Philip Barlow – Mormonism in 21st century conference

Philip Barlow, Being Mormon in Utah and Elsewhere.

Jan is a lynch pin for Mormon Studies development over the years. Unusually thoughtful and gregarious non-LDS Mormon scholar that has helped this move forward. She speaks fluid Mormon.

Emphasizing the USA and 21st century with some allusions to earlier times and other places. Prof Stendall at Harvard Divinity School spoke in Utah invited by Truman Madsen. I asked him about it, and he said, “I haven’t processed it, yet. It was perhaps like being among the Jews in Jerusalem.”

On a flight to Israel, I was on a large jet, with most of it filled with ultra orthodox Jews in their special garb. I was impressed with their presence. They were talking a lot and taking time getting into their seats. Once in the air, they commandeered the plane, praying and rocking. Arriving on their Independence Day, the city suddenly stopped for a moment of silence for those who died defending Israel. There was a cab with an Israeli flag. An ultra orthodox walked by and grabbed the flag. The cab owner ran after the Hasidic Jew, leaving them stuck in traffic. They came back to the cab, fighting. I thought, this is a very chosen land. Israel’s intention for itself, its meaning or space, is a struggle.

Religion has always mattered with geography. Space becoming place. Space being interpreted by different groups. Israel has always been partly about the land. Cultural geography, interpreted space is regarded to western Christianity/Roman Catholicism based in Rome. Crucial to Crusades and space. Reformation – northern Europe went Protestant. American colonies divided religions by space. Quaker chapel vs Presbyterian chapel are different.

In Mormonism, space matters. Inherently geographical. BoM very geographical with promised land in new world. Brigham Young was a modern Moses leading from USA to outside to a new land. Controlling dimension is Joseph Smith’s D&C 37, where the Lord calls the converts to come to Church HQ in Kirtland. Without this, Mormon history would unravel. Pattern distinctive to Mormonism. Some gathered, others would or could not gather.

Maybe we could compare Mormonism’s gathering to Judaism or Roman Catholicism.

What is it to have a center and periphery, like a solar system?

Centers in Kirtland and Independence, a future Zion where Jesus could personally come. After conflicts, developed a single capitol in Nauvoo. Distance of members caused fragmentation after death of Joseph Smith. 60% of members followed Brigham Young, mostly those in Nauvoo and English converts controlled by the 12. In Nauvoo, came to know their prophet, unlike those far away. Access to revelations: plural marriage, eternal marriage, divinization, etc. Special organizations, School of Prophets, Masonic Lodge, Relief Society, Council of 50. Some were kept secret from Nauvoo saints, but all was unknown by those living elsewhere.

Nauvoo created unity and political power. Many were amazed Brigham Young’s church with polygamy and temple ritual, as they weren’t at Nauvoo to learn it from Joseph Smith. This would help lead to the Reorganized LDS Church among those that mainly dwelt elsewhere.

Brigham Young opened up the deep doctrines, whereas Joseph kept many things secret, to prevent apostasy when things leaked out. SLC – earthy language and speculative teachings in West after 1850. Brigham Young never returned to Midwest, South or elsewhere, known as the “mission field”. He remained in Zion.  Mission field rarely saw apostles or missionaries.

1903, Pres JF Smith ended gathering. Gradually temples and stakes were built elsewhere. After 1950s, members could not just drop in to visit GAs in office building. Many moved from SLC for education and business opportunities. Shrinking proportion of Mormondom in Utah. Increasing membership outside, because of this Diaspora and growth.

Today’s policy is different. Correlation in last 1/2 century. Correlated lessons drop to lowest common denominator so members everywhere have the same lesson.

Semi Annual General Conference provides a nexus to guide this solar system of members.  Outward reach, like light from the Sun, de-centering the light. It is still very Utah, drawing people to the center.  This is the place where truth is disseminated. It is also a pilgrimage for those who visit for Conference, and see the sites.  They will see a Mormon civilization.

Some think of Conference as a sabbatical, thinking to study the talks later. Conference Center analogous to temple itself. It is about instruction.  In other religions’ conferences, one sees conferring and debate and voting on issues. Not so with Mormon conference. Conference tells us what to do in the next 6 months, with much focus on the talks in local churches. Rituals: standing for Prophet as he enters. Ritual of encountering Brethren who have spiritualized celebrities. Icons made flesh by witnessing them in person.

Element of didactic modeling going on. Ritual cadence to talks and prayers, even to the pace of walking to/from podium. This is what humble and virtuous priesthood looks like.

Big economic impact on SLC every year. Translation in 94 languages, 800 interpreters. Book sales at Deseret Book, restaurants, hotels, all impacted. 4 stakes centers in Logan Utah within a few blocks, 8 wards in one building.  General Conf 100K attendees. White shirt and tie uniforms.

Of course there are the “celestial scalpings” where people give out extra tickets (for free). Protesters at every Conference. Then there are counter-Protesters (I love Mormons – sign). Of course, the Church has to keep an eye to ensure it does not become violent. Some are professional protesters. “Police are there unclothed, I mean un-uniformed.”


If Mormons had settled on an island, would it make a difference? Everyone coming to Conference would have great tans. Location and geography matter. Brigham Young demurred when it came to going to California, their own Bermuda, where they could become a people before the world came to them.

How do CES and schools fit with Conference?  It is a pilgrimage, with mission reunions, etc. that revolve around Conference. It is a complex issue that would require study.

Another issue would be being non Mormon in Utah, leaving and then returning to Utah. It has relation with the tensions involved. They may learn some LDS jargon. A colleague of mine dropped his jaw when a student told him he couldn’t come to class on Thursday, because his parents were being sealed. Another said, being non-Mormon is like being black, “only you honkies aren’t used to it yet.”

There are always rules they must learn so as not to offend the LDS. Can they serve coffee in a gathering or will they upset the Mormons?

After being away for 17 years, my wife had a hard time adjusting to life at Utah. She had to seek out non-LDS discussion groups.

A century from now, do you expect LDS culture to be different? Presuming growth, there will be a shift in the location and type of growth.  Proportion of Mormons is decreasing in Utah, as businesses attract others to the area.



This entry was posted in General by rameumptom. Bookmark the permalink.

About rameumptom

Gerald (Rameumptom) Smith is a student of the gospel. Joining the Church of Jesus Christ when he was 16, he served a mission in Santa Cruz Bolivia (1978=1980). He is married to Ramona, has 3 stepchildren and 7 grandchildren. Retired Air Force (Aim High!). He has been on the Internet since 1986 when only colleges and military were online. Gerald has defended the gospel since the 1980s, and was on the first Latter-Day Saint email lists, including the late Bill Hamblin's Morm-Ant. Gerald has worked with FairMormon, More Good Foundation, LDS.Net and other pro-LDS online groups. He has blogged on the scriptures for over a decade at his site: Joel's Monastery ( He has the following degrees: AAS Computer Management, BS Resource Mgmt, MA Teaching/History. Gerald was the leader for the Tuskegee Alabama group, prior to it becoming a branch. He opened the door for missionary work to African Americans in Montgomery Alabama in the 1980s. He's served in two bishoprics, stake clerk, high council, HP group leader and several other callings over the years. While on his mission, he served as a counselor in a branch Relief Society presidency.