Helen Whitney & Jane Barnes
ANNOUNCER: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the world's fastest growing religions. Mormons walk the corridors of power, leaders in Congress and even running for president. But it was not always so.
KEN VERDOIA, Journalist: In the 19th century, to call someone a Mormon was akin to calling someone a Muslim terrorist.
ANNOUNCER: The Mormon story is the epic saga of a new American faith fired by the startling revelations of Joseph Smith, of a people embroiled in decades of religious conflict, who crossed a continent to establish their own spiritual kingdom, and a church that defied society by embracing polygamy and then abruptly abandoned it.
KEN VERDOIA: From the ultimate outcast to the embodiment of the mainstream in two generations. It's a breathtaking transformation.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, FRONTLINE and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE continue the story of this very American religion to go inside the Mormon faith as it is lived today-
GORDON B. HINCKLEY, LDS Church President: Prepare to consecrate two years of your lives to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary-
ANNOUNCER: -to follow the Mormons' extraordinary commitment to convert the world-
MORMON MISSIONARY: Hi. I'm a missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
BETTY STEVENSON: And they told me the most preposterous story about this white boy, a dead angel and some gold plates.
ANNOUNCER: -to explore the beliefs that forge close-knit Mormon families-
KIMBER TILLEMANN-DICK, Business Consultant: The church and my family are so intertwined, it just creates a kind of aura of love. It makes your home a holy place.
NARRATOR: -to investigate the struggle between Mormon scholars and the authority of church leaders-
DALLIN H. OAKS, LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: It's wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true.
ANNOUNCER: -and to examine the powerful and secret rituals of the Mormon temple.
TERRYL GIVENS, Author: The temple exists as a kind of vehicle through which we conquer mortality. Not a single atom or particle of our bodies will be lost, but everything will be reconstituted as fully as it was. It's almost a kind of celebration of the totality of triumph over death.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the revealing conclusion of The Mormons.
Act 1 The Great Accommodation
NARRATOR: In July, 1897, 50 years after Brigham Young had brought them to Utah, Mormon pioneers gathered in Salt Lake City to celebrate their survival. In the early days of the church, they had been driven out of Ohio and Missouri. In Illinois, the Latter Day Saints founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, had been murdered and their temple burned.
The Mormons had turned their backs on America and made a perilous journey across the continent in search of their own country, only to then engage in a 50-year struggle with the U.S. government over their practice of polygamy and political control of the Utah Territory.
KEN VERDOIA, Journalist: In the 1880s, U.S. presidents at their inaugurations used their inaugural address to decry the Mormon experience, to identify it as domestic threat number one after the Civil War. Fast-forward 100 years, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is singing at presidential inaugurations. So they become a very mainstream, very capital-centered economic interest that moves in a conservative direction, as the embodiment of family values, morality issues. Where at one time they were vilified, they were considered disloyal, in fact, they were considered a knife at the back of the American experience, now they are, in fact, considered, in some ways, the very embodiment of what it means to be American. How was that brought about?
NARRATOR: By the end of the 19th century, the LDS church had made an uneasy peace with the federal government. The church had officially renounced the practice of polygamy and Utah had finally been granted statehood.
KATHLEEN FLAKE, Historian: In 1903, a man arrives in Washington named Reed Smoot. He's been elected to the Senate, and he is a Mormon apostle, the equivalent of a very high cardinal. In fact, it's difficult for us to imagine what it meant for this apostle to arrive in the Senate and represent a state in the national legislature.
KEN VERDOIA: The United States Senate looks at Reed Smoot and says, "We don't believe you're worthy to be formally seated in our august body because we have heard ongoing reports that plural marriage still exists in Utah." So they use Reed Smoot's confirmation hearings as a means of dissecting the Mormon church.
KATHLEEN FLAKE: It was a huge trial. It lasted over a span of four years. It was as big publicly as anything we've seen in our own day- as Watergate, Iran-contra. It captured the public's attention on a variety of very dramatic issues- church and state, sex, of course, religious power, Mormon temples, the secrecy of these temples, all kinds of things. You couldn't be in America during these years and not know about the Smoot hearings.
NARRATOR: The opposition was intense, but Smoot had powerful supporters, too, including President Roosevelt. And in 1907, the Senate finally voted to seat the Senator from Utah. Smoot would go on to a distinguished career in Washington and became a major power broker in the Republican party.
KATHLEEN FLAKE: Smoot himself became the poster boy of Mormonism, and Mormonism's identity radically changed as a result of this set of hearings, in part because the nation stated the terms by which it would accept Mormonism and Mormonism began to conform to those terms.
SARAH BARRINGER GORDON, Historian: Mormons entered into national party politics. They gave up the People's Party which was the official party of the faith, and became themselves active within especially the Republican Party but also the Democratic Party. They also did a good job of participating in the military life of the country. Mormons fought wars, volunteered at extraordinarily high rates, recalibrated their patriotism to be loyal to the government in Washington.
NARRATOR: The Mormons also recalibrated their relationship to the American economy. They abandoned Brigham Young's ideal of a closed communal economy in Utah and fully embraced the capitalism of Wall Street.
KEN VERDOIA: It's a profound shift from the pioneering days of isolated Christian socialism to the end of the 20th century. And what you see is the emergence of an extraordinarily sophisticated financial management organization, the LDS church ownerships in media, extraordinary land holdings, livestock and agricultural interests, great stock portfolios.
NARRATOR: The church's financial growth was fueled by "sacred taxation." To be of good standing, all Mormons must tithe 10 percent of their gross income to the church. Today church assets are estimated at $25 billion to $30 billion, and it has become the wealthiest church per capita in America.
RICHARD OSTLING, Co-Author, Mormon America: The Mormon church is not only wealthy, but it's unusually secretive about the extent of its wealth. Most American religious groups of any size give full financial accounting to the membership, but the facts of the Mormon financial empire are never revealed to the membership, much less the wide world. And as far as we can tell, there have been no major financial scandals. The leaders handle the business, and the members contentedly go on trusting in the leaders.
NARRATOR: Over the last 50 years, the Mormon hierarchy has tried to change public perceptions of its leadership.
GREG PRINCE, Author: Since the time that Brigham Young decided to grow a beard, the face of Mormon literally was bearded polygamist, bearded polygamist, bearded polygamist. We're clear up to the middle of the 20th century, and that face hasn't changed. Then all of a sudden, with a heartbeat, the face of Mormonism becomes a clean-shaven, non-polygamist white knight. President David O. McKay frequently wore a pure white double-breasted suit.
This was the new face of Mormonism, and it was unlike anything that had preceded it. It was scripted by central casting. He knew the importance of image before the era of professional image makers. He reinjected us into the national scene by blessing the request of Dwight Eisenhower to have one of the apostles, Ezra Taft Benson, be a member of the Eisenhower cabinet, and his presence in Washington gave the church a presence there they had not had previously
[www.pbs.org: Read the extended interview]
Sen. ROBERT BENNETT (R), Utah: One of the major P.R. tools of the church has been the Tabernacle Choir. When they got on radio, they became the nation's choir. The Tabernacle Choir has been an extraordinary ambassador for the church.
NARRATOR: As the choir tours the world, it still sings the old Mormon hymns, but there is new emphasis on Jesus and biblical themes. It is part of a long campaign to place the Mormon faith within the traditions of mainstream Christianity.
CARL MOSSER, Biblical Studies Professor: In the early 1980s, the LDS church produced a new version of the Book of Mormon and they subtitled it "another testament of Jesus Christ." A few years ago, the LDS church changed its logo and made the words Jesus Christ much larger than the rest of the words in the name of their church to emphasize to the world that they are a mainstream Christian faith.
RICHARD OSTLING: On the other hand, we've had conventional Christian bodies saying, "Well, you aren't fully Christian as we define the term." So we've had edicts from the Vatican and from the United Methodist church and the Presbyterian church and the Southern Baptists have made it clear, "We don't accept Mormonism as fully Christian, either." So there's a tension there. There's a religious tension which is very hard to overcome.
NARRATOR: But as the Mormons were trying to change their place in American life, the country itself was changing. The social and political upheavals of the 1960s put new pressures on the church, especially over its stance on race.
DARIUS GRAY, Author: I think the most damning statement came from one of the presidents of the church, the third president of the church, John Taylor. Basically, he said that the reason that blacks had been allowed to come through the flood, the flood of Noah, was so that Satan would have representation upon the earth, that black folks were here to represent Satan and to have a balance against white folks, who were here to represent Jesus Christ, the savior. How do you damn a people more than to say that their existence upon the earth is to represent Satan?
Sen. ROBERT BENNETT: The most controversial thing in the church was the church's position on giving priesthood authority to blacks and the church's refusal to do that. I say blacks rather than African-Americans because it applied throughout the world.
RICHARD OSTLING: Now, Mormon priesthood is really a universal office for male Mormons. It's their equivalent of bar mitzvah. It's something that everybody normally would undergo. If you do not hold the priesthood, you can never hold any office of church authority. It also would affect your eternal state. And so what you had, really, was a very serious disability visited upon Mormons of African descent.
[www.pbs.org: More on the Mormon priesthood]
NARRATOR: The Mormons had ambitions to be a worldwide church, but their only missionaries on the African continent were in white South Africa, none in black Africa. But then in the early 1960s, a copy of the Book of Mormon appeared in Ghana and Nigeria. A few people read it and were converted instantly. They founded their own version of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
BILLY JOHNSON, Co-Founder, LDS Church, Ghana: And I read the Book of Mormon. I was pulled by the power of the Holy Ghost to believe, that it was a sound and a true testimony. I started from street to street, from town to town, from house to house, spreading the message.
NARRATOR: They started to write the leaders in Salt Lake for instructions. Over the next frustrating 20 years, they would implore them to send missionaries so that they could be baptized.
SAM BAINSON, LDS Convert: And they kept writing to Salt Lake City. They want the missionaries to come and baptize this group of people they're getting. They want Salt Lake to come and show them how to form the church properly. But the church couldn't send missionaries to Ghana to baptize them because of the ban on the priesthood for blacks.
GREG PRINCE: Later into the 1970s, you now have a new president, Spencer Kimball, and you have new forces at work. Most of these are internal. There was also the injunction that had existed for decades, "Take the gospel to all the world." There wasn't an asterisk at the end of it saying, "Oh, by the way, you can exclude black Africa." This weighed on Spencer Kimball.
All of those things, I think, had a cumulative effect. The 1st of June, 1978, Spencer Kimball, his two counselors, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, met in the temple. They engaged in group prayer, and it was described as a Pentecostal experience.
EDWARD KIMBALL, Son of Spencer W. Kimball: One described it as though there were the tongues of flame that are talked about in Acts. Another said it was like a rushing of wind for him.
GORDON B. HINCKLEY, LDS Church President: I was there. There was something of a Pentecostal spirit. But on the other hand, it was peaceful, quiet, not a cataclysmic thing in any sense. It was just a feeling that came over all of us, and we knew that it was the right thing at the right time and that we should proceed.
NARRATOR: President Kimball announced that God had heard their prayers and had revealed that "all male members of the church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard to race or color."
RICHARD OSTLING: What happened in 1978 was that this burden was lifted from black Mormons. More importantly, a huge burden was lifted from Mormonism because it was rid of theological racism. This enabled the church, of course, to reach out more effectively to blacks. It made the church fully acceptable after American society had undergone this tremendous Civil Rights revolution. It really was the moment for the modernization of the Mormon church.
NARRATOR: At the edge of Salt Lake City stands a pure white granary. It is an enduring symbol of the original fiery millennial visions at the Mormon core. Inside are 16 million pounds of wheat, continually replenished, to be used only in the tumult before Christ's final return. But it is also a reminder of how the Mormons have enlarged their extensive preparations for their own welfare to reach out to the wider world.
KEN VERDOIA: At one time, church welfare was just about the welfare of church members. It was born of survival. It was born of the darkest days early in the territory, where drought or pestilence would visit the agricultural crops, and they would have the bishop's storehouse for the poor.
TERRYL GIVENS, Author: And in recent years, especially, those relief efforts have been extended not just to members of the church but to over 150 major humanitarian crises around the world in locations as disparate as Kosovo, North Korea, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The efficiency of the Mormon welfare apparatus is really legendary. It operates with all the efficiency of the German Wehrmacht. In Katrina of 2005, the Mormon relief trucks were on the way before the hurricane had even made landfall.
JAMES MADISON, Louisiana Resident: To live in this region now is to live with an overwhelming sense of sadness and to come home and see that you've lost a lot of history. It's devastating. How can you ever clean this up? There's not enough dumps in the world to hold all this.
We were hearing stories on the radio of troops coming in. Helicopters were flying over. We even heard the president was flying over in a big helicopter, looking at us. But nobody was there on the ground with us except for the Mormons in their yellow T-shirts who showed up to help us clean up. And they didn't just come in to hand us a piece of food, a piece of bread or something, and say, "Here's something to eat," you know, "while you're working." They actually got down and cleaned and worked.
LARRY HESS, Fire Chief: Two folks and myself went over to the bishop's warehouse, this huge building. It was all cataloged and categorized, and their warehousing procedures and policies- they just knew where everything was. They knew how much of each thing they had. They were able to get not only saws to us but canned goods, access to outside communications. They had satellite phones. It was almost as though a business that specialized in emergency or community disaster response had arrived.
JAMES MADISON: Before the storm, I had had Mormons knocking on my door, just like everybody else probably, and so the object was to try and get rid of them as fast as possible. You know, "Just go away. Not interested. Don't want to hear what you have to say." After the storm, a little bit different now. They're part of my family now, always will be. You know, they- they got into my heart, and they'll never stand on my doorstep again without being invited into my house.
NARRATOR: In the last hundred years, the Mormons have traveled a long and difficult road in transforming themselves from reviled outsiders into central figures in the American establishment. In the United States Senate, that a century ago tried to reject Reed Smoot, Senator Harry Reid, a Mormon convert from Nevada, now leads the new Democratic majority.
Former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is a contender for the Republican nomination for president. But amidst success, there are still signs of deep resistance. Several recent polls show that from one quarter to as many as 43 percent of voters say that they would not vote for a Mormon for president.
RICHARD OSTLING: Now, what is it about Mormonism that causes people to ask themselves, "Do I really want a Mormon in the White House?" I mean, in the American system, that's almost a question that should be asked, right? No religious test should be asked for an office holder. It's right in the American Constitution. And yet people are nervous about- you know, this is kind of an authoritarian church. Is Mitt Romney somehow subject to some church leader in Salt Lake City? Are Mormons Christians? Where did these Mormon scriptures come from? Who was this Joseph Smith? Where did polygamy come from? All of these things are swirling around the Romney candidacy.
NARRATOR: If the questions hovering around the Romney moment suggest that Mormons haven't quite yet arrived, there are also continuing signs of acceptance, like the recent gathering of scholars at the Library of Congress to commemorate the bicentennial of Joseph Smith's birth.
These conflicting signals all reflect the inherent tensions in the Mormon stance in American life.
DANIEL PETERSON, Islamic Studies Professor: I glory in the distinctives of 19th century Mormonism. I worry that we may have become too assimilated. We are- you know, we are different. We need to remember that, that we were in tension with the surrounding society. And there always ought to be some. We ought to be bothered if everybody thinks we're just peachy keen.
TERRYL GIVENS: Brigham Young once said that he feared the day when Mormons would no longer be the object of the pointing finger of scorn. It's one of these paradoxes that you want to have acceptability, you want to be mainstream enough that people will give your message a fair hearing, so you can fraternize with them as fellow Christians. But at the same time, you don't want to feel so comfortable that there's nothing to mark you as a people who are distinct, who have a special body of teachings with special responsibilities. And I think once the walls of isolation fell down, then how do you maintain that sense of a people distinct, a people apart? And I think that's a challenge that the church is really wrestling with today.
Act 2 The Mission
GORDON B. HINCKLEY, LDS Church President: I throw out a challenge to every young man within this vast congregation tonight. Prepare yourself now to be worthy to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary. Prepare to concentrate two years of your lives to this sacred service.
NARRATOR: The Mormons have put the future of their church in the hands of 19-year-olds. Each year, more than 50,000 young Mormon missionaries march the globe, from Utah to Mongolia, to win converts to their faith, as many as a quarter million each year. God's Army, as some Mormons call it, has always been the engine that has driven the church's success. Before the first pews were filled, Joseph Smith announced, "This church, brethren, will fill the whole earth."
RICHARD BUSHMAN, Biographer of Joseph Smith: From the very outset, Joseph Smith was persuaded that he had a message that was for the whole world. And he adopted this radical idea that he did not have to train people to do this, he could simply commission them. So from the start, he sent out first his family members, and everyone who joined his church became a missionary.
Sen. ROBERT BENNETT: In the late 1830s, what might have been one of the darkest hours of the church, when Joseph was beset with disloyalty and disillusion all around him, Joseph gathers those members of the Twelve that are closest to him, and says, "I'm sending you to Great Britain. I'm putting you on a boat and sending you across the Atlantic," a violation of every organizational rule, everything you'd learn at the Harvard Business School as to how to keep an organization together.
RICHARD BUSHMAN: And England is in the throes of industrialization, and all these village people have been moved into factories and are working under the most difficult conditions. It's a downtrodden population. And Brigham Young said that you didn't have to prove anything to them, you just preached the gospel to them and they would believe.
NARRATOR: During the first 25 years of the church, there were 71,000 converts in Great Britain alone, and approximately 17,000 of them emigrated to America, to the early Mormon settlements in Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois, and then to Utah.
Sen. ROBERT BENNETT: The pioneers who filled the valley and staffed the church came from Great Britain and Scandinavia and Germany. My grandfather, born in Birmingham, England- Mormon missionaries found his mother and her parents, and they joined the church. And part of the missionary lessons- you know, you've got to believe in the Book of Mormon, you've got to believe in Baptism and you've got to move to Utah. [laughs] That's a pretty tough missionary sell.
NARRATOR: At the end of the 19th century, the missionary work had to take a back seat to the survival of the church in Utah. The Depression and World War II further limited their efforts. God's army shrank to under 300 missionaries worldwide, and its ambitions would remain modest until the 1950s.
GREG PRINCE, Biographer of David O. McKay: David O. McKay brought this church into the 20th century, even though he got started halfway through that century. We were a church that still was insular. We brought people to Salt Lake. He said, "Let's reverse that. Stay where you are. Grow where you're planted. Make the church a vital force throughout the world." The number of missionaries multiplied several-fold. The number of convert baptisms multiplied even more so because he injected that new spirit into what they were doing.
NARRATOR: Since the 1950s, God's Army has been recruited largely from Mormon young people, and their two-year missions have become a rite of passage.
BRYAN HORN, Student: You go. You go. You go. You go. Dad went. Grandpa went. And Grandpa, who's a descendant of Wilfred Woodruff, who was taught by Joseph Smith, went on missions, you know? You go. You go. And you start earning at age 5, when you, you know, are old enough to count, and you earn all the way to 19.
CHILDREN: [singing] I want to be a missionary and serve and help the Lord while I am in my youth-
NARRATOR: The Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, is one of 17 around the world. It is a spiritual boot camp where young men and women are trained to talk, sing and pray in 30 languages.
TEACHER: So without me telling you, what's this next sentence here?
STUDENT: "I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God."
NARRATOR: During rigorous training that can last for three months of 16-hour days, they learn lesson plans designed to take the potential convert to the goal of baptism. Every aspect of their behavior and appearance is scrutinized.
TEACHER: What does your face look like right there?
NARRATOR: They are taught how to listen, to smile, to find common ground with a stranger on the street, how to answer the most difficult questions, and how to deal with hecklers.
TEACHER: What are you- OK, what are you thinking right there? Are you thinking that you're confused and-
STUDENT: That's what I think, I think in my head, I'm, like- smile, yeah, but I mean, like-
DAVID PACE, Author: I was prepared to go on a mission during a time when it was for all intents and purposes mandatory for young men to go on missions. I had to in order to exist in my world, as I knew it. When I returned, no one would want to marry me, that I knew, unless I was a returned missionary. My parents would lose all respect for me if I did not go on a mission.
NARRATOR: At the training center, parents and young missionaries say goodbye. They will not see each other for two years.
DANIEL PETERSON, Islamic Studies Professor: My father said, "Well, let's have a prayer." And he began to pray, and then he broke down and sobbed. And I remember for the first time, I thought to myself, "What on earth am I doing? I'm abandoning my parents for two years." He was obviously just broken up about it. I had never seen my father cry in my life. And to see him sobbing and having to gain control of himself, for just a little moment, I thought, "I must be nuts. What kind of a church would ask this kind of thing?"
There is that pain. The church does ask sacrifices. We don't have to cross the plains anymore with a handcart, but it does ask things of us that sometimes are tough.
D. MICHAEL QUINN, Historian: It's one thing to leave your family and go into a dormitory, to a university, or go into the military. But still, you have an independence. You can choose to do what you want. When you become an LDS missionary, you have a companion who is assigned to you 24 hours a day. You never leave the side of that companion except to go to the bathroom.
MELISSA MOWER, Student: You don't get your alone time on a mission. You're in a very small apartment together, and you just always need to know where the other one is and what they're doing. So that was very difficult with someone you get along with, and then you get a companion that you don't get along with, and you're doing a lot of praying and soul-searching because you have companionship inventory once a week.
MICHAEL QUINN: Your life is utterly controlled. If it isn't approved to listen to radio, you do not listen to radio. If it isn't approved to watch television, you do not watch television. If it isn't approved to read a newspaper, you will not read a newspaper. You follow the rules for this two-year period. There is nothing in contemporary experience of 20-year-olds in America and Canada to compare with this.
MISSIONARY: Hello. Very good, Hermano. Como esta?
NARRATOR: And on the street, nothing resembles what they experienced in the Training Center.
MISSIONARY: Joseph asked, "Which church should I join?" And the Lord told him that he should join none of those churches. But they had a great work for Joseph to do. They called him to be a prophet, just like God had done in times before.
WOMAN: What's this about?
WOMAN: Oh, all this old Jesus Christ bull.
MISSIONARY: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, ma'am?
WOMAN: Oh, I actually don't believe in God even.
MISSIONARY: No, that's fine. Well, I just wanted to share with you-
WOMAN: Oh, I have to go this way.
MISSIONARY: Hi. How are you doing?
MISSIONARY: Good! Hey, I'm a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and we're out here talking to the people because we're sharing a great message about Jesus Christ during this time of Christmas.
MISSIONARY: She told me to leave her alone.
WOMAN: Oh, no!
MISSIONARY: How are you doing today, sir?
MAN: Kind of busy.
MISSIONARY: Oh, aren't we all! Where are you headed? We're missionaries.
MAN: Don't shadow me. Don't walk next to me. I said I'm busy. Please.
MISSIONARY: We're just sharing a Christmas message today.
MAN: I just want to walk here by myself. Thank you.
MISSIONARY: Yeah. Have a nice day, sir.
CALVIN HARPER, LDS Convert: Of all that time, 65, 70 hours a week knocking doors, talking to people in the street, I never had one conversion. You'd go weeks without teaching sometimes. It was just hard. People didn't want to hear. But if they found out I was an Indian, then they were interested. They wanted to talk about Indians. They didn't want to talk about religion.
TREVOR SOUTHEY, Artist: I was 24 when I went on my mission to Rhodesia. I was still very much full of the romance of my own conversion. I actually baptized a large number of people for my mission, the average, I think, was, like, two, and I baptized something like 25, largely because of one family of 12 that lived down the street from where, you know, my companion and I lived.
I had a wonderful time teaching people. It really made you feel that I was part of something much bigger than myself, that a single individual could be changed by my capacity to teach these people. The transformational quality was undeniably powerful, and so the very things that had happened to me I began to see happen to other people.
NARRATOR: Today the LDS church has grown to over 12 million members worldwide, more than half of them living outside the United States. Mormon conversions, however, have declined slightly in recent decades, and over 50 percent of new church members will fall away from their faith. In the developing world, the Mormons are increasingly challenged by the Pentecostals and other churches, whose conversions are rising faster in some countries.
RICK PHILLIPS, Sociology Professor: The church has a real problem keeping new members in the faith. Part of the reason for that is that the church does a marvelous job finding converts and bringing them into the church through baptism, but it spends less time and less effort helping new members of the church find their way in their new congregations.
Also, conversion to Mormonism involves a radical transformation of someone's life. If I convert to a typical Christian sect, I don't know that they're going to ask me for 10 percent of my income. I don't know if they're going to ask me for literally almost all of my discretionary time.
Because it is a church that is run solely by the membership, congregations can only sustain themselves when members contribute as least as much as they take. So retaining a Latter Day Saint is a pretty serious enterprise, more serious than retaining the average charismatic Christian or conservative Christian. This is a church that demands everything.
NARRATOR: The church also asks a great deal from its young missionaries, and it can test their commitment.
JAMES DALRYMPLE, Sr., Filmmaker: We had a son who was serving on a mission in Brazil. He had been there for about a year. He was serving out from the capital of Brasilia by quite some distance, and I couldn't reach him. And so the branch president wrote a note, put it on the door, and said, "Your mom has passed away. Call home." He's 5,000 miles away, and I'm crying and he's crying on the phone. And how do you put your arms around your son when he's that far away?
JAMES DALRYMPLE, Jr., Former LDS Missionary: And I mean, it just felt so awful to think that I was sitting here by myself and to think that I- that my- I didn't know what my family was going through. And it was just a very lonely moment, a very sad moment. It was just- it was- yeah, it was terrible.
JAMES DALRYMPLE, Sr.: He didn't come home from his mission. And I encouraged him not to come home from his mission. He knew he was there for a reason. He knew that he was doing what his mother wanted him to do. That was one of the most important things to her in her life, was that she raised her son to serve a mission.
NARRATOR: For the young Mormons working abroad, their missions can be dangerous. In those countries in turmoil or hostile to America, missionaries have been kidnapped, tortured and killed. The physical environment can also be threatening.
TAL BACHMAN, Musician: I hit Argentina with the force of a hurricane, being 19 and being absolutely convinced that you're on the Lord's errand, fueled with these fantasies and aspirations. I ended up with my companions baptizing entire congregations of aboriginal people in the mud. Living conditions were frequently harsh. You don't have fresh water to bathe in, so you're bathing in this rancid, algae-ridden, green, slimy water. You drink it. You're dying of thirst.
It's, like, a 110, 112, higher degrees. Poison-spitting toads getting into the apartment, crocodiles running all over the place. I mean, I was completely into it. I mean, I was so completely wound up that, I mean, if my mission president had asked me to blow myself up like a suicide bomber, I would have said, "Sure. Where should I go?"
NARRATOR: But the young faith that fuels the missionary does not always endure. Years later, Tal Bachman says he left the church after concluding the revelations of Joseph Smith were not authentic.
TAL BACHMAN: I left the church because I felt that I was forced to conclude that for whatever else it might be, it wasn't what it claimed to be. That point had special relevance for me, I think, because of my mission experiences and the decisions I had made after my mission. We risked our lives for the church in Argentina. I don't think that I can delude myself into thinking or to making it OK for my children to put their lives on the line for the thing, if it's not what it claims to be. It might be the best thing ever invented, but if it's invented, it's not worth dying for.
NARRATOR: But for others, the mission itself can be the catalyst for their own conversion.
MARLIN K. JENSEN, LDS Church Historian: Before my mission, I tried to do what is always suggested, to read the scriptures, to say my prayers, to be obedient to the commandments of the church, as we understand them, and hoped in that process, I would gain the spiritual conviction that is promised. And I didn't, at least not to the degree of certainty that I'd hoped for. So when I went on my mission, I was still somewhat tentative.
And I went to Germany. I'd had a high school German class and had never learned a thing, unfortunately. I didn't even know what "gesundheit" meant when I got there. I didn't even like the little German children because they could speak German and I couldn't.
So about six weeks into my mission, my companion and I had stirred up enough difficulty in this Lutheran neighborhood where we were working that the Lutheran minister called a special meeting to warn his parishioners about us and said to his parishioners, "Look, these young Mormons are working here. Be nice to them, but you don't really need them. You have Luther. You have the Bible. They have the book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, both of which are obviously fraudulent, so just be kind to them and they'll go away."
Then he made a strategic error. He said- or a tactical error, I guess. He said, "Is there anyone else here tonight that would like to say anything about these Mormons?" And of course, my 6-foot-seven companion raised his hand and said, "We would," and up to the front we went. And then he turned to me and said, "And now my companion would like to say how he feels." And I remember thinking, "Well, dandy. I can bless the food because that's the only intelligent thing I might have done in German."
But you know, it was interesting. And this is a tender moment for me because the conviction I'd been searching for came. And it came in this way. I remember sort of composing myself and trying to figure out what I might say in German, which is a very logical language if you know the rules. And I remember in that moment about every German word or phrase I had ever read or heard sort of coming together in a way that I was able to express myself. And I did tell those people that I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that I knew that the Book of Mormon was the word of God and that I knew the church had been restored through Joseph Smith.
And it's interesting because, in that moment, I- I came to know, and that was the moment, really, when my hope and my tender belief turned into something really solid, which has been the foundation for the rest of my life. So when people say, "How was your mission?" I say, "It was everything."
NARRATOR: For the new convert, it can be a transformative experience, as well. Despite the challenges facing the missionaries, conversions continue, sometimes in the most unexpected way.
BETTY STEVENSON: When the missionaries came into the outskirts of hell, where I was at, struggling with my two little children- I had been hooked on drugs, in prison, on parole. And they knocked on my door, and I thought, "It's the police." And I kind of snuck on up to the door to peek because I had just gotten off of two years of probation, seven years of parole 11 days before the missionaries came and brought that Book of Mormon to me.
And they came in and told me the most preposterous story I have ever heard in my life. They told me about this white boy, a dead angel and some gold plates. And I thought, "I wonder what they on?" I had gotten the name of the church messed up. When I first heard it, I thought it was the LDS church, you know? And I thought, "Well, LSD." I got it backwards. I thought they was talking about LSD, and I thought, "Now, that's the church for me."
And it dawned on me as I sat there and opened that book up, and it said, "I, Nephi, being born of goodly parents"- and it breaks my heart even to this day because it seemed like at that moment, I realized that I wasn't a goodly parent and that I didn't have goodly parents to teach me in the language of my fathers.
I found something inside of me that was responding to this message of hope, of family that could be together forever, of raising my children and learning how to be a good parent, not drinking, not smoking, not cussing every word, using the Lord's name in vain. And I tell you, to come into the church because I wanted that, to me, it was like a pearl of great price.
Act 3 Dissenters & Exiles
JON BUTLER, Historian: All religious systems have to move beyond their own founding, and many religious systems have found that very difficult to do. Christianity did it. Islam did it. Judaism did it. The question is, can Mormonism do it? The past is thrusting itself up in front of the Mormons day after day, almost hour after hour, and it's difficult to deal with. And like much in the past, it's very messy.
NARRATOR: As the LDS church has grown, control over the Mormons' story has become all the more important. That has lead to increasing conflict with some Mormon intellectuals who challenge the church's official history and the authority of its leaders.
BOYD K. PACKER, LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: The glory of God is intelligence. Light and truth forsake the evil one. Ye are commanded to bring up your children in light and truth.
JEFFREY NIELSEN, Philosophy Professor: Intellectuals, by their very nature, ask questions. They're curious. They see some statement made, and they want to know why.
DALLIN H. OAKS, LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: The life of the mind can be seen to be in flat-out opposition to one's faith.
MARGARET TOSCANO, Classics Professor: To be a Mormon intellectual means that you're opening up yourself to being called into a church court.
LAVINA ANDERSON: I was excommunicated 13 years ago. My temple marriage to my husband is canceled. My sealing to my child is dissolved. And basically, my eternal salvation is wiped out.
MARGARET TOSCANO: One of the contradictions I see presently in Mormon culture is, on the one hand, we have this long tradition of encouraging knowledge and education, and yet at the same time, there's a real anti-intellectual strain that've been there for quite some time. If you're an active LDS person and you want to write about Mormonism, there are just certain things that you cannot talk about. Certainly, the temple is one of them, even if you're trying to do it in a faith-promoting way. And raising any kind of feminist question, that's something you cannot do, Questioning authority in any way- I think that this is probably one of the biggest taboos in Mormonism.
JEFFREY NIELSEN: There is the thought that intellectuals ask questions, questions lead to doubts, doubts leads to loss of testimony, loss of testimony leads to you falling away from the church. And there's a great fear in the church that if you openly look at these things, that you will doubt, and if you doubt, well, there goes the whole purpose of life.
DALLIN OAKS: The scriptures speak of prophets as being watchmen on the tower, with the responsibility to warn when an enemy approaches the enclosure of the faithful. I think all of the leaders of the church are conscious of their obligation to warn the people when there is a danger. I think in any day, the watchmen on the tower are going to say intellectualism is a danger to the church. And it is, at extreme points. And if people leave their faith behind and follow strictly where science leads them, that can be a pretty crooked path.
NARRATOR: Ironically, the Mormon religion itself was born as an act of radical dissent. Joseph Smith had directly challenged the tenets of mainstream Christianity. But almost from the beginning, he, too, was challenged by dissenters in his own church. He was quick to excommunicate but also quick to allow people to return. His successor, Brigham Young, was tougher.
KEN VERDOIA, Journalist: Brigham Young's principle was simple: "You are either with us or you're against us. If you are part of this people, fall into line. Let's move on, and let's build up the kingdom of God, and never forget that all we have is each other. We undermine each other's faith, we destroy ourselves. We've got to stick together. There is the highway or there's our way. Leave if you are not going to adhere to the rules."
[www.pbs.org: More about Joseph Smith]
NARRATOR: In the mid-20th century, the church began to forcefully discipline its intellectuals who challenged the orthodox view of Mormon history. The historian Fawn Brodie had emerged from a devout Mormon family in Utah. In 1945, she published a biography of Joseph Smith that was the first to question the divine origins of Smith's revelations and the Book of Mormon. Although she was a niece of church leader David O. McKay, he didn't protect her, and she was excommunicated.
In 1950, when Juanita Brooks published the first full account of Mormon complicity in the Mountain Meadows massacre, she and her husband were shunned by members of their church.
As official church historian, Leonard Arrington began opening church archives in 1972 and promoted a " New Mormon History" that was complex and objective. But after a decade of intellectual freedom, the church transferred Arrington's entire division from his control.
RICHARD OSTLING: The Mormon church has suffered dissent and excommunications from the very beginning. But I'd say, in the last generation, there seems to be more disciplining, more nervousness, more excommunications. The church seems to be drawing in and wanting to sharpen its message, and in some cases, this really takes on a very harsh and personal edge.
NARRATOR: Among current church leaders, Apostle Boyd Packer has emerged as the strongest voice of Mormon orthodoxy.
GAIL HOUSTON, Women's Studies Professor: When I was at BYU, Boyd K. Packer had given this speech, and I believe it was meant only for the insiders in the church office building, but it got out, as a lot of things do get leaked in Utah, especially in Salt Lake and Provo, where he basically said one of the greatest dangers to the church were gays, feminists and intellectuals. And there was a large group of us who fit many of those categories. It was like a slap in the face. It was like, "We don't want you."
BOYD K. PACKER, LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: I suppose- I think I remember saying those things. [laughs] If it's in print, I said it. And- but that's part of the alert- alerting, and it's very simple. Down some of those paths, you have a right to go there, and within the church, you don't have a right to teach and take others there and without having some discipline, simply because down the road, there's unhappiness.
MARLIN K. JENSEN, LDS Church Historian: Within the church, we're not afraid of intellectuals or of learning or of knowledge. Where an intellectual, I think, can get into difficulty is when that intellectual person takes a position and begins either to attack the general leaders or local leaders of the church or begins to attack the basic doctrine of the church, and does that publicly.
NARRATOR: One of the most contentious issues that has divided intellectuals and church leaders involves scientific investigations of the Book of Mormon.
RICHARD OSTLING: Mormonism teaches that ancient Israelites came to the New World and created scriptures, which we have today as the Book of Mormon, thus Israelites are ancestors of Native Americans. There's a whole story, a very elaborate story of great cities being built. But non-Mormons - and I guess we'd say Mormon skeptics - who have studied these matters do not see evidence. They don't see the DNA that would support the Israelite theory. They don't see evidence of Hebrew language in the New World. They don't see the archeological sites that would show these grand cities that are described.
MICHAEL COE, Archaeologist: According to a lot of Mormon archeologists, their job is to find that this is a true story, that all these things actually existed in this place that is described in the Book of Mormon, which in this case, would have to be in Guatemala and the neighboring Mexican state of Chiapas. And this is what they've been after for 50 years. They've excavated all kinds of sites, and unfortunately, they've never found anything that would back it up.
But Mormonism is not the only religion that faces this problem of what's actually in the ground or in the documents. The exodus, of course, in the Old Testament of the Bible is the best example of this for which there's just absolutely no archeological justification whatsoever. There's never been found any hard evidence that the exodus took place.
NARRATOR: But when Mormon scholars challenge their church's official history, they risk serious sanctions.
GRANT PALMER, Author: My book challenges some of the core foundational claims of the church, the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Is it really an ancient record of an ancient people, like the story that Joseph told? When I look at the Book of Mormon, I really don't see an ancient text. We see a large chunk of the King James Bible, in this book that's reportedly to be ancient record of a people that lived 2,500 years ago in ancient America. We see an enormous amount of evangelical camp meeting fervor. The 11 main preachers in the Book of Mormon sound to me like Methodist stump speakers of that era.
What you find is all of the issues that were being discussed and debated among Joseph Smith's family and friends in his own day. It's a 19th century record, is what it is. It's not an ancient record.
NARRATOR: In 2004, two years after he published his book, Grant Palmer was dis-fellowshipped by the LDS church, a punishment just short of excommunication.
JON BUTLER, Historian: Mormonism is a movement that celebrates its history, and yet it seems to be quite afraid of its history, oftentimes afraid of real historical investigation. What did Joseph Smith think about the practice of magic? To what extent did Joseph Smith really practice money digging? To what extent did he forge documents? To what extent did he engage in illicit sexual behavior? All of those are questions that aren't particularly unusual in the formation of most any kind of religious system. They were imperfect human beings who engaged in imperfect behavior. Some Mormons have trouble accepting that. We want a kind of sanitized Mormon history.
MARLIN K. JENSEN: We do take history very seriously. I think we take it very literally. We don't deconstruct and feel that what we have is the figment of language or imagination at all, or that there's some middle ground. And I know that's very polarizing, in a sense. I think the hardest public relations sell we have to make is that this is the only true church.
NARRATOR: In a single month in 1993, the LDS church excommunicated six prominent Mormon scholars whose work the church believed had gone too far in their investigations of polygamy, in pressing for priesthood for women, and in challenging church authority.
MARGARET TOSCANO: I was one of the first to be threatened. I was threatened with excommunication in the summer of Ô93. I received a letter from my stake president. In this letter, I was told that I was not allowed to speak, discuss, publish, write about anything to do with church history or church doctrine, or they would hold a court on me. Those things that they had asked me not to speak about were women in the priesthood and the Mormon idea or the Mormon concept of a Heavenly Mother.
NARRATOR: The church had objected to a series of scholarly articles in which Toscano argued that Joseph Smith had intended that women be granted Mormon priesthood. It was a direct contradiction of the church's official doctrine that only men could hold that position.
MARGARET TOSCANO: I am Mormon on a deep level, and I do not believe that a community can be spiritually healthy when it silences people. And that was my reason for not obeying the stake president in the first place. I told him at the time, I said, "I cannot be silent because for me to be silent is to participate in an abusive authority and to damage the community that I care about."
You have to imagine when you go into a church disciplinary court that you go in by yourself. You are not allowed to bring anybody with you. So I'm in there. There are 16 men that I am facing. The stake president is presenting the case against me, and he did it in almost courtroom-like fashion. He had a set of notes, and he had his reasons why I should be excommunicated. He also had a stack of copies of everything that I had written, and it was kind of like there's a stack.
When the stake president was talking about all I had written about women in the priesthood was really wrong, and I tried to come in to defend myself doctrinally by quoting Joseph Smith and by using argument and reason, in the middle of a sentence, the stake president interrupted me and he said, "We will not allow you to lecture us. We will not allow you to use this kind of reasoning again. You are only allowed to speak as we give you permission."
And of course, I mean, I just kind of stopped mid-sentence. I couldn't go on. But you can imagine that this was- I mean, you don't really feel like you have much of a defense.
Then they asked me to go out, and they deliberated for about 20 minutes, and then brought me back in. And the first thing that the president said to me is, "I want you to know that the high counsel was very impressed with you. However, you are excommunicated. We have found you to be an apostate." [laughs]
And everybody got up, and they all wanted to shake my hand. They're cutting me off from eternal salvation and telling me that I am this apostate, which really is considered very bad in Mormon culture, and yet I'm this nice woman that they're going to shake my hand. And this- that niceness- there's something- there's something vicious about niceness that struck me in this, that the niceness covered over the violence of what was being done because, in fact, excommunication is a violent action.
[www.pbs.org: Read the extended interview]
TERRYL GIVENS: I think it is important to point out that the church never makes public the transcripts of church disciplinary proceedings. They never make press statements. And so, in every case where an intellectual has been excommunicated from the church, the public is exposed to only one half of the story. And I don't think it's ever possible to come to fair and just conclusions when we only have half the story.
GREG PRINCE: Excommunication is a word that does and should send a chill down the spine of Mormons because the entire structure of the family, which in our belief will transcend death, becomes threatened if one of the members of that family is suddenly jerked out of the fabric and told, "By the way, this is binding here and there." That's why it sends a chill down your spine.
MARGARET TOSCANO: The most painful part about the excommunication is the way in which, if you're part of a large Mormon family, it really does- it really does hurt your relationship with your family. My younger sister passed away a little over a year ago. She died of cancer. And one Mormon ritual is that when a person dies, you dress them in their temple clothing before you bury them. My brother-in-law, who's a very active Mormon, very patriarchal, if I can say that- he did not want my sister and myself to be part of that. He didn't want us to help dress her body, I mean, and that- I mean, that cut me so deep, I haven't gotten over it. I don't know if I ever will.
RICHARD OSTLING, Co-Author, Mormon America: All religious groups try to control their message. And once in a while, you'll have a heresy trial in this group or that group. Mormonism is unique in the amount of activity that goes on and also the extent to which the general membership is monitored. Apparently, there are files in Salt Lake City on anybody who has raised embarrassing questions or might be a troublemaker. What you have is a church that seeks to control its message down into the membership, to strengthen the church and to make sure that its message is clear and consistent and that dissent is limited to the greatest extent possible.
Act 4 The Family
NARRATOR: The West is full of towns that arose one morning when someone discovered gold, and disappeared almost as soon when the vein ran out, from when homesteaders came out alone totally unprepared for what lay ahead and then left without a trace.
But there are very few Mormon ghost towns. They didn't go out as isolated individuals to make a fortune. Brigham Young sent them out in groups, as tribes of families, to build communities that would last. While the years of persecution set the Mormons apart, it also drove them inward. The family became their refuge and their source of strength.
The Mormons' preoccupation with the family traces all the way back to the church's origins, to the theological passions of Joseph Smith.
RICHARD BUSHMAN, Biographer of Joseph Smith: One of Joseph Smith's most interesting ideas is sealing. He became deeply preoccupied with sealing families together, husbands to wives, parents to children, one generation to the previous generation. And you say, "Why was he so preoccupied with sealing?" You look at the world around him, and he lived in a time when families are being dispersed, when they're being broken, when children go off to the gold rush in the West and are never heard from or seen again. Every time a family moves west, they're saying a goodbye. This is a time of constant departure and farewell. And to try to hold that family together through sealing, in a way is a solution to the problem of his time.
NARRATOR: Smith's concept of families sealed together for eternity was part of his revelation on celestial marriage, which also endorsed polygamy.
SARAH BARRINGER GORDON, Historian: Once polygamy no longer became possible, the big question was, is the nuclear family still celestial in the ways that polygamist families had been? And the answer very quickly became yes, and the nuclear family inherited both that-super heated quality and that supportive quality that had gone into that investment in polygamy. It's through and in and by and with the family that Mormons are saved, and it's how they think primarily of their relationship both to the afterlife and to the church as a whole.
MARLIN K. JENSEN, LDS Church Historian: The marriage that takes place in the temple, where a man and a woman are joined together, or as we term it, sealed together, not just for time or until death does us part, but for time and all eternity, is to me the high point, really, in religious experience and in religious ceremony.
KIMBER TILLEMANN-DICK, Business Consultant: You don't get married by a justice of the peace or till death do you part. You get married for time and all eternity. I'm engaged, and it's something that I've been contemplating a lot lately. I love this guy. Am I really ready to spend eternity with him? He is going to be, like, attached to my hip, not until I die but forever. And that is a really important question. It makes you approach marriage in a different way. We look at the family as a really eternal unit and you're making eternal commitments, and so you better have eternal priorities.
TERRYL GIVENS, Author: There probably isn't a religion today that doesn't claim to be family-centered, and with good reason. Most religions are committed to the value of the family. And still, there's something different about the place of the family in Mormon culture. And I think it has to do with the way the family is understood in Mormonism, not as an entity of social organization but as an organization that has its roots in the pre-mortal world and will persist into the eternal World.
NARRATOR: Annette and Timber Tillemann-Dick of Denver, Colorado have 11 children. Like many Mormons, their life together as a family comes first. Annette has home schooled her children and sent some of them on to Ivy League schools. Along with Timber, a busy and successful businessman, she and the children reserve every Monday night, as do all active Mormons, for Family Home Evening.
KIMBER TILLEMANN-DICK: We have Family Home Evening in our family, rain or shine, like it or not. We bunker down together Monday nights and sing a few songs, and sometimes, we'll have some really profound lesson or really fun activity, and sometimes we'll just do Family Home Evening because we know we're supposed to do it. And either way, it's really good for us to spend time together, which is a rarity in today's world.
The church and my family are so intertwined, and I just can't begin to imagine trying to bifurcate those. And when you come into a home that has priesthood leadership and that has people living together focused on the same eternal goals, it just creates a kind of aura of love and peace. It makes your home a holy place.
JON BUTLER, Historian: It's the Mormon fixation on the family as a coherent unit that's so important. In many other religious systems, what is important is the belief of the individual, the belief of the child, the belief of the parent, the parent's belief transferred to the child, but the child still remains independent, an independent unit. Within Mormonism, there is an emphasis on the collective, the collective sense of the family, the collective sense of moral responsibility, the collective sense of an enterprise.
NARRATOR: For devout Mormons, family life is centered in the local congregation, or ward.
ELBERT PECK, Editor: Growing up Mormon was like growing up in a little ghetto village where everyone knew you and you knew everyone. Your entire life was woven into the lives of everyone else in your congregation. Your social activities- you have ward banquets and ward parties and ward camp-outs and ward dances. And all the adults were involved in that, too, because they were driving us as kids here and there and there. And so you got to know everyone and everyone knew you, and it was a great experience.
TREVOR SOUTHEY, Artist: When I first moved to Alpine, population of 2,000, virtually everybody in that town was Mormon. And we'd go down to the welfare farm. We'd all go down there - butcher, baker, candlestick maker - and we'd pick beans. We'd hoe beets. And they'd have canneries and people would can the beans that we were picking and the beets we were hoeing, and so on. A brilliantly inspired program, and you're doing it all together. The sense of community is absolutely amazing.
TERRYL GIVENS: One of the truly distinct features of the way Mormons organize themselves is that they organize themselves geographically. In no other faith community in the United States is it the case that where you live absolutely determines where you will worship. One would think that it would be a source of greater friction or discomfort because you're thrown in with people that you don't willingly choose to associate with, until one remembers, "Oh, but usually, we call that a family."
That's one of the explanations, I think, for this uniquely cohesive bond that characterizes Mormon wards. Since there's no professional clergy, nobody gets paid and the service that is rendered is all voluntary. You can find yourself working hours that are comparable to a second job.
NARRATOR: Mormon women work outside the home in about the same proportions as other American women, and the extensive commitment to the church and to family can put enormous pressures on the mothers.
FIONA GIVENS, Teacher: Mormon women are plagued with this perfect woman figure. She bakes cookies and she bakes bread, and she always looks wonderful and she's never overweight and she's always smiling and- yes, totally impossible woman.
MARGARET TOSCANO, Classics Professor: In Mormonism, you're told that your very eternal salvation and the eternal salvation of your children is the thing that if you somehow make a false move- you know, am I going to mess up my kid forever because I worked that job? Not just in this life, and you know, they may take drugs or something, but will they lose their eternal salvation? That is a horrible burden that you- that you face.
KEN VERDOIA, Journalist: It's incredible pressure on a woman. And yes, there is a strong use of antidepressants in Utah, higher levels than exist in other states. You cannot attribute it exclusively to one set of social circumstances, but there are great expectations on a woman.
NARRATOR: In the Mormon faith, gender roles are ordained by the church. Mormon fathers preside over their families and hold the priesthood, with authority to give blessings and healings. Mormon mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of the children. Many Mormon women find their role fulfilling, but for others it is limiting.
MARGARET TOSCANO: There's a dichotomy that the church has. It means that women and the work that they do in the church is always subordinate to what the men are doing. I see that as damaging to women because they're put in the role of being under the power of the men. It's not an equal partnership.
ANNE OSBORNE POELMAN, M.D., Neuroradiologist: As a woman in the Mormon church, I feel very comfortable. I don't feel denied any opportunity to serve and to do good for people in the church and in the ward and in our neighborhood, and so on. In service, do I feel limited? The answer is no.
NARRATOR: In the 1970s, the Mormon view of family life gave rise to the church's vigorous opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. It played a critical role in defeating the ERA, urging its members to vote against it and busing thousands of LDS women to rallies. And the church excommunicated one of the most outspoken Mormon feminists, Sonia Johnson.
SONIA JOHNSON: They're interested in stopping me and stopping this organization called Mormons for ERA. They want us to leave them alone out there and let them get the ERA killed, and we can't do that, you know.
JAMES CLAYTON, Political Science Professor: The Equal Rights Amendment was threatening because it changed the role of women from a nurturing helpmate to a man, from a nurturing housewife staying at home, taking care of the children, to someone who could now make those decisions for herself. If women now started to compete with men for professional positions, for becoming breadwinners, earning more perhaps than their spouses, this threatened men, as well as women. The ERA is not just about women. The ERA was about families, changing the role of men, women, and indeed, children.
[www.pbs.org: More on women and the church]
NARRATOR: While the family is the spiritual core of Mormon life, not everyone feels welcome at their table.
MARLIN K. JENSEN, LDS Church Historian: What about the people who marry, and for whatever reason, don't have children? Or the young woman who grows old without marrying? Or the divorced person? I mean, we- I think we can be quite hard, in a sense, unwittingly, but nevertheless hard on those people in our culture because we have cultural expectations, cultural ideals. And if you measure up to them, it's a wonderful life. If you don't, it can be very difficult.
TREVOR SOUTHEY, Artist: Being gay in that culture is beyond hell because the family is the center of Mormonism. It is the sacred, potent unit, and you don't even really want to make a family, if you choose to follow your instincts. That's why when I went to the counselor, I wanted to be cured so badly. I fasted and I prayed and I went through this whole thing. And I remember dating girls and then- and nothing worked. And I just decided, "This year, I'm going to do it," and that's how I ended up marrying within two-and-a-half months of meeting my poor, unfortunate wife.
We were determined to make it work. We bought this paradisical place in Alpine in Utah. I mean, I had everything I wanted- the stream running through this place, great big cottonwood trees, an old log cabin with a big cobblestone room attached to it. And we built and built and built and turned this little place into a paradise. And gradually, these children come on the scene, and it's heaven for them, an acre and a third to run wild on.
And gradually, gradually, I realized that I had paradise, but I was an arid desert in my heart. I'd wake up every day of my life thinking- and this phrase would just run through my head- "and shot himself through the head." It made no sense, but it made every sense. And there was no running away from it. I was committing a kind of spiritual suicide.
But the moment the infidelity occurred, that was it. The marriage was over, and the excommunication process started. And so there I was on- I'll never forget standing on the grass by the stream when she told me that she had gone to the bishop, that it was- you know, there was no future there, that everything I wanted just was sort of- I was standing on this stage, in effect, that I had created, that it wasn't an act, it wasn't a play that was built for me.
MARLIN K. JENSEN: There is a single standard of morality for all members of the church. The only marriage sanctioned by God is of a man to a woman. So there is really no allowance within our doctrine for a homosexual relationship of woman-to-woman or man-to-man. And obviously, that creates a lot of pain. And the thing that we have to ultimately say to someone like that is, "If you're going to live your life within the framework of the gospel and within the framework of our doctrine, then you've got to choose to marry someone of the opposite sex. And if you can't do that honestly, then your choice has to be to live a celibate life." And that is a very difficult choice for the parents, for the young man, the young woman, for whoever's making that choice. And my heart goes out to them.
TREVOR SOUTHEY: There's something terribly tragic that not only Mormonism but most religions have such a hard time with the odd ducks. But the bottom line is most of us are odd, to a greater or lesser extent, and embracing the odd duck, to me, is the measure of true religion. True religion says, "You're weird, but I love you nonetheless." That's what Jesus would have done. And so for me, it is a great failure that the family can only be the family almost by the Ozzie and Harriet definition, and anything outside of that is not a family at all.
I have no bitterness toward the church, which surprises me. I loved it dearly, and I still love it. I love Mormon people. I love the notions of Mormonism, of teaching that you are an eternal soul, you came from the heavenly father, and you're here because our family was meant for you. That kind of makes me terribly sad at times that I can't be in that place.
NARRATOR: For those Mormon families who do conform to the church's doctrines, its core belief that families are forever can forge a powerful bond. For the Tillemann-Dicks, this faith has sustained them through the serious health crisis of their 23-year-old daughter, Charity.
CHARITY TILLEMANN-DICK, Opera Singer: I found out about my condition in my final steps to going to mission. I went to the doctors and they did the EKG, and the nurse's eyes popped. They popped. I wasn't wearing my contacts and I could still tell they popped. And they came back and they told me that I had this condition, primary pulmonary hypertension. And I remember going home and looking it up on the Internet, and the first thing I found talked about a two to five-year mortality rate for people who had this condition, period, that, you know, you lived for two to five years with this condition and then you died. I remember I just started sobbing. I was crying and crying.
NARRATOR: Fearing the day they might never again hear the voice of their daughter, an emerging young opera star, Charity's family gathered for an emotional all-day recording session.
CHARITY TILLEMANN-DICK: I get melancholy sometimes. I get sad. I still have never been on a real date. I have never had a boyfriend. It's hard to think that I might never fall in love, that I might never get married in the temple, that I might never have children or adopt children. It's hard to think that I might never see my little sisters and my little brothers grow up.
I know that whether it's in 10 years or 10,000 years, that there isn't the hope, there's the knowledge that not only will I see God my father again, but I will see and be with my sisters again, and with my mother again and my father again. In the end, we will be together with our families. And to know that we would be together was such a comfort, was such a comfort, the knowledge that this really is going to happen, that this isn't just something that we've been taught in Sunday school, that this isn't just something that we've been told, that this is something real, that we will go home and I will see my mother and my father, and I will see Glorianna and Senneth and Mercina and Shiloh, that I'll see Liberty and Corbin and Kimber and Levi and Dulcia and Tomikah, that I will be home.
Act 5 The Temple
NARRATOR: Every religion has its rites and its mysteries. They can give life meaning. They can soften the ache of loneliness and the terror of death. In their temple, Mormons are taught the plan of salvation, and through secret rituals, how to subdue the powers of death.
RANDALL PAUL: The temple is the holiest place on earth for Mormons.
RICHARD BUSHMAN, Biographer of Joseph Smith: It is sacred space.
ALEX CALDIERO: The temple is the meeting place between the infinite and the finite.
TERRYL GIVENS, Author: The temple exists as a kind of microcosm of that heavenly world that we hope to inhabit.
MARLIN K. JENSEN, LDS Church Historian: What really is almost the universal symbol throughout the history of mankind, the worship of God in the temple, is something now that is almost lost, except to this church. And one of the- really, one of the priceless things that Joseph Smith restored or brought back to earth was a knowledge of what a temple was and what should occur in a temple.
NARRATOR: It was here in the Mormons' first temple, in Kirtland, Ohio, that Joseph Smith said he had an extraordinary vision of his brother, Alvin. As a young man, Alvin had died a painful death before he could be baptized in Joseph's church.
TERRYL GIVENS: His brother Alvin dies. Presumably, that prompted his reflections and his pondering on the question of what is the status of the dead who died unbaptized or without receiving the fullness of the gospel, and that precipitates a vision.
NARRATOR: Smith said that in a blaze of light, he saw his brother, along with Jesus and several Old Testament figures. Elijah appeared to Smith and gave the prophet the new and strange doctrine of the baptism for the dead. It would offer salvation to those in the afterlife who had not yet heard the Mormon gospel. This was the beginning of a series of revelations that would transform Mormonism. It became both a religion of the book and a religion of temple rites.
In the 19th century, the Mormons built temples in Ohio, Illinois and Utah. By the middle of the 20th century, temples crossed America from Los Angeles to New York. Today, well over a hundred dot the world, from Russia and Japan to Ghana and Chile.
Outsiders are not allowed in the Temple except during the few weeks before it is dedicated. And Mormons who enter are not allowed to speak of much of what happens here.
JUDITH FREEMAN, Author: And I remember that at that time, there were certain things- part of the rituals in the temple is that you made the sign of disemboweling yourself and then also slitting your throat. And you made this in conjunction with the promise that you made that you would never reveal what goes on in the temple. You would never reveal any temple rituals.
NARRATOR: These symbolic oaths were dropped in 1990, but a secrecy vow remains for some of the rites.
MARLIN K. JENSEN: It's, in a sense, secret because we don't talk about it outside of the temple. We do that only because it's a sacred thing to us, and you know, when millions of people have participated in it and kept it confidential to a large extent, it shows you, I think, the seriousness with which that whole experience is taken.
TERRYL GIVENS: Before any Latter Day Saint can enter into the temple, he or she must have what's called a "temple recommend." you need to show that you're committed enough that you're paying your tithing, that you're living the word of wisdom, that you're faithful to your spouse, and those kinds of things.
JAMES CLAYTON, Political Science Professor: There are serious consequences for failing to qualify for a temple recommend. Among them are the fact that you can't hold a higher position in church administration. You can't work for the church in, say, BYU or in other church-affiliated institutions. You cannot marry in the temple. You cannot go to the temple to see your own children married if you are not worthy to have a temple recommend. So it's a process of excluding people in order to refine their religious devotion.
NARRATOR: Mormons say they enter the temple and leave ordinary life behind. They change into white garments. It is a place of silence broken only by whispering. There is no central nave, as in a cathedral. There are no sermons or crosses. There is no religious worship in the usual sense.
Instead, there are a series of rooms where Mormons perform ceremonies for the living and the dead that they feel are essential for salvation, rooms where Mormons are married for eternity, others where they are sealed to their children for all time.
JUDITH FREEMAN, Author: The first time that I went to the temple, I think I was impressed by the beauty, the sheer beauty of those rooms and how they were painted, and trees and fruit and birds, how people dressed in all white- white shoes, socks, belts, shirts, dresses, everything all white. How ethereal that is, like being in a group of angels.
NARRATOR: In the endowment room, in a ceremony all temple Mormons undergo, they watch a filmed drama of the plan of salvation and are taught secret signs and phrases that after death will enable them to return to God.
MARGARET TOSCANO, Classics Professor: When I first went to the LDS temple and received my endowments, all I can do is describe it as I really had a mystical experience, where the temple ritual, which is set out as the journey of Adam and Eve, that there was a way in which I connected to it on a very deep spiritual level.
TREVOR SOUTHEY, Artist: It was shocking to me because it was so ritualistic. And I had heard missionaries mocking Catholics with all their incense and ritual, and all of a sudden, I was in the middle of this experience, not only watching it but doing it. And it was really shocking to me and- but at the same time, there was a kind of- there was a sweetness to it that grabbed me, up to a point.
NARRATOR: In every temple, there's an immense baptismal font where proxy baptisms for the dead are conducted day and night. Mormons are not just baptizing their own ancestors, but all those who died not knowing that they could be members of the Mormon church.
MARLIN K. JENSEN: If Jesus is the savior of mankind and if hearing his gospel is necessary for salvation, what about those who have never heard of Jesus? And the answer is, if they don't hear it in this life, they, we believe, go to a spirit world following this life, and it is in that realm that they are able to hear the gospel and they can decide whether they're going to accept it or whether they're going to reject it. And if they do accept it, then we believe that there is still a need for certain religious ceremonies to be performed for them. One of those is baptism.
ELBERT PECK, Editor: I remember doing this as a teenager myself. And we would go in there, and there's a man who holds the priesthood who is baptizing you. And your turn comes up, and you go down into the font and you're baptized for a bunch of names at a time, maybe 20 names. And this time, he had a little computer screen, where the name of the person you were being baptized for would appear. And he would hold you by the hand, raise his hand to the right and say, "Elbert Peck, for and on behalf of," you know, "Joseph Schwengen," or whoever, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost." And then he'd immerse you in the water, and you'd come out.
RICHARD MOUW, Evangelical Theologian: I've thought a lot about the baptism for the dead phenomenon. It may be theologically tenuous, but it speaks to a genuine human need to be linked to past generations and to, in some sense, take one- take responsibility for one's ancestors. And so even though I don't advocate baptism for the dead, I don't see it as a purely flaky kind of thing.
ROMAN KENT, Holocaust Survivor: When I found out that Mormons are baptizing the Jews, Holocaust survivors, one word, it was shocked. Second word, how can they do it? Third word, why do they do it? Because it was, in a way, an unbelievable experience for me to find out that somebody can baptize another person after the person died.
I am a Jew. I was born as a Jew. Six million my brothers and my friends and my family were killed because they were Jews. So I wanted them to be Jews. I wanted them to remain Jews, and I didn't want anybody later on - 100, 200 years from now, to tell me that my parents were not Jewish because somewhere in the archives in the Mormon church, there is my father's name, my mother's name is listed as a gentile, as a Mormon person. This was to me painful.
MARLIN K. JENSEN: We haven't wanted as a church to just, you know, assert our 1st Amendment right and say, "Well, this is what we believe. This is our doctrine," and the devil may care. That isn't our intent at all. That's why in 1995, we entered into an arrangement with them. At that time, we, in a sense, took out of our records those Holocaust survivors or Holocaust victims for whom we had performed temple work. And we have been actually very diligent since in not sending to our temples Jewish names, unless they were sent by Jewish members of our church who have sent in the names of their own relatives.
NARRATOR: Despite the controversy, the Mormon effort to baptize the world's dead continues, and they have mobilized an army of volunteers around the world to root out the names of people they believe might still be saved.
HAROLD BLOOM, Humanities Professor: There is literally a mountain of names in one extraordinary structure outside of Salt Lake City-and indestructible. I am told that even a direct hit by an atomic bomb, something like an asteroid collision, would have to occur to wipe it out.
NARRATOR: Of the seven billion names of the dead which have ever been recorded, approximately two billion have already been collected by Mormon volunteers and stored here. And today Mormons have baptized well over 100 million deceased people.
COLLEEN McDANNELL, Religious History Professor: Genealogy is a core ritual in Mormonism. As the living Mormon, you're the center of this great exchange. You are a part of creating this vast network of interconnection of people who've lived in the past and in the future. And so genealogy is something which Mormons feel very connected to.
NARRATOR: The Family History Library in Salt Lake City is one of approximately 2,000 LDS genealogical research libraries across the world. Their complete records are now on line and open to non-Mormons and Mormons alike. The archives are clearly tapping into an almost universal hunger for family history.
[www.pbs.org: Genealogy and the Mormon archives]
BETTY STEVENSON: I wasn't really interested in genealogy. I didn't even like my family. I had been hurt and abused verbally and just, you know- and to realize that my salvation was dependent upon their salvation, and then to do genealogy, go in and discover that my grandmother was raised on Oakley plantation- I had never come to grips with the fact that my folks not too far removed was the slaves that we talk about. And so now it's like I can go forward four generations and go backwards three. And when I started in the church, I didn't even know who Betty Stevenson was. And it's hard to explain the spiritual connection that I now feel to my ancestors.
NARRATOR: Those spiritual connections to the eternal family are at the core of the Mormon religion, and that belief system was at the center of this believer's greatest spiritual crisis. He and his wife risked everything for their faith.
JAMES DALRYMPLE, Sr., Filmmaker: We had seven children, and most people would think that they were complete or well beyond complete. We struggle with that. Marla struggled with it a lot because she had this sense of someone missing. There is another child there, another spirit waiting to come to earth, to mortality. There's another child there that is part of our family.
We prayed about it. We spent time on our knees together, asking God is this something that God wants us to do, and is there really another spirit child there for us?
I believe that we lived before we came to the earth, that we lived before this life as spirit children of our heavenly father. And somehow, in that pre-existence, our family that we have developed here- we were connected there, as well, and we're not yet complete. And so we decided to have another child. And it wasn't an easy decision. My wife was 42, and just being 42 and having had seven children already makes you a high risk case, and having gestational diabetes adds to that. And so there were a number of risks, and so it wasn't a decision that we made lightly.
And the baby was born, a little boy, named him David William. It was extremely difficult for her. She really had to give everything that she had to bring that baby into the world. Following the delivery, she had a blood clot which had gone to her heart and lungs, and they told me there was nothing they could do, that there was no brain function, that she had passed away. I was totally unprepared for that.
I'm hurt. I'm wounded. Someone has just torn at my heart. I still miss her horribly. If I knew that- I guess if I had to be honest, and say, "Knowing what I know now, would I do it again?" There are days when I would say no, I wouldn't. I wouldn't do it again because it came with a terrible price.
But I believe firmly that I will see my wife again and that we will be together again, that our family will be reunited again, and that this is not the end and we'll hold each other and we'll cry and we'll laugh and it will be very much like it is, now except better.
I don't know how others who stand on the brink of eternity and face death- how they could deal with that without an overwhelming despairing sense of loss. It brings me tremendous comfort to know that I have made covenants and promises in the temple with my wife that continue on.
TERRYL GIVENS, Author: The temple exists as a kind of vehicle through which we conquer mortality. We go to the temple, and our relationships with other human beings are rendered permanent and eternal in defiance of death. There are scriptures in the Book of Mormon, there are quotations from Brigham Young that emphasize not a single atom or particle of our bodies will be lost, but everything will be reconstituted as fully as it was. It's almost a kind of celebration of the totality of triumph over death. Not only will something remain, but everything will be reconstituted as it was.
HAROLD BLOOM: What is the essence of religion? Sigmund Freud said it was the longing for the father. Others have called it the desire for the mother or for transcendence. I fear deeply that all these are idealizations, and I offer the rather melancholy suggestion that they would all vanish from us if we did not know that we must die. Religion rises inevitably from our apprehension of our own death. To give meaning to meaninglessness is the endless quest of all religion. When death becomes the center of our consciousness, then religion authentically begins.
Of all religions that I know, the one that most vehemently and persuasively defies and denies the reality of death is the original Mormonism of the prophet, seer and revelator Joseph Smith.
NARRATOR: For more than 175 years, the Mormon story has played out across the American landscape, and increasingly on the world stage. It is the story of a people fired by a bold religious faith, who have struggled to find a way to stand with America and still preserve the power of the very distinct beliefs that can leave them standing apart.
JON BUTLER, Historian: Mormonism is extraordinarily successful. Mormons have huge numbers of worldwide converts, as well as millions of Americans who follow the movement. And yet there's still an odd limiting factor about modern Mormonism, that somehow, it's a religion that isn't respected.
The peculiarity of Mormonism is that, on the one hand, it's a profoundly historical religion for which evidence is sorely lacking, and yet that has never prevented Mormons from believing deeply in their religion. They believe in that history as a matter of faith. And yet at the same time, they practice a modern faith that dedicates itself to the reconstruction of the individual, the reconstruction of the family, the reconstruction of the community and the reconstruction of society, so that in the end, Mormonism is part of the modern religious and political landscape, and yet it's separate. It's apart. All religious systems have to move beyond their own creation. The question is, can Mormonism do it? Can it survive the present? Can it move into the future?
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