The Ethical Dilemma: Stormin’ Mormon and the “Right” Answer

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Stormin’ Mormon: I’m very conflicted. I was raised Mormon in Provo, Utah; Dad taught at Brigham Young University. I worked for the LDS Church in upper management with the upper clergy for a living and held a fairly high position in the church as well. Last year I got fired from work, and my current wife and I ex-communicated because we started dating before my divorce was final. Now I’m working for large multinational corporation and guess who my primarily client is—wait for it—the Mormon Church!

My biological mother (not the one that raised me–that’s another fun story there) who gave me the best advice one could give a child: Stretch your wings, discover who you really are. I’ve done that, married the woman I met through my son who was dating my now daughter-in-law (they got married ten days after us; feels like the song, “I married my own grandpa”).

I am now firmly a humanist and atheist, but I’m struggling greatly with the desire to declare my secular beliefs. They could potentially hurt my career and my immediate family who are still praying for me. (Hell, I even worked for Marie Osmond for sixteen years!) I lead the social practices of a Mormon, even served a mission in Boston and met Mitt Romney before he was Governor, but never felt like a Mormon on the inside. I finally feel like I’m in my own skin. My wife is in total support, we are both very successful and it won’t hurt her line of work if she or I come out. She has had a very bumpy road through life as well. Was a convert to Mormonism after having been in the Navy, a dental tech, a stripper, drug addict, stay-at-home mom, abusive ex-husband (who even had sex with her brother, and their Mormon bishop told her brother and husband not to tell her), and now she manages dental offices and tolerates me.

So do I run with my heart, how I feel and what makes me happy—or contain this desire to declare who I am for who knows how long?

We have been advised to blog and write about our experience, and I’m in the middle of setting up our site, to get the blog and a book started. (The website came to me while listening to The Humanist Hour podcast with Bo Bennett, and he asked the guest what his web site was and he, joking, said that.)

Yes, this reads like a really crazy soap opera with Dallas and The Beverly Hillbillies all rolled in. But I’m confused and seeking advice. Thoughts?

—Future Author of the New Book of Mormon

Dear Future Author,

I agree with the advice that you should blog and write about your experience. And that would necessitate coming out, which you are already on the brink of doing.

It’s not clear whether you were fired because you and your current wife jumped the gun or for other reasons, and it’s also not clear whether your job calls for an actual Mormon to provide client service to the Mormon Church (I’ve known Jews—including one whose last name was Israel—who worked on Muslim public relations accounts). Although requiring a Mormon to do your job could be illegal, fighting that is another can of worms. Perhaps you can get yourself assigned to a different client, or find a position that doesn’t include Mormon in the written or unwritten job description.

The only other argument not to come out is your concern with disappointing your Mormon family. But they are probably already disappointed that you got yourself excommunicated, and that you married a not-so-Mormon woman. Most families are far more resilient than they let on, and there are often other closeted members just like you. So I see a limited downside versus a limitless upside to “running with your heart”—particularly since you are clearly bursting to do so.

Your birth mom gave you great advice. Do her the honor of following it: Stretch your wings and discover who you are. Just be sure to be extra kind and respectful and loving to the family that raised you in a faith that, after you gave it your best shot, simply doesn’t ring true for you. And then pursue your new life with the same gusto you demonstrated in your amazing Mormon career. We look forward to reading your book!

“Right” Answers: I’ve been considering a career change to become a teacher, and have been daunted by the time and expense needed to earn a credential. Thus I was intrigued by an ad from a chain of private schools offering on-the-job training for prospective teachers without a credential. The interviewer mentioned that the school had a very specific teaching method and way of organizing the curriculum that emphasized individual effort. Reasonable enough, right?

My ethical dilemma arose when I got to the part of the application process that the interviewer called “an opinion survey.” Since I’ve read Ayn Rand’s novels and a decent amount of libertarian literature, the intent of the survey was immediately clear. For each question, I was asked to choose among three answers—a clearly Rand-friendly one, and two cartoonish misrepresentations of other economic, political, or educational philosophies. If I could have rewritten the test to more accurately represent those other philosophies, I would still have chosen the Rand answer a third to half of the time, but as written, I decided it was technically honest to give the Rand/right answer every time since the alternatives provided were absurd. Was this ethical?

—Fake It Till You Make It, or Run, Forrest, Run!

Dear Forrest,

Yes, life really is like a box of chocolates! I had a similar experience applying for a sales position at a very well-known corporation. There were dozens of applicants taking a multiple choice test that would determine who would proceed to an interview. Each question went something like this: “If I had extra hours, I would most like to spend them A. Seeing a movie, B. Visiting my dying mother, C. Reading the newspaper, D. Selling more Brand X products.” It was obvious to me that the “right” answer was always the one about selling, so I checked that one every time—even though it would be my last choice if I my objective hadn’t been to land the job. No surprise, I was immediately plucked from among the masses, ushered into an interview, and promptly offered a position (which I turned down—the salary was ridiculously low, perhaps because they believed I wanted to sell their products so much I’d do it for next to nothing).

In my case, I was gaming the system to get past that ridiculous screening tool. In your case, you are being honest because the libertarian answer was clearly the best of the choices you were given. So you weren’t being unethical.

But whoever put that test together may not be so ethical—or at least not very astute. If they really wanted to find people who share Rand’s views, they should have made the questions fair and see what the candidate chooses, rather than skew it so anyone who was paying attention would be compelled to select the libertarian view, even if they disagreed with it philosophically.

This raises red flags about the organization. Will you really be able to get respectable teaching credentials there, or will you end up only being able to work for that organization, and be poisoned for positions at other schools that recognize (and are turned off by) your training? And would you want to learn from, and work for, an organization with such a poor grasp of truth (or how to construct an effective questionnaire)? It sounds as though they are committed to indoctrination, not education.

I suggest you look into other ways to finance your education and on-the-job training–without having to profess any party line, even if you agreed with it 100%. There are all kinds of programs to help people become teachers. Surely there’s a better one for you.