SALT LAKE CITY - A Las Vegas man who was the creative brains behind a calendar that features shirtless Mormon missionaries is facing a disciplinary hearing and possible excommunication for the project.
A lifetime member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Chad Hardy was 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."
A copy of the letter from Frank E. Davie, the senior leader over a group of Mormon congregations in the Las Vegas area was provided to The Associated Press. It was sent July 6, just days before the 2009 version of the "Men on a Mission" calendar went to press, Hardy said in a telephone interview.
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.
"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."
Davie on Friday 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.
Hardy acknowledged he's not been an active member of the church since 2002. A returned missionary who served in southern California, he said he no longer pays church tithing or wears the religious undergarments considered sacred. In six years, Hardy said he's 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.
"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."
Blog entries on the social networking sites MySpace and Facebook show a 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.
Others praise the effort for rattling perceptions that Mormons are "stuffy." Some who identified themselves as "younger" Mormons said the calendar might make it easier for their non-Mormon friends to consider exploring the faith.
"It has created an interfaith dialogue," Hardy said. "People of all faiths have logged on and shared what they believe. They're talking about what's really important, not how bad it is that you took your shirt off."
Some of the missionaries in the calendar, many of whom were recruited by Hardy's friends at church events, have been asked by their church leaders about the project, but none has faced disciplinary action, Hardy said.
"The biggest concern was, whether this was an attack on the church, and when they determined it wasn't, it was no big deal," said model Jonathan Martin, a 25-year-old Utah Valley University student, who was contacted by a church elder in May. "When you don something outside of the norm, it doesn't matter what group of people you're in, it's going to unsettle them."
Martin said he was told the inquiry was being made after a letter was sent to his church leader by higher-ups in Salt Lake City.
The Mormon 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.
Church spokeswoman Kim Farah declined to comment on Hardy's specific situation, but said 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, she said.
"Because the fundamental purpose of church discipline has always been to help members, rather than simply punish, disciplinary councils are considered a necessary step in repentance on the way back to full harmony and fellowship in the church," she said.
Disciplinary action can range from disfellowship to excommunication. In the past, members have been excommunicated for reasons including criminal activity and scholarly works of history or theology that contradicted church claims.
An excommunicated person would be removed from official church rolls, although they are still welcome at church services. Excommunicated members 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.