It’s one in the morning. You’re alone in your room surfing the web. You stumble upon a website showcasing attractive, clean-cut young men of the Mormon faith wearing the all-too-familiar uniform of white shirts, ties and black missionary name tags. There is an image of a map with red pins pointing out where each "elder" served and labored valiantly for two consecutive years. Messages of how the missionaries worked to promote Christian ideals and serve the poor and elderly flood the screen.
As you scroll over the pictures of each missionary… bow-chicka-wow-wow. The friendly, smiling young men with Boy Scout charm convert into sweaty, bare-chested, greased up sex machines, like some strange fantasy from a dirty romance novel. The stereotypical image members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have acquired is no longer the status quo according to Chad Hardy, former UVSC student and creator of MormonsExposed.com
The website features twelve returned missionaries, each posing topless for a steamy 2008 calendar entitled, "Men on a Mission," which has already received attention from Rolling Stone Magazine, VH1 and additional national media sources. A portion of the calendar proceeds are donated to the men’s various charities of choice, which are focused on the countries where they served their missions.
The calendar is a tongue-in-cheek approach to promoting tolerance and forming relationships between the LDS community and outside people and cultures. "A lot of people don’t like Mormons. There’s a lot of mystery and misinformation surrounding our religion. This is a way to open that closed circuit and allow discussion and understanding," Hardy said.
The basis of Hardy’s risqué calendar is, of course, humor. "I believe humor is the bridge that connects people. This whole thing was done out of fun. […] You may have different beliefs or backgrounds, but the second you can make someone laugh, they like you and they’ll listen to you," he said. Despite the light-hearted intentions, some LDS members are not laughing. Hardy said he expected the controversy and knew some people would be offended.
When shown the sexy Web site, Aaron McDonald, a current sophomore at UVSC said, "That attention is negative. I don’t want that affiliated with the church. They’re trying to prove we’re normal by linking something sacred as missionary work with sexuality." McDonald is not the only one who feels uneasy with the calendar’s message. The MormonsExposed Web site offers direct links to Chad and each of the model’s MySpace accounts, where numerous negative comments have been posted by disapproving LDS members. "We’ve received every response from ‘you’re going to be ex-communicated’ and ‘you’re going to hell’ to ‘wow, this is really good publicity for the church’ and ‘keep up the great work,’" Hardy said.
Although the calendar’s purpose is not to be a missionary tool, Hardy believes many more people will be open to talking to the missionaries as an effect. Each of the models were carefully interviewed and screened by Hardy before production of the calendar began. They were chosen not only on the basis of their returned missionary status and aesthetic appeal, but also their spirituality and devotion to the church. "These are the best members of the church I have ever worked with," Hardy said, "I didn’t want to create anything I would be embarrassed to show my mom. It was done very tastefully."
UVSC’s very own Jonathan Martin, a model for the calendar also known as "Mr. April" felt no shame or regret in posing for the calendar. "It’s not selling sex. Maybe sexy," he said. Martin has interviewed with many publications and TV shows and even posted a lengthy blog on his MySpace account, which explained "why he did it." "It breaks the mold. I’m an individual and the church embraces individuals," he said. As far as the negative response is concerned, Martin said, "If you’re against this, you’re against missionary work. Most of the people who are criticizing this are hypocrites and should take a look at their own issues before casting judgment. They don’t know me. Don’t tell me how to bake my cake when you don’t even know the ingredients."
Casey Staheli, "Mr. January" had slightly less passionate motives for posing. "For me, it was a job. I got paid. Yeah, it’s a little borderline for some people, but it was funny to me," he said, "There’s a difference between the doctrine of the church and the culture. Some people are just taking it a little too serious."
Hardy is relishing in the controversy he sparked, but not yet satisfied. His future plans for MormonsExposed include a calendar featuring LDS women, which will be announced in January. Visit MormonsExposed.com to learn more about the project or purchase the "Men on a Mission" 2008 calendar.