Recently, one of my friends posted the following article to my Facebook page: http://theamericanscholar.org/out-in-the-west/. In the article, Jennifer Sinor writes about her experiences as a non-member living and teaching in Zion. She describes the anger that she often feels towards the church for its attitudes towards gay men and women and the way in which she often lashed out at missionaries who visited her door. I empathized with much of what she wrote.
As a kid growing up in Blackfoot, Idaho, I hated the Mormon Church for what I saw as its intolerance of any sort of religious or social diversity. I hated what I saw as the cheery hypocrisy of many of my high school classmates, who would smile as they told me that they believed that their church was correct and mine was wrong. Like Sinor, I took out my anger on the young nineteen and twenty year old Mormon missionaries who visited my door. Like a lot of my non-Mormon friends, I had read enough anti-Mormon websites and books to know the basic holes within Mormon history. I enjoyed asking missionaries about polygamy and the weight of the plates. When I didn’t slam the door in the missionaries’ faces, I delighted in their discomfort when I asked them about the peep stones and various parts of the Mormon temple ceremony. I was seventeen and feeling as though I knew more about the faith of my classmates than they did made me feel smart and empowered in a community in which I didn’t necessarily feel at home.
In the last part of her article, Sinor recounts how she became reconciled to the church and the missionaries it sent to her door. As an English professor at Utah State University, she read a lot of essays by returned missionaries. One recounted the struggles a young female missionary had had trying to hide her bulimia from her fellow missionaries. Her inability to do so led to her being sent home early. She also read about how difficult it was to tract everyday and the struggles that some missionaries had with depression. Eventually, she came to see the missionaries who visited her door, not as representatives of the Mormon faith, but as young men and women who might be struggling with issues she didn’t know about.
I don’t have a single moment that I can point to as the beginning of my reconciliation with Mormonism, nor am I as completely as at ease as Sinor is. I became more at ease with Mormonism when I moved out of Southeastern Idaho. In Nevada and then Michigan, Mormonism was less prevalent and less threatening. I could study it without feeling like someone wanted me to convert at every moment. Studying Mormon history also allowed me to discover a past much cooler and richer than the one I had assumed I knew while living in Idaho. I don’t what my reaction would be if I saw Mormon missionaries at my door. My guess would be I would give them a cold stare and tell them I wasn’t interested. I certainly don’t think that I would be able, as Sinor was, to laugh and joke with them. I’m just not there yet.
Sinor’s article is well worth the read – for non-Mormons and Mormons alike.