Mormons on the March

By Broughton, Philip Delves | The Spectator, March 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

Mormons on the March


Broughton, Philip Delves, The Spectator


Latter-day Saints receive the perfect preparation for becoming President of the United States

In any discussion of Mormons, it's worth getting the gags out of the way first.

There's the chafing underwear they must wear to deter them from temptation, which looks like a cilice by Fruit of the Loom.

There's polygamy, which though rejected by the Mormon church in 1890, is still practised by a few perverted loons in remote corners of Utah and Colorado, who construct architecturally fascinating networks of trailers to house their multiple families. There's Joseph Smith, who founded the Mormon Church after experiencing a vision in western New York State. The notion that God would choose to appear here seems hilarious to many who happily accept He would show himself in south-west France or the Levant. Smith spent his life in constant battle with his creditors, his neighbours and the government as he led his followers across America in search of a place where they could build their new Jerusalem. Remarkably, he still had time to marry some 30 or so women.

And then there is the culture of contemporary Mormonism, which seems so at odds with all that surrounds it. Devout Mormons are prim, hard-working, ascetic and reproductive. When they aren't attending their temples or singing in their choirs, they are busy knocking out the next generation, oblivious to Malthusian population fears or the usual bourgeois fretting about extra bedrooms and school fees.

During the idle days between Christmas and New Year, I like to go through my stack of Christmas cards and play a game called Rich or Mormon. It goes like this. There are only two kinds of American families I know who have more than three children and they are either rich or Mormon. Since Americans like to send out Christmas cards showing pictures of their families, you can lay out the candidates and ask visitors to guess which they are. There are usually a few giveaways.

The rich families tend to send out photographs taken during expensive holidays in the Caribbean or Nantucket, while the Mormons wear white shirts and jeans and sit on hay bales. The rich children have names like India and Dylan, while the Mormons are called Dale or Caius.

The reason I receive Christmas cards from Mormons is because when I went to Harvard Business School, I had a young family. This put me right in a Mormon sweet spot. If there is anything Mormons love as much as marrying young and having children, it is graduate business studies. So while the unmarried MBA students were off doing keg stands and organising the China Business Trek, my wife and I were dandling two young children surrounded by large plastic toys and beaming Latter-day Saints.

While for us, raising children felt like a state of permanent siege, the Mormons seemed to breeze through the experience, cooking each other casseroles, spending every Sunday at temple, the men acing their academic work, the women in an ever renewing state of glowing pregnancy. They drove modest cars and lived in spartan homes. And my God, they were nice. So nice, in fact, that when we met one Mormon wife who was just one tick short of improbably warm and friendly, we called her the 'mean Mormon'. But even she lost her epithet after a couple of weeks. …

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