What Do Joseph Smith and Gladys Knight Have in Common?

John NilssonCulture, feminism, gay, mormon, new order mormon, orthodox, politics 23 Comments

When I was a kid in Southern California, it was obvious to me that there were two kinds of people in the world: Mormons and the rest. As I got older, the rest became more differentiated; there were Catholics and Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Baptists, Syrian Orthodox, Church of Christers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists and even some people who claimed to have no religion at all. I was puzzled at one family’s celebration of Christmas when they apparently didn’t really even belong to any particular religion that I could discern.

As I attended high school and early-morning seminary, I began to notice that there was more than one kind of Mormon in the world as well. Some Mormons had such different attitudes and beliefs from me that I sometimes felt like I had grown up in a different church. Also, some Mormons I knew made strange comments, like whites shouldn’t date those of other races because the prophets have counseled us not to, or Americans shouldn’t pay income taxes because the prophets said not to. To my horror, as one raised by a baby-boomer mom to respect Martin Luther King and John Kennedy, some even used statements of the BRETHREN to condemn the civil rights movement as communist-led and hence Satanic.

Going to BYU, serving a mission, getting married, going to grad school, starting a career, and having a kid have exponentially increased my exposure to THAT KIND OF MORMON. But increasingly I learned that there were others too. There were Mormons who were pro-choice, Mormons who were gay and most interesting of all to me, those who acknowledged there was at least more than one kind of Mormon .

Given this diversity, is there something that all Mormons have in common? What does Joseph Smith have in common with Gladys Knight? And why are there so many kinds of us?

More ominously, should there be so many kinds of us?

I’m confident that no matter what kind you are, you will be able to unite with me behind this timely message:


Comments 23

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  2. John:

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    On a more serious note, I think the similarities have to do with shared experiences. From the most faithful, GA-quoting member to the bitterest ex-Mormon apostate, we have all had similar experiences within the broader Mormon culture. I can say “Johnny Lingo” and most everyone will have an image of watching the 1960s movie at some point in their life. The culture is what binds us all together, regardless of our own personal doctrinal views.

  3. There are only two kinds of people in the world:

    People who like Gladys Knight’s music, and the rest of the scum that doesn’t.

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    Mark IV,

    Paraphrasing a line from “What about Bob?”:

    “So let me get this straight, you have a multi-phobic, almost paralyzed personality, and yet your wife didn’t leave you, you LEFT HER BECAUSE SHE LIKES NEIL DIAMOND!?”

    Let’s all take that Midnight Train to Georgia, brothers and sisters!


    I almost despise you for bringing up Johnny Lingo. The rest of my day will be filled with the memory of surf guitar and eight-cow women.

    Shared experience, like the commercial I shared above, is one thing we all have in common. I guess I wonder about Joseph Smith and Gladys Knight, though. Historical continuity in Mormonism being what it is and isn’t, I wonder how much their thought worlds coincided. Both of them, to be fair, seem to be open in their dealings with all races…Are we inventing continuity? Is it meaningful to say Joseph and Gladys belong to the same religion, for instance?

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    Speaking of shared experiences, I remember rehearsing this song with other Primary kids on a darkened cultural hall stage…it was an interesting way of making lying seem horribly physically debilitating while being fun to sing at the same time for the histrionics we were encouraged to put into “dying” and all that.

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    I only wish. It was some kind of roadshow.

    My wife, sister-in-law, and father-in-law are all Mormon celebrities though. They’re depicted in the painting “Behold Your Little Ones” by David Lindsley which shows Christ blessing the Nephite children in the New World. I think that’s my only indirect claim to Mormon kitsch fame. My wife is the one wrapped in the green and white striped towel kneeling at Christ’s feet, my sister-in-law is looking up at Christ with her arm outstretched in the foreground, and their father is barely discernible in the background looking at the angels.

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  9. What do the Apostle Peter and Frank Sinatra have in common? They are both members of an institution which has historical continuity — the Holy Universal Catholic Church — connected minute by minute, era by era, from the present day back to the moment the Church was founded by the Apostles, in the wake of Jesus’s death. However, institutional historical continuity aside, the Catholic Church of today has little in common with the early Christian church of the 30s AD.

    Likewise, the LDS church through time has less and less in common with the early Mormon church of Joseph Smith’s era. There is a fair amount of institutional historical continuity, but two churches are radically different and inevitably drift further apart — as the historic church remains fixed and the living church evolves.

  10. “More ominously, should there be so many kinds of us?”

    Yes, it is both healthy and natural. We’re the body of Christ. Each part is useful and necessary, and benefits the others (so long as they’re not ignored, neglected, or abused).

  11. Joseph Smith and Gladys Knight both believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, and the true church of Jesus Christ has been restored. They believe that The Book of Mormon is the word of God, and man can get nearer to God by abiding by the precepts there in.

  12. Pingback: Faith

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