The ads are effective and intriguing: attractive, energetic, articulate Mormons sharing what makes them so interestingly, so uniquely and so memorably "a Mormon."
But these ubiquitous ads are also drastically misleading. Come to one of our meetinghouses on any given Sunday and you'd be hard-pressed to find a group of faithful like those represented in the "And I'm a Mormon" advertising blitz.
Sadly, as a whole we are far less interesting than what the ads have masterfully conveyed. Generally speaking, we are collectively a boring people. We might try to mix it up sometimes serving ethnic fare at our ward dinners or altering the tempo of a hymn, but for the most part, as a group, we are steadfast, obedient, charitable, fertile and a bit dull.
In a recent televised behind-the-scenes interview with one of the couples featured in the "I'm a Mormon" spots, the wife mentioned that one of the reasons she and her spouse were chosen to be in an ad was her husband's penchant for growing unusual facial hair.
Well, that's nifty; I'm all for hairstyle freedom of expression.
But imagine my confusion at hearing that this man's facial hair was one reason he was chosen to be a global representative of my religion when the young men in my area are being told by local leadership that they must cut their hair to a short, conservative style or they can't administer the sacrament or receive the Melchizedek priesthood. Why is funky hair being lauded in one arena and frowned upon in another?
The disparity between the image my church is trying so hard to convey to the world and the image local members are being told they must adhere to within their small ward boundaries is a bit unnerving.
Shouldn't the celebrated attributes belonging to the "I'm a Mormon" Mormons also be praised (or at least accepted) on a smaller scale, even if the world is not looking?
Why are individual congregants sometimes reprimanded for doing the exact same things our church public relations department would like the rest of the world to view as charming and alluring.
Surely, the stated spiritual beliefs of the people in the "I'm a Mormon" ads are authentic and heart-felt. And not too different from the testimonies universally shared and oft-repeated by the less attractive and less eloquent members of my faith. But is the whole "Hey! Look at us! We're just regular folks; not as odd or strict as you think we are! In fact, we're pretty cool!" just like any other smoke-and-mirrors advertising campaign where good lighting and superb editing are essential when a sale is to be made?
There's no denying that the feel-good response to these ads has fueled a bigger and broader campaign. With "Mormon Messages" DVDs now taking shelf space in stores throughout Utah and the "I'm a Mormon" Mormons now featured on the pass-along cards that LDS church members are encouraged to use as missionary tools, it would appear that this campaign has been a rousing success.
But really, is there much difference between people joining my religious ranks because of these well-crafted advertisements and those who join because they had a little crush on the cute and kind missionary who taught them?
Shouldn't a commitment to a way of worship be based on something or someone more substantial?
Say, someone who, just like the chastised youth in my area, (but about 2,000 years prior) also had long hair?
Doree Ashcraft, of Logan, works with abused children and is a freelance writer.