Exhumator Esoterics

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

The City Of Zion
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

After the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, converts could travel from Liverpool, England, to Ogden, Utah, in just twentyfour days instead of the old three to five-month trip. No wonder that the pre-1869 arrivals are considered the real pioneers. By 1887, more than 85,000 immigrants and thousands of their uncounted children had made the journey. After their arrival, they were often sent out to one of the 500 pioneer colonies founded by the Saints, along "the Mormon corridor" from Colorado to California, from Canada to Mexico. Young was determined that the Saints would live "free and independent" of outsiders, or "Gentiles." This self-sufficiency policy encouraged local industries, most of them short-lived. A co-operative store for Church members opened in 1869 so that Church members could participate in trade and ownership and to hinder "profiteers" from charging exorbitant prices. The flagship store of the Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, known as ZCMI, wholly owned by Church people, opened for business on Salt Lake City's Main Street on April 1, 1876. The facade was of fashionable cast iron. The newspaper proudly announced, "To say that the place looks splendid does no more than do it justice, as it compares in many points probably with any store on the continent."

This closed economy was a point of friction in the Church's relationship with the outside world. The outside trade issue resolved itself gradually but especially after Utah's statehood in 1896 when outside merchants entered the city in great numbers and took over the economy. In 2001, the Church sold ZCMI to Meier and Frank and Company.

From early days, the Mormons have gotten along fairly well with the Catholics and Jews, groups sharing the experience of discrimination. Protestants who led the nineteenth-century anti-Mormon crusades have been less compatible. As of 2003, Mormons constituted 48 percent of the city, Catholics 9 percent, and Protestants 8 percent. The second largest group at 19 percent were "nones," people without a religious affiliation, although they might well be religious. In Utah as a whole, Mormons are 57 percent of the population. All but Mormons qualify as "Gentiles" in this city, polarized along the Mormon/Gentile line. Gentiles feel a heavy Mormon hand exercises power whenever it chooses. Mormons do not understand why their wide smiles and offerings of fresh bread and cookies set people 's teeth on edge. The Mormons want the city to reflect its heritage, and the Gentiles want a city as diverse as other American cities.

Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, a former Mormon, thinks that the city would be a better community if people on both sides could break out of their isolation. City government tends to be run by non-Mormons, democrats. State government, however, reflects the majority Latter-day Saint population in the state and is largely conservative and Republican. James E. Shelledy, the former editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, complained, "The fact is we live in a quasi theocracy. . . . Eighty per cent of officeholders are of a single party, ninety per cent of a single religion, ninety-nine per cent of a single race, and eighty-five per cent of one gender." Church leaders have issued public assurances that it is alright to be a democrat, but Church members vote heavily Republican. The strength of the dominant religion provokes non-Mormons to move from indifference to opposition.

But to say that Utah is Mormon and conservative does not do justice to the degrees and nuances of difference. The Republican Party is divided between those who control the party and an outspoken far right that decries even their leaders as republicans in name only. On the whole, the right-wing group, although Mormon-dominated, is farther from the official stands of the Church than are the democrats. The Church supports public education, whereas the far-right wing of the Mormon-dominated Utah legislature attacks it, calling for tax credits for home-schoolers and support for private schools. The Church opposes abortion, except for cases of rape, incest, or the mother's life. The far right opposes abortion, period. On gun rights, another emotional issue, the Church declares that there is no place for guns at schools, and leaders have publicly opposed the unlimited availability of guns. Yet ultra-conservatives vehemently support the right to carry hidden weapons. The Church condemns child abuse and neglect, but conservative republicans want to limit the state 's right to intervene in abuse cases, in the name of family sanctity.

Because of its frontier mentality and perhaps because of its beleaguered history, Utah has permissive gun standards. The state has 42,000 people with permits to carry guns and has ordered all state offices, parks, hospitals, and college campuses to remove gun bans in compliance with the law allowing for concealed weapons. The universities have banned guns on occasion for the security of important visitors, and officials would like to extend the ban. Utah's attorney general, however, threatens fines and lawsuits to enforce the law permitting concealed weapons, noting that there is plenty of evidence that "more guns equals less crime." This is the classic Utah encounter between conservative individualists and moderates. Two-thirds of all citizens, according to a Deseret News poll, favor banning guns from schools and day-care centers. Many would go much further. Utah Republicans as a whole are somewhat more conservative than national republicans. A survey found Utahns close to the median on most issues like spending for national defense versus national programs, national health care, and the death penalty but considerably more conservative on "moral issues" such as abortion, gay rights, government-sponsored open space, and doctor-assisted suicide. Compared to the state, Salt Lake City is more moderate.

The election in 2004 demonstrated these complex political factors. Utah went more solidly for George W. Bush for president than any other state. Ironically, at the same time, Senator Harry Reid, D-Nevada, one of five Mormons serving in the Senate, rose to minority leader of the U.S. Senate, the highest post held by a Church member. Utah governor, Republican Jon Huntsman, Jr., decisively defeated Scott Matheson, Jr., in all but three Utah counties, one of them Salt Lake, continuing the twentyyear tradition of a Republican in the state house. Both candidates came from respected political families. Matheson is the son of the last Democratic Utah governor and the brother of U.S. representative Jim Matheson.