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Church has a beef with Mormon beefcake calendar

COLUMN ONE

'Men on a Mission' cost its publisher membership in the Church of Latter-day Saints and his degree from BYU. But he's shooting photos of 2010's hunks and plans a new calendar -- with sexy Mormon moms.

April 28, 2009|Ashley Powers

Hardy was emboldened. The 2009 calendar cover resembles a painting of the second coming of Christ. The shirtless model wears a rose-colored sash and white loincloth and is outlined in a celestial glow. Inside, Mr. September stands in front of a chalkboard with a diagram of the Mormon Plan of Salvation. Amid arrows and squiggles, the word "judgment" is clearly visible.

Hardy expected scathing reaction to the calendars from offended Mormons and some awkwardness with family and friends. It was the church itself that stunned him. He figured a calendar that sold about 10,000 copies wouldn't merit attention from a church with 13 million members. But he traded messages with a local church official who said Hardy should give "careful consideration" to stopping publication.

"Though we understand not everyone agrees with the project," Hardy replied, "the individual expressions of those involved have reshaped perceptions, removed walls, and shown . . . . acceptance and tolerance around the world."

Last summer, he faced a two-hour church disciplinary hearing in Las Vegas. Hardy was excommunicated by a panel of church leaders. Mormon officials suggested it was for reasons other than the calendar, though Hardy said that was what the panel questioned him about.

The next day, with his excommunication making headlines, he got 163 orders for the $15 calendar, which is sold in mall kiosks and online. That month, sales totaled nearly $23,000, compared to $440 the month before.

"What can they do to me now?" Hardy recalls thinking. "I'm not afraid. Excommunication made me famous."

Hardy had recently completed online the credits he needed to graduate from BYU. He participated in the university's commencement, and a photo shows him in a navy cap and gown, beaming between his parents. But last fall, the university said it couldn't grant him the degree: His poor standing with the church had violated the school's honor code. On his website ( www.chadhardy.com), Hardy posted the graduation picture -- with the word "DELETED" superimposed.

This year, Hardy met with a dean who said he would reconsider the decision. In an audio recording of the meeting, which Hardy posted on YouTube, he is asked whether he has avoided alcohol, coffee, drugs, pornography and sex outside marriage. Hardy said he shunned them all while a student, but wouldn't discuss his life after 2002, when he left BYU's campus.

BYU graduates must meet both academic and ecclesiastical standards, a university spokeswoman said, and in a letter to Hardy after the meeting, Dean Vernon Heperi said he had come up short.

"In my view," the dean wrote, "the material related to your calendars is offensive and disrespectful."

The returned missionaries are shown "in an inappropriate context" and the women in publicity shots for the "muffins" calendar are portrayed "contrary to the value of living a chaste and virtuous life." (Heperi did not return messages seeking comment. A Mormon Church spokesman declined to discuss Hardy or the calendar.)

Hardy says he is considering legal action against the university. Meanwhile, he has forged ahead with the 2010 calendar. None of his models has faced excommunication, he said. But this time, only a handful of men wanted to pose.

At the photo shoot, Hardy switches between directing models and doing telephone interviews. ("The church makes sex dirty," he is saying, "and we're making it beautiful.") He wears a graphic-print T-shirt, a camouflage hoodie and sneakers with the slogan "Born to Be Free." He is broad-shouldered, round-faced, blue-eyed and self-deprecating.

Several brawny models sprawl in the loft, chatting over blueberry bagels and carrots. Brandon Romain, a 23-year-old BYU student, heard about the calendar from friends in Virginia. While working for the College Republican National Committee in Ohio last fall, he e-mailed pictures to Hardy. For weeks, the dark-haired, blue-eyed Romain hit the gym twice a day.

"It takes a lot more preparation for the judgment to come," he says, anticipating criticism after the calendar is published. He has told only a few friends and his sister that he is posing. Hours before his flight to Las Vegas, he woke up wondering, "Man, should I really do this?"

Mr. September 2009 tries to reassure him. "This wouldn't be noticed without the controversy," says Ken Church, a 24-year-old former substitute teacher in Utah who was overwhelmed by the fan mail he received. "Our faces are all over the world."

Romain likes the idea of shattering stereotypes. "People think we have a bazillion wives and think we're a cult. They think we're all Peter Priesthood and Molly Mormon." Still, he didn't plan to tell his parents until after the shoot.

"Some people think it's porn," says Shawn Perucca, the 27-year-old posing as Captain Moroni, who lives in Los Angeles and was a missionary in Paraguay. But models in Abercrombie & Fitch ads bare more skin, he says with a shrug.

"I'm not going to lie, though," Romain says. "I kind of don't want to go back to Provo."

--

ashley.powers@latimes.com

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