Last week I attended a conference of educators in another state. One of the presenters talked briefly about some statistics that indicate various trends in education that touch upon social justice. He displayed PowerPoint slides with various states and figures regarding graduation rates, literacy rates, the impact of dropout rates on delinquency and incarceration, etc. Along the way, he showed a slide that showed three states, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, and asked which one of these states had the highest disparity in income between men and women.
Most of the room answered Utah. (The correct answer was Wyoming.) The presenter called upon one woman to explain the reasoning behind her choice of Utah. She said in a sarcastic, hostile tone, “Mormons!” Another lady sitting near her asked regarding the state of Utah, “Have you ever BEEN there?” Across the room there were many nods of agreement.
I was too polite to stand up and address the issue of religious intolerance and derail the speaker’s presentation, but I sat there on a low boil for the remainder of the meeting. The question that came to my mind forcefully was, “When will people realize that making such statements is just as unacceptable as making derogatory comments about Jews, Muslims, African Americans, Asians, Mexicans, or any other minority?”
If the presenter had showed a slide showing the abysmal graduation rates in Detroit and asked someone to point out a reason for them, would the woman have said, “The blacks!” No reasonable person would tolerate such overt racism. If the speaker had showed disparities in incomes by neighborhood in New York or Florida, would the woman have said, “It’s because of all those Jews that live there!” The Anti-Defamation League has done a fantastic job in educating the American public that such comments about Jews are offensive. Anti-Semitism still exists, but people are generally more circumspect about it. They know it’s wrong and, if they harbor hostile feelings towards Jews, they only vent them in like-minded company.
The problem with anti-Mormonism is that EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE is considered “like-minded company.” A conference of educators, a college classroom, a business office, the supermarket checkout line, the bleachers at the little league field, in the youth group of an evangelical church, or on a news program on MSNBC. It is ironic that the world has become so politically correct, yet it is still alright for liberals and conservatives, atheists and clergymen, to bash Mormons.
When Proposition 8 focused the ire of homosexual activists against the Church in California in 2008, there were large protests, vandalism, and threats of an organized boycott against Mormon-owned businesses. Recently, conservatives were talking about organizing a similar boycott against Mormon-owned businesses because the judge who ruled that Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s department was illegally profiling Mexican immigrants and arresting them was a Mormon. Religious intolerance is thoroughly entrenched on the left and the right regarding latter-day saints.
Why is this so? When will people figure out that it isn’t OK to disparage Mormons? The Church’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign is an attempt to put a human face on Mormonism. People should know that there are Mormons all around them. The lies, distortions, and half-truths told about us are hurtful. These manifestations of religious bigotry pop up when people feel confident that their words won’t be challenged.
Several years ago, my daughter was in a middle-school English class. The African American teacher made a hostile, belittling comment about Mormonism. My daughter bravely and politely challenged the teacher, offering a correction on what she had erroneously represented as our belief. Instead of realizing her mistake, the teacher doubled down on her bigotry. She got In my daughter’s face and said, “You’re a Mormon? How many wives does your father have?” My daughter was only 12. Should any child have to face such an attack in school? My child got up and left the classroom to go to the office. She went there to calm down and explain to the school’s counselor what had just occurred. There was no action taken against the teacher.
Most people could care less about Mormons. We don’t register on their radar. However, when Mormons do pop up on the radar, the general level of prejudice and hostility that has been sown by the hundreds of anti-Mormon ministries and parachurches becomes the norm. We try to deal with prejudice and persecution as the Savior would. We put up with it. We turn the other cheek. We know that they speak lies about us. Jesus’ own detractors called him Beelzebub, the prince of devils. He told his followers that they should not expect more favorable treatment.
The kinds of comments made at the education conference are typical. Anti-Mormonism is entrenched in the minds of far too many people. How do we effect change? If I had stood up in that meeting and defended myself and the Church, there would have been bad feelings. I didn’t have time to approach the individual privately. The Church has the right idea, I think. Just letting people know you’re a Mormon has value. Let them put a face on it. It’s kind of like illegal immigration. Many conservatives are willing do have “illegals” deported until they have a personal connection with one. When they discover that their gardener or housekeeper is an undocumented immigrant, that’s different! They know that person. They have empathy for him or her. They instantly become more reasonable. The issue becomes more nuanced.
Likewise, when we let others know we’re a member of the Church and let them see our “light” shining, that does some good. We need to do more of that, a little every day.