Thursday, September 04, 2003

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints

I should say that pre-SLC I was a bit hazy as to what exactly Mormons were. I'd heard something about lots of wives, but I think I must have had them confused with the Amish, because I kind of expected funny hats, beards and no electricity.

(We did actually see some real Amish in the Cleveland bus terminal - maybe their horse had broken down).

Instead, the Mormons are just as modern as any other religion, and not ashamed to splash a bit of cash. 32 acres of SLC, their spiritual home ("Zion") is given over to Mormon buildings and temples - there doesn't seem to be much else to the place apart from them. 70% of the population of Utah are Mormons, and even their state capitol has a statue of the second Mormon prophet in pride of place. (So much for church / state separation...).

So that's the main difference between the Church of JC of the LDS and, say, Catholicism: there is a prophet (appointed by God, apparently) and twelve apostles who lead the Church. They also have a couple of extra books in their Bible - one of which is the Book of Mormon, hence the nickname. Other than that they seem mostly similar to 'mainstream' Christianity - although according to our guide book, that's what they want you to think :-).

We spent a day pottering around Temple Square. Its focus is the Mormon temple, but non-Mormons aren't allowed in, so we had to look from the outside. We also listened to an organ recital in the Tabernacle (fun fact: the Mormons' favourite hymn, Come Ye Faithful or something, is sung to the tune of Danny Boy!), and went into the various assembly halls and visitor centres dotted around the place.

Another peculiar Mormon trait is the obsession with ancestry. There's a good reason for this: there's a special ceremony to 'convert' any dead relatives into Mormons. Once that's done you can meet them in Heaven. That seems a bit spooky to me - I'm not I want anyone converting me in the distant future :-). Anyway, because of this, there's an entire building devoted to researching your family history, full of banks of computers connected to the FamilySearch database. Katherine and I both tried to look people up, but the most recent UK data was from 1881, and we couldn't remember that far back :-). We did discover that George W. Bush is (very) distantly related to Winston Churchill. Interesting! (We also tried to read our e-mail, but got some nasty looks from the Sisters, so we gave up :-).

Ah yes, the Sisters. Dotted around Temple Square were dozens of young (20s) women, with little badges with their names and countries of origin. I guess it's a great honour to be a Sister on Temple Square, but it seems the entry requirements are pretty strict (young, female, attractive). They're hard to avoid, too, always handing out postcards, Books of Mormons, or just random bits of advice ("Join us!").

One good thing about Mormons is that they're very rich (a result of hard work and pro-industry policies): practically everything in SLC is free, and there's even a 60 minute, big-budget, Hollywood-style movie, Legacy complete with CGI Temples and action-packed stunts (I'm serious!). There're lots of touch-screen terminals, too, which 'answer' such woolly questions as "What is a family?" and so forth. It's generally pretty hard to gauge the Church's opinions on most contemporary issues: vaguely pro-war, definitely anti-homosexuality, pro-family unity etc. Nowhere made mention of the polygamy thing, although they haven't done that since 1890, so I guess they'd rather forget about it.

We also popped into the Capitol Building, which is on a hill overlooking Temple Square, and spent some time in the flowery parks that dot downtown SLC.


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