Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

Since that time, Mormons who felt that polygamy was the true way, discontinued for political or social reasons, have carried it on in schismatic churches of their own. Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Utah church, has called polygamy, which was practiced for about fifty years and has been outlawed for more than 100, a past matter. "Any man or woman who becomes involved in [polygamy] is excommunicated from the Church." People who think the Church has anything to do with them are mistaken. This matter is "outside the realm of our responsibility" and has been for a very long time. These dissident groups generally live quietly in Utah and other western states.

Others who may be counted among the greater Mormon family but are not directly involved in the Church are dissidents or "cultural Mormons." These "inactive" members are the "jack Mormons" who no longer attend services or have distanced themselves from the larger congregation for personal reasons. They may have been baptized but never fully integrated into a congregation. They may have been offended. They may disagree with doctrinal principles or be unwilling to live the Church's dietary guidelines, or pay the required ten percent tithing. Many descend from old church families but go their own way. These people are listed on the rolls and encouraged to return to activity.

Others who are silent or absent have been excommunicated for moral problems, heresy, or some other cause. The most publicized of this group includes intellectuals and feminists whose activities were deemed disobedient or heretical. These articulate thinkers have been punished for writing about topics that Church leaders consider damaging and destructive. While speakers in local wards have great freedom, those who speak or write to wider audiences are carefully scrutinized and sometimes disciplined. A few well-publicized cases have given the Church a reputation for suppressing free thought. From the Church's point of view, the goal is to define acceptable doctrinal boundaries and to ensure social tranquility. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then, encompasses large numbers of people with complex histories who join for many different reasons and have chosen to relate to Mormonism in many ways. All of them are affected to some degree by the thick heritage that includes theology; a history of western frontier migration; a detailed Plan of Salvation; myths of creation; an identity built on stories of divine intervention, persecution, and sacrifice; a warm family and congregational life; and a tradition of ongoing revelation, of God leading His people as He did Israel of old. Because so many members are converts with their own histories, isolating individual beliefs is difficult. People choose the aspects of the gospel that they like best. As anthropologist Mark Leone says, the Church has a "do-it-yourself theology," which means that Mormondom is an immensely complex agglomeration of many parts.

The name of the Church is also elusive. The Book of Mormon, the Scripture that Joseph Smith said he translated from golden plates, has provided the Church's misleading nickname. Mormon is a character in the book but he played no large role in Church history. He recorded the deeds of his own ancient people before his death in 385 C.E. The sect was named The Church of Christ at its founding in 1830. Eight years later, a teaching now found in Doctrine and Covenants 115:4 1981 said: "For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," the long name by which the church is known today. Neither official name mentions the short and distinctive "Mormon." The subtitle of the Book of Mormon, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ," was adopted in the early 1980s.

In preparation for the media coverage of the Winter Olympic Games held in Salt Lake City in 2002, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent out a notice reemphasizing the centrality of Jesus Christ in its name and denying the existence of an entity called the "Mormon Church." To emphasize a Christian identity, the Church altered its logo to show the words "Jesus Christ" in larger type and urged that media accounts use the whole dauntingly long name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in any first reference and thereafter The Church of Jesus Christ, an undistinctive name shared by other denominations. Spokesmen specifically requested that the common labels "Mormon Church," the "Latter-day Saints Church" and the "LDS Church" not be used. The word "Mormon" could still refer to individuals and to the well-known Mormon pioneers or the Mormon Tabernacle choir. Elder Dallin Oaks, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, made the distinction when he said, "I don't mind being called a Mormon, but I don't want it said that I belong to the Mormon Church." But because this usage goes against a lifetime of practice, writers continue to report on the Mormon Church. The Church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News, still uses LDS Church, as does its weekly supplement carrying the Church's news from Salt Lake City. Later the Church distanced itself from use of the title "fundamentalist Mormon" as polygamous groups are sometimes described, as an oxymoron. "The term Mormon is not xiv properly applied to the other . . . churches that resulted from the split after [Joseph] Smith's death."

In this book, I employ a variety of titles. The word "Mormon," as I have suggested, can include the broad family of schismatic and dissident groups, but here, as the Church prefers, I use it to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest Mormon group. This longer title is used from time to time, and references to LDS, the LDS Church, and to the Latter-day Saints are used occasionally. The word "Saints" implies no particular virtue, referring to everyday members. All of these terms, as well as reference to "the Church," mean The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I will mostly use quotations from this main body throughout the book.

I have relied on Church and press reports on happenings of significance and from Mormons themselves who have willingly described their religious culture. A large part of the reporting has come from watching stories unfold as well as from observing ordinary occurrences in Mormon life, its meetings, its celebrations, its contentions, and its struggles. These I have approached with the eye of an amateur anthropologist observing her native people. My desire has been to depict them in their beauties and flaws. I hope it will be evident that although I see some unresolved tensions in the Church, I love the Mormons and their occasional peculiarities, eccentricities, and homely virtues. I thank here the many people who have talked to me, read chapters, and helped me to compile this record, particularly Jed and Shawna Woodworth.