At a recent conference, I was klatsching with law professors, mostly from my school, when a young law professor in the group related how she was being pursued by another conference attendee. “I always attract married men,” she lamented. “Of course, they all say that they have a bad marriage, but this one is Mormon!” That last pronouncement brought howls of laughter from my colleagues. The woman who made the statement didn’t know me, and she was embarrassed when she found out that I am a Mormon. I was embarrassed, too.
Most stories about Mormons have very little effect on me. When BYU football players are expelled for Honor Code violations, I do not take it personally. Nor do Mormon success stories like Ken Jennings give me a particular boost. Every once in a while, however, stories about Mormons I do not know strike a personal chord.
Why is that? I assume that my potential for embarrassment increases as my proximity to the subject Mormon decreases. I am so unlike BYU football players that I assume no one will associate me with their personal failings. On the other hand, I am a law professor myself, so the sort of reprehesible behavior exhibited by that person hits closer to home.
I shared this incident with my oldest son as a cautionary tale. I wanted him to know that men who act like the law professor in my story do not operate under a veil of secrecy. Their behavior will be disclosed. Perhaps more importantly, I also wanted him to understand that his actions are not wholly personal. In my view, we rarely sin alone. Like it or not, we are representatives of the group, and that carries with it some responsibility to others in the group. I am not sure whether most of us view our lives in that way, though I suspect that most American members, raised in a culture that emphasizes individualism, probably do not. Nevertheless, it is a lesson I have tried to reinforce with my children from a young age: they are part of a family and part of a religious community to which they owe obligations, including the obligation to comport themselves with honor.
UPDATE: In the interests of full disclosure: I changed the facts of my experience slightly to conceal the identity of the person who is the object of my scorn. Although I do not know the person, I was told that he is a Mormon and that he is not a law professor. It occurred to me rather late that by shifting my focus to the community of Mormon law professors, I was actually implicating a very small group of potential offenders.