By Lilly Fowler
Religion News Service
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Mormon missionaries can usually be spotted by what they're wearing: white shirt, dark tie, name tag, bike helmet. Lately, they're getting noticed for what they're not wearing: anything above the waist.
Hoping to debunk the popular image of Mormons as strait-laced corporate types, a steamy new "Men on a Mission" calendar features 12 former missionaries, each of them shirtless, sculpted and looking seductive.
There's Jonathan, looking like a Mitt Romney clone, and there he is again, sitting shirtless on a park bench with a sultry come-hither stare. And Shane, holding his Book of Mormon near the Las Vegas Strip and then looking like, well, he's the one going to strip.
Brandon Beckham, an actor and filmmaker who spent his two-year mission spreading the Mormon message in Mozambique, auditioned for a spot in the calendar after his agent told him about the project.
"It was kind of a different type of audition," said Beckham, now 32 and playing the role of Mr. August 2008 in a bathing suit.
Beckham, who was born and raised in Southern California, said that as a Mormon in the entertainment industry, he's used to having to make some tough decisions.
"I made up my mind a long time ago that I wouldn't engage in things I wouldn't approve of, that I wouldn't show my kids," he said.
But he said that after meeting the men behind the calendar, he felt good about the project and decided he could help change some of the misconceptions about Mormons.
They call it "bare chests and handsome faces as a conduit for change." In addition to dispelling the myth of a Mormon sober superiority complex, Beckham hopes the calendar will help create an interfaith dialogue.
"We don't believe we're above other religions. . . . That's what I hope the calendar will do," he said.
Chad Hardy, who produced the calendar, said he came up with the idea about five months ago as a way to encourage a discussion about Mormonism and raise money for charity.
"I didn't want to create the calendar just to create the calendar," said Hardy, a sixth-generation Mormon who also spent two years on a mission. "I wanted it to have a purpose."
Hardy thinks Mormons Exposed ( http://mormonsexposed.com), the Web site that's home to the project, has already sold more than 1,000 calendars. It's just the kind of success he was hoping for.
"You have people who normally don't talk about religion talking about religion. They're not just talking about the calendar," he said.
Finding the right men for the calendar was not an easy task. Hardy said they looked for men who had not only completed their missionary work but were also still affiliated with the church and in good shape. The men needed to support the message of the calendar as well.
Although Hardy said he thought that the calendar -- with its sexy but wholesome design -- would appeal to women, gay men have also shown some interest. Hardy said he wasn't quite sure what to make of that.
"The religion has a reputation for being homophobic. . . . I think they're torn. They don't know what to say. They think it's a trap or a trick," he said.
Hardy said other responses from Mormons have varied as well, and whatever people make of the calendar is up to them. "The church gives you guidelines. It's up to you how you interpret those guidelines," he said.
A spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City said that because the calendar was a commercial enterprise and not affiliated with the church, there would be no comment.
Keith Atkinson, speaking from the church's public affairs office in Los Angeles, said he doesn't "see any gross violation of anything. It's really a situation between them and their Lord."
Hardy said he's not surprised at the "no comment" from church headquarters but also trusts that people will appreciate that Mormons have an "absolute sense of humor about their religion. They realize people think it's crazy." If nothing else, Hardy said, there might be one additional message: "It's okay to be sexy and spiritual at the same time."