Why do voters have such a hard time connecting with Mormon candidates? Is it our weird values? Is it inauthenticity on our part? Is it flip flopping? Is it our inability or unwillingness to answer direct questions about religion? Is it that we use unfamiliar language to describe our beliefs? Is it fear of the unknown?
I’ve been reading a book by David Pollock about Third Culture Kids (TCKs), kids who are raised in more than one culture. Pres. Obama is a classic example of a TCK: born in Hawaii, lived in Indonesia, has multi-cultural parents who are also bi-racial. TCKs have broader experience and perspective than someone raised in a mono-cultural environment, but these experiences also isolate them. They often have a harder time fitting in to any one culture, and they often resent what they consider to be unexamined narrow-minded prejudices and assumptions.
First, what is culture? Generally speaking, it’s the shared assumptions, beliefs and values of a group of people. It can include food, customs, behaviors, and even the prejudices that bind people together.
Both Huntsman and Romney are Mormon TCKs. Despite multi-generational Mormon ancestry, they have both lived extensively outside the Mormon Corridor. One type of TCK is the “hidden immigrant,” someone who looks like everyone else on the outside, but on the inside they know their values or assumptions differ from the predominant culture. This is one reason that Romney (as a TBM) struggles to connect authentically with religious voters (and with more conservative Republicans); he says “I’m just like you” but he knows in his heart that he’s not really. Huntsman (a not-so TBM) goes the other route; instead of trying to fit in, he points out how he differs (spiritual, not religious and other statements). In so doing, he will connect with voters as being more authentic, but some Mormons (especially TBMs) may resent the rejection of their values and culture. Both candidates run the risk of falling into a classic TCK trap: having difficulty identifying and articulating their own values because of their empathy with a variety of cultural values. The majority of voters are simple folks who favor clear-minded prejudice over situational values.
Romney & Huntsman’s experiences are not so rare among Mormons, just among Utah Mormons. Here are some of the experiences that lead to being what I am calling a Mormon TCK:
- Mormon kids raised where members are a rare minority. This one is the most common. A kid has to learn from an early age how to navigate a world where people may dislike Mormons, misunderstand them or never have heard of them. Even if someone was raised as a Mormon in a single location, but Mormons are uncommon there, they have had to navigate between two cultures on a daily basis.
- Children of converts. A kid becomes aware at an early age that their parents were raised in a different culture than the one in which they are being raised; extended family members may have different cultural values or break Mormon taboos like drinking coffee and alcohol and smoking. This would also include kids whose parents join the church while the children are living at home.
- One or more non-LDS parents. Children with a parent belonging to another faith or even LDS kids raised with a non-LDS nanny will be exposed to varied cultural values in the home. It could even include adoptees or foster children whose birth families are not LDS.
- Racial minorities. Kids whose parents are a racial minority in the church or who themselves are racial minorities in the church will adapt in cross-cultural ways. It’s not important what the race is, only that it is not the majority in the local ward the child attends.
So what are the benefits and drawbacks to being a Mormon TCK? First some benefits:
- Adaptability. They easily fit in with non-Mormons and can quickly adapt in groups where others don’t share their cultural assumptions; they come across as neutral and respectful. People are sometimes surprised to find out that they are Mormons because they aren’t aware that they are different. Of course, this means they make lousy targets for typical mission pranks.
- Less Prejudice. They are often more understanding of those who are from other faiths or various non-traditional backgrounds and who are in the minority. They may not even be aware of the standard set of prejudices that Mormons sometimes espouse. They don’t take an “us” vs. “them” mentality because they have been a “them” for so much of their formative years.
- Creativity. They are generally more willing to try new approaches or break so-called Mormon traditions. Because they don’t have pre-conceived notions about how church programs “should” be run, they “break all the rules” since they don’t know they exist.
- Confidence. They may develop self-confidence from being culturally unique. Their confidence may be taken for arrogance among those who don’t share their varity of experiences.
On the downside, they may experience some drawbacks when they try to fit in with the traditional Utah culture or to fit in with TBMs:
- Relativism. They may become so good at adapting to groups of people with different beliefs that they aren’t sure what they stand for or which things are values and which are beliefs. They may have a hard time grappling with the differences between their chosen values and the predominant assumptions they encounter at church.
- More Prejudice. They may go out of their way to point out how different they are from Utah Mormons, defining their self image as whatever the opposite is. They may resent the dominant LDS culture when they are exposed to it because they feel they don’t fit in. They may refuse to partake of the green jello, as it were.
- Anti-authoritarian. Because their values and assumptions were formed outside of Utah culture, they may be quick to identify cultural differences that they reject. They tend to be more questioning because of this cultural awareness.
Living in a Bubble
*NOTE 1: In some cases, those who are raised cross-culturally further entrench into their Mormon cultural bubble and develop an elitist attitude toward local values. This really only flourishes when parents have freely spoken with disdain about others. They become ultra-Mormon to combat the wicked world that surrounds them. The kids, however, still have to navigate both worlds. Unless the kids are home-schooled, they will probably get the crap beat out of them at school with this attitude.
**NOTE 2: To some extent, missionaries may develop a cross-cultural perspective, but there are two caveats: (1) most missionaries are already adults with fully formed values and beliefs, so they see the new culture in contrast to their existing values, and (2) many missionaries are capable of maintaining the cultural bubble while serving; mission rules can act as a cocoon of cultural protection (their intended purpose if I’m not mistaken).
TCKs vs. Utah Mormons
This goes a long way toward explaining why there are some negative feelings toward Utah Mormons or from Utah Mormons toward Mormons TCKs.
- Insecurity. It boils down to fear of rejection and in some cases, actual rejection. Mormon TCKs know that they don’t fit in and either they want to or they don’t. Either way, they want to be accepted for who they are, even though they are different and have different experiences. Utah Mormons may feel threatened by outside perspectives because their religious values are tied up with their cultural values. They may also feel that they are being judged as provincial or naive. And sometimes they are provincial and naive.
- Arrogance. Both sides may feel smug and superior, either because they fit in or because they don’t. Whether the arrogance is real or perceived, it creates a divide.
Are you a TCK Mormon? Do you share any of these experiences or attitudes? Discuss.
Taken in isolation, this reads like a huge serving of Blank Slate Theory, that who people are is a function of their upbringing.
“Why do voters have such a hard time connecting with Mormon candidates? ”
You just can’t sit down with them and have a beer.
Your case here for TCK is right one, I fully agree however there is a difference with Mormon candidates. Obama is, as you say a TCK, but many people connect with him because he smokes -sometimes- has a weird middle name that he tries to hide…etc but Mormon TCK also end up not being a part of normal society because they will never drink beer or coffee or watch some porn -all hallmarks of the modern man. So how can you connect with someone you don’t share any sins with?
And on top of all that both these guys look like a mix between your golf club membership salesman and some stuck up SOB CEO. But past presidents: Bush jnr -certifiable idiot- but he had a drinking problem in the past that everyone knew of, was still a party guy and was very much still one of the boys. Clinton? well the women etc just helped him be one of the people, someone they could connect with.
My theory is that a Romney or Huntsman will do very well in a gov for Utah race or Idaho but very poorly in a gov for Cal, Tex, Florida, NY …ie just about every other state there is, and hence does very badly counting electoral votes. And remember when Romney ran for MA he was both pro-choice and a ‘friend’ to gays….. ie just a normal MA voter.
I don’t think voters have time connecting with Mormon candidates. I think they have a hard time connecting with a caricature. Mitt Romney for instance has created a narrative about himself that is at odds with his real life. Voters (thankfully) saw through that and disregarded him in 2008.
We don’t know how national voters will respond to Huntsman as they have no idea who he is. But since he looks like the spitting image of Romney (clean cut, white, probably goes to a country club Saturday mornings for some golf, etc), they’ll probably say “again?”
I agree with All_Black that the last three presidents, voters were able to identify with them. The 1988 election had two candidates that probably didn’t fit this mold well (neither Dukakis or Bush could really identify well with voters), but before that, both Carter (a soft spoken religious folksy guy) and Reagan (an actor, thus able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes 😉 ) were able to connect with regular voters.
Personally I would never vote for Mitt “Double Guantanamo” Romney, but not because I cannot connect with him (though he is highly impersonable http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDwwAaVmnf4 ), but because he felt he needed to shift hard right in order to get enough conservative votes. As for Huntsman, if he doesn’t shift hard right, he would have my consideration in 2016. Obama has my vote in 2012.
and yeah, I’d be a TCK, I think. Romanian, American, Mormon, liberal leaning. 🙂
Interesting stuff. I would have thought if Romney were a true TCK, he would do a better job of fitting in as a candidate. It seems Dan’s right, though — Romney’s failure his first time around was less around anti-Mormon sentiment and more around his own lack of authenticity.
I think your assessment of Utah- and non-Utah-Mormons is pretty good, especially for those who go (as I did and some of my kids) as teenagers / young adults to study in Utah at a time when one’s hypocrisy meter is hypersensitive to everyone but oneself.
Interesting that one of my daughters — who lived overseas three times during her growing up years and is probably more TCK than any of my other kids (who each had less overseas exposure) — has adjusted best of all to life at BYU, able to look past differences more easily than some.
Yeah, I agree with Dan. The more to the right Romney went, the less appealing he was. Huntsman is more attractive to me as a candidate because of his more moderate stance and because I feel he is more forthcoming in talking about his faith. And, this is precisely why Obama might get my vote in 2012 – he has turned into a much more reasonable, dispassionate, and moderate decision maker than I imagined. Ideologically I still disagree with him on many topics, but I do think he is a rigorous and thorough decision maker.
As far as church goes, here’s my question for hawkgrrrl. Do you think that being a TCK makes it more likely/less likely that one will have a faith crisis? And what role does their TCK-ness play in moving from a stage 4 faith to a stage 5 faith if they did have a faith crisis? It seems to me, that some of the stage 5 attributes are already budding in a TCK. Thoughts?
Like with anything, the answer can be found in the Holy Scriptures. In this dispensation and as we are nearing the wickedness of the last days, a member living our faith will never be elected as paralleled in Helaman 5:3:
“For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.”
How true this is, our government has become corrupted. We have politicians selling votes for entitlements – they sell health-care, social security and other cradle to grave entitlements in exchange for votes. In exchange for power.
Can you image a LDS leader, or any other leader with integrity, proposing real solutions and getting elected? When I say real solutions, I mean: fair taxes like tithing at a flat rate, living within our means and cutting our current budget by 44 percent, working people all the days of their lives as suggested in the scriptures instead of retirement at 65, having a welfare system that requires contribution and accountability by it’s participants. In short, no – no way someone would get elected under these ideals. Someone that proposed these ideals would be considered crazy, but they are the ideals of our faith. They are the governing policies our faith, one of the most financial stable entities on earth.
#5 hit the nail on the head. Romney and Huntsman come across as in-authentic. Romney has flip-flopped on a whole slate of social issues. Huntsman is trying to accomplish the impossible of being Mormon for Utahns, and non-denominational outside the state.
I usually don’t agree with a single thing Harry Reid says, but at least he’s authentic.
I’m sure, by statements like that, that you disagree with the Alma’s definition of tithing in the “holy scriptures”:
But, then, you’ve probably never read this either.
Oh, Will, there you go again.
Have I misread you or are you calling all nations of the world corrupt who provide health care for their citizens?
Last I checked, tithing is not a tax, nor is it ever scripturally identified as a tax model.
And if there is no retirement, who will serve all those senior couple missions the church would like us to serve?
“….the people of the church….”
This does not mean the government, it means the people. You and I should help others, not some bloated, bankrupt government.
No, the corruption is government spending money they don’t have. The corruption is selling votes for entitlements.
Tithing is not a tax, but if the church is good with funding its operation as a percentage of income, then it should be fine for the government. My friends you make millions a year pay the same 10 percent as those that get by on 100K. Conversely, the rich get soaked in this country.
The Lord said thou shall labor all the days of thy life. Missionary work, if you have done it, is labor. It qualifies. I don’t care someone quits work at 25 as long as they don’t leach of anyone else.
I think I’m a pretty huge TCK.
1) Mormons have definitely been minorities everywhere I’ve lived.
2) I am the son of converts.
3) Racial minority? check.
Of course, being a TCK in general overpowers my Mormon TCKness, so I feel solidly culturally Mormon (even if I have a very particular and idiosyncratic definition of what that entails. [for starters “cultural Mormonism” is a product of correlation IMO, not a product of living in Utah.]
Growing up in the southern US, I usually interacted with other LDS folk only at church-sponsored activities/worship. When I went to BYU it was major culture shock, and it really messed with my head for awhile.
I married a non-LDS man, and I have often thought of my children as bi-cultural. While there are some definite downsides to this (feeling less than, everyone’s missionary project, etc.) I think my kids will develop the benefits you describe.
Definitely I was raised with the idea that Mormons outside of Utah were a healthier lot. My parents never wanted to raise us in the homogenous zone.
Re Andrew S
So do you envision that Utah simply has a higher “correlation” content or what? I’m not disagreeing per se, but curious as to how you would explain that the intermountain region has more “cultural Mormonism”? Or is it historical legacy of correlation?
Personally, I think it is almost exclusively tied to legacy, tradition, etc. in Utah. Correlation doesn’t appear to me to have the same effect on “non-Zion” Mormons.
No, Utah has “Utah culture” in addition to “Mormon culture.” It doesn’t have more *cultural* Mormonism. It has geographic idiosyncrasies that just happen to be propagated by Mormons.
jmb275 – there are a lot of similarities between Fowler’s Stage 5 and being a TCK. Likewise, there are a lot of similarities between Stage 3 and being raised in a mono-culture environment. I think it would be very rare for someone to be able to sustain being Stage 3 across the board with all the exposure to contrasting values and assumptions that a TCK has. But people are capable of blindness and lacking self-awareness even when they have rich life experiences.
Another interesting thing that occurred to me (as a Mormon domestic TCK) is that the church is the one constant for a kid who moves a lot as a child. Never having been to Utah really until college, I didn’t realize that the church would be so different there where it was the predominant culture – when its position in society wasn’t insecure and constantly having to explain itself. I didn’t realize that there would be prejudices, norms, and assumptions that were totally unfamiliar to me up to that point in my church experience. It was a culture shock, and a real eye opener. Like most “TCKs” I expected to be among people I could finally relate to, and in many ways they were the least like me of all.
Hawkgirl, Liked your evaluation. Living in Australia we have members who are Australian and mormon, and we have families who try to be Utah mormons. Our bishop for example does not watch local TV but has allows BYU tv, his kids all went to a private school with christian values, and there is nothing in their social lives that is not LDS.
For the benifit of Will we have a healthcare system where the Government owns the Hospitals and pays the doctors for our consultations and the Government has forecast a budget surplus next year. Perhaps we don’t have as much corporate welfare as you? Do you know that most countries that provide healthcare for their citizens spends less per capita than the US. So much for the private sector being more efficient.
As for an LDS Republican President of the US, I think it would be a disaster for the Church because the Republican view is seen by many people outside the US as so extreme, and we would be associated with his decisions. His actions would be seen as portraying the Church’ beliefs, and it would not be seen as pretty by much of the world.
We, for example, do not have a major party that would question a womans right to a first trimester abortion. An example of an area where republican view is an extreme view.
Obama is probably more popular outside the US. If he can cut aid to the Jews until they agree to respect the Palistinians enough to give them a separate autonomous state he will be a hero to many, and improve relations with the muslim world greatly.
So perhaps we do not need to fear a LDS Republican President.