If you’re a resident of one of nine seemingly randomly selected mid-sized (mostly) non-coastal American cities, you’re the lucky audience for a new series of commercials advertising… Mormons. They are not quite explicitly ads for the Church of Latter-day Saints, they are just ads for Mormons, themselves. They are about how Mormons are regular people who enjoy things like surfing and riding motorcycles.
Here in New York, there’s no evidence this is happening. But I just spent a week out in the heartland, and it was inescapable. The ads are running in “Baton Rouge, Colorado Springs, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Tucson and Minneapolis.”
As far as I can tell, these 30-second ads are not yet available online. But here is an extended version of one of the ads:
The ads have been cropping up on Facebook, too:
(He’s a husband and a “Mormom“?) ;)
The Salon article continues:
Mormons, obviously, want to prove that they are regular people, just like us, and some of them are even cool, young, attractive people who ride skateboards.
But… are Mormons just trying to convince Americans that Mormons are “normal,” so that in 2012 they’ll consider voting for … Mitt Romney? (These ads are running in four or five potential swing states, after all.)
I think it’s far too cynical to suggest that these ads are an extension Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. They are just part of a larger strategy from the LDS Church to rehabilitate its image, which suffered considerably because of Proposition 8. For instance, the LDS Church also recently unveiled the new mormon.org. Mormon.org, as opposed to lds.org, is intended for nonmembers. There, you can read profiles of everyday Mormons and chat online with missionaries (a function that I imagine is frequently abused ha ha).
Maintaining a positive public image is crucial for proselytic faiths like Mormonism. So in that respect, this ad campaign and the new mormon.org make sense. But there is also a danger to Mormonism in becoming too mainstream. Mormons have long prided themselves as a “peculiar people” with peculiar doctrines. Full admission into the religious mainstream may require that Mormonism lose its uniqueness. Brigham Young was worried about this very thing:
I would rather pass through all the misery and sorrow, the troubles and trials of the Saints, than to have the religion of Christ [Mormonism] become popular with the world. … I care not what the world thinks, nor what it says, so they leave us unmolested in the exercise of our inherent rights. Take a straightforward course, and meet the jeers and frowns of the wicked. (Journal of Discourses 10: 297)
This tension within Mormonism—wanting to be accepted, but different; in the world, but not of it—is perhaps best expressed by my favorite Pat Bagley cartoon:
It will be interesting to see how the LDS Church balances popularity and peculiarity in the years to come.