Smug. Self-satisfied. Above it all.
That’s how I’d characterize the reactions of some Mormons, especially liberal ones, in the wake of Polygamygate.
I’m a liberal Mormon too, so let me hasten to add that most of my peeps have behaved themselves well in these ongoing discussions about Joseph Smith, polygamy, and the early Church.
Some, however, have gloated:
- “I learned about this 15 years ago,” one person messaged me on Twitter. “This is new to you?”
- Various people have mentioned on social media that they’d been taught about polygamy by grandparents or other relatives, so the new Gospel Topics announcements are “really no big deal” to them.
- Or this: a guy whose father-in-law is a stake president in Central America sounded almost gleeful that his FIL and other regional church leaders were shocked by the Church’s revelations that Joseph Smith had as many as 40 wives, that some of them were teenagers, and others were already married to other men. They’d had no idea. The commenter appeared to enjoy setting them straight on the more salacious details of LDS history.
But this is not the time for us to enjoy a nice cup of schadenfreude, people. This is the time to be pastors.
I can certainly understand why some liberal Mormons may be feeling vindicated right about now. After all, some of our own were ostracized or even disciplined for being a few years or decades ahead of their time, publishing the uncomfortable historical facts about polygamy before the Church was ready to officially acknowledge them.
I’m glad the Church is now on board with historical transparency, and I applaud the many efforts the Historical Department has made to help bring this about. But I’m not rejoicing that Mormons who were not previously in the know are now suffering because of these revelations.
And I’m annoyed that these cavalier commenters aren’t concerned about this too. Do they just casually assume that since they had polygamous ancestors and learned about polygamy from their own family history, this is in any way common now for the Church as a whole?
Then let’s be clear: it isn’t. Consider these facts:
- At least 56% of the membership of the LDS Church is now located outside the United States.(Other people put that number closer to 60%.)
- Ninety percent of Mormons worldwide live outside of Utah.
- Membership growth has slowed significantly in the United States, or even decreased slightly. In 2013 there were 6.3 million Mormons in the US (6,321,416), but in 2011 there had been nearly 6.4 million (6,398,889). I think this downward trend is just a blip, especially with the surge in young missionaries who have been assigned within the U.S. The LDS Church Growth Blog, for example, reports an increase for 2013 of more than 77,000 members in the U.S. However, it’s clear that the overall trend is that any serious membership growth is happening abroad.
- Spanish is the #1 language spoken in the global church.
In other words, if you grew up Mormon in the United States, speak English, and had polygamous family stories to teach you about history that had been banished from official curriculum, congratulations. You are now a privileged minority.
As a convert, I certainly didn’t grow up hearing stories about polygamy at my granddaddy’s knee, though as a voracious reader, I learned about it later. In books that were printed only in English, not Spanish or Filipino or Portuguese or Korean.
So, liberal Mormons, can we have a little compassion? However late the official Church was to the transparency party, it finally arrived on Mormon Standard Time.
And while its presence at the party may seem to you like it’s too little, too late, believe me when I say that for some Latter-day Saints here and abroad, even that much unvarnished history is hard to assimilate. People who didn’t know about polyandry are having a tough time imagining the prophet Joseph Smith gathering women to himself who were already married — to say nothing of his unions with teenage girls.
Instead of mocking them for being disturbed by information they may never have even had access to, maybe we can learn from them by remembering once again that it is in fact disturbing.