Controversy Over a Calendar of Mormon Men

It's always March in Loree Moser's living room in Redmond, Calif. That is, it's always March according to the calendar that features a shirtless photo of her 22-year-old son, Matthew, with one bicep-bulging arm hanging from a tree branch. Pin-up calendars are nothing new, but this one has a twist: it shows handsome, recently returned Mormon missionaries both in and out of traditional missionary garb.

That fusion of sexuality and religion in "Men on a Mission" was so combustible that last weekend the calendar's creator, Chad Hardy of Las Vegas, was excommunicated by a disciplinary council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. LDS authorities won't discuss the matter since the church treats disciplinary matters confidentially. But Hardy said the church's move was motivated by LDS officials' desire to scare the flock away from expressing their sexuality and disobeying their edicts. Hardy had been instructed by his local stake president (a Mormon clerical leader) to stop producing the calendar; instead he moved ahead with the 2009 edition, due out in September, and is conducting auditions for the 2010 version.

"To them, the excommunication process is a repentance process," said Hardy, 31, who said he and a business partner have sold 10,000 of the 2008 calendars at $15 apiece, with some proceeds being donated to the charity of each model's choice. "What do I have to repent of? For producing a calendar? Giving money to charity? I believe in what I did, what I'm doing, and I'm not going to stop it."

Hardy says the church has accused him of using religion to sell sex. But he prefers to think of it as the other way around: he's using eye-catching and unexpected images of usually buttoned-up men to draw attention to the charitable and civic contributions of the faith. Until his excommunication, Hardy was a sixth-generation Mormon who some six years ago stopped attending church, tithing or wearing the requisite sacred undergarments, but he insisted he still admires the church and wanted to use the calendar a form of outreach. "I have my own feelings about the church; they're personal," he said. "I don't want to make the church look bad. I want this to be a positive thing for these guys."

Each page of "Men on a Mission" shows a shirtless man, along with a shot of the same fellow in the traditional uniform that Mormons wear during their two-year missions--a white button-down-collar shirt and tie, black pants and a black name badge. The calendar also features a biography of each model, mentioning the place where he served his mission and some thoughts on his faith. None are particularly provocative poses by beefcake calendar standards, although Mr. October 2008 does have a finger tugging down his belt and exposing the elastic of his underwear.

"I thought it could be a pretty cool idea to strip off some stereotypes and hopefully build some bridges between different groups of people," says Hardy, who also owns a Vegas-based company that puts on team-building exercises for companies.

That is what attracted Christopher Hayes, 23, of Marysville, Wash., who posed for the 2009 edition. Hayes's mother, in fact, urged him on after the 2008 edition was cited as the "Hot Calendar" of the year by Rolling Stone magazine. Hayes's mother and grandparents even attended the photo shoot in Las Vegas in March. "What we're doing is showing people that Mormons aren't the weird, sheltered people that people think we are. It was more of an acceptance of us as people."

Hayes, Moser and the other models say they're not concerned that the church would discipline them for participating in the endeavor, and there is no indication that the church has taken any action against them. Indeed, Moser said a stake leader (the equivalent of a parish priest) in his area quizzed him about it before telling him it would not be a problem. "You don't see anything in this calendar that you wouldn't see at a church pool party," says Cody Bloomfield, 21, of Irvine, Calif., who is the 2009 cover model. "Actually, you see more at a church pool party."

Each man said he received a reassuring e-mail from Hardy telling them that his excommunication was the result of personal conduct issues--his lapsed attendance and tithing--rather than the calendar.

But Mormon scholar Richard Lyman Bushman of Claremont Graduate University School of Religion in California believes the calendar was the real problem, noting that "a third or half of the church doesn't tithe or go and they don't discipline all of those people." The issue for LDS authorities, Bushman says, is probably the juxtaposition between the chaste look of the missionaries and the "introduction of faintly erotic themes into that image. To say, 'Listen to the missionaries because they're also powerhouse bodies and pulsating sexual beings,' that's not what the church wants."

Melissa Proctor of the Harvard Divinity School thinks Hardy's excommunication could also be "calculated as a warning message from the leadership to Mormons who bought the calendar or to the returned missionaries who hope to pose in the next issue that such behavior is unbecoming." If so, Hardy said it failed; none of the 2009 models have tried to back out. (They couldn't even if they wanted to at this point, he says; the 2009 calendar is already at the printer's.)

The fact that the calendar has been a hit among gays--and that the 2008 and 2009 editions feature two openly gay men each--is undoubtedly somewhat discomfiting to a faith that accepts gay members only if they are chaste, Bushman said. Hardy estimates that half the 2008 calendars were bought by men. He and some of the models have been interviewed by gay publications. "I like to joke that this is the tamest beefcake calendar a gay man could ever own," Hardy quips.

Still, Bushman doesn't think the calendar's gay appeal was the deciding factor for the church. "If they had done this with lady missionaries, it would have had the same results," he says. That proposition may be tested soon. Hardy is planning a 2010 calendar of women he's calling "Mormon Muffins: A Taste of Motherhood," in which mothers will pose and offer their favorite recipes. Bushman predicted that "turning mothers into hot babes" would disgust most Mormons including himself, owing to the faith's reverent attitude toward women. Cover model Bloomfield expressed his own concerns. Says Bloomfield, "There's a very fine line here and [Hardy's] gotten close to it with the one with us, but when you start to do it with women, you start to get into the danger zone."