Meeting the Mormons

8159Imagine that the Meet the Mormons movie was made any time between, say, 1940 and 1990. I think we know almost exactly what it would have looked like:

Begin with a curb shot of a modest but immaculate home in Utah. The sun rises, barely. We go inside to see an attractive, white, middle class family of pioneer stock in their perfectly clean living room. There are seven perfectly-groomed children seated–without fidgeting–while the father reads scripture and the mother looks on adoringly, babe in her lap. We follow them throughout the day–Father in his corporate world where he declines a martini at lunch and then explains the Word of Wisdom to admiring co-workers. Cut to Mother in her pristine kitchen, preparing a flannel board for her Primary lesson, canning fruit, and waxing ecstatic about the joys her little ones bring her. Did I mention that she is blonde?

I won’t take you through their entire day because it would make your teeth hurt, but you get the idea. Now contrast that with Meet the Mormons.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Instead of presenting the cultural, traditional, and socio-economic ideal defined primarily by the fact that they are seeped in Mormon norms and practices, we have instead a norm of inclusion, variety, and service in the real world. A man the church won’t let be a deacon forty years ago is a bishop. A woman who, less than two decades ago, would have been criticized for being a poor role model and demeaning the nobility of womanhood (cite) is presented as a model Mormon. (And we won’t even get into what Brigham Young said about the children resulting from inter-racial relationships because it is too ugly.) But these are the stories that the church is choosing to tell about itself. Do they reflect the actual experience of your ward? Probably not. But the fact that they are being presented as aspirational is then all the better.

Are there things to criticize about the movie? Of course. Not featuring anyone who is single was not a wise move. Reports of a stake president telling his flock that seeing the movie on Sunday doesn’t constitute breaking the sabbath are troubling. Seeing high church leaders talk about Cinemark and opening night could be seen as incompatible with the dignity of their callings. Inviting famous and wealthy people to the premiere of the movie–instead of the poor and obscure–does not sound quite like how Jesus would have done it. Not releasing it overseas (at least, not now) does muddy the message of inclusion a bit.

But I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and I’m not going to ignore progress because it lacks all of the gains that I would hope to see. If not a single non-member ever sees this movie, but if members imbibe the notion that real Mormons come in all colors, don’t conform to traditional gender roles, and live and serve in a wide and interesting world, I’ll take it.


26 comments for “Meeting the Mormons

  1. I appreciate the positive comments coupled with concerns–I do think the Church is making a good
    effort to be inclusive–and I do think they miss some opportunities, like not showing any singles in the movie. Visuals are very important. Years ago as a mssionary I showed films to poor hispanic mmigrants that showed wealthy Europeans living life very difficult to relate to. How do members offer feedback like this without being seen as critical of their leaders?

  2. If but one scene encapsulated the message for me, I would have to say it is the scene where the diversity in nature given us by Our Father… different flowers and things… and in our cultures on the Earth!. I love that clear, succinct message and it sticks with me. Love, Dorothy Marie Mary Wood :)

  3. “Seeing high church leaders talk about Cinemark and opening night could be seen as incompatible with the dignity of their callings. Inviting famous and wealthy people to the premiere of the movie–instead of the poor and obscure–does not sound quite like how Jesus would have done it.”


    I’m having a really hard time seeing how these two criticisms are not completely opposed to each other. To question the dignity for something “lowbrow” and then the same paragraph that the “lowbrow” were not invited (of course they were, just not directly). That doesn’t mean I don’t have my own criticisms about the “I am a Mormon” campaign that I think this belongs. Needs more theology teaching.

  4. From my non-Mormon coworker (who moved to Utah from Michigan a few years ago) on her Facebook status:

    “Meet the mormons is not about mormons. It is so much more. I’m very aware of the perceptions and opinions of many people and even dear friends I see every day, but wouldn’t it be beautiful if instead of seeing people as their Christian titles, we saw each other as people living every day to serve each other and be our best selves? I can’t say I’ve felt this emotionally moved ever. As it turns out, making the move to utah was not because of some job, it was for so much more. Quoting from what I just saw, I’m not perfect, but I am perfect at trying.”

  5. Thanks for this, Julie. I haven’t seen it but probably will at some point.

    Riley, thanks for sharing that great quote.

    Inviting famous and wealthy people to the premiere of the movie–instead of the poor and obscure–does not sound quite like how Jesus would have done it.


    A Facebook “friend” who runs an LDS website has posted endlessly every photo of Marie Osmond and David Archuleta and Stephanie Nielson and LaVell Edwards and Danny Ainge and throw in some apostles for good measure. I don’t begrudge or dislike these people, but I certainly don’t CARE more about the movie because they saw it and joined the photo opp. And it kind of bugs me that the church is promoting this kind or celebrity worship. “No respecter of persons” and all that.

  6. whats troubling about a stake president saying that watching the movie on sunday doesnt break the sabbath? its an uplifting activity. whats the problem?

  7. Uplifting for those who are watching it, sure. Uplifting for the theater employees who have to come in to work on Sunday because of this movie when they’d rather be at church and/or spending time with their families on the Sabbath? Not so much.

  8. Julie,

    That second paragraph was the best description of the Celestial Kingdom I’ve ever read.

  9. Two of my friends from different faiths saw the movie (I did not invite them) and both reported to me that the next day they decided to attend LDS services (in other cities). One of them told me that, following the movie and attending services, she could see the possibility of herself becoming Mormon.and that perhaps that is the path God wants her to follow. Therefore, I can report that at least two people from outside the LDS community viewed the movie and it had a positive effect on them (at least in the way they view our church and aspirations).

  10. It is nice to hear a positive review. Also, I followed the citation to Faust’s “Womanhood” talk and here is the relevant paragraph for anyone else who is curious:

    “Unfortunately, we see some very poor role models of womanhood in today’s society. We see women boxers and wrestlers as we flip through the television channels trying to find something uplifting. I believe the women of our time need to be strong, but not in that sense. In my opinion, these activities demean the nobility of womanhood. Young women need to be strong in righteousness, and, to quote your current theme, “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.” ”

    Times change!

  11. Our non-member friends saw the movie (we invited them because their son had joined the church and is going to serve a mission) and said they quite liked it. They liked the positive portrayal of how family members could stay close even though of different faiths, and they were clearly touched by the mother sending her son on a mission.

    A lot of the criticism towards the movie seems to come from people who apparently feel the movie needed a different objective than it had. If the objective was primarily to increase a sympathetic view towards Mormons and Mormonism from neutrals, I think it succeeded. Obviously, it makes a lot more sense from the context of Legacy Theatre.

  12. Sorry, I’m going to rain on your parade.

    Had the movie been set in the ’50’s, the formula would have been the same. We are a “cool” peculiar people with the best-kept secret around- a key to success.

    Like the ‘Disney Formula’, ours is rather simple:

    Famous Mormon people + extraordinary Mormon people + a perfect-looking ordinary Mormon person (who you admire and makes you think you think Mormon “coolness” is obtainable by even you)= Mormon PR.

    Isn’t that female boxer so cool and zany? Sure, but she’s also a winner. What would happen if she lost every fight? That would be just plain sad and I doubt she’d be in the movie. Danny Ainge? Winner. David Archuleta, Donnie and Marie? Winners. Candy Bomber and humanitarian? Wow, only a handful of people living have had that much impact.

    It’s great to parade around our Mormon celebs, but I cringe because every religion, every group has an equally cool ‘talented 10th’. It doesn’t make us special. The Catholics have Mother Teresa, Dolores Hope, the Three Tenors, and wow . . . so many others. We could make similar lists of great Episcopalians, Methodists, and Quakers. I guess that is what makes me uneasy . . . focusing on our talented 10th doesn’t really tell the true story of Mormonism. It’s bandwagon PR. I don’t mind so terribly much, especially if it helps someone who is at that level get on the bandwagon, but at the same time I think it teaches a poor lesson on evaluation.

    President Hinckley reminded us that we (the Mormons) are just a bunch of ‘Average Joes’.

    “Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”
    ? Gordon B. Hinckley

    Despite our painful mediocrity, we’re supposed to be extraordinary because of the special knowledge and light that we posses.

    “You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. . . ”
    ? Gordon B. Hinckley

    So, in the end, the more interesting story is not of the Mormon ‘talented 10th’, but that of the Mormon masses, who live their lives as average folk.

    Here is counsel and advice to the masses:

    “Though my work may be menial, though my contribution may be small, I can perform it with dignity and offer it with unselfishness. My talents may not be great, but I can use them to bless the lives of others…. The goodness of the world in which we live is the accumulated goodness of many small and seemingly inconsequential acts.”
    ? Gordon B. Hinckley

    Yet in the end the most interesting story of them all is that of the Mormon for whom the formula never worked . . . the “Ciphers in the Snow”.

  13. You ask if it is anything like the ward I live in. Not really. I live in a ward where the men obey the woman in all things. As a Sunday School teacher I was read the riot act for correcting something a woman said; I was told it wasn’t something a gentleman does. The women walk in to the chapel ahead of the husband, who has as little chance to chose where to sit than he did the tie he wore. (I watched a brother get chewed on for not following his wife through the door; I kid you not.) When I was having marital issues, the bishop flat-out told me to “just obey your wife and everything will be fine.” This same leader stood at the pulpit and declared that it is impossible for a woman to abuse a man. That sickened my wife as much as it did me. We are making plans to move back to where both genders are equal in the sight of the local leaders. No, they didn’t visit my ward making that movie.

  14. But these are the stories that the church is choosing to tell about itself.

    i too see that as positive, but unfortunately it seems to be only for public consumption — the membership is still being told narrow and confirmist stories about what it means to be a good Mormon.

  15. Julie, I’m shocked, shocked that you would mock my upbringing in your “earlier” version of the film. Seriously, I think President Uchtdorf kind of covered that picture in his conference talk. Not all of those pictures are inaccurate, but there’s certainly a lot more behind the scenes in all of these movies.

  16. I appreciate sharing views—#12 is THE most important sharing here! YES there might be many other god or better ways of doing Meet The Mormons yet if some people really are moved to attend Church or be more sympthetic, let’s rally around that FIRST!!! Thanks!

  17. “I think we know almost exactly what it would have looked like:”

    I think your straw-man is misguided and unproductive. It says more about your cynicism, preconceptions and biases than it does about what has constituted and what still constitutes the varied circumstances of Mormons in the 20th century.

    There are and have always been many of us (from many generations in the Church to new converts) who have lives and histories that do not fit your quick-and-easy pot-shot at your assumed target—what “would have been if not for our beloved progress from those dark ages of a generation ago.”

    I suppose you had to keep your bloggernacle cred up before giving a positive review. Heaven knows that LDS blogs can’t say anything nice about what comes from the church without qualifying it up front.

  18. Julie, you have softened my heart quite a bit with that perspective. I really appreciate your point of view and the comments everyone made here.

    I’m still not handing Regal any money for this. Forget that. Because Regal.

  19. I saw the film last night, Our Relief Society went (well, 7 of us did) as a “girls night out.” I enjoyed the film for its production values and for the diversity it showed, but thought it was a little too “perfect.” I would have preferred a few more warts. But, as a friend said, “I agree it was too perfect — but that’s the way we Mormons like to see things, real or not.”

  20. ” Inviting famous and wealthy people to the premiere of the movie–instead of the poor and obscure–does not sound quite like how Jesus would have done it. ”

    The entire purpose of inviting famous and wealthy people to the premier was to help promote this movie through their social media connections. I know and recognize that I am not as popular and famous, thank goodness! I could not possibly have my advertisement of the movie reach the amount of people that these famous Mormons can. It is always important to understand the purpose behind something before we criticize it.

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