Linda & Richard Eyre: Are jokes about Mormons a sign of acceptance?

Published: Sunday, Aug. 18 2013 12:19 a.m. MDT

Billboards in the Atlanta area depict images of the "I'm a Mormon" media campaign.

Intellectual Reserve Inc., Intellectual Reserve Inc.

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Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will add Mormons and Sikhs and five other groups to the hate crime statistics. In other words, they will begin keeping numbers on hate crimes committed against members of the LDS Church, just as they do with gays, African-Americans and other groups where strong prejudice exists.

The interesting question is, what about prejudicial remarks or conversation or making fun of Mormons? Will it rise to the same level of political incorrectness as homophobic or racial remarks?

We doubt it.

We live in an interesting world. Using a racial slur gets people fired, ruins political careers and is universally condemned. Same with saying anything even remotely homophobic. But Mormons are fair game. They are routinely attacked, made fun of and lampooned in media and entertainment, and no one seems to think twice about it. When their most sacred book is used for the name of a musical parody on Broadway, it is widely acclaimed and wins Tony Awards.

Mormon jokes, comments and jabs are laughed at, repeated and applauded when the same utterances about blacks or gays or Jews would be roundly criticized and shunned.

So what’s going on?

Well, here is a positive interpretation: Getting joked about, jabbed at and parodied is actually a sign of gradual acceptance and even of a certain amount of grudging respect. It is not the same as racial or homophobic remarks. But it is similar to anti-Semitism — albeit at a much earlier stage.

Jews are the most persecuted religious group in history but today are highly respected in virtually every field. Yet Jews are constantly parodied and joked about — but in an increasingly good-humored way. We just watched a half-hour episode of the popular TV sitcom “Raising Hope” that spent the whole half hour laughing at Jewish stereotypes. Let’s hope that the nature of the world’s reaction to Mormons progresses on a similar trajectory.

It has been said that “You haven’t fully arrived until you have been parodied,” and things like the musical “The Book of Mormon” are not all bad. In it, Mormons are portrayed as different and naive, but not evil-spirited, and the church has responded to it maturely and intelligently with messages like, “You’ve seen the play, now read the book.”

True, there is still a great deal of ignorance and false information out there about Mormons, but in our opinion, the Romney candidacy, the Salt Lake Olympics and a host of other things have moved the church into a more favorable light where most of the criticisms are not those of hate but of the kind of fun-poking that often denotes a kind of backhand respect.

Speaking personally, as we travel and speak all over the world, our religion, when it comes up, is a matter of curiosity and respectful interest rather than prejudice or suspicion. Neither of us can remember a time or an incident where we were persecuted or penalized or denied something based on being Mormons, and we can think of many times where the fact seemed to help or benefit us in some secular pursuit.

Sometimes the paranoia of thinking we are persecuted is worse than what is actually happening, and when we relax and realize that we are different in many ways, just as most everyone else is, and accept whatever comes in good humor and with a little tolerance of our own, everything seems to turn out OK.

To fellow Mormons: Let’s not let making the hate crime list make us any more defensive and paranoid than did a Broadway musical parody. Let’s just be ourselves and win people over one by one by our own tolerance and genuineness.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."

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