Monday, April 23, 2007

The Mormons, Explained

I'm quivering with anticipation over next week's PBS documentary on The Mormons, a two part, four hour extravaganza about this weird and influential church of 12 million. The Deseret News, the official church mouthpiece, says (through Mormon spokesman Michael Purdy) "We simply want viewers to understand that the church is the subject of this film, not its producer." The church cooperated but didn't fund the film.

It's a co-production between PBS's Frontline and its series American Experience, the first such collaboration, and it will air on April 30 and May 1. It will also be viewable online.

For a little preview into the Mormon mystique, check out this story from the Salt Lake City Weekly (September 2005) called "The Gangs of Zion." It's about the Tongan Crip Gang and their rivals, the Baby Regulators. One unpredictable result of the LDS (Mormon) proselytizing in Polynesia was the rise of gang violence in the Tongan and Samoan Mormon community that was created in Salt Lake City:
For young Polynesians, what started as reasonable self-defense against other ghettoized ethnic groups, or else grew out of the centuries-old rivalry between Samoans and Tongans, has become a monster that has disfigured their powerful family allegiances. The LDS Church, for the most part, has left Polynesian families to fend for themselves. Now, the resulting cycle of violence is crashing down through the generations.
We may not hear about that in the PBS documentary. The rest of the article gives a fascinating history of Mormon Polynesia, which started in the mid-nineteenth century. But wait, it gets weirder:
According to traditional church teachings, Polynesians and American Indians are Lamanites, a tribe of Israel that was wicked; as punishment, God colored their skin dark and banished them to the wilderness, where they would stay until the Mormons saved them.
That's right, most of the darker-skinned peoples of the Western hemisphere (and some of the Eastern) are considered the descendants of the people who committed genocide against the "good" tribe of Israel that settled North America.

On a lighter note, City Weekly's "Best of 2006" includes the following, under the heading BEST POLYGAMIST SIGHTINGS:
Starbucks at 700 East & 2100 South

If you live in Sandy, according to HBO’s Big Love, you only have to look out the window to see plural wives going about their business. While there may well be some truth to that, common lore has it that the one place you’re bound to see women in old-fashioned skirts is at Costco, buying in bulk. But if you want that more intimate, elbow-rubbing feeling, go to the Starbucks on 21st South, sit down at a table, and if you’re lucky, you might find yourself next to a man and one of his sister-wives deep in conversation.
So it's true! Polygamy (or more accurately polygyny -- Greek for many wives) is alive and well in suburban Salt Lake.

One last thing to amuse and delight you till next week: A sphinx with the head of LDS founder Jospeh Smith, carved by a devout mid-twentieth century artist named Thomas Child. Feast your eyes:
More on Child's art later.

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