The Year of the Mormons 

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A lot of things happened in Utah during 2000 (see “Year In Review,” this issue). The U.S. Justice Department brought indictments in the Olympic bribery scandal. Sen. Orrin Hatch ran for president. Utah’s real favorite son, Steve Young, retired from the San Francisco 49ers. The Skull Valley band of the Goshute tribe decided to store much of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste. And, oh yes, people like Gayle Ruzicka kept trying to legislate morality.

A lot of other things happened, too—things that although noteworthy aren’t really earth shattering. But for astute observers, there was a significant change in the landscape of this conservative state, where 70 percent identify with the LDS church.

As the largest influence around, LDS church leaders—in modern times, anyway—have chosen not to throw their weight around … publicly. Whoa, you might say. The LDS hold an ironclad grip on the state Legislature, about 90 percent of which is made up of Mormons. And don’t forget the governor and the congressional delegation, both 100 percent Mormon. Their beliefs and value systems guide policies like our strange and backward liquor laws, among other things.

Those influences, however, come as much from the bottom up as they do from the top down. Case in point: The LDS First Presidency’s very public call that concealed weapons be banned from schools and churches has gone nowhere.

Nonetheless, things are changing from that once-held philosophy of moderate appearances. The beginning, at least outwardly, was the purchase of a block of Main Street by the LDS church. The sale was actually completed in 1999, but was fully consummated this year as the new grounds were opened with new ground rules—forbidding freedom of speech.

Along a similar vein, the LDS church moved forcefully to still the voice of The Salt Lake Tribune, which had in the past decade become something of a thorn in its side. The openly aggressive postures in both instances had not been seen in recent memory, church leaders traditionally moving cautiously behind the scenes so as not to appear heavy-handed.

Add to that a very public stance by LDS leaders against homosexuality. In California, Mormon leaders were at the forefront of a battle against legitimizing homosexual unions. Nationally, LDS leaders fought to keep gays out of the Boy Scouts.

Mormon leaders may point to the church’s new Conference Center as the signpost for its new millennium. But others will remember the year 2000 for things that time might reveal as less grand for Mormon history.

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