I have lived in Utah for almost twenty-five years. It is a beautiful state for sure. So many people visit Utah from all over the world to see the magnificent sites. And many more come to Utah as a pilgrimage. Salt Lake City is, after all, the Mecca of Mormonism. I don’t think I’m supposed to say Mormon anymore. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently divested itself of the word, Mormon, except ironically within the title, The Book of Mormon. Although used as a derogatory term in the mid 19th century, the word Mormon eventually was used by all church members and its leadership for the next 160 years or so. They wore the label with pride, and it became synonymous with their view of themselves as ‘Peculiar People.’ The new church president and prophet, Elder Russell M. Nelson, determined that more emphasis should be on Jesus Christ. Obliterating the name Mormon in any fashion was the way to go. Even the church website name and email addresses had to be changed. Why do I mention this? Why does it matter to me or anyone else?
There is a common belief in the church that very little ever changes, and that belief seems to offer a sense of comfort to the believers within. The truth, however, is very different. There has been constant change throughout its now long history. If any of those changes are major changes, then it is deemed the will of God. In this church, modern-day revelation plays a vital role in national and international leadership—every family also. In fact, President Russell M. Nelson, his two councilors, and the Twelve Apostles are all prophets, seers, and revelators. They reveal and speak God's wishes. The membership acknowledges that ‘fact’ every six months at the world-wide viewed conferences from Salt Lake City, the whole body of the church stands and ‘sustains’ these ancient titles by the uplifted right hand. If you have a problem or issue with that process, you are invited to inform your local leadership of your concerns. In doing so, maybe a period of confession and ‘direction’ from your Bishop may help you repent of your apostasy and bring you back in line.
You may find these everyday types of ideas and thoughts quite odd. But this is what it means to live in Utah. Whether you are a faithful believer or a non-member, you know how things are run here in Zion if you live in Utah. I have been a church member for over 35 years—almost a third of the time in England and the rest in Utah or Arizona. Back to the question of change. Why do I write my first article for Medium about change? I have become ever more concerned with the cultural change within the church membership. It is true that since the terrible McCarthy era of the 1950s and before that, conservatism has always been the way to go politically in the church. And since 9/11, if you disagreed with extreme conservative ideas, then you were daubed as being ‘against us’ and therefore unpatriotic. Of course, more recent years have seen those ideals ramping up in church meetings. Now it’s not only unpatriotic but communistic or socialist to have any view different than the old white men in the room.
As a history and American studies student, I came to America because I was taught about the all-encompassing and inclusionary ideas found here. After all, America is not just a country; it’s an idea. As an alien from England, I now find myself unable to recognize my church and my adopted country any longer. As a supposed tax-free religious organization, politics, extreme or otherwise, is not supposed to be taught at church. And yet, I became ever more uncomfortable listening to what can only be considered by reasonable people as right-wing political diatribes. Honestly, some of the extreme comments belonged to Italy and Germany in the 1930s. After suffering quietly for many years, I finally decided these ‘lessons’ were not for me. I hear these bigotted and racist comments in local cafes and restaurants. I hear them while I am waiting in line at Walmart. I see the flags, symbols and hear the words in the local parks and shopping malls. Last week a cute old lady at the dog park attempted to fill me with the conspiracy theories you hear on TV and social media. I am certain that I will see young teenage boys and girls marching in uniform, holding high the Book of Mormon and Old Glory, excited to shout out their support for their one true God and their one true ruthless, tyrannical leader painted as the savior of Gods country. Soon, you may have to ‘sustain’ this political leader too, or your act of repentance may well be much more severe. I’m an alien. I’m an Englishman in Utah!