By Michelle Beaver
Michelle Beaver is a journalist and teaches magazine writing at Arizona State University. She has found a special interest in exploring the LDS Church’s relationship with homosexuality. She’s not Mormon but has several Mormon friends and has attended a great many church events. She’s author of the book, Romney’s Gay America: Mormon Leaders, Same-Sex Rights — Bridging the Gap, which explores how Mormons and gays can improve their often-tense relationship. Her truest passion, however (well, maybe it’s tied with animal welfare) is feminism.
I’ve long been a fan of Mormons. I’m not Mormon. I’m not even Christian. I’m not even religious. But I am a Mormon appreciator. Have I met mean Mormons? Sure! Every group of people contains some jerks: landscapers, hippies, pianists, dermatologists, priests. Gather more than say, 30 members of any religion, hobby, club or association, and there will be at least one poop.
So, Mormons aren’t perfect, big surprise. But there are a lot of awesome Mormons, and my personal favorite subset of this religion is the progressive lot. Some would say that “progressive Mormon” is an oxymoron, but indeed, not everyone in the church is conservative. There are a great many kind, cool and intelligent Mormon conservatives, but it’s the progressive Mormon who floats my boat.
I suppose it’s because they’re so open-minded. Lately I’ve been meeting many progressive Mormons and it’s interesting to see how they’ve retained the church’s standards yet also opened themselves to ideas that aren’t traditional among Latter-day Saints, such as feminism and gay rights.
Mormon missionaries are good at being open toward new cultures. They become familiar with beliefs and customs of far-away lands, or cultures that are geographically close but different from their own. This opens the missionary mind. However, when they come home they often become Mormonized to such a degree that few friends and confidants are non-LDS.
Something of this nature happens to all of us, in that humans tend to seek those who are similar. Mormons are particularly apt to doing this since larger society sometimes alienates them. It’s not crazy that so many Mormons have reacted by becoming insular and spending greater amounts of time and resources on people who share their beliefs.
There’s nothing wrong with constructing the core of one’s social life with people who are of similar mindset. The problem arises when one takes this too far. I’ve certainly had uncomfortable moments when I’ve looked around and noticed that a majority of the people at my get-togethers could mark many of the same boxes I could. We’re similar and that’s not always ideal.
Progressive Mormons are more likely than their more traditional counterparts (and maybe more likely than I am) to look around at their get-togthers and see people who are not quite like them.
“Progressive Mormon” shouldn’t just refer to how a Mormon votes. It should also refer to the type of company said person keeps and to the openness of their hearts and minds. For instance, in a support group for gay Mormons that I attend even though I’m not gay or Mormon, there’s a woman who thwarts stereotypes. She very well may consider herself conservative, but she’s so open to new ideas and new people, that to me, she’s progressive. She describes herself as “Molly Mormon” but I’m not sure that old stereotype fits her. Molly Mormons have a reputation of being closed to new ideas, of being sheltered. This woman isn’t.
I’ve met plenty of Latter-day Saints who are nice and sweet and warm, but who are twice as nice and sweet and warm to fellow church-goers, or to people who may convert. This is a form of bias and is perhaps just as bad as non-Mormons who are kinder to everyone else than they are to Mormons.
The progressive Mormons I’ve met seem just as open to non-Mormons as they are to the LDS. For instance, in the aforementioned support group there are several straight Mormons who are very much part of the church, yet they welcome gay people who may not even be Mormon anymore. They welcome thm just as much as they welcome me, a total outsider. That takes a special kind of person.
For their courage to vote differently than the bulk of their church (some do, some don’t), for the courage to hold different ideas, and for their openness of mind and heart toward people who check different boxes, progressive Mormons are my favorite.