By now you’ve probably heard the buzz surrounding Meet the Mormons, a documentary-style flick produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Critical reviews were universally negative, punctuated with unflattering descriptors like “shallow”, “sugar-coated”, and “propaganda.” On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has a solid 0% freshness rating.
But audiences are telling a different story. Fully 91 percent who have seen the film liked it. We’re not talking small numbers here; Meet the Mormons grossed over $2.5 million in its opening weekend, making it the 11th-highest grossing movie in the nation (net proceeds are donated to the Church’s longtime humanitarian partner, the American Red Cross). Sold-out shows were reported in places like New York City, Miami, Dallas, and Detroit.
Which tells me critics are missing the mark. Reviewers suggested the film is too glossy, but audiences are saying it feels authentic. Critics complained the subjects of the documentary are handpicked to prove a point, unrealistic, even too photogenic, but audiences say they felt they could relate with the kick boxer and the coach, the bishop and the Candy Bomber, the humanitarian and the single mom.
That’s where I come in. I’m a Mormon. I've lived the faith my entire life. I've met Mormons of all “shapes, colors, and sizes,” to borrow a line from the movie. There are average Mormons, to be sure, the same way there are average Catholics, average Baptists, and average atheists. But you won’t find average Mormons in this movie.
And why would you? I challenge you to find a converted Mormon who strikes you as average. It won’t happen because it can’t happen. Mormonism is designed to mold men and women into the sons and daughters of God the faith boldly proclaims they are. Converted Mormons learn to access a relationship with Jesus Christ that is deep, rich, and meaningful. It’s a relationship built on an understanding that we can change our attitudes and behaviors as often as we want to and as often as we seek our Savior’s help.
Converted Mormons learn to trust the Lord. They learn to stretch themselves. They fight to be a little better today than they were yesterday because they understand that happiness is found in becoming your best self. They serve because they've been gifted love and compassion from that same God who first showered love and compassion on them.
Converted Mormons are not average, and this not a movie about average Mormons. It’s a movie about believers. It’s a movie about ordinary people who nevertheless have accomplished extraordinary things because they were "converted unto the Lord.” You’ll find the same thing in Catholicism (Father Flanagan), Judaism (Eva Kor), and Islam (Latifa Nabizada), among a host of other faiths. Simple people accomplish great things when they live the vibrant tenets of their respective faiths.
I loved Meet the Mormons because I trust the participants are sincere, though I’ve only met one of them (Gail Halvorsen, the original Candy Bomber). I trust they’re sincere because I know hundreds of converted Mormons just like them: farmers, bankers, mission presidents, and moms; ordinary people who have lived incredible lives of consecrated service. Meet the Mormons reminded me of something I've long known but often struggled to live by: I want to be a good person.
If, in 78 minutes, a film can motivate me to do better and love others more completely, I’m calling that a success story.