shunn: (Elder Shunn)
Reading this edition of "The Big Question" at Hitfix.com got me thinking about the first R-rated movie I ever saw. The film itself—a Michael Douglas thriller called The Star Chamber—was not so memorable, but the circumstances around my viewing of it are, in retrospect, amusing.

The Star Chamber When I was growing up, the LDS Church strongly cautioned parents not to let their children see R-rated movies, so that was exactly the rule my parents established for us. I followed it, too, though not always happily.

I don't remember what it was about The Star Chamber that made me willing to break that rule. Since I was close to turning sixteen, it was probably just time for it to happen. My friend David, who was a little younger than I was, kind of wanted to see it too, so he asked his parents to take us. So, it was time plus opportunity, I suppose.

(I had seen R-rated movies already, but on video at friends' houses, not in an actual movie theater.)

We had to drive about ten miles north from Kaysville to Ogden to catch the movie. "I have only one condition for this," David's mother told me en route. She was an elementary school teacher, and in fact had already taught two of my sisters and was about to have a third start her class. She was a good Mormon woman, and my parents thought the world of her. "You can never, ever tell your parents I took you to an R-rated movie. Okay?"

I agreed, and getting away with something like that with the help of my sisters' grade-school teacher probably made the movie seem way cooler than it really was. Thank goodness for teachers.




This all happened thirty years ago, in August 1983. Interestingly, it was 1985 before my (sort of) hometown of Kaysville, Utah, ever saw an R-rated movie of its own. Kaysville had only one movie theater, the policy of which was to show nothing with a rating over PG (or maybe PG-13 by then).

It was huge news, then, when the theater decided to change its policy and show Beverly Hills Cop. The local Mormon congregations organized moms to come out and picket against the corruption of its child-safe, down-home entertainment venue.

Is it any wonder everyone seemed so fucked up at my 20-year high school reunion? I say that with all good humor.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
The following story is an outtake from my memoir The Accidental Terrorist. The names of most of the other participants, including relatives, have been changed to offer some small measure of concealment.


When I was eighteen, my father and I drove from northern Utah to Los Angeles for my cousin Delia's wedding. I had recently put in my application to become a Mormon missionary, and I had yet to learn where I'd be spending the next two years of my life. It wasn't for the sake of one last road trip with my father, though, that I agreed to tag along. I was hoping to meet Danny Elfman.

After the wedding—a brief affair in a tiny chapel like a sugar-frosted cake—the entire gathering moved down the road to the Arcadia Women's Club, a large banquet hall for rent, where a shaggy trio played jazz on a spare proscenium. A dozen long tables were set up in ranks across the room, and we enjoyed an abundant feast of cold cuts, casseroles, and cakes as the music played. "Hey," I said to my aunt Deborah, who sat across from my father and me, "I thought Oingo Boingo was supposed to play."

"All Delia and Sammy's friends are musicians," she said, "so lots of different people are playing. I don't think they're on until later."

elfman-boingo.jpg "Oh, okay." I glanced at my father, deep in conversation with Uncle Carl, and hoped he wouldn't make me leave too early.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. "Hey, is that my number-one cousin?" said a rasping voice.

I turned to encounter a beaming apparition in a powder-blue leisure suit. (This was 1986, and even then the look was smarmy.) "Markie?"

"That's me," said Markie, arms spread. He might have been taking the stage for a Vegas-style lounge act. "Didn't recognize me with the haircut, did you, Billy?"

The last time I'd seen my cousin Markie, a thicket of curly, light-brown hair had nearly concealed his face. Someone had taken a hacksaw to the tangle in the meantime, chopping it short and (mostly) squaring it off. "It took me a minute," I said. "You look ... great."

"Thanks. Figured my sister's wedding, I should clean up a little."

"Cool."

He grabbed my arm. "Well hey, Billy, come on. I gotta introduce you to the gang."

He dragged me first to a knot of shady characters clustered in a dim corner of the room. They had each made a stab at cleaning up for the wedding, but none had gone quite to Markie's extreme. "Hey, guys," he said, "I want you all to meet my number-one cousin Billy."

His friends transferred their beers to their left hands so we could shake, and I tried not to look too uncomfortable. I liked Markie, but his several arrests for drug-dealing were no secret in the family, and I figured I was rubbing shoulders here with a regular underworld convocation of scofflaws.

I glowed bright pink, ducking my head, as Markie gushed on. "He's the genius in the family. He used to say the alphabet backwards when he was just a little guy, wearing these great big, thick glasses. He plays the piano, and he skipped all these grades, too."

"Just one," I said. "First grade."

"And he's modest, too!" said Markie, slapping me on the back.

We worked our way around the hall, Markie and I, until finally we ended up in the kitchen among the fragments of turkeys and fruit pies, chatting with a huge dark fellow with a thick black beard, a leather vest, and arms sleeved in colorful tattoos. Markie dragooned him into helping us clean up the kitchen.

A half-dozen plastic garbage bags later, Markie's friend had made himself scarce. Markie leaned on his broom, lit a cigarette, and asked, "So what's new in your life, Billy? Girlfriend, anything like that?"

Markie's attention and his willingness to help with the scutwork behind the scenes at the reception had put me at ease. As we cleaned, he had regaled me with stories of close brushes with the law and of his drunken exploits at parties with Quiet Riot, and I laughed until my sides ached. His friends were nice guys, not at all the way I had pictured drug dealers. My horizons were expanding and I was feeling good. "No girlfriend," I said, "at least not at the moment."

"Bummer, man," he said.

"Well, it's no big deal. I'm leaving on my mission soon anyway."

Markie raised his eyebrows, dragging on his cigarette. "Mission? That's like what Uncle Doug's kid did. Lauren, right? Where'd she go?"

"Iowa."

"Yeah, Iowa. Where are you going?"

"I don't know yet."

"Hey, you're smart. They'll send you someplace like, I don't know, China or something. Not Iowa."

A broad open window above the counter in the kitchen looked out at the banquet hall. Markie puffed his cigarette, staring at the crowd. A new band played discordant rock from the stage, almost submerging the murmur of conversation.

"Hey," I said, "is it true that Boingo's supposed to play here?"

He nodded. "Yup."

"When?"

"I don't know," said Markie, distracted. "Party's supposed to go all night. Midnight they're on, I think."

"No way," I said, my heart sinking. It was only two in the afternoon.

Markie stubbed out his cigarette in the sink, still looking out at the crowd. "Hey, Billy, I see my friend Daisy out there." He motioned. "C'mon, you gotta meet her."

He led me through the door back into the banquet hall. "Who's Daisy?" I asked.

With a little backward glance, he headed down the row between two tables. He leaned toward me so he could speak quietly. "She used to be one of my girls back when I was pimping. She quit all that to get married, but I think I could still get her to do my number-one cousin for free."

All the breath left my lungs, like a giant rock had crushed my chest.

And suddenly there was Daisy.

She stood up from the table to greet Markie with a warm hug and a kiss, then sat down again. An empty chair waited to either side of her. Markie took the one closer to the stage. I took the other.

"Daize, this is my number-one cousin Billy," said Markie.

The woman dutifully turned to shake my hand, but without really noticing me. She was thin, around Markie's age, with skin tanned nearly to the texture of leather. Her hair was short and brown, and she wore a sleeveless pink denim dress so brief that it barely covered her crotch. The dress buttoned up the front, but she had it unbuttoned to the middle of her fairly flat chest. She wasn't wearing anything underneath. After her perfunctory greeting, she turned back to Markie, and I was forgotten in the minutiae of their small talk.

After several minutes, I grew uncomfortable and restless enough that I decided it was time to excuse myself. But just as I was making my move, Markie leaned past Daisy and said, in a complete non sequitur, "Hey, Billy—are you still a virgin?"

Swallowing, I settled back into my chair. "Yes," I said, feeling my limbs grow cold.

Daisy's head swiveled around like a radar dish, locking into place as its target was acquired. Her green eyes fastened hungrily on me, sparkling. "Ree-ally," she said.

"Look at that," said Markie. "He's a real Shunn. He can say that without even blushing." He stood up and patted both Daisy and me on the shoulder. "Hey, I've got someone I need to go talk to. I'll catch both of you later."

Then Markie was gone. My lifeboat fled, I bobbed helpless and seasick on an unknown ocean.




Daisy's shoulders shimmied a little. I could see the play of muscles beneath her skin as she squirmed in her chair. She hunched forward like a confessor or a confidant in her flimsy metal folding chair. Her bare knees nearly touched mine.

"So, you're a virgin, Billy," she said.

I did not find her attractive, but still she exuded confidence and sexuality like a musk. I swallowed. Her eyes held me fast.

"That's right," I said.

"So, Goody Two-Shoes, what do you do? Do you mess around a little?" She shifted on her chair, smiling mischievously. "Do you eat pussy?"

My mouth was so dry I nearly choked. The giddy thought went through my brain that if Mormonism were a graduate program, then this was my real oral exam. It took me a moment to find my voice. "Uh, no—no, I don't."

Her brow furrowed in question. Her teeth were small and even. "Well, why not?"

The scents of meat and cigarette smoke seemed to thicken in my throat. "Because of my religion," I said, somewhat stiffly.

Daisy burst out laughing. My cheeks blazed.

"Sorry, sorry," she said, waving her hand as she tried to get herself under control. "Religion, I'm sorry, I can respect that, I can respect it. You must take it very seriously."

I nodded, trying to keep the tremor from my hands. I felt humiliated.

"What religion is it?" she asked.

"Mormon," I said. "I'm going to be missionary pretty soon. I have to ... adhere to standards."

She leaned in close. I could smell the soap she had washed with, and I could see down her dress to her navel. "Look, I didn't mean to laugh. That's a great thing, really." Her voice dropped to a husky, conspiratorial whisper. "But tell me, Billy—have you ever seen the inside of a cathouse?"

"Uh, no."

"Would you like to? I could give you a personal tour."

"Well, I'm not sure I ... I..."

"Here, I'll give you a card." She felt the breast pocket of her dress. "Shit, they're in the truck. And I can't go get one or my husband will see me." She compressed her lips in thought. "Here, do you have a pen?"

I patted my breast pockets. "Sorry, I'm fresh out."

"Damn," she said. "I'd give you my number and you could call, but—" She shrugged. "Well, that's life."

"C'est la vie," I agreed.

She rested her chin in her hand, scrutinizing me through quizzical eyes. "Tell me one thing, Billy. Let's say you wandered into a cathouse somehow, and a woman there tied you up and started to rape you. What would you do?"

I sighed, brows raised. "I don't suppose there'd be much I could do. As long as I was helpless, I guess I'd have to just relax and try to enjoy it."

Daisy smiled. She patted my knee and stood up. "You know something, Billy? You're okay."

She slung her purse over her brown, brown shoulder and strolled away into the crowd: some wicked, postmodern Mary Poppins hunting children more corruptible to nursemaid. Her image in my mind's eye didn't fade so quickly as she did, nor did her touch on my knee.

If only she knew how corruptible I wished I were.




Dazed, I wandered back to where my father was sitting with Aunt Deborah and Uncle Carl. Almost as soon as I sat down, my father wiped his mouth with his napkin. "Well, I think it's time for us to be leaving," he said to the relatives. "We'll see you back at the house."

I looked at my watch. "But ... Boingo..."

"You don't want to be here until midnight," said my father.

And that was that. I never did get to meet Danny Elfman. But years later, that's not the missed opportunity I can't stop thinking about.




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
Back in September, I took advantage of the chance to support a very worthy-seeming Kickstarter project—helping to fund the completion of a documentary called Mormon Movie.

The director, Xan Aranda, also made festival favorite Andrew Bird: Fever Year, but this new project is something more personal. Check out this preview reel to see what I mean:



The Kickstarter campaign is long done, but you can still help support Mormon Movie at The Hideout this weekend in Chicago. Just buy a ticket to their third "They Shoot Indies, Don't They? Dance Derby Fundraiser Spectacular" and show up to dance and win prizes. It all gets started Saturday, February 2, at 7:00 pm at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia. Tickets are just $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

theyshootindies.jpg

I'd be there myself, except it's bowling night.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
ep29cover600x600.jpg My good friend Cesar Torres recently had me on Episode 29 of "The Labyrinth," his fine podcast about the strange and unusual.

We talked about my Mormon upbringing, how I tried to avoid writing a novel, what not to do when you're learning to write, and of course the strangest thing that ever happened to me. If could go back and do it over again, I'd tell myself to slow down and take a breath, but you can listen to my exhausting rush of words here:



Cesar and I are in a writing group called Error of Judgment together. He has also interviewed our fellow workshoppers Eden Robins and Holly McDowell, plus lots of other fascinating people. Check it out.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I read the following essay, which appears in somewhat different form in the epilogue to The Accidental Terrorist, in the Essay Fiesta series at The Book Cellar in Chicago, on December 21, 2009.


There is no worse feeling than, five minutes after some unpleasant confrontation has left you tongue-tied, humiliated and confused, smacking yourself on the forehead and exclaiming, "Oh, my God! That's what I should have said!"

This is not that kind of a story. This is the story of how I once delivered the perfect rejoinder, in the moment, when it counted. I tell it not to demonstrate how smart, suave, or clever I am, but because it so rarely happens that way with me. In fact, this may be the only story of its kind I have.

This happened in December 2003, at a Christmas party my wife Laura and I threw at our apartment in Queens, New York. Our parties, if I do say so, were legendary, always with an interesting mix of people, and always with good booze, and plenty of it.

Among the many invitees were my old, old friend Katrina and her new husband Bernard. Katrina and I had gone to high school together in Utah, dated seriously for a while afterward, and stayed in touch over the intervening years. Bernard was Dutch, and nine years her junior. They met in graduate school at the University of Fairbanks, where Katrina finished a master's degree in microbiology. They had just moved to Connecticut and taken jobs with a big pharmaceutical company. Our Christmas party was my first time meeting Bernard. He struck me as a nice enough fellow when I took his coat and hat at the door, if a little reticent. I put it down to the nerves you get at a party where you don't know anyone.

But an hour of sampling our beverage offerings loosened Bernard's tongue considerably. Did I say "sampling" our offerings? A better word might have been "plundering."

I was talking with a small group of friends in a corner of the kitchen when the young Dutchman—a newly minted doctor of chemical engineering—came sauntering over and inserted himself in the conversation. In a slurred accent, he said, "You know what I just found out that I did not know before? I found out in the car on the way down here. This guy here"—he indicated me with the wineglass in his hand—"he used to be engaged to my wife."

I looked around the small group I'd been chatting with. It included my long-time friend Bob, and also my friend Elizabeth, who is blind.

"Well, this is awkward," I said.

"Yeah," Bernard went on, "he like got engaged to her at some airport."

This was true. It was the Salt Lake International Airport, seventeen years earlier. I was about to get on a plane and leave for two years as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormons. Katrina and I had only been dating for a few weeks at the time, but we had fallen desperately in love—as people often do when an attraction manifests and the time to act on it is short. I wanted her to wait for me while I was away saving souls in the wilds of . . . Canada, and she had been dropping big hints that a certain question might serve to seal that deal.

I didn't like the intent look on Bernard's face, nor his belligerent tone. I hadn't been in a fight since junior high (Jason Peterson), but I really didn't want Elizabeth caught in the middle if things were about to turn violent. I tried to play it casual.

"That was a really long time ago," I said. "We were kids. I was nineteen."

"Yeah," said Bernard, "and my wife was twenty."

"Time to change the subject, Bill," said Bob, who among other jobs had worked as a merchant seaman. "You're only digging a deeper hole."

"Can you believe this?" Bernard said to the group at large, spreading his arms and sloshing some of his wine on the floor. "I only just found out. That's a pretty big thing."

I suffer, I'm afraid, from the delusion that reason and calm words can actually make a difference in the world. "Not really, it's not," I said in an offhand tone. "It didn't mean anything. To Mormons, getting engaged is like a pastime. It's a sport, it's just what you do. It's not the same as for other people."

This, also, was true. Mormons so heavily stress finding a mate and getting married that women are considered old maids at 21. But by the same token, engagements made under that intense pressure can also be rather fragile. I myself was engaged no less than five more times before it finally took, which didn't even match my father's record of seven engagements, one marriage.

Of course, by the time I did get married, I had long abandoned the LDS faith, as you might have deduced from the copious alcohol at our Christmas party. Which had somehow gotten me into this tense and uncomfortable conversation.

Bernard was undaunted by my footnotes to his pronouncements. Unfazed, he addressed the group at large, unsteady on his feet. "You know what else I found out? There was something about a ring, this ring—made out of wrapping paper?"

I looked around the group again. "Foil," I said. "It was the foil wrapper from a stick of chewing gum."

I was nineteen, had never lived away from home, and was about to embark on a two-year experiment in poverty. No way I could afford a real ring. So when I got down on one knee in front of Katrina in that airport departure lounge, I pulled out a foil gum wrapper folded twice lengthwise, wrapped it around her ring finger to size it, tore off the excess length, and fastened the ends together with a piece of Scotch tape I had stuck to the ATM card in my wallet. Voila! Instant engagement ring.

Of course, it was worth about as much as I'd paid for the gum. I came home two years later only to have Katrina tell me that she'd met someone else while I was away. (That ended up being her first husband, whom I'll call . . . Jerkface.)

"Yeah, yeah, that was it," said Bernard, wagging a finger at me. "A gum wrapper. And you know what else?" He leaned in close enough for me to gag on his breath, but without lowering his voice any. "She still has it. She still has that ring."

I was stunned, completely stunned, but I tried not to let it show as I delivered my verbal judo flip, my coup de grâce.

"That's nothing, Bernard," I said, patting him on the shoulder. "I still have the gum."

For a second there, Bernard looked like he believed me. Then everyone laughed good-naturedly, and he did too. The situation was defused. Bernard wandered peacefully away in search of other entertainment.

"You really dodged a bullet there, pal," Bob told me.

As I watched poor Bernard drift around the party showing people his stomach tattoo, I realized that I probably had. Back in 1988, that is, when Katrina broke up with me.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
To follow up on my post from Friday, the latest issue of Rolling Stone features an article by Mikal Gilmore called "Mitt Romney and the Ghosts of Mormon History." It provides an excellent overview of how the Mormon Church has drifted away and distanced itself from its founding philosophical ideals, and how Romney has done the same with his own family's legacy. Here's a great passage:

When Romney veers from liberal to conservative to moderate stands, what he makes plain is that the world he is in, but not truly part of, is the political world. The shifting is a sleight of hand, like Joseph Smith's magic, a means to an end. That end is higher attainment in the big payoff, the eternal world. As a result, expecting Romney to be accountable to a secular morality is to misunderstand him. That's part of the Mormon hubris, and it's what grants him the right to withhold specifics about both his political vision and his deeper beliefs. But if you hold yourself apart from the world, how can you understand those who do not? And how can they ever understand you?
Gilmore was born into a troubled Mormon famly, and his grasp of the church's history is incisive. I'll link to the article if it ever appears online, which I hope it will in the next couple of weeks.

Mikal Gilmore also wrote the excellent memoir Shot in the Heart, about his relationship with his brother Gary, the executed murderer, and their relationship with the church and its murky doctrine of blood atonement. Dark, dark, dark, but highly recommended.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
Referring to his fluid political positions, a number of commentators of late have been making statements to the effect that the only thing Mitt Romney seems to believe in is that he should be president. That got me thinking about how such a belief might have arisen, and how it might explain all the shifty flip-flopping we've seen over the course of the presidential campaign—and, in fact, the whole of Romney's political career.

Mormons believe that God has an individual plan for every one of us. This is not to say that they believe in predestination, an idea that would play havoc with their crucial belief in free will. Mormons instead believe in the doctrine of foreordination, in which God has specific tasks in mind for each of us to accomplish in this life, but with the actual accomplishment of them being dependent upon our own faith and diligence.

romney-cross.jpg Another thing Mormons believe in is personal revelation. This means that if we have a problem or a question or a goal, we can turn to God in prayer after sincere consideration and ask for direction. God, we are told, will answer either by causing a confusion to come upon us that makes us forget the thing that is wrong or by affirming through a burning in the bosom that the thing is right. (See Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-9.) No good Latter-day Saint should undertake any major pursuit without having gone through this process of spiritual confirmation.

But this is a tricky doctrine. When I was growing up, I myself was able to convince myself that God approved of many different courses of action that probably weren't so good for me, simply by praying about them persistently and feverishly enough. And this is where Romney's belief that he should be president comes in. I have no doubt that, being a faithful Mormon and in fact a Mormon leader, he prayed long and hard about whether or not to pursue this office. The fact that he threw his hat so firmly into the ring is proof that he received his spiritual confirmation.

In other words, Romney must believe that running for president is what God wants him to do, that it is in fact God's plan for him. This belief could trump any need to have a detailed and specific policy plan. He'll say whatever it takes to get into office because that is where God needs him to be.

One of the great heroes of Mormonism is the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi (either a fictional character or a real human being, depending on your point of view on these things), who was charged by God with obtaining certain scriptural records from the keeping of a bad old fellow named Laban. God needed Nephi to get those records, and anything Nephi had to do to accomplish this was fine—up to an including lying and murder. (See The Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 3 & 4, and specifically this passage.) (By the way, the same sort of anything-is-okay-because-I'm-righteous philosophy justifies every horrible action committed by another fictional character created by a prominent Mormon—Ender Wiggin of Ender's Game.)

Mormonism is steeped in this idea. What I really worry about, to get right down to it, is that Romney believes not only that God wants him to be president, but that there is some specific crisis coming which he is the only leader capable of meeting. It doesn't matter what this crisis may be. Mitt himself probably has no inkling yet of that. But when the time comes he will recognize it, or will think he does, and he will do what he thinks God wills.

That's what really scares me—that where Mitt Romney himself may have no plan, his God surely does. And there's no way for us as voters to know what that may turn out to be.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
Mitt Romney's comment about "binders full of women" during the debate the other night could not have been more unfortunate, especially considering his family's history of polygamy. Anything that inadvertently conjures up images of the young women in Roman Grant's "joy books" on Big Love is probably not a place Mittens wanted to go...




Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
As the Republican National Convention gets into full swing today, one of the topics that probably won't be talked about very much is Mitt Romney's religion. It's odd that this has become such a non-issue during the campaign, given that a) Romney is the first Mormon ever to receive a major-party presidential nomination, and b) the Mormon Church is the fourth largest church in America.

mitt-romney.jpg Wait, what? The fourth largest?

Yes, I too was startled by that statistic, which I've been hearing time and again from various outlets—for instance, in an "On the Media" story from late last year about the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign. I was catching up on that episode via podcast when this statement from LDS Internet and Advertising Senior Manager Ron Wilson caught my ear:

"Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest church, fifty percent of the population didn't really know who we were."
The fourth largest church. I was raised Mormon, which means I was raised with the Mormon inferiority complex. Somehow that assertion didn't strike me as quite right. It sounded like a small man reporting his height in inches, not feet. I decided to do some digging.

In the strictest sense, I discovered, the statistic turns out to be absolutely true. The Mormon Church is the fourth largest church in America. Thing is, that number on its own doesn't mean quite what it seems to imply. Calling something the fourth largest of anything is a good way to make it sound significant, but of course its significance depends entirely on a) the sizes of the larger somethings, and b) the method you use for counting.

So let's examine the numbers. You'd expect the fourth largest church in the country to represent a significant fraction of the population. According to the 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, the Mormon Church reported a total of 6,157,238 members in the United States in the year 2011. That's a lot of people, no doubt, but out of an estimated 311,800,000 Americans, that's just a hair under 2% of the population, or about 1 in every 50.

By contrast, the largest church in the country, the Catholic Church, reported 68,202,492 members. That's nearly 22% of the population, and more than 11 times the American membership of the Mormon Church. Running a distant second is the Southern Baptist Convention, with 16,136,044 members (5.2%), followed by the United Methodist Church at 7,679,850 members (2.5%).

But this begs the question of how a "church" is defined. In the case of the 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, what we're talking about is organized religions. This means that the Southern Baptist Convention is counted separately from the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. (5,197,512), which is itself counted separately from the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. (3,500,000), and from the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America (2,500,000).

In all, there are six different Baptist denominations listed in the Yearbook's top 25, with a combined membership of 29,651,610 (over 9.5% of U.S. population). Similarly, the three Methodist denominations listed in the top 25 total 11,579,850 members (3.7%).

Moving on down the list, we realize that when we ask which has the larger membership, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (4,274,855), the answer is the LDS Church. But if we ask whether there are more Mormons or Lutherans (6,553,441) in the country, the answer is Lutherans. And mind you, I'm only looking at the top 25 denominations, which account for a little under half the population of the country!

(And yes, I know there are other Mormon sects—notably the Community of Christ, with about 250,000 members worldwide. It's hard to get an accurate count, but altogether these sects would appear to number less than 350,000 throughout the entire world, so they don't really change the math by much.)

slctemple.jpg So far, our analysis has dropped Mormons down to fifth place, if we're talking about broad families of denominations. But what about the Evangelical movement? According to a 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 26.3% of Americans, or more than a quarter of the population, identified themselves as Evangelical. Though countless small churches make up that number, taken as a whole the Evangelicals form the largest religious movement in the country, larger even than Catholicism. This drops Mormons to an ever more distant sixth place in the national standings.

The point is, simply saying that the Mormon Church is the fourth largest in the country, while technically true, implies that it's far more significant a player than it actually is. Out of every 100 people in the United States, 26 are Evangelical, 22 are Catholic, nearly 10 are Baptist, almost 4 are Methodist, more than 2 are Lutheran, and a bit fewer than 2 are Mormon.

By pointing this out, I'm not saying there aren't a lot of Mormons in America. Six million is clearly a large number. It's just not nearly as large as you might expect from the oft-repeated statistic. In fact, the figure of one Mormon in every 50 Americans pretty much implies that, out of 50 states, we have exactly one state's worth of Mormons in the country. Which we all pretty much knew anyway.

So let the Mormon Church continue to aggrandize itself with a misleading statistic. We've had a Quaker president in the past, and Quakers don't even come close to making the top 25. The truth is, maybe Mitt Romney's religion isn't all that big a story after all.


UPDATE: Thanks to Eleanor Lang for pointing out that Herbert Hoover was also a Quaker. That's two past U.S. presidents from a denomination that's about 18 times smaller than Mormonism.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
Mitt Romney is used to being called "President Romney." From 1986 until 1994, he served as what's called a stake president in the LDS Church. A stake president is the lay ecclesiastical leader who oversees a local group of Mormon congregations (wards) and their bishops. Mitt led the Boston Stake, comprising about 4,000 Mormons at the time, all of whom would properly have referred to him as "President Romney" and addressed him as "President." Not only that, but once released from the calling he would still have been called "President" by his flock, as a courtesy, in recognition of his past service. Once a president, always a president.

(One wonders whether, once Mitt became governor of Massachusetts, church members started addressing him as "Governor" or continued addressing him as "President." Hmm. I could see it going either way.)

mittbot.jpg I don't want to sound prejudiced, but that past as part of the LDS hierarchy is one of the reasons I instinctively dislike Mitt Romney. I don't know if it's chicken or egg, but there's a certain demeanor that men at the level of stake president and above seem to bring to the calling. Not all of them, but certainly a majority of them. There's a bland kind of handsomeness. There's an aura of being not quite present, of being above everything and everyone around them. There's a core of certainty to everything they say, backed up as it is by the full weight of a highly centralized doctrinal structure. Their delivery is usually grave, as if they're delivering difficult news straight from the mouth of God himself, except when there's a forced, cheesy jokiness that seems calculated to soften the rest of this authoritarian, patriarchal baggage. And there is never, ever a sense of the real person underneath. The role inhabits the man, not vice versa.

The best way to get a look at the parade of blandness that is the LDS leadership is to tune in to a televised General Conference in early April or October. If you don't see a marked similarity between the way Mitt Romney comes across and the way most of the church leaders present themselves as they address the worldwide membership of the Church—well, let's just say I'll be surprised. There's a good reason Mitt comes off as such a robot to so many people. The Sanctibot-1850 is a proud Mormon tradition.

Like I say, not all Mormon leaders come across that way. I've known many of them, particularly down at the lowly level of ward bishop, who were warm and understanding and human—and also obviously not destined to rise far in the Church ranks. But on those occasions that I've met one-on-one, behind closed doors, with the Mitt-style leaders, I've always come away intimidated and not a little terrified by way they seem to channel the cold, wrathful, unshakable judgment of God in the counsel and censure they calmly and coolly offer. These are not men you negotiate with. These are men who tell you how it is, and how it's going to be.

Now that Mitt has won the Michigan primary and is that much closer to capturing the Republican nomination, I'm that much more terrified of a masked man like that, already accustomed to the title of president and with full confidence in the correctness of his calling, occupying the Oval Office.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
To follow up on yesterday's belated review of The Book of Mormon, I wanted to tell you about a funny thing that happened after the show. book_of_mormon_elder_shunn.jpg As at most Broadway productions, we were invited to contribute to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS by depositing cash in the buckets that cast members would be holding various exits. When we reached the main floor from our nosebleed seats, I pulled a twenty out of my wallet and made a beeline for Lewis Cleale, who was still in his Joseph Smith costume.

Now, you have to understand that I came to the show in costume. Laura had dug up my old missionary name tag, which I proudly wore together with a white shirt and tie (much to the amusement and/or chagrin of our theatergoing companions). Imagine the confusion and concern of the poor actor, dressed as the founder of Mormonism, as, after a production lampooning the faith, a stout Mormon missionary marches straight up to him. According to my friend Chris Connolly, the man flinched as if I might attack him.

Imagine his relief when all I did was tell him what a great job he'd done as I dropped money into his bucket. Yeah, that was fun.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
It used to be that when people would find out I'm a former Mormon, they'd ask me whether or not I watch Big Love and how closely it matches my experience of growing up in Utah. (Answers: "Yes" and "Not much.") Over the past year, though, that has changed. Now they ask whether or not I've seen The Book of Mormon.

The answer to that is yes. In fact, as soon as the Broadway production was announced, Laura and I started making plans to visit New York and see it. With my background, how could we not? We put together a group of friends that included my agent and got tickets for April 9th, about two weeks after the show's official opening. I bought our tickets early enough that it wasn't hard to get seats for a group of eight on our preferred date. But by the time we actually saw it, the hype had revved up to such a wild extent that people were asking us how on earth we'd managed to score tickets.

The Book of Mormon—from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez—was the most celebrated new musical of the 2011 Broadway season, and it's easy to see why. book_of_mormon_poster.jpg It has everything an audience in search of some dangerous New York City titillation could ask for—dirty words, blasphemy, violence, Mormons, sexual innuendo, frequently all crammed together into catchy production numbers—all consumable from the relative safety of a plush theater seat. It's been a giant hit with crowds and critics alike, landing nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical), five Drama Desk Awards (including Outstanding Musical), and who knows how many best-stuff-of-the-year lists. It kicks off a national tour this August, and a Chicago production will take up residence in the Bank of America Theatre this December. People are falling all over themselves to tell you how good it is.

Is it really that good? I don't think so. Did I enjoy it? Yes, to an extent. Was it funny? Yes, to an extent. Was it anything like my experience as a missionary? Yes—but to a very small, almost irrelevant extent.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of Kevin Price (Andrew Rannells), a Mormon youth who dreams of serving as a missionary in Orlando, Florida. Instead, he gets assigned to Uganda with Arnold Cunningham (an irrepressible Josh Gad) as his companion. Elder Cunningham is just about the biggest screw-up ever to pass through the Missionary Training Center, and Elder Price tries to put the best face on both disappointing assignments.

But Uganda turns out to be even more hellish than he could have imagined. The more experienced, longer-serving missionaries have not managed to convert a single soul in that war-ravaged land. Poverty and famine reign supreme. AIDS is rampant, its spread only exacerbated by the belief that it can be cured by having sex with a virgin (which spawns a surfeit of baby-rape jokes). A local warlord rules with a bloody iron fist. And the villagers get through their days by cursing God in no uncertain terms from behind philosophical grins.

Elder Price, depressed, does his best to preach the gospel according to Joseph Smith, but throws in the towel after the warlord, General Butt-Fucking Naked (Brian Tyree Henry), murders a man in front of him. It falls to Elder Cunningham to take over the proselytizing effort. But the well-meaning Cunningham, who didn't pay very close attention in class at the MTC, has never actually read the Book of Mormon, which forces him to invent gospel stories more tailored to the realities of life in Uganda.

The Book of Mormon is, above all else, funny—side-splittingly funny through a couple of long stretches. Okay, I'll say it. I think my first viewing of the South Park movie in a crowded theater was the last time I laughed as hard as I did right up through the show-stopping musical number "Hasa Diga Eebowai," an incredibly profane and blasphemous riff on sunny, reductive ditties like The Lion King's "Hakuna Matata." (On the off-chance you've been living in a cloister for the past twelve months and don't know the translation of "hasa diga eebowai," I won't spoil it for you.)

The songs are mostly terrific too, certainly up to the standards of the past twenty years of Broadway musicals. The production numbers are tuneful and funny, and there are even good laughs to had in the quieter numbers. book_of_mormon_scene.jpg (A particular favorite of mine is "Baptize Me," a song that very cleverly casts a request for cleansing from sin into the mode of one of those syrupy R&B loss-of-virginity ballads.) And the performances are certainly spirited, especially Josh Gad's in the role of the hapless but well-meaning Elder Cunningham.

But the show suffers in other ways. From a dramatic standpoint, the story's through-line is fractured by the disappearance of Elder Price, the nominal protagonist, through large portions of the second act. (I know that Price's character is meant to skewer the trope of the Broadway hero whose naive confidence enables him to conquer the world, but that doesn't mean it works.) Characters behave in inconsistent ways that undermine the plot—the murderous General Butt-Fucking Naked, for example, who early on is unafraid to shoot an innocent villager in the head or to sodomize a missionary with a holy book, but in the end is cowed by inspirational stories. The violence itself plays more like a blatant attempt to shock than an organic element of the plot, as if a page from a Quentin Tarantino script had been pasted by accident into the book, and introduces an unwelcome tone of reality that sits at odds with the relative sweetness of the rest of the production.

All that is forgivable, but the worst sin The Book of Mormon commits is to grow boring through much of its middle. Somewhere on the way to the muddle that takes Elder Price out of the spotlight, the show just stops being clever. It never exactly stops being funny in a low-level way, but neither the plot nor the jokes rises above a certain bland level of predictability. Oh, so one of the older missionaries is a repressed homosexual? Yawn. So the naive young Nabulungi (Nikki M. James) imagines Salt Lake City as a magical wonderland where the warlords are kind and there's a Red Cross on every corner? Ho hum.

The show catches fire again toward the end, after the miraculous conversion of nearly the entire village catches the attention of the Mormon mission president, who comes to congratulate the local missionaries and is treated to a hilarious production number in which the villagers rehash all the mixed-up misconceptions Elder Cunningham has taught them about the Book of Mormon. Some of this material verges on the racist, but The Book of Mormon is ultimately saved, if not redeemed, by the villagers' innate understanding that they are not being taught literal truth but rather a series of parables intended to help them process and deal with the harsh realities of their daily existence.

This final message about religion's palliative effects in a grim world did enable me to leave the theater with a smile on my face, but I still can't shake my conviction that The Book of Mormon is hardly the flawless gem so many people seem to think it is. Still, I can't deny that I had a lot of fun watching it, and the funny parts are so funny that most theatergoers will probably forgive the parts that drag.

All right, so that's my review of the production itself. But how accurately does it reflect the realities of Mormonism, and of the lives of Mormon missionaries? Well ... not all that well.

Don't get me wrong. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done their research, at least into Mormon history and doctrine, as two rather funny numbers ("All American Prophet" and "I Believe") amply demonstrate. They've come a long way from the days of Orgazmo, their 1998 film about a Mormon missionary who becomes an accidental porn star, which was wall-to-wall stupid-funny but didn't have the glimmerings of a first clue about Mormon teachings or missionary life.

They had a much better handle on things Mormon by the time they made the infamous "All About Mormons" episode of South Park in 2003, which I gave high marks for the accuracy of its portrayal of the way the church presents its own history. book_of_mormon_elder_shunn.jpg But in the interim Parker and Stone have only somewhat improved their knowledge of the way missions work.

One of the things they get right, which matched my experience to a scary degree, is the crushing sense being exiled to a strange land for a period of time that seems so long it may as well be forever. They also nail the feeling of despair that comes from being saddled with a companion not of your choosing who doesn't share your same work ethic.

But the mechanics of missionary life they get mostly wrong. "Two by Two," for instance, the song in which the young elders at the Missionary Training Center get their assignments, makes for a fun production number, but is based on fantasy. In reality, missionaries learn where in the world they'll be sent months before they report to the MTC. They also are not normally assigned to be companions with other greenies, and certainly aren't assigned to just one companion for the full duration of their missions. New missionaries get more experienced elders as their first companions in the field, and their companions rotate every two or three months. (I had over a dozen different companions myself over the course of my mission.) And no missionary would ever be allowed to leave the MTC with as non-existent a grasp of the basics of Mormon theology as Elder Cunningham demonstrates.

Most wrong of all, though, is Elder Price's desire to serve his mission in Orlando. I have no doubt that plenty of lazy young men, hoping for two cushy years, have no greater ambition than to serve an English-speaking mission in a subtropical tourist destination, but that in no way reflects the thinking of young Mormons with ambitions to set the world on fire with their preaching. No, the glory-seekers among us (myself included) hoped for the most difficult assignments in the most exotic locales imaginable. Central America. Southeast Asia. Communist Russia (which was rumored to soon be opening to missionaries at the time I was putting my application papers in). These were the places we wanted to go. An elder as ambitious as Price would have been beside himself to get a calling to Uganda.

But if it sounds like I'm calling out the creators of The Book of Mormon for sloppiness, I'm really not. The reality of Mormonism is almost incidental to the show, which is not actually about Mormonism. Instead Mormonism is a proxy for religion itself, a safe choice for giving adherents of other faiths room to distance themselves from any critiques leveled in the production, which really aren't very deep. I can't even call The Book of Mormon a black comedy because in the end it doesn't have the conviction of its meanness. It has no interest in skewering the religious impulse, or in pushing its ideas to any absurd dark extreme. It lands sunny-side up, and is satisfied with the status quo. This, despite the lip service to naughtiness and edginess, makes The Book of Mormon a supremely conservative production, and thus perfect for Broadway success.

If I had to sum my opinion up in one sentence, I'd say that The Book of Mormon, while quite funny and entertaining, did not offend me nearly enough.

Coming to London's West End in 2013:  Book of Mormon London

Find tickets here:  Book of Mormon Tickets

And for more great shows:  London Theatre Tickets



Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I know it's not nearly as cool as getting a carton of books from a traditional publisher, but the private printing of The Accidental Terrorist from my Magick 4 Terri auction has arrived, and I think these books turned out really darn well, if I do say so myself.

Private printing has arrived!

I've signed and numbered every copy, and I'm excited to get them out to the winners. In fact, I'm heading off to the post office right now to overnight them.

Inside the book

But this only makes a vexing question more vexing. Of the five books I ordered, I'm sending three (Nos. 1-3) to the auction winners and keeping one (No. 5) for our own bookshelf.

But what shall we do with No. 4? I've considered several different options for disposing of this volume, but none that I've quite found satisfactory. If you have any suggestions for where I should send it or what I should do with it, please let me hear them.

In the meantime, No. 4 will sit on the shelf next to No. 5, awaiting dispatch to its as-yet-undetermined proper home.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I've finished designing the books that will go to the three winners of my Magick 4 Terri auction and placed my order with Lulu.com. With a little luck, the lucky recipients will have their copies of this special private edition of The Accidental Terrorist before New Year's Day. (By the way, I decided to upgrade them to hardcover with full dust jacket. Yeah.)

Here's a sneak peek of what the cover looks like. Eventual publishers of the commercial edition, please feel free to steal my design.

accidental-cover-front-small.jpg


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill

Dedux

Dec. 2nd, 2011 01:03 pm
I was complaining about The Walking Dead a couple of weeks ago. I finally saw the mid-season finale (an oxymoron, for sure), after having somehow managed to avoid any spoilers. I have to say, it was great, it was visceral, it was shocking, it recast the entire season so far. What it did not do, though, was atone for how boring the season was up to that point. Here's hoping the remainder of the season can maintain that level of intensity, even if the characters are still more types than people.

In other follow-up news, I've been waiting for the Mormon missionaries to call me after their visit back in October, but they still haven't. I feel rejected. I feel jilted. I feel not worth saving. I feel upset that I haven't been able to invite them in and then tell them that praying out loud is not permitted under my roof.

Dammit. Maybe they found out more about me and are afraid. Maybe they just didn't like me. Oh, well, life is short.
Yesterday I mentioned a pub in Brooklyn called Mooney's, which sadly no longer exists. It was on Flatbush Avenue near Park Place, right around the corner from the apartment where I lived from 1995 to 2001. My 30th birthday party there was a very memorable occasion, but thinking about Mooney's reminded me of another funny memory from that place.

It was June of either 1997 or 1998, I can't be sure which. I don't usually watch much sports, but I was still a relatively recent transplant from Utah and the Jazz were playing the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. I made a habit of slipping out to Mooney's to have a few beers and watch the games.

Mooney's was a great bar and always drew an eclectic clientele. I got to know a few of the other patrons over the course of the series, simply because they were curious about why I was cheering so loudly for Utah. I had been noticing one other patron in particular, who seemed to know a lot of other folks in the bar. He looked like an Orthodox Jew, with a white dress shirt, black pants, prayer fringe, skullcap, thick beard, and side curls. He always had a lit cigarette in one hand and a pint of beer in the other, and as he watched the games he was more vociferous and profane in his cheering than just about anyone else in the place. He looked to be about my age, and was the biggest bundle of contradictions I think I'd ever seen.

One night late in the series, I was sitting by myself at a high table opposite the bar when this fellow came weaving my way. "Hey," he said to me over the din, jabbing his cigarette at me. "I just heard from some people that you're a Mormon. From Utah."

I shrugged, sipping my Guinness apprehensively. "Yeah, I guess that's true."

"Man," he said, shaking his head, "that is so fucking weird." And he weaved his way back to the bar for another beer.

29

Nov. 21st, 2011 09:03 am
So there's this meme going around on Facebook where you give someone an age and they write about their life that year. I was given 29.

29 )
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
They finally caught up with me. It was bound to happen eventually.

It was Sunday evening. Laura and I had only been back home for a couple of hours after a long weekend in New York City. The doorbell rang. We had placed an order for Indian food only about twenty minutes earlier, so I grabbed a fistful of the cash I'd left on the sideboard and went down to answer the door.

It wasn't our food delivery. It was a pair of well-scrubbed young men wearing dark suits and black name tags. Yep, it was the Mormon missionaries.

"Hi, I'm Elder McAlister, and this is my companion Elder Nielsen," said the first. "We're looking for Donald Shunn?"

I had a choice to make. I wasn't going to be lame and deny who I was, but I did need to decide how nice I was going to be and to what extent I would engage with them. On the one hand, I was annoyed that someone (probably but not necessarily a member of my family) had given the Church my latest address, so my name now appeared on the rolls of the local LDS ward. On the other hand, these two kids were only doing what the Church had programmed them to do, and twenty-five years ago you would have found me doing exactly the same thing. On the other other hand, I had long pictured this moment and seen myself having an open, honest discussion with missionaries about my beliefs. Thanks to my excellent agent Joe Monti, my mission memoir is currently out on submission with some major book editors, so it was high time I started getting some practice talking frankly and without rancor with people of opposing beliefs.

"That's me," I said, shaking hands with both of them. "But I go by Bill."

"Well," said Elder McAlister, "we're just going around visiting with ward members who haven't been out to church for a while, wanting to see how you're doing. We wondered if there was a time when we could come visit with you."

"I'd be happy to talk with you some time," I said. "I have to be honest with you though, I haven't been active in the Church for well over fifteen years, and in fact I actively disbelieve in it. But I don't mind talking."

I gave them my phone number and told them I remembered what it was like to be where they were standing. They seemed surprised that I'd been a missionary. I asked them where they were from, and they asked me where else I'd lived and what had brought me to Chicago. I told them I was a writer, and that in fact I'd just finished work on a book about being a missionary. It was a quick leap from there to a brief telling of my bomb threat story, which seemed to blow their minds. Elder Nielsen was surprised to learn that, after being kicked out of Canada, I had served for a couple of months in the town he was from, Yakima, Washington. All in all, I managed to keep the kneejerk hostility the Church still brings out in me under control and (I hope) out of my voice. They were nice kids, though they clearly didn't know quite what to make of me.

I didn't ever invite them inside, because Laura was getting some work done and we had dinner on the way. But I probably stood out on the porch talking with them for ten minutes or so. I wonder if they'll call to make a return appointment. If they do, I hope I don't make them too uncomfortable when they come back. I think a frank discussion would be a good learning experience for all of us.
shunn: (Elder Shunn)
Laura and I were talking over some of the difficulties I've been having this week with my revisions of The Accidental Terrorist when she gave me the absolute perfect image for the central conflict in the book. The main character, in her view, is a fly trapped in a spiderweb, struggling to free itself with only the vaguest notion of the nature of its predicament.

(See, I'm the fly, and the LDS Church is... Yeah.)

This image is so spot-on, so apt to something I was struggling to articulate to myself, that I wish I could somehow work it into the book. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, since I don't want to be too heavy-handed about it), I'm pretty much constrained by the reality of my experiences during the six months of my life that the book covers, and those six months did not include any spiders.

No, the spider didn't become a factor in my mission until five or six months after the events of the book. I was serving in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, by then. My companion and I lived rent-free in a small house in the middle of a wheatfield owned by some local Mormons. We were a little bored in that town, and one thing my companion did to pass the time was adopt a little spider that lived in a web in the window frame of one of the empty back rooms. He would go around the house catching flies and dropping them into the web, then watch the spider kill them. This was the best-fed spider in northern Idaho. It grew so quickly that after about a month its web (which it unstrung and re-spun every day) was so strong that you could strum it like a guitar and it wouldn't break. The spider itself was as big as the first joint of my thumb.

When that companion eventually got transferred out of Bonners Ferry and a new one took his place, the two of us decided that the spider had to go. It was so big that neither one of us dared to get close enough either to relocate it or to smash it to death. Instead, we used a cigarette lighter and a can of hairspray to flambé it from a safe distance. We could hear the individual strands of the web pop in the flames. The spider itself shriveled up and crackled with an awful sound.

I have several other animal stories from that Bonners Ferry house, involving mice and bats and such, but they're even more disturbing than this one so I'm going to save them for the sequel. The most disappointing animal story, though, was that we slept in one morning and missed seeing a huge moose in our front yard. The nearest neighbors had tried to call us, but apparently the phone didn't wake us up.

Where did this post start? Oh, yeah. With my wife being awesome.
Almost exactly five years ago, I called your attention here to a brouhaha in the small town of Kanab, Utah, over the adoption by the city council of a non-binding resolution defining the family as "one man, one woman" with a "full quiver" of children. A few months later, Laura and I visited Kanab (a town founded by Mormon polygamists), where we were pleased to see many businesses opposing the resolution with "Everyone Welcome Here!" stickers in their windows.

I wish I'd known sooner, but I've just learned that there's a documentary out about the whole controversy:

Natural Family Values

I can't vouch for the quality, not having seen it yet, but you can be sure I'm ordering a copy and will watch it with interest.

I note also that major funding for Natural Family Values was provided by the B.W. Bastian Foundation, an organization that supports issues of LGBT equality.

The B.W. Bastian in question is my former boss Bruce Bastian, co-founder of WordPerfect Corporation. I like what he's been doing with his fortune in the days since WordPerfect Ruled The Earth. Another documentary that Bastian produced is 8: The Mormon Proposition, which I watched recently. It's an investigation into how the LDS Church secretly led the successful effort to pass Proposition 8 in California, which outlawed gay marriage, and, more generally, into the hideous ways gays have been treated by the Church. It's an excellent film, and is available to stream from Netflix, but be sure to have a box of Kleenex and a punching bag handy when you watch it.

I want to say more about 8, but I'm still trying to calibrate the shotgun blast that post will be.

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