December has been filled with lots of Mormon news: the Trinity College survey on Mormons in America was published, showing that LDS numbers are historically over-reported by the Church, that from 1990-2008 there was just as many leaving as joining, and that young men are apostatizing in droves, the LA Times December 4th report on Mitt Romney’s behemoth Bain (bath!) Capital bankrupting of struggling businesses with ensuing job losses and now the SEC’s $200M affinity fraud charges filed against an LDS bishop and his son in Utah federal court. For several days Utah’s Wasatch Front (along with Cache valley in the north) ranked collectively as the five counties with the worst air quality in the entire nation.
As I read these articles and noted the LDS Christmas schedule of activities, including a Christmas program at the huge LDS conference center, this year featuring actress Jane Seymour, I also read other news items from across the country about secret Santas paying off the layaway charges of struggling Americans at Wal-Mart, K-mart and Target. In states as diverse as Oregon, Florida, Nebraska and Indiana, in the true spirit of the season, those who have been blessed are helping fellow Americans with their Christmas purchases. I was struck by the contrast between the news-making Mormons and their environment and the news of average Americans during this holiday season.
Saturday, I worked late. As I left the downtown high-rise, it was so dark the smog could almost be mistaken for a crisp nighttime fog. The sidewalks and crosswalks were filled with crowds of LDS walking quickly toward temple square, or perhaps the conference center. Despite the lack of snow, the downtown Christmas lights set a pretty backdrop for a horse-drawn carriage and its cargo. The Season had arrived in Salt Lake.
When I was young, Utah Mormon Christmas celebrations were minimal; at most a few carols were sung on Christmas day—if it was on a Sunday. Since those days in the 60s and 70s, the Church has upped its pageantry and now annual productions featuring the story of Jesus Christ’s birth and a special Christmas message from the LDS first presidency can be seen and heard. This move toward the celebration of a general Christianity (tithing settlement excluded) lasts only through the holiday season and is resurrected on Easter Sunday. Though I’m certain some would rather forget him, the remainder of the year Joseph Smith cannot be ignored.
The Mormon Christmas product is a good one. Here’s hoping that someday the LDS Church will evolve to a place without Smith and his schemes, but then, what would be the point?