Why Do Mormons Side with People Who Don’t Like Mormons?

I’ve been following two stories in recent weeks about lingering anti-Mormon bias in American life, and the Mormons who support it.

First there’s the story of the Mormon couple in North Carolina who were ejected as leaders of a Boy Scouts of America Cub Scouts troop based at Christ Covenant Church (PCUSA). The Stokes weren’t fit to serve, the church said, because Mormons weren’t really Christians. And then went on to email church members a link to a webpage expostulating on how very un-Christian we Mormons are. How nice.

Second, there’s the story about Nevada Senate Candidate Sharron Angle, whose pastor called Mormonism a “kooky” “cult.” The Deseret News is reporting that some well-connected LDS folks find Angle too “out there,” but I suspect that many of the good LDS people of Nevada (7% of the state’s population) are siding with her over our own Harry Reid. We are, after all, the most politically conservative religious tradition in the US. And the Tea Party kool-aid is really flowing in the job-parched state of Nevada. As Jan Shipps, a long-time scholar of LDS experience recently said, the climate is so conservative out there that Nevada Mormons would probably choose Angle over our own Mitt Romney if he was on the ballot.

What’s remarkable to me about these stories is not the persistence of anti-Mormon sentiment in American life, but the willingness of so many Mormons to accept it, and our failure to connect exclusionary behavior directed at Mormons to larger patterns of intolerance and discrimination.

I have seen our outsider history as a persecuted religious minority put to use in standing up for the rights of other vulnerable populations, including the Church’s recently proclaimed stand against LGBT bullying and its recent work to fight intolerance against immigrants and Muslims.

But too many Mormons buy into a naive notion of Mormon exceptionalism: the logic that LDS people, by virtue of our clean-living and shiny goodness, can ultimately win anyone over, if they get to know us well enough.

I don’t buy it. We shouldn’t be surprised that people and organizations that countenance prejudicial behavior of other varieties—the Boy Scouts, for example, have a terrible record on GLBT issues (unlike the Girl Scouts USA)—also host and foster prejudices against Mormons.

If an organization countenances prejudice towards any so-called “minority,” it’s not such a great place for Mormons to be either—especially if we mean to honor the memory of our pioneer ancestors or our traditional Mormon values of kindness and “daring to be different.”