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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mormon Mentions: Karen Thompson Walker

In case you don't know what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly referred to as the LDS or Mormon Church.  Naturally, then, I'm concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Since this is a book blog, I pay special attention to mentions of the Church in literature.  When I find a reference to LDS religion, culture, etc., written by a non-Mormon, I highlight it here, along with my own commentary.  I use my "insider's view" to correct misconceptions, add insight using my own experiences and, sometimes, just to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

If these kinds of posts offend you, please feel free to skip them.  If not, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Here we go—

The narrator of Karen Thompson Walker's new adult dystopian novel, The Age of Miracles, is an 11-year-old girl named Julia.  Her best friend is Hanna, a Mormon.  The following passages are about her:

"She hadn't brushed her hair, and hers was hair that demanded attention, having grown uncut since second grade.  All the Mormon girls I knew had long hair" (11).

- Like many people, Walker's image of Mormons seems to have come through the television screen straight from Colorado City, Arizona,  home of a polygamist splinter group known as the FLDS Church.  In the mainstream church (of which I am a part), girls and women (boys and men, too, for that matter) are allowed to wear their hair any way they please.  Mormons are—generally speaking—a conservative lot, so you won't see a lot of mohawks or dreadlocks, but still ... there are no rules about how hair can, or cannot, be worn.

"Hanna's house was full of sisters, but mine was the home of only one child.  I never liked it when she left.  The rooms felt too quiet without her" (11).

- If there's one thing you know about us Mormons, it's probably that we tend to have large families.  This is because we value family above everything but God himself.  We believe that our family relationships are binding not just on the earth, but in heaven as well.   As Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the church's general authorities, once put it, "I don’t know how to speak about heaven in the traditional, lovely, paradisiacal beauty that we speak of heaven–I wouldn’t know how to speak of heaven without my wife and my children.  It would not be heaven for me."  Because of this doctrine, we feel that it is our duty to not just raise a family, but to nurture it in love and righteousness.  Forever.

"As I would later learn, thousands of Mormons gathered in Salt Lake City after the slowing began.  Hanna had told me once that the church had pinpointed a certain square mile of land as the exact location of Jesus' next return to earth.  They kept a giant grain silo in Utah, she said, to feed the Mormons during the end times.  'I'm not supposed to tell you this stuff because you're not in our church,' she said.  'But it's true'" (25).

- Like I've said before, I'm no scholar or theologian.  I don't claim to be any kind of expert on LDS doctrine, history or beliefs.  But, I've been a member of the church for almost 37 years and I can tell you what I've learned in that time:

The "certain square mile of land" is a reference to Adam-ondi-Ahman, a section of land in rural Missouri that, as the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied in 1838, would be a place where in the future, Jesus Christ would meet with His people (see reference from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism here).  The significance of Adam-ondi-Ahman isn't something that's widely discussed in the church or seen as a big deal, really.  It just is.

If the world appeared to be ending, I can definitely see Mormons flocking to Adam-ondi-Ahman, although we have never been told to do so.  Personally, I wouldn't head for Missouri or even Utah, for that matter, unless the current prophet advised me to come.  

Obviously, it would be impossible to gather every one of the more than 14 million church members worldwide in one place, so we are told to make sure we are always prepared for disaster by storing food and other supplies in our own homes.  Self-reliance, as you can tell from the paragraph below, is definitely something the church preaches and encourages.

Although I have never visited the site myself, I know that there is a giant (178 foot tall, as a matter of fact) grain elevator as well as other storehouses and processing operations in Salt Lake City, Utah (see LDS Historic Sites: Salt Lake City Welfare Square for more information).  The Church has always preached self-reliance to its members, so its own preparation for hard times should come as no surprise.  Still, whatever stores the church has can only be seen as a back-up measure.  LDS people have long been advised to store food and other supplies, simply so that they can be self-sufficient in case of natural disasters, unemployment, and economic crises—whether they come next year or when the world ends.  Of course, not every member of the church has a year's supply of food crammed under their beds (although many do), whether because they lack the money to buy it, the space to store it, or because their country's laws prevent them from doing it.  Still, if the world starts to tank, it would be an excellent idea to cozy up to your nearest Mormon!

You may wonder what happens if church members cannot support themselves financially in the here and now.  In that case, help is available via a well-organized church welfare system, which you can read about here.  

Another huge principle taught by the church is helping the poor and needy, whether they belong to the LDS church or not.  This includes distributing food to those in trying circumstances, as well as shelter, clothing, medical help, education, etc.  Practicing self-reliance not only helps the individual, but that person's friends, neighbors and community.

Welfare Square is hardly a secret, as Hanna implies.  In fact, you can see photos using the link above and, if you happen to be in the Salt Lake area, you can take a free tour of Welfare Square.

"As the sun made its way up into the sky, Hanna told me a little bit about Utah.  Her life there was not nearly as bleak as I had pictured.  She told a complicated story involving a Mormon boy who lived next door to her aunt.  One night this boy had popped the screen on Hanna's window and climbed into her bedroom.  They'd kissed while her sisters slept" (99).

- Another thing you may know about LDS people is that we're told not to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.  Because we believe that marriage is an eternal principle, we treat it, and procreation, as something serious and sacred.  We are counseled to treat their bodies as temples, to keep them clean and pure for our future spouses.  Married couples are taught to be true and faithful to their spouses.  Does this mean there is no infidelity in the church?  No divorce?  No teenage pregnancy?  Of course not.  But compared to other groups, Mormons have lower rates of all of the above.

Phew!  We covered a lot of ground.  Any comments?  Questions?  Ask away.


  1. Thanks for not just ignoring that material! I'm glad that you pointed out the truth. And you had me laughing with those answers :) These lines had me cracking up: "Personally, I wouldn't head for Missouri or even Utah, for that matter, unless the current prophet advised me to come." and "Still, if the world starts to tank, it would be an excellent idea to cozy up to your nearest Mormon!" I love your blog and enjoy your writing :) Even in reviewing books, your voice comes out very strongly.

    1. Aw, thanks! I always find it interesting to see how the church is portrayed in books. Sometimes authors really do their research -- a lot of times, not so much.

  2. I enjoy these features, because I like hearing what other faiths believe from members of that faith, and not from other people who might misunderstand or misrepresent. And I'm naming you my official "Mormon to cozy up to" if worse comes to worse! Haha! :)

    1. It is really different to hear about a religion from an insider rather than an outsider! Right now, there's all kinds of "info" about Mormons floating around and I really hope people take it all with a grain of salt. If you want to know the truth, just ASK a Mormon, you know? It's so much better than just making assumptions. I try to give people of other religions the same courtesy.

      And, sure, if the world starts to go, come find me. I actually do have a pretty decent store of food -- although I'm hoping I never, ever have a reason to use it :)


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