To the uninitiated studying the popular incarnation of the LDS faith that is called Mormonism is a shockingly irritating endeavor. Eight year old boys become priests, and the entire rigid authority system is built by lay clergy who manipulate a liquid scripture by way of direct revelation. It has become difficult lately to tell what is revelation or even what this liquid scripture says. Many True Believing Mormons (TBM) obfuscate answers to simple questions as if clarity would only reveal their own embarrassing mixture of personal lack of knowledge and Church-wide lack of direction. The Church authorities themselves officially release information that may-or-may-not be official positions on topics.
The confusion-by-design permeates all layers of Mormonism. Simple questions like “why is April 6th important” or “Is iced coffee OK as far as the Word Of Wisdom is concerned” are met with non-answers. The most common iced coffee answer is “I don’t know about it being OK I just don’t care for it” as if each and every one of the dozens of Mormons I have asked this to are too narcissistic to hear my question and think it was not about their personal preference. Scripted misunderstanding is part of the problem with understanding Mormonism.
Amongst the tools used to create cohesion amongst Mormons is self-stereotyping. The Mormons engage calculated adjective usage to present ideas. Many Christian groups do this; it is not uncommon to hear of Christian virtues, or Christian morals, or Christian honesty. This makes it sound like there is a particular flavor of these virtues, or more importantly that people who brand themselves as a particular type of believer are auto-magically imbued with these virtues.
Mormons will sometimes, but only very carefully, use self-deprecating humor to cobble together a stereotype. When I first moved to Utah I was told that MST really stood for Mormon Standard Time, and that because of this Mormons were always late. The first time I heard this joke it was corny. The second time it was old and corny. The third-forth-fifth-sixth-seventh-eighth time it was simply incrementally older. I began to imagine that this joke was a secret code for which I should provide a proper counter response. I imagined providing random counter responses like “the blue tractor has pet eel”, but I was too shy to say something like that to someone I’d just met. Around the 25th time I remembered the 1950’s movie “invasion of the pod people”, and pictured some lame-joke equivalent.
These are stereotypes that appear purposefully constructed.
The vast majority of Mormon priests become so having only a third grade education; this is because they are only eight years old. Much of the teaching is word of mouth or personal testimony. With such a foundation it is no wonder that there is confusion.
This sort of situation is not just irritating to outsiders who want to find out more about Mormonism. It is confusing to members who would like to conclusively state what it is their church specifically stands for; generalities can only get you so far. It is also terribly irritating to ex-Mormons who cannot readily separate official doctrines they dislike from some person’s personal interpretation.
Current and former members of the Mormon Church have united to draft an open letter (www.mormonopenletter.com) to the authorities of the Church (Thomas Monson in particular) asking for more transparency. It would create more harmony in the world, and lessen the chaffing irritation of obfuscation, if the Mormon church got clear on a bunch of things they call important.
Of course… if they really, honestly, clear things up… well more people would probably leave the Mormon Church. Of course…. That IS a good thing in my opinion.