The Rise of Mormonism

Author Stephen Mansfield examines how Mormons, including Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have become a force in America.

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Then came the 1960s. Like most religions, the LDS took a beating from the counterculture movement, but by the 1970s they were again on the rise. There was the Mormon Taber- nacle Choir, a symbol of Americana when Americana was under siege. There was Mormon Donny Osmond’s smile and Mormon Marie Osmond’s everything and the three-year run of network television’s Donny and Marie in the late 1970s that made words like family, clean, talented, patriotic, and even cute outshine some of the less-endearing labels laid upon the Saints through the years. New labels joined new symbols. A massive, otherworldly, 160,000-square-foot Temple just north of Washington, DC, was dedicated in the 1970s, a symbol of LDS power and permanence for the nation to behold. Always there was the “Every Member a Missionary!” vision beating in each Saintly heart.

By 1984, the dynamics of LDS growth were so fine-tuned that influential sociologist Rodney Stark made the mind- blowing prediction that the Latter-day Saints would have no fewer than 64 million members and perhaps as many as 267 million by 2080.3 It must have seemed possible in those days. In the following ten years, LDS membership exploded from 4.4 million to 11 million. This may be why in 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City. The Mormons—a misguided cult in the view of most traditional Christians, most Baptists in particular—had to be stopped.

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They weren’t. Four years after the Baptists besieged Temple Square, the Winter Olympic Games came to Salt Lake City. This was in 2002 and it is hard to exaggerate what this meant to the Latter-day Saints. A gifted Mormon leader, Mitt Romney, rescued the games after a disastrous bidding scandal. A sparkling Mormon city hosted the games. Happy, handsome, all-American Mormons attended each event, waving constantly to the cameras and appearing to be—in the word repeatedly used by the press at the time—“normal.”

The LDS Church capitalized on it all. It sent volunteers, missionaries, and publicists scurrying to every venue. It hosted grand events for the world press. It made sure that every visitor received a brochure offering an LDS guided tour of the city. Visitors from around the world read these words: “No other place in America has a story to tell like that of Salt Lake City—a sanctuary founded by religious refugees from within the United States’ own borders. And none can tell that story better than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

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