Meanwhile, though the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently found that 56 percent of Mormons think America is ready for a Mormon president, the church isn’t exactly welcoming of outsiders. Mormons account for 57 percent of Utah residents yet some 91 percent of Utah state legislators self-identify as Mormons. The state that’s home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has elected only two non-Mormon governors in nearly 116 years and has sent just one non-Mormon to Congress in the past five decades.
Some of this distrust of outsiders is understandable because the church has been persecuted by religious and secular foes since its inception. Many mainstream Christians consider Mormonism a cult — a fact thought to have given Romney trouble in South Carolina’s primary. To combat anti-Mormonism, last year church leaders expanded a multimillion-dollar image campaign begun in 2010 that is nearly identical to the “I Am A Scientologist” campaign from a year earlier: On airwaves, YouTube, billboards and more, smiling, family-oriented people declare, “I’m a Mormon.” It’s part of a series of efforts to buy public affection.
Yes, Mormons love families. But the family-values facade applies only if you stay in the fold. Former Mormons know the family estrangement and bigotry that often come with questioning or leaving the church.
The church I was raised in values unquestioning obedience over critical thinking. This caused trauma and cognitive dissonance when I questioned church doctrine and official history. In online forums and support groups, former and questioning Mormons gather and offer comfort. Some of us are prominent, such as Steve Benson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, or singer Tal Bachman. Most of us are quiet dissidents who wish to lead conscientious lives.
I was born into an multi-generational Mormon pioneer family. The mantle of those ancestors who made the ultimate sacrifice while crossing America’s plains to Utah weighed heavily on me as I grew up romanticizing the church’s worldwide missionary successes.
But I struggled after realizing that Mormonism’s claims about anthropology, history and other subjects contradict reason and science. While many faiths’ irrational claims are obscured by centuries of myth and rubble, the LDS church lacks the moderation and scholarship of its older peers. It also stifles efforts to openly question church pronouncements, labeling such behavior as satanic.
Critics of Mormonism include geneticists, Egyptologists and even the Smithsonian Institution, which stopped Mormon apologists from claiming the institute viewed the Book of Mormon as a factual document.