Anti-Mormonism

An anti-Mormon political cartoon from the late 19th century.

Anti-Mormonism is discrimination, persecution, hostility or prejudice directed against the Latter Day Saint movement, particularly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The term is often used to describe people or literature that are critical of their adherents, institutions, or beliefs, or physical attacks against specific Saints or the Latter Day Saint movement as a whole.

Opposition to Mormonism began before the first Latter Day Saint church was established in 1830 and continues to the present day. The most vocal and strident opposition occurred during the 19th century, particularly during the Utah War of the 1850s, and in the second half of the century when the practice of polygamy in Utah Territory was widely considered by the U.S. Republican Party as one of the "twin relics of barbarism" along with slavery.[1]

Modern-day opposition generally takes the form of websites, podcasts, videos or other media offering alternative views about Mormonism or non-violent protest at large Latter-day Saint gatherings such as the church's semiannual General Conference, outside of Latter-day Saint pageants, or at events surrounding the construction of new LDS temples. Opponents generally believe that the church's claims to divine origin are false, that it is non-Christian, or that it is a religion based on fraud or deceit on the part of its past and present leaders. In 2015, the FBI began tracking anti-Mormon hate crimes in the United States and have noted an increase in incidents over time.[2]

Origin

The term, "anti-Mormon" first appears in the historical record in 1833 by the Louisville (Kentucky) Daily Herald in an article, "The Mormons and the Anti-Mormons" (the article was also the first known to label believers in the Book of Mormon as "Mormons").[3] In 1841, it was revealed that an Anti-Mormon Almanac would be published. On August 16 of that year, the Latter Day Saint Times and Seasons reported the Mormons' confidence that although the Anti-Mormon Almanac was designed by "Satan and his emissaries" to flood the world with "lies and evil reports", still "we are assured that in the providence of God they will ultimately tend to the glory of God—the spread of truth and the good of the church".[4]

Mormonism had been criticized strongly by dozens of publications since its inception, most notably by Eber D. Howe's 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed. The Latter Day Saints initially labeled such publications "anti-Christian",[5] but the publication of the Almanac and the subsequent formation of an "Anti-Mormon Party" in Illinois heralded a shift in terminology. "Anti-Mormon" became, on the lips of the church's critics, a proud and politically charged self-designation.[6]

Today, the term is primarily used as a descriptor for persons and publications that oppose the LDS Church, although its precise scope has been the subject of some debate. It is used by some to describe anything perceived as critical of the LDS Church.[7]

Siding with the latter, less-inclusive understanding of the term, Latter-day Saint scholar William O. Nelson suggests in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that the term includes "any hostile or polemic opposition to Mormonism or to the Latter-day Saints, such as maligning Joseph Smith, his successors, or the doctrines or practices of the Church. Though sometimes well intended, anti-Mormon publications have often taken the form of invective, falsehood, demeaning caricature, prejudice, and legal harassment, leading to both verbal and physical assault."[8]

Reaction

Many of those who have been labeled "anti-Mormon" object to the designation, arguing that the term implies that disagreement or criticism of Mormonism stems from some inherent "anti-Mormon" prejudice, rather than being part of a legitimate factual or religious debate.[9] Eric Johnson, for example, makes a distinction between "personal animosity and intellectual dialogue". Johnson insists that he is motivated by "love and compassion for Mormons", and that while he "[might] plead guilty to being against Mormonism", he finds the suggestion that he is anti-Mormon "both offensive and inaccurate."[10] Stephen Cannon elaborates,

It is also helpful to know that Mormons are a group of people united around a belief system. Therefore, to be "anti-Mormon" is to be against people. Christians who desire to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Mormons are never to come against people of any stripe. Yes, evangelical Christians do have strong disagreements with Mormonism, but the argument is with a belief system and not a people. The LDS people are no better or no worse than any other group of people. Any dispute is to be a disagreement with the "ism", not the "Mormon".[11]

James White, meanwhile, rejects the term because of a lack of reciprocal terminology. He wrote to one LDS apologist, "If you will identify yourself as an anti-Baptist, I'll let you call me an anti-Mormon."[12]

Even some members of the church who write negatively about it, especially those who call into question its divine nature, have had their writings labeled anti-Mormon. Ex-Mormons who write about the church are likewise frequently labeled anti-Mormon, even when their writings are not inflammatory in nature.[13] The debate on who is "anti-Mormon" frequently arises in Mormon discussions of authors and sources.[14]

Stephen Cannon has argued that use of the label is a "campaign by Latter-day Saints to disavow the facts presented by simply labeling the source as 'anti-Mormon'".[11] Critics of the term also claim that the LDS Church frames the context of persecution in order to cultivate a persecution complex,[citation needed] or that Mormon authors promote the ideal of a promised heavenly reward for enduring persecution for one's beliefs.[15]

Mormons often respond to these accusations by questioning whether critics like Johnson and Cannon really have Mormons' best interests at heart. For Brigham Young University's 100 Hour Board, the "anti-Mormon" label serves the purpose of warning Latter-day Saints away from individuals who espouse "hatred and bigotry". It is better, says the Board, for a confused Saint to "talk to someone... that (1) has your best interests at heart, and (2) actually understands what the Church teaches."[16]

Those individuals and groups who challenge Mormonism, particularly those who approach the challenge from an evangelical Christian perspective, would generally sustain that they do, in fact, have the best interest of the Mormon at heart;[17] and for the most part can legitimately claim to understand what the church teaches, since many challengers of Mormonism come from an LDS background. In addition, they often declare that highly charged words such as "hatred" and "bigotry" are employed to an excessive degree to describe any challenge to a truth claim, and often cite this reactionary response as part of a Mormon "persecution complex."[citation needed]