As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we sometimes come across as an awkward 10th grader trying to get into a high school house party with the cool kids.
The hosts come to the door as the 10th grader knocks. They stare out at him with a look of, “What makes you think you are one of us?” The newcomer then pulls out a giant bag of weed and smiles. The hosts smile back. Then, they open the door wide and usher him in as if they had been friends all along.
But if Mormons are the 10th grader, it is not a high school party where we seek inclusion but rather the right-wing bloc of evangelical America. The hosts are people like Mike Huckabee.
They do not actually want to accept us into their party, but they understand what we have to offer them. It is not marijuana, in this case, but rather political allegiance and lockstep loyalty to the social structure that defines their way of life. Indeed, many leaders of the evangelical right covet our faith’s electoral fidelity to their causes like the cool kids who just wanted that bag of weed.
In some ways, we have always been misfits in the Protestant America to which we crave acceptance. Even recently I have seen evangelical churches in my home state of Missouri advertising an upcoming sermon about all the reasons Mormonism is wrong. But theological foes can still make for good political allies.
Robert Jeffress is one of America’s most prominent and outspoken evangelical pastors. He has referred to Mormonism both as a “cult” and “a heresy from the pit of hell.” He said in 2012 that he would prefer a Christian over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But, like many who saw Romney’s moral standing as a point of concern, Jeffress now has nothing but praise and support to offer Donald Trump.
Clearly, many Christians are less concerned about whether Trump is a good example of Christian values, but rather how willing he is to defend them. Jeffress said when it comes to protecting religious freedom, “I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find in that role, and I think that’s where many evangelicals are.”
That same fear of losing religious freedoms has caused many Mormons to fall in line with people like Jeffress. When Vice President Mike Pence met with leadership of the LDS Church last year, Elder M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the faith’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said afterward, “We talked about the importance of religious freedom. … Of course, he was very much in favor of doing all we can to keep these freedoms available.”
For Pence, that statement meant he had done his job.
Likewise, when Trump visited Utah in 2016, he said, “The evangelicals have been so amazing, everybody is so amazing, and do I love the Mormons, OK? Do I love the Mormons.”
His audience seemed to either miss or ignore the fact that it was Mormon support and not Mormonism he was fond of. But it was all right there, as subtext.
Those who wanted the meanest son-of-a-you-know-what around got what they wanted. Now, to keep what they want, people like Pence are yet again looking for Mormons to come through for them. But is it worth joining the ranks of people who see White Christians as the true victims of our day? Is it worth standing shoulder to shoulder in the trenches of an absurd culture war with bigots like Robert Jeffress?
There is growing discomfort with Trump and all that he stands for, especially among the youths of our church. But still more than half of our members are knocking on the door of that house party. The cool kids keep letting them in but only with their offering in hand. Cannabis abounds. Worse than that, dignity burns with it.
Addison Graham, Kansas City, Mo., is a former student at Jordan High School and a student at Brigham Young University.