Way to go, Mormons, way to go (clap clap)
What most Americans know about Mormonism: Some combination of Mitt Romney, a popular Broadway musical, and multiple wives.
The Mormon/polygamy joke is an obvious one to make, but for obvious reasons. Polygamy as a practice was officially sanctioned by the Mormon Church throughout its early history, and was such a hallowed institution within the Church that it led the Mormons to fight a war against the United States in 1857. (No, really.) Brigham Young—known as the “Father of Mormon Polygamy”—was both the leader of the Church and the governor of the Utah Territory in the 1850s. Federal law prohibited polygamy, but the territorial government of Utah allowed it; Utah argued that the polygamy prohibition abridged its First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, the Federal Government disagreed, and the two sides came to an armed conflict. The issue wasn’t resolved until 1890, when the Church abolished polygamy, and Utah was finally admitted to the US as a state shortly thereafter.
As littered with polygamy as the Church’s first century was, the Church has always refused to acknowledge that its founder, Joseph Smith, was a polygamist. Until now. The Church recognized Smith’s polygamy on its official website in a series of posts this week:
Smith was husband to as many as 40 wives, the Mormon Church is finally admitting. And good on them, I say. I actually find it very heartening when churches strive to explain their history and their doctrines, and to make it accessible to members. The Mormon Church is endeavoring to be transparent and honest about its history, having already confronted its ugly racist history in a post on its website, exploring the official ban on black priests that was in effect until 1978 (NINETEEN SEVENTY-EIGHT!):
Despite this modern reality, for much of its history—from the mid-1800s until 1978—the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances.
This is the kind of “transparency” you only see in large churches; the sheer size of the bureaucracy forces moderation. Your local non-denominational Protestant church isn’t doing things like this.
So there you go. Kudos to the Mormons. They’re crazy wrong about the universe, but it’s nice to see them trying. Here’s Christopher Hitchens talkin’ Mormons: