Mormon ‘Niceness’

Before there was The Book of Mormon musical, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were the wicked masters of South Park, and in a 2003 episode titled “All About the Mormons,” Mormons were their prey. A new Mormon family moved into the South Park neighborhood, and the episode revolved around the encounter between this disturbingly happy clan of Mormons and the usual cast of precociously postmodern grade-schoolers. In some ways, it was a premonition of what was to come later with The Book of Mormon; it gave … [Read more...]

Sports as a Religious Legacy

When Olympic season appears on the horizon, I tend to recall how I was a disappointment to my parents. Well, only on one account but it was significant: I was not athletically inclined.My parents were my mother and grandmother, and they loved sports. My Grandma graduated from BYU with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education. She was one of the first white women to hike across the Grand Canyon from the North to the South Rim. She taught PE at Farrer Junior High School, where her … [Read more...]

Everything is Spiritual

Every few years, someone publishes an in-depth look at the financial holdings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The articles’ tone varies—sometimes deadpan, sometimes scandalized, sometimes even admiring—but it seems they all express some sort of surprise. “It’s a church,” they seem to say. “Why does it own businesses?”With the Mormon Moment now entering its fourth millennium (or so it feels to me), it was only inevitable that someone would write yet another version of the “ … [Read more...]

Emma Smith and Ecumenical Miscommunication

July 10 was the 208th birthday of  Emma Hale Smith Bidamon, wife of Joseph Smith, Jr. In Kirtland, Ohio where I have worked for the past nine summers, the staff at the Community of Christ’s Kirtland Temple organize a July 10th hymn festival in the temple that celebrates Emma’s life. Since the first hymn festival in 2004, three Mormon traditions with a presence in Kirtland participate each year—the relatively conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS); the moderately liberal Co … [Read more...]

“Sister Wives” as Cultural Work

I got sucked into watching “Sister Wives,” I’ll admit it. Having deliberately avoided it for the entire first season, I fell prey one cloudy Sunday when TLC was running a marathon in the lead-up to the second season. It’s compelling stuff to watch as the Kody Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn deal with dramas ranging from sibling squabbles (inevitable in a family with seventeen children), to adding a fourth wife into the mix, to fleeing from Utah officials into a life … [Read more...]

The Truth About Mormon Stereotypes


A decade ago, during the last “Mormon Moment” when the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, Newsweek ran a cover story about Mormonism that represented it as fundamentally conformist, where men and women of different races all wore identical white shirts and black slacks.  The image suggested that beneath the apparent racial diversity of modern Mormonism, there remains a culture of obedience and conformism.  The photograph was an image of Mormonism’s enduring symbolic place in American hi … [Read more...]

Mormons, Soldiers, Socialists, and Me

Growing up, I lived in society where housing was assigned to families based, first, on their size and, second, on their seniority within the government.   My parents never paid rent or utilities and, when something in the home needed repairing, they would call a central maintenance department that serviced the entire city.  When we were sick, we simply went to the hospital where we were treated and handed our prescriptions after showing our identification cards.  Both of these services were alwa … [Read more...]

Transparent Things

When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntary sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent ThingsLast Saturday, my wife and my mom and I visited the Kirtland temple, the site of many of Mormonism’s formative events.  Among many other things, … [Read more...]