Chad Hardy wants the public to know that underneath their short-sleeved white dress shirts and muted ties, Mormon missionaries are the same as everyone else.
Well, so long as everyone else has rock-hard pecs and abs that coil into a six-pack.
Mormons Exposed, Hardy’s Las Vegas-based company, is publishing a 2008 calendar of recent missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Each month of “Men on a Mission” tells the story of a recent missionary, along with a picture of him shirtless and flexing. A second picture shows him dressed as he was while on his mission.
October’s spread features Matthew Webster, a 22-year-old former Mountain View High School student.
The models took off their shirts to counter stereotypes that Mormons are prudes, Hardy said. Or that they’re polygamists, or even, he said, that they’re a “satanic cult.”
Hardy, who finished his mission a decade ago, also hopes to show the LDS faithful a different view of its members.
“The prejudice that lives between religions also lives within religions,” he said. “This is going to divide the Mormons right down the middle.”
The church has no comment on the calendar.
“This is a private concern. The church doesn’t have an official position,” said Don Evans, the church’s Arizona spokesman. “For us, there’s no story here. There’s some young guys showing their muscles.”
Mormon missions pair men between the ages of 19 and 25 and send them to locations around the world for two years to proselytize.
The work includes 12-hour days of walking and bicycling to speak with people about their faith. Missionaries must follow a litany of rules that forbids many activities and requires they dress conservatively.
Hardy’s mission took him to Carlsbad, Calif., in 1996 where some people he approached were afraid of him. “The Mormons have a very aggressive approach to expanding their religion” that leaves some wary of missionaries, he said.
Hardy wouldn’t say whether he remains with the LDS church.
Webster didn’t face discrimination on his mission in Japan. Most people treated him as a welcome novelty.
After returning in 2005, Webster moved near Salt Lake City with his parents and attends community college with plans to transfer either to the University of Utah or Arizona State University.
Hardy contacted Webster online through MySpace, which allows people to provide personal information, including their religion.
“I guess he thought I had a pretty face,” Webster said.
Hardy and Fred Brodsky, the calendar’s co-founder, sent girls to recruit potential models at school dances and scoured MySpace profiles. They held auditions in Salt Lake City.
Webster said he has always been skinny and, like most redheads, he has pale skin. Hardy challenged him to add muscle before the shoot two months later.
Every morning, Webster ran. He cut calories and spent hours lifting weights.
Mormons Exposed photographed 12 former missionaries, all in their 20s and all white.
Hardy said he wanted a diverse calendar, but had too few options.
“They had to be Mormon. They had to be OK with the whole project. They had to be a returned missionary. It’s not like we had a huge selection of men to choose from,” he said.
Each model signed a contract that pays him $500 for the photo shoot and additional amounts for any interviews or appearances he does promoting the calendar.
Before making the offer, Hardy said he warned candidates that the calendar would likely draw criticism from the church, their families and friends
Webster’s parents support his modeling. Some of his friends have told him it was wrong to be photographed so provocatively.
“I don’t see this as negative in any way at all. I don’t see this as going against the church,” Webster said.
Hardy said he designed the calendar to be controversial, but the images are tasteful
“It is so PG-rated, it’s hilarious,” Hardy said. “The gay community, when they buy this calendar, it will be the tamest calendar they’ll ever own. They’re in pants; they’re not in their underwear or showing any pubic hair.”
And religious art is filled with bare-chested men.
“You see more flesh in the Book of Mormon than you do in our calendar,” he said.