We Are a Peculiar People
Last year’s Broadway hit came from the founders of the popular South Park television series. The Book of Mormon musical centers around the engaging character of Elder Price. Conveyed as naive, innocent, and purely Utah-Mormon, he at one point in the musical sings “I Believe…”, a ridiculous concoction and twisting of what we as Latter-day Saints truly believe. In fact, the entire production is mixed with series of extravagant and ridiculous claims. However, the true genius of the song is that it so perfectly ecompasses widespread American perceptions about our faith that it is widely accepted as truth. Elder Price, and Mormons in general, are presented as having some strange ideas, but in the end being good people with good intentions who might actually be able to help people.
Written nearly two millennia ago, then Church President Peter had it right when he said,
“Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
1 Peter 2:9
Not a lot has changed since then. Sure, we went through the whole Great Apostasy and Restoration thing, but we as God’s covenant people are still different than the rest of the world. And that’s how God wants us to be. But to the rest of the world we sometimes just look like loons.
Luckily the common response, by both church members and non-members alike, is the idea that Mormonism’s weirdness is like any other faith, and that all religions are weird to some extent. Stephen Colbert said it like this, “Mormons believe Joseph Smith received golden plates from an angel on a hill, when everybody knows that Moses got stone tablets from a burning bush on a mountain!” Jon Stewart similarly evaluated the angst about Mormonism as a kind of arbitrary stigmatizing that can apply to any religion. But these quips don’t further a greater understanding of our faith. Despite society’s pseudo-progress in understanding who we are, some surveys show that the majority of the general public do not know what we believe. Perhaps late-night television personality Conan O’Brien made this all too clear when he humorously sang:
Oh Mormons, Mormons, Mormons,
We haven’t got a clue
Of what you folks believe in,
Or think or drink or do.
I confess to being a fan of Colbert, Stewart, and O’Brien (you should really watch those videos I linked; they are good for a laugh), but as the Church becomes more and more “mainstream” and in the media, I hope that we as Latter-day Saints do a better job of conveying what we really believe in. I suppose it is humorous on some level to hear songs about us having our own planets, but I would much rather be known for giving service and declaring Christ than for Mitt Romney and his car elevators.
This media attention can be a double edged sword. It is entirely up to us to make sure we are not cut by the blade.
If you’re not a Mormon and you’ve stumbled upon this blog post, thank you for reading. Please click here and learn more about what us weirdo Mormons really believe.