Mormons in Utah: Utah and the Mormon Culture In 1820, Joseph Smith had a vision in Palmyra, New York, of God and his son, Jesus Christ telling him to reorganize the church of Jesus Christ. During the next 10 years, Joseph was visited by other heavenly messengers, translated the Book of Mormon and established the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints. Many years thereafter, the Mormons relocated from Nauvoo, Illinois because of religious persecution (PBS Online). In Illinois, Joseph Smith had succeeded in establishing a religion which brought together its followers both sociologically and economically. Mormon followers were ordered to pay a tithing of 10% on their gross personal wealth.
Those followers who were generous to the church were reportedly bestowed with an elevated position within the church which began a "pyramidal lay clergy - a device that provided a bonding camaraderie and loyalty for all male church members (Denton 13)." When Joseph Smith was murdered by an Illinois mob in June 1844, the Twelve Apostles scattered. Sidney Rigdon assumed the Presidency, he being Smith's first counselor. The church was divided and in looming danger of dissipation. Brigham, with true Napoleonic foresight, saw his opportunity. Young hurried to Nauvoo, denounced Rigdon as an impostor and his revelations as emanations from the Devil. He cut off both Rigdon and his adherents from the true church, cursed Rigdon, and "handed him over to the buffetings of Satan for a thousand years.' Young was immediately elected President by an overwhelming majority (Waite 14).
Facing continued persecution, he then led the Mormons westward out of Illinois to Florence, Nebraska on the Missouri River in 1846. In 1847, Brigham Young led an exploration to the Rocky Mountains. The Mormons had discovered and selected the Great Salt Lake region as their safe haven where they could have the freedom to worship and live as their faith decreed (Katz). Brigham Young believed that Utah was the promise land for the Mormons because of its dense populace, the freedom they would have to practice their religion, and the ease in which they took control over the region. Once established in Utah, the Mormons identified themselves with the region claiming the state as their headquarters, even electing their church president as Governor. Brigham Young dreamed of the kingly robe and the jeweled crown in some far-off valley of the Rocky Mountains, where gentiles or their laws could not annoy the saints, or hinder the normal development of Mormonism (Waite 15).
Young's sought to relocate the Mormons to the Rocky Mountain region because of its sparse population and the ease in gaining total control over the area. The Mormons established the provisional state of Deseret, electing Brigham Young as governor in 1849. The following year the area became the territory of Utah, with Young still holding fast as governor. He was appointed to a second term in 1854, but friction between the Mormons and the federal judiciary led President James Buchanan to replace him in 1857. It was at this time that the Federal Government sent an army to establish the dominance of federal rule in Utah. Young aroused the deepest hatred toward the "gentiles' within his Mormon religion.
He wrought upon their pride, ambition, and revenge, until they were ready to do and dare anything for their religion and their leader. When his power was thus fully established, he revealed to them 'the will of the Lord concerning them (Waite 15).' Young would never again hold a political office, but remained president of the Mormon Church until his death. An exceedingly practical man, Brigham Young made very few doctrinal contributions to the Mormon religion. He spearheads the polygamist movement within the church which causes a major public outcry for its ban. In an interview with Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, in 1859, Brigham Young stated that the church "generally accept it, as I do, as the will of God ("it" being the plurality of wives) ." Young was so influential in establishing a strong-hold over the region that it is said almost half of the people in the Utah region are in some way related to the Young dynasty (Waite 12). Young was a strong, unyielding superintendent who sufficiently stabilized the Mormon society, giving it cohesion by its relative isolation.
He encouraged education and the theatre, always stressed self-sufficiency, and became a notably wealthy man (Britannica). He ruled his Mormon kingdom with entrepreneurialism taking risk after risk by relocating time and time again to new lands. Young was so convincing in his word that his fellow Mormons handed over their monetary possessions literally without question. He was extremely cunning in his way making sure to reinvest the tithing into the church and its people, though just enough to keep them under his wings. The Mormon religion has succeeded where others have failed; it makes concessions to its followers by keeping them ahead just enough so as not to branch out on their own and stay dependent on the church at large. The Mormon Church offers leadership to those within the faith who need a leader.
Some might say that the Mormons have succeeded in creating a somewhat cult like religion. There are similarities between cults and the Mormons; it does appear that they have cult-like ways. For example, in the Mormon religion you cannot enter their sacred worshiping temples without attending courses, wearing sacred undergarments, and being baptized in a special ceremony. They, too, have a very close nit inner circle which is impenetrable and desire their families to produce a large number of children. One won't find the mass production of children in any of the Mormon "bylaws", because it is mostly implied by the Mormons themselves. This could be a byproduct of the old polygamy ways.
The Utah Mormons are always easily identifiable by their piety; the attempt to make sure that everything looks good and right. Many members outside of Utah use the term Utah Mormons in reference to members of the Church in Utah who are slack in keeping the commandments. It isn't hypocrisy, since the person really is trying to do right, but there is a bit of self-righteousness mixed in, along with the previously mentioned superior knowledge and insight, as well as some arrogance. Everybody has different definitions of their Utah Mormons. For some, it is piousness that makes a Utah Mormon, for others, it is laxness that makes a Utah Mormon.
I have heard more lax Mormons complain about those pharisaical Utah Mormons. I have also heard more pious Mormons talk of those Utah Mormons who will see R-rated movies, and then be the repent-and-go-missionary type and just simply take the Gospel for granted. The phenomenon called Utah Mormon seems less about the politics of life and more about civility. Civility is a component of charity. Civility is a way for us to engage in respectful, cross-cultural discourse about difficult things. And the key feature of civility is that you listen first and try to understand the people with whom you are engaging in conversation and then speak, and in speaking, while you shouldn't downplay or backpedaled your perspective, you should cast your point of view in terms that seem to fit in with what's already been said how it's been said.
Moreover, the term Utah Mormon seems no more appropriate as a term to describe a dogmatic or self-righteous or ignorant or insert-adjective-here Mormon than the term Polack is to describe fools. Even if we stipulate that not all Poles are Polacks, that Polack is not the equivalent of "Person from Poland', and that there are Polacks who aren't even Polish, the term Polacks value is still premised on the suggestion that "People from Poland" are disproportionately Polack. The term Utah Mormon seems to be an insult directed at anyone who happens to live the gospel in a way other than how the one speaking it thinks it ought to be lived. In other words, it is a meaningless term because it is inherently the subjective judgment of others. Utah Mormons are also a recognizable family of literary characters.
Levi Peterson and some of the other Mormon fiction writers explore characters whose connections to the place couldn't be mistaken for anything else. One thing is abundantly clear though; Mormons have taken to Utah and made it their own. To say that you are a Mormon is to immediately assume that you are from Utah; the state has become defined by its Mormon inhabitants. I, myself am from Utah. I am always amused when people ask me if I am a Mormon, immediately assuming that the two are interlinked, being from Utah and being a Mormon. Utah houses Mormons and their culture.
To be from Utah is to be a Mormon. If by chance you do not belong to the religion, it is immediately assumed that if you came from Utah you belong to the Mormon culture. Thus, Utah is identifiable by the term Mormon and as such the two are one in the same. Works Cited Britannica Online. "Young, Brigham.' Encyclopedia Britannica. 30 May 2005.
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13 Jul. 1859. 9 May 2005. Huerta, Grace; Fl emmer, Leslie. "Identity, beliefs and community: LDS (Mormon) pre-service secondary teacher views about diversity." Intercultural Education. v.
16 issue 1, 2005, p. 1. Katz, Bob. "Brigham Young, Mormon Pioneer of the Desert." Desert USA...
20 May 2005. PBS Online. "American Prophet Biography, Joseph Smith." Public Broadcasting System. 18 May 2005 Waite, Catherine. "The Mormon Prophet and His Harem; or An Authentic History of Brigham Young, His Numerous Wives and Children." 5 th ed.
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