Guest Post: A Church for Rockstars

Brandon Flowers and Lady Gaga

by Hydrangea

Not everyone loves Mormons, but what average Joe doesn’t love a good looking rockstar?

I think this is probably what the PR of the LDS Church was thinking this week as Brandon Flowers of The Killers jumped into the ‘Mormons are Christians” argument as the star of the church’s “I am a Mormon” campaign.

Mormons are gushing over the LDS lead singer and his Youtube video.  It seems like friends are talking it up, my mother-in- law just sent me the email link, and in the last 4 days nearly 50,000 people have shared this video on facebook.

The ads, which seek to extinguish harsh stereotypes, include auspicious professionals, underrepresented blacks, working women, and artists.  But here when they included Brandon Flowers on board I’d like to think the Church is laying claim to a new category – flawed and even edgy.

Brandon has settled down and outgrown both his black mascara and some of his risqué lyrics.  Just like any pop star though he has produced a few salacious music videos in the past which include a little artful but cheeky burlesque and some sweaty bedroom action. It’s a track record that makes him an unlikely poster boy.

Last year when interviewed by The Telegraph he was asked about church and explained, “So it’s a struggle. I wonder if it’s legit. But I can’t help but go for the good I guess. Especially after having children – I think, what kind of mark do I wanna leave? For the most part, that’s the person that I am. I think I’m a positive and optimistic person.”

His words are nothing to be published in the Ensign but still are frank, honest, and easy to respect. Millions of unorthodox Mormons are probably in this same camp.

In his ‘I’m a Mormon’ ad he admits “A lot of people love to come up to me and tell me they were raised in the church. They expect there to be this camaraderie about, ‘Oh, we’ve outgrown it now. We’re smart enough now to not be in it.’

“It started happening so often that it really made me take a look at myself and I realized I was raised in it and there’s still a fire burning in there.”

I’d like to think that in accepting him in their PR campaign, the LDS Church is saying “So what if a guy misses church, has a ‘part member family, or doesn’t always “walk the walk.” If his heart is in the right place, we want him in the fold”

I almost would go as far as to compare the church’s motives to fMh’s Joanna Brooks’  “Mormon Identity in the 21st Century: Claiming and Belonging” speech “If you identify as a Mormon, I hear you. I recognize you. I claim you”  Basically I’m hoping the church is saying if your family once believed it, you once practiced it, or it still has any place inside of you, we acknowledge you.

I know some dismiss the entire ad series as only misleading.  Yes, we still have a long way to go until we reach our melting pot ideal. But wouldn’t we all love to see the church go more in this direction?  I attend a DC area ward that actually happens to resemble those “I am a Mormon” ads.  It’s a breath of fresh air to see a large population of blacks, working mothers, artists, and immigrants in the congregation on Sunday.  Two women with Ph.D’s teach our Sunday school.  Dads drop their kids off at the bus stop as their LDS wives make their name as politicians, government advisers, professors, lawyers. A few weeks ago I even sat next to a woman in RS that voiced her favor for gay marriage. Maybe things are slowly starting to change.

I’d like to applaud this step in the right direction. Even if it’s a baby step, Let’s go ahead and give the church the benefit of the doubt. From where I stand, LDS are becoming more inclusive and less prohibitive.

Of course, like any LDS in the spotlight, Brandon Flowers is receiving some public criticism for this little stunt.  Some Mormons aren’t missing the chance to label him an unfit example.  Other non-LDS fans see him losing his edge and going soft. I say we stop the conjecture and just let him be who he is- a worldwide star, ”A father, a husband, a Mormon.”

What can we do to foster this inclusive attitude in the LDS community? What would need to happen for you to feel like we are making big enough changes in this direction?


 

 

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20 Responses

  1. alex w. says:

    I’ve followed the whole Brandon Flowers-I’m A Mormon thing with interest, as a semi-active Mormon who has been a huge fan of (and has harbored a big crush on) Brandon Flowers for a few years. I think it’s really interesting, because his music doesn’t shy away from religious themes, but they’re not necessarily Mormon. He’s one person I’d like to have a conversation with because I feel like some of his songs really speak to my spirit, as cheesy as it sounds. 🙂

    I would be so happy to see the faith become more inclusive. I don’t know if I have any real belief at all, but I still have interest in the LDS community and don’t want to fully step away. But I feel like going to church (which I usually don’t mind too much because everyone’s so friendly) is hypocritical of me because on the surface I’m a bit of a Sunday Mormon. I wonder how things would change if all these friendly people knew that my husband no longer believes, I don’t know what I believe, and that we may or may not have had wine with dinner the other night. If I didn’t feel so uncomfortable in being open about the place I am currently at, spirituality-wise, I would feel that the LDS community has come a long way. As it is, I feel like I must keep quiet to keep things friendly.

    I’m not sure how to make people more welcoming and less stuck on fixing people or being awkward about different kinds of Mormons on a church-wide basis, though. It seems to be more of an individual thing. Some people are really wonderful about it, and others…not so much. (I mean, now I’m worried that someone I know IRL is going to see this comment and tell me that they’re sad that I’ve fallen so far or something like that. Or will be mad at me for my honesty.)

  2. Miri says:

    I know this isn’t the point of the post, but my thought when I read posts like these is usually that I’m jealous of the writers for being in such a progressive ward. I live in rural-ish Texas and experience no such diversity when I go to church.

    (To be honest, I haven’t been to church in a couple years, so my experience is a little bit outdated, and as unlikely as I think it is, I have to admit that it’s possible that things are starting to change and I just haven’t been around to notice it.)

    But as of the last time I went, and to my knowledge… No stay-at-home dads. No women with notable careers, and few with any career at all. Mostly couples (white, of course) in their 20s and 30s who met at BYU and now have any number of children under ten years old. We’re as conventional a stake as you get, and it’s been a long time since I felt like I fit in there.

    • Cynthia Van Dam says:

      Without revealing names. It has changed. I lived for a few years when I was young in a ruralish Texas ward. At the time the Bishop was also in the KKK. (At least according to my mother.) I went back for a Sunday a few years ago and there were a few black members. I talked to missionaries who served there recently. There were still difficulties, big ones,but they could see progress. Inch by inch but progress.

  3. Miri says:

    Ugh, sorry, I hit publish and am now thinking about how whiny that comment was. The only answer I have to your question is an echo of alex’s comment–I think it’s an individual thing. I think you have to start with your own family, kids if you have them, and just start letting people know that you don’t believe everyone has to be exactly the same. I think we have to just speak up in class when we disagree, and start letting people hear that there are other perspectives out there. And we have to just be prepared to ignore the people who question our morals, because you can’t prove your morality to anyone and you shouldn’t bother trying. Sort of like an “I’m a Mormon” campaign for the unorthodox, only less organized.

    • Diane says:

      Miri

      I live in a very diverse area. For instance My Branch consisted of 85% Asian, 5% African American,5% Caucasian. Spanish Speaking members had their own separate meeting, which coincided with ours. The point that I’m trying to make is this: I believe the problems that people experience at church are there whether or not our own particular Branches/Wards are diverse or not. They are there because this is a lay church, and because this is a lay church there will always be problems (I.e) who is more righteous, whether woman should, or should not work out side the home. If you can’t beat them join them, otherwise, F* them, btw “F”* stands for forget them.

      • Miri says:

        You’re totally right that all wards have problems. I’m jealous of people who live in more diverse wards, not because their wards are perfect, but because I think it’s just a little easier to see the progress there. Like Cynthia said, it’s inch by inch, and sometimes I think millimeter by millimeter.

        Honestly, I think the growing diversity of wards is a sign of the change. When there are several different perspectives in a group, it’s much easier for a dissenting one to find somewhere to fit in. When the group is basically all one camp, the dissenting opinion doesn’t find a lot of welcome, and that’s probably half of the problem. The thing is that I think deep down, there already are a lot more perspectives in the average ward than you would think, but people hide them out of fear, wanting to fit in, or for whatever reason. The more those differences come out, the easier it will be to deal with those problems.

  4. I am in a constant state of flux with regard to my beliefs, and as a result, I almost never make definitive statements in church about what I DO believe. I don’t say that I do believe. I don’t say that I don’t. I tiptoe around the question. I’ve had friends in the church who, not knowing how I felt, expressed the desire that people who are wavering should fish or cut bait. Nice. I would love to see the church become a more inclusive place where people who are not all on the exact same faith wavelengths could all coexist together. Maybe if we were more honest about not all being 100% on board, more people would be more comfortable grabbing a life raft. (Bad analogy, but you know what I’m saying.) (Hopefully.) I wish we would more fully embrace the idea of being a hospital for sinners, instead of a gathering of saints.

    • alex w. says:

      “I’ve had friends in the church who, not knowing how I felt, expressed the desire that people who are wavering should fish or cut bait. Nice. I would love to see the church become a more inclusive place where people who are not all on the exact same faith wavelengths could all coexist together.”

      Exactly!

  5. CatherineWO says:

    My husband is speaking on this very topic in our stake conference in a couple of weeks. He read me part of his talk last night at the dinner table. It is very forceful and to the point, but in his soft-spoken way, will be delivered with gentle assertion. As it will be his last talk after nine years as a counselor in the stake presidency (the entire presidency is being released), I hope people will listen and take it to heart. I think he feels that the most important part of his ministry of the past nine years has been to those who often feel excluded–the doubting, the more politically liberal-minded, those with disabilities, the excommunicated, even those with beards and second earrings ;).
    After much encouragement and reassurance from my visiting teacher and a counselor in our ward bishopric, I attended sacrament meeting in my own ward last Sunday for the first time in almost four years, and, much to my surprise, I felt safe there, physically and emotionally.
    So I can say that, at least in my neck of the LDS woods, things are changing.

  6. Cynthia Van Dam says:

    In answer to the original question, be accepting. I try to take people where they are and love them. I am blessed to live in a welcoming inclusive ward. I am sure a few people have made stupid comments. For all I know, maybe I have. Mostly we try to love people. I am sometimes asked to tell other sisters what to wear because of my calling. I do, if what they are wearing is truly inappropriate, but even then, I try to be kind. Sometimes I have refused to correct sisters, and I tell the story of a sister who came to relief society and taught the lesson in shorts and a tshirt. She apologized and said she had been locked out of her apartment the night before and came as she was. I respect her courage. I might have called in sick. So besides being accepting, we should stand up for others when we have the opportunity. Miri is also right when she says we teach our children. It does sometimes take a generation or more to change. Finally a little patience with those who are less sensitive is also necessary.

  7. Janna says:

    Something that has helped *me* feel more included is to presume I will be accepted for who I am – and for some reason, people do. I talk very matter-of-factly about my beliefs (e.g., women should have the right to exercise the priesthood that they already hold, that Joseph Smith likely lied about a lot of things, etc.).

    So, I guess, accept yourself, then it’s easier to accept others.

    I don’t know, the “I’m a Mormon” campaign freaks me out. Seems sort of, “See, we’re cool, too!” Very pandering, a little undignified.

    • Miri says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s a little cynical about this campaign. To be honest, my original thought was, “Sure, show the world how diverse we are. We have alllllll kinds of different hobbies. And as long as someone doesn’t differ in anything more significant than preferring sewing to baking, they’ll get along fine here.” (Yes, I’m exaggerating… a little. 🙂 )

    • Winterbuzz says:

      Loved the post and Janna, I loved your comment!

  8. Amy says:

    I agree that we should welcome all who want to come into the ranks of Mormons. To love and accept someone, I don’t believe that you have to believe everything that they believe. The Mormon church has some doctrines that some don’t agree with. I believe that in trying to be Christlike, I should love and respect that person as a person, but I or my church does not have to accept those beliefs. As a “true believer” (I am not sure of the lingo that is used), sometimes I feel a bit attacked if I don’t agree with those who do not agree with the church. Is that any less accepting? I totally agree that there are those in the church who aren’t respectful of other’s beliefs. However, when it concerns what the prophet says or scripture, are we to be expected not to voice our support of our prophet or the scriptures because it is different from what someone else thinks or that it offends them? I believe I can love someone even though I don’t agree with some of their lifestyle. Why must I make the choice to denounce my God and my prophet if someone else doesn’t agree with their teachings? Where is the line between standing up for beliefs and disrespect for others?

    • Miri says:

      I’m not sure if you meant this, but not speaking up about something is not the same as denouncing your God and your prophet. I don’t know what kind of conversations you’ve been in, so obviously my opinion here is limited, but I just wonder if it’s necessary for you to always be vocal about disagreeing with people. Having a discussion about differences is fine, and if people are angry with you for not sharing their beliefs, then that’s stupid on their part. But I think maybe part of the problem is that you think you need to stand up for your beliefs to them.

      People who have questions about the church aren’t generally trying to destroy people’s testimonies and drag them down to hell, but they often get treated as if they were–and if you are “standing up” to them, then that’s probably the impression they’re getting from you. You don’t need to protect the church from them. I guess I’m just saying (again, without knowing your circumstances)–try to be understanding of their situation, and don’t treat them like they’re “dangerous.”

  9. Jenny says:

    I don’t think her ward is any more progressive than any other ward, it’s just that it’s easier to spot the individuality within church members when there are differences in ethnicity and appearance. The more people get to really know the people they attend church with the more obvious the diversity that already exists among members of the church will become.

    I think the point of the campaign isn’t to try to be something we aren’t, but to show what kind of people our church really is made up of and to emphasize that there is no mold you need to fit in to share our faith, and there never has been.

    • Janna says:

      “emphasize that there is no mold you need to fit in to share our faith, and there never has been”

      I am very taken aback by this comment. There IS definitely a mold that you have to fit in to be considered an law-abiding member of the Mormon church. From my understanding, in order to live with God after death, I have to be married to a member of the Mormon church in a Mormon temple. That seems very “mold-like” to me!

      We could split hairs and say that, well, you don’t have to do that in order to be accepted in a ward, loved, etc. (because I am very much accepted in my ward). But to say that one does not have to “fit a mold” in order to “share our faith,” I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it.

  10. Whoa-man says:

    Thank you! I agree. I had the same thoughts after listening to this and I’m glad you wrote about it. I really see it as a positive sign, but I’ve been disappointed before…

  11. amelia says:

    Maybe I’m far too cynical, but I can’t see any really positive motive in a move like this on the church’s part. They’re playing a PR game with these ads, pure and simple. And the end objective is to convince the outside that inside we’re actually quite diverse and accepting and tolerant of any number of various approaches to living and past experiences. And in 36 years of being Mormon (33 of them fully active, 1.5 of them semi-active, and 1.5 “inactive”), practicing in various places around the US and in the UK, I simply do not see this kind of diversity and acceptance inside the church. Are there congregations with more ethnically diverse members? Yes. Are there places where people are a bit more accepting of women being both mothers and full-time employees? yes. Are these people featured in the ads real Mormons and honest in their representations of themselves? Yes. But they are not representative of the collective body of the church. They just aren’t. When the church presents a campaign that accurately represents the percentages of the membership–maybe I’d be less cynical. For every working mother with a stay-home dad husband, are they showing 3000 (or 30000) stay home mothers who think it’s a violation of their divine responsibility as a woman to be working outside the home? For every Brandon Flower who admits his past and presents how he’s changed, are they showing the 100000 members who hide their pasts for fear they’ll be ostracized? who suffer silently because they can’t speak up without being condemned and dismissed? If they were making it clear that once you join our ranks, you will be pressured in some way or another to change who you are to conform to a standard Mormon identity, maybe I’d be less cynical. But that’s not what they’re doing. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Like any other slick advertising campaign, they’re presenting a certain spin on a quite different reality in order to persuade people to join up. Perhaps in the long run this campaign may have some positive benefits. But I simply see no reason to believe the church is aiming for any of those positive benefits. If it were, it would simultaneously be moderating its language from top leadership and presenting different messages over the pulpit. To my knowledge, it’s not. It’s still offering the same old tripe about how to be “good” and what it takes to be “Mormon.”

    Bleh. I do hate this damn campaign. I hate it passionately. It’s just another representation, in my mind, of the church’s hypocrisy–say one thing, demand another, then use the ensuing imbalance to maintain control and order. I’ve seen the inside of the church. I’ve spoken my mind and raised alternate perspectives, and I have done so thoughtfully and considerately, making overt connections to principles of the gospel. And I’ve had members thank me for doing so. But I’ve had just as many members look at me askance, question my integrity and honesty, try to save me, condemn me as a liar who procured a temple recommend on false pretenses, tell me I’m not welcome, etc. I’m really sorry, but if that’s the “diversity” the church offers I’m just not interested, I don’t care how nice (coughcough) or interesting some Mormons may be. I’ll go elsewhere to worship, thankyouverymuch. I’m simply unwilling to lay myself down on the altar as a sacrifice to others’ fear and lack of imagination. If they don’t want and love me as me, I won’t allow them to use my own deeply held beliefs as a mechanism to control me through fear and sadness and the longing to be welcomed where I by rights belong. I’ll simply make my own home and it will be a place of love and compassion. And I’ll continue to maintain my identity as Mormon, because no one, not even Thomas Monson himself, has the right to tell me whether I am or am not Mormon.

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