A few weeks ago I made my own version of the “I’m a Mormon” ads the Church has been running and put it up on my friends YouTube account. [Note: The video ends with the words “I’m pro gay-rights, and I’m Mormon.” See it here.]
Making that video seemed like a great idea at the time. I got a lot of good responses at first. Then, I started to get Church members telling me I’d be excommunicated. And now the only people who seem to be viewing are hardcore Mormon haters. I tried to ignore them and deleted most of the comments, but you can tell by the dislike count that I’ve been getting a lot of ridicule now.
I should have just ignored all the comments, but one person told me about a video with Bill Maher and Craig Ferguson. I watched it and it had too much in it for me to just toss aside. I will admit, though I have a testimony of the LDS church, I don’t know as much about it as a lot of nonmembers apparently.
Bill talked about so many things I’d never heard of before. And he of course had to make a point that we are all extremely weird and something about how we ignore science and anything intellectual. I hate that stereotype more than any of the others because I am an intellectual.
Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve seen the video already, but he made a lot of really short points that supposedly proved our entire religion wrong. I’m sorry to bug you about this, but I can’t think of anyone else. All the members I know personally will only slap me on the wrist for watching the video and tell me that it was Satan or something. I don’t want to live the rest of my life just brushing these things off – I want to fully understand all of it so that I know my beliefs are justified.
Do you have any advice?
Oh, dear, SRK. The web is a crazy medium, isn’t it? Instantaneous, anonymous, addictive . . . and it sure can bring out the mean and crazy in people.
A friend who works in some geeky but profitable sector of internet technologies told me that even on geeky tech discussion boards the comments quickly degenerate into outright flame war and insanity. Just over geeky tech stuff! Mixing Mormonism and gay rights on YouTube? Way more potent.
But you did it! With all the bravery, heart, and idealism of the 19 year old you are. Your video warmed my heart. You’re smart, you’re talented, and you have a terrific story to tell about how Mormonism teaches values of compassion, hope, and respect. I’m proud of you for using your voice.
The dizziness and self-consciousness you’re feeling now? Let’s call it an internet hangover. It comes from overexposure and the confusing erasure of personal boundaries that happens in virtual reality. You stood up for your values. You told your story. And now hundreds of people motivated by everything from boredom to vengeance to grouchiness to self-righteousness to clinical insanity are weighing in on you and your beliefs. What to do?
You’ve got to learn how to protect yourself and create healthy boundaries as you continue to explore and learn how you will live your Mormon faith as an adult.
First, put aside the excommunication thing. You should know that during the height of the Proposition 8 campaign, the Church openly stated that Mormons who favored same-sex marriage rights should not be disciplined just for favoring gay rights. So take a deep breath and relax.
Second, while you’re still under the influence of your internet hangover, make no major decisions about your religious life or practice.
Third, step away from the YouTube for a week or two. If not six months. Maybe a year? Stop reading the comments. I repeat: stop reading the comments. Resist the urge to dial back in for the electric thrill of seeing yourself loved or hated by strangers. If strangers knocked at your door and asked to come into your house so they could tell you what was wrong with your Mormonism, would you let them in the house? No? Good. So then, why let internet strangers get into your head?
Fourth, kick Bill Maher out of your head too. He’s talking trash about me, and you, and your grandma, and my grandma . . . and I love my grandma! No one talks trash about my grandma! Kick him out of your head! Plus, Bill Maher is no expert on Mormonism. He is a man who mocks all religion and who has selectively cherry-picked (in this video) two of the most random horrifying bits of Mormon racism I’ve never heard of, and one teaching (about Native people as a lost tribe of Israel) that has nothing to do with the core principles of our faith. People who have no understanding of Mormonism have no clue that ours is a living, evolving tradition capable of recognizing and setting aside its own errors. Just because a Mormon—even a Mormon with a title—once said it does not make it true for Mormons today.
Fifth, buckle down and focus on your studies. You’re a college student (and a Utah State University Aggie, I see). This is a very natural point in your life to start learning more about Mormon history, doctrine, and culture. And you don’t have to do it alone. Check out the Mormon Stories podcast (produced right there in Logan by your fellow Aggie John Dehlin) for in-depth interviews from a Mormon point of view with Mormon experts on some of the trickiest and most fascinating aspects of the Mormon world. Plus, USU is a great place to take Mormon Studies courses with faculty expert Phillip Barlow. When the New York Times wants to understand Mormonism, it calls Phillip Barlow, not Bill Maher. Walk to his on-campus office, find his office hours, and pay him a visit in real-time. Tell him about the Bill Maher incident. Tell him that you’re ready to take your understanding of Mormonism more seriously. Ask for a list of books that you can read.
Your Mormon upbringing taught you that you have the power to receive inspiration and make decisions for your own life through study, contemplation, and prayer. Do not give that power away. Do not assume that strangers know more about your life and your faith than you do. Especially not strangers who post mean comments on YouTube. Or Bill Maher.
SRK, you have all the makings of an incredible Mormon woman. This is the time in your life to prepare to kick butt. Don’t waste it by allowing others to exploit your open-heartedness. Be wise, protect yourself, and use your powers for good.
Anything I’ve forgotten, readers? Any words of encouragement or guidance for SRK? (And please, be gentle—the girl has an internet hangover, after all.)
Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.