#13: Sacred Cowardice
I have been asked to provide a take on the “Mormon MomTok” “soft swinger” scandal, in my official capacity as Brand Ambassador.
So I looked it up; apparently three or four couples have been living together in a “content house” on TikTok. Ostensibly the purpose of the arrangement is to share production costs, conveniently cross-promote etc. — but clearly a major tentpole of the content-house model is to generate telegenic “roommate drama”: a sort of decentralized autonomous version of The Real World.
These M*rmon mommies are about as narcissistic and attention-seeking and amoral (and young, and hot) as you’d expect under the circumstances, and they regularly got drunk together, so eventually they started screwing each other’s husbands. (Obviously.)
And I’m not going to link to it, but they’re clearly enjoying the attention, and enthusiastically leveraging the “scandal” to produce and promote new content.
As far as I can tell, the only thing that is remotely interesting about this story is that the participants are, at least as a matter of branding, “Mormon”.
They’re pretty open about not practicing, and they drink all the time, and nobody’s wearing garments, but to read the thinkpieces about it you’d think it happened in a monastery or something.
People like to hear that kind of thing.
If you’re living a sordid life in a sordid culture, it becomes very important to believe that, as lonely and porn-sick and pill-addled as your surroundings might be, at least there is nowhere better. Any people that appears to be healthier, in the present or the past, is actually just as wretched as yours — only with the compounding sins of deceit and hypocrisy.
There are no lessons to learn; no way to change it, and therefore no obligation to change it. No one has ever been happy.
From the trads, there is a slightly modified version of this triumphalism: “OK, fair enough, maybe these aren’t ‘real Mormons’, but this just goes to show they aren’t any better at resisting degeneracy than we are. Their kids grow up to be TikTok thots just like ours.”
This is similarly comforting: we will all go into that good night together. A friend described this as the consequence of being “the last survivors of the culture war”.
That one cuts a little closer to the bone.
As far as I can tell, the Church is probably in its deepest crisis since the 19th century (in the United States, anyway.) And it’s not qualitatively different from what’s happening in other churches: people are just gradually realizing that their politics are more emotionally salient than their religion. The stuff they still agree with is lowest-common-denominator Christianity of the sort they could find anywhere, and the rest seems “unimportant” (in addition to being extremely unpopular and inconvenient).
You could argue that this is happening on the Right as well, but trads by definition cling to the idiosyncratic high-strangeness doctrines while growing increasingly suspicious of “lowest-common-denominator Christianity” — in particular, the endlessly diffident, agreeable Christian who uses kindness to conceal cowardice, who takes his kids to Drag Queen Story Hour because it’s the nice thing to do.
This approach has the advantage of signaling loyalty to one’s religion as a tribe, so we don’t melt into the background radiation of Western liberalism the way progressives do — but there’s an obvious paradox in expressing militant, fanatical dedication to leaders whose public image is so ostentatiously careful and gentle and conciliatory. (Which is the joke in a solid 60% of all DezNat memes.)
Do the Brethren hate this? We don’t know.
This post started with a friend outside the Church expressing disappointment that the leaders haven’t publicly disciplined the Mormon MomTok crew — and I realized that this is probably confusing to outsiders generally, and worth talking about.
The Church almost never “weighs in” on this kind of thing, and never discusses official disciplinary proceedings. The only times Church discipline becomes public knowledge, it’s because the person being disciplined has a reason to involve the media (generally because “Excommunicated Dissident Rebel” has become their brand.) Even after it hits the media, the Church doesn’t contextualize or rebut any claims about the discipline — which obviously means that the accused (and their media allies) get to run the story as they see fit.
The closest they ever got was condemning “white supremacy communities” in the aftermath of Charlottesville, which was pretty clearly aimed at Ayla Stewart, a recent convert who appears to have joined the Church on the grounds that it was a bulwark for the preservation of white culture.
Opinions vary on the sincerity of Ayla’s position, and whether this was a cool move by the Church PR department, or to what extent the condemnation came “from the top” — but there was a general confusion among my friends as to why Ayla was deemed to be more worthy of condemnation than any number of publicly troublesome race hustlers, idolaters, and chickenhawks (including many on the Church’s payroll.)
Obviously media attention creates a pressure gradient — and perhaps there’s a belief that it “goes without saying” that the Church doesn’t endorse all these cultmarx heresies. They still routinely preach from the Family Proclamation, which is basically a laundry list of cancelable doctrines, and have signaled a willingness to forfeit BYU’s accreditation rather than compromise on the Honor Code.
For what it’s worth, when I “made the news”, I got nothing but love from my leaders.
To be clear, they didn’t say “Wow Bennett we love how much you cuss & call people names online” — but they were careful for my family’s safety, and assured me that I was in good standing and could hold a calling, attend the temple, etc. I don’t know of anyone else in our little doxxed crew who was chastised either, even informally.
But I don’t know how you preach with power in this environment. There are plenty of Twitter accounts posting “I love to read the Book of Mormon to my kids” and “Wow the temple is so great” and “Families can be together forever”. It’s very pleasant and agreeable and inoffensive; nobody gets mad about it. If your goal in online discourse is just to avoid the spirit of contention, that’s gold-standard content. Is that what I’m supposed to be doing? If so, I’ll write a bot for it and go dig ditches for a living.
Talking about what marriage is, on the other hand, or what men and women are, or how human beings ought to live, makes people extremely upset. I’m not trying to offend people for no reason, but we’re also promised that we’ll be hated of all men for Christ’s sake. How offensive are we supposed to be? Am I an idiot for making myself unemployable over this stuff?
If I could get half an hour with an Apostle, that would probably be my question.
There’s probably no hard and fast rule that he could give me; my intuition is that he would tell me to pray harder about it, and that the ultimate answer would be something like, “Yes, you should talk about these things, but you should probably stop cussing and calling people names”.
But conflict is tense and uncomfortable. If you tell people that this sweaty, scary feeling is always a sign that they’re on the wrong track — that that is “the spirit of contention” — they’ll turn their own avoidance and neuroticism into a holy imperative. They’ll congratulate themselves for it, and then seek to root out any trace of courage or initiative in others. (And once you make conflict-avoidance a principle of the gospel, you don’t get to have any other principles.)
I guess, implicitly, I would want to learn why the Church’s communication style seems to have changed so drastically since I was a kid, and even more so since Ezra Taft Benson or Bruce R. McConkie. Is it just the temperament of the men in those callings today? Something to do with our “present distress”? Are we supposed to take a cue from the change?
Lots of people think so. That’s the main “True Conservative” critique of our thing: that we’re out over our skis, because we’re saying things that aren’t being said in General Conference (lately). But their commitment to agreeableness has them constantly rolling over on the doctrine in all the ways you’d expect. And their kids end up fully assimilated — just as anxious and depressed and nihilistic and self-involved as any other Western young people — because they were taught that the guiding star of discipleship is to never push back.
Well done! Especially like this tidbit. "(And once you make conflict-avoidance a principle of the gospel, you don’t get to have any other principles.)"
As a group, Mormons seem to be about a generation behind conservative Christian Protestants and the RCC, and about two generations behind "mainline" Protestants, but following the same path.