Mormonism: Legitimate Religion?

Mormonism: Legitimate Religion?

An essay in hypertext by Scott Bidstrup

"When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan--it is God's Plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give directions, it should mark the end of controversy, God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God."

--- Improvement Era, June 1945 (which was the official church magazine before the Ensign) Similar statements can be found as recently as the 1990's.

Mormonism. The word conjures up a different image in everyone's mind. Indeed, there are many cults, churches, organizations and movements, which are either called Mormon or referred to as Mormons.

For the purposes of this essay, I am referring exclusively to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headquarted in Salt Lake City, Utah. There are many "splinter" groups, which may or may not call themselves Mormon, or be referred to by the public as Mormon. Rather, I'm addressing here only the principal Mormon sect, the one with which I have personal experience.

For many years, from its founding in 1830 through the end of the 19th century, the image of the Mormon church that was carried around in the minds of most Americans was that of a rigidly fundamentalistic church, most widely known for the practice of polygamy by some of its members under commandment by its heirarchy.

Today, the image of the Mormon church is radically different. Most see it as a conservative Christian religion, one which is mostly distinguished by its rigid rejection of alcohol, tobacco or coffee or tea consumption, and by its acceptance of its own scriptures in addition to the Bible. But otherwise, pretty much a standard, vanilla conservative Christian church.

Yet in spite of its peculiarities, most regard it as a quite legitimate religion. This stands in stark contrast to a century ago, when most Americans regarded it as a dangerous cult, best kept away from the rest of America in it's self imposed Utah isolation.

Why the difference? What has changed? Well, obviously the dropping of the polygamy doctrine had a lot to do with it, but little else has changed doctrinally. Indeed, most who live in Utah throughout their lives and have watched the church in recent decades would say that if anything, it has become more conservative, doctrinaire and inflexible in recent decades, as its increasingly elderly leadership has grown more deeply committed to right-wing conservatism. Yet the public image of the church during the course of my life has gone from that of a secretive, cult-like, somehow vaguely dangerous group, as I experienced the image in my youth in the 1950's, to that of a wholesome, family oriented, neighborly and deeply nurturing church that is mighty nice to have in the neighborhood.

The difference has been made by an extremely well organized and financed public relations campaign that has been carefully cultivated for many decades. Aside from simply owning large numbers of radio and television stations and newspapers across the nation, the church headquarters has a large public relations department that makes sure that any press mention is quickly and effectively responded to. In addition, the church has maintained for many years a policy of strongly encouraging its more loyal members to run for public office, seek positions of authority and influence, and "network" with those who can influence opinion on how the church is percieved or portrayed in the media. To make this possible, its best and brightest are carefully cultivated to that end with excellent, well financed business administration, mass media, political science and public relations schools at its university, Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah. A measure of the success of this program is the fact that the Clinton administration is the first since that of Harry Truman to not have at least one Mormon in its cabinet. Many had two or even three. I know how effective that education can be; I'm a graduate of the mass media school at BYU, and consider the education I recieved, at least in mass media, to have been first-rate.

The purpose of all this effort and expense is to satisfy the deep, almost paranoid determination of the church's aging leadership to shed what it sees as its cult-like image. The reason the leadership still holds this view of its image is that when they were young, idealistic men forming their opinions during the age of McCarthyism, the Red Menace and what was at the time seen as an encroaching humanism, the church was viewed as I explained above, as vaguely sinister and cult-like. These opinions, formed in those days, not only drive the church's determined public relations effort to this day, but they also drive the church's internal government as well.

So in this essay, I'm not going to speak for the church of which I was a part for so many years. For their perspective you can go to their web site. Rather, I'm going tell my experience from my own perspective, as a man who has studied the church as well as having participated in it for many years.

What I am going to try to explain in this essay is why the public image of the church does not neccessarily represent the church as it is experienced by those who are actually a part of it, and why, in my opinion, the church, stripped of its carefully cultivated image, actually does more closely resemble a cult than it would like to have you believe.

I think it is safe to say that most would have a good grasp on what a legitimate religion is. Clearly it is a religious organization that promotes the values of love, compassion, humility, spirituality and human freedom, and eschews hatred, intolerance, repression and compulsion.

Far more difficult is the definition of a cult. More precisely, determining where legitimate religion leaves off and "cult" sets in. In order to better define it, I am going to use the criteria used by the recently defunct Cult Awareness Network. Unfortunately, they were sued into recievership by one of the cults they fought, but during its life, the CAN performed a valuable service, helping many people recover from cult membership and warning many others off, by showing exactly what a cult is.

The following criteria were used to define the cult status of various groups by the Cult Awareness Network, and the criteria here are from their web page:

To begin with, there is unquestionably much that is good in Mormonism. Mormon communities are widely noted for their low crime rates, strong family traditions, a sense of belonging and a particular loyalty to community and country.

Many members of the Mormon Church will tell you that they find a great sense of belonging and worth, a sense of community and satisfaction in knowing (or at least believing they know) what's right and wrong with a sense of certainty.

Much of the appeal of Mormonism is to a sense of certainty, of knowing what is right and wrong and being able to point to scripture to back it up. Many Mormons know their religion better than do many Evangelical preachers know theirs. This is in no small part due to the many organizations sponsored by the church which teach its doctrines to its members, and to the "release time" system, which enables the church to teach its doctrines to junior-high and high-school pupils during school hours.

There is a great deal of cohesion in the Mormon church, and remarkably little dissent. This is pointed to with pride by Mormons as evidence of their claim that the church is divinely inspired and led. In reality, this is mostly due to the intensive indoctrination from childhood through adulthood, and an intensive effort to provide answers to criticisms leveled by non-Mormons about its doctrines and practices.

The Mormon church speaks with one voice. The same doctrines are preached, with the same emphasis, even on the same sundays, in Nigeria, in Singapore, in Venezuela and in Fiji as in Salt Lake. The Church's "correlation" programs have resulted in remarkable uniformity across this multinational, multicultural church.

Yet, with all that is unquestionably good about the Mormon Church, there are nevertheless, still a few snakes in this Garden of Eden.

Many of the things the church doesn't talk about, and about which new members remain unaware for the first few months, are the subtle manipulative efforts the church makes to get and hold on to its members, and influence their behavior in the community, principally for the church's benefit. None of these are are overtly coercive, but are coercive in a very subtle, almost deceitful way:

Mind Control (undue influence)

An overt cult uses what are clearly seen, at least from a distance, as mind control and behavior modification techniques, and does so without the consent of the object of the manipulative effort.

What can be said of the Mormon church? Well, one of the interesting aspects of Mormon culture that is often complained about by non-Mormons living in Mormon communities, is that Mormons are always too busy to socialize.

It isn't uncommon, for example, to know your Mormon neighbor only from chatting over the fence when you both happen to be gardening or doing other yardwork. As a non-Mormon, it is almost rare for you to meet him in the meetings of charity organizations, school board meetings, etc. There's a very simple reason for this. He doesn't have time. He's extremely busy doing work in his church. The Mormon church doesn't employ professional clergy, so the members of the ward (Mormon congregation) do all the work. And the church makes a deliberate effort to see to it that there's lots of work to do. There's the usual sunday school (which requires a complete staff of teachers), the Relief Society (a womens' organization, also with its own complete staff), the several youth organizations, the "home teachers," the administration of the ward (local congregation), etc. All this adds up to enough positions to for everyone in the ward to have at least one, two, or even more if they are willing to accept them, which culturally is very strongly encouraged.

This is one of the ways the church indoctrinates its followers: it keeps them so busy that they don't have time to think about what's wrong with the church and its doctrines. At least that is the charge by many non-Mormons, who are familiar with the church culture, particularly in Utah and Idaho, where the church interacts strongly with many non-members.

Could this be a subtle form of mind control? Some have suggested that it is, but if it is, it is subtle indeed.

Less subtle are the indirect appeals to vanity, ego and fear that Mormon doctrine creates in its adherents.

First, there is a significant appeal to egotism in the claim which the church makes that its followers are "God's chosen." Of course, the flip-side to that coin is that non-followers are not, therefore Mormons are somehow more favored in the eyes of God.

Second is the promise that faithful adherents will inherit a higher degree of salvation than is available to non-adherents. Therefore, you are assumed to be better rewarded than your neighbor because you have deserved it by being one of God's chosen. Is this an appeal to vanity? You decide.

Finally, is the appeal to fear. You can't be saved without us, at least into the highest levels of salvation, goes the warning. If you do not do as we say, you cannot enter into the Celestial Kingdom, Mormon cosmology's highest division of heaven. If you reject the gospel, the warning goes, you'll have all eternity to regret your choice. Mormonism's most serious cosmological punishment is reserved for those who have "rejected the Holy Ghost," i.e., have rejected their "testimony" of the "Gospel."

The carrot-and-stick approach to mind control is very subtle but nevertheless very real. More than a few Mormons will tell you that they practice the church's rituals "just in case." This often includes paying a faithful ten percent of income to the church as well as attendance at the many meetings. I believe my own father to have been one of these.

Charismatic Leadership

The Mormon church clearly defines its leaders as special, in the sense that they are supposedly divinely inspired, and are said to be the sole enfranchised church leaders on Earth. The claim is made that the church is the last "dispensation" of the "gospel" prior to the "millenium" of a thousand years of Christ's rein as the resurrected leader of the world, and as such, they have a divine mandate to prepare the way for the return of Jesus. As such, these divinely inspired leaders would not be permitted by God to lead the church astray. They frequently claim that that they would be "struck down by God" should they attempt to do so.

Because of this supposed divine mandate, it is claimed that the church leadership is infallible, and therefore should be followed unquestioningly. There is little time, it is said, before the return of Jesus, and therefore little time to waste on dealing with dissent. For this reason, dissenters are often summarily booted out of the church, often without being given a chance to "repent" as church rules normally require.

Does this qualify as "Charismatic leadership?" While the church does not claim divinity for it's leadership, but it does claim an absolute divine mandate -- a divine mandate not available to anyone else in any other religion, because the Mormon church represents God's "house of order," not the disorder of a multitude of churches with conflicting claims.


Deception can be a very subtle thing. In the definition of a cult, referenced above, the author is referring to recruiting or fundraising tactics. But there are often many other circumstances in which a religion can decieve, and quite deliberately.

Mormon church leaders are far less than candid about some of the more embarassing aspects of the Church's history and doctrine. Joseph Smith, the founder, is now known to have been convicted of a practice called "peepstoning" which was a common 'magic' practice at the time. The practicioner would gaze through magic transparent stones, usually quartz crystals, and supposedly be able to see where gold or other treasures were buried.

One of the principal apologists for the church, Hugh Nibley, once said that "if such a charge were ever proven to be true, it would cast serious doubt on his [Joseph Smith's] claim [to divine authority and inspiration]."

Well, in 1974, a court trial record turned up in the basement of a county courthouse in upstate New York, where Joseph Smith had lived as a youth, in which he pled guilty to just that charge. Neither Hugh Nibley nor the church, which has accepted the authenticity of the document, has otherwise commented. Yet Joseph Smith continues to be portrayed to church members as having been divinely inspired to dig up the "golden plates" from which the Book of Mormon was supposedly translated. And the translation was supposedly done using the aid of the "Urim and Thummim," a pair of magic eyeglasses supposedly fashioned from a pair of magic transparent stones. Given Joseph's conviction for "peepstoning," making such a claim would seems rather dubious, yet the Mormon church continues in the claim.

There are many other embarrassing problems with early Mormon church history. Many allegations were made by Fawn Brodie, in her book, "No Man Knows My History," an unauthorized history of the Mormon church during Joseph Smith's time. During her lifetime, many of her allegations were investigated but never proven (she was the first to claim that he was once convicted of 'peepstoning'). Yet a decade after the peepstoning record turned up, a new series of supposed documents started turning up which were highly embarrassing to the church. A supposed antique documents dealer named Mark Hoffman began "finding" many documents that supported Brodie's claims. Being a church member, he duly offered to sell these documents to the church, which the church eagerly bought, many for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they quickly disappeared into the black hole of the First Presidency's vault, never to be seen again.

As it turned out, the documents were forgeries. Mark Hoffman proved to be one of the most skilled antique document forgers of all time. His product was so good it fooled many an FBI questioned-documents expert. Eventually, Mark Hoffman was arrested and was scheduled to be tried for two murders associated with the scandal, but the church strongly pressured the prosecuting attorney to cut a plea bargain to avoid church leaders from being forced to testify at the trial, which they were desperate to avoid. Hoffman's attorneys knew where the pressure was coming from and knew they could exploit it by threatening to expose that pressure, so they pushed for the best possible deal for their client for what would have been a capital crime: it was agreed he would be released on parole after a year and a half in prison, but on condition that he was to give a full confession. In that confession, he said he was quite certain that the church leaders wouldn't find out by inspiration that they were being duped. Indeed, he was right; they were among the last people in Salt Lake City to admit that the church had been conned. When news of the parole deal was announced, it caused outrage in Salt Lake City - one local television station noted that it was precisely the same sentence handed down on the precisely the same day by a first-time offender who had stolen a gun and used it to rob a Der Wienerschnitzel fast-food joint. Because of the outrage, the Utah State Parole Board refused to release him at the agreed end of sentence, and he is still incarcerated.

But does simply not telling the whole truth qualify as deception?

I've had many Mormons tell me that they would never let a prospect or new member see a copy of "Mormon Doctrine" (Bruce R. McConkie, Deseret Books, 1958), as they wouldn't "understand" some of the doctrines presented there. For example, the doctrine of "blood atonement" for such matters as homosexuality, adultery, even masturbation, were advocated (at least in the first edition) as grounds for the death penalty. When the book was first published, the outcry among non-Mormons (particularly the Catholic church) was so great that subsequent editions deleted these references. Yet the doctrine of blood atonement still officially exists for some crimes; it is the reason that Utah has a death penalty, and Idaho has the most severe penalty for homosexual sex anywhere outside of Iran and Afganistan.

The vindictiveness of the blood atonement doctrine stems from the old testament flavor of much of Mormon doctrine, and it is something that is carefully hidden from new converts and prospects.

As far as fundraising activities are concerned, the church carefully conceals its operating budget and never talks about what it spends its money on. And it is a large budget indeed; consider that at least three million members pay a tenth of their income into church coffers, and it is obvious that the Mormon church has funds on the order of well in excess of a billion dollars a year to deal with. It claims the money is all spent on the construction of temples and local meetinghouses, yet much, if not most, of the money for the construction of meetinghouses comes from local member donations. Yet there are indications that not all of it goes to such activities; it recently got caught with it's financial hand in the political cookie jar in Hawaii, trying to finance an anti-gay-marriage political action committee without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status, which it narrowly avoided.

No doubt that most of the money is spent in ways that are clearly honorable. But what is actually spent and where is not a matter of public scrutiny, and one is inclined to ask why. No doubt there are historical reasons; the church was subject to a great deal of persecution during the days when it practiced polygamy. It even suffered a forcible dissolution by the U.S. government. Yet an organization that spends so much money in the name of so many people, is morally obligated at least to account for it in at least general terms.

The subject of polygamy is a very embarrassing one for the Mormon church. During the closing years of the 19th century, the Mormon church fought hard for the political right to continue the practice. Indeed, many of the arguments they raised then are now being used by the gay community to argue for the right to gay marriage, and the arguments raised by the federal government to support it's outlawing of the practice, are the same arguments raised by the Mormon church today in opposing gay marriage.

Indeed, the whole history of the church's involvement in polygamy is one the church, with it's conservative moralizing today, finds extremely embarrassing. So much so that polygamy was the reason for the most recent example of the church's long-established practice of altering it's own history to suit it's propaganda purposes. Gordon B. Hinkley, the church president recently gave the order to "correlate" the priesthood and Relief Society manuals, and the resulting documents have become quite controversial -- they speak of Brigham Young's marriage as if it were monogamous, when in reality it is known that he actually had at least 55 wives. When pressed on this issue, the church leaders admit that the documents are incomplete and misleading at best, but insist that they have to be so in order to not scare off new members in the third world where polygamy can be quite scandalous and offensive. Well, one has to ask if it is morally acceptable to engage in deceit for the purpose of "testimony building." After all, from a moral standpoint, deception is nothing more than lying by another name. And is this something that God's sole officially enfranchised representative on earth should be (or would be) doing?

Another matter on which prospects and new converts are often not informed, is the scale of the Mormon church's business interests. It owns a large percentage of the commercial real estate in Salt Lake City, and owns a great deal of other real estate throughout Utah. It has widespread commercial activities that few of even its long term members are aware of. Clearly, investment income represents no small part of the Church's financial interests. Yet none of it is publicly accounted for. Estimates of its business holdings range from $10 billion to $47 billion, making it one of the richest churches in the world.

The Mormon church isn't afraid to use front groups, either. It recently tried to force its way into the Hawaii gay-marriage lawsuit, and both sides strongly opposed its entry. Yet it was so persistent in filing briefs with the court that finally the court was forced to advise the church that it faced criminal action for abuse of process if it persisted. The church's response was to form a front organization jointly with the Catholic church called "Hawaii's Future Today" and continue to file its briefs. It was ultimately unsuccessful; the decision of the court was against its position. The church loudly claims not to involve itself in politics, yet it often does, especially when its interests are threatened. The Hawaii incident is one example of many.

While the church is generally law-abiding, there are moments when it skirts the ragged edges of the tax code. The Mormon church is a 503(c) tax exempt organization under the Internal Revenue Code. The provisions of the tax code specifically prohibit any such organizations from endorsing political candidates or ballot propositions. Yet Mormons are regularly told indirectly how to vote on such things as gay rights initiatives, sunday closing laws, liquor control measures, etc. When challenged, the church always says it never takes a position on political issues and candidates, yet a few hours spent in sunday meetings in an area with a hotly contested referendum of interest to the church will often prove the truth to be clearly otherwise. Here are two examples:

Recently the church abandoned outright its claim of political non-involvement long enough to donate $600,000 to an anti-gay marriage initative campaign in Hawaii, and $500,000 to a similar effort in Alaska. Both propositions went the church's way -- it's opponents were outspent almost ten to one. Of course never was the church's membership polled to see if their tithe money should be spent that way; the church leadership made the decision unilaterally. Had the majority of the money spent by the church's allies in the Hawaii case been proven to be the church's money, it would have been in outright violation of that state's campaign finance laws and would have found itself being sued by it's opponents. But the church barely skated by that one; it's bedfellows outspent it, but just barely, so the case against it couldn't be proven. In any event, it made a mockery of the church's claim that it doesn't involve itself in politics.

The following edict proves just how blatantly the church will ignore tax law and dabble in politics, in contradiction to it's public statements, when it wishes to do so. It was read in church meetings on Sunday, May 30, 1999:

May 11, 1999
To: Area Authority Seventies, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, 
Bishops, Branch Presidents, and all Church members in California ( to 
be read in the priesthood and Relief Society meetings of each ward and 
branch by a member of the stake presidency or high council on May 23 or May 
30, 1999)
Dear Brethren and Sisters:
Preserving Traditional Marriage
On March 7, 2000, Californians will vote to affirm that the union of one 
man and one woman is the only form of marriage that will be legally 
recognized in California.
This traditional marriage initiative provides a clear and significant 
moral choice.  The Church's position on this issue is unequivocal.  On 
February 1, 1994, the First Presidency wrote to all priesthood leaders:
"The principles of the gospel and the sacred responsibilities given us 
require that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints oppose any 
efforts to give legal authorization to marriages between persons of the 
same gender."
Therefore, we ask you to do all you can by donating your means and 
time to assure a successful vote.  Marriage between a man and a woman is 
ordained of God, and is essential to His eternal plan.  It is imperative for 
us to give our best effort to preserve what our Father in Heaven has put in 
A broad-based coalition is being formed to work for passage of the 
traditional marriage initiative.  As details about the coalition become 
available, we will provide you with information on how you might become 
involved.  We thank you for your attention to this vital matter and pray 
the Lord's richest blessings to be with you.
Sincerely yours,
John B. DIckson [sic]
John M. Madsen
Cecil O. Samuelson
Even a casual reading of the editorial page of the Church News will make clear that the church has positions on political matters, and doesn't mind cluing in the membership on what they are. In recent years, it has gone beyond just such subtle means of getting its political word out; in a couple of instances, it has circulated letters to be read in church meetings which overtly take positions on political issues in direct defiance of the provisions of the tax code. It has done this in both Washington and Idaho, as well as in California, as shown above.

The church has clearly violated the intent if not the letter of it's 503(c) tax status in the Hawaii and Alaska cases, and now in California as well. The church officially maintains that it is not opposed to homosexuality, only homosexual sex. Yet it routinely expels homosexual members and has engaged in coercive "reparative therapy" techniques in dealing with homosexuality among students at Brigham Young University even when the student insists he is a virgin and there is no evidence to indicate otherwise. The church has even lost a lawsuit filed against it by the parents of a gay youth who committed suicide because of what he had been taught about his homosexuality. When the counseling center at BYU was up for reaccreditation by the American Psychological Association, it went so far as to shred documents about its "therapy" techniques to prevent them from falling into the hands of the accreditation committee. The same techniques as used by this supposed "divine" church have recently been unoquivocally condemned by every major mental health association, including the American Psychiatric Association, as ineffective and dangerous.


The Mormon church maintains that it, and it alone, has the authority to act in the name of God. In classic cult fashion, it claims that full salvation is not possible without the participation of the church. The Mormon church maintains that all other churches are the instruments of Satan. The official position of the church is that the "authority" and "priesthood" were lost to apostasy in the first century A.D., and that they did not exist on earth until the church was founded and the "keys" to the "priesthood" were restored in the 1830's. Other churches may posess parts of the truth, but none contain the whole truth nor the authority from God to act in His name. Only the Mormon church supposedly has this authority. A claim of exclusivity can hardly be more explicit than that.


There are a number of doctrines which are hidden from the public at large, but even from the general church membership, especially those related to temple ordinances.

Only members deemed "worthy" are allowed to participate in temple ordinances, and only they are permitted to know what those temple ordinances include. The rituals are considered so secret, in fact, that until early 1990, the participants were warned not to reveal them to anyone, and the warning was backed up with a finger-across-the-throat gesture. That gesture was finally dropped from the ordinance when it became obvious to the leadership that the membership was increasingly disturbed by its implications.

The exact nature of the temple ordinances, which generally revolve around the doctrine of "sealing" family members to each other for "time and all eternity" have been widely published elsewhere. Yet nevertheless, the church maintains a strict secrecy regarding them. More widely published is the doctrine of "baptism for the dead" wherein members are baptized for their deceased kin and others who did not have a chance to become Mormons as mortals. It is claimed that an earthly baptism is required for salvation and that eventually all the dead will be offered it postmortally, as a precondition to salvation.

Yet even here, the general membership cannot witness this ordinance being performed. It is done solely in the "temples" from which non-Mormons and even Mormons not considered worthy are excluded.

Another common ordinance to which general access is not allowed is "temple marriage." This version of marriage supposedly seals its participants to each other "for time and all eternity" rather than "death do us part." Yet only Mormons considered worthy can be there to witness the ceremony. This even includes immediate family members who can be and often are excluded.

The privacy of the temple is so strict that even building and facilities maintenance must be performed by the qualified faithful. Occasionally this causes problems; a number of years ago, the "Angel Moroni" statue atop the east pinnacle of the Salt Lake temple needed to be reguilded and no adequately worthy church member could be found who was professionally qualified for the job. A member was drafted, taught the neccessary skills, and sent to the roof to do the work.


The official position of the church is that if a member must choose between the church and his family, he should choose his family.

Unfortunately, the practice and the preaching don't quite always jibe.

One example is that members are advised that they are subject to church discipline should they even be only supportive of family members who are in gay relationships.

An incident in Ogden, Utah, in 1985 is illustrative of how far the church is willing to go in this respect. A young man went to his bishop (the Mormon equivalent of a parish priest), and confessed that he was gay, had AIDS, and needed the church's help in settling his affairs before his impending death. The bishop informed the young man that before the church could do anything for him, he had to submit a list of all his gay friends. After much tearful consideration, the young man complied, and submitted the list. The bishop then called them in and excommunicated the lot of them. When word of this hit the local newspapers, the Church was asked if the bishop had followed procedure, and the response was that he did, and the church supported him in his decision.

Clearly, the church's position on homosexuality is a case where compliance with church doctrine is given more priority than compassion, and clearly flies in the face of the oft-proclaimed doctrine that the family should come before the church.


Pressure to contribute to the church financially as well as with one's time, seems almost relentless for faithful members. Besides the tithe of a tenth of one's gross, not net income, the faithful member is expected to contribute, and contribute significantly, to ward budgets, building funds, "fast offerings," welfare fund contributions and other causes. This is in addition to the unpaid volunteer time one is expected to contribute to one's church jobs; a job like bishop or ward clerk can make not insignificant demands on one's time. And the member often holds two or more jobs, none of which provides any monetary compensation at all, but can require many hours per week of the member's time. Just failing to attend meetings and even moving away won't get members off the hook from these requests, either. After I quit attending but before I was excommunicated, I moved five times. Each time, without ever telling the church where I had moved, within three weeks of my arrival in my new ward, I was visited with a request for attendance and funds. The church has a truly remarkable surveillance system.

Totalitarian World-View

The church has, since the administration of David O. McKay in the 1950's, been in the vanguard of the right-wing conservative political movement in the United States. Many of its members have been heavily involved in the John Birch Society, and the Society, in it's heyday, often held meetings at local Mormon church buildings. The church has always maintained that the U.S. constitution would someday "hang by a thread, and the elders of the church would save it." They believe that the prophesy by Joseph Smith, would be fulfilled when the church would take over the government of the United States at the Second Coming, and Jesus would rule the earth with the Mormon Church being the machinery of government.

Private property will all be contributed to the church and it will supposedly truly be "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." If that phrase sounds familiar, it should. It is straight out of socialist doctrine.

To prepare the members for this eventuality, many of the church's members in the 19th century practiced what was called the Law of Consecration or "United Order," a form of communalism in which all property was held in common. Many of the towns in southern Utah were founded by members attempting to practice the United Order. Of course, the predictable happened, and the communes were disbanded and the property that wasn't donated to the church was distributed back to the members. Mormons are expected to be fiercely loyal to the church, and defend it with their lives if neccessary. The justification is that the member is doing God's work, and will be amply rewarded in the hereafter.

Members are advised to maintain a "year's supply" of food, water and supplies in storage in the event of civil strife which the church claims will come shortly before the second coming. This doctrine, combined with the church's arch-conservatism, means that some of the more extreme elements of the militia movement in the western U.S. consider themselves allies, and often have church members among their membership. Helen Chenowith, an outspoken member of the U.S. House of Representatives who is the militia movement's only champion in Congress, represents a largely Mormon district in Southern Idaho. The church has publicly condemned the militia movement, particularly since the Olkahoma City bombing, yet it almost never disciplines its members who are part of it.

That arch-conservatism means that even extremist groups such as the John Birch Society often find a home in Mormon wards and branches. While the church has always eschewed the Ku Klux Klan, the racism and prejudice that are often associated with conservatism have been entertained by members with little effort by the church to stop it. Any man of African descent, not matter how little African blood flowed through his veins, was barred from participation in the Mormon priesthood as recently as 1976. Women are still barred.

The members are taught that when the second coming occurs, Jesus will assume the leadership of the church, and by extension, the state. America will become a theocracy, with the Mormon church priesthood running it. The church members are taught to prepare for this day by involving themselves in the affairs of government.


Cult or legitimate church? You'll have to decide. But it is my opinion that when you look behind the scenes, the criteria of the Cult Awareness Network are met in considering the Mormon church a cult.

If you have a different opinion, I would like to hear from you.


If You're A "Recovering Mormon,"
Let 'Em Know!

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says it all in two words!
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Books I highly recommend (which, if you wish, you can buy safely online from by pursuing the links here):

No Man Knows My History a classic history of early Mormonism and its founder, Joseph Smith, by Fawn M. Brodie, is widely reviled by the Mormon church, but keeps getting proven right, time and time again. It is a surprisingly balanced work that has stood the test of time. Easy and accessible, yet deeply interesting, it's a good read.

America's Saints : The Rise of Mormon Power by Robert Gottlieb and Peter Wiley is an excellent analysis of what Mormonism has become, in terms of power and influence, throughout the nation and particularly the intermountain west.

Mormon Heirarchy: The Origins of Power by Michael D. Quinn is a scholarly history, unblushingly honest, though written by a faithful Mormon, of how Mormonism rose from a small, insignificant cult to one of the great religious cults of the world.

Internet Resources

Here are some Internet resources on Mormonism, which can lead the reader into deeper analysis than is presented here.

Steve Benson, editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic and grandson of one of the Mormon church's former presidents, wrote an excellent essay on why he left the church and became a secular humanist. He called it Goodbye to God. It includes interesting perspectives on Mormonism's dubious history and doctrines that could only come from the grandson of a church president. Another Benson commentary on the current pitifilly declining moral and ethical condition of the Mormon church is his editorial, It's Become Red Square on Temple Square

Here is a site that documents carefully and extensively many of the seamier sides of the Mormon church.

The history of Mormon persecution of gay men at Brigham Young University speaks volumes about the nature of the real church behind the scenes carefully constructed by its public relations machinery.

Most of whatever you could want to find about Mormonism on the Net will be found at Mormon Links. It will keep you busy for hours!

My own essay on fundamentalism discusses some of the logical problems with fundamentalist religions like Mormonism.

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Revised 7/4/01