Melissa Harris-Perry | June 09, 2012
>>> this week, brigham young university professor spencer flewman wrote an op-ed in "the new york times" explaining why we quote "fear" mormons and the responses were flooding in. i had a good time reading the article and the response pieces. making the mormons look bad makes others feel good by imagining them as intolerant boobs or deviants. this intolerance is at the center of the mormon history . right now we are in what could be described as a mormon moment dawning as the faith enters the mainstream. there was once only donny and marie , but now there is an ir rev rebt broadway musical "the book of mormon " and the symbolism heavy "twilight" series, and of course, the republican president nominee mitt romney . let's unpack the mormon myths and to do that is the man who started the conversation is spencer flewman and joanna brook brooks the senior correspondent for the dispatches, and the book " mormon girl" and dorian lord who is a s a sassistant professor of political science at columbia university . thank you for being here and i'm thrilled to have this conservation. spencer , i want to start with you, because i found the piece in the new york times to be incredibly useful for creating a frame of the issue is that the people like to pick apart all of the so-called weird beliefs or the troubling practices, because it helps us to feel better about ourselves.
>> well, i think that the premise i started with both the op-ed and the book is that we would not seek to understand anti-semitism by looking at jewish strangeness and misbehavior.
>> it is understainteresting to understand the anti-side we are not looking at the thank is discriminated against and nobody wants to paint mormons as innocent victims just for the sake of being picked on, but still it does not tell us a lot about the american culture and the tensions of american culture . for me it is the tensions of the religion and the public sphere and how should religion function in the public sphere , and mormonism has been a surrogate for the conversation for a very long time.
>> and in part, but a it is the uniquely american religion and we have been talking a about the american exceptionalism , and there is this theory of theology embedded in the latter day of saints theology and we have in the church's articles of faith the literal gathering of israel and the rest roioration of the ten tribes and that zion, the new jerusalem, will be built upon the american continue nen. so there is a typical space that is so surprising me about the idea that americans know so little, and i mean, this is the jazz of religion, right, as the american version.
>> yes, absolutely. the mormon moment is a moment in which america is finding out how little it knows about the 6 million mormons who live here in every state, every walk of life . it is a moment for us to really tell our story, and the question that spencer has raised is what kind of conversations are we having about mormonism , and contributing substantially to the public discourse about religion in general and asking the questions that matter and getting hung up on the unfamiliar aspects of the religion .
>> and tell me a little bit, as we are thinking about the question of the big misconceptions, what is it that is happening and maybe you also want to reveal why you get to be at the table of mormons , but i'm interested of why we get interested in the little so-called beliefs or the odd practices.
>> well, first awi was baptized as a mormon in the chicago southside and there are black mormons on the south side of chicago .
>> and it is part of the unknown as well. so, all we know are oh that mormons have the strange practices around say wives or, you know, popular culture contributes to this a lot and tv shows that glorify certain aspect aspects of certain myths of the religion, so it is the unknown and people really don't want to know more about the church. you know, it is also one of the wealthiest churches in the kun t country and in the world, and there is a reason for that, but americans don't want to know. and we put down blinders and say, they are not christian. they are somewhere over there. they have another book in addition to the bible. we don't know what that is all about. so i think that, you know, in such an evangelical country, we resist wanting to know about the other.
>> and the usefulness to me about this idea is that in part, part of why we resisted is if we were to take our own sets of beliefs and whatever one's holy book is and the origin myths are, and set it down outside of faith , and read it as if it were this is what sort of happened on this day, i'm not sure that, you know, pregnant virgins or stone tablets or anymore weird or odd or extraordinary than any other set of beliefs that are part of sort of faith claims.
>> well, there are two things going on here. one is that americans don't know a lot about any faith other than their own and not just a problem with mormonism , and thinking of a great book called religious illiteracy, and americans practice faith more than western europe countries practice faith , but know less about everyone else's faith than the europeans do. and so religious illiteracy is an american problem that relates not only to mormonism , but other faiths as well.
>> that is interesting giving how religious we are compared to europe.
>> well, it is surprising.
>> and also the fact that mormons are not telling our own stories in the mainstreams. our stories are told by nonmore nonmormons, and the book of mormon , and the south park creators and the musical, and it is generally a friendly depiction and sweet on mo mormons , but it is about sacrificing to build the community and being willing to be different for a good reason and holding yourself to the high ideals, and that is a story that the mormon moment will bring out unless we are fixated on the weirdness.
>> i appreciate your talking about telling our own stories which we will do in the next segment, but as i read the forthcoming book, i loved the story of being a little kid and going to the birthday parties and needing to ask for the root beer instead of the coke, because lds does not, and people who are in latter day saints and who are practicing do not drink coffee, tea or colas.
>> there is some backsliding, because a lot of us have the diet dr. pepper in the morning, and the mormon coffee. it is true.
>> i love the idea of being a kid and navigating the practices, just this idea of what it means to be a kid who is different, and besides the belief, itself, and i thought, that i can relate to and that i get is the idea of being a different kid in that space.
>> when i went into a room as a kid, i could tell, i grew up in southern california and not utah or the bosom of zion in utah, but that taught me to take responsibility of the living differently and living to the higher cause and i believe that experience of being different gives the mormons something powerful to draw from and it should, it should oblige us to think about the experience to think of people who are disadvantaged and marginalized and left out. that is how i experienced the faith .
>> and we have a lot more the say, and speaking of the personal narratives, i will pull out the personal stock, because i am a