The next time a pair of Mormons comes to your door, take a moment to imagine them naked before you slam the door in their face. You might discover that these men, wearing nice ties and bike helmets, are not holier-than-thou underneath, but people like you who just happen to be on a mission.
That’s what Chad Hardy and Fred Brodsky want you to think when you gaze upon the twelve bare-chested beaus in their 2009 Mormons Exposed: Men on a Mission calendar. Each month features two photos of a Mormon missionary. One shows the clean-shaven missionary, complete with combed, parted hair and a nametag, while the other reveals the model flexing, with bedhead hair and a steamy gaze.
The calendar is well produced, the pictures are tasteful, and the guys are hot, but it still evokes a burst of laughter and initial disbelief when people see it. Holy Mormons, legalistic Mormons, polite Mormons—these are easy concepts to grasp. But sexy Mormons? That pill’s a little harder to swallow.
Contradicting the assumption that “sexy Mormon” is an oxymoron was one of Hardy’s motivations for producing the calendar. He wanted to break the barrier of faith and show that Mormon missionaries aren’t holy outsiders that regular folks can’t relate to. They’re just regular young men practicing what they believe, and apparently, some of them are hot.
The creators of the calendar admit that the project is a little tongue-in-cheek, but Hardy believes that there is a serious side to Mormons Exposed. He sees the calendar as a way to generate interest and start a discussion about Mormonism and the negative stereotypes that non-believers hold. Hardy believes that Mormons aren’t really that different from non-Mormons, and he wants to prove that you can be spiritual and sexy at the same time.
That belief got him excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
Hardy said the church accused him of a variety of wrongdoings, but he knew their grudge stemmed from Men on a Mission. They let him go for having a “moral defect.” Hardy had already earned a degree from Brigham Young University in Communications Studies, but they took back his diploma. If that sounds vaguely illegal, Hardy agrees. He’s currently in the appeals process to get his degree back. (You can read more about it on his personal site.)
Even though the calendar invited considerable backlash, Hardy assured me that the project has been worth it. He succeeded in challenging the status quo, and while he still gets nasty emails and phone calls, there are also some Mormons who support the project and think the church’s reaction was out of line.
Hardy didn’t even seem particularly upset about being excommunicated. He’s a sixth-generation Mormon who went on his mission to San Diego, but says he hasn’t connected with the LDS community in years. He still considers himself Mormon and is grateful for the values and lifestyle that a religious upbringing taught him, but Hardy is appalled by the hypocritical nature of the LDS Church. He says Mormons are basically conditioned to lie so that they can continue the façade of a perfect lifestyle. Hardy believes that, Mormon or not, he has the right to express himself the way he sees fit, and if that expression takes the form of a racy male calendar, then so be it.
The Men on a Mission calendar has also served as an outlet of expression for the models involved. Some of the men were attracted to the project because of its charity contributions (a portion of the profits would be donated to the charity of each model’s choice), but others saw an opportunity to express their own sexuality. Two of the men from the 2009 calendar and half the models for the slated 2010 calendar are gay. And you only have to remember back to California’s Proposition 8 to know how the LDS Church feels about homosexuality.
Surprisingly, Hardy revealed that gay Mormons are not automatically excommunicated if they come out, but the church’s reaction generally depends on local church leaders. If they remain in the church, gay Mormons must remain celibate.
Hardy did not divulge whether he himself was gay, but he is a strong ally of gay Mormons. He said that gay Mormons are trying to have a voice and they deserve to be loved, to be human. While posing half-naked for a calendar may not seem like a demand for respect, it’s definitely a way to get noticed.
Ironically, Hardy received some negative reactions from his supporters for the Mormon Church’s involvement in Prop 8.
Hardy didn’t take a stance on Prop 8, only saying that there were so many feelings on both sides of the issue. UPDATE: Hardy donated to the No On 8 fund.
While Mormons Exposed doesn’t make oodles of money (Hardy has a day job), the company is planning 2010′s Men on a Mission calendar, as well as a new calendar called Mormon Muffins: A Taste of Motherhood. This calendar will feature a new Mormon MILF each month, ages 24 to 52, along with a muffin recipe. Hardy is convinced that this calendar, with its hot moms and cooking tips, will reach a wider demographic than Men on a Mission.
The company also plans to expand its website to include cooking webisodes. Currently, their website has information about Men on a Mission, model profiles, and cheeky t-shirts that come in such colors as “Hill Cumorah Green,” “Polygamy Pink,” and “We Don’t Drink Coffee Brown.”
Hardy is certainly passionate about Mormons Exposed and serious about sparking a discussion regarding negative Mormon stereotypes, but Men on a Mission is still a half-nudey calendar featuring missionary beefcakes. At a glance, the calendar doesn’t arouse a deep discussion on negative labeling or the hardships that gay Mormons must face. However, if sex does indeed continue to sell, Chad Hardy won’t have too much trouble converting a few more believers to the Mormons Exposed way of thought.