We were too shy and polite to ask for an explanation. Heartbroken, my sister and I cried hysterically as we made our way back home. Our family was very surprised when we had explained what had happened. They could only speculate the reason for the rejection was simply that we come from a non-Mormon family. My questions are, does the Mormon Church influence its members to pass judgement on people of other faiths? Are Mormons discouraged from having non-Mormon friends? Do Mormons think that non-Mormons are not worthy of them?
Well that’s a sad story….
Is it possible that Mormonism had something to do with it? Sure. I’ve heard of this sort of thing before. But it’s also equally possible that you weren’t as nice and polite as you remember being. Or maybe their parents were just douchebags who also just happened to be Mormon. I dunno.
I won’t speak for past generations of Mormons, but regarding current Mormons, I think the answer to all of your questions is NO:
Mormons are not encouraged to pass judgment on people of other faiths
Mormons are not discouraged from having non-Mormon friends
Mormons do not think that non-Mormons are not worthy of [their friendship].
However, Mormons are very quick to try and protect themselves (or their children) from anything or anyone that they fear is a bad influence. If Mormonism played any role in this story, it’s likely that your friends parents saw you or your sister as a potential threat to their own children – not specifically because you weren’t Mormon, but maybe because you had some sort of different value system than they did. This isn’t to say that you must have done something egregious, however. Maybe the only offense you committed was wearing a 2-piece bathing suit, or perhaps a sundress that left your 6-year-old shoulders uncovered (oh, the horror!). Mormons are strangely sensitive about bare shoulders.
Mormons have a reputation for being a little bit insular, isolated, and separated from non-Mormons. But they also have a reputation for being extremely nice, outgoing, and friendly with non-Mormons, even if only in an attempt to convert them. Still, Mormonism does claim to be the One-and-Only-True-Church, which requires a little bit of I’m-Right-You’re-Wrong hubris.
But this one cuts both ways. I’m guessing that for every non-Mormon girl who gets rejected and wonders if it was because she wasn’t Mormon, there’s a Mormon girl out there getting rejected because she is Mormon.
Huzzah! Another question in the inbox! This is another anonymous question about Mormonism:
It is my understanding that Mormon’s teach that African American people are “cursed with a black skin” for sins committed by them before they were born and that no announcement or revelation has removed that particular teaching. I know that in 1978 there was a revelation in regards to African Americans serving in the priesthood (A rather conveniently timed revelation IMHO, as there was pressure from the IRS, negative news stories and sports boycotts going on etc.) But is the idea that African Americans are cursed with their skin color still an official church teaching? How is it viewed by members of the church?
Is it still an official teaching? I have no idea, because trying to figure out what is or isn’t an “official” teaching is terribly difficult. There is no book or manual a person can look in to know what the “official” teaching is about anything – even having the President of the Church specifically say something doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it’s an “official” teaching. And since the teachings in the church are continually evolving (which is a good thing), I’m not sure we can ever really make any definitive statements about what is or isn’t an “official” church teaching (past or present).
In fact, relating to this specific topic, several Mormon scholars have reported that David O. McKay, Mormonisms President from 1951-1970, said that “There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes are under a divine curse.” So there’s that.
My understanding is that Mormon scholars are currently busy trying to draw distinctions between the curse of Cain, and the mark of Cain, and of course we’re all slowly moving towards redefining both of those terms in a more symbolic sense. But this is all largely semantics and apologetics (while still being both important and interesting).
But you’re right, everything you’ve mentioned is clearly within the bundle of ideas that at some point have been associated with (and embraced by) Mormonism, and there has never been an official repudiation of those teachings. But the church rarely officially repudiates anything, so I’m not sure that’s the event we should be waiting for so that we no longer call something “official”.
How do current church members view it? Well, without a doubt, if you visit an LDS chapel this sunday, you will find folks who believe the folklore you’ve mentioned (they’ll probably even use the word “fence-sitters” to describe folks with dark skin). And they will feel strongly about it. However, I think they are a minority, and I haven’t actually heard someone mention the topic in church for many, many years. I like to think that the majority of church members agree with what Elder Holland said about it in 2006 for the PBS documentary about the church when he was asked to explain some of this:
Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. … But I think that’s the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. … We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know. …
We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic.
It’s certainly not the repudiation a lot of folks (including myself) would like to see, but it’s better than nothing. I am not anticipating that we will ever see an official repudiation, but I am looking forward to the day when the Church will be both unequivocal and declarative on this subject as Elder Holland describes.
Huzzah! New post in the inbox! This one was asked anonymously:
Why can’t one just go to church and enjoy the gospel and not have to home teach and all that other stuff excluding callings?
Good Question. One thing, though… did you mean “including callings”, meaning you don’t really want to have a calling? (Note for Non-Mormon readers: a calling is mormon-speak for a job or position in the church – teaching a class, organizing a group, helping with church administration, etc.)
The good news is that you can go to church and enjoy the gospel and have absolutely no other responsibilities or expectations if that’s what you want.
Here’s how you do it: You call the Elders Quorum President and say, “Hey Bro, I’ve decided I’m not going to be a Home Teacher anymore, and I don’t really want Home Teachers visiting me either. kthx.” Then you call the Bishop and say, “Hey Bro, I’ve decided I’m not going to have a calling anymore. kthx.” Then you continue showing up for church on Sundays and “enjoy the gospel” (whatever that means to you), and you’ve got your wish!
That’s the simplified version. In real life, the EQ President and Bishop are probably going to try and extend those conversations to figure out why you’re telling them this and what it means about your relationship with the church. So expect the Bishop to want to meet a few times to “talk about your issues” or something. Feel free to tell the Bishop (and everyone else) as much or as little as you want as it’s really none of their business. And chances are that if you’re asking this question, I’ll bet the Bishop won’t be too surprised that you’re resigning from your calling – he probably sees it coming already.
Taking this course will be like riding a bike with only one foot on the pedals – it’s gonna be awkward. It’s true that if you don’t sign up for the whole church program, there will probably be social consequences. People are gonna wonder what your deal is, and many members of the church will probably take it a little bit personally – like if you’re not totally into the church, then you must not be totally into them, either. It’s not that anyone is trying to be mean – they’ll probably just think that you don’t really wanna hang out with them. The best way to move beyond this is to keep showing up for Church on Sundays, and make an effort to show people that even though you’re not totally on board with all the programs and activities, you still value their friendship.
Huzzah! New question in the inbox! This one comes from someone named “Mitch,” which is probably not his real name. Here’s the question:
Another question about Mormonism. What’s up with the mountain bikes? Every time I see some young Mormons out about town it’s always the same, they travel in pairs, white shirt, black tie on mountain bikes, no exceptions. Why no other types of bikes?
Also, I never see one without a helmet, are helmets mandatory?
First, not all missionaries ride mountain bikes. Some ride fixies:
But… you’re right… most Mormon missionaries ride generic mountain bikes. The traveling in pairs, white shirts, and dark ties (not necessarily black) is all mandated directly out of Church headquarters in SLC. Your guess is as good as mine regarding why the strict dress code, but probably all the same reasons any group has uniforms.
Also, not all missionaries are on bikes. I served a full 2 year mission for the church and didn’t ride a bike the entire time. It depends a lot on where they are and what they want.
Helmet wearing, I’m sure, is also mandatory. I asked a couple of local missionaries if that rule came directly from SLC, or if it was a local Mission rule, and they weren’t sure. They were sure, though, that it was required.
But why Mountain Bikes? It’s probably the same reason most people (especially bike newbies) ride generic mountain bikes: They’re cheap, generally reliable, have a more upright riding position than road bikes, they’re all terrain, and the people riding them don’t know any better.
Each Mission (a geographic area containing somewhere around 100-200 missionaries) has a different process for buying bikes. In some missions, the Mission owns all the bikes, so purchasing and distribution is handled centrally. Missionaries come and go, but the bikes stay put for the next set of missionaries to come along. In these cases, I’m sure they buy generic mountain bikes because they’re buying 30 at a time and they just want something cheap. Also, about half the time, the guy buying them is likely to be a 70 year-old man or woman that hasn’t ridden a bicycle since they were 15. When I was a missionary, I heard of other missionaries requesting better bikes from the Mission Office on a couple occasions. The response was typically something a little manipulative like, “Elder, Mission funds are sacred. Don’t you want Mission funds to be used to perform the Lord’s work rather than buying you a fancy bike?”
In other Missions, each missionary is responsible for buying their own bikes, and sometimes there’s even a Mission rule that they aren’t allowed to spend more than x dollars on it (so as not to make the poor missionaries jealous or something). Since Missionaries are typically extremely poor (they receive a stipend of somewhere between $100-$200 per month, but that’s after they pay somewhere around $400/month just to be missionaries in the first place…), cheap mountain bikes are a logical choice.
Or maybe it’s because (according to this source) Liahona Bikes, a maker of mountain bikes marketed exclusively to LDS missionaries, received some kind of official endorsement from the Church Missionary Department in SLC to sell bikes to missions.