I didn’t know what to expect when I moved to Utah as a non-Mormon. I expected what people told me to expect, I guess, characatures of sour Puritans in scratchy wool ankle length dresses. It’s true that there are a lot of Mormons in Utah. What’s also true is that there are a lot of mean, angry, bitter folks who move to Utah apparently for no other reason than to HATE on the Mormons. The state is teaming with people who just plain hate the Mormons for various, but mostly arbitrary, reasons. My anecdotal research tells me it’s because they think the Mormons are an impediment to their drinking and drugging and aborting.
The anti-Mormon Utah Brigade is quite the Sociological phenomena and I’m surprised some big University isn’t there studying it. We weren’t in our driveway fifteen minutes before our neighbors were over. They saw our license plates and guessed we weren’t Mormon. They gave us the skinny on “the Mormons, who have spies everywhere and control everything.” “The missionaries will be at your door now that they know you are here.” (Missionaries knocked on our door after 3 years)
Now we considered ourselves something of cultural Anthropologists, figuring we would sit on our front porch and greedily lick our lips and rub our hands together in glee as we observed the wacky Mormon world around us, especially after we had been told, over and over by all sorts of folks that wackiness was to be had at every corner. They were correct, but not in the way they intended. My husband was in graduate school.
We picked Utah, not so much because of the academic program but because it had mountains and we wanted to learn to ski and my husband wanted to hunt elk. Oh, and it had a professional basketball team. Yeah, those were the reasons. While he went to school, I had a great job. My coworkers were mostly either academics, Mormon OR zealots who only expressed disdain for the Mormons when they were out of earshot. I had been in the workforce long enough to realize that his wasn’t cool. In my other jobs, there wasn’t so much expressed disdain for the Baptists, or the blacks, or the Asians, or the Catholic Hispanics, etc. On the job, in my experience, there were only workers and bosses, and our little cultural and personal nuances didn’t really matter. But not here, in Utah. And, since I wasn’t Mormon, immediately it was assumed that I was on the side of bashing.
Often the kind actions expressed by a Mormon coworker was immediately dismissed or ridiculed after they walked away. And I can’t tell you how many times I heard stories from folks where they blamed the Mormons for all the ills that had occurred in their life. After a while, it became comical. Person after person, wove tails of woe about evil Bishops and the black magic of the church effecting catastrophies on the lives of their ancestors. Had many of them actually thought about what they were saying, they would realize they were actually making the Mormon god seem powerful and real. Sometimes they just made no sense at all.
One story involved a Bishop who bought land from this anti-Mormon’s grandfather for a low price. Years later the Bishop sold it making a profit……I know you are waiting for the punchline…but that was it. The Bishop sold the land years later for a profit and didn’t share the profit. He didn’t even offer sharing the profit, even though the land had been in the grandfather’s family for years! I asked many followup questions and I knew enough about Real Estate to know that this woman needed to see more of the world. The worst part of the story was that this woman forgot she already told me about this grandfather who was an abusive drunk, who sold the farm ’cause he hadn’t paid taxes. Note: when you are going to tell these kinds of stories, keep track of what you’ve already told the person. So this poor woman had this bug up her behind against a whole culture for her own failures and the failures of her ancestors.
We visited Temple Square back before the church purchased the grounds beyond. Folks would stand out in front of the temple and burn temple garments in protest. Garments are basically undies worn as a reminder to Mormons that they are Children of God. They are worn with as an expression of faith as a devout Jew wears a Yarmulke or a prayer shawl under the clothes, or how some Muslims wear beards. But there these folks were, out there waving burning undies. This was the kind of wackiness we were hoping to see! We couldn’t believe the comedy in this. The Mormons are so evil you are burning their undies? Excellent entertainment!
It was about 3 months living is SLC that my husband and I agreed, these anti-Mormon folks were mostly nuts or at least very sad. We discovered that most had alcohol and drug problems or other personal problems that extended far beyond what anyone could blame on others. But, we all know that someone needs to be blamed and Mormons are easy pickings because they don’t fight back. We wondered if these anti-Mormon nutters had lived in Alabama, would they have blamed the blacks? Would they blame Mexicans if they lived in San Antonio? Would the Navajos be blamed if they lived in Northern New Mexico? But these generational anti-Mormons don’t move, they stay right there where they can massage their hate. I think they would be happier to move to Houston for a few years, then move back. That would change their tune.
Recently, I was back in SLC for a churchy conference. In truth, the only reason for me to go to SLC is for church related fun. Though SLC does get non-Mormon visitors, the majority are pilgrims there to visit church sites. The fact that the church is there is what keeps SLC alive. St. George, Provo, Logan, Farmington, Thanksgiving Point, etc. have more to offer me and my family than SLC, as does, Dallas, Atlanta, Santa Fe, etc. So it is bewildering to me when I see public church bashing from SLC itself. The issue of the SLC magazine that was in my hotel room had a full page on the crazy Mormons. I was dumbfounded. Can you imagine visiting Mecca and having the town tourist magazine have an article mocking the Muslims, or while visiting Tel Aviv having an article on the greediness of Jews? I certainly can’t. But this is Salt Lake, where folks are reactionary. Whatever the Mormons are for, the city and its citizens are against. Like I said earlier, it’s a sweetspot for sociological studies.
Unlike the conspiracy theories of woven by the anti-Mo zealots, the “church” does nothing in response, because its Christ’s church and the gospel itself is the core. All of this reactionary Mormon bashing is just noise, no different than what the church has always experienced and experiences daily in all sorts of anti-Christian areas of the world. And I suspect, soon enough, though, as other parts of Utah get built up, conferences the likes of what I attended could be held in LDS friendlier venues, or maybe in San Antonio, even! And that would be okay.
So, in the end, before we left, it turned out the neighbors on one side who warned us about the Mormons, were gay lovers who had the cops over often because one of them was abusive when he got drunk. Their cigarette smoking sixteen year old pregnant daughter’s boyfriend was arrested for car theft. The neighbors on the other side who warned us about the Mormons, were divorced before we left. Their naked 3 year old was often in our house because she would just “come over” and they wouldn’t answer the door when we tried to return her. The father would stay up late smoking pot in his back yard which I guess made it hard to hear the door the next day. Good thing they warned us about the Mormons.