Tuesday, May 24, 2011

the Mormon question

I received a lovely email from my sister, Amy, this evening. She lives in Utah, and had been listening to a discussion on a radio show today about Huntsman vs. Romney, both being LDS potential candidates for the next Presidential run. Romney is pretty straightforward about his membership in the Mormon Church, and recently, Huntsman is apparently less so. When asked straight-out if he was Mormon, his reply was, "It's complicated." She understood there was some political strategizing going on, trying to appeal to multiple populations, but he also did not feel it actually as that complicated. You either are, or you aren't, Mormon.

She then started to explore the different possibilities. Is he less active? But his name is still on the Church roll. How about a caller in to the show who shared how, though he doesn't practice the religion actively anymore, he still calls himself Mormon because his family has such extensive cultural history in it? And then there's that shared acquaintance who doesn't attend Church anymore, but would still say yes if someone asked her if she were Mormon.

Which brought her around to me. How do I answer that question? (If you couldn't already tell by the title of this blog...)

I was so pleased to get her email-- such a graceful, curious, welcoming opening dialogue raising a topic that I have had some anxiety about with my family. I tend not to bring my departure from the Church up in conversation, because I am afraid of making someone feel uncomfortable, awkward, or sad when there is no need to be.

Here is my response:

"It seems like Mr. Huntsman's team would have come up with a more graceful answer to the question I'm sure they were all expecting. I agree, if he is less active now, it certainly is much trickier, more awkward, and difficult to successfully circumnavigate than if he is a fully-active member. And just because his name is on the roll of the church certainly doesn't mean he's active or believes in it. You actually have to go through quite the rigmarole to get your name removed from the church roll. It's quite a lengthy, inconvenient, particular process, which is the only reason I haven't done it. (I am a terrible errand-runner, and finding a notary to sign my exceptionally specifically-worded letter is just not something that's at the top of my to-do list. Let alone talk to some bishop I've never met about how I do actually want to leave the Church, you would think a notarized letter would be proof enough...) But either way, he should have been able to say something that was a bit more of a statement, rather than an obvious attempt to dodge-- especially as this show was airing in Utah.

When the topic comes up, as it surprisingly frequently does (I feel like the majority of first conversations actually raises the issue-- as soon as people find out I lived in Utah for an extended period of time, or went to BYU, they ask. And then they inevitably have 20 more questions. People are FASCINATED by Mormons, and I think especially fascinated by someone who used to be a Mormon and isn't anymore.) Oh, and there's the answer to your question. I say I am no longer Mormon. Follow-up questions almost always include who else in my family is or is not Mormon, at which point I acknowledge the extensive familial and cultural history that will always tie me to this religion and lifestyle, but I no longer identify myself as Mormon.

[Acquaintance] has made the argument that I will always be Mormon like non-religious Jewish people are always culturally Jewish. The Mormon religion isn't nearly as old as the Jewish religion, or as populous, or as geographically-specific, though I see her point. But the reasons that led me to leave the Church also lead me to not want to be linked to the Church in ideology. I do not choose that label, and I feel like I get that option at this point. The Mormon religion is a part of my family history and story, and it has clearly shaped so much of who I am, which in some significant ways I am very grateful for. But at this point in my life, I get to choose how I put myself forth to the world as, and I choose words and connotations such as vegan, New Yorker, artist, woman, agnostic, American, over a religion and lifestyle I do not believe in."


Anonymous said...

Actually, the generally accepted number of Jews in the world (difficult to calculate, for a number of reasons) is 12-14 million people. Mormons number 13 million, so the population is pretty even. Of course, in both groups, there will be many people like you who don't practice, believe, whatever, but who are still counted.

I don't know what Huntsmans' thoughts behind that answer are, and I don't care. I don't have a religious test for people I won't vote for (or even for people I will). I much prefer that people who do not practice Mormonism not label themselves as Mormons, although a good number of people feel entitled to claim that identification if they have Mormon family or ancestors. It dilutes the brand. I don't really care if they remove their names, but if they left the Church, I think they should leave the name.

Glad you're blogging again. I'd love to hear about your life beyond work and gym activities. And coffee shops.