Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a peculiar people. They have been since their founding in 1830. Their peculiarity brought them a great deal of attention in nineteenth century America, and “anti-mormon” attitudes encouraged the violent persecution of members of the church for practicing their faith. Though many members today do not face the same kind of threat to their lives, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Latter-day Saints for short) across the globe face a different kind of “anti-mormon” sentiment. As a Latter-day Saint, I was excited to come to Wellesley, eager to escape the verbal persecution I experienced in high school in the hopes of finding a place where my diverse religious identity was valued. What I found was a college that was committed to respecting diverse identities in theory, but proved inconsistent in practice.
It is stated in Wellesley College’s missions and values that, “there is no greater benefit to one’s intellectual and social development … than the forthright engagement with, and exploration of unfamiliar viewpoints and experiences.”As a campus, we are very good at engaging with certain kinds of viewpoints, experiences and identities, but are much less willing to confront other types. Though I have never experienced it myself, I have — through the grapevine — heard of professors reducing the history of my faith to a prophet that joined upstate New Yorkers in digging for Native American gold in the mountains and founded a church on the gold book he found or founded a church so he could have multiple wives. Students who are members of the church at Wellesley (known as the Latter-day Saint Student Association or LDSSA) are rarely present to point out the flaws in these kinds of statements. This is at least in part because there are so few of us. Knowing when and where professors are referencing “mormons” would take nothing short of a sixth sense. In our absence (and quite honestly, even in our presence), professors stand as an authority figure on the history and beliefs of our church, and their opinions are conveyed to students as though they are fact.
To put this classroom scenario into perspective, consider for a moment the discomfort you might feel if a professor referred to Islam, as “that religion a guy started so he could oppress women.” You and I both know that this is untrue, and certainly we would stand with our Muslim siblings in protest of such intolerant speech. Why, then, do we not afford this same care for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Is it because we are not aware of the falsehoods told by professors? Or might it be because what our professors say confirms beliefs we already have?
The perpetuating of “anti-mormon” sentiment, then, does not only stem from professors who unjustly recount opinion based histories of the church, but on the students who are prone to accept such histories because of their own biases. We can see this not only in the classroom, but also woven into the fabric of social life. Take, for example, an experience from my first year at Wellesley. In the 2015-16 school year, the Office of Student Involvement subsidized tickets to see the musical Book of Mormon. Though it was meant as a way to encourage students to socialize outside of Wellesley campus, it had the unintended consequence of promoting the ostracization of the LDSSA. Though some students approached me and other members of the LDSSA after seeing the show and asked about our faith, many more were content allowing the creators of South Park to inform them about the beliefs and practices of the 16 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If I had a dime for every time someone sang me “Turn it Off” that year, I might have had enough to pay the full tuition.
It should be clarified that what I am suggesting here is not just a grievance against the musical Book of Mormon or any classroom critique of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am much more concerned about the way the treatment of Latter-day Saint students on campus says about our commitment to our community’s values. When the viewpoints and experiences of a group of students are addressed through targeted humor or outright dismissal, it is a failure on the hands of Wellesley students and faculty alike to respect the diversity that exists here. This does not hold only for LDSSA students, but extends to students of all identities. If we are to stay true to the college’s mission to value diversity, we cannot pick and choose which groups are okay to mock, simply because our professors said so, or because it is set to a catchy tune. I know that Latter-day Saints will always be a peculiar people. I fully expect that we will continue to face this “anti-mormon” sentiment throughout the world. My hope is that, at the very least, we can work to minimize it here at Wellesley.
What Chloey seems to not understand is that her professors and those around her probably know about the history of her church than she does.
I was a near lifelong member. I served in countless capacities including as bishop. Through a remarkable set of circumstances I stumbled across credible abundant evidence that the LDS church wasn’t at all what it presents itself as. My wife and I along with half of our adult children came to realize we had been living a lie.
Now several years later we are so glad to have escaped.
Chloey, do yourself a favor and read the “CES Letter” available online. Maybe then you’ll realize your professors aren’t wrong at all.
Thank you for writing this piece. I heard about it all the way out here in Utah because the Salt Lake Tribune took notice. The Book of Mormon musical came out when I was in high school in New York and it was a big deal there too. I have to admit that it *is* quite funny, but I find it very disturbing that a show so juvenile, vulgar, and disrespectful is now presented as one of Broadway’s greatest achievements and cultural touchstones of all time.
As a former Mormon akin to a Leah Remini of Scientology, I write this response with my eyes wide open both inside and now outside the walls of the Mormon faith of which I was born and raised for over 40 years.
What Chloey fails to realize is that the narrative she surrounded herself with and in which she was raised in the intermountain west, was a carefully cultivated image of her own church’s making. Although difficult to admit, it is verifiably true that Joseph Smith began as a “treasure hunter” and was tried in court as a “glasslooker” who promised landowners that he could find Indian treasure on their land for a fee. He did, in fact, have an obsession with Native Americans on the new continent and wrote the Book of Mormon with large plagiarized portions of those kinds of books of his day from the View of the Hebrews, The Late War and The First Book of Napoleon, not to mention even the errors within the King James version of the bible he owned.
It is also of historical record that Joseph Smith practiced both polygamy and polyandry, that is marrying multiple women including girls as young as 14 years old and several who were married to other men at the time. And he did so in secrecy and in an attempt to hide it from his lawful wife, Emma.
So the question then becomes his actual motivation for establishing the Mormon church. We were taught since our youth that it was established because God commanded him to do so, however, to the vast majority of those who would take the time to study up on the history of the Mormon church, the reason is much more carnal in nature.
You may believe what you wish, however, you may not change the realities that are conclusions that a lot of us have come to.
“Though I have never experienced it myself, I have — through the grapevine — heard of professors reducing the history of my faith to a prophet that joined upstate New Yorkers in digging for Native American gold in the mountains and founded a church on the gold book he found or founded a church so he could have multiple wives.”
You are accepting the claims of students who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Likely, they were raised with the belief that LDS were and are persecuted. Their upbringing might color their interpretations or memories of their professors’ remarks.
You have little credibility here because you are upset on the basis of 2nd-hand “grapevine” rumors, not firsthand experience. You don’t know what these professors actually said. If you want to know, ask them directly.
If students sang “Turn It Off” to you out of meanness, that was wrong, and I’m sorry that happened to you.
Someone said our professors said so and a comedy musical poked fun. How can you handle that level of oppression?
Very true. Excellent commentary!
There is no one more intolerant than a former believer and no one who resents you so much as the one who has done you wrong. How sad that those who responded to Chloey’s opinion piece (and were published) largely said “you’re wrong to be offended by our intolerance because we’re right.” It underscores all the more her contentions.