Sunday in Outer Blogness: Meet the Mormons Edition!

It has been a big week for shameless astro-turfing, as the new infomercial on Mormons hit the theaters! Members were encouraged to go see it or at least buy tickets — tithing deductible!! Despite the star power of the Mormon elite and the church’s famed information control, they haven’t convinced the public that it’s a real movie.

Fortunately, there was some happier news this week as marriage equality hit Utah! The CoCJoL-dS has officially conceded defeat on this issue. This affected folks from this community in a very personal way, as you can see from these beautiful photos, and from this touching tale of how important marriage can be when you need it:

That’s when I piped up and said, “I have a copy in my car if you need it.” (We had been advised that I should always have it with me, or at least easily accessible, just in case some hospital denied me rights.) The nurse looked at me somewhat quizzically. I took the leap and said, “I’m his husband.”

From that moment, everything changed. Her face brightened and she said, “Congratulations.” (I wondered if she thought we had just been married after Monday’s Supreme Court decision.) I smiled and replied, “Thank you. We were married in Hawaii, but as of Monday, our marriage is now legally recognized by the State of Utah.” Once again, she said, “Congratulations!”

From that point forward, she included me in the conversation just as she would have done had I been Mark’s wife. She asked my full name and wrote down my phone number. A warm glow spread inside of me, recognizing as I did that there would – thanks to Monday’s Supreme Court decision – be no issues relating to me being with Mark, no question of who was next-of-kin. As of Monday, the State of Utah recognizes me as Mark’s next-of-kin. We are now treated as a couple, as a family, not just two men who live together.

And, the results of last week’s conference are in!! The winner for most memorable image was the admonishment to stay in the boat! Given the problems with this metaphor, the memes just write themselves!! The most inspiring serious response is found in a Buddhist parable:

The Buddha then asks the listeners a question: “What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river, then said to himself, ‘Oh, this raft has served me so well, I should strap it on to my back and carry it over land now?’” The monks replied that it would not be very sensible to cling to the raft in such a way.

The Buddha continues: “What if he lay the raft down gratefully, thinking that this raft has served him well, but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore?” The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.

The Buddha concluded by saying, “So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with—not for seizing hold of.”

An honorable mention goes the those hardworking anonymous drones in the Church Office Building for editing a prayer that mistakenly implied that the women’s meeting was an official session of conference like the men’s. (Regarding the women attending the priesthood session, this headline made me laugh out loud.) Also, they had to get in a jab at the non-believers. Another fun point was when prophet simply repeated an earlier talk, which highlighted the strange justifications for the church’s inspired way of finding a leader:

The word “remove” here is pejorative, and unnecessarily harsh. Why would a prophet who is “disabled” want to continue in a position where he is unable to function? And are we really sure that life-time appointments are “the Lord’s way”?

In church discussion, Alan Rock Waterman defended Denver Snuffer and Andrew S discussed conservative arguments against liberal activism in Mormonism (tl; dr: no matter how counter-productive and generally awful the church’s strategies against activism may seem, it is everyone else’s fault, not the church’s). Then there was this interesting discussion about how the CoJCoL-dS has been silently deleting its unique doctrines — and I was with the author right up until this end bit:

And given that backdrop, it is deceptive and false for church critics to ignore very clear trends in recent history and suggest (as they often do) that Kolob continues to play some central role in Mormon belief or lived Mormon experience today.

I find the conclusion very funny/sad. Essentially, once upon a time, Mormons used to believe stuff. Now they mostly just believe that the “critics” are so mean and unethical for accusing the Mormons of believing the stuff that’s in their scriptures! As I’ve said before:

I think the most inaccurate part of the song “I Believe” is that it portrays a post-Hinckley-era Mormon boldly proclaiming unique LDS doctrines, rather than defensively dodging questions about them

In scripture study, Alma’s not bragging, God gives the proper procedure for revenge, and Isaiah #2 came up with monotheism!

Well, it’s bedtime for me! I would have written this earlier, but I spent most of the day preparing (and then throwing) a birthday party for my son — it was great fun! But don’t let the lateness of the hour stop you from digging into this week’s fantastic discussions!

Reclaiming Our Stories

This is the presentation I gave for the panel Who gets to say what former Mormons are like? which I organized at the 2012 Sunstone Symposium.

I could see that she didn’t know what she was talking about just by the description of this book!

Author needs to do her research first!

I have only read the description of this book and I realize that I might not really understand the content, but the Mormon church is not like what is being described.

The author does not have the least bit of correct knowledge of the Mormon religion. Her portrayal could not have been more grossly inaccurate.

If you would like to know what the Mormon church, (correctly named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*) believes in and stands for, this book is NOT the source to choose. Visit Mormon.org or talk to a Mormon you may know.

All of these are quotes from online reviews of someone’s personal memoirs. The book is not billed as anything other than one person’s life experiences — certainly not as a source-book on Mormonism.

I know, you can find anything on the Internet. But still, it’s interesting to see several people confidently post that they are more qualified than the author judge the accuracy of her recounting of her own life, simply because her experience with Mormonism was largely (but not entirely) negative.

The advice to “talk to a Mormon you may know” is perhaps the most poignant part because of the unspoken assumptions it carries: That obviously the author can’t be considered “Mormon” if she’s no longer a believing, practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that if she’s not “Mormon” by the CoJCoL-dS’s standards, then she has no business talking about Mormonism at all. Even experiences from her own life — it’s as though she has no right to claim them anymore.

If you dont want anything to do with the LDS faith, then why allocate so much of your time talking about it??

That’s our “Frequently Asked Question” on the community blog Main Street Plaza. No other question comes close in frequency.

I try to be patient with this question because — no matter how many times I’ve answered it — it’s new to each new person who comes by to ask.

It’s not a malicious question. It’s that the CoJCoL-dS teaches that “apostates” are miserable and bitter, and have no further connection with anything Mormon — except to angrily try to tear the church down. And if you’re surrounded by people who believe that, it’s not unusual to have simply never questioned that claim. I’m glad to have the opportunity to expose people to a new and unfamiliar perspective.

The truth is that if you were raised Mormon or have practiced Mormonism for a significant amount of time, that experience is part of what shapes the person you are. That component of your life doesn’t suddenly become invalid or irrelevant the day you stop believing in the truth claims of the CoJCoL-dS. That’s why our book distribution co-op is called the “Mormon Alumni Association” (see here for the origin of the name).

Former Mormons typically have strong mixed feelings about Mormonism. Some negative opinions, naturally, but also lots of positive associations and memories as well. Rarely indifference.

It’s normal for former Mormons to want to join in discussions about Mormonism. It’s normal that those who feel inspired to write stories include Mormon characters and Mormon themes, as I did in my novel ExMormon. You write what you know. And if you look at our book collection, you’ll see that our portraits of Mormonism are complex and varied — not one-note diatribes. For some of our stories Mormonism isn’t even the central point at all, it’s more background scenery.

In his March 15 Washington Post column Michael Otterson argued that journalists are not really qualified to cover Mormon-related stories unless they:

Drop into our services, talk to our people**, have dinner with a local leader, spend a family home evening with a family, be present when a young soon-to-be missionary opens his or her call letter and learns where they will be spending the next couple of years. Join with us on a service project. And then, when you have scratched the surface in this way, closely observe the transformation of peoples lives outside the church as missionaries teach them and they go through the conversion process. Watch those who transition from attitudes of hopelessness to lives of purpose and meaning and learn new ways to follow Jesus Christ. Talk to a Mormon bishop –our version of the local pastor, but who is unpaid for their volunteer work –as he helps people grapple with problems of addiction or shaky marriages or unemployment.

He also gives a list of publications that are extremely laudatory towards the CoJCoL-dS as examples of good journalism.

Michael Otterson (the managing director of Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is the intellectual leader behind the new mantra “If you have any questions, go to lds.org!” Any time a news story diverges one iota from the party line found on lds.org and the LDS Newsroom website, the church PR machine exclaims that the journalists didn’t do their research properly. This includes interviewing faithful Mormons like BYU Professor Randy Bott.

I wish faithful Mormons would be willing to apply the same standards to themselves, and realize that Sunday School lessons like Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy represent tearing other people down — real live people like you and me — whose lives the faithful Mormons aren’t qualified to describe.

One positive aspect of the “Mormon Moment” is that it might help people like Otterson get the message that it’s not reasonable to expect journalists to quote exclusively from your company’s official spokespeople and press releases, and not seek any other sources. But even if it doesn’t, we former Mormons can find our own voices through blogs and books, etc., and reclaim our own stories.

* Unless the reviewer mistakenly thought the memoir was about growing up in the Strangite branch, the correct name is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” not “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”.

** I imagine Otterson means to exclude people like me in the category “our people.”

BBC’s This World: The Mormon Candidate

Finally, a Mormon documentary for the rest of us.

Hailed by the creator of the I am an Ex Mormon video series as “my favorite video about Mormonism I have ever seen.”

Part 1: Mitt Romney

Part 2: Mormons

Part 3: Exmormons

Part 4: Prophets

Part 5: Park

Part 6: Pundits

After I get done watching, it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast John Sweeney’s approach with that of Helen Whitney in her earlier PBS documentary The Mormons.

Come to think of it, I’m also going to revisit that France 24 report from a few weeks back:

Exmos popping up everywhere these days, even in Provo, with French cameras rolling! :-)

Oh, and others are discussing Sweeney’s documentary here and I particularly liked the comment over there that begins:

“The thing that makes this documentary amazing isnt the amount it relied on ex-members, but the amount it relied on the LDS Church to be embarrassed about its past, to lie about its past and then finally to admit the claims that were being made.”

So you’re a… umm… ok

One viewer’s reaction to an “I’m a Mormon”/Mormon.org video*:

Folks be gettin’ annoyed by LDS-sponsored YouTube ads.

Mormon YouTube ads engage with social media to advertise their religion, an online version of the door-to-door campaigns conducted by the Jehovahs witnesses. The only difference is that you can no longer shut the door if you dont want to talk.

Yahoo! Answers:

Q: Why are there so many Mormon videos infesting Youtube?

A: The Mormon church is desperate for new members and to repair their horrible public image.

It’s annoying and I wish they would stop. They don’t realize these ads make them even look more weird.

Prediction: They’re not gonna stop. And then they’re gonna wonder why they get singled out for parody on Broadway and elsewhere.

*By the way, this viewer’s name is Lyle aka Guitarmasterx7 and here are the stats for his YouTube channel:

Subscribers: 105,146
Total Upload Views: 15,984,067

And now, all 105K+ of Lyle’s subs just got this message from their guitar hero (verbatim from the info under his vid):

“I don’t really understand this ad campaign nor do I know why it’s promoted on my videos.”

By way of comparison, the Mormon.org channel on YouTube will someday have more than 8K subscribers. But not today.

LDS FTW.

P.S. Did anyone else see this free ad that HuffPo ran for the Mormons? I don’t get it. Seriously. Here’s how that ad post ends:

Want to know more? Want the happiness I feel? Find out for yourself [insert link to mormon.org here].

N-u-t-s (not Katie’s religious sentiments, but the fact that HuffPo is now an open platform for publishing testimonies).

Sorry, Mormons, but this is nuts.

The Boston Globe: The Mormon image campaign

Times Square

And here’s my dozen reasons why:

Quorum of the Twelve

(Memo to the Mormon leadership: Diverse teams cause people not to revert to stereotyping.)

Plus one for a baker’s dozen.

Local Mormons weigh in: Im a Mormon and I am here in New York and I really wish the church would pick some other place to advertise.

But it’s not just Mormons. God’s Favorite Musical is driving evangelicals like John Mark Reynolds nuts, too.

All signs point to Mormonism becoming the first American religious movement to go supernova.

Marvin Perkins: We are one.

Marvin Perkins

Marvin Perkins is described by Mormon blog Times & Seasons as “a Latter-day Saint music producer who is currently the Public Affairs Co-chair for the Genesis Group and who has worked to nurture understanding between African-Americans and Latter-day Saints and attack misconceptions.” Here’s Marvin at T&S:

Even couched in kind tones, today we find many in the church who utilize labels of separation like your people, our people etc. We are one.

And here’s Marvin attacking misconceptions as a Yes on 8 campaigner:

“… They can’t reproduce, so they got to recruit. And they’re trying to recruit our kids. They’re trying to promote that lifestyle to our kids and I say NO. And then they bring it under a civil rights issue. It’s not a civil rights issue, it’s a moral issue.”

How does Marvin know they are out to recruit his kids?

Because his gay friends told him so:

This tension was especially pronounced when less-polished speakers — like, say, Marvin Perkins, a forty-ish African American introduced as a “community leader” — took the microphone at the rally. “They’re trying to compare this to the black struggle for civil rights and to interracial marriage,” Perkins told the crowd. “And it’s like, there were no civil unions for black and white couples, so, you know, you don’t have a leg to stand on.” If such reasoning caused some puzzlement — was he saying that civil unions would be sufficient for mixed-race couples? — Perkins had another argument for the crowd to consider. “I was talking to a gay friend of mine, and I said, ‘What’s the story? Come on. You have civil unions. Why are you pushing this?’ And they said, ‘Marvin, it’s simply recruiting. We love to recruit.'” It struck me as a testament to Marvin’s magnetism that he was able to elicit such candor from his close gay friends about the recruiting conspiracy.

Memo #1 to Marvin: Your gay friends hate you.

Watch the whole thing, but catch Marvin in action starting around the 3:15 mark:
Memo #2 to Marvin: Your biracial friends probably hate you, too.

Why is marriage equality not a civil rights issue?

Because separate but equal wasn’t available for interracial couples back in the day.

CNN’s Stan Wilson: Wasnt there a time when interracial marriage was illegal? How do you respond to that?

Marvin Perkins: There was. Interracial couples were told they could not marry or have any of the rights of marriage. Same sex couples in CA have the same rights with domestic partnerships. There were no domestic partnerships for interracial couples.

Facepalm.

The OP at that Times & Seasons link goes on to describe Marvin as “… one of the foremost scholars in the Church on the topic of race and the scriptures and has done a tremendous amount to help put an end to doctrinal folklore.”

Memo #3 to Marvin: This is me LMAO at your “scholarship” and your ridiculously homophobic self. We are one, Marvin, but what are you? Looks to me like you’re one big liar, just another Paul H. Dunn, telling whoppers for the Lord.

Top-Secret Mormon Web Traffic Stats Revealed!!

Top Secret!

Check out the official December 2010 web analytics that LDS Inc. doesn’t want you to see:

How many people visit Church sites? The family of official Church sites (LDS.org, Mormon.org, FamilySearch.org, etc.), gets about seven million unique visitors per month.

What are the biggest Church sites? FamilySearch.org is our biggest site with about 3.5 million visitors a month. The LDS.org home page gets about 2.5 million visitors a month. The Gospel Library, which has current and past magazine articles, gets about 1 million visitors each month.

LDS Web Stats Fig. 1

How many websites does the Church operate? The Church operates over 100 different websites. We have about 65 international sites for countries around the world, plus more than 50 other official Church sites (and the number keeps growing).

What are the top international sites? Brazils site is our biggest international site with almost 40,000 visitors each month. It is followed by Argentina, Mexico, Japan, and Germany.

LDS Web Stats Fig. 2

Why does LDS HQ want to prevent these stats from seeing the light of day?

1) Unlike this ballyhooed LDS stat, these web stats are accurate.

2) Unlike this announcement, publishing these stats would not generate useful buzz.

3) The international numbers have got to be a huge disappointment.* They would seem to suggest that we’re already much bigger than the membership of the church outside the U.S. (“we” being the disaffected Mormon underground). Think about that and then think about how you’d explain such a frankly pathetic outcome to the folks paying tithing to build chapels and temples overseas.

View/download the source doc here.

* “Brazil boasts more than a million members, the worlds third-largest Mormon population, after the United States and Mexico. It has 27 missions, more than any country outside the U.S. About 10 percent of the faiths 52,000 missionaries are called to Brazil.”

Does Advertising Campaign Enhance or Dilute Mormon Brand?

Guest post by Rex Whisman.
Republished with permission.
[Note from Chino Blanco: Cross-posted here because I’ve just finished listening to Kyle Monson’s “Publicity, Advertising, & the New Mormon.org” at BCC, and reading Kaimi Wenger’s “The Angel and the Internet” at Times & Seasons, and I think Rex’s questions might provide useful jumping off points for engaging those two Bloggernacle posts here at MSP.]

A couple of days ago I read about a new advertising campaign for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer read, Mormon ads trying for a new brand. When I see the word brand equated to the word ads I always get a little nervous. Why? Because way too many people, including semi-professional marketers, associate the words brand and branding with the words marketing or advertising.

When that happens the brand goal is usually not met. Is it the organization, the organization’s marketers or the writer of the story that does not realize that a brand is your name, what your name stands for and the associations that people make with your name when they see or hear your name? A brand is not a logo, tagline or advertising campaign. A brand is not even your strategy, should you choose to take the time to develop one.

Unlike many others, religious organizations have an advantage because they have a built in mission and set of core values that is usually understood by their stakeholders. When creating awareness or developing a strategy to place the organization in a 21st century context, the best way to do so is to establish a brand platform that captures the essence of the organization by engaging your stakeholders in the development and execution of the strategy. Then deciding what is the best way to communicate that essence to your target audience. Creating traditional advertising campaigns that try to make the organization look hip with little regard to their mission and core values are not sustainable.

I think for those who are not Mormons, the organization is probably misunderstood and does need to educate people. If an advertising campaign reflects your mission and core values and is a way to inform and help ensure sustainability then I say go for it. If the advertising campaign is an attempt to try and make Mormons look cool without a brand strategy, then I say don’t waste your money. Trying to be cool is what everyone else does so why try to look and sound like everyone else? Brand Champions are recruited and retained when they connect to what you stand for, not what you look like in a 30 second spot on a surf board.

Hi, my name is Nagla, and I’m a Muslim

Nagla and her crew obviously shot this on a slightly tighter budget than what Josh and Aron had to work with. Not that I begrudge our dueling skateboarders the benefit of the best production values that Mormon and Scientologist money can buy (Josh and Aron deserve no less, considering that they’ve both probably already paid out much more to their respective religions than what the ads cost).

But enough of that, here’s Nagla (you’ll probably need to crank up the sound to hear her clearly):

And if you enjoyed that, please consider subscribing to this “My Faith My Voice” YouTube channel (and leaving a positive comment for Nagla and MFMV over there).

Otherwise, please take a moment to compare and contrast the new Mormon.org and MyFaithMyVoice.com websites and let’s discuss similarities/disparities and the PR challenges facing both Mormonism and Islam.

By the way, this post is dedicated to Mitt Romney and Harry Reid, two LDS politicians too craven to deserve the support of their fellow Mormons or any American.

NY Times: The Caucus: In Ad, American Muslims Seek Calmer Message
Wonkette: Snark: How far we’ve fallen since those “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ads

UPDATE: After a little more googling, I see that the campaign involves not only personal YouTube statements, but a series of TV PSAs produced by CAIR. Here’s one of the three currently available at CAIRtv:

If the YouTube viewcount is correct, the PSAs from the air campaign have so far attracted little online attention.

P.S. As an aside, Mormons, Muslims and Jews represent roughly equivalent percentages of the US population, and I’m thinking that maybe I’d like to start thinking about the various Mormon-Muslim and Mormon-Jewish dialogues that are happening, even if mostly under the radar (except where this issue is involved).