The Mormonizing of America (BOOK EXCERPT, PT 1)
The presidential race of Mitt Romney and the success of the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon have generated new interest in Mormonism. Stephen Mansfield's book The Mormonizing of America provides a careful study of this growing religion. The Book Stop blog is posting excerpts from the first two chapters of this book.
I have trouble getting my head around the Mormons. . . . The history strikes me somewhere between incredulity and horror, from golden plates in upstate New York to massacres out West. The theology comes across as totally barmy. We can become gods with our own planets! And the practices strike me as creepy. No coffee and tea is bad enough. But the underwear!Hugh Riddick has been preparing for this conversation with his grandson almost his entire life. It is a conversation fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandsons have been having in his family for most of the 180-year history of the Latter-day Saints. Now, Hugh will have a chance to help prepare a new generation of Riddicks for the true priesthood of God—just as soon as young Jacob cleans up from his baseball game.
—Michael Ruse, philosopher
Jacob Riddick is thirteen and tomorrow he will take his first steps toward priesthood. His father was a priest, Hugh— his grandfather—is a priest, and so it has been since Brigham Young led the Saints. This is what it means to be a male member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is what it means to be a Mormon man.
Hugh would have been happy to hear about this conversation secondhand. He would rather that his own son, David, had been here to guide Jacob. But David had chosen to be a US Marine. It was what he wanted to be from the time he was a little boy and Hugh was never able to change his mind. Perhaps he should not have tried. David was a “warrior’s warrior,” they said, and he rose rapidly in the ranks. That’s what landed him in Iraq at the forefront of Operation Phantom Fury during the Second Battle of Fallujah. Command knew that he would lead well. And he did, but David was killed on the third day, November 11, 2004—Veteran’s Day. Each year since, that flag- waving, parade-filled holiday has tortured Hugh Riddick and his wife.
Now, though, Hugh is sitting on his back porch enjoying the cool breeze off the pond and waiting for Jacob. When the boy appears, he does not look anything like anyone’s image of a priest. He’s wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt, his hair is wet and slicked back, and he has a slight bluish mustache from the powdered drink he’s been guzzling. He sits down in a rocker, crosses his legs Indian-style in the seat, and takes another sip of his drink. Hugh just smiles. He knows that in spiritual things, appearances do not matter.
“How’d it go, sport?”
“We won. Wasn’t that hard. They pretty much caved.”
“I see. How’d you hit?”
“Two doubles and thrown out at first.” “Good! Nice going. Any RBIs?”
“Just one. And just barely, ’cause Danny Tomkins is so stinking slow!”
“Oh, I remember him. Runs like he’s carrying a ton of bricks. Well, good job batting him in, buddy. Okay, you ready to talk?”
“Do you know what’s going to happen tomorrow, Jacob?” “Of course, Pawpaw. I’m going to become a deacon.”
“Yes. That’s right. And do you understand what that means?”
“It’s the first step to becoming a priest. It means that one day I’m going to be part of the priesthood that Heavenly Father restored in the time of Joseph Smith. It means I’m being prepared to receive priesthood authority.”
“You’ve been listening closely to Elder Clarke, haven’t you? That’s right: tomorrow you will become a deacon. Do you know what that word really means?”
“Uh, I think I do. It means, like, servant or someone who takes care of something, right?”
“That’s it. Perfect. It means someone who serves. And after you’re ordained, you will be allowed to serve by passing out the bread and the water in the sacrament meetings and serving the priesthood leaders in various ways and helping keep the meeting house in order and so on, right?”
“And then what?”
“Well, if I prove myself, in a couple of years I may be able to become a teacher. Then I can fill the sacramental trays and go with someone on home teaching visits and stuff like that. Then, maybe a couple of years after that, if I qualify, I can be a priest.”
“Good. That’s pretty much right. And all this is part of what? Do you know?”
“The Aaronic Priesthood, right?”
“Yes. Good, but Jacob, I don’t want these just to be words to you. I want you to understand how much all this means. Not long after Jesus Christ lived on earth, the church lost its authority. It was corrupt and had warped doctrine.