It has only been in recent years that I have slowly become aware that not every convert to the Church shares my deep identification with the Mormon pioneers. I have loved the epic story of the trek to the Salt Lake Valley. I appreciate its archetypal connotations. My heart thrills with the stories of the pioneer heroes and heroines, and I consider each of their stories part of my legacy as a Mormon, though my LDS heritage begins with myself.
In the last few years there has been some grumbling by members who don’t have Mormon pioneers in their genealogy that it annoys them to celebrate the July 24th holiday, a commemoration of the day the first company of pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. I think partly to appease these voices, there has been an emphasis on “modern-day pioneers”–those who lead the way for others to follow and who blaze trails in other ways than traditionally recognized. There’s a relatively new Primary song, “I Can Be a Modern-Day Pioneer,” there are more talks given by General Authorities on the subject, and there are articles such as the latest Mormon Times article “Pioneer Journeys of a Different Era.” There is a sudden dearth of Pioneer Day activities in wards outside of Utah, and in our ward last Sunday the only talk which mentioned pioneers emphasized modern-day contributions rather than those who crossed the plains.
I just want to register a caution to those who wish to move away from the traditional veneration of these honorable forebears. I want to remember their devotion to a faith that meant more to them than life itself. Social scientists often point to the Jewish culture and theorize that the reason it survived through so many years and the scattering of the people to so many different places was the very persecution which caused them to band together in small groups, and their longing remembrance of their homeland.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
This Psalm is a poignant lyrical device for recalling the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and its arrival in the promised land. It acts as an earnest reminder both to the exiled Israelites and to later biblical readers of the importance of the promised land for the celebration of the Jewish faith. Now that we Latter-day Saints experience little real persecution, and the importance of our history and sacred places is beginning to wane, are we in danger of losing some valuable aspect of our culture? Are we losing our Psalms, our legends, our traditional customs and stories?
I’d like to hear what our readers think. Do you feel a connection to the Mormon pioneers? Or do you think the holiday is unnecessary, especially to LDS of other cultures living in many different countries of the world? Should we attempt to graft new converts in to the Utah Mormon pioneer heritage, or should we transfer our loyalties to “modern-day pioneers?”