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.
Fascinating post. Thanks. (And from one so young, judging by the picture; yet so wise)
I didn’t grow up in Utah, so I had no idea there was such an economic divide. I did grow up in a pretty well-to-do ward, although I did not see class warfare between those who had money and those who did not. In fact, I think I’ve been pretty fortunate in the majority of my wards, that those who have had money don’t flaunt it, and they treat everyone else as equals. (There were likely exceptions I didn’t know about)
As for myself, I have recently come into money (graduated; so I have a negative net worth, but a positive income) and am constantly on guard that I don’t try to show off new things too much, or just buy too many new things, for that matter. I don’t want to be the subject of anyone’s envy. This may not be a healthy attitude, but I think that to the degree I can prevent reasonable envy, I will try to do so.
I believe you meant 1868 with that Heber C. Kimball prophecy.
You find the same phenomenon in every city in the United States. There is nothing particularly Mormon about it. If you want to fault Mormons because they should act different, then there is a point to be made. However, I’ve long since given up on Mormons acting differently than those around them. That’s not a boast or a complaint, just the way I see things.
Great post Peter–very informative. I grew up in happy Davis County, so I missed a lot of this stuff.
“prosperity=blessings from God”
I’m going to write a post on this in a while. I think this misconception is a huge one in the church, in the sense that prosperity means material wealth. If it is from God, we are given money for one reason – to help others. That is pretty clear. So I don’t have a problem with people making a lot of money, just that they give it away to good causes.
Plus you have all the people (That Pres. Kimball was talking about) in Utah County and elsewhere that are in financial trouble BECAUSE they “speculated” and have failed. They may have thought that since they were righteous, they would make big $.
My thoughts and experiences exactly! Even in Wards outside of Utah, wealth, class, age, and ethnicity can divde people. Should it? No, Does it always? probably not. A lot depends on the local leadership to some degree.
AdamF, Great idea for a post. Check out 2 Nephi 28:26. I just gave this lesson in SS and it touched on that very issue. Some good material out there. But, it’s funny, I think the church likes it both ways. We preach against “the Love of Money,” but then we promote those that are famous, rich, sucessful, etc.
Interesting historical review, Peter. I too grew up outside Utah so I was not familiar with most of what you said. I still marvel at the fact that when two people who grew up in Utah meet, they immediately ask what high school they went to, and then they immediately know exactly where each other grew up. I always wondered if that was a more tactful way to explore each others’ socioeconomic background.
I see two doctrinal hang ups that may mislead Mormons into thinking that prosperity = blessings from God. The Book of Mormon repeatedly promises that the righteous will prosper in the land. So those who come into prosperous circumstances are likely to view it as a sign of their righteousness. This is where the “deservedness” of their riches comes in.
Then there are the quotes, from Joseph Fielding Smith’s “Doctrines of Salvation,” I believe, about how our position in this life is a result of our faithfulness in the pre-existence. I’ve heard some quote this as an explanation about why the poor are poor, and why the rich are rich. This reinforces the concept of the “deservedness” of riches, but also adds another layer: the “deservedness” of poverty.
Of course, the overall problem with such an attitude is that it lessens the rich’s sense of obligation to help the poor. After all, if I “deserve” my riches due to my righteousness both now and in the pre-existence, and if the poor are obviously suffering the results of their bad choices both in this life and the previous one, then who am I to intervene and alleviate the suffering that God, in His wrath, hath thrust upon them?
How do I not be part of the problem?
I’m going to cry foul on this one as well. I grew up in Utah (both happy valley and SLC) and I have to say that while there was a class/economic divide, I was able to cross back and forth. I grew up poor, went to college on grants and scholarships, and had friends from every socioeconomic area.
I don’t think it’s a Mormon thing. It might be a religious thing, but it’s certainly not unique to Mormons.
I wonder at your reason for this post.
Great telepathy there. Mr. Car-nak, I presume? I think this is an unfounded conclusion. There are several reasons why people choose to live in cheaper, greener, quieter suburbs, and few of them have to do with conformity or racism.
Maybe they just like living somewhere where they don’t have to get their cars and homes broken in to. Maybe the diversity they like doesn’t include “diversity of adherence to lawful practices.” I’m moving away from my “diverse neighborhood” (whatever that is supposed to mean) to more wealthy suburb because it’s costing me too damn much to keep replacing my belongings and repair vandalism. The only “people that think and act exactly as they do” that I’d like are people who keep their hands off the stuff in my house and in my car dashboard.
Another item taken by faith alone, which fails to convince under even the lightest scrutiny.
I’m having a really hard time getting through your post because of all these erroneous assumptions and unfounded statements. The biggest one is that somehow Utah and/or Salt Lake=Mormonism (e.g. “modern Mormonism” “ugly economic spot in Mormon culture” etc). Having only lived in Utah briefly, I can categorically state that that is not the case, and it is to our (Mormons outside Utah) consternation. I *hate* having SLC natives and Utahns state what “Mormon culture” is, because it almost always reflects SLC culture, or Provo culture, or BYU culture.
I and may of my non-pioneer-stock friends call the way the church runs in Utah “the Church of The Wasatch Front” for its odd and non-doctrinal practices. We also end up having to re-educate Utah transplants not only on doctrinal issues, but social issues as well, once they arrive in our wards.
The issues that the SLC valley is grappling with are endemic to *all* urban centers. It is not a “Mormon thing”, it is an urban-dynamic-thing. SLC and UT natives need to get over themselves, and realize they are not special.
What David Clark said. It’s hard, in the middle of a place, to get the perspective that your community’s hang-ups are unique. (The post kind of reminds me of my grandmother-in-law, who used to tell my wife how dangerous her city was. Her city? Dayton, OH. Where was my wife? The Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. But you should see the Dayton local news; if that’s your exposure to the world, Dayton’s definitely a dangerous place.) (Actually, it also reminds me of another distant relative in Sandy, UT, who decided not to send her kids to public schools because the schools in Sandy are dangerous. As compared with where?)
That’s not to say we shouldn’t be better, but white-flight and racial/socioeconomic divisions in cities are as old as, I don’t know, cities themselves, maybe? In any event, they predate Salt Lake City, and Mormonism itself.
however…if the point of your post was to get people to come out of the woodwork and comment…mission accomplished. 😉
(2) John, thanks. Yes, it was 1868.
(3) David, yes, that was my point partially. We struggle from the same human tendencies that other righteous societies have. I was partly trying to disarm those that are dissaffected because of socioeconomic reasons, and partly trying to challenge the saints to be more consecrated with their personal economics.
(6) Andrew, thanks for bringing that up. I think there is a struggle to relate prosperity to righteousness because it is doctrinally accurate, but often misinterpreted. What I’m concerned is the automatic indication or the causality inherent in Calvinism that has bled over from our Methodist and Presbyterian roots–the idea that being rich automatically justifies a person in the eyes of God, and being poor does not, as a presdestinative factor. I think the doctrine of prosper is that you will have sufficient for your needs, not opulance. Opulance is indicative of pride. I also think that there are cases where one is righteous but their trial is to live in poverty. Joseph Smith wasn’t particularly a wealthy man–he was in debt up to his ears. But as a general rule, the righteous do prosper.
(7) Bruce, I have a couple of suggestions. Don’t support zoning laws that group all affordable housing in one part of the neighborhood. I think it’s best if affordable housing is spead around. You learn to accept what is sufficient for your needs and find ways to consecrate your surplus to the poor. You learn to live a modest, not opulant life. Live within your means. It’s better to be house poor and cash flow rich. If you are a business owner, you follow fair labor laws and open up positions to all applicants, not just those in your family and ward. Don’t be afraid to live in wards where things are different of where Priesthood is needed, or where there is some diversity-even in Utah. Those are just a few ideas.
(9) Nate, this was anecdotal. If you’re expecting a demographic market study, you’re mistaken. You can take it or leave if for the voice in which it was offered. This was my experience and the experience of many that I know who live in different subcultures along the Wasatch. Let me also state that when I am presenting Mormon culture in this post, it is Utah (specifically SL County Mormonism that I am talking about). Blame the editing. I have a little experience with other Mormon cultures (Sacramento, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, BYU, Provo, and now Southern Utah which is a whole new ball of wax), but I have ALOT of experience with Salt Lake County, so thats my context. Being Mormon in an area where our demographics run 40%-70%, I’m concerned that we are suffering the same problems endemic of other urban areas. We should be a cut above, as Joseph and Brigham would want us to be.
(8) Cory, I as well went to BYU on grants. BYU was very accommodating to socioeconomic blending. I had friends from the Marriott family as well as from Palestine and the inner city of Los Angeles. There are ways to bridge the divide, but I never experience it in high school. Maybe it was that I was a Kearns kid at Skyline, who knows. Maybe you were the exception to the rule. I tend to think that socioeconomics don’t mix as well as your experience may suggest.
The purpose of this post is stated my my response to David (#3)
Cool to break down the city in a way. I’ve spent a bit of time in Provo, but only passed through SLC. I think it’s funny, in my experience “Utah Mormons” have almost always been seen as the “outsiders” to everywhere I’ve been outside of Utah. When a person being asked where their from, replies, “Utah.” I’ve often heard the answer, “Oh…” Haha. I think while the US is quite isolated as a country, Utah is even more so. I am great friends with many Utahns but it’s obvious there’s a huge difference living in Utah as a member compared to most places elsewhere. A couple random thoughts through in there. Sorry to go off topic.
I come from the west side of the Salt Lake valley and now I live in the south part of the valley. I grew up in poverty in Magna, and now I’m middle class. By far, the people here are far more “quality” people than the people out in Magna where I grew up. I’m not sorry to say this. It just is a fact. I still go out to Magna all the time. The people out in Magna are good members of the Church as well, but by far have much less aspirations than people that have left. People that have left don’t want to be surrounded by the little Mexico that parts of Magna, Kearns and West Valley have become, simply because they don’t want to have to deal with the drugs and bad environment their children would be subjected to. On the other hand, the Latinos that live around me that I know well in the South Valley are extremely quality people. I’m not sorry to say that it seems there is indeed a correlation between the amount of money people make and the quality of people that live in an area. And people that are true quality people usually end up leaving those places because they simply do not want to be surrounded by it. So in a lot of ways I agree with what you are saying. On the other hand, its not usually anybody’s fault that they don’t make as much money as other people, because they could lift themselves out of it if they really had the ambition to do it. I did it. Anybody can seek a better profession and use pel grants and student loans to lift themselves out of the blyte of Magna. And it isn’t their fault if the rest of Magna doesn’t seem to want to follow them. My family goes back in Magna to Brigham Young’s day, and I will never be entirely divorced of it because it is literally in my blood. I’m related to a good portion of the original inhabitants. But the negative things of Magna will never be a part of me. I had a very unhappy experience at Brockbank Jr. High and Cyprus. It was a terrible environment with a bunch of people that I simply did not like that treated me badly. So I’m sorry to say that Magnanians to a large degree are exactly what they make themselves to be.
(14) Magnanians? Kearnsians? West Valleyians? Hehe. Anothing thing this city needs to do is follow the Nashville-Davidson model and incorporate the whole valley and keeps the existing city as buroughs or districts. The way SLC is set up has been proved in city development planning to be extremely inefficient. You also have areas like Kearns, Magna, White City, etc. that cannot afford to incorporate and West Valley and Sandy grab up all of the taxable corporate zones, leaving the residential zones with no income tax base to incorporate.
Geroge, I have done the same thing. I have left Kearns, although my parents haven’t and can’t afford to. I’ll never move back. You can’t go backwards and its hard to unslum a slum, although we as a Mormon people could choose to move back downtown and rescue it from the cultural barbarians, elitists, and nare-do-wells. As we look forward, we should set up cities that incorporate affordable housing into the mix and try to spread it out. If I am a stake looking at ward boundaries, I would integrate.
I also had a very unhappy experience at Jefferson Jr. I witnessed a kid take a gun out in school and then chase the vice principle. The school was in lockdown. I was then bussed to Churchill Jr on the WAY other side in Olympus Cove, President Hickley’s and Faust’s old stomping grounds. I may as well moved from Cincinatti to Hartord. I was not accepted in either location.
“The old Mormon families have left the East side (or died off), which has been filled by nominal numbers of cultural leftists”
You come off like an economic leftist with an axe to grind.
You put this huge negative spin on this like Mormons are doing bad to (a) leave areas of higher crime (b) want places their kids can play safely outside. Surely why this happens is quite understandable, isn’t it?
Could you avoid this without having a centralized theo-centric decision about who lives where? And is it reasonable to expect that central control?
Put an other way I think you assign to individual morality what is more a structural issue.
What was it Hugh Nibley said- “In Zion, there will be no East Bench nor west side of the valley.”?
(16) “You come off like an economic leftist with an axe to grind.”
Mike, I am a leftist if you mean I voted for Bush, voted for Romney in the primaries and considered voting for Ron Paul. I’ll agrue anyone under the sun about the benefits of supply-side economics as a macro-fiscal governmental policy. Taxes are anthema to me. That being said, I don’t believe that capitalism is the Lord’s way. I believe in the economic system outined in the D&C, consecration of surplus and the maximization of sufficiency, not utility.
(17) Y”ou put this huge negative spin on this like Mormons are doing bad to (a) leave areas of higher crime (b) want places their kids can play safely outside. Surely why this happens is quite understandable, isn’t it?
Could you avoid this without having a centralized theo-centric decision about who lives where? And is it reasonable to expect that central control?”
Sure, I’m advocating personal responsibility and a sense of community, sufficiency, making do, and zoning and city ordinances that don’t punish the poor. People just need to behave like they have pledges themselves in the temple to do. There is no need for the bishop to plan residences.
And as far as the crime thing goes, if we didn’t expect quid pro quo of a convert baptism when we hold neighborhood barbeques, if we integrated ourselves more with our existing communities, we would attract the kind of people that generally shun crime in our existing neighborhoods. As a last resort you have to put your family’s security first. But I’m asking, how did it get this way? It got that way from neglect. How many of us attend or city planning or council meetings?
When I was a young boy, my neighborhood in Kearns was 80% LDS. It had the largest primary in the Church, and a very stable and inviting neighborhood. In the 1990’s greed and Jonesmanlike behavior saw many of the LDS in our ward move out in droves. Instead of maintaining and fixing up their homes and making do as their parents did, they just threw them away and went after the stucco. It wasn’t an issue of crime, it was an issue of pride.
I heard or read a statement that said most people believe that poverty begets crime, but the fact is that crime drives out the those that can afford to leave and leaves the poor behind that cannot move.
Also, I agree that it isn’t a bad thing to want to protect yourself and family from these negative influences whether in your neighborhood or your school.
Peter…fantastic post…I really enjoyed the read and subject matter. Your last sentence made me laugh. Thank you again and I must say that I agree with your conclusions. The US is in tremendous debt as is the UK. And UTAH has for many years been the banckruptcy capital of America. My father and I both conclude that Mormons have this feeling that obtaining riches is equal to obtaining God’s blessing…but this is a false reality.
Thank you for detailing this and drawing some forseeable options for the future. Though dire and somewhat bleak, I fear the same.
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 . . .”
He was known for the quality of his prophecies.
Nibley felt strongly the same way.
I don’t think it’s a Mormon thing. It might be a religious thing, but it’s certainly not unique to Mormons. and The issues that the SLC valley is grappling with are endemic to *all* urban centers. It is not a “Mormon thing”, it is an urban-dynamic-thing.
Of course it is a human thing, which is why he is writing about it, in the context of how it affects us and the Church.
I’m looking forward to the next in this series.
It is just sad to think that active, beleiving LDS would fail prey to the same sort of behavior as the “world.”
Yes Jeff…I agree…it is sad. But we must remain optimistic and in this case…frugal with our money.
In Gramsci’s words, “Pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.” I think it is important to focus on the little change that we can make as individuals and groups. Though sometimes the change may be small…it can still matter.
Material wealth does tend to follow righteousness- at least on a macro level. But it should never be taken as evidence for righteousness- nor it’s absence as evidence of wickedness.
Some scriptures that touch on the points I think you are trying to make:
Both of those tend to favor the traditional understanding of righteousness leading to wealth- along with warnings against seeking after riches, but there is also another passage later in the Book of Mormon that I can not find but I remember very clearly because it expressed an opposite outcome. The righteous were poorer because they shared their wealth among themselves, while the wicked became wealthier. I’ve always remembered that because it’s so different from the normal depictions of the Pride Cycle.
I agree with the other comments that noted that this kind of divide is not a Mormon thing. You can observe it in any significant population center. However, beyond Mormonism as a religious system per se, what differentiates these other cities from Salt Lake is the brief history of communal living that was attempted in the late 19th century (the United Order). So I take Peter’s post more in the spirit of “look how far we’ve come (in the wrong direction)” rather than that Salt Lake is relatively worse than other similar cities.
That property is gorgeous. It’s hard to find nice lake front property for a reasonable price anymore.
I keep waiting for Utah lake to attract lake front development. …
Yeah, its amazing. Anwhere else in the country, Utah Lake would be prime real estate.
And Steven, you should be happy that I’m going to do a deconstruction of Warner Woodworth’s book, Working Toward Zion. I had him as a professor and he was one ot the top five that really made a difference with me.
oh right Peter…I will look forward to reading it. I havent actually cracked into his book but have it on my desk and have read a few pages here and there. I look forward to reading it in the future and will look forward to your critique. Good stuff. 🙂
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That was a very well written and very honest writing.