Penthouse Retrospective

by Jon Stewart and Peter Wiley Originally Published: June, 1981

Mormon Roots | 40 Years Ago This Month

The American-Indians’ two greatest resources — their children and their land — are threatened by the Mormon church.

Penthouse Magazine - June, 1981Cultural Genocide

They came to this land in 600 B.C., fleeing the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. Led by the great Lehi, who spoke with God, they crossed the great waters and landed somewhere on the West Coast of the Americas, the new Promised Land.

Over the centuries this small band of Hebrews grew great in number. Their culture and religion flourished. They built magnificent temples and cities. So great was their piety and promise that the Son of God appeared before them, following his crucifixion, to teach the principles of Christianity. They were, and are, the Saints. But almost from the beginning they have been a sainthood divided. For the sons of Lehi went their separate ways. Nephi, devout and pure, became the leader of the Nephites, while his brother Laman led his followers, the Lamanites, away from God. Thus, over centuries, the cleaved band of Hebrews warred and reconciled, sometimes reversing the roles of sinner and saint, down through the ages.

Until the fateful year A.D. 421. By then the Lamanites, through “abominations and loss of belief,” had been set apart by God from the Nephites by a curse: their skin had been turned brown, befitting their “dark and loathsome” character. They were “full of idleness” and “wild,” while the Nephites remained “light and delightsome” in the sight of God and man. But in this doomsday year the cursed Lamanites again turned on their lost brethren in a mighty war in which evil triumphed over good. The Nephites were destroyed to a man, or to a single man, Moroni. It was for this last prophet of God’s people to collect the records of his race, inscribed on sacred plates of gold, and bury them in the Hill Cumorah until some far-off time when the true religion might be restored in “the latter days.”

The rest, of course, is history. The “latter days” arrived on September 22, 1827, when 21-year-old Joseph Smith of Palmyra, N. Y., having received instructions from the angel Moroni, dug up the plates, translated them, and presented the world with the Book of Mormon. Today the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (L.D.S.), commonly known as the Mormons, is the fastest-growing church in America. Its virtual control of Utah politics and its significant influence in Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and California would seem to make it a religious power without parallel in America. Its economic holdings, which would place it among the top 100 American corporations, make it the church with the greatest centralized wealth in the United States.

But for all the wealth and power, there remains a flaw — those “dark and loathsome” Lamanites, the lost brothers of centuries ago, whose descendants are today the native “Indians” of the Americas and the Pacific islands. They have forgotten who they are, where they came from. They have taken up strange pantheist religions, and they remain desperately impoverished, uneducated to the wondrous opportunities for creating a reflection of. God’s world on earth through corporate capitalism. But still they are brothers under that dark skin. They must be saved. They will be saved, by God.

It is hardly surprising that an obsession with Indians should characterize the doctrine of a church founded on the American frontier in the early nineteenth century. When Joseph Smith and his growing band of followers were driven progressively westward by religious and social persecution, the identity with the Indians as lost brothers served them in good stead. Church president Brigham Young, who followed Smith to the leadership and founded Salt Lake City, told a gathering of Utah legislators in 1854: “ … Independent of the question of exercising humanity towards so degraded and ignorant a race of people, it was manifestly more economical and less expensive to feed and clothe than to fight them.”

Telling the native peoples that “the Book of Mormon is a history of your people,” the Saints have recently launched a massive crusade to “save” their lost brothers. Today the church claims some 45,000 American Indians as Mormons. On the Navaho Reservation, the largest Indian reservation in America, church officials proudly boast that nearly 1 in 5 of the 150,000 Navaho are baptized Mormons. Recent missionary zeal in the South Pacific has netted more than 116,000 Polynesians to the Mormon rolls (they, also, are considered descendants of the Lamanites) while a crusade among the Indians of Mexico and Central and South America has boosted membership from those Catholic strongholds to a half million. In America no church — save the rather informal Native American church of peyotism — is as visible, as powerful, and as entrenched on Indian lands as the Mormon church.

Why? Why should a basically Anglo-American church, whose vision is shaped by middle-class notions of the good life, be so obsessed with the remnants of a race of people that much of America has consigned to the history books? Church doctrine, certainly, plays a significant role. Indians are lost brothers, cursed and loathsome, perhaps, but nonetheless among the chosen.

“A California professor, son of a prominent Mormon family, claims that many Mormons have taken advantage of the child-placement program to supply free labor.”

All religions have roots in concurrent uplifting and occasionally horrific experience. The Mormon church followed Western settlers in general.