The Mormon Moment
The Church of Latter-day Saints grows by leaps and bounds
So what will happen if the LDS church continues to grow at this rate? While their wholesome lifestyle and careful attention to families may seem to make Mormons ideal neighbors, in Utah and other parts of the West where LDS influence is strongest, not everyone appreciates the result. Close-knit Mormon families often result in close-knit Mormon communities, and in places where the LDS church is dominant, non-Mormons sometimes feel left out. Amy Rowland, 39, a Roman Catholic, remembers as a teenager when her family moved to the Salt Lake City suburb of Cottonwood Heights from Wyoming in 1974, she and her siblings often felt ostracized by the Mormon majority at school. "At first they invited us to their homes or to social events," Rowland recalls. "But once they realized we weren't going to convert, they weren't interested in us, and we were left pretty much alone. Those were difficult years." Now, Rowland and her husband live in a more diverse downtown neighborhood and send their 8-year-old son to a private school where Mormons are in the minority. "It works much better this way," she says.
Being non-Mormon also can be a drawback in the LDS-dominated business community. "I go into a business meeting and someone asks, `What ward are you in?' " says Claudia O'Grady, a housing executive in Salt Lake City. "As soon as they discover I'm not Mormon, a barrier goes up. I have to establish a level of trust that would be automatically assumed if I were LDS."
In the political arena, LDS leaders are outspoken in opposing what they call negative influences on families, such as pornography, abortion, gambling, and alcohol abuse. In California, Alaska, and Hawaii, they mobilized Mormon voters against propositions to legalize gay marriage. And in Utah, where Mormons are 76 percent of the population and dominate state and local governments, liquor laws are among the most restrictive in the nation. Outside of restaurants, which may serve alcohol only with food, only state-licensed private clubs can serve liquor by the glass, and new licenses are difficult to obtain. Packaged liquor is sold exclusively in state-run stores. "It's frustrating sometimes," says Vickie McCall, the only non-Mormon on the state's Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, "when you have people making these decisions who have never had a drink in their life." At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting the church's $8.1 million acquisition of a public plaza next to its headquarters in Salt Lake City where smoking, skateboarding, and distributing non-LDS literature will be forbidden. Such restrictions, argues an ACLU spokesman, would turn the space into "a little bit of Beijing."
The LDS church also continues to run up against other religious groups that challenge the Mormon claim to be a Christian church. Earlier this year, for example, the 8.4 million-member United Methodist Church declared that Mormonism "by self-definition, does not fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of the Christian faith." Mormon leaders readily concede that LDS doctrine differs substantially from that of traditional Christianity, which, they believe, went badly astray soon after the death of Jesus's Apostles. Those differences, says church spokesman Michael Otterson, "are an essential part of our message to the world, that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored in this latter-day period of the Earth's history" through Mormon teachings. Nonetheless, LDS officials get rankled by the accusation that Mormons are not Christians. Says Otterson, "We revere Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Redeemer and Savior of the world."