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Polygamy and intolerance are both never okay: Media influence and stereotypes hinder the understanding of the Mormon faith

People of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are upstanding members of the community. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, swim club members, bake sale organizers, den mothers and friends to hundreds of people across the country. So why then is it acceptable to mock them in public?

One of my oldest and best friends is Mormon. I have known him for 12 years, since we were in the third grade, and in that time, I have seen him visibly hurt when someone takes a crack at Mormons and what they believe. He does not drink sodas with caffeine, nor does he watch movies that are rated ‘R.’ He is currently on his Mission, a two-year-long stint abroad where he delivers the Book of Mormon and the Bible to anyone who will accept them. He is serving in London, where he is not allowed to use the telephone or computer (except to e-mail a blog post once per week) and can only communicate by snail mail. His dedication to his faith is inspiring to me, though I don’t necessarily believe in all the things he does.

There are truths and myths to Mormonism. Yes, they “added” books to the Bible. No, not everyone believes in the “magic underwear.” Yes, most do not date traditionally. No, not all Mormons are polygamists. Indeed, no Mormon who believes in the mainstream of his or her faith is one – and there is the rub: the polygamy issue is the most common one I’ve heard mocked.

I have never heard of anyone making fun of the Muslim community for instances of polygamy,though the practice is accepted in factions of their religion. What I have heard is people extensively talking about Mormons as polygamists, though it is far from the mainstream. In fact, polygamy was banned by the Mormon Church in 1890.

Perhaps this is because when we see Mormons in the media, it’s always the groups that have splintered from the main body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mostly over the polygamy issue. There’s Warren Jeffs, from the cult-like compound YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, whom we learned about when Carolyn Jessop escaped the settlement and later when federal law enforcement raided his compound. There’s the fictional “Big Love” on HBO about a polygamist Mormon family. And now there’s “Sister Wives” on TLC, a show that is glorifying this illegal and frowned-upon practice by following the Browns, a family of one man, his four wives and their scores of children.

No members of the officially recognized Mormon faith are polygamists. It is only the fringe groups, the so-called Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints, that practice this unethical and illegal behavior. The word “Mormon” and “polygamist” are not synonymous.

You may know a few Mormons and never believed that they belonged to this religious group. In fact, one may be sitting near you as you read this. If they’re not, one may be soon. Regardless, you share a world with them, so it’s time to move beyond stereotypes and practice a little religious tolerance.

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