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June 23, 2009


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The 1978 revelation that removed the curse of Cain from blacks, much like the revelation about polygamy in the 19th century makes it clear that Mormons are, first and last, pragmatists. They did what they had to do to reconcile to established power while maintaining their own vernacular customs and mores. It it seems, at times, to be arbitrary and a bit incoherent, so what? That's life itself, cutting corners and rationalizing where it has to.

The swing to the hard right is not particularly unique. Catholics, Southern Baptists and Pentecostalists also swung hard in that direction. As much as anything, it's a reaction to modernity and the role of government in reproductive freedom, civil rights, and social democracy. The LDS social-welfare apparatus is directly competitive with the government's so it has some reason for its hostility.

With government(s) overburdened by debt and an increasingly ungovernable nation, Mormons may enjoy a growth surge as people look for a safety net that includes millions of instant friends and allies. There's nothing like social necessity when it comes to elevating nutty beliefs and liturgies systems to Inerrant Truth. Humans can and will believe anything. Especially when it also comes with ample food, sex, and positive tribal identity.

I have met many kind and hard-working Mormons, but there is a dark and scary underpinning:

- They may be great pioneers, but they did try to set up their own country, murdered non-Mormons that were passing thru, and stole vast tracts from the Natives.

- They are insular and place high value on "conformity". Hence Smiley Ford became Smiley-Berge Ford when Smiley figured out the Mormons in Mesa wouldn't buy from a non-Mormon from Indiana.

- I don't think their faith is big enough to truely include non-whites. The effort seems contrived and politically and economically motivated. (As an aside I met an African Phd student in physics at ASU in the late 70s. His fiancee, also African, studying at BYU was encouraged by a dean to date the only other black student, a highly popular athlete, at BYU.) Mesa has been abandoned to Catholic Mexicans, but the Mormon superstructure (government and business) remains in control).

You're right when you state the business side of the Church needs more scrutiny. AZ has become just a colony to milk for profit and converts.

Suburban sprawl and the shift in politics had everything to do with the radical change in the Mormon community in Arizona. Even though they attempt to maintain their wards as the center of their community, they are not as insulated as they like, and their children are as impacted by social ills of sprawl as anyone else. It's not at all surprising they would adopt a political paradigm that is intolerant of change.

Actually Steve Benson's Grandpa, Ezra Taft Benson, played a major role in the Arizona LDS shift to the extreme right. He held John Birch Society political views and he was the head of the church. Many East Valley Mormons still hold such kooky views, while Mormons in SLC seem to have moved on. Ask Steve about this sometime. He has some great stories to tell.

To add a little context to Zelph's post:

Ezra Taft Benson was not an Arizonan. He was born in Idaho, and spent much of his life in Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C.

Benson was sympathetic to the John Birch Society. And the Birch/LDS axis -- forged during the Cold War -- may well be where we can trace the current LDS enablement of the Kookocracy, even though communism has been left in the dustbin of history.

Benson's grandson Steve left the church. He's a great and talented guy. Interestingly he lives...in Gilbert.

Jon, this is probably one of your best threads.

Terry Dudas

Thank you for this post, Jon. As a fairly recent East Coast (by way of an intinerant decade in the Navy - still in coastal cities) transplant I never understood how LDS folks in AZ reconciled the Mormon tradition of community with the harsh and selfish nihilism of the kookocracy. Now I sorta get it.

Mormons were big recruits to the FBI, at least back in the days of J. Edgar Hoover. Part of this was their clean-cut morals/image, part was their conservative, virulently anti-Communist politics.

I'm not sure to what extent they changed the leadership structure of that organization (e.g., helping and promoting their own, especially into management positions) -- but that would be an interesting if difficult to research study topic for someone, somewhere.

Mormons have some arcane religious traditions that they don't share with outsiders and which few Mormons know until they reach leadership positions in the church hierarchy, or at least the equivalent of made men (specially sanctified members of the church).

I came across a tract (at a garage sale, selling for 25 cents) written by a highly influential church elder back in the 1920s, and it mentioned that some specially devout members, when they die, will become the God of their own planet, and populating it with their own race of men created by them. No kidding.

They also get to practice polygamy in heaven, though (supposedly) not on earth. This seems counter-intuitive to me since polygamy in the here and now increases the number of possible converts to the faith, which I thought was part of the path to heaven for Mormons. Populating heaven would seem to be a lesser priority.

"We now know that polygamy isn't like Big Love. It involves child rape, welfare fraud, the banishment of young men who would compete with the powerful old bulls."

Jon, have you actually watched Big Love? Because in it, polygamy involves child rape, welfare fraud, and the banishment of young men who would compete with the powerful old bulls.

Another aspect of the Dark Underbelly of the East Valley LDS involves their purchase of favors from Maricopa County Superior Court judicial officers, notably regarding Family Court issues/cases.

The LDS church in Arizona is alive and well along with all kinds of different churches spread all across the state. The Mormons are growing they now number over 400,000 members in some 90 stakes 5 temples and alot of wealth. the future of the church here in Arizona is bright and stable, the view that the LDS church controls the Legislature is a long held view,but it is simply not true. The church seems to wield alot of clout for it's size but that is simply because the members of the church are counseled to be active in politics and so they are. The church is admired and respected after some 132 years of hard work and effort, it did not happen overnight.

As someone who grew up Mormon in Utah but is no longer a member, I'd like to thank the author for one of the most fair minded assessments of Mormonism I have ever seen. Often people tend to fall into the trap of generating pro or contra propaganda. It makes finding reliable information on Mormonism a painfully difficult task.

That said, I wanted to address the polygamy issue. I agree that in most of the polygamist communities that there are high levels of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. However, I'm not sure that extends to non associated polygamists: the ones that don't belong to any church, they just kind of live in the suburbs and try to fit in as much as possible while staying out of trouble.

We had some neighbors like that in all the neighborhoods I grew up in, there was always one or two families. Everyone knew they were polygamists, but since their marriages were religious and they were legally just cohabitating and all of their kids seemed normal and fine, no one really wanted to do anything about it. I was never sure if they were members or not, because they never went to church. In the church, you can believe or do whatever you want (within reason) as long as you stay out of sight and keep your mouth shut. They don't bother to hod inquisitions and excommunicate people who aren't attending unless they are convicted of a serious crime.

You can be a total athiest and still practice as long as you don't out yourself (as the New Order Mormons are.) Part of the reason no one asked if the polygamists in my neighborhoods were still members was because if the answer was yes, you had to go through the very painful and humiliating process of excommunication. Nobody wanted to do that to their neighbors so as long as they only came to church for major holidays Christmas and Easter) and kept their mouths shut, people tried to return the respect by not prying into their personal lives and ostracizing them from the community. Its not as simple as taking their name off a list, excommunication has really big implications for people's eternities and immediate social reality. Although the high ups would like the polygamy policy to be executed 100% of the time, its much harder when you're the bishop and you have to do al of the dirty work of prying into their personal life and throwing them out of their community (while they are still living inside of ward boundaries.)

I don't really know what it was like in Arizona though, I imagine the dynamics are totally different. Anyway, these nonaffiliated polygamists (those without a church membership in any church) make up 50,000 of the "Mormon" polygamists compared to the 40,000 who are affiliated with a church and a community rather than just free floating around in society. I'm not certain that the social and behavioral dynamics are the same in these two groups and I would hesitate to lump the behavior of the FLDS onto the non-affiliated. Its possible that its the same or similar, and its possible that it is not. They aren't as well studied or observed and based on personal experience I can't jump to that conclusion.

Something else you wrote about that I might be able to provide insight on is the Church's lag on mainstream values. The church will always be 10-30 years or so behind mainstream America because of the nature of the leadership. It is age based with the oldest members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles having more authority. Essentially the oldest guy in the group is the one on top, the "trustee in trust," president or prophet, who owns the whole show and calls all of the shots. With the average age of the Quorum of the Twelve at eighty right now, LDS policy is going to reflect the thinking of a senior citizen. That's just the nature of the beast unfortunately.

As far as the swing to the far right, thats hard on a lot of young Mormons too. Its probably a significant factor to the church's high levels of inactivity (some estimates place inactive millennials at 50-80% of the members of their age group.) that might force change on the church. Some of us both i and out of the church hope that Brother Uchtdorf the current second councilor will swing it more to the left: community building, tolerance, understanding, big-tent mormonism, being nice, etc. just as Benson was responsible for initial swing to the right and Brigham Young may have been responsible for the priesthood ban on blacks (which didn't exist under Joseph Smith.) He's already been censored by the Church for being to liberal with "apostates" and the content of his sermons seems to center on food security, love, humanitarianism, he even slips into ridiculing members for being too judgemental, cliquish and "un-christlike" something I never thought I would see in my life. If he does swing the church a little more to the left, he might save the church from a millennial die off, and make it a more pleasant group of people less concerned with legislating a definition of marriage and more concerned with building Zion. Less proud of building temples and more proud of building Bishop's Storehouses. At least, thats the direction some of us hope it will go.

But mind you, these are just my opinions.

Mormons need to be run out of Arizona, they succeded in Ny Missouri, Ohio, now move on. I for one have been the victim of the sinister ways of mormons. And their allies as you put it.
They are the most evil corrupt money grubbing no goods on the face of the planet.
Shame on all of them !!

Celebrate the Mormons? 'Nice People,' This gaggle discriminates against the Rights of Women, LGBTQ Individuals and. Groups, minorities and, immigrants (unless LDS). They also outrageously Baptized dead Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. (Disclosure: I identify as Jewish).

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