The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon church, was formally organised in April of 1830 by Joseph Smith in a rural section of upstate New York. At that time, the congregation was small enough to meet inside a single farmhouse.
As their numbers grew, Smith and company began to move west in search of more space and eventually set up settlements in the Midwest states of Ohio and Missouri. But just like some of their modern-day counterparts, whose main problem these days seems to be a chronic dearth of a sense of humour, the Mormons of that era had a knack for attracting the wrong kind of attention. Thanks to their outside-the-box doctrine, which included a second volume of scripture — the Book of Mormon — a belief in a living prophet, and the practice of polygamy, the Mormons were ultimately driven out of both Ohio and Missouri with extreme prejudice.
At one point, the governor of Missouri even issued an “extermination order,” which mandated that any Mormons who refused to leave the state were to be shot on sight. Curiously, that order stayed on the books for nearly 150 years, making it perfectly legal to kill a Mormon in Missouri until 1976. I’d wager that a lot of people are upset they didn’t take advantage of that law while they could.
Mob violence took the life of Joseph Smith in 1844, briefly leaving the church without a leader. But Brigham Young took Smith’s place shortly thereafter, and decided to lead his followers to the western frontier of the United States, where they would presumably be left alone.
Young was looking for a place that no one else would want, and found the perfect patch of barren earth in the Salt Lake Valley, so named because of the enormous, putrid lake that lies just north of what is now downtown Salt Lake City. But if isolation was what Young and his Mormon followers sought, the Salt Lake Valley was an unimpeachable choice. With it’s oppressively hot summers and bitter cold winters, the Salt Lake area is every bit as inviting as the Canadian tundra or the dark side of the moon.
Nevertheless, the US government continued to pester the Mormons in a manner reminiscent of a child poking at a newly-acquired pet hermit crab with a stick. Concerned the Mormons might be raising an army or perhaps building some kind of doomsday device, Uncle Sam sent troops to subdue the seditious Mormons, thus kicking off the short, decidedly unremarkable Utah War. After exchanging several volleys of hollow threats and double-dog dares, the two sides basically went their separate ways. Didn’t I say it was unremarkable?
Over time, the Mormons abandoned their isolationist attitudes and sought to establish legitimacy in the eyes of the US government. The church abolished polygamy in 1890, which opened the door for Utah to become an official member of the United States. Under the care of Mormon settlers, Salt Lake has gone from being a barren, inhospitable patch of earth to a barren, inhospitable patch of earth with a thriving brine shrimp industry.
From its humble beginnings in 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has grown to include more than 12 million members worldwide. Much of that growth can be attributed to the group of more than 60,000 full-time missionaries preaching in virtually every language and in every country imaginable. Mormons still haven’t been fully accepted as a legitimate faith by much of mainstream Christianity, but the fact that no one is shooting at us has many feeling pretty optimistic about the future.