To answer the question “what is a Mormon?” I found myself asking the question “what is a Feminist?”
I was at a lunch. I was talking with someone who was putting a program together to support female attorneys and make them feel included. She was talking to several of us about how important it was to have good role models, to make certain that girls knew that any education they wanted, any choices they wanted or needed would be supported and were good and encouraged and how important it was to be inclusive. She was looking for groups to reach out to in support of this, and thinking of some LDS attorneys who were also part of Feminist Mormon Housewives in the area, I suggested that she might want to make contact with them. She gave me a look as if I had lost my mind. “I’ve a sister who is a feminist, what does what I’m doing have to do with anything a feminist would have anything in common with?”
That struck me. The same question sometimes comes up when people consider what is a Mormon.
For some it is easy. The LDS who went West took with them the “Mormon” label, those who stayed East, whether Strangites, Reorganized or others did not. For some the dividing line was Brigham Young. That may have been the denotation, but the connotation was polygamy. In the popular mind that is still the case (consider Mitt Romney and the fact he had to address the issue). Within the LDS Church the denotation is “real” LDS are Mormons, others (i.e. polygamist off-shoots) are something else. For the FLDS, they asked for LDS families to take in their children (instead of foster homes where the rate of underage pregnancy is much higher than the rate the FLDS were accused of, none-the-less the real rate) because they felt that their children were better off with “Mormons” than with others. (And yes, the first I heard about it was when one of the ad litems contacted me, looking for a way to contact the LDS Church at the request of her FLDS court appointed clients).
But it has made me think. Is a “mormon” what Joseph Smith defined it as (mor = more and mon = good; anyone who sought more good); is it anyone who accepts the Book of Mormon; is it the Church that went West; does it require (or does it require rejecting) polygamy — just what is a Mormon? Is it as easy to answer as “What is a Feminist?