Monday, March 02, 2009

Faith in Every Footstep

Not long ago Paul and I discovered an old cemetery in Taylor, Arizona that contained many tombstones for the Mormon pioneers that founded that town. We were shocked to see so many stones for infants and children under the age of three that were lost in the first years while Taylor was being founded. We also saw many markers with a drawing of a wagon train and the words "Faith in Every Footstep." Something about that touched me so I looked into it. This is a little about what I found.

The history of the Mormons in the United States is one marked by severe persecution. Their religious beliefs were seen as heretical and as an affront to the greater Christian populations they lived in. Their founder Joseph Smith's political beliefs, which proposed that a new government (Theodemocracy) be created that combined democratic ideals with religious beliefs, was seen as a form of treason. Mormon lifestyle choices (pluralistic marriage) were deemed an abomination. The Mormons were literally driven from their homes in Illinois, Missouri and other places. Farms were burned, Joseph Smith and others were killed, and finally the church leaders brought their flock to what they insisted would be a new land of religious freedom, far away in the middle of Utah near what was later to become Salt Lake City. Intending to create a large state called Deseret, they also established other colonies from Canada to Mexico, including the towns of Snowflake and Taylor, Arizona near where Paul and I currently live today.

Traveling by wagon train over the Great Divide, the Mormon pioneers faced enormous difficulties and many of them died. But the persecution they were trying to escape by leaving their original homes did not end once they arrived here.

William Jordan Flake, one of the founding fathers of Snowflake, was put in jail at one point for having multiple wives. The federal government significantly stepped up its activity in cracking down on this alternative form of marriage and, in 1890 the LDS (Mormon) church officially discontinued the practice. Later, in 1910, the church actually started to excommunicate those who continued with polygamy, causing a splintering off of LDS groups who disagreed. Targeting of the Mormon community by the federal governemnt, however, subsided after that. Only some Mormon Fundamentalists continue with the practice anymore.

It's ironic and sad that the subject of allowing a community to create and live by their own definition of marriage is at the heart of the biggest controversy involving the Mormons in the present day.

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