Yes, I Am a “Utah Mormon,” Dyed-in-the-Wool, True-Blue, Through-and-Through: Why I’m Proud to Call Myself a “Utah Mormon,” Even if Some of My Brethren and Sisters Among My Fellow Saints Who Hail From Points Hence Do, It Seems, Misguidedly Use That Term as a Derisive Epithet
By Ken K. Gourdin
Perhaps some of my readers, who do not hail from Utah and who, perhaps, are unfamiliar with the full history of flight from place to place occasioned by persecution of the Latter-day Saints at the hands of their enemies, were puzzled by my exceedingly forthright, frank response to my fellow Latter-day Saints who denigrated Utah Mormons, as described in the post “Ken Learns a Lesson About Repairing Cyberspace Rifts.” Indeed, this could be considered a follow-up to that post. The original thread can be found here (this and all other links last accessed October 2, 2017):
The post in which I excerpted my responses can be found here:
When some of your ancestors are among people who—largely, if not entirely, because of their faith—eventually, are kicked out of New York State and who flee to Pennsylvania; whereupon, eventually, they are kicked out of Pennsylvania and they flee to Ohio; whereupon, eventually, they are kicked out of Ohio and they flee to Missouri; whereupon, eventually, they are kicked out of Missouri and they flee, finally, to Utah; when, with each migration from one place to what prove (save for the last migration) to be only temporary new homes in another place, many of them suffer, many of them sicken, and some of them even die along the way; when some of one’s ancestors are among the people who went through all of that (or at least, through much of it, thanks being to God that many of my ancestors lived to see the Salt Lake Valley), yes, one tends to be a wee bit, a hair, a smidgeon, sensitive when one (and by, extension, whether one’s interlocutor wants to admit it or not, one’s ancestors) are denigrated with what one’s interlocutor intends to be a derisive epithet, “Utah Mormon.”
Yes, I’m acutely aware that no one’s mortal pedigree plays any part in ensuring one’s salvation. Yes, I believe John the Baptist’s warning to the Pharisees and the Sadducees: “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:9 KJV). No, no one merits anything, whether in this life or in the next, simply because of who his parents, or his grandparents, or his earlier ancestors were. In truth, much of the time, I’m tempted to feel as though the only thing my heritage bequeathed to me is a legacy— legacy of sacrifice, and faith, and fortitude that is difficult (if not impossible) for me to live up to.
No, no one should succumb to pride of place or of pedigree. No, no one should consider himself to be better than anyone else because of his religion or because of how well he lives it (or because of how well his ancestors lived it). No, no one should be snooty, or snobby, or standoffish because his faith or his values differ from the faith and the values of those around him. No, no one should seek to isolate himself from the rest of the world because of these differences. Rather, he should seek, the best he can, to be a light unto the world and a city that is set upon a hill and cannot be hid (see Matthew 5:14), and to follow Paul’s counsel to his young associate, Timothy, to “be thou an example of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12); and to be “in the world, but not of the world.” Yes, perhaps many of those who live in areas in which Latter-day Saints are few and far between are better at doing these things than are the Saints in areas in which Church membership is more concentrated.
But many of my ancestors and their associates sacrificed greatly, gave selfless service, and suffered much (even dying, in some cases) for the privileges of calling themselves Latter-day Saints and of being free to practice the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ according to the dictates of their own conscience. They couldn’t call themselves “New York Mormons” or “Pennsylvania Mormons” or “Ohio Mormons” or “Illinois Mormons” or “Missouri Mormons” for very long because of the persecution they suffered at the hands of some of their neighbors in each of these places, and so they longed for a place where they could live their religion without fear of mobbing or of robbing, without fear of of having their women ravished and their possessions ransacked, and without fear of being assaulted or battered or killed.
Though it was a place which others derided and dismissed, not only as inhospitable but as virtually unlivable, with even more blood, sweat, toil, and tears, the early Latter-day Saints, among whom were many of my ancestors, fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and made The Desert Blossom as a Rose (see Isaiah 35:1). Truly, they made it, as Eliza R. Snow’s work which became a Children’s Primary song says, “A Lovely Deseret.”1 Perhaps, even if you don’t share my feelings, you can understand why I might try hard to not choke up and to tear up when I sing William Clayton’s beloved Pioneer hymn, “Come, Come Ye Saints.” In part, Brother Clayton wrote:
We’ll find the place
Which God for us prepared
In the west.
Where none shall come
To hurt or make afraid.
There the Saints.
Will be blessed.
And should we die
Before our journey’s through
All is well.
We, then are free
From toil, and sorrow, too.
With the just
We shall dwell.
But if our lives
Are spared again
To see the Saints
Their rest obtain,
Oh, how we’ll make
This chorus swell!
All is well,
All is well!2
So even if you mean to use this label as a derisive epithet for people you deem to be cliquish and clannish and standoffish, people who look down their noses at others who are different from them, my ancestors (and I, as one of their descendants) were and are proud to call ourselves “Utah Mormons.” The next time someone asks me if I’m a “Utah Mormon,” my answer (to quote a young Joseph F. Smith, although, reportedly, he was facing down someone hostile to the Church of Jesus Christ who was holding Brother Smith at gunpoint when he said it) will be, “Yes, Siree, Dyed-in-the-Wool, True-Blue, Through-and-Through.”3
So, if it’s all the same to you, yes, I am a “Utah Mormon,” and proud of it.
|1||Eliza R. Snow (text, year unknown, ca. 1840s) “In Our Lovely Deseret,” in Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1985) no. 307.|
|2||William Clayton (1846) “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” in Hymns of the Churchof Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1985), no. 30.|
|3||There is some question as to the provenance of the account of Joseph F. Smith facing a man hostile to the Church of Jesus Christ at gunpoint as he said this. See Nate R. [sic] (November 12, 2013), “True Blue, Depending on Who’s Telling the Tale: Joseph F. Smith and the ‘Ruffians’” (Blog Post), Juvenile Instructor, accessed on line at the following address on October 2, 2017:
Apparently, the only available recitations of what allegedly happened all are second-hand and long-after-the-fact. None of that, of course, changes the fact that I’m Mormon, True-Blue, Dyed-in-the-Wool, Through-and-Through (as were my ancestors)