Anti-“Utah Mormon” Bigotry

 

A few scattered thoughts on both anti-“Utah Mormon” and anti-Latter-day Saint bias in general. (Sorry to mix the two but they are often synonymous and I don’t want to write two posts.) 

  • I still remember the first time I met a socially awkward non-Utahn, and my surprise at my surprise. I realized that I had been conditioned to see Utah Mormons as weirdos, and non-Utah Mormons as living some Seinfeld-esque, fun life filled with attractive, erudite, and witty friends and coworkers. Of course, I’m hard pressed to think of a time when that was said explicitly, but growing up in Utah I had realized that the thousands of little slights about Utah had built up.

 

  • There is a double standard on the part of some people who would never be caught dead critiquing, say, New York Jews, but feel absolutely no compunction about saying rather cutting things about Utah Mormons. 

 

  • I occasionally see a hesitancy by some inside the Church to push back against anti-Latter-day Saint sentiment in cases where they feel the antipathy comes from our purportedly backwards social history. If you believe that you need to be consistent and grant a pass to antipathy towards other religious minority groups that don’t exactly score high on social justice issues such as religious LGBT acceptance (e.g. Muslim immigrants). Of course I don’t think one should dismiss anti-Muslim sentiment because of their beliefs on hot button social issues, but I believe the same about antipathy towards Latter-day Saints. 

 

  • Being against this or that Utah characteristic is often just a lazy way to juxtapose how enlightened and cosmopolitan the interlocutor is by comparison. 

 

  • In my admittedly limited, anecdotal personal experience, some of the most vociferous anti-Utah Mormons are in fact, Utah Mormons. Of course you’ll never get them to admit that. On their Facebook profiles they’ll claim that they are “from” the state they lived in for a few years as a child when their parents were going to graduate school, but if you count up the years spent outside of Utah and the years inside of Utah, they’re clearly Utah Mormons. With so many Utah Mormons griping about Utah Mormons, growing up I became a little fuzzy on who these authentic Utah Mormons were supposed to be that everybody was complaining about. 

 

  • On that note, for all the people who claim to hate Utah there sure are a lot of people eager to move there and drive up the housing prices.

 

  • I feel like a lot of the characteristics people tend to associate with Utah-ness have significantly changed with the Internet. Congratulations, you have popped our sacred canopy

 

  • According to one perspective, you can punch “up,” but not “down.” Of course, this begs the question of whether Latter-day Saints are “up” or “down,” and I’ve heard arguments both ways. I suspect that we actually do score relatively high in terms of educational attainment and income. Also, US Latter-day Saints tend to be non-Hispanic white (although that might change), so in terms of ethnicity we’re in a privileged category. On the other hand, the fact remains that by many measures, for example, willingness to vote for an otherwise qualified candidate for president, we are objectively in one of the most reviled demographic categories. Like a lot else it’s complicated; sometimes we’re seen as sort of nice but weird. My vote is that we’re a “down” group; it doesn’t take a lot of courage to crack a Mormon joke or to criticize Mormon/Utah Mormon culture, which is the very reason why people should think harder about doing so. 

 

  • Maybe it was because I grew up in the South Park era, but for me this distinction mattered: are they mocking my sacred cows because that’s what they do to everyone and are having a bit of fun? Or are they looking me straight in the eye and saying “go to hell”? There is clearly a difference between, say, the South Park guys, whom a Mormon could non-awkwardly go out for a rootbeer with, and, say, a Lawrence O’Donnell or Christopher Hitchens with their unapologetic sharp antipathy. (Although not so much Hitchens’ friend Stephen Fry, as you see when he recounts getting kicked out of his Temple Square Tour).

 

  • If generalizations are made they should be rooted in something other than stereotype or lazy statistics, or stringing together lazy statistics into some kind of uber-narrative of Utah’s dysfunctions (e.g. because of our sexual hangups the men watch a lot of porn and the women get a lot of plastic surgery). That’s not to say that every characteristic about a culture or community is good or neutral, or that every insight needs to be established in peer-reviewed literature, but they should be made in the spirit of generosity, based actual current internal, and not just adjacent, experience and not compared to some halcyon ideal that doesn’t really exist anywhere. 

 

  • I have no idea where the “bad Utah drivers” gripe comes from. Whenever I visit Utah I have to re-learn how to use my blinker, since in the Beltway region where I live a blinker is a challenge to somebody’s manhood/womanhood and they inevitably speed up to cut off your lane change. Admittedly, my sample (Philadelphia, Texas, DC) probably isn’t the best, but I’ll take polite Utah indecision to monster trucks running you off the road (Texas), or a game of chicken at every four way stop (Philadelphia). 

 

 

 

9 comments for “Anti-“Utah Mormon” Bigotry

  1. Wow. Quite the persecution complex. Mormons are not in the down group. That’s ridiculous. Mormons are weird. But so what? Mormons are not denied housing, employment, or any other basic need as a result of that weirdness. Perhaps you can’t become President, or perhaps Mitt was just out of touch. Otherwise being Mormon is not a barrier to entry. To pretend otherwise is incredibly insensitive to actual down groups.

    You would do well to emulate church leaders on this one. Instead of crying foul about the Book of Mormon musical, they advertised in the playbill.

    Utah drivers are fine. I’ve lived roughly half my life in Utah and half out of Utah. My partner and I chose not to raise our kids there, and I believe for us that was the right decision. But Utah Mormons are fine. It’s just too concentrated for my tastes, and I didn’t like the winter inversions.

  2. Your comment about the South Park creators versus people like Hitchens was kind of an aha for me. When I see South Park style treatment of Mormons I feel like the creators know and like Mormons, and see them as human beings. I would totally love to meet the South Park creators! In contrast I would feel very uncomfortable with the haters like Hitchens and O’Donnell. I don’t know if Mormons have a persecution complex but I have personally experienced discrimination as a Mormon woman from people who seem contemptuous. I disagree with those who claim we do not (at times) pay a social and professional price for our religious identity. Sorry to use “Mormon” it’s just so much easier.

  3. @E: “I don’t know if Mormons have a persecution complex but I have personally experienced discrimination as a Mormon woman from people who seem contemptuous. I disagree with those who claim we do not (at times) pay a social and professional price for our religious identity.”

    To the extent you are comfortable, I would appreciate understanding more about this. I’m in the accounting profession and BYU’s program is very highly regarded. My firm is full of Mormons at all ranks, levels, practice areas, etc. I’ve not personally seen religion become a limiting factor or discussion point. I worked my way up the ranks to partner and have never been part of any meeting where Mormonism was held in contempt. In my local community, I’m the odd one as all my Mormon neighbors are law partners. Again, all appear based on conversations to have successfully navigated partner track at their firms. So I’m not personally aware of any social or financial price to being LDS. But I only know what I’ve experienced. So if there are industries/situations where this is a thing, I’m open to learning more.

  4. I would be interesting to see a definition about what it is about “Utah Mormons” that people dislike. Most of my experience within the Church is that people use a steriotype to make a comparison that makes themselves look better. I.e., I can’t tell you how many times I heard Church members in Iowa say that only Mormons who live outside of Utah really know how to live the gospel, that Utah members are cliquish and sheltered, etc. I also had a mission companion who viewed any intellectual discussions about Mormonism as both bad and a specifically Utah-Mormon thing. And I also cannot number how many times I’ve heard Idaho Mormons disparage Utah Mormons as being “Utards” (since they’re so different *sarcasm*) and say that Idaho is the true and living Zion.

  5. @Chadwick: I think this varies a lot depending on what sector of society you’re talking about. You’ve chosen the field (accounting) that is probably most dominated by Latter-day Saints, so I’m not surprised that you’ve had the experiences you’ve had.

    @Chad: I agree, I’ve seen a large variety in negative traits attributed to “Utah Mormons”. I’m fine with a little ribbing between us and our Idaho brothers and sisters; I’m not the kind that gets offended easily as long as it’s in good fun. And of course, there are some problematic aspects of our culture that I think it’s okay to point out (multi-level marketing, high confidence crime, etc.), but people should do so with a spirit of generosity and clarity.

  6. I think I would have split this post in two, since it seems to be addressing two different issues, one internal and one external. In any case, my experience is that the distribution of positive and negative characteristics among church members is pretty much the same wherever you are in the U.S.

    Chadwick, academics say the darndest things when they don’t know who’s listening.

  7. I’ve lived in lots of different places. In each place the members of the church have had their own regional ways of doing things, and their own regional assumptions. Newcomers who are uncomfortable with the differences and still not at ease in their new location, are often hyper alert to those different ways of doing and thinking and some of them, in order to feel more confident, or to express how fish-out-of-water they feel, will roll their eyes with each other and criticize in an attempt at put-down humor. It is just an immature attempt to feel more okay about feeling different. Most of all of us have done that at least a few times in different situations during our lives. I know, I have.

    The trick to helping them is not to point out to them how arrogantly they are acting, or all the annoying reasons why what they are doing is destructive or stupid. Being upset or defensive about it just serves to increase the divide. What does help is being welcoming and interested in their ideas about things (even when you totally disagree with them) and asking them to help in the good you are doing.

    I think that Jesus didn’t say to bless those who curse you just because it was the good thing to do. I believe that he understood that by doing so (instead of getting upset about it), you increase the likelihood that those who are doing the cursing due to their feeling “other”, or unappreciated, or different, and who are trying to deal with those feelings in immature ways, will find that your blessing…appreciation…welcome…in spite of their immature behavior, creates a door for them that leads to an increase in creating unity and mutual appreciation when they are finally ready, and mature enough, to understand that your blessing is for real.

    Worth the effort, in my experience.

  8. While I was serving my mission in Salt Lake City, I ate with a family who took great pride in being the descendants of Jacob Hamblin (prominent pioneer and missionary to Native Americans). Being 2nd generation LDS from NC, I didn’t know who he was at first. When I inquired as to who he was, an older woman in the family audibly gasped and said “You don’t know who Jacob Hamblin is?!?!” I told her that I came from a family of converts, but all she did was exclaim “oh my gosh” and gave me the stink eye for the rest of the visit.

    Because I didn’t bow down and worship the pioneer heritage of a woman that I just met, I was viewed with disdain. I don’t think that the conversation should be centered on whether or not Utahans have a persecution complex, but there is a real issue with some Utahans having a superiority complex.

    This superiority complex was what led to the downfall of the Nephites of the Book of Mormon. Whenever they prospered, the Nephites were repeatedly chastised for becoming prideful, arrogant, greedy, and everything else in-between. When the Nephites were told of how and why they fell short, it was not because of “bigotry.” It was because they were reminded that they came from a heritage of those who had kept their covenants and that they needed to be meek again. Utahans being reminded to stay humble is not bigotry.

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