Don’t Persecute Us, We’ll Persecute You: Mormon Pride


In my previous post, I began a conversation about Mormon pride. I would like to continue from a different angle. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was born into persecution. From the moment its founder Joseph Smith, Jr. claimed to have received a vision from God, a wall of persecution stood in his way and eventually stood in the way of the rest of the church and its members. To this day, Mormons all over the world experience their share of persecution, accused of belonging to a cult, accused of not being Christian, accused of practicing polygamy, and feeling the brunt of the blame for many other historical indiscretions, even the bigotry of early church leaders like Brigham Young. A good friend of mine and fellow member of the church, who also happens to come from a long line of practicing Jews, once had teenagers confront him outside of a grocery store in the middle of the night. They called him a “Mormon-Jew-Bastard” and proclaimed that all such were destined to go to hell, according to a specific scripture in Revelation. My friend does not recall the scripture, but he remembers that he read it, and it said nothing about anyone going to hell. In fact, it made no sense to him at all.

I served a mission in part of the South of the USA. I love the South (Can you say fried food?), but most people equate the South with a host of other persecution problems, including racism. What I learned about the South, however, was that the real South, the real Southerners, are a tight-knit group wary of any outsiders, especially outsiders whose beliefs not only do not match up with theirs but that differ in exceptional ways. That is why Mormonism has encountered so many problems in the South, especially in the Bible belt, home to some of the most extreme conservative, traditional Christians in the States. Like any culture, many of them are good, God-fearing men and women. But there are plenty of bad examples.

When I think of the tight-knit kinship of the South, wary of outsiders, I think of Mormonism during its struggle to mature. This is the culture that produced the Mountain Meadows Massacre among other awful events in LDS Church history. People have used fear to justify horrific acts for a long time. Today, the LDS Church faces different threats, or so the culture would have us believe. One of these major threats is, generally, Feminism, and a more specific version of that is found in the Ordain Women (OW) movement. However, if one looks carefully or simply long enough one will see all sorts of threats to the LDS Church. The biggest problem, however, is that the most significant threat does not come from outside the church.

As a member of the LDS faith involved in a deep study of its cultures, traditions, and doctrines, I keep my ear to the ground. Naturally, I constantly read and hear about a lot of different things. I don’t mean Mormon myths, though I find so many of those on both the orthodox and heterodox sides; I mean I collect stories from people who have experienced some of the craziest things in the church. One need not browse the Bloggernacle for very long to find any of these. However, some of these stories don’t make it to the web. They are the simple, everyday events happening in the church all over the world. For example, an acquaintance of mine once found himself in an argument with a stake president (SP) regarding many members’ misplaced faith in cultures and traditions that have polluted the LDS Church. My acquaintance’s argument: “We cannot judge people by standards like drinking caffeine, wearing beards in leadership positions, or by anyone else’s personal standards of righteousness that have no foundation in doctrine.” The SP’s argument: “Some people cannot tell the difference between culture and doctrine.” Therefore, we should not talk about and especially not criticize such things. Of course, the SP’s initial statement is true, but shouldn’t that be the very reason to talk about these issues? Shouldn’t that be the cause for more awareness, more discussion, even criticism, for articles or blog posts, or other avenues of spreading the word?

The answer, unfortunately, is a consistent “No” across the board with few exceptions. When we allow this kind of thinking to persist, that is, when we allow people to continue to mingle culture and tradition with doctrine, we create an atmosphere where persecution not only becomes commonplace but acceptable. People get shunned for facial hair, wearing multi-colored shirts instead of the “uniform” white, wearing pants instead of a dress or a skirt, for drinking caffeine, for the occasional Sunday outing, for supporting organizations that seek, simply, to promote love and acceptance (like Mormons Building Bridges), and, of course, for supporting organizations like OW, whose major crime is putting too much faith in church leadership, in a prophet who acts as the mouthpiece of God, a prophet who can speak the mind and will of God on matters of concern to which no one else is able to give satisfactory answers. Yet these persecutions persist and are even indirectly (if not directly) discouraged.

Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition, painting by Cristiano Banti (1857) Public Domain

Have we regressed culturally to a time when a church strong-arms people into speaking only approved culturally acceptable statements or teachings? How well did that work out for the Catholic Church in its fight against the Copernican Cosmos? How many men and women suffered at the hands of a prideful church that couldn’t accept something just because they couldn’t find it in the Bible? Joseph Smith said that he taught the saints correct principles, but that it is up to them, or us, to govern ourselves. What is incorrect, then, about addressing these, apparently culturally sensitive, topics? Are we Pharisees and Sadducees that care only about our appearances, people who “appear unto the world to fast”? Or are we more concerned with our salvation and what it takes to attain that and with loving others wholly, without exceptions or conditions? Hugh Nibley said it best:

“The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status-symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism. Longhairs, beards, and necklaces, LSD and rock, Big Sur and Woodstock, come and go, but Babylon is always there: rich, respectable, immovable… We want to be vindicated in our position and to know that the world is on our side as we all join in a chorus of righteous denunciation; the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances” (From What is Zion? Joseph Smith Lecture Series 1972-73).

5 replies »

  1. Johnny, I’m very much a person who is prone to dispelling cultural myths in the church. I sport a beard and wore a red shirt to church yesterday, along with one of the most provocatively colorful Jerry Garcia Christmas ties you will ever see. But I’m pretty certain that almost nobody in the church is going to confuse the OW movement with people “whose major crime is putting too much faith in church leadership.” That seriously comes across as a stunningly incongruous statement. As if Spock has a goatee in your universe!

    When one truly places one’s “faith in church leadership,” and recognizes and sustains “a prophet who acts as the mouthpiece of God,” “who can speak the mind and will of God,” then typically such a person doesn’t drone on and on about how said prophet and the ‘patriarchy’ (a common term of derision amongst OWers) is somehow sinning against humankind for failing to make changes which the Lord has not revealed for them to make, according to the timetable of those who sincerely crave such changes, rather than humbly accepting the timetable of the Lord, whatever it might be, including humble acceptance that His will may not actually harmonize with theirs.

    • I read through the article and also have had a similar experience with teenagers, persecution, though I know that this expose was written about the history of Mormon persecution, the guilt that go along with it. But I also personally have been persecuted by bad evil teenagers, in Maryland for that last 8 years. One morning at a grocery store in town, a vindictive, teenager jumped out of her car and yelled “You look like a woman” I had short hair, a military crew cut, wear polo shirts, and jeans and sneaker which is typical way of dressing for many males in the US.

      Further teenagers had also attacked me while I was jogging. They made threats to physically harm, screaming threats out of their car window.

      The sad fact is that our country is promoting the kind of sociopathic violence that the contributor wrote about, and I also experiened.

      It sounds like the writer also might have known the teenagers.

      But in my case, the town helped and enabled continual vindictive behavior by isolating me. Further, women in my town, whom are closer to my age, in the age range of 36-46, have been engaging in a similar sociopathic behavior.

      The fact remains that the US promotes management style that is cold blooded, it promotes managers whom have also engaged in persecution.

      I discovered that sociopathic people, whom persecute, use their inner hatred for all people as way to divide an entire community.

      Your story hit home. Look into feminism as another side source for additional persecution. Many college educated women, have over that last 3 decades in the US, have disavowed women and their roles and what women have accepted.

      If you look a young female in her early 20’s in the 1980’s who saw her self as a career woman, many of them had pre marital relationships.

      Their predesscors aruged, that they reversed feminism, one step foward ten steps backwards, because, they were playing right into sexism and defeating the whole purpose.

  2. Our culture of perceived persecution sure keeps most in conformist line. Not a week goes by in Rexburg that I don’t hear about the evil world and the devil and his minions at work. When I was 18 and moved out of Idaho for the first time I was literally shocked that atheists had such close families and loved each other so dearly. Hadn’t I been taught that the “world” doesn’t value families and seeks to destroy them? Maybe I’ve just lived out in the “world” amongst the “gentiles” for so long and found so much goodness that I don’t buy into the rhetoric. It sure makes for easy us vs. them dichotomies, though.

  3. I tried living in Utah for 4 months. It was a difficult time for our family, and my testimony took a huge beating at the hands of “faithful” members who were rich enoughhthere nannies, and impatient enough to fire them when our infant son was in the hospital for 2 weeks, and still hadn’t been released. I had “used up my 2 weeks if vacation time” and so, with the support if our ward, we lost not only my job, but also our housing, with our son still in Primary Children’s Hospital.

    Our state president finally agreed to pay for an apartment for 2 months so my son could finish his diagnosis and start treatment. It was more than 5 years later when my mom showed me the letters between her and the leaders in Utah, and the letters back and forth between my former bishop and stake president and the bishop and stake president in Utah.

    My mom knew how scarring the whole incident had been, and the fact that the *very rich* ward and stake in Utah, had told the working class stake that they would help us find an apartment, but my home stake would have to pay for it. I don’t blame her for waiting. At the time, it probably would have been the last straw after the experience we had. Without the social worker at the hospital, I really don’t know what we would have done, especially since the bishop told the RS president to stop helping coordinate rides after I asked to be released from my calling until my son got better.

    I was nervous about moving to Utah after several experiences with cousins who were of “prophetic lineage” through their mother’s family, who made it clear that they had a noble birthright that as the children of converts, my siblings and I would never achieve. I had always assumed that the attitude came from their family, and I was surprised at how shocked I was to hear about the area of the country I grew up in talked about in terrible ways, as part of inspirational testimonies about learning that Zion really only existed in communities in the Wasatch Front, and how brave and careful you have to be if you are forced to live somewhere else. Always the living somewhere besides Utah was presented as a temporary necessary evil. Maybe the greatest irony is that I now think of any time I must go to Utah or Idaho, in those same terms.

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