|My boys and I at the Atlanta Temple.|
Despite my conviction, most of my life I was reluctant to share my faith with those around me. I grew up in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, a small town just outside Chattanooga (where I still live today). Just 45 minutes away from Dayton (where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place), I like to say it's the buckle of the Bible Belt.
As one can imagine, it wasn't easy to be a Mormon here. Pastors of congregations condemned us. Ridiculous rumors constantly buzzed around us ("They keep dead bodies under that church!"). Many churches held "Mormon Nights" where they would show videos and discuss how evil and cultish we were. When I was in first grade, a friend of mine was told by her mother that she couldn't play with me because of my church. In high school, a classmate presented a report on why Mormonism is a cult, all the while casting triumphant glares at me. There were dozens of other incidents in between these two. So many, in fact, my dad told my siblings and I that if someone told us we were going to burn in hell that we should retort, "I'll look you up when I get there." (And yes, I totally used that line!)
I attended AASU in Savannah, GA and found people to be more accepting. That's probably because I was not very forthright with my religion. I didn't want any trouble. I went out to lunch with a few classmates one day and somehow it came up that I was Mormon. One of the women immediately launched into a tirade about how my church was a cult. She wouldn't let me defend myself. It doesn't matter how many times this happened to me. Every time was hurtful and humiliating.
Even if I was around friends, I knew I was always an "other." There were certain subjects that they would avoid. I often walked in on a conversation to find it suddenly hushed. Were they talking about plans to go out drinking or other things I didn't do? Part of me was grateful I was spared being put on the spot but another part resented always being on the outside.
The humiliation and condemnation grew on a national level after "The Book of Mormon" musical came out and won several Tonys. It really disturbed me that a show that mocked my religion had such a wide acceptance (though I do admit the songs that I've heard from it did make me laugh).
All of this brings me to today. A lot of my Mormon friends are disappointed and even bitter over Mitt Romney's loss. I personally can't feel upset. If someone told me 5 years ago that a Mormon would have come this far in the presidential race I would've laughed my head off. No way. Even though there have been bumps along the way ("binders of women" anyone?), I'm pleased with Mitt Romney. It has nothing to do with politics. As a fellow Mormon, he represented us well. His campaign brought attention to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and forced us out of our sheltered lives and into the spotlight. I know it was difficult for Romney to do this. I cannot imagine the responsibility he felt as a member of this church. A lot of Mormons didn't want this attention. I know that I wasn't seeking it! However, I'm grateful for it. It's forced me to be more open about what I believe despite the consequences. I've also felt more acceptance in general from those not of my faith. While this church will never be "mainstream," I believe we are more understood. Watching Romney tackle questions about our faith has given me more courage to say who I am and what I believe.
I'm a Mormon. I know it. I live it. I love it.