Remember Chad Hardy? He's the guy who operates the MormonsExposed website, producing and marketing calendars of returned LDS missionaries in "beefcake" poses. His story first broke back in September 2007. I jokingly titled the post "Your Recommend, Please...", implying that his temple recommend might be in jeopardy.
Guess what? Apparently I wasn't joking, or at least his Priesthood chain of command doesn't find it funny. On July 11th, 2008, the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune are reporting that Hardy faces the threat of church discipline over the issue. Hardy has been summoned by letter to a Sunday meeting in Las Vegas with a council of elders to discuss his "conduct unbecoming a member of the church." Additional media stories from CNN, the Las Vegas Sun, and TMZ.com.
A copy of the letter from Stake President Frank E. Davie, the senior leader over a group of LDS Church congregations in the Las Vegas area was provided to The Associated Press. It was sent July 6th, just days before the 2009 version of the "Men on a Mission" calendar went to press.
A takeoff on calendars of firefighters and returned U.S. servicemen, Hardy's project debuted in 2008, featuring 12 returned church missionaries in mostly modest poses, minus their trademark white shirts, ties and black plastic name badges. So far, it's sold nearly 10,000 copies. Hardy has always been careful to disavow any official connection with the LDS Church.
"You see more in a JC Penney catalog," said Hardy, 31, who once worked for Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller and now has his own entertainment company. "I just feel like my right to free speech is being violated." [Ed. Note: JC Penney catalogs are intended to sell clothes. LDS missionaries sell eternal life; the Gospel doesn't need to be "sexed up".]
On Friday, Stake President Davie confirmed sending the letter and the plans for the meeting. He said the calendar was the primary concern. "I prefer not to say anything else about it," he said. "There is more involved, and he and I will have our meeting." The outcome of a council meeting could include disfellowship, excommunication, probation, or exoneration," Davie said. None of the returned missionaries who posed for Hardy's calendars are reportedly facing any Church discipline.
Hardy acknowledged he's not been an active member of the church since 2002. A returned missionary who served in southern California, he no longer pays church tithing or wears the religious undergarments considered sacred. In six years, Hardy has never been contacted by anyone from the church encouraging his return to the fold and he suspects the current inquiry was driven by the church's Salt Lake City headquarters. Despite his inactivity, there is no sign that he has actually apostasized from the Church, and the tone of his remarks along with his stated intent to respond to the summons implies that he still believes in the Church's doctrine and programs.
"I'm still a good Mormon boy in many ways," said Hardy, who says he bears no animosity toward Latter-day Saints, but never felt he fit in. "I still want to hold onto my heritage."
The calendar was designed to shake up the Mormon stereotypes, Hardy said. The pages include photos of the men dressed in standard missionary garb. In biographical sketches each missionary talks about his beliefs. "It's not tearing anybody down," Hardy said. "I wondered what would happen if we took that perfect Disneyland image that the church spends millions of dollars cultivating each year and shook it up a little bit."
Blogosphere reaction shows the full range of reactions to Hardy's work. Some find it offensive and say it degrades the church by displaying missionaries as "sex symbols," and contradicting church teachings about modest dress for all members, while others praise the effort for rattling perceptions that Mormons are "stuffy." I was one of those who was critical; here's the point I made back in September.
When missionaries are seen in public knocking on doors, we don't want them to be sex objects. Their ordained purpose isn't to be sex objects. Their purpose is to be ambassadors from the Lord; representatives of one of His churches. I seriously doubt that Jesus Christ ever posed on a calendar with His shirt off. And if Jesus wouldn't do it, maybe they should think twice about doing it themselves. Using phrases like "bare one's testimony" trivializes a sacred concept and sets it at naught.
The LDS Church takes disciplinary action when leaders believe a person's behavior or actions are openly incompatible with the faith's teachings and could potentially damage the church, but although Church spokeswoman Kim Farah declined to comment on Hardy's specific situation, she quickly pointed out that "any church discipline is the result of actions not beliefs." Decisions are made at the local level and are based on individual circumstances and merits.
Excommunicants are removed from official church rolls, although they are still welcome at church services. They are prohibited from receiving the sacrament and can't perform church callings such as teaching or preaching during meetings. They also cannot enter church temples.
The 2009 calendar — which drew 100 inquiries from interested missionaries — will be released in September.
Commentary: My attitude is unchanged - this is a completely improper depiction of LDS missionaries. What's next - a calendar of Relief Society sisters wearing thongs? How would the Catholics react to a calendar of their priests in beefcake poses? We've sexed up so much of society - can't we keep religion off limits?
Nevertheless, Hardy's positive attitude towards the Church should be taken into account. He should not be viewed as an enemy of the Church. However, he must be given an incentive to discontinue this inappropriate project; it misrepresents the Church. So while excommunication would be grossly excessive, and even disfellowshipment might be harsh, probation would be appropriate. No temple recommend until he changes or shuts down the business.