March 28, 2011

When Joseph Smith was martyred (actually, he lost a gun battle) in 1844, the big-balled and reputedly well-hung Brigham Young eventually led Smith’s much spat-upon tribe of wife-collectin”€™, baby-poppin”€™ pioneers in their own little exodus westward to the Salt Lake Valley.

Utah’s Wild Mormon Kingdom engaged in military skirmishes with the ever-encroaching US government, which in 1857 sent an estimated third of its standing army westward in what became known as the Utah War. In 1890, when railroads and stagecoaches and sheer numbers made it evident that the USA was going to sweep all the way west to the Pacific whether the Angel Moroni liked it or not, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rolled over to the feds and outlawed polygamy. Six years later, Utah was admitted into the Union.

And they”€™ve been rolling over ever since, ensuring their survival and expansion. There are still isolated psycho-fundamentalist Mormon splinter groups in the American West that are rife with polygamy and incest and inbreeding and racial separatism, yet even the most generous estimates peg their membership at twenty thousand or less. But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS)”€”the official religious, corporate, tax-exempt, and public-relations face of modern Mormonism”€”is said to number around fourteen million members worldwide and counting.

No one’s asking those crazy-ass loony-bin Mormon mountain goats to stop baptizing the dead or donning secret underwear or preaching that Jesus and Satan were blood brothers or that the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri, or even to deny that Joseph Smith dictated The Book of Mormon by placing a hat on his face and claiming that, after an inexplicable 1,800-year spate of writer’s block, God let him channel a Newer Testament and some Newest Testaments through the hat. No. All anyone’s asking is for Mormons to abandon the silly notion that perhaps not all people, cultures, and religions are fundamentally equivalent.

Slowly if stubbornly, the LDS is complying. Yes, they still seem to have a Beehive State-sized bug up their ass regarding the homos, and they were high-scoring point guards in helping pass California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 back in 2008. But hey, at least Brigham Young University no longer administers electric shocks to males who become aroused by pornographic images of other males. That was in the late 1950s, and change takes time. I”€™d give it another 20 years maximum until the LDS openly embrace the nonsensically convoluted and self-involved identity politics of gay Mormon youth who choose to spend one night homeless to, I don”€™t know, make some sort of rhetorical point about people who don”€™t choose to be homeless. It won”€™t be long before the LDS also open their pure white arms to the world’s countless transgendered and intersexed Mormons.

After all, they”€™ve already made tremendous strides with the Negroes. Did you know that before he died, Soul on Ice author and rabble-rousin”€™ 60s Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver became a Mormon? Gladys Knight, she of “€œ…& the Pips”€ fame, a woman black as Georgia pine tar, is also a Mormon. Heck, the blacks and Mormons go way back. The first known black Mormon was a man they called “€œBlack Pete“€ who reportedly joined the group in 1831, followed soon thereafter by other black males with cool names such as Green Flake and Elijah Abel. Sure, the blacks were banned from the Mormon priesthood until 1978. And the LDS didn”€™t change the scriptural phrase “€œwhite and delightsome”€ to “€œpure and delightsome”€ until 1981, and, OK, OK, it was only this past December that they finally purged the phrases “€œskin of blackness”€ and “€œdark, filthy, and loathsome”€ from The Book of Mormon, but like I said, change takes time, and there exist websites and books by black Mormons to help us cope with this confusing transitional phase of healing, reconciliation, and, I guess, never-ending repentance.

In latter days, the Latter-Day Saints are experiencing some of their most rapid growth in Latin America, a region of America where only butterfly collectors speak Latin. In 2009, the LDS Church History Museum hosted a vibrantly spicy exhibit called “€œMi Vida, Mi Historia: Stories of Faith and Inspiration from Latino Latter-Day Saints.”€ And on March 12th of this year, the LDS formally endorsed the “€œUtah Compact,”€ otherwise referred to as “€œimmigration reform,”€ also known as “€œa path to citizenship,”€ AKA “€œamnesty for illegals.”€ Seeing as Utah currently hosts 100 or so Latino LDS congregations, half to three-quarters of whose members are “€œundocumented,”€ it’s a shrewd marketing and recruiting move for the LDS to engage in this sort of “€œoutreach.”€

Although currently not recognized by the LDS, there are already Mormon socialists, Mormon feminists, Mormon progressives, and even Mormon anarchists. Over the next generation or two, the Salt Lake Tabernacle will likely find room for all of them. Slowly but inevitably, Mormons will mesh effortlessly with the rest of the Iron Rainbow.

It’s simply good business.


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