Is It Just Me?


Or is this picture as disturbing and offensive as I think it is? (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Today, my partner and I took a not-Mormon-but-married-to-an-ex-Mo friend to the Mormon bookstore in our area preparatory to her departure to Salt Lake and grad school at the U. Even though said friend is married to an ex-mo, there’s still a lot about Mo culture she hasn’t grasped and we’re trying to help her acclimate as much as possible before she leaves, hence we all felt a trip to the local bookstore was in order. So off we ventured.

Is it just me or is Mormonism getting kitschier and kitschier? The amount of crap (and I mean crap) that can be purchased to show your allegiance to Relief Society, Young Women’s, and missionary service, not to mention theological concepts like eternity, faith, and holding to the rod (only a man could have come up with that phrase, by the way) is just astonishing and makes TBMs look like blatant hypocrites in light of their criticism of their ‘friends of other faiths’ (i.e.: Catholics.)

Anyway–I found this ‘painting’ in the section where the stuff for Young Women’s is at and it was everything I could do not to heave. I showed it to my partner and she said, “Know what? That I find offensive. As a woman, I’m personally offended by that.” I found it flat out creepy. And all I could think was, “I’m sure they didn’t intend to portray Jesus as a polygamist, but that’s sure what this looks like.”

In a word (and so unacademic and sociological of me): ick.

This ranks right up there with Julie Ann’s comments on The Mormons, I think, particularly part two in the PBS special documentary. If I’m missing something here, though, someone please impart some FLAK. Otherwise, I’m stickin’ with my first reaction and assessment: ick.

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32 Responses

  1. chanson says:

    So Jesus himself is giving the purity object lessons to the girls? I agree it’s a tad creepy….

  2. Hellmut says:

    I agree. That picture is creepy. The dirty uncle in the neighborhood and Jesus the polygamist rolled into one.

    The reason why so much Mormon art is kitsch is because the members feel obligated to support members of the tribe. A little bit of criticism can go a long way in terms of raising standards.

    Of course, there are some great Mormon artists. Unfortunately, too many of them are getting marginalized in their community. I guess that they are too good.

    Jesus is right again: Prophets don’t get recognition in their own community.

    PS: check out some of Helaman Ferguson’s stuff. Chanson probably knows him.

  3. John says:

    Is the pure white rose of his manhood? My partner and I applied beer ad deconstruction to this and it works well, just replace beer with roses, and put a bit more clothing on the women.

  4. pilgrimgirl says:

    It’s not just icky because of the polygamy thing, but also because of how Jesus is holding the ‘rose’, how he’s sitting, etc. It’s just as subliminal as many beer and cigarette ads. blech! And it’s offensive that the blondes are behind him with their faces showing and the ‘ethnic’ woman’s face is totally obscured and she and the YW are in the most submissive postures.

  5. KingM says:

    Either the artist can’t wait for the return of polygamy or he/she is hopelessly naive about the subliminal message of this painting.

    And is it just me, or does this look like the same style and quality as the art in the Watchtower tracts? You know, the weird Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets that give their bizarro interpretations of the bible.

  6. The beatific expression on Jesus’ face pondering his consorts reminds me of paintings of Krishna and Radha. Krishna and Radha were definitely a thing. I’m OK with religious sexual symbolism, but this just makes Jesus look like he’s got groupies.

    Now that you mention it, there’s not much difference between the average Deseret Book and the gift shop in the Basilica in Lackawanna NY where I bought my lucky four leaf clover as a missionary. Very kitsch.

  7. chanson says:

    I’ve heard of Helaman Ferguson, but I don’t think I’ve ever met him.

  8. I think it’s obvious what’s going on here: SEX SELLS.

  9. Tolworthy says:

    A yellow rose? How symbolic!
    In Victorian times (when these things were taken very seriously), a yellow rose meant “dying love” (Wikipedia), jealousy ( and in Islamic culture it represents deceit and treachery ( Now the picture makes sense. The artist is trying to tell us something.

  10. Tum2 says:

    I just love how “ethic” or “diverse” (to a Mormon) means long dark hair and slightly olive skin.

    Also, while we’re on the polygamy theme: one thing I used to hear about intermarriage no-nos was that the reason the church was/(is?) opposed to BlackWhite interracial marrige is that it had implications on polygamous families, i.e, that should polygamy ever suddenly come back, families should all be “the same race.” I know, repugnant, but that’s an excuse I was given when some pimply faced (White) dude at BYU broke up with me, late ’80s.

    ~signed, a Black ex-Mormon 🙂

  11. Mathew says:

    “I just love how “ethic” or “diverse” (to a Mormon) means long dark hair and slightly olive skin. ”

    Tum2, that’s a very bigoted comment.

  12. Pompous One says:

    CHanson: Euew. The purity object lesson. I hadn’t looked at the picture that way, but that’s also creepy! Yuck.

    Hellmut: And of course, the word ‘art’ is applied so loosely here. What’s scary is, this is the image young women are given with which to cultivate their own image and self-worth. Really frightening. And why doesn’t the church send its ‘sanctioned’ artists to Europe or NYC to be classically trained any longer (like they did in the late 1800s and early 1900s?)

    John: Beer with Jesus! Now there’s a party I’d like to go to!

    Pilgrimgirl: Amen!

    KingM: I’ve thought that a lot about Mormon ‘art’ of late! Have they hired a JW to do their illustrating, because any time (which is rare) I pick up a copy of the Ensign or other church pubs, I wonder exactly that. It’s uncannily bizarre….

    Jonathan Blake: It’s all kitsch, I agree. But it’s the hypocrisy of Mormons regarding their kitsch that galls me.

    SML: You’re so right! I wonder if that’s the mention the church intended to send with this ‘painting’! They really need to do more focus groups and include no-Mos and ex/post-Mos in said groups.

    Tolworthy: Interesting information on the symbolism of roses. Thank you! Perhaps the artist is trying to tell us something, but I doubt it. Probably not smart enough to do that kind of homework before incorporating something so banal as a rose.

    Tum2: I’m sorry you were told that. One day Mormons will finally get that when God said he expects us to be a ‘Zion people’ he meant all of us regardless of labels.

    Mathew: As a woman of Irish-Scottish-Welsh-Swiss German descent, I didn’t find Tum2’s comment bigoted at all, because most times that is how people of various colors and ethnicities end up portrayed in Mormon art. What I did find bigoted was that someone told Tum2 that interracial marriage would be banned within the construct of polygamy. Meanwhile, my guess is, the pimply white dude would’ve had no problem marrying a woman of Asian, Pacific Islander, or ‘Lamanite’ descent. Bottom line is I think the dude was a bigot and a racist. The larger point here, though, is how others are portrayed in Mormon art and I would say, not well!

  13. Pompous One says:

    Oops. SML: I meant to say “message” not “mention.” Ugh.

    Oh, and Mathew: The largest point of all is the message that is given to young women as a result of this kind of ‘art.’ And again I would say, the message is a poor one.

    That’s the point.

    In fact, while the picture made me think of “Jesus as Polygamist” that’s just a small part of it. The larger image is one of subordination of women to the supposed higher authority of a man. It’s the same message women receive in scripture, at church, and even in the temple. It’s a message that says, you are inferior and require a strong male figure to make you whole and a little more than inferior.

    It’s sexist, degrading, and offensive.

  14. Mathew says:

    Pompous One,

    If you want to condemn bigotry on the one hand and give it a pass on the other that is your business–but I don’t find it persuasive. Substitute the word “Jew” for “Mormon” and see if that affects how you view the statement. Of course it if does, you may need to examine more closely your own prejudices towards “Mormons” (as if such a monolithic group or culture existed to which such sweeping generalizations could be made).

    Certainly Tum2’s experience at BYU is abhorrent, which makes is more difficult to understand why she would carelessly (I assume it was careless rather than the product of intended malice) visit bigotry on others. Ah well, none of us are perfect–we’ll just have to struggle on trying to exorcise the worst parts of ourselves however we may.

    One other thought–it doesn’t strike me as particularly useful to speculate about what the pimply-white dude would have done. He already comes off looking pretty bad–no need to read further into what he would or wouldn’t have done as it reduces him to a silly caricature rather than someone who you might think is pretty nice if you chatted with him in the grocery store. If all the bad people in the world grew neatly clipped, square mustaches it would be much easier to know who to look out for–and we could check our own status by simply looking in the mirror instead of engaging in the laborious process of examining our souls.

  15. Tum2 says:

    Yoiks! Sorry to offend, and if my comment was construed as “visiting bigotry on others,” I sincerely apologize, although my descriptive stantement still stands.

    To clarify:

    In reference to and agreement with comment #4, I found it personally amusing that the “eth(n)ic”–forgot the “n” the first time–woman of the painting/print pictured here was slightly darker-skinned with dark hair. Having lived in Utah, it struck me as funny and true. As I recall, and in my experience, the “exotic other” was someone who was not of obvious Scandinavian descent. If this is a “racist” observation, please educate me as to why. and accept my apologies.

    Second, the young man in the BYU incident as related in my post did happen to be Caucasian, and the “pimply faced” was meant to be a descriptor as well as an indicator of his relative youth. This was more than 20 years ago, and I chuckle over both my and his “pimply-faced youth”s. Were we not all pimply faced youths in late adolescence? This is not to say that many or all Caucasian males–or males in general for that matter–are pimply faced, or fall under any other less than beautiful description.


  16. Hellmut says:

    Tum2, I think that Mathew might have meant the young man’s language.

  17. Tum2 says:

    Thanks, Hellmut. I was repsonding to this remark of his, however:

    “Certainly Tum2’s experience at BYU is abhorrent, which makes is more difficult to understand why she would carelessly (I assume it was careless rather than the product of intended malice) visit bigotry on others. Ah well, none of us are perfect–we’ll just have to struggle on trying to exorcise the worst parts of ourselves however we may.”

    I still don’t quite understand what he meant, but if that is the “worst part of (my)self”, I’m doing pretty darn good.

    Anyway, sorry to anyone for any possible offense.

  18. Pompous One says:

    Mathew: Again, I stand by my comment. Tum2 made what I believe was a valid observation about Mormon culture and the manner in which it portrays ethnic diversity. It’s hardly bigoted when you’re a ‘pick – your – demographic – label – that – falls – below – white – hetrosexual – American – male’ and you don’t see yourself within the group you’ve joined–be that a church, a political party, a civic organization, a country club, whatever. In the case of this line of comments, ethnic diversity is grossly and negligently unrepresented. And what little representation there is, is patronizing. It’s as if we’re patting someone on the head and saying, “There, there. See? We’ve included you, even though you are black/ gay/ Hispanic/ Asian/ transsexual/ female.”

    But again, the larger point here is the message this picture sends to young women about how they are valued and perceived within a patriarchal system.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  19. Mathew says:


    I wasn’t offended–rather I was making an observation. I don’t have time to get bent out of shape everytime I encounter a bigoted statement. I doubt you do either.

    Your statement is bigoted because you fail to delimit it. You’ve taken a negative stereotype that may be applicable to a narrow band of people and made it generally applicable to the whole. Likewise it would be bigoted if a person said “I just love how “generous” (to a Jew) means leaving a $2 tip.” To your credit, you don’t seem invested in your statement which makes me think you were careless or uneducated rather than acting out of malice.


    Feel free to stick by your views which you believe are true–George Wallace stuck to his closely held beliefs for well over a decade.

    Just a little investigation on your part would quickly give the lie to Tum2’s comment. Every child in primary knows over half of all members of the church are outside the U.S. A healthy percentage have brown skins. You might also want to launch a more serious investigation into the world of Mormon art and see if your thesis holds up. Right now you are cherry picking.

  20. Tum2 says:

    Mathew, I did ask you to explain what it was that I was delimiting, and which statement you found bigoted. If you are pimply faced and I insulted you, my apologies.

    I doubt that I’m the only one who is ignorant (or in your words “careless and uneducated”) of what is bigoted about “my statement.”

    It takes me less than a minute to type a paragraph. In that space of time, could you please enlighten me about what what so bigoted so I will not repeat at (at least on any blog that you may read!)?

  21. Tum2 says:

    Ah. Never mind. I read my first comment again, and I see where I may have appeared “bigoted.” I wasn’t unedjimacated–just “careless.” Carry on.


    Hellmut–please feel free to delete this any any/every (one) of my comments if you see fit. This is why I don’t do well on discussion boards or blogs. 🙁

  22. Pompous One says:

    Mathew: I accept your challenge to prove my thesis.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I will state the following up front.

    1. I have a master’s in Religion and Society from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California (Class of 2000.)

    2. My area of specialization is Mormonism with a specific focus on the sociological impact and effect of Mormon culture in the lives of contemporary Latter-day Saints.

    3. As I cannot do an exhaustive, comprehensive survey of all Mormon art from a global perspective due to constraints of job and resources, at this time, let us agree that I will at least do a survey of art and illustrations that are specific to North America.

    4. In conjunction with that, I will look at the period of art and illustration that commenced with the correlation of church auxiliaries and their respective cirricula, as well as an overview of art in the LDS Church Museum.

    5. I will survey art and illustrations to ascertain the level of ethnic diversity in said mediums.

    6. If time allows, I will do a survey on the effect of this art–its impact and understood message–in the lives of Mormons.

    7. I can’t promise that I’ll have this by a specific date as I have to juggle a job and several other personal obligations, but I’ll do my best to do this quickly.

    Do that work for you?

    And Tum2, please stick around. You commented in the best spirit and with ill-intent, I believe. I would be ashamed and saddened if you left.

  23. CWC says:

    Well, Tum2, I’m with Pomp on this one – you are more than welcome to share YOUR views of YOUR experience in YOUR [former?] religion. I normally get paid a lot of money for this, but I’ll give it to you all here for free (yes, you can thank me later): What Tum2 said was not in fact bigoted or discriminatory.

    Mathew – you’re grasping at very thin straws. It is beyond irrelevant whether the pimply white fellow at BYU would be a Super Nice Guy to talk to at the supermarket (you might want to go read Hellmut’s post about Hannah Arendt and the Mormon experience). The fact is, he made quite racist remarks to Tum2, and in doing so, HE represented his entire religion in saying ‘the church’ supported (tacitly or explicitly) his views about polygamous miscegenation.

    I will also note that in the research I used to do for the church, I analysed very large, longitudinal data sets, as well as qualitative depth interviews, that support Tum2’s point quite well: Mormons do tend to have quite racist views. Yes, to this day. The legacy of the PH ban and its underpinning folk AND official doctrines do not go away so easily. (Particularly when the leadership leaves them lying dormant rather than truly putting an end to them.)

    Comparing mormon racism to such a stereotype as Jewish ‘frugality’ is ludicrous and offensive. I reject any comparison between the Mormon experience and the Jewish experience on its face. You show me ONE (white) mormon who’s suffering in society ANYWHERE because of mormonism’s history of racism, and society’s prejudicial rejection of said mormon due to that racist history, and then we’ll talk.

    Tum2, I hope you’ll continue to post here – you have said nothing that needs to be deleted or edited. Please don’t believe for a second that Mathew speaks for anyone but himself.

  24. Mathew says:

    Pompous One,

    You definitely sound like you are well qualified to test your thesis. I wonder if you know my sister who would have been getting her masters degree in epidemiology at Cal at the same time you were there. Were you active in the singles branch/ward there?

    I have some concern with the parameters you set out in your proposal, namely that they make the usual mistake of using North American Mormonism as a proxy for the whole. The urge within and without Mormonism to treat the Utah-centric North American experience as representative is problematic on several levels, one of the most important being that it marginalizes the experiences of Saints in other parts of the world. Ironically, or perhaps not, the church itself has been at the vanguard in promoting a more global vision of Mormon arts through its sponsorship of the International Art Competition.

    It’s your time and your study, but from my point of view, it would be more interesting to look at depictions in Mormon art from, say, South America or Ghana. And by including non-North American Mormon artists you get the added bonus of recognizing their experience and work as authentically Mormon. If you insist on using North America as your yardstick, perhaps you should compare ratios of depicitions of different races within Mormon art from two regions such as Ghana and Colorado.

    On an only slightly related note, the biggest problem with the depiction that started this thread is that it just isn’t very good. Including more minorities or women in less submissive postures isn’t going to redeem it. Better artists handle some of the same themes better:


    You seem to have misread my comment about the zitty dude at BYU and missed my point about the zitty dude potentially being nice at the supermarket. Take a moment to reread it and let me know if you think your second paragraph is still responsive. Hint: I used the word “abhorrent” when referencing Tum2’s experience.

    I have not at any point argued that many Mormons do not have racist views.

    I did not compare Mormon racism to Jewish frugality but I will stipulate that the comparison is ludicrous.


    I agree with Pompous One and CWC that you should continue to post here. You actually read what I wrote which I appreciate. I found it ironic to encounter your statement on a thread so full of outrage at the “othering” of individuals but your sincere apologies are completely disarming.

  25. aerin says:

    Mathew, while the Utah LDS church may be promoting more of a global perspective in its art, I tend to judge how homogeneous and diverse a religious organization is by its leadership. While the LDS church obviously has members around the world, on every continent (I’m assuming Antarctica) the leadership remains solidly North American, caucasian and male.

    Yes, there may be three or four token men of color or from different countries than the US or Canada. Many of the apostles are in fact related by blood or marriage – descended from the early mormons.

    So, given the nature of the leadership, I think it’s safe to say that the LDS leadership in Salt Lake does not value diversity. Otherwise they would work to be more inclusive of men with different backgrounds.

    When watching General conference, one could be struck by all the diversity and women one saw on the stand. Currently I just observe how male, elderly and caucasian the majority of the leadership is. Faiths like the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) has a woman in their first presidency. I’m not suggesting that one faith is right, just that it’s more than possible to bring in diversity in the leadership if you are interested.

    I don’t think anyone here was giving the impression that ALL mormons are a certain way, ALL mormons live in Utah, ALL mormons believe in polygamy or are white, etc. I may have misread some of the comments. I think that some LDS do meet these characteristics – just as people in many different groups could meet the same characteristics.

    The question also remains, as Mathew suggests, if the LDS leadership wants to promote diversity, diverse perspectives and tolerance, why is this poster on sale at the bookstore? What is the message that it is supposed to send to the audience? Why isn’t some of the art from Ghana or Tongo on sale? Is it because it’s just not as popular/there isn’t a market for those pieces of art? I don’t know the answer.

    But I do know I would never have heard this conversation in my young women’s courses or in sacrament meeting – while I was active.

  26. Mathew says:

    aerin wrote: “I tend to judge how homogeneous and diverse a religious organization is by its leadership.”

    If you are going to use a proxy value to measure diversity in the membership you shouldn’t be surprised if your results are inaccurate. I don’t know why someone who allegedly values diversity would seek to devalue and marginalize the membership of millions of non-caucasian people in an organization because they do not belong to the leadership. Should I let my Asian friends know you don’t think their membership counts?

    I would love to continue this discussion but I”m leaving on a road trip and won’t have internet access for the rest of today and possibly tomorrow. Until then, au revoir.

  27. Zelph says:

    YES, YES, YES!!!!!

    We have that exact picture in our building next to where the young women meet. I know what the intention is, but it has ALWAYS made me feel uncomfortable, particularly when investigators come in and see it.

    Investigators already hear rumors about certain past church leaders that have claimed Jesus as a polygamist, so without knowing anything else, they might see this picture and run! I swear if I didn’t know any better, that is exactly what I would have thought- O.K. so the Mormons DO believe that Jesus was a polygamist.

  28. Zorillia says:

    The LDS church does not teach that Jesus was a poligamist. In fact, there is no information that he was ever married. The LDS church does not teach or practice poligamy nor do any of its members. If members are found practicing poligamy they are ex-communicted. Even if a member shows empathy toward any group that supports poligamy, they are quickly repremanded, and if they continue their association, they may be ex-commnicated.

  29. chanson says:

    The LDS church does not teach that Jesus was a poligamist.


    In fact, there is no information that he was ever married.

    except in the Journal of Discourses (the Ensign of its day), where one of the G.A.’s taught that Jesus was a polygamist.

    The LDS church does not teach or practice poligamy nor do any of its members.

    in this life. Polygamy in/for the afterlife is still taught and practiced.

    Even if a member shows empathy toward any group that supports poligamy, they are quickly repremanded, and if they continue their association, they may be ex-commnicated.

    In other words, the various branches of Mormonism (such as the CoJCoL-dS in Salt Lake and the FLDS) don’t get along with one another.

  30. chanson says:

    Zorillia — Sorry, I’m not trying to be rude — I realize that those are exactly the misleading half-truths that faithful members are encouraged to recite every time this subject comes up. And I’m sure they work fine with nevermos, but there’s no point in reciting those lines here — among Mormons — who know the rest of the story.

  31. morgan says:

    im a mormon so lets get your thoughts strait jesus is teaching them. It is a painting hung up in my church building in our young womens room. It reminds us that he cares and that he will always watch over us and guide us when we need him. it makes me sad that people dont get the messege but happy that you were brave enough and curious enough to ask abot this. and just so you know we are LDS, mormon is only a nickname. have a nice day!

  32. Hellmut says:

    Hi Morgan, good to meet you. I hope that we will get to know you better.

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