Mormon Media Symposium: Mormon culture’s peculiar dilemma

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By Alexis Kaegi

Dr. David Campbell, a professor of political science at Notre Dame, explained the pros and cons of being a peculiar people in the Mormon Media Studies Symposium keynote address on Nov. 8.

“The very things that make Mormons distinctive, and builds up the faith and keep Mormonism a vital, vigorous and active religious force at times can have, if you will, collateral damage to the way Mormons are perceived by those outside of the faith,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, Mormon’s sense of a strong identity is a two-edged sword. Referencing Peter Berger’s “Sacred Canopy,” Campbell coined a new term describing Mormonism’s peculiarity — the Sacred Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle community (referring to the Salt Lake City Tabernacle, a historic LDS gathering place) draws Mormons together even as it creates boundaries between them and those not of the same faith.

“Every time a member of the LDS Church declines a glass of wine at dinner…or any of the other things that mark Mormons as being distinctive, every time they do that they are reinforcing that symbolic boundary between who is and who is not within the Mormon camp,” Campbell said.

America’s heritage stems from being religiously devout, diverse and tolerant, a feat made possible by “your Aunt Susan.”

“Your Aunt Susan is that person in your life who is the kindest, sweetest, nicest person you know,” Campbell said. “She is the person you know is destined to go to Heaven. But you also know that your Aunt Susan worships at a different altar than you do.”

Jewish and Catholic “Aunt Susans” abound, creating a warm feeling among people towards those faiths. The Sacred Tabernacle of Mormonism prevents a similar result, however.

Mormons have a high regard for other Mormons, forming a bond within the community. These bonds, however, create boundaries—Mormons vs. the world and vs. other faiths. According to Campbell, the most secular and the most religious therefore view Latter-day Saints negatively.

Campbell found that when Americans know a Mormon well, their attitudes toward Mormons become more favorable. The biggest factor in changing hearts comes not from television campaigns but from the close personal relationships people find in neighbors who also happen to be Mormon.

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