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Kirby: Anger, outrage come with 20 years of writing about Mormons

By Robert Kirby

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Mar 20 2014 11:43 am • Last Updated Mar 21 2014 08:18 pm

This September will mark 20 years that I’ve worked for The Salt Lake Tribune. It’s still a bit hard to get my head around. That’s an eternity in my employment history.

Before this I rarely lasted a similar number of months at a job, and usually for the same reasons I ended up at The Tribune: irreverence.

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Ironically, I was hired in large part because I am Mormon. It makes sense in a way. It’s easier to get away with lampooning something if you’re a legitimate part of it. It’s like making fun of yourself.

I told myself that I knew what I was getting into when I began lampooning. There’s always a backlash when you don’t take people as seriously as they take themselves. I didn’t mind. Annoying them is at least half the point.

So it made sense when I spun up highly corseted and fuss-budget Mormons by observing that some are so dogmatic they wouldn’t lick their own lips on Fast Sunday, or that the singing in priesthood meeting sounds like oxen held at gunpoint.

The job is easy because not only am I completely familiar with my people, but there’s also so much material. I’ve never struggled with writer’s block longer than next Sunday.

In 20 years I’ve received countless emails, phone calls and letters from perturbed Mormons who can’t understand why another Mormon doesn’t see things exactly the same way they do.

Among my favorite of these responses is a letter addressed "To a Liar."

"I can find no reason why you have not been excommunicated unless it’s because the Brethren do not know who you are. No one could write the things you do unless it was under a pen name."

It also made sense that I would hear from Mormons like me, Mormons with a left-handed take on things, fellow Mormons who needed a little push-back breathing room in what can be a smothering culture.

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Speaking of which, I also fully anticipated hearing from non-Mormons suffering from LDS culture shock. Having moved to Utah after a lifetime in the military, I know Utah can be a serious culture shock even for Mormons.

But having lived in some truly awful places, I also understand that if you have to be stuck somewhere, you might as well find a way to laugh about it. Wailing almost never makes it better.

Here’s the stuff I didn’t expect.

Given Utah’s reputation for uptight Mormons, I thought the angriest and most outraged feedback would come from Mormons in Utah. Nope. The "To a Liar" letter came from Seattle.

Turns out the Mormons easiest to spin up live in places such as Washington, Virginia, California, Idaho and Canada.

They bear angry witness against my Excommunication for the Dead program, the Three Degrees of Damnation and whether Families are Forever is more of a threat than a promise.

But who knew that the easiest way to outrage the self-important and uptight was to just say something nice.

Last week’s column about being comfortable in my church generated an ass-biting dog fight that is still going on.

I’m still getting email from ex-Mormons and anti-Mormons who find that claim completely despicable.

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