The Mormons Part Two

An exploration into the epic story of one of the most powerful, feared and misunderstood religions in American history.

AIRED: April 05, 2010 | 1:52:19


>> Tonight, a special presentation from American Experience and Frontline .

>> ♪ Glory, glory, hallelujah... ♪

>> The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

is one of the world's fastest growing religions.

Mormons walk the corridors of power,

leaders in Congress and even running for president.

But it was not always so.

>> In the 19th century, to call someone a Mormon

was akin to calling someone a Muslim terrorist.

>> The Mormon story is the epic saga of a new American faith

fired by the startling revelations of Joseph Smith;

of a people embroiled in decades of religious conflict

who crossed a continent to establish their own spiritual kingdom;

and a church that defied society by embracing polygamy

and then abruptly abandoned it.

>> From the ultimate outcast to the embodiment of the mainstream

in two generations.

It's a breathtaking transformation.

>> Tonight, Frontline and American Experience continue the story

of this very American religion to go inside the Mormon faith

as it is lived today...

>> Prepare to consecrate two years of your lives to serve the Lord

as a full-time missionary.

>> follow the Mormons' extraordinary commitment

to convert the world...

>> Hi, I'm a missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

>> And they told me the most preposterous story about this white boy,

a dead angel and some gold plates.

>> explore the beliefs that forge close-knit Mormon families...

>> The church and my family are so intertwined,

it just creates an aura of love and makes your home a holy place.

>> investigate the struggle between Mormon scholars

and the authority of church leaders...

>> It's wrong to criticize leaders of the church,

even if the criticism is true.

>> ...and to examine the powerful and secret rituals of the Mormon temple.

>> The temple exists as a kind of vehicle

through which we conquer mortality.

Not a single atom or particle of our bodies will be lost,

but everything will be reconstituted as fully as it was.

It's almost a kind of celebration of the totality of triumph over death.

>> Tonight, the revealing conclusion of "The Mormons."

>> NARRATOR: In July, 1897,

50 years after Brigham Young had brought them to Utah,

Mormon pioneers gathered in Salt Lake City to celebrate their survival.

In the early days of the church,

they had been driven out of Ohio and Missouri.

In Illinois, the Latter-day Saints founder and prophet Joseph Smith

had been murdered and their temple burned.

The Mormons had turned their backs on America and made a perilous journey

across the continent in search of their own country,

only to then engage in a 50-year struggle with the U.S. government

over their practice of polygamy and political control of the Utah territory.

>> In the 1880s, U.S. presidents, at their inaugurations,

used their inaugural address to decry the Mormon experience,

to identify it as domestic threat number one after the Civil War.

Fast forward 100 years; the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is singing

at presidential inaugurations.

So they become a very mainstream, very capital-centered economic interest

that moves in a conservative direction as the embodiment of family values,

morality issues.

Where at one time they were vilified, they were considered disloyal--

in fact, they were considered a knife at the back of the American experience--

now they are, in fact, considered in some ways the very embodiment

of what it means to be American.

How was that brought about?

>> NARRATOR: By the end of the 19th century,

the L.D.S. church had made an uneasy peace with the federal government.

The church had officially renounced the practice of polygamy

and Utah had finally been granted statehood.

>> In 1903, a man arrives in Washington named Reed Smoot.

He's been elected to the Senate, and he is a Mormon apostle,

the equivalent of a very high cardinal.

In fact, it's difficult for us to imagine what it meant for this apostle

to arrive in the Senate and represent a state in the national legislature.

>> The United States Senate looks at Reed Smoot and says,

"We don't believe you're worthy to be formally seated in our august body

because we have heard ongoing reports that plural marriage still exists

in Utah.”

So they used Reed Smoot's confirmation hearings as a means of dissecting

the Mormon church.

>> It was a huge trial.

It lasted over a span of four years.

It was as big publicly as anything we've seen in our own day,

as Watergate, Iran contra.

It captured the public's attention on a variety of very dramatic issues--

church and state, sex, of course, religious power, Mormon temples,

the secrecy of these temples, all kinds of things.

You couldn't be in America during these years

and not know about the Smoot hearings.

>> NARRATOR: The opposition was intense, but Smoot had powerful supporters too,

including President Roosevelt.

And in 1907, the Senate finally voted to seat the senator from Utah.

Smoot would go on to a distinguished career in Washington

and became a major powerbroker in the Republican Party.

>> Smoot himself became the poster boy of Mormonism

and Mormonism's identity radically changed as a result

of this set of hearings, in part because the nation stated the terms

by which it would accept Mormonism and Mormonism began to conform

to those terms.

>> Mormons entered into national party politics.

They gave up the People's Party, which was the official party of the faith,

and became themselves active within, especially the Republican Party,

but also the Democratic Party.

They also did a good job of participating

in the military life of the country.

Mormons fought wars, volunteered at extraordinarily high rates,

recalibrated their patriotism to be loyal to the government in Washington.

>> NARRATOR: The Mormons also recalibrated their relationship

to the American economy.

They abandoned Brigham Young's ideal of a closed communal economy in Utah

and fully embraced the capitalism of Wall Street.

>> It's a profound shift from the pioneering days

of isolated Christian socialism to the end of the 20th century.

And what you see is the emergence

of an extraordinarily sophisticated financial management organization--

the L.D.S. church ownerships in media, extraordinary land holdings,

livestock and agricultural interests, great stock portfolios.

>> NARRATOR: The church's financial growth was fueled by "sacred taxation.”

To be of good standing, all Mormons must tithe 10% of their gross income

to the church.

Today, church assets are estimated at $25 to $30 billion

and it has become the wealthiest church per capita in America.

>> The Mormon church is not only wealthy,

but it's unusually secretive about the extent of its wealth.

Most American religious groups of any size give full financial accountings

to the membership.

But the facts of the Mormon financial empire are never revealed

to the membership, much less the wide world.

And as far as we can tell, there have been no major financial scandals.

The leaders handle the business,

and the members contentedly go on trusting in the leaders.

>> NARRATOR: Over the last 50 years,

the Mormon hierarchy has tried to change public perceptions of its leadership.

>> Since the time that Brigham Young decided to grow a beard,

the face of Mormon literally was bearded polygamist, bearded polygamist,

bearded polygamist.

We're clear up to the middle of the 20th century and that face hasn't changed.

Then, all of a sudden, with a heartbeat, the face of Mormonism becomes

a clean-shaven, non-polygamist white knight.

President David O. McKay frequently wore a pure white double-breasted suit.

This was the new face of Mormonism

and it was unlike anything that had preceded it.

It was scripted by central casting.

He knew the importance of image before the era of professional image makers.

He re-injected us into the national scene

by blessing the request of Dwight Eisenhower to have one of the apostles,

Ezra Taft Benson, be a member of the Eisenhower cabinet,

and his presence in Washington gave the church a presence there

they had not had previously.

>> One of the major P.R. tools of the church has been the Tabernacle Choir.

When they got on radio, they became the nation's choir.

The Tabernacle Choir has been an extraordinary ambassador for the church.

>> NARRATOR: As the choir tours the world,

it still sings the old Mormon hymns, but there is a new emphasis on Jesus

and biblical themes.

It is part of a long campaign to place the Mormon faith

within the traditions of mainstream Christianity.

>> In the early 1980s,

the L.D.S. church produced a new version of the Book of Mormon

and they subtitled it, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

A few years ago, the L.D.S. church changed its logo

and made the words "Jesus Christ" much larger than the rest of the words

in the name of their church to emphasize to the world

that they are a mainstream Christian faith.

>> On the other hand, we've had conventional Christian bodies saying,

"Well, you aren't fully Christian, as we define the term.”

So, we've had edicts from the Vatican and from the United Methodist Church,

and the Presbyterian Church, and the Southern Baptists have made it clear

we don't accept Mormonism as fully Christian either.

So, there's a tension there.

There's a religious tension which is very hard to overcome.

>> NARRATOR: But as the Mormons were trying to change their place

in American life, the country itself was changing.

The social and political upheavals of the 1960s

put new pressures on the church, especially over its stance on race.

>> I think the most damning statement came from one of the presidents

of the church, the third president of the church, John Taylor.

Basically, he said that the reason that blacks had been allowed

to come through the flood-- the flood of Noah--

was so that Satan would have representation upon the earth;

that black folks were here to represent Satan

and to have a balance against white folks,

who were here to represent Jesus Christ, the Savior.

How do you damn a people more than to say that their existence upon the earth

is to represent Satan?

>> The most controversial thing in the church was the church's position

on giving priesthood authority to blacks and the church's refusal to do that.

I say blacks rather than African Americans

because it applied throughout the world.

>> Now, Mormon priesthood really is a universal office for male Mormons.

It's their equivalent of bar mitzvah;

it's something that everybody normally would undergo.

If you do not hold the priesthood,

you can never hold any office of church authority.

It also would affect your eternal state.

And so what you had really was a very serious disability visited upon Mormons

of African descent.

>> NARRATOR: The Mormons had ambitions to be a worldwide church.

But their only missionaries on the African continent

were in white South Africa, none in black Africa.

But then in the early 1960s, a copy of the Book of Mormon appeared

in Ghana and Nigeria.

A few people read it and were converted instantly.

They founded their own version

of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

>> And I read the Book of Mormon.

I was moved by the power of the Holy Ghost to believe

that it was a sound and a true testimony.

I started from street to street, from town to town, from house to house,

spreading the message.

>> NARRATOR: They started to write the leaders in Salt Lake for instructions.

Over the next frustrating 20 years, they would implore them to send missionaries

so that they could be baptized.

>> And they kept writing to Salt Lake.

They wanted the missionaries to come and baptize this group of people

they were getting.

They wanted Salt Lake to come and show them how to form the church properly.

But the church couldn't send missionaries to Ghana to baptize them

because of the ban on the priesthood for blacks.

>> Later, into the 1970s, you now have a new president, Spencer Kimball,

and you have new forces at work.

Most of these are internal.

There was also the injunction that had existed for decades,

"Take the gospel to all the world.”

There wasn't an asterisk at the end of it saying,

"Oh, by the way, you can exclude black Africa.”

This weighed on Spencer Kimball.

All of those things, I think, had a cumulative effect.

The first of June, 1978, Spencer Kimball, his two counselors,

the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, met in the temple.

They engaged in group prayer and it was described as a Pentecostal experience.

>> One described it as though there were the tongues of flame

that are talked about in Acts.

Another said it was like a rushing of wind for him.

>> I was there.

There was something of a Pentecostal spirit,

but on the other hand it was peaceful, quiet,

not a cataclysmic thing in any sense.

It was just a feeling that came over all of us

and we knew that it was the right thing at the right time

and that we should proceed.

>> NARRATOR: President Kimball announced that God had heard their prayers

and had revealed that "all male members of the Church may be ordained

to the priesthood without regard to race or color.”

>> What happened in 1978 was that this burden was lifted from black Mormons.

More importantly, a huge burden was lifted from Mormonism,

because it was rid of theological racism.

This enabled the church, of course, to reach out more effectively to blacks.

>> ♪ And I thank you, Jesus Jesus

♪ I thank you, Jesus

>> It made the church fully acceptable after American society had undergone

this tremendous civil rights revolution.

It really was the moment for the modernization of the Mormon church.

>> NARRATOR: At the edge of Salt Lake City stands a pure white granary.

It is an enduring symbol of the original fiery millennial visions

at the Mormon core.

Inside are 16 million pounds of wheat, continually replenished,

to be used only in the tumult before Christ's final return.

But it is also a reminder of how the Mormons have enlarged

their extensive preparations for their own welfare to reach out

to the wider world.

>> At one time, church welfare was just about welfare of church members.

It was born of survival.

It was born of the darkest days early in the territory where drought

or pestilence would visit the agricultural crops

and they would have the bishop's storehouse for the poor.

>> And in recent years, especially, those relief efforts have been extended

not just members of the church, but to over 150 major humanitarian crises

around the world-- in locations as disparate as Kosovo, North Korea,

Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The efficiency of the Mormon welfare apparatus is really legendary.

It operates with all the efficiency of the German Wiermarch.

In Katrina of 2005, the Mormon relief trucks were on the way

before the hurricane had even made landfall.

>> To live in this region now is to live with an overwhelming sense of sadness.

And to come home and see that you've lost a lot of history, it's devastating.

How can you ever clean this up?

There's not enough dumps in the world to hold all this.

We were hearing stories on the radio of troops coming in,

helicopters were flying over.

We even heard the President was flying over in a big helicopter looking at us.

But nobody was there on the ground with us

except for the Mormons in their yellow T-shirts who showed up

to help us clean up.

And they didn't just come in to hand us a piece of food, a piece of bread

or something, and say, "Here's something to eat, you know, while you're working.”

They actually got down and cleaned and worked.

>> Two folks and myself went over to the Bishop's warehouse, this huge building.

It was all cataloged and categorized and their warehousing procedures

and policies... they just knew where everything was.

They knew how much of each thing they had.

They were able to get not only saws to us but canned goods,

access to outside communications.

They had satellite phones.

It was almost as though a business that specialized in emergency

or community disaster response had arrived.

>> Before the storm, I had had Mormons knock on my door

just like everybody else probably and so the object was to try

and get rid of them as fast as possible.

You know, "Just go away. Not interested.

Don't want to hear what you have to say.”

After the storm, it's a little bit different now.

They're part of my family now.

Always will be.

You know, they... they got into my heart

and they'll never stand on my doorstep again

without being invited into my house.

>> NARRATOR: In the last hundred years,

the Mormons have traveled a long and difficult road

in transforming themselves from reviled outsiders

into central figures in the American establishment.

In the United States Senate that a century ago tried to reject Reed Smoot,

Senator Harry Reid, a Mormon convert from Nevada,

now leads the new Democratic majority.

Former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is a contender

for the Republican nomination for president.

But amidst success, there are still signs of deep resistance.

Several recent polls show that from one quarter to as many as 43% of voters say

that they would not vote for a Mormon for president.

>> Now what is it about Mormonism that causes people to ask themselves,

"Do I really want a Mormon in the White House?"

I mean, in the American system that's almost a question

that should be asked, right?

No religious test should be asked for an office holder.

It's right in the American Constitution.

And yet people are nervous that this is kind of an authoritarian church.

Is Mitt Romney somehow subject to some church leader in Salt Lake City?

Are Mormons Christians?

Where did these Mormon scriptures come from?

Who was this Joseph Smith?

Where did polygamy come from?

All of these things are swirling around the Romney candidacy.

>> NARRATOR: If the questions hovering around the Romney moment suggest

that Mormons haven't quite yet arrived,

there are also continuing signs of acceptance,

like the recent gathering of scholars at the Library of Congress

to commemorate the bicentennial of Joseph Smith's birth.

These conflicting signals all reflect the inherent tensions

in the Mormon stance in American life.

>> I glory in the distinctives of 19th century Mormonism.

I worry that we may have become too assimilated.

We are different.

We need to remember that, that we were in tension with the surrounding society

and there always ought to be some.

We ought to be bothered if everybody thinks we're just peachy keen.

>> Brigham Young once said that he feared the day

when Mormons would no longer be the object of the pointing finger of scorn.

It's one of these paradoxes that you want to have acceptability,

you want to be mainstream enough that people will give your message

a fair hearing, that you can fraternize with them as fellow Christians,

but at the same time you don't want to feel so comfortable

that there's nothing to mark you as a people who are distinct,

who have a special body of teachings with special responsibilities.

And I think once the walls of isolation fell down,

then how do you maintain that sense of a people distinct, a people apart?

And I think that's a challenge that the church is really wrestling with today.

>> I throw out a challenge to every young man

within this vast congregation tonight.

Prepare yourself now to be worthy to serve the Lord

as a full-time missionary.

Prepare to concentrate two years of your lives to this sacred service.

>> ♪ All to serve in... ♪

>> NARRATOR: The Mormons have put the future of their church

in the hands of 19-year-olds.

Each year, more than 50,000 young Mormon missionaries march the globe,

from Utah to Mongolia, to win converts to their faith,

as many as a quarter million each year.

God's Army, as some Mormons call it,

has always been the engine that has driven the church's success.

Before the first pews were filled, Joseph Smith announced,

"This church brethren will fill the whole earth.”

>> From the very outset, Joseph Smith was persuaded

that he had a message that was for the whole world.

And he adopted this radical idea that he did not have to train people to do this;

he could simply commission them.

So, from the start he sent out his... first, his family members

and everyone who joined his church became a missionary.

>> In the late 1830s, what might have been one of the darkest hours

of the church, when Joseph was beset with disloyalty and disillusion

all around him, Joseph gathers those members of the Twelve

that are closest to him, and says, "I'm sending you to Great Britain.

I'm putting you on a boat and sending you across the Atlantic,"

a violation of every organizational rule,

everything you'd learn at the Harvard Business School

as to how to keep an organization together.

>> And England is in the throes of industrialization

and all these village people have been moved into factories

and are working under the most difficult conditions.

It's a downtrodden population and Brigham Young said

that you didn't have to prove anything, you just preach the gospel to them

and they would believe.

>> NARRATOR: During the first 25 years of the church,

there were 71,000 converts in Great Britain alone

and approximately 17,000 of them emigrated to America

to the early Mormon settlements in Kirtland, Ohio,

and Nauvoo, Illinois, and then to Utah.

>> The pioneers who filled the valley and staffed the church

came from Great Britain and Scandinavia and Germany.

My grandfather, born in Birmingham, England.

Mormon missionaries found his mother and her parents and they joined the church.

And part of the missionary lessons--

you know, you've got to believe in the Book of Mormon,

you've got to believe in baptism and you've got to move to Utah.

That's a pretty tough missionary sell.

>> NARRATOR: At the end of the 19th century,

the missionary work had to take a back seat to the survival of the Church

in Utah.

The Depression and World War II further limited their efforts.

God's Army shrank to under 300 missionaries worldwide

and its ambitions would remain modest until the 1950s.

>> David O. McKay brought this church into the 20th century,

even though he got started halfway through that century.

We were a church that still was insular.

We brought people to Salt Lake.

He said, "Let's reverse that.

"Stay where you are.

"Grow where you're planted.

Make the church a vital force throughout the world.”

The number of missionaries multiplied several fold.

The number of convert baptisms multiplied even more so

because he injected that new spirit into what they were doing.

>> NARRATOR: Since the 1950s, God's Army has been recruited

largely from Mormon young people,

and their two-year missions have become a rite of passage.

>> You go. You go.

You go. You go.

Dad went.

Grandpa went.

And Grandpa, who's a descendant of Wilfred Woodruff,

who was taught by Joseph Smith, went on missions, you know?

You go. You go.

And you start earning at age five when you are old enough to count

and you earn all the way to 19.

>> ♪ I hope they call me on a mission ♪ When I have grown a foot or two

♪ I hope by then I will be ready

♪ to teach and preach and work as missionaries, too ♪

>> ♪ I want to be a missionary and serve and help the world

♪ while I am in my youth ♪

>> NARRATOR: The missionary training center in Provo, Utah,

is one of 17 around the world.

It is a spiritual boot camp where young men and women are trained to talk, sing

and pray in 30 languages.

>> So, without me telling you, what's this next sentence here?

>> "I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.”

>> NARRATOR: During rigorous training that can last for three months

of 16-hour days, they learn lesson plans designed to take the potential convert

to the goal of baptism.

>> I want you to see, okay...

>> NARRATOR: Every aspect of their behavior and appearance is scrutinized.

>> What does your face look like right there?

>> NARRATOR: They are taught how to listen, to smile,

to find common ground with a stranger on the street,

how to answer the most difficult questions,

and how to deal with hecklers.

>> What are you... okay, what are you thinking right there?

Are you thinking that you're confused and bored?

>> That's what I think.

I think in my head I'm like, "Hmm, smiling, yeah.”

But I need to be like...

>> I was prepared to go on a mission during a time when it was,

for all intents and purposes, mandatory for young men to go on missions.

I had to in order to exist in my world as I knew it.

When I returned, no one would want to marry me that I knew

unless I was a returned missionary.

My parents would lose all respect for me if I did not go on a mission.

>> NARRATOR: At the training center,

parents and young missionaries say goodbye.

They will not see each other for two years.

>> My father said, "Well, let's have a prayer.”

And he began to pray and then he broke down and sobbed.

And I remember for the first time I thought to myself,

"What on earth am I doing?

I'm abandoning my parents for two years.”

He was obviously just broken up about it.

I had never seen my father cry in my life.

And to see him sobbing and having to gain control of himself,

for just a little moment, I thought, "I must be nuts.

What kind of a church would ask this kind of thing?"

There is that pain.

The church does ask sacrifices.

We don't have to cross the plains anymore with a handcart,

but it does ask things of us that sometimes are tough.

>> It's one thing to leave your family and go into a dormitory,

to a university, or go into the military.

But still you have an independence.

You can choose to do what you want.

When you become an L.D.S. missionary,

you have a companion who is assigned to you 24 hours a day,

you never leave the side of that companion except to go to the bathroom.

>> You don't get your alone time on a mission.

You're in a very small apartment together.

You just always need to know where the other one is and what they're doing.

So that was very difficult with someone you get along with.

And then you get a companion that you don't get along with

and you're doing a lot of praying and soul-searching

because you have companionship inventory once a week.

>> Your life is utterly controlled.

If it isn't approved to listen to radio, you do not listen to radio.

If it isn't approved to watch television, you do not watch television.

If it isn't approved to read a newspaper,

you will not read a newspaper.

You follow the rules for this two-year period.

There is nothing in contemporary experience of 20-year-olds

in America and Canada to compare with this.

>> Hello. >> Hi, how are you?

>> Very good, hermano. Como esta ?

>> NARRATOR: And on the street,

nothing resembles what they experienced in the training center.

>> Joseph asked, "Which church should I join?"

And the Lord told him that he should join none of those churches.

But they had a great work for Joseph to do.

They called him to be a prophet just like God had done in times before.

>> What's this about?

Oh, all this Jesus Christ bull [no audio].

>> Do you believe in Jesus Christ, ma'am?

>> Oh, actually I don't believe in God even.

>> No?

>> Sorry.

>> No... no, that's fine.

Well, I just wanted to share with you.

>> I have to go this way.

>> Hi, how are you doing?

>> Good, how you doing?

>> Hey, I'm a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

and we're out talking with people because we're sharing a great message

about Jesus Christ during this time of Christmas.

>> Oh, I'm a Catholic.

>> She told me to leave her alone.


>> Oh, no!

>> How are you doing today, sir?

>> Kind of busy.

>> Oh, aren't we all?

Where you headed?

>> We're actually missionaries.

>> What are you guys doing there?

>> We're missionaries.

>> Don't shadow me, don't walk next to me.

I said I'm busy. Please.

>> We're just sharing a Christmas message.

>> No, no, I just want to walk here by myself.

>> Well, maybe next time.

>> All right. Have a nice day, sir.

Hey, how's it going?

>> Of all that time-- 65, 70 hours a week, knocking doors,

talking to the people in the street-- never had one conversion.

You'd go weeks without teaching sometimes.

It was just hard.

People didn't want to hear, but if they found out I was an Indian,

then they were interested.

They wanted to talk about Indians.

They didn't want to talk about religion.

>> I was 24 when I went on my mission to Rhodesia.

I was still very much full of the romance of my own conversion.

I actually baptized a large number of people for my mission.

The average was I think like two and I baptized something like 25,

largely because of one family of 12 that lived down the street

from where me and... my companion and I lived.

I had a wonderful time teaching people.

It really made you feel that I was part of something much bigger than myself;

that a single individual could be changed by my capacity

to teach these people.

The transformational quality was undeniably powerful.

And so the very things that had happened to me,

I began to see happen to other people.

>> NARRATOR: Today the L.D.S. church has grown

to over 12 million members worldwide, more than half of them

living outside the United States.

Mormon conversions, however, have declined slightly in recent decades,

and over 50% of new church members will fall away from their faith.

In the developing world, the Mormons are increasingly challenged

by the Pentecostals and other churches whose conversions are rising faster

in some countries.

>> The church has a real problem keeping new members in the faith.

Part of the reason for that is that the church does a marvelous job

finding converts and bringing them into the church through baptism,

but it spends less time and less effort helping new members of the church

find their way in their new congregations.

Also, conversion to Mormonism involves a radical transformation

of someone's life.

If I convert to a typical Christian sect,

I don't know that they're going to ask me for 10% of my income.

I don't know if they're going to ask me

for literally almost all of my discretionary time.

Because it is a church that is run solely by the membership,

congregations can only sustain themselves when members contribute

at least as much as they take.

So, retaining a Latter-day Saint is a pretty serious enterprise,

more serious than retaining the average charismatic Christian

or conservative Christian.

This is a church that demands everything.

>> NARRATOR: The church also asks a great deal from its young missionaries

and it can test their commitment.

>> We had a son who was serving on a mission in Brazil.

He had been there for about a year.

He was serving out from the capital of Brasilia by quite some distance

and I couldn't reach him.

And so the branch president wrote a note, put it on the door and said,

"Your mom has passed away.

Call home.”

He's 5,000 miles away and I'm crying and he's crying on the phone,

and how do you put your arms around your son when he's that far away?

>> And, I mean, it just felt so awful to think that I was sitting here by myself

and to think that I... that I didn't know what my family was going through,

and it was just a very lonely moment, a very sad moment.

It was just... it was... yeah, it was terrible.

>> And he didn't come home from his mission.

And I encouraged him not to come home from his mission.

He knew he was there for a reason.

He knew that he was doing what his mother wanted him to do.

That was one of the most important things to her in her life,

was that she raised her son to serve a mission.

>> NARRATOR: For the young Mormons working abroad,

their missions can be dangerous.

In those countries in turmoil or hostile to America,

missionaries have been kidnapped, tortured and killed.

The physical environment can also be threatening.

>> I hit Argentina with the force of a hurricane,

being 19 and being absolutely convinced that you're on the Lord's errand,

fueled with these fantasies and aspirations.

I ended up with my companions baptizing entire congregations

of aboriginal people in the mud.

Living conditions were frequently harsh.

You don't have fresh water to bathe in, so you're bathing in this rancid,

algae-ridden, green, slimy water.

You drink it.

You're dying of thirst.

It's like 110, 112 degrees.

Poison spitting toads getting into the apartment.

Crocodiles running all over the place.

I mean, I was completely into it.

I mean, I was so completely wound up that...

I mean, if my mission president had asked me to blow myself up

like a suicide bomber, I would have said, "Sure, where should I go?"

>> NARRATOR: But the young faith that fuels the missionary

does not always endure.

Years later, Tal Bachman says he left the church

after concluding the revelations of Joseph Smith were not authentic.

>> I left the church because I felt that

I was forced to conclude that for whatever else it might be,

it wasn't what it claimed to be.

That point had special relevance for me, I think,

because of my mission experiences and the decisions I had made

after my mission.

We risked our lives for the church in Argentina.

I don't think that I can delude myself into thinking or to making it okay

for my children to put their lives on the line for the thing

if it's not what it claims to be.

It might be the best thing ever invented, but if it's invented,

it's not worth dying for.

>> NARRATOR: But for others, the mission itself can be the catalyst

for their own conversion.

>> Before my mission, I tried to do what is always suggested--

to read the scriptures, to say my prayers,

to be obedient to the commandments of the church as we understand them--

and hoped in that process I would gain the spiritual conviction

that is promised.

And I didn't, at least not to the degree of certainty that I had hoped for.

So when I went on my mission I was still somewhat tentative.

And I went to Germany.

I'd had a high school German class

and had never learned a thing, unfortunately.

I didn't even know what gesundheit meant when I got there.

I didn't even like the little German children because they could speak German

and I couldn't.

So about six weeks into my mission,

my companion and I had stirred up enough difficulty in this Lutheran neighborhood

where we were working that the Lutheran minister called a special meeting

to warn his parishioners about us.

He said to his parishioners, "Look, these young Mormons are working here.

Be nice to them, but you don't really need them.

You have Luther.

You have the Bible.

They have the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith,

both of which are obviously fraudulent,

so just be kind to them and they'll go away.”

Then he made a strategic error.

He said-- or a tactical error, I guess--

he said, "Is there anyone else here tonight that would like to say anything

about these Mormons?"

And, of course, my 6'7" companion raised his hand and said, "We would,"

and up to the front we went.

And then he turned to me and said,

"And now my companion would like to say how he feels.”

And I remember thinking, "Well, dandy, I can bless the food,"

because that's the only intelligent thing I might have done in German.

But you know, it was interesting.

And this is a tender moment for me because...

the conviction I'd been searching for came.

And it came in this way--

I remember sort of composing myself and trying to figure out

what I might say in German, which is a very logical language

if you know the rules, and I remembered in that moment about every German word

or phrase I had ever read or heard sort of coming together in a way

that I was able to express myself.

And I did tell those people that I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet

and that I knew that the Book of Mormon was the word of God

and that I knew the church had been restored through Joseph Smith.

And it's interesting because, in that moment I...

I came to know, and that was the moment really when my hope

and my tender belief turned into something really solid,

which has been the foundation for the rest of my life.

So when people say, "How was your mission?"

I say, "It was everything.”

>> NARRATOR: For the new convert, it can be a transformative experience as well.

Despite the challenges facing the missionaries, conversions continue,

sometimes in the most unexpected way.

>> When the missionaries came into the outskirts of Hell where I was at,

struggling with my two little children, I had been hooked on drugs,

in prison, on parole.

And they knocked on my door and I thought, "It's the police.”

And I kind of snuck on up to the door to peep,

because I had just gotten off of two years of probation

and seven years of parole 11 days before the missionaries came

and brought their Book of Mormon to me.

And they came in and told me the most preposterous story

I have ever heard in my life.

They told me about this white boy, a dead angel and some gold plates.

And I thought, "Mmm, I wonder what they on.”

I had gotten the name of the church messed up.

When I first heard it, I thought it was the L.D.S. church, you know?

And I thought, well, L.S.D.

I got it backwards.

I thought they was talking about L.S.D.

And I thought, "Now that's the church for me.”

And it dawned on me as I sat there and opened that book up and it said,

"I, Nephi, being born of goodly parents...”

And it breaks my heart even to this day because it seemed like at that moment

I realized that I wasn't a goodly parent and that I didn't have goodly parents

to teach me in the language of my fathers.

Families can be together forever...

I found something inside of me that was responding to this message of hope,

of family that could be together forever,

of raising my children and learning how to be a good parent.

Not drinking, not smoking, not cussing every word,

using the Lord's name in vain.

And I tell you, to come into the church, because I wanted that,

to me it was like a pearl of great price.

>> ♪ You brought me, because you brought me, yes, you brought me ♪

>> All religious systems have to move beyond their own founding,

and many religious systems have found that very difficult to do.

Christianity did it.

Islam did it.

Judaism did it.

The question is, can Mormonism do it?

The path is thrusting itself up in front of the Mormons day after day,

almost hour after hour, and it's difficult to deal with.

And like much in the past, it's very messy.

>> NARRATOR: As the L.D.S. church has grown,

control over the Mormon story has become all the more important.

That has lead to increasing conflict with some Mormon intellectuals

who challenge the church's official history

and the authority of its leaders.

>> The glory of God is intelligence.

Light and truth forsake the evil one.

Ye are commanded to bring up your children in light and truth.

>> Intellectuals, by their very nature, ask questions.

They're curious.

They see some statement made and they want to know why.

>> The life of the mind can be seen to be in flat-out opposition

to one's faith.

>> To be a Mormon intellectual means that you're opening up yourself

to being called into a church court.

>> I was excommunicated 13 years ago.

My temple marriage to my husband is cancelled.

My sealing to my child is dissolved.

Basically, my eternal salvation is wiped out.

>> One of the contradictions I see presently in Mormon culture is,

on the one hand, we have this long tradition of encouraging knowledge

and education and yet, at the same time, there is a real anti-intellectual strain

that has been there for quite some time.

If you're an active L.D.S. person and you want to write about Mormonism,

there are just certain things that you cannot talk about.

Certainly, the temple is one of them,

even if you are trying to do it in a faith-promoting way.

And raising any kind of feminist question is something you cannot do.

Questioning authority in any way--

I think that this is probably one of the biggest taboos in Mormonism.

>> There is the thought that intellectuals ask questions,

questions lead to doubts, doubts leads to loss of testimony,

loss of testimony leads to you falling away from the church

and there's a great fear in the church that if you openly look at these things

that you will doubt, and if you doubt, well,

there goes the whole purpose of life.

>> The scriptures speak of prophets as being watchmen on the tower

with the responsibility to warn when an enemy approaches the enclosure

of the faithful.

I think all of the leaders of the church are conscious of an obligation

to warn the people when there's a danger.

I think in any day, the watchmen on the tower

are going to say intellectualism is a danger to the church,

and it is at extreme points.

And if people leave their faith behind

and follow strictly where science leads them, that can be a pretty crooked path.

>> NARRATOR: Ironically, the Mormon religion itself was born

as an act of radical dissent.

Joseph Smith had directly challenged the tenets of mainstream Christianity.

But almost from the beginning he, too,

was challenged by dissenters in his own church.

He was quick to excommunicate but also quick to allow people to return.

His successor, Brigham Young, was tougher.

>> Brigham Young's principal was simple.

You are either with us or you're against us.

If you are part of this people, fall into line, let's move on

and let's build up the kingdom of God

and never forget that all we have is each other.

We undermine each other's faith, we destroy ourselves.

We've got to stick together.

There's the highway or there's our way.

Leave if you are not going to adhere to the rules.

>> NARRATOR: In the mid-20th century the church began to forcefully discipline

its intellectuals who challenged the orthodox view of Mormon history.

The historian Fawn Brodie had emerged from a devout Mormon family in Utah.

In 1945 she published a biography of Joseph Smith

that was the first to question the divine origins of Smith's revelations

and the Book of Mormon.

Although she was a niece of church leader David O. McKay,

he didn't protect her and she was excommunicated.

In 1950, when Juanita Brooks published the first full account

of Mormon complicity in the Mountain Meadows Massacre,

she and her husband were shunned by members of their church.

As official church historian, Leonard Arrington began opening church archives

in 1972 and promoted a new Mormon history that was complex and objective.

But after a decade of intellectual freedom,

the church transferred Arrington's entire division from his control.

>> The Mormon church has suffered dissent and excommunications

from the very beginning.

But I'd say in the last generation there seems to be more disciplining,

more nervousness, more excommunications.

The church seems to be drawing in and wanting to sharpen its message,

and in some cases, this really takes on a very harsh and personal edge.

>> NARRATOR: Among current church leaders,

Apostle Boyd Packer has emerged as the strongest voice of Mormon orthodoxy.

>> When I was at B.Y.U., Boyd K. Packer had given this speech--

and I believe it was meant only for the insiders in the church office building,

but it got out as a lot of things do get leaked in Utah--

especially in Salt Lake and Provo--

where he basically said one of the greatest dangers to the church

were gays, feminists and intellectuals.

And there was a large group of us who fit many of those categories.

It was like a slap in the face.

It was like, "We don't want you.”

>> I suppose I... I think I remember saying those things.


If it's in print, I said it.

And... but that is part of the alert.

And it's very simple-- down some of those paths,

you have a right to go there, and...

but in the church, you don't have a right to teach

and take others there without having some discipline

simply because down the road there's unhappiness.

>> Within the church we're not afraid of intellectuals

or of learning or of knowledge.

Where an intellectual, I think, can get into difficulty

is when that intellectual person takes a position

and begins either to attack the general leaders or local leaders of the church

or begins to attack the basic doctrine of the church and does that publicly.

>> NARRATOR: One of the most contentious issues that has divided intellectuals

and church leaders involves scientific investigations of the book of Mormon.

>> Mormonism teaches that ancient Israelites came to the new world

and created scriptures which we have today as the Book of Mormon.

Thus Israelites are ancestors of native Americans.

There's a whole story, a very elaborate story, of great cities being built.

But non-Mormons and I'd guess we'd say Mormon skeptics who have studied

these matters do not see evidence-- they don't see the D.N.A.--

that would support the Israelite theory.

They don't see evidence of Hebrew language in the new world.

They don't see the archeological sites that would show these grand cities

that are described.

>> According to a lot of Mormon archeologists,

their job is to find that this is a true story;

that all these things actually existed in this place that it described

in the Book of Mormon, which, in this case,

would have to be in Guatemala and the neighboring Mexican state of Chiapas.

And this is what they have been after for 50 years.

They've excavated all kinds of sites, and, unfortunately,

they've never found anything that would back it up.

But Mormonism is not the only religion that faces this problem

of what's actually in the ground or in the documents.

The exodus, of course, in the Old Testament of the Bible

is the best example of this for which there's just absolutely

no archeological justification whatsoever.

There's never been found any hard evidence that the exodus took place.

>> NARRATOR: But when Mormon scholars challenge

their church's official history, they risk serious sanctions.

>> My book challenges some of the core foundational claims of the church,

the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Is it really an ancient record of an ancient people

like the story that Joseph told?

When I look at the Book of Mormon, I really don't see an ancient text.

We see a large chunk of the King James Bible,

in this book that's reportedly to be ancient record of a people

that lived 2,500 years ago in ancient America.

We see an enormous amount of evangelical camp meeting fervor.

The 11 main preachers in the book of Mormon sound to me

like Methodist stump speakers of that era.

What you find is all of the issues that were being discussed

and debated among Joseph Smith's family and friends in his own day.

It's a 19th century record is what it is.

It's not an ancient record.

>> NARRATOR: In 2004, two years after he published his book,

Grant Palmer was dis-fellowshipped by the L.D.S. church,

a punishment just short of excommunication.

>> Mormonism is a movement that celebrates its history

and yet it seems to be quite afraid of its history,

oftentimes afraid of real historical investigation.

What did Joseph Smith think about the practice of magic?

To what extent did Joseph Smith really practice money digging?

To what extent did he forge documents?

To what extent did he engage in illicit sexual behavior?

All of those are questions that aren't particularly unusual

in the formation of most any kind of religious system.

They were imperfect human beings who engaged in imperfect behavior.

Some Mormons have trouble accepting that.

We want a kind of sanitized Mormon.

>> We do take history very seriously and I think we take it very literally.

We don't deconstruct and feel that what we have is the figment of language

or imagination at all, or that there's some middle ground.

And I know that's very polarizing in a sense.

I think the hardest public relations sell we have to make

is that this is the only true church.

>> NARRATOR: In a single month in 1993,

the L.D.S. church excommunicated six prominent Mormon scholars

whose work the church believed had gone too far

in their investigations of polygamy, in pressing for priesthood for women,

and in challenging church authority.

>> I was one of the first to be threatened.

I was threatened with excommunication in the summer of 1993.

I received a letter from my stake president.

In this letter, I was told that I was not allowed to speak, discuss, publish,

write about anything to do with church history or church doctrine

or they would hold a court on me.

Those things that they had asked me not to speak about

were women in the priesthood and the Mormon idea, or the Mormon concept,

of the heavenly mother.

>> NARRATOR: The church had objected to a series of scholarly articles

in which Toscano argued that Joseph Smith had intended

that women be granted Mormon priesthood.

It was a direct contradiction of the church's official doctrine

that only men could hold that position.

>> I am Mormon on a deep level

and I do not believe that a community can be spiritually healthy

when it silences people.

And that was my reason for not obeying the stake president in the first place.

I told him at the time, I said,

"I cannot be silent because for me to be silent is to participate in

an abuse of authority and to damage the community that I care about.”

You have to imagine when you go into a church disciplinary court

that you go in by yourself.

You are not allowed to bring anybody with you.

So I'm in there.

There's 16 men that I am facing.

The stake president is presenting the case against me

and he did it in almost courtroom-like fashion.

He had a set of notes and he had his reasons why I should be excommunicated.

He also had a stack of copies of everything that I had written,

and it was kind of like this, a stack.

When the stake president was talking about all I had written about women

in the priesthood was really wrong and I tried to come in to defend myself

doctrinally by quoting Joseph Smith and by using argument and reason.

In the middle of the sentence the stake president interrupted me and he said,

"We will not allow you to lecture us.

We will not allow you to use this kind of reasoning again.

You are only allowed to speak as we give you permission.”

And, of course, I mean, I just kind of stopped mid-sentence.

I couldn't go on, but you can imagine that this was...

I mean, you don't really feel like you have much of a defense.

Then they asked me to go out and they deliberated for about 20 minutes

and then brought me back in.

And the first thing that the stake president said to me is,

"I want you to know that the High Counsel is very impressed with you.”


"However, you are excommunicated.

We have found you to be an apostate.”

And everybody got up and they all wanted to shake my hand.

They're cutting me off from eternal salvation

and telling me that I am this apostate,

which really is considered very bad in Mormon culture,

and then I'm this nice woman that they're going to shake my hand.

And this... that niceness-- there's something...

there's something vicious about niceness that struck me in this,

that the niceness covered over the violence of what was being done,

because, in fact, excommunication is a violent action.

>> I think it is important to point out that the church never makes public

the transcripts of church disciplinary proceedings.

They never make press statements.

And, so, in every case where an intellectual has been excommunicated

from the church, the public is exposed to only one half of the story.

And I don't think it's ever possible to come fair

and just conclusions when we only have half the story.

>> Excommunication is a word that does and should send a chill down the spine

of Mormons because the entire structure of the family, which, in our belief,

will transcend death, becomes threatened if one of the members of that family

has suddenly jerked out of the fabric and told,

"By the way, this is binding here and there.”

That's why it sends a chill down your spine.

>> The most painful part about the excommunication is the way in which,

if you are part of a large Mormon family, it really does...

it really does hurt your relationship with your family.

My younger sister passed away a little over a year ago.

She died of cancer and one Mormon ritual is that when a person dies,

you dress them in their temple clothing before you bury them.

My brother-in-law, who's a very active Mormon,

very patriarchal if I can say that, he did not want my sister

and myself to be part of that.

He didn't want us to help dress her body.

I mean, and that... I mean, that cut me so deep.

I haven't gotten over it.

I don't know if I ever will.

>> All religious groups try to control their message.

And once in a while you'll have a heresy trial in this group or that group.

Mormonism is unique in the amount of activity that goes on

and also the extent to which the general membership is monitored.

Apparently there are files in Salt Lake City

on anybody who has raised embarrassing questions or might be a troublemaker.

What you have is a church that seeks to control its message

down into the membership to strengthen the church

and to make sure that its message is clear and consistent

and that dissent is limited to the greatest extent possible.

>> NARRATOR: The West is full of towns that arose one morning

when someone discovered gold and disappeared almost as soon

when the vein ran out.

From when homesteaders came out alone, totally unprepared for what lay ahead,

and then left without a trace.

But there are very few Mormon ghost towns.

They didn't go out as isolated individuals to make a fortune.

Brigham Young sent them out in groups,

as tribes of families to build communities that would last.

While the years of persecution set the Mormons apart,

it also drove them inward.

The family became their refuge and their source of strength.

The Mormons' preoccupation with the family

traces all the way back to the church's origins,

to the theological passions of Joseph Smith.

>> One of Joseph Smith's most interesting ideas is sealing.

He became deeply preoccupied with sealing families together--

husbands to wives, parents to children,

one generation to the previous generation.

And you say, why was he so preoccupied with sealing?

You look at the world around him

and he lived in a time when families are being dispersed,

when they're being broken, when children go off to the gold rush

or to the West and are never heard from or seen again.

Every time a family moves west, they're saying a good-bye.

This is a time of constant departure and farewell.

And to try to hold that family together, through sealing,

is in a way a solution to the problem of his time.

>> NARRATOR: Smith's concept of families sealed together for eternity

was part of his revelation on celestial marriage, which also endorsed polygamy.

>> Once polygamy no longer became possible, the big question was,

is the nuclear family still celestial in the ways

that polygamist families had been?

And the answer very quickly became yes,

and the nuclear family inherited both that super-heated quality

and that supportive quality that had gone into that investment in polygamy.

It's through and in and by and with the family that Mormons are saved

and it's how they think primarily of their relationship,

both to the afterlife and to the church as a whole.

>> Looks beautiful. Nice.

Lights up perfect.

>> The marriage that takes place in the temple

where a man and a woman are joined together, or as we term it,

sealed together, not just for time or until death does us part

but for time and all eternity,

is to me the high point really in religious experience

and in religious ceremony.

>> You don't get married by a justice of the peace or till death do you part.

You get married for time and all eternity.

I'm engaged and it's something that I've been contemplating a lot lately.

I love this guy.

Am I really ready to spend eternity with him?

He is going to be, like, attached to my hip not until I die but forever.

And that is a really important question.

It makes you approach marriage in a different way.

We look at the family as a really eternal unit

and you're making eternal commitments

and so you better have eternal priorities.

>> There probably isn't a religion today that doesn't claim to be

family centered, and with good reason.

Most religions are committed to the value of the family.

And still there's something different about the place of the family

in Mormon culture.

And I think it has to do with the way the family is understood in Mormonism

not as an entity of social organization,

but as an organization that has its roots in the pre-mortal world

and will persist into the eternal world.

>> NARRATOR: Annette and Timber Tillemann-Dick

of Denver, Colorado have 11 children.

Like many Mormons, their life together as a family comes first.

>> Repeat the words after me and then we're going to read it.

>> NARRATOR: Annette has home schooled her children

and sent some of them on to Ivy League schools.

Along with Timber, a busy and successful businessman,

she and the children reserve every Monday night, as do all active Mormons,

for family home evening.

>> ...all the blessings which you give us each and every day.

Help us to...

>> We have family home evening in our family, rain or shine, like it or not.

We bunker down together Monday nights and sing a few songs

and sometimes we'll have some really profound lesson or really fun activity,

and sometimes we'll just do family home evening

because we know we're supposed to do it.

And either way, it's really good for us to spend time together,

which is a rarity in today's world.

The church and my family are so intertwined

and I just can't begin to imagine trying to bifurcate those.

And when you come into a home that has priesthood leadership

and that has people living together focused on the same eternal goals,

it just creates a kind of aura of love and peace.

It makes your home a holy place.

>> Amen.

>> It's the Mormon fixation on the family as a coherent unit

that's so important.

In many other religious systems what is important is

the belief in the individual, the belief of the child, the belief of the parent,

the parent's belief transferred to the child

but the child still remains independent, an independent unit.

Within Mormonism there is an emphasis on the collective,

the collective sense of the family,

the collective sense of moral responsibility,

the collective sense of an enterprise.

>> ♪ And since my soul... ♪

>> NARRATOR: For devout Mormons, family life is centered

in the local congregation, or ward.

>> ♪ How great thou art ♪

>> Growing up Mormon was like growing up in a little ghetto village

where everyone knew you and you knew everyone.

Your entire life was woven into the lives of everyone else

in your congregation.

Your social activities, you had ward banquets and ward parties

and ward campouts and ward dances.

And all of the adults were involved in that too,

because they were driving us as kids here and there and there.

And so you got to know everyone and everyone knew you

and it was a great experience.

>> When I first moved out to Alpine, population of about 2,000,

virtually everybody in that town was Mormon.

And we'd go down to the welfare farm.

We'd all go down there-- butcher, baker, candlestick maker-- and we'd pick beans,

we'd hoe beets and laid out canneries and people would can the beans

we were picking and the beets we were hoeing and so on.

A brilliantly inspired program and you're doing it all together.

The sense of community is absolutely amazing.

>> One of the truly distinct features of the way Mormons organize themselves

is that they organize themselves geographically.

In no other faith community in the United States is it the case

that where you live absolutely determines where you will worship.

One would think that it would be a source of greater friction or discomfort

because you're thrown in with people that you don't willingly choose

to associate with until one remembers, oh, but usually we call that a family.

That's one of the explanations I think for this uniquely cohesive bond

that characterizes Mormon wards.

Since there's no professional clergy,

nobody gets paid and the service that is rendered is all voluntary.

You can find yourself working hours that are comparable to a second job.

>> NARRATOR: Mormon women work outside the home in about the same proportions

as other American women.

And the extensive commitment to the church and to family

can put enormous pressures on the mothers.

>> Mormon women are plagued with this perfect woman figure.

She bakes cookies and she bakes bread and she always looks wonderful

and she's never overweight and she's always smiling and... yes.

Totally impossible woman.

>> ♪ He is my Savior... ♪

>> In Mormonism you're told that your very eternal salvation

and the eternal salvation of your children is the thing that,

if you somehow make a false move--

you know, "Am I going to mess up my kid forever because I worked that job?"

Not just in this life and, you know, they may take drugs or something, but,

"Will they lose their eternal salvation?"

That is a horrible burden that you face.

>> It's incredible pressure on a woman and yes,

there is a strong use of anti-depressants in Utah,

higher levels than exist in other states.

You cannot attribute it exclusively to one set of social circumstances,

but there are great expectations on a woman.

>> So Jesus tracked him down and found him...

>> NARRATOR: In the Mormon faith, gender roles are ordained by the church.

Mormon fathers preside over their families and hold the priesthood

with authority to give blessings and healings.

Mormon mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of the children.

Many Mormon women find their role fulfilling,

but for others it is limiting.

>> There's a dichotomy that the church has.

It means that women and the work that they do in the church

is always subordinate to what the men are doing.

I see that as damaging to women because they're put in the role

of being under the power of the men.

It's not an equal partnership.

>> As a woman in the Mormon church I feel very comfortable.

I don't feel denied any opportunity to serve and to do good for people

in the church and in the wards and in our neighborhoods and so on.

In service do I feel limited?

The answer is no.

>> NARRATOR: In the 1970s, the Mormon view of family life gave rise

to the church's vigorous opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.

It played a critical role in defeating the E.R.A.,

urging its members to vote against it

and busing thousands of L.D.S. women to rallies.

And the church excommunicated one of the most outspoken Mormon feminists,

Sonia Johnson.

>> They're interested in stopping me

and stopping this organization called Mormons for E.R.A.

They want us to leave them alone out there and let them get the E.R.A.

killed and we can't do that, you know.

>> The equal rights amendment was threatening

because it changed the role of women from a nurturing helpmate to a man,

from a nurturing housewife staying at home taking care of the children

to someone who could now make those decisions for herself.

If women now started to compete with men for professional positions,

for becoming breadwinners, earning more perhaps than their spouses,

this threatened men as well as women.

The E.R.A. is not just about women.

The E.R.A. was about families, changing the role of men,

women, and indeed children.

>> NARRATOR: While the family is the spiritual core of Mormon life,

not everyone feels welcome at their table.

>> What about people who marry and for whatever reason don't have children?

Or the young woman who grows old without marrying?

Or the divorced person?

I mean, we... I think we can be quite hard, in a sense, unwittingly,

but nevertheless hard on those people in our culture

because we have cultural expectations, cultural ideals,

and if you measure up to them, it's a wonderful life.

If you don't, it could be very difficult.

>> Being gay in that culture is beyond hell

because the family is the center of Mormonism.

It is the sacred, potent unit,

and you don't even really want to make a family

if you choose to follow your instincts.

That's why when I went to the counselor I wanted to be cured so badly.

I fasted and I prayed and I went through this whole thing,

and I remember dating girls and then... and nothing worked.

And I just decided, "This year, I'm going to do it.”

And that's how I ended up marrying within two-and-a-half months

of meeting my poor, unfortunate wife.

We were determined to make it work.

We bought this paradisical place in Alpine in Utah.

I mean, I had everything I wanted-- the stream running through this place,

great big cottonwood trees,

a little log cabin with a big cobblestone room attached to it,

and we built and built and built and turned this little place

into a paradise.

And gradually these children come on the scene and it's heaven for them--

an acre and a third for them to run wild on--

and gradually, gradually , I realized that I had paradise

but I was an arid desert in my heart.

I'd wake up every day of my life thinking,

and this phrase would run through my head,

"And shot himself through the head.”

It made no sense but it made every sense,

and there was no running away from it.

I was committing a kind of spiritual suicide.

But the moment infidelity occurred, that was it,

the marriage was over and the excommunication process started.

And so there I was on this...

I'll never forget standing on the grass by the stream when she told me

that she had gone to the bishop.

That it was... you know, there was no future there.

That everything I'd wanted just was sort of...

I was standing on this stage in effect that I'd created, that it wasn't an act,

it wasn't a play that was built for me.

>> There is a single standard of morality for all members of the church.

The only marriage sanctioned by God is of a man to a woman.

So there is really no allowance within our doctrine

for a homosexual relationship of woman to woman or man to man.

And obviously that creates a lot of pain.

The thing that we have to ultimately say to someone like that

is if you're going to live your life within the framework of the gospel

and within the framework of our doctrine,

then you've got to choose to marry someone of the opposite sex,

and if you can't do that honestly,

then your choice has to be to live a celibate life.

And that is a very difficult choice, for the parents, for the young man,

the young woman, for whoever's making that choice.

My heart goes out to them.

>> There's something terribly tragic that not only Mormonism

but most religions have such a hard time with the odd ducks.

But the bottom line is most of us are odd to a greater or lesser extent

and embracing the odd duck to me is the measure of true religion.

True religion says, "You're weird but I love you nonetheless.”

That's what Jesus would have done.

And so, for me, it is a great failure that the family can only be the family,

almost by the Ozzie and Harriet definition,

and anything outside of that is not a family at all.

I have no bitterness toward the church, which surprises me.

I loved it dearly and I still love it.

I love Mormon people.

I love the notions of Mormonism, of teaching that you are an eternal soul.

You came from Heavenly Father

and you're here because our family was meant for you.

Kind of makes me terribly sad at times that I can't be in that place.

>> NARRATOR: For those Mormon families who do conform

to the church's doctrines, its core belief that families are forever

can forge a powerful bond.

For the Tillemann-Dicks, this faith has sustained them

through the serious health crisis of their 23-year-old daughter Charity.

>> I found out about my condition in my final steps to go on a mission.

I went to the doctors and they did the E.K.G. and the nurse's eyes popped.

They popped.

I wasn't wearing my contacts and I could still tell they popped.

And they came back and they told me that I had this condition,

primary pulmonary hypertension.

And I remember going home and looking it up on the internet,

and the first thing I found talked about a two-to-five-year mortality rate

for people that had this condition, period.

That, you know, you lived two to five years with this condition

and then you died.

I remember I just started sobbing.

I was crying and crying.


>> NARRATOR: Fearing the day they might never again hear the voice

of their daughter, an emerging young opera star,

Charity's family gathered for an emotional all-day recording session.

>> ♪ I see the stars I hear the rolling thunder ♪

I get melancholy sometimes.

I get sad.

I still have never been on a real date.

I have never had a boyfriend.

It's hard to think that I might never fall in love,

that I might never get married in the temple,

that I might never have children or adopt children.

It's hard to think that I might never see my little sisters

and my little brothers grow up.

I know that, whether it's in ten years or 10,000 years, that there's the hope,

there's the knowledge that not only will I see God my father again

but I will see and be with my sisters again,

and with my mother again and my father again.

♪ And grace will lead me home ♪

In the end, we will be together with our families.

And to know that we would be together was such a comfort, was such a comfort.

The knowledge that this really is going to happen,

that this isn't just something that we've been taught in Sunday school,

that this isn't just something that we've been told,

that this is something real, that we will go home

and I will see my mother and my father and I will see Glorianna

and Senneth and Mercina and Shiloh, that I'll see Liberty and Corbin and Kimber

and Levi and Dulcia and Tomikah, that I will be home.

♪ And grace will lead me home ♪

>> NARRATOR: Every religion has its rites and its mysteries.

They can give life meaning.

They can soften the ache of loneliness and the terror of death.

In their temple, Mormons are taught the plan of salvation

and through secret rituals, how to subdue the powers of death.

>> The temple is the holiest place on earth for the Mormon.

>> It is sacred space.

>> The temple is the meeting place between the infinite and the finite.

>> The temple exists as a kind of microcosm of that heavenly world

that we hope to inhabit.

>> What really is almost the universal symbol

throughout the history of mankind, of worship, of God,

the temple is something now that is almost lost except to this church.

And one of... really, one of the priceless things that Joseph Smith

restored or brought back to earth was a knowledge of what a temple was

and what should occur in a temple.

>> NARRATOR: It was here in the Mormon's first temple, in Kirtland, Ohio,

that Joseph Smith said he had an extraordinary vision

of his brother Alvin.

As a young man Alvin had died a painful death

before he could be baptized in Joseph's church.

>> His brother Alvin dies.

Presumably that prompted his reflections and his pondering

on the question of what is the status of the dead who died unbaptized

or without receiving the fullness of the gospel, and that precipitates a vision.

>> NARRATOR: Smith said that in a blaze of light he saw his brother

along with Jesus and several Old Testament figures.

Elijah appeared to Smith and gave the prophet the new and strange doctrine

of the baptism for the dead.

It would offer salvation to those in the afterlife

who had not yet heard the Mormon gospel.

This was the beginning of a series of revelations

that would transform Mormonism.

It became both a religion of the book and a religion of temple rites.

In the 19th century, the Mormons built temples in Ohio, Illinois and Utah.

By the middle of the 20th century, temples crossed America

from Los Angeles to New York.

Today, well over a hundred dot the world, from Russia and Japan

to Ghana and Chile.

Outsiders are not allowed in the temple except during the few weeks

before it is dedicated.

And Mormons who enter are not allowed to speak of much of what happens here.

>> And I remember that at that time there were certain things,

part of the rituals in the temple,

is that you made the sign of disemboweling yourself

and then also slitting your throat.

And you made this in conjunction with the promise that you made

that you would never reveal what goes on in the temple.

You would never reveal any temple rituals.

>> NARRATOR: These symbolic oaths were dropped in 1990,

but a secrecy vow remains for some of the rites.

>> It's, in a sense, secret because we don't talk about it

outside of the temple.

We do that only because it's a sacred thing to us

and when millions of people have participated in it

and kept it confidential to a large extent, it shows you, I think,

the seriousness with which that whole experience is taken.

>> Before any Latter-day Saint can enter into the temple,

he or she must have what's called a temple recommend.

You need to show that you are committed enough that you are paying your tithing,

that you're living the word of wisdom, that you're faithful to your spouse

and those kinds of things.

>> There are serious consequences for failing to qualify

for a temple recommend.

Among them are the fact that you can't hold a higher position

in church administration.

You can't work for the church in, say, B.Y.U.

or in other church-affiliated institutions.

You cannot marry in the temple;

you cannot go to the temple to see your own children married

if you are not worthy to have a temple recommend.

So, it is a process of excluding people

in order to refine their religious devotion.

>> NARRATOR: Mormons say they enter the temple and leave ordinary life behind.

They change into white garments.

It is a place of silence broken only by whispering.

There is no central nave as in a cathedral.

There are no sermons or crosses.

There is no religious worship in the usual sense.

Instead there are a series of rooms where Mormons perform ceremonies

for the living and the dead that they feel are essential for salvation;

rooms where Mormons are married for eternity;

others where they are sealed to their children for all time.

>> The first time that I went to the temple

I think I was impressed by the beauty, the sheer beauty, of those rooms

and how they were painted and trees and fruit and birds,

how people dressed in all white-- white shoes, socks, belts, shirts, dresses,

everything all white-- how ethereal that is.

It's like being in a group of angels.

>> NARRATOR: In the endowment room in a ceremony all temple Mormons undergo,

they watch a filmed drama of the plan of salvation and are taught secret signs

and phrases that after death will enable them to return to God.

>> When I first went to the L.D.S. temple and received my endowments,

all I can do is describe it as I really had a mystical experience

where the temple ritual, which is set out as a journey of Adam and Eve,

that there was a way in which I connected to it

on a very deep spiritual level.

>> It was shocking to me because it was so ritualistic,

and I had heard missionaries mocking Catholics with all their incense

and ritual and all of a sudden I was in the middle of this experience,

not only watching it, but doing it.

And it was really shocking to me, and...

but at the same time there was a kind of...

there was a sweetness to it that grabbed me up to a point.

>> NARRATOR: In every temple there is an immense baptismal font

where proxy baptisms for the dead are conducted day and night.

Mormons are not just baptizing their own ancestors,

but all those who died not knowing that they could be members

of the Mormon church.

>> If Jesus is the savior of mankind and if hearing his gospel is necessary

for salvation, what about those who have never heard of Jesus?

And the answer is if they don't hear it in this life they, we believe,

go to a spirit world following this life and it is in that realm

that they are able to hear the gospel and they can decide

whether they're going to accept it or whether they're going to reject it.

And if they do accept it, then we believe that there is still a need

for certain religious ceremonies to be performed for them.

One of those is baptism.

>> I remember doing this as a teenager myself,

and we would go in there and there's a man who holds the priesthood

who is baptizing you, and your turn comes up and you go down into the font

and you're baptized for a bunch of names at a time-- maybe 20 names.

And this time he had a little computer screen where the name of the person

you were being baptized for would appear,

and he would hold you by the hand, raise his hand to the right and say,

"Elbert Peck, for and on behalf of Joseph Schwenden,"

or whoever, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son,

and the Holy Ghost," and he'd immerse you in the water and you'd come out.

>> I've thought a lot about the baptism for the dead phenomenon.

It may be theologically tenuous, but it speaks to a genuine human need

to be linked to past generations and to, in some sense, take one...

take responsibility for one's ancestors.

And, so, even though I don't advocate baptism for the dead,

I don't see it as a purely flaky kind of thing.

>> When I found out that Mormons are baptizing the Jews, Holocaust survivors,

one word, it was shocked.

Second word, how can they do it?

Third was, why do they do it?

Because it was, in a way, an unbelievable experience for me

to find out that somebody can baptize another person after the person died.

I am a Jew.

I was born as a Jew.

6,000,000-- my brothers and my friends and my family-- were killed

because they were Jews, so I wanted them to be Jews.

I wanted them to remain Jews and I didn't want anybody later on--

100, 200 years from now-- to tell me that my parents were not Jewish

because somewhere in the archives in the Mormon church there is my father's name,

my mother's name is listed as a gentile, as a Mormon person.

This was, to me, painful.

>> We haven't wanted as a church to just, you know,

assert our first amendment right and say, "Well, this is what we believe.

This is our doctrine and the devil may care.”

That isn't our intent at all.

That is why in 1995 we entered into an arrangement with them.

At that time we, in a sense, took out of our records those Holocaust survivors,

or Holocaust victims, for whom we had performed temple work

and we have been actually very diligent since in not sending to our temples

Jewish names unless they were sent by Jewish members of our church

who have sent in the names of their own relatives.

>> NARRATOR: Despite the controversy,

the Mormon effort to baptize the world's dead continues,

and they have mobilized an army of volunteers around the world

to root out the names of people they believe might still be saved.

>> There is literally a mountain of names in one extraordinary structure

outside of Salt Lake City, and indestructible.

I am told that even a direct hit by an atomic bomb,

something like an asteroid collision, would have to occur to wipe it out.

>> NARRATOR: Of the seven billion names of the dead

which have ever been recorded, approximately two billion

have already been collected by Mormon volunteers and stored here.

And today Mormons have baptized well over 100 million deceased people.

>> Genealogy is a core ritual in Mormonism.

As the living Mormon, you are the center of this great exchange.

You are a part of creating this vast network, this interconnection,

of people who've lived in the past and in the future.

And so genealogy is something Mormons feel very connected to.

>> NARRATOR: The Family History Library in Salt Lake City

is one of approximately 2,000 L.D.S. genealogical research libraries

across the world.

Their complete records are now online

and open to non-Mormons and Mormons alike.

The archives are clearly tapping into an almost universal hunger

for family history.

>> I wasn't really interested in genealogy.

I didn't even like my family.

I had been hurt and abused verbally and just, you know,

and to realize that my salvation was dependent upon their salvation

and then to do genealogy, going and discover that my grandmother was raised

on Oakley plantation, I had never come to grips with the fact that my folks

not too far removed was the slaves that we talk about.

And, so, now it's like I can go forward four generations and go backwards three,

and when I started in the church I didn't even know

who Betty Stevenson was.

And it's hard to explain the spiritual connection that I now feel

to my ancestors.

>> NARRATOR: Those spiritual connections to the eternal family

are at the core of the Mormon religion.

And that belief system was at the center

of this believer's greatest spiritual crisis.

He and his wife risked everything for their faith.

>> We had seven children and most people would think that they were complete

or well beyond complete.

We struggled with that.

Marla struggled with it a lot because she had this sense of someone missing.

There is another child there, another spirit,

waiting to come to earth, to mortality.

There's another child there that is part of our family.

We prayed about it.

We spent time on our knees together asking God,

is this something that God wants us to do

and is there really another spirit child there for us?

I believe that we lived before we came to the earth,

that we lived before this life as spirit children of our heavenly father,

and somehow, in that pre-existence, our family that we have developed here,

we were connected there as well and we're not yet complete.

And so we decided to have another child and it wasn't an easy decision.

My wife was 42, and just being 42 and having had seven children

already makes you a high risk case and having gestational diabetes

adds to that, and so there were a number of risks,

and so it wasn't a decision that we made lightly.

And the baby was born, a little boy.

Named him David William.

It was extremely difficult for her.

She really had to give everything that she had

to bring that baby into the world.

Following the delivery, she had a blood clot,

which had gone to her heart and lungs.

And they told me there was nothing they could do,

that there was no brain function, that she had passed away.

I was totally unprepared for that.

I'm hurt.

I'm wounded.

Someone has just torn at my heart.

I still miss her horribly.

If I knew that...

I guess if I have to be honest, knowing what I know now, would I do it again?

There are days when I would say no, I wouldn't...

I wouldn't do it again because it came with a terrible price.

But I believe firmly that I will see my wife again,

and that we will be together again, that our family will be reunited again,

and that this is not the end.

And we'll hold each other and we'll cry and we'll laugh

and it will be very much like it is now, except better.


I don't know how others who stand on the brink of eternity and face death,

how they could deal with that without an overwhelming,

despairing sense of loss.

It brings me tremendous comfort to know that I have made covenants

and promises in the temple with my wife that continue on.

>> The temple exists as a kind of vehicle

through which we conquer mortality.

We go to the temple and our relationships with other human beings

are rendered permanent and eternal in defiance of death.

There are scriptures in the Book of Mormon,

there are quotations from Brigham Young, that emphasize not a single atom

or particle of our bodies will be lost,

but everything will be reconstituted as fully as it was.

It's almost a kind of celebration of the totality of triumph over death;

not only will something remain, but everything will be reconstituted

as it was.

>> What is the essence of religion?

Sigmund Freud said it was the longing for the father.

Others have called it the desire for the mother or for transcendence.

I fear deeply that all these are idealizations

and I offer the melancholy suggestion that they would all vanish from us

if we did not know that we must die.

Religion rises inevitably from our apprehension of our own death

to give meaning to meaninglessness is the endless quest of all religion.

When death becomes the center of our consciousness,

then religion authentically begins.

Of all religions that I know,

the one that most vehemently and persuasively defies

and denies the reality of death, is the original Mormonism of the prophet,

seer and revelator, Joseph Smith.

>> NARRATOR: For more than 175 years,

the Mormon story has played out across the American landscape and,

increasingly, on the world stage.

It is the story of a people fired by a bold religious faith

who have struggled to find a way to stand with America

and still preserve the power of the very distinct beliefs

that can leave them standing apart.

>> Mormonism is extraordinarily successful.

Mormons have huge numbers of worldwide converts

as well as millions of Americans who follow the movement.

And yet there's still an odd limiting factor about modern Mormonism,

that somehow it's a religion that isn't respected.

The peculiarity of Mormonism is that on the one hand

it's a profoundly historical religion for which evidence is sorely lacking,

and yet that has never prevented Mormons from believing deeply

in their religion.

They believe in that history as a matter of faith

and yet at the same time they practice a modern faith that dedicates itself

to the reconstruction of the individual, the reconstruction of the family,

the reconstruction of the community, and the reconstruction of society.

So that, in the end, Mormonism is part of the modern religious

and political landscape.

And yet it's separate, it's apart.

All religious systems have to move beyond their own creation.

The question is, can Mormonism do it?

Can it survive the present?

Can it move into the future?

>> Next time on Frontline:

>> They went into houses and killed women and children.

>> Was it a war crime or self defense?

>> The platoon commander told them to clear the houses.

"Clear" means to eliminate the threat.

>> How can a child in pajamas be considered a threat?

>> The inside story of what happened at Haditha.

>> We know the Iraqi people aren't the enemy, but our enemy hides among them.

>> "Rules of Engagement." Watch Frontline.

>> Next time on American Experience:

>> Kit Carson is the living, breathingsymbol of the American frontier.

>> To some he is a great American hero...

>> Kit Carson was this larger-than-life figure.

>> others an unflinching killer.

>> His tactics causes great suffering.

>> The epic story of the man who showed America the way west.

>> Carson was the field agent ofmanifest destiny.

>> "Kit Carson," next time on American Experience.


  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv