Mormonism as an ethnicity

By: Andrew S
November 17, 2011

Over at my personal blog, I reminisced over the time in my life that seemed to me to be the earliest, simplest, purest root of disbelief. The setting was junior high in the middle of the Bible Belt. I frequently got into debates and discussions with my friends over Mormonism as it stood with respect to non-LDS Christianity. I did my best at the time to defend the church — because I felt I was obligated to, as a Mormon — but I always questioned, at the end of the day: why do I have to defend something that seems implausible even to me?

Seth R made a comment that got me to thinking (as his comments usually do):

It’s kind of funny. I also didn’t feel like I had much of a choice in being in this religion.

But I never considered that a reason for me not to defend it. I won’t say Mormonism is “ethnic” for everyone, but it sure feels that way for me.

I’ve written of cultural Mormonism frequently. I have in the past called myself a cultural Mormon, even recognizing that cultural Mormonism is an ever-changing concept. In that previous post, I discussed how the  phenomenon cultural Mormonism doesn’t exist because Mormonism itself is a concept on shaky foundations. (What does it mean to have a shared language and experience of growing up Mormon when this shared experience is only possible because of correlation, and correlation creates generationally different Mormonisms?)

Ethnicity

While I can tell a lot about races from these interlocked hands, is that all ethnicity is about?

But…an ethnic Mormon? The idea seemed enticing, but the conversation with Seth quickly made me realize that I didn’t quite understand what the word “ethnicity” meant. I had a larger grasp of the term “race,” in all of its socially constructed and socially determined aspects — and I had…have an acute awareness that race is, for many, something that they must defend because there’s little way to escape it.

But I thought…most ethnicities aren’t that in-your-face. For the most part, I can’t tell from looking at someone whether they are Italian or whether they are Greek (and I’m not saying that “white people all look the same” or whatever) — it’s that the distinctions of ethnicity are different, more invisible than the modern collection of visual traits we lump together as race.

So, I asked on Facebook and in some of my forums the following questions:

What does the word “ethnicity” mean to you? What obligations do you have as a member of an ethnic group?

The answers I got back weren’t what I was looking for. Many people said that ethnicity was either a meaningless term or a needlessly divisive and illusory term, and that one has no obligations as a member of an ethnic group. There were others who recognized that maybe ethnicity means something in some parts of the world, or in some eras of time, but in present-day America, for many people, it doesn’t mean anything.

One person answered in  a way that I really appreciated, however:

I think that ethnicity is the practice of culture (dress, food, customs) that pertain to the people you come from. I don’t know a better way to say that…my former colleague would use the word “tribe,” and perhaps that’s right, but I’m not comfortable with the word.

I think that if you value your people/history and the unique ideas and perspectives that come from that, you have an obligation to participate and faithfully transmit the practice of culture from one generation to the next.

I liked this answer, of course, for that second paragraph. You’re not obligated because you’re a member of the ethnicity. You are obligated to the extent that you value your ethnicity and its culture.

To the extent that I have really appreciated how Mormonism has shaped me in my life, I still feel obligated to correct people when they say blatantly ignorant and stupid things. But I don’t feel bad or burdened by this task, because I already have that valuation…that motivation to do so. That’s why I still blog, even if some people think I’m an outsider talking as if I’m an insider.

The Tension

It seems that even without throwing Mormonism or religion into the mix, the idea of “ethnicity” is already diverse, varied, inconsistent, or difficult to conceptualize. But when throwing in Mormonism into the mix, it gets even more complicated.

Can you change your ethnicity, or will you always be running away from your past? Can you change your Mormonism, or will you always be running away from your past?

It seems to me that in an extent, if you’ve been raised Mormon, then you can never change that. You can never change all of those years.

…yet…your standing with the church can change. And you don’t automatically pass Mormon-ness to your children.

…and what’s to say about converts, or the children of converts? I mean, it seems clear-cut to say that if you have pioneer ancestors that go way back, that you have a heritage of Mormonism in you. But, shall we say the same about someone who converts? The children of those who convert? The grandchildren thereof? Every one who is a Mormon is connected to a convert — either they are one or one of their ancestors were…so where do we say that one has Mormon “ethnicity”?

Then, of course, there is the same trouble with talking about a Mormon ethnicity as there is in talking about Mormon culture. Is Mormon culture Utah culture? Is Mormon ethnicity still tied to the Utah geographic region?

To assert a more general Mormon ethnicity is basically a rehash of the argument that correlation in the church — as it has created a standard and consistent experience in the church across the world — has created Mormon culture. But then, doesn’t the idea of a Mormon ethnicity fail for the same reason that Mormon culture fails? Instead of having a shared Mormonism because of correlation, correlation creates different Mormonisms.

Questions for today

I’m not trying to make general statements about white people or Americans with this next line, but many times, I hear from white Americans that they don’t think they have ethnicity. How would I begin to talk about “American culture”? Is it just a pastiche of “other” cultures?

Even for people of various European heritages, many don’t think of themselves as “hyphenated Americans” as we might think of other people. You might see “African American” (which actually doesn’t say much, since most black people have never been to Africa. I couldn’t say where my ancestors originated from that continent) or “Cuban-American” or “Chinese-American,” but would you see “German-American” of people whose German emigrant ancestors came here during the 18th or 19th centuries?

So, if someone is prone to think of themselves as non-hyphenated, wouldn’t Mormonism eventually change that? Then why not say “Mormon-American”?

My questions for today (although this post has really been strung with a lot of them) are simple:

1) What do you think the term “ethnicity” means?

2) Do you think that, regardless of the religious aspects, there exists a Mormon ethnicity?

3) When we have ideals about Zion, or the Kingdom of Heaven, etc., can these in some ways be likened to ideals of an ethnic homeland for Mormons?

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29 Responses to Mormonism as an ethnicity

  1. Paul on November 17, 2011 at 7:01 AM

    Andrew, very interesting post. I’ve been thinking about this subject in a similar but very different way over the last few weeks, and my ideas continue to percolate. Your post is an interesting view to add to my thinking.

    To the extent that ethnicity is a cultural marker, then Mormonism might be considered an ethnicity. It seems that (as you’ve alluded, though honestly I’ve not thought deeply about this) ethnicity exists as compared to something else. When I’ve lived overseas, my American-ness is different than when I am at home in Michigan. In Taiwan, I was clearly the foreigner: my skin color, language, family structure were all different from the local population; my children were educated at an American school; even though we tried to acquaint ourselves with local culture and history, it was clear we would never be assimilated into that culture.

    I’m still working on your questions around converts vs. long-time (multi-generational) members, and that’s where my thoughts have been. I am a convert myself and a child of converts (as I joined the church with my parents), and yet I feel an attraction to, and identification with and a sense of belonging to the Mormon culture. (That said, I don’t feel at one with the Wasatch Front culture as I lived there only during my college days.)

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  2. me on November 17, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    you hit it on the head. it doesnt seem that different to me than judaism. you have the belief side, and the culture side. to me, they are independent.

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  3. Jake on November 17, 2011 at 8:58 AM

    Something that I have been thinking about is the similarities between Mormon Identity and National identity. I don’t think that mormonism as an ethnicity works, but I think exploring the similarities between how ideas of nationality is constructed and how religious identity is constructed is more workable.

    This plays into your point about African-American. This is a fusion of national identities. Both of which are constructed and imaginary. We have these ideas of nationality and about what it means to be American or English, based on shared values, culture, history that we feel we have in common with everyone else but the fact is we will never meet everyone in the nation, so this community is imagined in that we feel part of it but it doesn’t actually exist as we don’t speak to the majority of people that are in the community.

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  4. jmb275 on November 17, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    Wow! Great post to chew on. I’ve thought a lot about my activity in the church, the reasons I go, the reasons I still value it in my life. It has little to do with my belief in it, and more to do with what you’re describing here. I do feel ethnically Mormon. Perhaps it doesn’t fit with any concrete definitions of the term that don’t have associated problems. Nevertheless, I feel myself resonating with the idea of my 6th generational Mormonness, my Utah upbringing, my myriad Mormon friends, my hard-work-roll-up-your-sleeves-and-serve attitude. I definitely feel a need to defend the church when I feel it’s appropriate, and I think the reason is articulated in this article to some extent.

    Here are some of my questions:
    1. Do Mormons only realize this Mormon ethnicity when they have questions, or otherwise become disenchanted with the church and its culture? In other words, is this even on the radar for most Mormons? I suspect not because they still feel like a full insider. Why try to delineate what makes you you if you’re not questioning your identity?

    2. I think part of the Mormon package and ethnicity is closely tied to America, and probably to Utah as you mentioned. Will this always be the case, or if we continue on a worldwide scale will that disappear and leave a more “pure” Gospel unencumbered by American and Utah-isms? I tend to think it won’t ever go away, at least in part because of the issues Hawkgrrrl raised in her post yesterday. Hence, I conclude that to be a Mormon, in part means embracing some American and Utah-isms. This sentiment is in part confirmed for me by my experience in Russia on my mission.

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  5. Jake on November 17, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    Jmb275, I have been thinking the same, but I don’t think its that i feel ethnically mormon. I think it is more that being Mormon is tied to my identity. Mormon as being part of an identity seems to have more functionality then saying its an ethnicity. My family are mormon, my friends are mormon, etc. All this makes mormonism a part of who I am, its what I identify with.

    I don’t think that being Mormon has anything to do with embracing American and Utahisms. I don’t embrace them yet I consider myself Mormon. There are principles that I like that are shared with American values, but just because they are part of American Culture does not mean that its embracing American culture. Embracing personal freedom, liberty, democracy and individuality is not the same as embracing American values, just because they are part of America does not mean they are the originator and exporter of these values. To say that part of being mormon requires this embracing implies that they are owned by America or Utah. The fact is that they aren’t.

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  6. Jeff Spector on November 17, 2011 at 9:57 AM

    Ummm,

    I am trying to wrap my arms around this being that I have two feet firmly plant in two different groups. I am struggling to think of my Mormonness as the same as my Jewishness. Even though, I have been in the Mormon religion longer than I was in the Jewish religion.

    Maybe, it is a Utah thing, where everywhere you turn there is the Church or something that is attached to it, Deseret this or Beehive that.

    And while I try to be on my best Mormon behavior outside of the Church setting, I don’t totally embrace it. I’d rather watch Fiddler on the Roof for the 100th time over Johnny Lingo!

    Ethnicities have food, language, customs, leaders, history, etc. And while Mormons have some of that, they do not have it all. so I struggle with the idea that Mormonism is an ethnicity.

    And I much rather have a lox and bagel than funeral pototes or frogged-eyed salad anyday!

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  7. Paul on November 17, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    Jake you raise a good point: “Embracing personal freedom, liberty, democracy and individuality is not the same as embracing American values, just because they are part of America does not mean they are the originator and exporter of these values.”

    And cultural markers in an “ethnicity” of Mormonism are likely not exclusive to Mormonism.

    It has been interesting for me to meet multi-generational members of the church outside the United States and to realize that they were decidedly not American, and yet they believed they were as Mormon as I was.

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  8. jmb275 on November 17, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    Re Jake-

    I think it is more that being Mormon is tied to my identity. Mormon as being part of an identity seems to have more functionality then saying its an ethnicity.

    Hmmm, I guess I’m struggling to separate what is tied to my identity and my ethnicity. Perhaps this is at the heart of Andrew’s questions. I feel like this is really a semantics game. We’re pitting your definition of “ethnicity” and “identity” against mine.

    I don’t think that being Mormon has anything to do with embracing American and Utahisms. I don’t embrace them yet I consider myself Mormon.

    Interesting. Perhaps then, this is a function of time Mormonism has in a foreign place and culture. I feel strongly that in Russia, where the church was only 10 years old when I was there, most Russian Mormons definitely adopted Americanisms and Utahisms probably as a result of the missionaries. I mean they celebrated Thanksgiving with us for heaven’s sake! I suppose that what you’re saying is that such influence fades away eventually and is not tied to the church.

    To say that part of being mormon requires this embracing implies that they are owned by America or Utah. The fact is that they aren’t.

    Yeah, you’re certainly right.

    Re Andrew
    If we consider my identity to be the set of all things contributing to what makes me me, then I would consider “ethnicity” be one of the elements of the set. I would also say that ethnicity is the set of all cultural, social, and traditional practices that make up one’s identity. Mormonism is definitely an element of the set, but not the only element. So asking is Mormonism an ethnicity doesn’t really make sense unless we clarify. It is part of one’s ethnicity, much like heritage, nationality, etc. To ask if one is “ethnically Mormon” is an ambiguous question.

    However, inasmuch as Mormonism can be considered an element of the set of one’s ethnicity (an entirely subjective question) we could indeed answer that yes, there is a Mormon ethnicity if we mean that Mormonism is an element of the set of “ethnicity.” And we might further say that I am “ethnically Mormon” if what we mean is that Mormonism is an element of the set that is “ethnicity.” That’s my best attempt at a definition.

    Set theory FTW!

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  9. Ray on November 17, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    Really thought-provoking post, Amdrew. Thanks.

    I think there is an element of theoretical / conceptual ethnicity in the idea of adoption into the House of Israel – a creation, if you will, of a new (or expanded) spiritual lineage that is strong and compelling. In that sense, I see Mormonism absolutely as constituting an ethnicity.

    In practical terms, I also think the best legacy of polygamy was the literal, physical creation of a sort of ethnic group – a conglomeration of all, so to speak. It wasn’t a “cleansing” or “master race” idea; it was the exact opposite – an inclusive “merging” or “combining” of all (at least, in theory, since – beginning with Brigham Young, formally – it excluded some based specifically on race).

    I’ve always interpreted the verse in Jacob 2 that mentions “raising up seed” through polygamy as talking about “creating a unique, peculiar people” – NOT having lots of babies. I think that view makes perfect scriptural sense, even if I don’t like many of the practical aspects of polygamy.

    So, am I ethnically Mormon – and are my children? Absolutely. My children are descended through their mother from the first (or second, depending on the family making the claim) native Italian convert back in the 1800′s. My own ancestors on both sides go back to the crossing of the plains, the Mormon Batallion, the settlement of towns in rural Utah, etc. In one ward, when I moved back to Utah for a short time as an adult, over half of the visible callings in the ward were filled by my immediate extended family – cousins, aunts and uncles. “Genetically”, I’m Mormon; culturally, I was rasied Mormon; theologically, I’m Mormon; I live a very orthoprax Mormon life (I look like a Mormon when you see how I live.); viewpoint-wise, I’m heterodox in many ways – but even saying that defines me in Mormon terms.

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  10. Andrew S on November 17, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    Thanks for the responses, everyone!

    re 3,

    Jake,

    I think the idea of nationality throws yet another conflicting idea in the loop. After all, most nations are not homogeneous, so we can’t say, “if you are a national citizen of x country, then you are probably of x ethnicity or x background.”

    re 4,

    jmb,

    I think that maybe ethnicity becomes more apparent when if people are in areas where Mormonism isn’t dominant. So, this kinda gets to Paul’s idea that ethnicity exists in comparison to something else…it just so happens that for most Mormon, Mormonism exists in comparison to something else (and the rhetoric in the church promotes this…”in the world but not of it”…being “a peculiar people”…etc.,)

    As for you second question, I have to agree with Jake (5) that Mormonisms for me is not tied to Utah. That’s what I mean when I say Mormon culture is a product of correlation — the church is pretty similar worldwide because we have standardized materials, standardized ways of talking about issues, etc., and when the church moves to other areas, rather than mix in with the local language and ecosystem, it creates a distinctly Mormon enclave.

    I mean, let’s think of some “Mormon” things. White shirts aren’t really “American” or “Utahn” (and in fact, the missionary ideal is very foreign, weird, or antiquated for most *AMERICANS*, not to mention most other people around the world…this happens because Mormon culture is not tied to American or Utah culture). The sing-song voice of General Authorities that seems into even local talks…that’s not really a Utah or American thing.

    re 5,

    Jake,

    What is ethnicity if not a foundation for identity?

    re 6,

    Jeff,

    Interesting thoughts. I still think that Utah culture is a different and distinct thing from Mormon culture. So, I don’t think it is just a “Utah” thing.

    So, for example, you might not have “funeral potatoes,” but think about this: you assuredly wouldn’t have coffee or tea. That’s not Utah. In fact, that’s an aspect where you diverge from most Americans and, unless I really don’t understand the Jewish “kosher” concept, that’s an area where you probably diverge from most Jews.

    I think the other aspects play sometimes in overt, sometimes in covert aspects. Have you ever said “The Church” in an environment where non-Mormons were around, and they didn’t understand what you meant by “The Church”? How many people imagine what Mormons imagine when they hear the word “Deacon” — because there are pretty different usages of the word. Etc., etc.,

    I think of Mormonism as an ethnicity because there are several words that, although they appear to be utilitarian English words or expressions, they default to me in their Mormon usages. So it’s not the same as the English language. It’s not the same as American culture. Etc.,

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  11. Andrew S on November 17, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    re 7,

    Paul,

    To me, that people can grow up in different countries and consider themselves just as Mormon as an American Mormon is an unsurprising thing to me. After all, you can go to other wards (even in other countries) and basically know 95% of what will happen (down to the lessons that will be taught, because they are in order). While there are some variances (which “hour” is sunday school? Which hour is sacrament? Which hour is priesthood/relief society/young women?), the church is basically standardized worldwide. That’s the legacy of correlation that I think creates Mormon culture and ethnicity.

    …That being said, what I do think is interesting is to meet Mormons who grew up in different “eras” who believe they are just as Mormon as each other, yet they believe very different things regarding certain topics, and moreover they believe that their position is an official position of the church and that other people are heterodox/unorthodox/apostate. E.g., what’s the church’s position on evolution? You can have people who consider themselves just as Mormon as anyone else, but come to very different conclusions of this, and they’ll find quotes from different sources to back up their position, either disregarding or discounting that other speakers have said otherwise.

    …I think that too is the legacy of correlation, and that’s what I mean when I say correlation creates generationally different Mormonisms.

    re 8:

    jmb,

    Maybe it’s possible that Mormonism has Americanisms or Utahisms to the extent that these things are enshrined in the correlated church. For example: do all LDS hymnals have the same hymns? If they do, then worldwide, every Mormon will have a hymnal that has the Star-Spangled Banner in it. (Then the question becomes…what happens in wards outside of America on the weekend of July 4th..? Hopefully, nothing. Next question: what happens in non-American wards on weekends associated with non-American patriotic holidays? Do they sing their patriotic songs as we celebrate July 4th in the states?)

    Or, put it in another way…wherever you are, the Mormon idea of the Garden of Eden is in America. That doesn’t mean Mormonism is American, but this is a doctrine that is correlated to the world that seems to promote Americanisms.

    If we consider my identity to be the set of all things contributing to what makes me me, then I would consider “ethnicity” be one of the elements of the set. I would also say that ethnicity is the set of all cultural, social, and traditional practices that make up one’s identity. Mormonism is definitely an element of the set, but not the only element. So asking is Mormonism an ethnicity doesn’t really make sense unless we clarify. It is part of one’s ethnicity, much like heritage, nationality, etc. To ask if one is “ethnically Mormon” is an ambiguous question.

    I definitely like this train of thought, but when I ask if one is “ethnically Mormon,” I’m asking if, of all of the parts of that set, is Mormonism a dominant part? To the extent that people say, “I’d identify more with another Mormon in a foreign country than I would with another American/Brit/person-from-the-country-I’m-from,” I think that says that Mormonism is such a pervasive part of people, in contrast to nationality, heritage, etc.,

    And I have heard people say things just like that.

    In other words, not all things have equal representation in a set…so which element of the set should be selected as representation of the set as a whole?

    re 9,

    Ray,

    Thanks for the comment, especially on relating the practical aspects of polygamy with a greater theological ideal (even if the practice had many contestable issues with it).

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  12. hawkgrrrl on November 17, 2011 at 5:49 PM

    This discussion reminds me of the process of culture changing – when one moves from one country to another, whether by choice or not. When you’ve never been exposed to any other culture, you have many unexamined assumptions. You may very strongly identify with your own culture. You hold its values, and you assume they are ideal. When you move to another culture, if you didn’t want to go, you experience the feeling of being a perpetual outsider. You see the flaws of your original culture from the view of an outsider. You also see the flaws of your new culture. Neither is satisfactory. Over time, many come to feel they are between cultures. This is different if someone totally adopts a new culture. Then they go back to having unexamined assumptions and assuming their new culture is ideal.

    Either way, you are more expert on both cultures. You can defend both while still seeing the flaws.

    As someone who was raised by converts, I would say my parents are very critical of their original cultures (Lutheran and Baptist). But when they tell me their parents pulled them aside and warned them not to get “too caught up in this religion thing” when they got baptized, they say it with derision, yet I relate to my grandparents’ views.

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  13. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 17, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    Jan Shipps noted that usually creating an ethnic group takes a long time. Mormons managed to create an ethnic group much faster — and polygamy (in my opinion) was a major factor in that.

    By the 1960s the ethnic group part of being Mormon was very very strong. It has been fading through out the 2000s.

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  14. geoffsn on November 17, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    I like to claim I’m an ethnic Mormon. I can relate to the correlation items Andrew notes. I also feel inclined to claim that title because it’s been the family religion for so long. 30 of my 32 great-great-great grandparents were members in their lifetimes. The vast majority of my family has no concept of life, family, etc. outside of a mormon paradigm.

    Also, I feel I have to mention Terryl Givens’ insight that 19th century mormons and anti-mormons considered Mormons to be an ethnic group. The anti-mormons apparently used this as a way to harmonize their belief in freedom of religion and their desire to persecute mormons. He’s more eloquent than I am.
    http://mormonstories.org/?p=2018

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  15. Jake on November 18, 2011 at 7:15 AM

    jmb,

    I think there is a distinction between a national identity or any form of identity and ethnicity. For instance we have a multitude of ethnic minorities where I live who came from India, Poland, Semalia, etc. Many of these would claim they are ethnic minorities because of their heritage in language, food, customs and traditions but at the same time many of them also claim a national identity as British.

    I think that there is a significant overlap between ethnicity and national identity or any communal identity, but I don’t think they are the same. When you look at genuine ethnic groups they don’t compare to Mormons, the local indian hindus all have a shared language, shared heritage of the country they came from, a shared type of food they eat, specific holidays and celebrations that they participate in.

    Mormons just don’t have any of them. If you are to make a case for it being an ethnic group you need to show the shared language found throughout. The same common heritage. The pioneer heritage of utah is not part of my heritage. There would need to be a shared country of origin, the shared food, the shared music (our hymns aren’t for the most part specific to us) You could possibly make a case for Utah Mormons being possibly an ethnic group, but then you would also have to treat the FLDS, the Armish, and the people of Jonestown as ethnicities.

    Perhaps, it might be useful to say mormonism can be understood in a similiar way to an ethnic group, but that doesn’t mean that it is actually one.

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  16. Andrew S on November 18, 2011 at 7:37 AM

    re 15,

    Jake,

    I’m not jmb, but when I talk about Mormonism as ethnicity, I mean there are things common to all Mormons distinct from their nationality.

    All Mormons have a shared code based on drink — e.g., if you are in a public place, and everyone’s drinking tea (which is a BIG deal to many national identities and ethnic identities…is that not the case in the UK?), but someone in the group NEVER does, then you can probably guess that there’s something different about that person…like that they are a Mormon. This continues with coffee and alcohol. These are things that are nearly ubiquitous in the “surrounding cultures” but which the Mormon ethnicity starkly contrasts with.

    Shared language? The church’s terms and phrases for things have a meaning specific to the church. When you say “deacon,” you are meaning something that most people will not be able to understand, because only Mormons have a view of deacon as being a position for 12-year-olds. I don’t want to get into a discussion of whether Mormons believe in “another Jesus,” but I think that thoughtful Mormons can recognize that, even though much of the unique language to Mormonism seems shared with Christianity in general, many terms and phrases have distinctly different understandings and usages than in other denominations. That’s constant across the church, no matter where you are. That’s shared language.

    Specific holidays? Consider that the root of holiday is “holy day”? How can you not talk about shared holidays without mentioning the fact that every Mormon treats Sunday as a holiday. For Monday evenings — world wide — we are counseled to avoid activities in the evening because of Family Home Evening.

    I think some of the radical aspects of its ethnicities are the areas that it seems lacking it. You say they would need to be a shared country of origin…but would there need to be? Would there need to be a shared country of origin if you instead share theological groundings that you are “children of God,” and “a peculiar people” and that you distinguish non-Mormons as “gentiles” (and hey, that’s another word that Mormons use that is distinctly different than how other people who might use that word would)

    You say Mormons don’t have shared music. I say we do have shared music (the hymns). You the hymns aren’t for the most part specific to us — I say that that is irrelevant: it’s not necessarily whether they are only for Mormons that matters so much as whether Mormons universally share them. But even if you’re focused on that, I think you ARE ignoring the uniquely Mormon hymns. Quite frankly, NO ONE but a Mormon is going to be singing “Praise to the Man” or “If You Could Hie to Kolob.”

    The deal is this: you can go to church anywhere in the world and fit in. You can meet a Mormon anywhere in the world and feel a sense of mutuality…but it may or may not be true that you feel the same about someone of your race, or someone from your country of origin, that you meet abroad.

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  17. Jeff Spector on November 18, 2011 at 8:13 AM

    Andrew,

    “that’s an area where you probably diverge from most Jews.”

    Actually, no. Most Jews do not keep Kosher. In fact, most Jews are not that religious….

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  18. Andrew S on November 18, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    re 17:

    Jeff,

    that support my point even more. My thought was, coffee/tea/alcohol probably are not prohibited under Kosher. They definitely aren’t prohibited under a secular/non-religious attitude.

    Yet, if you’re Mormon, you have those standards.

    I guess the issue would be how many Mormons keep the Word of Wisdom, haha.

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  19. Ray on November 18, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    I think Mormonism would be predominantly an ethnicity if nobody really paid attention anymore to specific beliefs and “ethnicity” (shared / communal heritage) trumped religiosity (individual belief structure).

    Iow, I think “being Jewish” trumps “believing like other Jews” – but Mormonism isn’t there yet.

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  20. Andrew S on November 18, 2011 at 1:46 PM

    So, is ethnicity in conflict with religiousity?

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  21. jmb275 on November 18, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    Re Jake-
    Yeah, I would have responded as Andrew has, though perhaps not as eloquently. With regard to pioneer heritage, I disagree. You may not have literal heritage, but we have talks about the pioneers in GC all the time. How can a member not feel connected to the pioneers when we paint a picture of owing the church’s existence to them? You definitely have “heritage” in the pioneers because they preserved a church and theology you believe in, it just may not be ancestral.

    Re Andrew #11
    Sure, no problem, call it a weighted set then. That would make the problem even more interesting because you could the plot it on a map and literally observe what makes a person tick! I agree that if Mormonism carries a significant enough weight in the “ethnicity” element of the set, then one could identify as an “ethnic Mormon.” Also, I do think I would identify with Mormons anywhere. I noticed this when I moved out here. I was drawn to carpooling, etc. with my bishop because I felt there was a common identity.

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  22. jmb275 on November 18, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    Re Andrew

    So, is ethnicity in conflict with religiousity?

    Isn’t that the million dollar question. I think it is when an institution has a monopoly on the ethnicity. In the case of LDS Mormonism, the church owns the ethnicity outright (well, maybe not green jell-o). In other Mormon groups? I’m not sure.

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  23. Andrew S on November 18, 2011 at 10:17 PM

    re 22,

    jmb275,

    Maybe it’s because I got through listening to the latest Mormon Matters podcast yesterday, but a lot of people do NOT think the institution has a monopoly on the ethnicity at all.

    (which is pretty interesting considering that these people probably couldn’t say that they were ethnic Mormons or otherwise without growing up in a correlated Mormonism.)

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  24. jmb275 on November 19, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    Re Andrew #23
    Hmmm, that’s interesting. I admit my view is likely muddied by the fact that I grew up in Utah. I guess I should listen to the podcast. I don’t see how the institution does NOT have a monopoly on it. Rather, I think that’s what people on the fringe tell themselves.

    To be more clear, when you go through the faith crisis you spend a lot of time parsing, figuring out what is the church and what is Mormon culture. You come to see that a lot of what you’re rejecting is Mormon culture. For instance, our culture tends to be blindly obedient, even though it’s not taught. To the person going through a faith crisis, it becomes imperative to separate the actual words being taught from the implementation of most Mormons. As such, I do agree that one can reject the culture and not the church (as I think I have done). But I think it’s naive to pretend that that culture does not have it’s roots in the institution.

    I dunno, I’m not fully committed to one view or the other on the issue, I guess I’d need to think about it more.

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  25. Andrew S on November 19, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    re 24,

    jmb,

    yeah, the weird thing about this discussion (from the podcast or from elsewhere) is that while a lot of the podcast (and the discussion in the comments afterward) features a separation of culture from institution, and then rejecting the culture…there is another element in which one separates a more expansive Mormonism from the institution as correlated, and rejects the institution.

    E.g., when someone’s issue with the church is Prop 8, then you can’t generally say, “I’m going to reject the culture, but stick with the church on this one.” In this case, one rejects the institution/church’s institutional approach to Prop 8, and instead try to find a different niche in the broader Mormon community. I’ll link to this comment by Seth R in a discussion about mormonism and postmodernism…here’s the relevant part:

    Take me for example – I have long been under the stance of “wait and see” as far as the corporate LDS Church is concerned. Unlike many LDS, I keep apostasy of the Restored Church as a continual ongoing possibility. And I have openly admitted before that I do not necessarily have a testimony of the corporate Church. I have a testimony of things like The Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith, or the overall notion of the Great Apostasy (however I may tweak these items from the conventional narrative). But I never had the same kind of testimony of the current corporate Church.

    So I’ve never been too gung ho about defending it. It’s part of the reason why after Prop 8 (gay marriage) in California, I kind of took the stance of “you’re on your own guys – don’t expect much help from me” with respect to Salt Lake. This even though I’ve always been a pretty vocal apologetic voice all over the place for Mormonism.

    That’s what it boils down to – I defend Mormonism, but not LDS Inc. I don’t have a great testimony of Correlation, the Gospel Doctrine manuals, the tithing system, and certainly not Deseret Book.

    Now, please note that Seth R was originally the person who raised the idea of Mormonism as an ethnicity on my blog…so do you see how this separation of church and culture is slightly similar to the one that you pose, but in this case, the “ethnic Mormon” views the *culture* as a good thing, and the *church hierarchy* as a neutral or negative thing?

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  26. jmb275 on November 21, 2011 at 7:34 AM

    Re Andrew-
    Hmmm, yes, that is interesting. Perhaps then it’s even more complicated than we’ve indicated. For example, I consider myself “ethnically Mormon” and view the traditions in Mormonism as good overall, but push against the ones I feel led to my faith crisis. I think most people in my shoes, who’ve had a faith crisis, end up rejecting the church, culture and whole ball of wax. Somehow I’ve seen to embrace the ethnic portion of it in part. I would just say I’m an anomaly except that the folks at StayLDS indicate I’m not.

    I guess what I’m saying is that indeed I can see both viewpoints and even agree with them in part.

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  27. Andrew S. on November 21, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    jmb,

    Yeah, as you mention, depending on what crowds you hang out with, your viewpoint of what most people reacting to a faith crisis do will vary drastically. How can we be sure that most people who have faith crises end up rejecting the church, culture, etc.,? It could be that these people are a vocal minority?

    (That being said, as I think the inactivity thread points out, I think it is possible for some/many people not to be integrated within Mormonism sufficiently enough to leave a mark. In this case, when they disassociate [even if they don't do it because of a faith crisis necessarily], they probably do reject the church and culture…because they never became ethnic or cultural Mormons)

    One common theme I see among ex-Mos, stayLDSers, New Order Mormons, etc., is that regardless of their rejection or acceptance of the church, regardless of their rejection or acceptance of various cultural aspects, the issue is that for most of these people, Mormonism is so deep-seated (…ethnic???) that they can’t just walk away in a day. It’s an immense process, which is what we would expect if they were ethnically Mormon — how can you run away from who you are?

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  28. [...] gender roles and sexuality in general. Not to mention race and cultural questions — even if Mormonism is an ethnicity. On the plus side, there’s a ton of interesting doctrine to speculate about! Also the stories [...]

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  29. [...] in a similar vein to reform Judaism, and the conversation transformed into a discussion over whether Mormonism is an ethnicity. Some people in the discussion argued — as is inevitable in a discussion on this topic [...]

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