My Mormon mother-in-law is staying with us for a week to help with newborn care. My wife, mother-in-law, and I decided to watch Angels and Demons last night while the baby slept. After it was over, my wife said, “I don’t understand why Catholics revere the Pope so much.”
I responded, perhaps stupidly, with, “Well, it’s not all that different from how Mormons view the prophet.” (I, of course, was thinking like a sociologist and had “institutionalized charisma” on the tip of my tongue…)
My Mormon mother-in-law then chimed in, “I don’t think about the prophet the way Catholics think about the Pope.”
My inner sociologist then took over, “Really? How do you think he is seen as different by Mormons?”
Her first response was to say that people weep when they meet the Pope but not when they meet the prophet; she had met a prophet and didn’t weep. (I didn’t note that she was generalizing from a sample of one…) I asked her if she would like to meet the prophet and/or shake his hand. She said, “No. That wouldn’t really matter to me.”
(An aside is appropriate here… During one visit to Utah my wife and I found ourselves in downtown SLC walking through one of the big shopping centers right next to Temple Square with her parents. Russell Nelson walked by and they stopped and stared as though they had just seen an angel. So, I’m not inclined to believe that she wouldn’t be thrilled to shake the prophet’s hand.)
I probably should have left this conversation alone as I don’t generally talk religion with my in-laws (not because I don’t want to but because they so readily take offense to anything and everything I say and family comes first). I pointed out that Gordon Hinckley had visited my mission in Costa Rica in the 1990s and the missionaries clamored over him like he was a supernatural being himself. We bragged about getting to shake his hand (I shook his hand and was quite proud of that fact). We were giddy about the fact that he was visiting at all. So, perhaps my mother-in-law is unique in this regard.
She did admit during this very brief discussion that she probably couldn’t do a very good job distinguishing between the two because she doesn’t know much about the Pope. She said she’d need to know more about the Pope to distinguish the two.
She didn’t respond to my description of events in Costa Rica, but I kept at it trying to see how Mormons consider the prophet different from the Pope. Her next difference: Mormons don’t cheer for the prophet. I again recounted my experience in Costa Rica. After speaking with the missionaries he spoke to a large gathering of Mormons in Costa Rica in a stadium and they cheered for him. The members were also told to bring white handkerchiefs to wave to him as he left (it seemed artificial to me even back then). She responded by saying that people watching the 24th of July parade in SLC don’t cheer when the prophet drives by, they just wave and he waves back. I’ve only been to that parade one time, and that was when I was in it when I was like 6, so I don’t remember it at all. So, I can’t refute this claim, but NOT CHEERING at a parade? Really? Who just waves at a parade? Maybe I’m used to the bacchanalian Gasparilla festival here in Tampa where people are cheering like lunatics, but it seems like people cheer at parades. (Maybe if the prophet threw out beads to women who flashed him he’d get cheers? Sorry, that’s probably inappropriate, but a funny image in my mind…).
When she reiterated that she didn’t know much about the Pope, I gave a brief description then said, “Well why not just tell me how you think about the prophet.”
Her response, “He’s a man of God.”
I asked, “What does that mean?”
It was at this point that she said, “I don’t think I should have this conversation with you.”
So much for an academic discussion of religion with family (I should know better by now)…
So, I figured I’d ask on here: How do Mormons contrast the prophet with the pope?