I’m having an identity crisis. I used to call myself a Mormon. Then the Brethren deemed that a religiously incorrect term, so I switched to Latter-day Saint even though its a mouthful. If I had my druthers, I’d call myself a Saint, just to make life simpler, but there’d be too much laughter, so I don’t.
After I moved to the Bible belt, I pretty much reverted to the moniker “Mormon” because, when people asked my faith and I answered, “Latter-day Saint,” I usually had to add “Mormon” just to replace their blank expression with one of grave concern so I’d know whether or not they were still alive.
Regardless, the way I see it, calling yourself a Mormon (or a Latter-day Saint) should hold enough meaning for anyone. After all, a Mormon is (supposed to be) clean-cut, honest, trustworthy, faithful, and, to the outside world, basically weird, considering we don’t drink, smoke, fool around, or even cuss …unless we happen drop a hammer on our toe or get caught up in singing along with the soundtrack of a certain Broadway musical no one in our ward knows we’ve seen. But these days, being Mormon just isn’t enough. Nowadays, a Mormon has to have a classification, a subset, or some kind of clique to belong to within Mormonism in order to have an identity. In order to fit in. My problem is, I just can’t figure out where I belong. So I’m going to run a few of the more popular Mormon classifications by you in the hope you can help me figure myself out.
First, we have the Iron Rod Mormons. Iron Rodders tend to approach their faith legalistically. They stick to the rules at all costs, whether those rules are commandments or handbook regulations, which, to them, are the same thing. They are letter of the law Mormons and tend to think of the world as black and white, right and wrong, obedient or disobedient. These are the folks who get really hung up on deciding whether or not something is good for the church or bad for the church, because, you know, the church has certain “nutritional needs” that must be met or it’ll perish. Positive press is like a One-A-Day multivitamin and negative press is a shot of cyanide. Iron Rodders like other Iron Rodders, but are puzzled by the rest of us. If you ever catch an Iron Rod Mormon at an R-rated movie, he’s there to drag his kid out of the theater.
Liahona Mormons, on the other hand, fancy themselves followers of the spirit of the law, not so much the letter of the law. This is particularly true when it comes to things like coffee ice cream or pulling their ox out of the laundry soap row at the local Target on a Sunday afternoon. They see the gospel—and life—as more complicated than Iron Rod Mormons do and, like Father Lehi, rely on revelation to guide them through moral, ethical, and spiritual complications. Of course, if that revelation doesn’t come, then they remember God gave them a brain for figuring things out. So they pretty much decide on what feels right and do that. If you find a Liahona Mormon at an R-rated movie, it’s because the film has something deep to say. For instance, Schindler’s List is a Liahona favorite, as is The King’s Speech. In fact, The King’s Speech may rank as a Liahona’s #1 R-rater because no one understands God’s willingness to overlook the occasional habit of swearing royally quite like a Liahona.
Then there are the Borderland Mormons. These folks have been getting a lot of press lately because they are the Mormons with serious doubts and questions. You know, the kind we’re now supposed to be talking about in Sunday meetings. The problem is, most Borderlanders aren’t going to obey that counsel since many of them attend church only for the sake of their families, and spouting off about historical incongruities, or questions about Heavenly Mother, or other pesky details might too easily identify a Borderlander as a potential candidate for a Court of Love, which could upset the Family Home Evening prayer chart. Not that Borderlanders are apostates. Many Borderlanders have testimonies of the restored gospel, but struggle with the way the LDS culture and the official church organization sometimes implement it. For instance, a Borderland Mormon isn’t likely to equate building a high-end commercial mall or a towering luxury condominium complex for the rich with washing the Lord’s feet using expensive oil, since, you know, there will always be poor people among us for the Church to assist. You know, later. Besides, their questions have been known to explode the heads of certain Iron Rodders, and no one is delusional enough to think the Deacon’s quorum would do a half-way decent job of cleaning that kind of gore off the folding chairs before putting them away.
And of course we have the Feminist Mormons who are really just a subset of the subset Borderland Mormons, except they usually talk a lot about wanting the priesthood when your average, everyday male Borderlander might be more interested in talking about shucking off some priesthood “responsibilities,” particularly those that involve extensive meetings where everyone talks about how to fix everyone else who isn’t in the meeting so that some day they can be in a meeting just like this one. Lately, Ordain Women’s Kate Kelly is being offered up as a type of Golden Calf of LDS feminism, with the Public Affairs office standing in as Moses and calling out to the rest of us, “Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me!” (Exo. 32: 26). But not all Feminist Mormons take the same stand on female ordination as Kate Kelly and her group. Still, most MoFems (probably all) have her back, feeling she’s been misrepresented and mistreated by the official church. Of course, Feminist Mormons have many more things to talk about besides female ordination, like the sexiness quotient of bare shoulders and navels. The point is, Feminist Mormons are not a monolithic group–some are for ordination, some are not, many aren’t sure–but they are united in their concern regarding how gender issues are expressed and explored in Mormondom, particularly those that may harm, or put at risk, our girls in any physical, emotional, or spiritual way. Contrary to popular belief, Feminist Mormons are reported to wear make-up, high heels, and knee-length dresses. At least on most Sundays. Sometimes, however, they wear their bras underneath their garment tops. But at least they wear them.
Conservative Mormons, also known as mainstream Mormons (also known as Republicans) see little separation between their political and religious philosophies. They are most likely to advocate for their political viewpoint in a Sunday School classroom than anywhere else, except perhaps on social media. They consider political Facebook posts to be a kind of campaign contribution. Of course, they’d like to donate cold hard cash to their Republican candidates, or to the Impeach Obama campaign, but they don’t have any money left over after paying tithing to help the poor buy Coach handbags outside Temple Square.
Progressive Mormons, also known as Democrats, sit on the back row of church meetings and, like Borderlanders, keep their mouths shut. Not out of fear of Courts of Love like the Borderlanders and Feminists, but out of fear they might someday accidentally verbally bitch-slap a Conservative Mormon who makes really good funeral potatoes. Progressive Mormons understand that the only time in their Plan of Salvation Timeline when their Conservative Mormon peers will praise them for their particular brand of insight into the human condition is at their funeral, so they don’t want to mess that up. Since, duh, elephants never forget. The tricky thing, though, about the Progressive Mormon classification is that, technically, it’s sometimes applied to an unsuspecting Conservative Mormon who develops an awkward hope for more inclusiveness in the Church culture, particularly regarding our Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.
Oh yeah. And then there are LGBT Mormons. I’d throw the Q onto the back of LGBT, but that Q stumps Iron Rod and Conservative Mormons, who pretty much think of anything besides heterosexuality as Q. I’d say more about LGBT Mormons, but, to be honest, I suspect they’d enjoy it more if Mormons did less talking about them and more talking to them. You know, as if they were real humans and not just “sinners.”
Then there are the infamous True Believing Mormons,or TBMs. A TBM lives the gospel to the T, believing all they have been taught at church or through the prophets and apostles must be true in a literal way, or else it must all be false. There is nothing figurative in the scriptures for TBMs. Jonah spent 3 days afloat in the gastric juices of a Shamu who lived in the Red Sea and every American Indian is a direct descendant of Lehi, no matter what DNA shows, no matter that the Book of Mormon itself doesn’t support this teaching of Joseph Smith. TBMs will often claim a testimony that doubt is a sin that moves us away from God, so they avoid ideas and information that challenges the True as they understand it. They not only disbelieve, but distrust science, particularly the whole smoke and mirrors theory called evolution, which is ironic in a way, because if, within Mormonism, there is human evidence that man descended from unthinking apes, it would likely be found in TBMs.
And then there is me:
- I’m much more Liahona than Iron Rod, though I’ve come to think of the Iron Rod and my backbone as synonymous.
- Like a Borderlander, I struggle with much in the LDS culture that doesn’t seem to live up to what the gospel intended. Plus, I have questions. Heck, I enjoy questions. Questioning is how I grow.
- Like a feminist, I have an abiding interest in weeding out certain problematic cultural practices that are making it harder and harder for young LDS women to bloom within the faith.
- I’m definitely a Conservative Mormon, but I’ve also been accused of being a Progressive Mormon because of my thinking on certain social issues.
- I’m not LGBT or Q, but I’m an ally who visits Mormons Building Bridges on Facebook when I need a good dose of Christian love to keep me grounded.
- And of course, like TBMs, I believe the gospel is T for True. And yet, I’m not afraid to look into the shadows of LDS history or to squarely face the fallibility of our leaders and theologians.
I fit all these classifications, in a way, and yet I fit none. I suspect many of you have a similar problem.
So after reading this over a few times, I’ve decided to advocate for a new classification–the Believing Mormon, or BM. By dropping the T in TBM, I’m not suggesting we drop the quest for truth, only the illusion that we have it all.
Okay, sure, I hesitate to call myself a BM and you might too, since the acronym is basically polite potty language. But then I remembered how Paul compared the followers of Christ to the body of Christ. You know, some believers are the heart of the Church, others the hands, and still others the mind … Well, even the body of Christ needs (forgive me for being impolite) an anal sphincter to push out the $#!^. Like labels. Is it so wrong for me to aspire to be that BM? The job may stink, but you know what they say: someone has to do it.
Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am. (3 Ne. 27:27)