Got faith? Hip Mormons without the religion

Oh, To Be Young, Hip and Mormon.

That was the stylish headline this week as the Old Gray Lady devoted 1,800 words to cool Mormons — as opposed to the regular, stuffy kind.

Hip Mormons, you should know, favor facial hair, tattoos and Pellegrino (mineral water that might make other partygoers "assume you are in recovery," instead of someone, heaven forbid, who does not believe in drinking alcohol).

As you might imagine, this New York Times literally salivates over the possibility of young Mormons who find a way around "what the church says." With all the hyperventilating, however, there's not much in the way of actual reporting (read: journalism) on what these hip Mormons believe or practice related to their faith. (There is plenty of ink given to special underwear.)

The top of the story:

WITH his manly stubble, flannel shirt and skinny black jeans, Brandon Flowers looks every bit the hipster front man for his rock band, the Killers.

With songs about drowning one’s sorrows in bourbon or exploring the seedy underbelly of his hometown, Las Vegas, Mr. Flowers has sold more than 15 million records worldwide. In the past, he has been candid about his drinking, smoking and taste for blackjack.

But in a gauzy four-minute video, an advertisement for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that was posted online earlier this month, the singer stares at the camera and says, “I’m a father, I’m a husband, and I’m a Mormon.”

For decades, the popular image of Mormon style has been shaped by clean-cut young missionaries on bicycles in dark suits, white shirts and skinny black ties — and more recently by the sculptured coif of the presidential candidate Mitt Romney or the sporty style of the motocross-bike-riding Jon Huntsman, another Republican presidential candidate.

But the boundaries of Mormon style are expanding. The highly visible “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign (the subject of a major push on television, billboards, the subway and the Internet) seeks to quash strait-laced stereotypes by showing off a cool, diverse set of Mormons, including, besides Mr. Flowers, a leather-clad Harley aficionado, knit-cap-wearing professional skateboarder and an R & B singer with a shaved head.

With that lede, you'd expect to read more details later in the story about Flowers, right? How do the lyrics of his songs mesh with what he believes? Does he still drink, smoke and gamble? Or did he give up his vices, and if so, how did his faith play into his personal transformation? Does he make it a point to attend worship on Sundays? Does he try to skirt the edges of his church's teachings? Why did he appear in the "I'm a Mormon? video? (For insiders, questions might include: Does he have a temple card? Is he a member in good standing who can do the required temple duties and rites?)

These are all questions that an actual journalistic report might address. The reporter would, perhaps, pick up the telephone and conduct an interview. Ask questions about Flowers' faith. Dig below the surface of "young" and "hip." But that does not happen in this story. Instead, Flowers makes a cameo appearance and then disappears entirely.

Interestingly, the Deseret News in Salt Lake City reported last week on the reaction to Flowers' video:

Flowers has never denied his faith, but his official declaration of it has set off quite a reaction. In the video, Flowers discussed striving to maintain his standards in the wild world of rock music. Rachel Kaiser, a backup singer in Flowers' solo tour, detailed what it was like working with him in a November Deseret News article.

"One of the first things he talked to me about was the fact we are both LDS," Kaiser told the Deseret News. "I think it was a way to break the ice."

The article continued: "Kaiser has been grateful for the high standards Flowers and others set. She has not been confronted with the partying, drugs and alcohol that often accompany musicians on tour."

No partying, drugs or alcohol!? Flowers sounds much hipper in the Times. But I digress.

Back to the Times. How's this for a blanket statement?:

Needless to say, countless Mormons work in fashion, design, art, music and film, and they generally dress and act just like anybody else.

At the risk of sounding petty, if they dress and act just like anybody else, what exactly makes them Mormon? Are we talking about cultural Mormons? Churchgoing Mormons? Again, the Times shows no interest in such relevant details.

But we get some salty language — courtesy of a Mormon! — at the end of the piece:

This is why many Brooklyn Mormons tended to host house parties of their own, Ms. Baker said. She recalled one party where someone brought a six-pack of O’Doul’s, which advertises itself as a non-alcoholic beer, “for shock value.” But typically, the only vice on display was sugar, in the form of a large dessert spread, the focal point of many a Mormon party, she added.

But even a table full of pies and pastries can pose a challenge, her brother, Britain, joked. “Because of all the dessert parties,” he said, “skinny jeans can be a bitch.”

Oh, To Be Young, Hip and Mormon.

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