I grew up in the capital of Mormonism, the heart of Salt Lake Valley. I straddled the two dominant cultures in that valley and experienced tension in my relation to both of those cultures. I lived and went to Church on the west side while through my Junior High and High School years, I went to two prestigious east side public schools courtesy of open enrollment laws. I was bussed. I never really fit into either culture. I was left an island unto myself.
The east side is a collection of families that make up the wealth of Utah. In 1975, these families contained many of the General Authorities, members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, those of wealthy pioneer stock, business owners, university professors, real estate professionals, and those with land. The west side was an outgrowth of President Monson’s Pioneer Stake in Rose Park. They were the working class, the poor, inflowing Polynesian, Latin, and Asian minorities from Vietnam. The outgrowth of Rose Park became West Valley City, Taylorsville, Kearns, Magna, and West Jordan. These communities each had elements of the working class and had sizeable minority populations.
By the 1980’s satellite gangs from Los Angeles set up shop there with a large contingency of Crip gangs becoming very prevalent. There were great influxes of young Mormon families in the 1970’s on the west side because of the affordability of the new phenomenon of starter homes. Within 15 years, most of them left for the richer and more prosperous pastures of the south side of the Salt Lake Valley, or the families that could afford it. Now you fast forward 30 years and the West side has become a sub-cultural wasteland of poverty, crime, and blight. The boundaries have triangulated, with the east side moving ever eastward and what has been considered the west side creeping eastward as well to 13th East. The old Mormon families have left the East side (or died off), which has been filled by nominal numbers of cultural leftists, ex-Mormons, gay-friendly, and California transplants. The East side and downtown are essentially like any other city with large numbers of affluent cultural leftists with poverty sinkholes south and west of the downtown area. Mormon families are migratory in Utah and have crept towards the exterior southern and western boundaries of the county. They search out new developments that are cheap and offer the Utah ideal of a single family home with green lawns. They shun diversity and select areas with tight, well-structured wards with people that think and act exactly as they do. Even gated communities are making inroads. I believe modern Mormonism may have invented urban sprawl. If they are in an area where blight creeps in, they creep out, or the ones that can afford it, leaving the few poorer families behind to run a ward that is essentially in every way, the same as wards in other poverty-stricken areas of the country. This means that the greater concentration of Priesthood is in areas where they aren’t needed, and that the lesser concentration is in areas where the need is desperate.
The bad feelings that exist in Salt Lake County reflect this. The east siders think the west siders deserve what they have, that they earned the money, so they have been blessed with big homes, toys, and other luxuries. I explicitly heard this from my peers at my affluent east-side high school. The west siders resent the east siders and it reflects in their spiritual health, their mood disorders, their rebellious dress and music, and the perpetuity of generational poverty. When I left the west side schools in 1990 there were identity groups: the goths, the metalheads, the gang-bangers, the skaters, etc. On the east side, those groups were there but it was if I was in Connecticut with the vast majority of youth sporting preppy looks. They were busy padding their scholastic resumes for BYU, Harvard, Stanford, or other prestigious schools.
There is a sense of economic repression here. Because of ward structures, many jobs and economic opportunities are kept within affluent areas. Cronyism and nepotism run rampant, as well as get-rich-quick schemes and real estate speculation. Those LDS on the west side are left out, while the increasing non-LDS population feels a little boot on their backs as well. It’s no wonder we are a Prozac state with all of this subconscious rich Mormon guilt and the economic repression of their west side brethren along with the passive shunning of those that don’t fit into the rich ward monoculture. My question in all of this is what ever happened to Zion?
In my studies, it was no surprise that is was never really there. The doctrine that we read from Joseph Smith was never followed very well by the early Saints. We idealize the pioneer spirit of the past, but only in their sufferings did they ever come together temporarily. Normally, they were plagued by the same problem we are with respect to property and wealth. We all know of the vagaries that plagued Kirtland following the failure of Joseph’s bank. We also know of the failure of the Saints to follow the law of consecration in Jackson County in 1833. Let’s also remember the abandonment of the poor on the banks of the Mississippi. These difficulties had issues related to the feelings of deservedness of property and wealth. I will relate two other examples.
In 1838 when the Saints were moving to Far West, Oliver Cowdery, WW Phelps, and the Whitmer brothers homesteaded large tracts of property and were going to sell them to the saints to profit by it. This was opposed by Joseph, who ordered them to give it away. This and other feelings of perceived arrogance and overstepping boundaries by Joseph Smith caused the excommunication of all of those men, two of which were Book of Mormon witnesses. They didn’t want to follow the new economic laws. In 1842-44, Robert Foster was a wealthy real-estate developer in Nauvoo, owning part of the ground where the temple was constructed as well as other projects. There is some evidence according to Richard Bushman that his disaffection with Joseph started over Joseph’s insistence that the personal projects be postponed until the temple was built, something that put Foster’s personal financial state in limbo. The polygamy problem with his wife was a later outgrowth of the initial money matter. Indeed, it appears that almost every problem, persecution, disaffection, and eventually migration were problems that stemmed from property and money, not doctrine. Even the non-Mormons that colluded to expel the Saints had more to do with coveting cheap, developed property as with any inherent bigotry.
There are some bright spots. The Brigham Young era was especially successful in its cooperatives, socialist experiments, and disseminations of money and property. Indeed, the successes lasted until he Federal government forced the Saints to sell off their cooperatives as part of gaining statehood. It appears, however, that after 1860 and the railroad that class stratifications were beginning to become more apparent and have continued onward until today. The Red Scare further chased off any lingering ideas about having things in common. Mormons had fully embraced the JP Morgan ideal.
This ugly economic spot in Mormon culture has been endemic to every people of God in every scriptural text save the people of Enoch and the early Christians in Antioch. If people want to throw Mormonism under the bus because of the treatment they get from other Mormons, they are in the company of the Nephites, the Jaredites, the Israelites, and the Jews. People of God have a pattern of not handling prosperity very well. The true order has always had the hardest time following the personal economic laws of sufficiency.
Mormons have been especially susceptible because of the ancestry of the early Mormon faith. In the early Church most Mormon converts were Methodist, Presbyterian, or Anglican. These faiths were steeped in Calvinism, predestination, prosperity=blessings from God, etc, and the idea that if you were wealthy that it was because you were righteous. This false doctrine was difficult to beat out of the heads or early saints, and it has carried on as false traditions of the fathers unto our generation where we venerate utilitarian capitalism as the expense of explicit commandments of economic sufficiency in the Doctrine & Covenants. It’s no wonder that Heber C. Kimball said in 1968 that “. . . Salt Lake will be classified among the wicked cities of the world. A spirit of speculation and extravagance will take possession of the Saints, and the result will be financial bondage. Persecution comes next, and all true Latter-day Saints will be tested to the limit. Many will apostatize, and others will stand still, not knowing what to do . . .”
Looks like many of us will be in financial bondage by the end of the year.