The duty of a Mormon, or what I think about the new Mormon.org

“Hi, I’m David. I am an educator, I am a lover of all things German, I am a husband and soon to be a father.  And I’m a Mormon. ”

That’s how my Mormon Profile over at mormon.org (still pending review or I would link to it directly) starts out.  This is not a new website the Church has, but it has recently been completely redone with more of a focus on individual member’s stories and testimonies.    There has been a lot of talk, both positive and negative, in the news and around the ‘blog-o-sphere’ about this.  A lot of people see this as a ‘rebranding’ of the Church, they see it as the Church attempting to redefine itself after the public relations problems it has had since the Prop 8 decision in California.  I tend to disagree.  From where I sit, I have seen the Church moving in this direction for quite a while now, emphasizing members rather than the Organizational Church. But it’s also a way for people to find out more about the Church, which is becoming more and more talked about as famous and infamous Mormons gain notoriety (I’m thinking of Stephenie Meyer, Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney, etc.)  More people are hearing about ‘the Mormons’, but they still have no idea who the Mormons are, and I see the Church’s new Mormon.org as a great way of allowing the members of the Church to share their stories with the world.

I like it from the Church’s perspective, that it allows the world to come into contact with individual members from all over, in all walks of life, and see the vast diversity in the Church.  Too often the Church’s public image is two young men in suits riding bicycles around trying to get their foot in your door.  It is seen as an American Church, sending Americans all over the world to convert the world.  I served as a missionary in Germany soon after the US invasion of Iraq began.  We were yelled at a lot by people who didn’t like us because we were American and they didn’t like what our government was doing.  I had a Canadian companion who had a large Canadian flag on his backpack to show that he wasn’t American, and I loved having a German companion, who once had to pull out his identification to prove to this one guy that he actually was a native German, and yet still a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The Church has been trying to help educate the world for years now about who we really are and what we really believe.

I also love this new campaign for what it does for the membership of the Church.  Every single member can now create for themselves a profile with some of their background information like where they’re from and what religion they used to be.  And then they get a chance to answer some doctrinal questions and share their personal testimonies about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is a great way for each individual member to participate in the mission of the Church, while at the same time strengthening and solidifying their own testimony.  There is a great list of questions that you can choose from to answer, and I had a lot of fun thinking about how I would respond to each one.  It helped me to think about things and to put into words parts of my beliefs that I have never expressed  before.  And as I tried to explain certain aspects of LDS doctrine, they became clearer to me.  That is the joy of teaching!  And that is the wonderful benefit of the new mormon.org, and even if no one is ever baptized because of what I wrote, I am glad that I had a chance to write it.

I have also been talking a lot with a friend of mine about what a Mormon’s duty is.  Mostly we talking about the duty of Mormon artists and authors and whether or not they represent the Church as a whole.  His post is here (link), and I think he brings up some great points.  One thing that has me thinking is “What is my duty as a Mormon?”  On the one hand we have scripture that tells us that once we are baptized we are “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in. (Mosiah 18:10)”  But does that mean that everything that I do is representative of the Church?  Just because I’m a Mormon and I write something (a novel, a play, whatever) does that make what I’ve written Mormon?  What about when I’m just writing for fun?  Is it supposed to be my duty to always write things that reflect my faith, or should my faith be such a part of me that everything I write has aspects of it seeping through?

I am of the belief that what you write should be positive.  I don’t like reading books that just tear everything down and don’t offer any solutions in return.  But, that doesn’t mean there always has to be a happy ending where the incurable disease is miraculously cured, or the antagonistic boyfriend is converted by the love of God.  Those kind of endings seem a little forced or fake to me.  Yes, it’s nice to read good faith-affirming stories, but the real world isn’t always like that.  Not to say it never happens, there are plenty of stories shared in General Conference or in the Ensign where everyday miracles happen, but these have to be the exception, otherwise they are no longer very miraculous, are they?  I believe it is very possible to have good, faith-affirming literature that doesn’t always end with every loose end tied neatly in a bow.  Two of my favorite plays are great examples of this.  The first is Maror by James Goldberg, about a young boy who nearly drowns in the family pool, and despite blessings, fasting, and prayer he is not recovering.  The parents then have to face the awful decision of taking their little boy off of life support systems.  Their boy would be able to live indefinitely, hooked up to machines, but would never wake up again, never really be alive.  The story is sad, it made me cry every night I had to act in it, and it doesn’t end with the boy getting better, or even with the parents knowing that their decision to let their boy go was the right one.  All they had was faith and hope, and that is why I love this play.  Because that’s all any of us have in this life, faith and hope that what we are doing is right.

The other play I love is Little Happy Secrets by Melissa Leilani Larson, which is about a young girl, recently returned from a mission, who finds herself falling in love with her roommate.  The play is a beautiful look at characters dealing with a difficult situation.  This girl does not want to lose her faith, but she cannot deny the feelings she has for her best friend.  And again, the play doesn’t end with her being ‘cured’ of either her homosexual feelings or her ‘oppressive’ religion.  It ends with her trying to do the best she can.  These are both, for me at least, faith-affirming stories that show that life isn’t perfect, life doesn’t end ‘happily ever after’, life goes on and sometimes the biggest questions aren’t answered.  That is where my testimony is at right now.  I have faith in God, I trust in Him, but I also recognize that He doesn’t come down and solve all of our problems.  I have faith and hope and I do the best I can.  And I hope to write stories that reflect my religious beliefs, but I just hope that people can read and enjoy them for what they are and realize that, although I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and can answer may questions about what this Church teaches, I am in now way authorized to speak for it officially.