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The Unorthodox Mormon: An Oxymoron

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As a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Jon Huntsman has been called a slightly unorthodox Mormon. Commentators debate whether religion is an insurmountable barrier to the office of president. I am surprised that religion is still a relevant part of the political discussion and that commentators seek to classify Mormons as orthodox or unorthodox. The diversity of the Mormon population suggests that there is no such thing as an orthodox Mormon. The terms "orthodox" and "Mormon" simply do not work together. Instead, the label is an example of a twenty-first-century stereotype.

For starters, the definition of Mormon is not clear. It may refer to anyone who believes that The Book of Mormon is scripture. That group of people is very diverse and covers multiple religions (i.e., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church), the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Community of Christ). A person would be hard pressed to formulate an orthodox definition of Mormon based upon that group of people.

Because Jon Huntsman is a member of the LDS Church, perhaps unorthodox Mormon has reference to a member of the LDS Church who does not comply with certain practices or cultural aspects generally attributed to members of that church. If that's the case, unorthodox Mormon appears to refer to someone who does not fit an unfortunate stereotype.

The stereotype is unfortunate, but not unexpected. We often focus on the sensational and unusual stories about Mormons. For example, a recent Business Week article profiled several members of the LDS Church who served church missions and became successful business executives. The article listed 20 "prominent Mormon businessmen." Those 20 people are a small percentage of the world's business executives, and perhaps a smaller percentage of the 14 million members of the LDS Church.

Considering that almost all former Mormon missionaries are not successful business executives and almost all business executives are not former Mormon missionaries, there appears to be no relationship between being a Mormon missionary and being a successful business executive. The story inaccurately stereotypes Mormons and misses the relevance of a Mormon mission.

Although education and other principles of self-reliance are part of the LDS Church's teachings, as a religion that accepts Jesus Christ as the Savior, the church's first and great commandment is to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," and the second is to "love thy neighbour as thyself." With those two commandments as guideposts, a Mormon can be just about anyone, and the mission experience becomes something much more substantial than mere preparation for life as a business executive.

The LDS Church has 14 million members, mostly outside the United States. The membership of the LDS Church most likely reflects a general cross section of society. Almost all Mormons undoubtedly struggle from day to day to keep food on the table, pay for shelter, clothe themselves and their children, and obtain health care and education--just like everyone else.

Each member of the LDS Church undoubtedly interprets and applies the church's doctrine in a unique manner. The LDS Church provides both spiritual and social settings for its members. The reasons for being a Mormon are probably as unique and diverse as the members themselves. For example, a person may be a Mormon because of the church's social offerings, but that person may not accept aspects of the church's doctrine. A second person may participate in the church's worship services because of an abiding belief in the church's doctrine, but that person may be uncomfortable with social and cultural aspects of the church. Both of those people are Mormons. Labeling one (or both) as orthodox or unorthodox would be inappropriate.

Finally, the LDS Church population is culturally, socially, politically, intellectually, economically, and racially diverse. To illustrate, the church makes its materials available in 166 languages. It has entire non-English-speaking congregations within and outside the United States. The LDS Church touts its diversity at mormon.org. The diversity reflects a fundamental tenant of The Book of Mormon: Christ invites "all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile." There is no single Mormon profile.

The rich diversity of Mormons illustrates that there is no such thing as an orthodox (or unorthodox) Mormon. Such labels merely serve to perpetuate a stereotype. In fact, the distinction between Mormon and non-Mormon is not as bright as many believe. The distinction should become irrelevant in our discussions.