Ask Mormon Girl: “Unorthodox” Mormon? What do you mean?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:


Just wanted to tell you that I enjoy your blog.  I think you do a nice job dealing with people’s difficult questions in a non-threatening, honest and clear way.


I had one question as I read some postings:  what is a “non-Orthodox” Mormon? Or, “unorthodox” depending on usage?


Is this a rejection of Mormon “cultural” behaviors; e.g., green jello, white shirts, clean shaven, Colas?  A political issue?  A rejection of some Church doctrines?  An attempt to weed out “practices” versus “doctrine?”  I’m sure it’s different for everyone and I hope it starts a broad discussion thread, but I’m trying to figure out how one can logically create a “Mormon” and “non-Orthodox” pairing.



I’m glad you enjoy the column, RB.   It’s true that I sometimes use the word “unorthodox” to describe myself and my point of view, even though I practice my religion the best I can and joyfully partake in many of its cultural behaviors.  (Ask my non-Mormon friends about my frog-eye salad.  It’s epic.  And so is my home garden.)

So here’s what I mean when I describe myself or my point of view as “unorthodox”:

  1. I envy the Jews.

What Mormon doesn’t have a thing for the original chosen people?  (Even though, in my experience, most Mormons don’t really have a great grasp on contemporary Judaism.)  As I got to know the world of contemporary Judaism through Jewish friends and (later) Jewish relatives, one thing that struck me was the bandwith of the tradition. Over the last millennia or more, Judaism has generated a number of threads and channels that can accommodate a number of modes of belief (including non-literalist and atheist standpoints) and practice (ranging from ultra-orthodox to modern orthodox to conservative to reform to reconstructionist to secular humanist).

And, unless you’re hanging with some pretty observant folks, simply eating a hot dog does not un-Jewish you.

The world of Mormonism, by comparison, can be a bit more categorically rigid—a bit more black-and-white, in-or-out.  Lots of people have experienced that rigidity, and it doesn’t feel good.

Calling myself an “unorthodox” Mormon is one step I take to create a less rigid, more forgiving, and more robust Mormon world for myself to inhabit.

Which brings me to the second element of my “unorthodox” self-labeling.

2.  Sometimes I don’t fit the Mormon mold, but Mormon is who I am.  Absolutely.

There is a lovely blog called that has an “Ask A Mormon Woman” feature, wherein a team of bloggers answer questions about Mormon beliefs and practices.  They quote the apostles and do a great job producing answers the LDS Newsroom could be proud of.

Me, I write in such a way that I hope no one could ever confuse my words for official anything.  After all, since starting this column in January, I have quoted the Grateful Dead, Sarah Silverman, and St. Francis of Assisi.  And my column generally attracts questions from other misfits like me.

My Episcopalian friend Jim is fond of quoting Rumi to me:

Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,

there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’

doesn’t make sense any more.

That field is where I live.

And now, see—I quoted an Episcopalian and Rumi.  In one sentence.  That would never happen at “Ask a Mormon Woman.”  But still, I’m a Mormon.  Yes, I am.  If you want to study a Mormon, I’m a living specimen.

In the past few years I’ve noticed a proliferation of terms used by Mormons to describe their various dispositions to this rich and, yes, internally diverse movement, from New Order Mormons to Legacy Mormons.

Friends, readers, what do you call yourself?  Is the beautiful word Mormon enough?  Or do you too wear a modifier?

Send your query to, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.


Filed under belonging

5 responses to “Ask Mormon Girl: “Unorthodox” Mormon? What do you mean?

  1. utah_guy

    One way of interpreting your response is that you think the Mormon church should accommodate not only a variety of cultural idiosyncrasies but also a variety of core doctrines that may conflict with each other. I certainly agree that many different cultural perspectives should be (and often are) accepted within the church (as long as they don’t conflict with the church’s core doctrines). I also think that many concepts that LDS people think are doctrines are open to personal interpretation—even “unorthodox” interpretations. However, there are certain core doctrines that are fundamental to the Mormon faith that cannot be changed without changing what Mormonism is. For example, the existence of God, Jesus Christ as our Savior, the law of chastity, the need for temple ordinances, etc.

    • utah_guy

      I found this quote insightful from a talk by Elder Maxwell given at BYU in 1976: “A commitment to truth requires the rejection of some things as well as the acceptance of others. That is part and parcel of the process of progression…In what we are asked to reject are certain important clues concerning that human behavior which produces lasting growth and happiness and that which produces misery…There are contemporary cultural differences, too, of course, but the sincere seeker after celestial culture must be more concerned with the preparation for that culture than with the preservation of present culture…Enough prophets have inveighed against unwise or wicked ‘traditions of the fathers’ for us to know that certain mortal traditions can be devastating and disabling. Cultural differences, however, which are matters of preference and not principle can continue to provide color and variety. God seems to love variety, except in doctrine—because the latter is so crucial…If all things are a matter of preference and nothing is a matter of principle, why not put Dracula in charge of the blood bank? If we became just like the world, the world would hold us in double contempt….” (

  2. harikari

    I too envy the Jews, and wish Mormonism were like Judaism on several levels, but of course it is most dramatically unlike it. Being Jewish is first of all an ethnicity. Eating a hot dog doesn’t make a Jew a goy, but keeping kosher doesn’t really make a goy a Jew. One can convert, but the procedure and even the legitimacy of conversion is a complicated topic. Anyway, Mormonism is not an ethnicity and I think that fact eliminates a lot of the elasticity inherent in Jewish self-definition.

    In many traditional cultures and communities, a particular religion can become an expression of ethnicity that functions effectively like Judaism does for Jews. Catholicism in France and Italy, the various Eastern Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe, Lutheranism in Scandinavia, Hinduism in India, etc. The idea of a religion being fundamentally, or even strictly, a “voluntary association” is thoroughly American, and Mormon evangelism in its principals is, I think, oddly indebted to this essentially secular view of religion.

    You can be raised a Mormon, but you cannot be born Mormon. Before baptism, you are a “member of record” (a sadly bureaucratic designation). Your Mormonism is always seen as a voluntary association that requires adherence to certain norms of belief and practice. These norms are really not very elastic, since they are, lacking any cultural or ethnic basis (at least officially), the locus of self-definition.

    This is a long way of saying: Conservative and Orthodox and non-practicing Jews are all equally Jewish. When someone says, “I’m Catholic,” that implies nothing about their actual position on birth control or whether they’ve ever even attended mass since their first communion. As your “Legacy Mormon” link illustrates, when I say I’m a Mormon, this implies to both Mormons and non-Mormons a normativity of belief and practice that, if not applicable to me, I am effectively required to qualify with some modifier or explanation.

    I do not think any of these modifiers indicate the richness of Mormonism, as you suggest, but rather the highly rigid and calcified limits of Mormon identity. When a Mormon can order a cup of coffee and voice support for LGBT rights without recourse to modifiers or lengthy explanations, then we’ve arrived. Until then, modifiers are less descriptions of diversity than efforts to self-include through self-naming.

  3. Pingback: My Mormon Reeducation/A Third Way | Bending the Rules

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