Salt Lake City, Utah

It is here in the Mormon City of Salt Lake that Sandy & I say goodbye to our travelling companions and each other after our trip around some of the incomparable scenery of the American West. I haven’t explained much about the rest of the group, have I? For the most part they have been friendly and pleasant, mainly retirees from all over the USA and just as excited by the landscapes as we were. Some had even brought their grandchildren along with them and, frankly, these must have been the best behaved young teens in North America because we were hardly aware that they were there. No-one had any issues with geological time or palaeontology (evolution is a “creed” that some Bible Belters in the USA chose not to believe in) and several were well informed enough to be sympathetic to Britain’s current political embarrassments. Oh, and not everyone was white.

We had a fleeting glimpse of the Great Salt Lake as we approached the City and then we were treated to the gleaming white pinnacles of the Church of Jesus Christ the Latter Day Saints. Often abbreviated to LDS, this is the preferred description of the Mormon Church and this is its headquarters. In the 1830s a young man by the name of Joseph Smith found himself unable to choose between the many branches of Christianity on offer in New York but was subsequently lucky enough to have a the vision which helped him to found his own. Angels led him to the set of long-buried stone tablets which became the Book of Mormon, a sort of North American appendix to the Old and New Testaments pre-destined for the great White expansion into the American West.

It hadn’t been possible to know in advance whether we would be admitted to the original pioneers’ Tabernacle in the central religious complex but we turned out to be in luck as there was no special event taking place that would have closed it to visitors. Four smiling Sisters awaited our party and escorted us into the beautifully maintained gardens of Temple Square. Name badges complete with country flags explained that these pretty young women were on sabbaticals from Korea, Ghana, Mexico and South Africa. Their prepared scripts and beatific smiles made it difficult to ask too many pointed questions but as far as they were concerned the LDS has always welcomed people of all races.

The Temple itself is off limits to all but “recommended” Mormons but the 19th Century Tabernacle is open to all. Built by a carpenter, whose expertise was apparently bridge building rather than conventional architecture, it is devoid of supporting pillars and equipped with one of the largest organs in the world. Everyone who enters is treated to a demonstration of the amazing acoustics (don’t mutter anything irreverent in there because you really can hear a pin drop) and photos are permitted. There are numerous visitors in the grounds but the whole place really does abound with small groups of young men clutching bibles and brief cases and attired in the sartorially incorrect combination of black tie and short sleeved white shirt.

I was grateful for the opportunity to see all of this first hand, especially when I discovered that a reduction in the number of home grown converts and a growing tendency for young people born into Mormon families to quit the church has apparently led to this explosion in global outreach. Even the population of Salt Lake City is now less than 40% Mormon but anyone can see the light and proclaim their faith in LDR. They can even have their ancestors retrospectively “brought over” so that they can all be reunited in the next life but it was not always so. It was not until as late as 1978 that the most racist sentiments of co-founder Brigham Young were sanitised from the official teachings of this church.

Curiously, the LDS has always admitted Asian and Native American people but it seems to have made a special exemption of the black races of Africa, regarded as the children of Cain and completely inferior beings. My evening’s research was curtailed when I got as far as statement that even so much as 1/120th black African blood could render a person unclean in the eyes of God and I had to stop myself from vomiting into the hotel wastepaper basket. No wonder Mitt Romney,a previous Republican Party candidate for President, who was a young pioneer preacher for the Mormons while these views were still current, had so much difficulty giving a straight answer.

Before leaving this afternoon I plonked Sandy in a wheelchair so that we could have a VIP tour of the huge LDS Convention Centre (you can read about it online if you are curious, I’ve had a surfeit) and then we returned to the Tabernacle to hear the midday organ recital. My only excuse for this is that I know with the certainty of a divine revelation, complete with heavenly choirs of glittering angels, that I will never be coming back.

Categories: North America

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