In the hit Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, Elder Price sings about how he believes that “ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America” and “in 1978 God changed His mind about black people.” The musical’s creative team, with comedic roots in Comedy Central’s Southpark, means to highlight the strange and funny elements of the Mormon tradition, and the musical’s success suggests they have struck comic gold. But these somewhat stereotypical images of Mormonism have often been the only ones to which Americans are exposed, at least until recently.
A recent New York Times article describes a growing ad campaign funded by the Mormon church, geared toward highlighting the diversity of people who claim the Mormon faith. The ads display photos of people who are Mormons, including people who may not fit the usual Mormon stereotypes, with the tag line “I’m a Mormon.” The article quotes one of these people, a black daughter of Haitian immigrants and mayor of a small town in Utah, as saying, “They wanted to get the word out that we’re not a cult, we’re not sitting in the mountains here with five wives. They wanted to let people know that we’re normal.”
According to the article, a large percentage of Americans say they would not vote for a Mormon for president. As the Republican primary race continues and the nomination of Mitt Romney remains likely, a large ad campaign like this one could impact the race if it could help assuage concerns about Romney’s Mormonism. But cultural changes like these usually happen over the course of years, not months. Whether or not it’s appropriate to consider a candidate’s religious affiliation when voting, many Americans do, and fears that Mormons are just too different to lead are not likely to change overnight.