In third grade through sixth, I had a friend named Chance. We were best friends and often spent long days and nights over at each other’s house. Whenever I stayed at Chance’s, the house was filled with noise from the two of us and his six brothers and sisters. Chance’s family was Mormon, a religion that my family knew nothing about except the name. He once explained why his family was so large, but it made little sense to me at that time. During the summer between sixth and seventh grade Chance’s family moved away to Utah.
I’ve learned a bit more about Mormons since but this assignment offered me an opportunity to learn more about the religion of my friend and how Mormons feel about how they are perceived in the United States, especially concerning the law and discrimination. Chance’s family was only one of many Mormons in my town and surrounding areas. Patty is a good friend of mine who attends the Mormon church in town since she was a baby, so through her I was able to find three people to interview.
Her parents were not available, but she introduced me to a Mormon missionary Brian, a neighbor Barbara, and Chris, her mother’s home- teacher. Brian is twenty years old and is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. He is currently nearing the end of his Mormon mission, which is a semi-required two year work for Mormon young men to an area chosen by the head church in Salt Lake City, Utah. He had just graduated high school when he began the training for the mission.
His mission is to go door to door in the neighborhoods to share his beliefs and teach anyone interested about the basics of the church. Barbara is also not originally from this area. She was born and raised in Provo, Utah, which is where the Mormon university Brigham Young is located. She moved here ten years ago when her husband’s job transferred. She is forty-three years old, has five children between six and fifteen, has a college degree from BYU in marketing but doesn’t currently work outside her home, and has been married for twenty-three years.
Chris is from this area and has lived here all of his fifty-six years. He is an elder at the church, has four children and sixteen grandchildren so far, works as a machine repairer, and volunteers for the church as a home-teacher in which he regularly visits church members for further teaching about the church. Having such different subjects to interview proved very interesting. Each shared that they have dealt with some sort of discrimination in their lifetimes as Mormons. They all indicated that the problems are rarely very serious and never violent, but are more subtle.
Barbara notices the negative attitude towards Mormons most of the three because she lived for so long in Utah, which is heavily populated with Mormons, especially where she lived in Provo. She said that when the family moved, she was surprised to find that there are people who still believe Mormons are the many-wives religion. One woman at her children’s school even asked once if Barbara was one of several wives of her husband. Neither Brian nor Chris said that they have had this problem. Brian said his problem is more centered on his mission work. He has often heard people say ‘there go the two-by-twos.
’ The missionaries work in pairs, so he said the term stuck. For the most part, he says people are friendly towards him and often comment that Mormons are the nicest people they know, but very few choose to actually discuss the church’s teachings. Instead Brian and Chris both said that most people are interested in if Mormons are a cult that traps unsuspecting victims. Barbara also said this is something people have asked in round-about ways such as through her kids. All three said that it is often frustrating the poor view that they feel the majority of Americans have toward the Mormon Church.
Barbara and Chris’s children mostly have other Mormon friends, and those that are not Mormon are seldom allowed to attend activities organized for the Mormon youth such as dances, outings, or sport activities if they are to be held at the church. They say that no one has said directly why the kids can’t attend, but all three believe that it is related to the negative view of the church. They all also indicated that any issues that arise are always social in nature, that they have never had a problem with employers or the law regarding discrimination.
Interestingly, as I interviewed each person, I found myself also curious about the ‘oddities’ of the Mormon church. When Barbara mentioned the many-wives idea, I wanted to know more about it. So I was doing exactly what the three had said most people do: expressing curiosity about the strangeness instead of the good qualities of the church or its teachings. However, I did learn quite a bit about the basic structure of the church, why it is based in Utah, and how Mormons view the world and the after-life.
Since the problems that Mormons experience are almost always social, it is a matter of slowly changing the public’s view of the church. Chris believes that the commercials the church has put on television have gone a long way in changing perceptions about the church. Brian said that attitudes are better in Canada towards the church most likely because it started in the USA, where it experienced a lot of discrimination in its beginnings. So it is a matter of time and continued sharing for the Mormon Church to be recognized as a legitimate religion and not as a cult.