Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Are You A Real Mormon?

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Former Stake President Stan Taylor
Subject: My Education Week

My first day at BYU Education Week began with a recitation by Brother Maddox who has committed the entire Book of Mormon to memory. After that a BYU history professor taught me that every prominent U.S. statesman was secretly a Mormon. Next I heard from Sister JayNeen Sorenson who claimed to love the Gospel, but made living it sound like a prolonged rectal exam. I broke for an uninspiring meal at the Cougareat, then listened to a millennialist whose predictions on global warming made Al Gore's documentary seem comforting. Finally I sat through a fiery political screed delivered by a fanatical kook who also happened to co-author the Republican mid-term platform.

In other words, it was business as usual at BYU. Same stale syllabus. Same stale teachers. Same stale lessons on what rather than how to think.

Then after viewing an agonizingly insipid production entitled, Annie Get Your Garments, I heard a voice from my past call to me in the lobby. He was bald now, and rounder in the middle, but the banana shaped birth mark on his cheek was a dead give-away.
"I'll be darned, if it isn't cousin Warren."
"Stan Taylor, I haven't seen you since Grandma died." 
Visits with my cousins at Grandma's house in St. George were among my fondest childhood memories, but not because of Warren. I passed most of my time with Warren's sister, Elsie. After hundreds of attempts, I never could beat her at chess.
"How's that chess champion sister of yours?"
Warren shook his head. "Elsie's not with us anymore."
"She died?"
"She's down in Hildale/Colorado City," he whispered.
"She's a polygamist?" I cried.
The people around us turned and stared. Warren grabbed my arm, pulled me into the corner, and begged me to lower my voice. I looked around at the crowd of strangers.
"What's the matter, Warren, do you know any of these people?"
"I know that they're Real Mormons, not . . . what you just said."
"Real Mormons? What the devil does that mean?" 
 "Well, you know what bad press we've gotten, what with those weirdos down there in Colorado City, plus all the ex-Mormons and their bitter "anti" websites."
"One of those weirdos is your sister."
He handed me a business card. "I've started my own pro-Mormon website, you know, to educate."
I looked at the card, then at him, then back at the card. 
a place for common everyday Mormons 

The next morning I packed my suitcase and checked out of my motel. As a retired LDS Institute director, I was no longer required to attend all of BYU Education Week. Besides, I'd had my fill of Real Mormons. I loaded up the car and headed toward Hildale/Colorado City.

I drove down I-15 past a string of Mormon communities, their LDS chapels visible from the road. Nowadays the meetinghouses had shiny white steeples perched awkwardly atop their roofs, evidence of the Church's attempt to appear mainstream. Ironically, around the same time the LDS Church invested in these decorations, they cut the budget for the ward janitorial staffs. Typical of the Brethren. Use all the resources on the Church's outward appearance, and none on the people within its ranks. 
The population dwindled as I drove, and the landscape grew more barren. It felt quiet and comforting, like the corner of Grandma's house where Elsie and I played chess. Finally I came to my destination, the tiny hamlet at the foot of Mount Canaan.
Like Faulkner said, "The past isn't dead, it isn't even past." 

I stopped in The Merry Wives Cafe and ordered an uninspiring meal. The conversation buzzed around me. A man on my left quoted the Pearl of Great Price from memory. Behind me some FLDS brethren discussed the attributes of Abraham Lincoln's plural wives. A group of women claimed to love living the principle, then talked as though plural marriage was one long colonoscopy. Yet another group spoke wistfully of the approaching Armageddon.

When the waitress brought my food, I asked her about my cousin.
"You might be talking about Grandma Elsie," she replied. "Write down your name and I'll call her and see if she knows you."
The homes were partially constructed and poorly engineered
A half hour later I was on the road to my cousin's house for another game of chess. All the way a white Ford F-350 hugged my bumper. I found the address, parked, and walked back to my escort's truck. A hard-eyed man with a crew cut rolled down his window. I smiled at him.
"I'm here to visit my cousin Elsie."
His face softened. "You give her my best," he said, and drove off.
Elsie received me in her attic room at a table set with a chess board and two glasses of homemade lemonade. A Book of Mormon sat on a neighboring shelf. The same edition sat on the shelf in my home, as it did in the home of some ex-Mormons whose party I attended recently.

The game went as it always had. Elsie made her moves with swiftness and authority, then waited impatiently while I hemmed and hawed over mine.
"So Warren told you where I was," she said.
"Saw him last night."
"Oh yeah? Does he still have that mark on his face that looks like a penis?"
"'Fraid so. Tell me, Elsie, why did you leave the mainstream church?"
"I didn't leave it, it left me. What with all their changing to look like everyone else. Have you seen those infernal steeples they've slapped on their buildings?"
"Might as well be Baptists. Bet my brother Warren thinks it's all just dandy."
"He has a new website." I gave her the card.
"Common, everyday Mormons. HA! There's nothing common about me," she said, then slid her queen across the board. "Checkmate." 

If you would like to stop receiving these e-mails, we'll send you the DVD version of Brother Maddox's recitation of The Book of Mormon.


  1. I find it ironic that so many Mormons get upset when people say they're not Real Christians, and yet they feel entitled to define what is and isn't a Real Mormon. Or to define Real Marriage, for that matter.

    This post was extra interesting to me because I grew up on the Arizona Strip about an hour away from these communities. My dad had a mail route that went to Colorado City and my mom went to the community college there and had classmates who were polygamists. All of them nice people. My family moved away before Warren Jeffs came to power. It was a much more open community when we knew them.

  2. Thanks Leah. How interesting that you grew up so close to that community. Have you written about it? I must search your blog.

  3. I'd love to know how the FLDS community has changed since Warren Jeffs' arrest and the 2008 YFZ raid.

  4. Donna. I'm in total awe. I love this piece.


    Fantastic writing.