by lyle e davis
Back in February of last year, The Paper featured as its cover story an in-depth look at the Baha’i - a religion very few of us knew about, including me.
A fascinating picture emerged of a very nice religious group made up of very nice, gentle people . . . and in the process of researching the story I got to learn a great deal about their philosophies and beliefs and gained a number of new, and very warm, friends in the process. I know a bit more about The Mormons. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, which served as the Winter Quarters for the Mormons during their epic journey to the west.
I remember well a certain gravesite in the Mormon Cemetery in Omaha. I visited the gravesite of a Lt. Carlisle Cassiday, a member of the Mormon militia, who had died during the journey. It was a secluded spot . . . and thus an ideal place for a young couple to visit when they wanted to be alone . . . thus my familiarity with Carlisle Cassiday. When my girlfriend and I wanted to be alone, we’d go off and visit the beloved Lieutenatant Carlisle Cassiday.
Like the Baha’i, I’ve always found the Mormons to be a kind and gentle people. Knowing of some of the persecutions they underwent, particularly in their early years, it’s all the more amazing that they are such a kind and gentle folk.
In the early 19th century, to be called a Mormon was equal to calling someone a Muslim terrorist today. There was a great deal of hostility against them and their beliefs. As I research more about the Mormons, I find so much more information that shows how they were molded as a religion, as a people, into the Mormons we know today.
This story, which I share with you, tells a bit about the members of the Church they call the Church of the Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ. We tell this story certainly not to convert you. I am not a Mormon. I just admire them and hope that, in knowing them, you will come to know them and admire them as much as I do.
Who Are The Mormons?
Indeed, there are a great many Mormons who live amongst us. Business and professional leaders, mechanics, tradesmen, housewives, athletes, entertainers, Mormons come in a wide variety of flavors and lifestyles.
In the San Diego area, for example, Brandon Manumaleuna, Tight End for the San Diego Chargers is a Mormon, as is his teammate, Eric Weddle, Safety, San Diego Chargers, and Steve Young, former Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers. Ty Detmer, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback is a Mormon; LaVell Edwards, coach for Brigham Young University is a Mormon. No surprise there.
Again, on the local front, Escondido’s own Sean Salisbury, Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings and others, Mormon. Remember that handsome young man who sang so beautifully on American Idol by the name of David Archeleta? Mormon. Wally Joyner, former Padre and now Los Angeles Angels, also a Mormon.
There are, in North County, a number of Mormons in business and the professions that you will meet later in this story. You will also learn that Mormons are active members of the political community at the local, county, state and national level.
The visitation . . . as described by
The Latter Day Saints: To most of us, they are, The Mormons.
What brings so many of our friends and neighbors, our athletes, our entertainment and business figures into this collective philosophy and religion known as The Mormons?
The Mormons believe that a man by the name of Joseph Smith is their prophet. They believe that when Joseph Smith was 14 years old, in the year 1819, he began to have his first visions in the upper bedroom of his home. Those visions, the Mormons believe, because Joseph Smith said so, were from God and Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith said he asked the deities, “Which is the Church that is true?”
“None of them,” they replied, which shocked young Joseph. He told no one but his family for a number of years about these visions for fear of ridicule and harassment. Then, four years later, in 1823, at age 17, Joseph Smith says he was visited by an angel, again in the upper bedroom of his home. The angel, he says, was named Moroni.
Smith said the angel revealed to him where the Book of Mormon was located. Joseph went to the spot where Moroni told him to and there, Smith says, he found plates of gold that were covered with heiroglyphics.
Joseph took these plates home and studied them. Over the next several months, he was able to translate the plates. This translation resulted in 600 pages and would become the Book of Mormon. Smith then returned the plates to the Hill Commora, as instructed by the angel Moroni.
Smith was now prepared to bring the word to the people. There were many seers and philosphers during those formative years of our nation. Wandering preachers, all of whom claimed to have the true church. A preacher on every corner, all had the true answers. How did Joseph Smith grow his church, in competition with all these other folks?
He had a book.
Joseph Smith had his book printed. It was expensive. It was leather bound, and it attracted a great deal of attention.
As he began to speak of his visions and his meetings with God, Jesus Christ, and the angel Moroni, he would often say, “If I had not experienced it, I would not believe it myself.”
By the end of May, 1823, Smith had 40 converts. He told them, “I am the Prophet.”
This was an affront to traditional religion so those who were not of the Mormon faith immediately became hostile toward Smith and his followers.
Eight years later, in 1831, Smith attracted a young, energetic carpenter by the name of Brigham Young. Young soon became a follower. That same year, Smith began to send out missionaries, instructing them to spread the gospel from the Book of Mormon. Just six years later, in 1837, the town of Kirkland, Ohio, had 3000 members of the LDS. It was in Kirkland that Joseph Smith decreed that all deserving male members of the Church would become members of the priesthood and would be able to give blessings and healings. Much would be asked of them. These blessings and healings followed a prescribed ritual, involving the laying on of hands, usually on the head of the recipient, and the priest/head of household would then bestow blessings or pray for a healing.
A Young Joseph Smith
The movement continued to grow.
It is said that Joseph Smith was able to speak to the “common man,” and that they understood him and believed, as Smith said, that the “end times were near.”
As the Church grew they opted to not build a traditional church but, rather, they would build a temple. Within this temple they would have a secret place for annointing, different rooms for different applications within the Church. There were never any Ministers of the Church; it was an all volunteer staff. Still, the Church grew.
A powerful sense of persecution haunted the Mormons. By December of 1837, Joseph Smith, who had gone into several businesses, began to suffer serious financial reverses; moving from a booming economy, into a bust. His Church began to stumble. There was rebellion amongst the members and those who were not Mormon began to harass Smith and his followers as well. Smith left Kirkland in despair with many of his followers. They were headed for Missouri, where Smith had declared there existed, Zion, God’s future city.
Upon their arrival in Missouri, the harrassment continued. The Missourians felt the Mormons were invaders, come to steal their lands, to convert their people to a non-traditional church. Beatings, houseburnings, condemnation from the pulpits, and from the statehouses; it grew to such a fervor that the Governor of Missouri ultimately issued an Extermination Order for Mormons. They had to leave . . . or they could be killed.
Clearly, there was hatred for those odd, peculiar people, The Mormons.
Within five years from 1831 there were 5000 Mormons in Missouri. Joseph Smith had sent them, saying that Missouri was the original site of The Garden of Eden. Independence, Missouri, was announced as Eden and that God would give this new land to his chosen followers. That did not sit well with the original Missouri settlers. They had said, “we got along fine with the Mormons, we had no problems with them, . . until Joseph Smith spoke of his revelations, and that we would have our land taken from us.”
Overnight the hostility and tensions grew. By the time Smith arrived in 1838 from Kirkland, Ohio, the Mormons had been chased from Jackson County, home of Independence, Missouri, to county after county.
It was about this time that the Mormons formed their own militia. Smith encouraged them saying, “we are not Quakers. We will not turn the other cheek. We will fight to protect our homes, our land, our people.”
Then, one day, 200 to 300 riders attacked the Mormons while grinding grain at Hauns Mill. 17 Mormons dead, 13 wounded. This massacre was part of an ongoing war that would soon cause the Governor to issue his now infamous Exterminaton Order. This was the first and only time such an order was ever issued. “Mormons must be treated as enemies,” he said. “They must be either exterminated or leave the area.” The Mormons surrendered their lands and houses, and left. Just one more persecution. There would be more.
Emma, Joseph Smith’s First Wife
The next stop was
In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith bought 18,000 acres. The Nauvoo people welcomed the refugees. By now, the Mormons were known nationally and news of the massacre had preceded them.
The Mormons blended in with the Nauvoo population, building homes and businesses. Nauvoo was the peak of Joseph Smith’s career. By 1844 it became a dynamic, beautiful city rivaling Chicago for growth. To many, it appeared these were the happiest days of his career.
New revelations now emerged. In the summer of 1843, in his office above the General
Store, Joseph Smith dictated his revelations, authorizing polygamy. Smith claimed God had told him members could live in multiple marriages and by doing so, they would live in heaven at a level equal to God’s. He also announced the Latter Day Saints could now baptize the dead; also, he announced Celestial Marriage; this meant that plural marriages could be arranged here on earth, and they would be recognized in the afterlife.
This upset his wife, Emma, greatly. Probably even more so when she learned that Joseph had either been having an affair with a beautiful, young 19 year old woman who had been working in the Smith household, or had married her already. Smith, it is said, went on to have as many as 30 wives, 10 of whom had been married to other men. He would tell his new potential brides, it is said, “to please God you have to comply; all would be blessed by God.”
Smith was elected Mayor, Chief Justice of the local Court and other important positions. The Mormons had become something of a theocracy. Now the non-Mormon people began to fear the power that was building. Then, in the early 1840’s, Smith decided he’d run for President of the United States. That, plus the political and economic dominance of the Mormons in that area . . . caused great concern and violence began to flare on the fringes of the community.
The murder of Joseph Smith
The Nauvoo Expositor, a local newspaper, printed a story about Joseph Smith, denouncing his practice of polygamy. Furious, Smith ordered the newspaper destroyed. It was burned to the ground. This became a major backlash toward Smith. The people resented anyone who would burn a printing press and deny the distribution of news.
Smith was soon arrested on charges of treason and imprisoned in the Carthage, Illinois, jail. Within days, Smith would be assassinated by a mob of 200 non-Mormon men. The Mormons did not end, however, with the death of Joseph Smith.
By 1846, yet another exodus began, this time led by Brigham Young, who had taken over the mantle of leadership from Joseph Smith.
Emma Smith, Joseph’s widow, was having none of it. She and a son formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and headed east. The main force of the Mormons headed west. Three months through mud and snow. He led the first group of 3000 of what would become a major immigration movement. When they arrived in what is now Omaha, Nebraska, they set up Winter Quarters.
The Mormons had to head west. They could not go east; nothing but hostility awaited them there. Brigham Young had a plan. He wanted to leave the United States and had seen on a map a place called the Great Salt Lake Basin. Though it was then owned by Mexico, Young headed straight for it. They began their trek. Not enough wagons, not enough horses, some had to walk west pulling or pushing carts. Death by the dozens, sometimes death by the hundreds would develop. All because they followed their faith and their leader, Brigham Young, in search of Zion and their salvation.
On July 24, 1847, seventeen years after Joseph Smith and a group of five other men founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York and three years after an Illinois lynch mob killed Smith, Brigham Young and his band of followers entered Salt Lake valley. He saw in his immediate field of vision a desert . . . but he had a greater vision. A valley of crops, of homes, of irrigated lands, of great buildings, and of a great temple.
Would his vision ever be realized? No one else wanted this land. It was off hundreds of miles from nowhere. But, that’s what the Mormons wanted. Solitude. They wanted to be by themselves, to be left alone, to live and worship as they pleased. To build a community. Would they succeed? Maybe. But it would take time. And lots of hard work.
They toiled, and they built. And then, in the early 1850’s, the drought came. Times got even tougher. New immigrants were arriving and Brigham Young sent them further out into the wilderness to form still more communities. With hard times the members of the Church began to grumble. Church discipline began to deteriorate. Finally, Brigham Young took even more firm control of the Church and its members.
Brigham Young, the Leader
By 1853, the Mexican War had ended. Utah was now a US territory. Brigham Young was named Governor and the US sent officials on assignment, supposedly to inform Young of US wishes as to how the territory was to be governed.
Brigham Young would have none of that. The Mormons had left the United States, not wanting to be any part of it. Now, they were again part of the United States, at least to the extent of being theoretically subject to US laws. He bristled at their attemps to undermine his absolute rule over the Mormons. This was Mormon territory, he said, people by the Mormons, governed by the Mormons. He repeatedly told the US officials to back off. US officials are not known for backing off. They thought they were just as stubborn as Young. They were wrong.
Brigham Young effectively ran off any and every US government official who tried to enter the province. In time, Young decreed that strangers were not welcome. If they were not Mormon, they probably ought to look elsewhere. President Buchanan, having declared Utah as a US territory decided to prove his point. He declared the Utah territory as being in rebellion. He assigned up to 20% of the US military force to Utah. That, he thought, would solve the problem.
Meanwhile, other events were building that would lead to one of the most tragic, most shocking, most embarrassing moments in Mormon history. Because of the deterioration in Church discipline, in 1853, Young had ordered Mormons to not deal with any strangers but to deal only with themselves. He also ordered those members who were falling away from Church doctrine to repent, to reform as proper members of the Church, to return to being Saints. This time is known today, generally, as The Reformation. They were urged to “step up to the mark and practice the ‘old time religion.’”
An older Brigham Young
In early 1856, Young launched the Reformation, a campaign to arouse religious consciousness. Mormon leadership urged spiritual repentance and rebaptisms. All those unwilling to make the necessary religious sacrifices were invited to leave Utah. The most troubling aspect of the Reformation was its obsession with the doctrine of blood atonement. Young asked his followers to kill Mormons who committed unpardonable sins: "If our neighbor...wishes salvation, and it is necessary to spill his blood upon the ground in order that he be saved, spill it." While Young aimed his fiery words about blood atonement at Mormons who committed serious sins, his speeches undoubtedly contributed to a growing culture of violence. The Reformation might have had a spiritual goal, but it fueled a fanaticism that led to the tragedy at Mountain Meadows.
One very strongly fundamentalist member, John D. Lee, took this to heart. He was bound and determined to enforce Church law, no matter the cost.
While this unrest was building within the Church, the Mormons learn in 1857 that a wagon train, known as The Fancher Party, is headed their way from Arkansas, en route to California. At the same time, the US Army is on the march for Utah, to enforce the nation’s laws and to control Brigham Young. An extraordinay confluence of events are all taking place at the same time, all of which heightens tensions and will result in one of the most tragic events in Mormon history.
While preparing their wagon train to head from Arkansas to Utah, a Mormon missionary is murdered, in Arkansas. That missionary was the great-great grandfather of 2008 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney), Parley Prat. While the men, women, and children, who would form the wagon train had nothing to do with the missionary’s murder, they were from Arkansas. This, ultimately, was their death warrant.
John D. Lee
Their families, their wagons, their livestock, every thing was ready. They struck out for Utah. The Reformation with fiery, passionate, almost fantatical speeches and Church orders; the American Army en route to Utah to take charge of the unruly Mormons, a beloved missionary is murdered in Arkansas, and an emigrant train full of strangers is en route to Utah . . . their wagon train arrived in Southern Utah. It was September.
At the same time, knowing the Army was about to descend, Brigham Young declared martial law and gave strict instructions to trade with no one but Mormons. As both sides, the government and the Mormons, through Young, talked past each other, hostile rhetoric fanned the Mormons resentment of government.
From their standpoint, they had patiently endured two decades of bitter persecution with great forbearance, but their patience with their long list of enemies had worn thin. As early as 1851, Governor Young said in a speech, "Any President of the United States who lifts his finger against these people shall die an untimely death and go to hell!"
Word then reached Salt Lake City that the wagon train of immigrants was heading their way . . . from Arkansas . . . where the beloved missionary had been murdered. It was even said that some members of the Arkansas wagon train had members from Missouri.
Memories of the Hauns Mill massacre came rushing back.
As the wagon train neared Cedar City in southern Utah, milita members, including Major John D. Lee, were on high alert.
A depiction of the Mountain Meadows Massacre
In Salt Lake City, Brigham Young had given assurance of safe passage for any wagon trains that wished to cross the territory; but he had also given local Indians, notably the Paiute, that they now had permission to steal cattle from immigrants. The strategy here was, apparently, to give assurance to the federal government but also to demonstrate that the federal government, with all its rules and regulations, could not control the Indians.
The militia decided to use some Indians as a cover for a raid on the incoming wagon train. And, if a few of the ‘bad guys’ on that immigrant train were killed, there was no big loss. It was the 4th of September and the wagon train arrived at Cedar City. They then went on to Mountain Meadows, where they encamped on September 6.
Mountain Meadows was located in a beautiful valley. They felt secure and bedded down for the night.
The next morning, September 7th, the camp arose. They started to prepare breakfast All was well. For awhile.
The next morning's calm at the meadows was interrupted by gunfire. A child who survived the attack wrote later, "Our party was just sitting down to a breakfast of quail and cottontail rabbits when a shot rang out from a nearby gully, and one of the children toppled over, hit by a bullet." The shots came from forty to fifty Indians and Mormons disguised as Indians. The well-armed emigrants returned fire. Soon the gun battle turned into a siege.
A Council was held at Cedar City and the Mormon elders in the group decided that those emigrants had recognized the Mormons. They would have to die.
By September 11, Legion officers had devised a plan for ending the stand-off. Most of the Paiutes had left after growing weary of the siege and could play no role in the bloody conclusion. The plan was devious, but effective. Major John Higbee, in command of the forces at Mountain Meadows, persuaded John Lee and William Bateman to act as decoys to draw the emigrants out from the protection of their wagons. Lee and Bateman, carrying a white flag, marched across the field to the emigrants' camp. The desperate emigrants agreed to the terms promised by Lee: They would give up their arms, wagons, and cattle, in return for promise that they would not be harmed as they embarked on a 35-mile hike back to Cedar City.
John D. Lee, seated on his coffin, just prior to his execution, and below, after his execution
Samuel McMurdy, a member of the Nauvoo Legion, took the reins of one of the wagons into which were loaded some of the youngest children. A woman and a few seriously injured emigrant men were loaded into a second wagon. John Lee positioned himself between the two wagons as they pulled out. Following the two wagons, the women and the older children of the Fancher party walked behind. After the wagons had moved on, Higbee ordered the emigrant men to begin walking in single file. An armed Mormon "guard" escorted each emigrant man.
When the escorted men had fallen a quarter mile or so behind the women and children, who had just crested a small hill, Higbee yelled, "Halt! Do your duty!" Each of the Mormon men shot and killed the emigrant at his side. Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, Nelphi Johnson shouted the order to begin the slaughter of the women and older children. Men rushed at the defenseless emigrants from both sides, and the killing went on amidst "hideous, demon-like yells." Nancy Huff, four years old at the time of the massacre, later remembered the horror: "I saw my mother shot in the forehead and fall dead. The women and children screamed and clung together. Some of the young women begged the assassins after they run out on us not to kill them, but they had no mercy on them, clubbing their guns and beating out their brains." It was over in just a few minutes. 120 members of the Fancher party were dead. The youngest children, seventeen or eighteen in all, were gathered up, to later be placed in Mormon homes. None of the survivors was over seven years old.
John D. Lee then admonished all Mormons who participated in the massacre that they were bound to a code of silence and, that anyone who broke that code would pay for it with their lives.
The Mormon Church in Salt Lake City denied the massacre but, soon, conflicting reports began to pour in . . . from the murderers, from the surviving children. Soon, attention focused on John D. Lee. Lee, in his confession, described the field on that day: "The bodies of men, women and children had been stripped entirely naked, making the scene one of the most loathsome and ghastly that can be imagined."
He was executed. Appropriately, the execution took place in Mountain Meadows. There were an estimated 75 to 100 men who were never charged, convicted, or penalized. To this day, the Mountain Meadows Massacre is a painful episode in the history of the Mormons.
Debate continues about this controversy. Who ordered the massacre? Was it the head of the local militia? Or was it from Brigham Young himself? Some say Brigham Young had absolute control of the territory and of the Overland Road and nothing happened without his knowledge and consent. Others argue it was a rogue leader of a Mormon militia group that made the decision and gave the orders.
Still others say Young’s only fault was his powerful rhetoric that fanned the flames of emotion that led to the massacre, but Young neither authorized nor condoned it . . but he may have set the stage for Mountain Meadows, even if unintentionally. It is doubtful that the Mountain Meadows Massacre true story will ever be known. Too many conflicting stories from the murderers, from the surviving children, and from the notes and journals of members of Mormon families and interviews with the Paiute Indians.
Mountain Meadows was just one more controversy the Mormons didn’t need. They were still dealing with, and reeling from, the criticism of their practice of polygamy. The conflict between spirituality and sexuality would continue for years afterward.
Going back a few years, Brigham Young, who had at first resisted polygamy, even though Joseph Smith had told him it was not only his right but his duty . . . eventually accepted polygamy as a way of life and would marry at least 50 women, many of whom were widows and elderly women whom he helped care for under the guise of marriage. He would have 57 children.
Imprisoned Mormons who practiced polygamy - part of the government crackdown, with full approval of the Church
It is estimated about 20 to 30% of the Mormons practiced polygamy; most of the practice was by those leaders who could afford it. The women chosen had to comply, to follow obedience, in order to be a good Mormon. In 1852 the Mormons publicly acknowledged polygamy; in fact, they would preach it from the pulpit. Since only Mormons attended temple, the news did not dash across the prairie. But it would, and soon.
In 1877, Brigham Young died. 50,000 people attended his simple funeral. They hailed his saving of the Church and to resurrect the vision of Joseph Smith.
That same year, the United States declared polygamy was a felony. The government began to arrest polygamy practicing Mormons and sending them to prisons. Soon, the prisons in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona were full and they headed their prisoners toward Nebraska prisons.
In 1887, the Edmunds-Tucker Act was passed. Now the government did not come after individuals, they came after the Church itself. They would prohibit immigration to the United States from those who were Mormons, they would disenfranchise members of the Church. This would deny them the right to sit on juries, to hold office, they would not have the right to vote and the government would seize the property of the Mormon Church.
In the 1880’s a presidential candidate decried the Mormons as “a major domestic challenge, (second only) to the Civil War, of today”.
Today, those same Mormons sing at our Presidential Inauguration. They’re called the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
In 1890, under tremendous pressure, the new leader, Prophet Wilbur Woodruff, announced a Manifesto, that he would only years later describe as a revelation, in which he said from that day forward the Mormon Church would no longer practice polygamy.
Read closely, critics say that this is not a commandment, it is not Church policy, it is not described, at least at the time the Manifesto was announced, as a revelation, but was “advice.” Critics say this was Woodruff’s way of getting the government to “back off.”
Below, part of the raid on Short Creek, Arizona
Whatever the case, the official renunciation of polygamy by the Church would lead to Utah being admitted as a state in 1896. Even after that, however, some Mormons continued to practice polygamy. The Church sought them out. The non-conforming Mormos would go into hiding . . . and, eventually, locate in their own colonies. This cat and mouse game continued for years until, in 1953, at Short Creek, Arizona, law enforcement authorities, with the full support of the Mormon Church, raided homes of those breakaway Mormons who were still practicing polygamy.
It backfired. National television, radio, and news coverage brought forth a strong public sentiment for the Mormons and against the authorities. The ardor for prosecution soon died.
Today, it is estimated that there are 30,000 to 60,000 that still practice polygamy though they are not active members of the LDS Church, but breakaway factions..
Though controversy continued to swirl around the Mormons and their community, progress was slowly being made in terms of bringing Mormons into the ruling halls of the nation.
As early as 1903 a Senator for the state of Utah was elected, Reed Smoot. He was a high Mormon Apostle. It was not an easy campaign or election. He had to fight for four years in order to be seated as a US Senator . . . but seated he was. Once seated, Smoot argued long and hard for capitalism and strong recognition of the family and family values.
Senator Reed Smoot, also an Apostle with the Church
Since that time, more and more Mormons have assembled on the national stage. Names such as Ezra Taft Benson, President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture, current US Senator Orin Hatch, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, all come from the Mormon Camp. These Mormons have embraced capitalism quite successfully. The Church itself owns, it is estimated conservatively, some $25-30 billion in assets.
Each Mormon is required to tithe 10% of his or her gross income. There are minimal expenses because most Mormon leaders serve as volunteers and accept no pay. There are countless volunteers for the Church worldwide, whether in administrative positions, in the genealogical libraries, or as missionaries. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is strictly volunteer . . . and it has become a highly effective Good Will Ambassador for the Church. (Photo below).
Some will argue whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is Christian or non-Christian. Most churches accept them in a spirit of ecumenalism; the Southern Baptists still do not accept the Mormons as a legitimate Church. Lately, as part of a more modernistic attempt at public relations, the logo of the Mormons has been changed to reflect the name Jesus Christ more prominently than “Latter Day Saints.”
As if the question of a vision received by a 17 year old boy, the buried gold plates, the appearance of God, Jesus Christ, and an Angel, the revelation about the baptism of the dead, and the Celestial Marriages weren’t enough . . . the third president of the Church, John Taylor, condemned blacks as ‘representatives of Satan and that white folks were the true representative of Jesus Christ.’ Accordingly, blacks would not be allowed to hold priesthood within the Mormon Church, if they were able to gain entry at all.
This renunciation was corrected in 1978 when Spencer Kimball, newly elected as President on June 1, 1978, struck down the ban on blacks from the priesthood. Blacks now are numbered amongst the Saints and, indeed, are carrying on missionary work throughout the world.
What may not be generally known about Mormons is the smoothly operating welfare system. They have become legendary in the military precision with which they carry out supply and resupply to disaster areas as well as distribution of food and goods to the needy. During Katrina, the one organization that was properly and well operated was that of the Mormons.
Probably the most visible element of the Mormons is their missionaries. While there are both male and female missionairies, most of us see male missionaries. There are about 50,000 of them that go into mission work every year, and there are about 250,000 recruited every year and they head for missionary boot camp for the necessary training in language skills, diplomacy, as well as the basic housekeeping chores they must accomplish.
Each young Mormon is asked to contribute two years of his life to his mission. It is something they are trained for from childhood . . . and a matter of great pride and great sorrow, when it comes time to bid farewell for two years. Parents and missionaries are not allowed contact, other than by letter and phone, during their mission. In some cases, missionaries have been notified by a simple note that a parent has passed away . . . the solitude is that strictly enforced.
Joseph Smith began the missionary movement early on. He assigned the Assembly of Twelve to go to Great Britain. They did. They accepted the assignment and, as you would imagine, a great many new Mormons came from Britain. During the Great Depression and The Great War (WWI) the missionary work was depleted. At one time there were only 500 missionaries worldwide.
In the 1950’s there came a resurgence of missionaries and today, “God’s Army” is out in full force.
The missionary recruits report to Provo, Utah, where the Mission Training Camp is located. There, they spend three months, 16 hours a day, learning what is necessary to become a missionary. Once assigned a mission, the missionaries meet with their families to say goodbye. They will not see each other for two years. Many tears are shed, many embraces held for many, many minutes. And then it is over. The missionaries leave for their mission.
There is always a pair of missionaries. They are instructed to always be at each others side. About the only time they can be apart is to attend to nature’s call in the restroom. After two years, missionaries are a prize catch for anxious and beautiful young Morman women. From this field of attractive young people, many ideal young Mormon families will ensue.
It is estimated there are 12 million Mormons worldwide with at least 50% of them in the United States. Over the last decade, for some reason, the conversions have declined . . . and, it has been noted, there is about a 50% factor of new members who will fall away from the Church.
The Church continues to be very demanding. Even the Mormon scholars sometimes find it difficult to do independent study as there are pressures placed upon them to not find fault with doctrines, policies, or accounts of the history of the Church.
Doubt, too, appears in the minds of some of the Church’s members. Some Mormons have left the Church because they simply felt that Joseph Smith’s revelations were not what he claimed them to be and that he was, after all, just another man, perhaps with a dream and a vision, but not necessarily someone who had been visited by God, Jesus Christ and an Angel. Doubt had been raised in their minds.
Doubt, too, appears in the minds of the Church’s intellectuals. Some intellectuals who have challenged the Church beliefs and their leaders, have been called into Council Court and excommunicated because they questioned Divine Revelation.
Some intellectuals have been admonished that “there are things you cannot write about.” Within the Temple, the biggest taboo is questioning authority.
As Joseph Smith said in the early years, “Leave. If you are not going to follow the rules, leave!”
Perhaps because of the growing intellectualism, the growing questioning of authority, the last generation has seen a much large enforcement of discipline and a higher number of excommunications. The Church has said some of its greatest challenges have been gays, feminists, and intellectuals.
What increases the questions asked of the Mormon Church is that the intellectual scholars have been unable to, under scientific examination, turn up any evidence of the "Israelites of the New World," as described by Joseph Smith. No DNA, no archealogical evidence. The New World has been identified as either Guatamela or Mexico. There’s been lots of excavations in both countries. So far, no evidence.
Grant Palmer, a Mormon scholar and journalist, was punished for publishing information the Church felt was detrimental. He was subject to Disfellowship, which is just short of excommunication.
He had written that much of the Book of Mormon drew heavily from the King James Version of The Bible; that there was lots of evangelical fervor in the preachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and that the Book or Mormon is a 19th century writing, not from a document that was 2500 years old, as the Mormons profess. Mormons believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only True Church.
Other areas of controversy include the question of why there are no women in the priesthood though, in fairness, most who ask this question are women who are not members of the Church. The Church has excommunicated some prominent scholars. Indeed, there is allegedly a file within the Salt Lake City Temple that lists troublemakers, presumably those within the Mormon faith, but possibly allies of those Mormons as well.
Controversy aside, it is well known that the Mormons place a high value on famly. Most every Mormon home holds a “Family Home Evening,” when the family joins together, usually on Mondays, to pray, to talk, and to enjoy one another.
Indeed, when Brigham Young sent groups out to develop new communities, he emphasized the strong support for family and the “sealing” of family members. This was important to Joseph Smith, and to Brigham Young. “Sealing” is a ritual where family members are bonded to one another for eternity. It is a major important element to being a Mormon, holding the family together.
Mormons tend to be arranged geographically. Where you live determines where you worship. They are divided into wards and stakes, the quasi-political units, so many wards making up a stake. There is no clergy, no one gets paid, and there are always plenty of volunteers for the Church. All worthy male members of the Church are priests and are thus able to give blessings and healings; they are automatically the head of their own family. The family is the spiritual core of the Church. Families are forever.
Being gay within the Mormon Church has been described as “beyond hell” by former members who were gay. There is no allownce within the Church for gay members. If a male, he must be married to a woman. It is well documented that the Mormon Church contributed heavy funding to the recent California election on Proposition 8.
The Temple is a sacred building. No one who is not a Mormon is allowed within, unless for a few days after its building and prior to opening for regular services.
Temples are built to provide for baptism for the dead as well as other temple rites. There are a number of rooms within a temple, each of which has a particular function.
There are over 100 temples today, worldwide. Outsiders are not allowed inside and members are not allowed to speak of what happens in temple. They take a pledge to never reveal the rites.
One must have a “temple recommend” to enter a temple. The people dress in all white. It is not a typical worship service such as non-Mormons are used to. Instead, Mormons go to different rooms and perform different rites as they think are appropriate for both the living and the dead.
The baptism of the dead takes place in a large baptismal pool. The Mormons collect reams and reams of data on the dead as part of their world class genealogy project. They then baptize those who have departed, both Mormon and non-Mormon as well. Mormons enter the pool for a “proxy baptism” for the dead, sometimes as many as 20 names at a time with the same living Mormon serving as the proxy for them all.
Somewhere in Utah, there is a huge mountain series of caves that hold more than 7 billion names, all recorded. Mormons estimate they have baptized 100 million dead. There are 2000 genealogical search centers all over the world . . . a further testament to the fact that the spiritual connection to the family is at the core of the Church beliefs. The Mormons believe that everything will be reconstituted after death and they will all be reunited with family and friends.
We spoke earlier of the prominent and famous Mormons in the world. We have a great many prominent Mormons living here in North San Diego County as well.
Attorney Allen Haney, prominent San Diego County attorney, having handled work for the San Diego Padres and other major players in large projects, is also Stake President for North San Diego County. He did his misisionary service in Argentina; of his six children; two sons, both of whom, by pure luck, were assigned to do their mission in Spain. That is highly unusual but was just the ’luck of the draw.’
Warren and Bill Snapp, owners and operators of Escondido’s El Plantio Nursery are Mormon. Both brothers were born into the faith, both did their missionary service, Bill spent his two years in Mexico City. Warren served in New England and the maritime provinces of Canada, from 1970-72. His three sons and three daughters have all served missions, Portugal, Mexico City and one to Brazil; three daughters served in Boston, Massachusetts, Spanish speaking area, middle daughter served in Tucson, Arizona, in the Spanish speaking area, and the youngest is serving presently in Kenniwick, Washington, again, in a Spanish speaking area. Nate Snapp, the boys father, grew up in the church; his mother having been a Mormon, but not his dad.
Lew Stratton, former owner of Autofire-AutoElectric in Escondido and present owner of Auto Upholstery - North County in Escondido, was also born into the faith. He did his missionary work in Great Britain from 1958-1960. He told The Paper that his great-grandfather arrived at the Great Salt Lake Valley as an advance party for Brigham Young. Young told his great-grandfather to go into Immigrant Canyon and start a community, which he did. His great-grandfather had lost his wife and child while in Winter Quarters in what is now Omaha, Nebraska. They were living in a dugout, carved into a bank, and the bitter cold wound up killing them both. His great-grandfather would later head back east to lead still more Mormons west to the Mormon’s Promised Land.
Kurt Marler, DDS, did his missionary work in - Florida South, on a Spanish speaking mission from 1971-73. He attended BYU - then graduated from the dental college at Loma Linda University, and now practices General Dentistry in Escondido. Kurt was born into the faith but his wife Kathy, converted to being a Mormon while in her first year of attending Palomar College, from which she graduated, later attending BYU as well. They have five children, 4 daughters, one son, Brian, 27 year old served his mission in Pusan, Korea.
We asked Kathy what it was like, saying goodbye to a son heading off on a mission, knowing they would not see him for two years. “There’s great pride,” she said, “knowing we succeeded in getting our child to have the faith in Christ that he has the desire to serve a mission and make the sacrifice. The is nothing harder than having your son leave home, other than death itself. It is bittersweet but the blessings outweight any sadness.”
Robroy Fawcett, patent attorney and community activist served his mission in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 79-81; He was born into the faith; a sixth generation Mormon with his ancestors going back with Joseph Smith, coming from England to Nauvoo, Illinois.
Jim Lund, prominent Escondido Attorney, did his missionary service in Nova Scotia from 1971-1973. He was born in the faith. He and his wife have six children, the eldest son, Ben, went to the Phillipines, 1996-1997 where he learned Tagalog and Ilokano as well as Cebuana, Illonggo, and Aklanon, all different Filipino dialects. He was stationed near Cebu City. Cebuana - Illonggo - Aklanon. They have three sons andthree daughters. Two of his daughters married men who had also gone on missions.
Michael Morasco, well known Physical Therapist and former member of the Escondido High School Board, did his missionary service in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1977-78. He converted in 1974 to the Church; “The first thing that attracted me was the family orientation and activities designed for families. Secondly, the questions I posed to them, I was always referred to the Scriptures for myself and asked to pray about it. My wife, Pam, was born in the faith. We have one son who served in Mongolia, 2004-2005, and a son-in-law who served in Mexico.” Morasco has also served as Bishop in the Church.
In Oceanside, Emily Ortiz Wichmann is a member of the Oceanside Unified School Board, serving K-12 . She converted to the church in 1978. She has two daughters, the eldest of which served her mission in San Antonio, Texas; the other in Venezuela.
“What attracted me to the Mormon Church,” she told The Paper, is that, “their ideals and lifestyles were attractive. I began to study the religion. I was impressed with how they supported our government and the laws of the land.”
The Mayor of Vista, Morris Vance, is a Mormon. He was born into the faith; in fact, he is 7th or 8th generation Mormon. His ancestors joined Brigham Young from both his side of the family as well as that of his wife’s.
Vance did his mission in Western Canada, primarily in British Columbia, but he had exposure in Saskatchewan, the NorthWest Territory and the Yukon Territory as well; eventually, his mission even reach into Alaska. Technically, his home base was in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He spent a year in Vancouver, one of British Columbia’s most beautiful cities. His service was from 1959 to 1961. Two of his sons have also served as missionaries, one in Brazil, the other in Austria.
We have taken note that a great many Mormons are active within the community, often at the elective level. Mayor Vance pointed out, “The Church encourages us to take an active part in the community and make it a better place to live.”
One nationally known name within the political world also lives in North County, (among other places) Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate, has a home just south of Del Mar in La Jolla.
Mark Packard, a current Carlsbad city councilmember; served a two year mission in Northern Mexico, 1974-76. He was born into the faith. Of his six children, four have done missions.
Ron Packard, was a practicing dentist, later a Congressman, from 1982 through 2001. He served his mission in the North Cenral State (among Indians in N. Dakota, Minnesota) in 1950-52. Born in the faith. An ancestor, Noah Packard, was an associate of Joseph Smith. Packard still consults in Washington, D. C.; he has clients in the county that needs representation in D. C. Served 18 years in local government. Two daughters and three sons have all served missions.
“We live the Mormon lifestyle,” said Packard. “We don’t drink, we don’t smoke. We take care of our famly as well as those who need help, whether they are Mormon or not. We do our tithing, we do our philanthropic work. We love our Church and what it stands for and what it does.”
Personal interviews with local members of the Mormon Church, including the Stake President, Bishops and Priests