Bahai News - Bridges of friendship grow in Utah
Saturday, February 9, 2002
Bridges of friendship grow in Utah
By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret News religion editor
As international visitors pack downtown sidewalks and crowd Olympic
venues, they represent the largest group of religious diversity ever to
come to Utah, prompting the state's religious leaders to unprecedented
cooperation that would have been impossible a century ago.
After international pre-Olympic press coverage of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, many may wonder about the part other faiths
play in a state so heavily populated by people of one faith. Yet
Catholics comprise nearly 10 percent of the population, and the wealth
of religious diversity continues to grow. Before Latter-day Saints, of
course, there were American Indians, whose religious traditions remain
vibrant. Faiths establishing roots in Utah in the late 1800s included
the Roman Catholics in 1871 (the first Catholic Mass was actually held
in 1864 and involved U.S. soldiers stationed at Ft. Douglas);
Congregationalists in 1865; Episcopalians in 1867; Presbyterians in
1871; and Baptists in 1875.
During the past century, Utah has become home to nearly 20,000 Muslims
and three mosques, as well as smaller congregations of every major
Protestant and Evangelical tradition as well as Buddhists, Christian
Scientists, Baha'is, Hindus, Quakers, Seventh-Day Adventists,
Unitarians, Gnostics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Assemblies of God and the
That diversity has fostered a variety of interfaith efforts during the
past half-century and set the stage for the state's most ambitious
effort in conjunction with the Winter Olympics — Salt Lake's Interfaith
Roundtable, which was directly tied to the Salt Lake Organizing
The roundtable has "built bridges of friendship and understanding" among
a widely diverse group of 45 religious representatives — the majority
of them women — and set the stage for "greater cooperation in the
future," says chairwoman Jan Saeed.
That's a welcome development for several community and religious
leaders, who earlier this year rallied at the state Capitol to urge
unity among the various religious and cultural factions, many with a
history that predates statehood. Olympic preparations and public
discussions over alcohol and the role of the LDS Church in the Games
spotlighted some deep-seated fractures in a state that, for the past
several decades, had managed to largely sequester public religious
Many roundtable members, whose work on Olympic preparation was finished
before most athletes and visitors arrived, see the emerging openness as
one of the most potentially significant, if largely unsung, legacies of
the Winter Games.
If it's true that time heals all wounds, many would agree much healing
has occurred in Utah's faith community. Yet history looms as an unspoken
backdrop to the sores that remain.
Because the state was initially colonized by Latter-day Saints fleeing
religious persecution - much of it instigated by Protestant clergy and
parishioners - a history of political clashes between them and some of
those who would follow has, in some measure, shaped the religious
landscape ever since, historians agree.
While the particulars are unique to Utah, the politics of majority are
After the first party of Latter-day Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley
in 1847, it was 15 years before any other organized faith group
established itself in what was known for a time as the state of
Early accounts of several denominations that began as a tiny minority
among their 19th century LDS neighbors are replete with tales of what
some historians maintain was, at that time, a virtual theocracy. Some
mention offers of assistance from LDS leaders, while others detail
ridicule and harassment from LDS members. Nearly all speak in some way
The first documented Jewish couple to come to Utah were Julius and Fanny
Brooks, who left Frankenstein, Silesia, and arrived in Utah in 1854.
In her new book, "A Homeland in the West: Utah Jews Remember," author
Eileen Hallet Stone chronicles the early effort of Jews who emigrated to
Utah in the same covered wagon fashion as their LDS counterparts.
Milford Rathjen, on his research into "The Distribution of Major
Non-Mormon Denominations in Utah," briefly sketches the state's early
The first Catholic church was consecrated in Salt Lake City in 1871, and
by 1873, there were 800 Catholics in what was then the largest parish
geographically in the country, encompassing Utah and parts of Nevada.
Small mission churches sprung up around the state, particularly in
mining towns. Their mission was focused on ministry and education,
mostly among their own number and the unchurched, rather than preaching
to or competing with their LDS neighbors. As a result, early Catholics
"with the possible exception of the Episcopal (Church), enjoyed a much
more friendly intercourse with the Mormons than any other denomination,"
according to the Inventory of the Church Archives of Utah.
That cordial beginning likely laid the foundation for a mutually
cooperative relationship that continues to this day between top leaders
of the two faiths in providing human services and encouraging interfaith
events. Within the past decade, Catholic leaders have worked to restore
the historic Cathedral of the Madeleine downtown, with help from several
major donors including the LDS Church.
First Congregational Church was the first denomination to establish
regular Protestant services in 1865. Along with most other faiths, they
established small churches with large populations of non-Latter-day
Saints, with their particular emphasis being northern Utah.
Episcopalian ministers also concentrated their efforts from Salt Lake
City northward, establishing St. Mark's mission — the namesake for
today's St. Mark's Cathedral and St. Mark's Hospital — around 1867.
The First Presbyterian Church was first organized in Salt Lake City in
November 1871, and by 1874, the first church building was completed and
stood, along with four other buildings housing the Salt Lake Collegiate
Institute (which became Westminster College). Organized as a combination
primary and secondary school, it stood at the corner of 200 South and
The Presbyterians established an educational system throughout the state
— viewed by many early Utahns as an attempt to convert the LDS — who
had no public education at the time.
"Presbyterians articulated the belief that Mormonism was a destructive
cult that divided families, promoted sexual deviancy, disseminated
heretical teachings and threatened national unity," according to
historian R. Douglas Brackenridge in his recent book on the history of
The antagonism went both ways, according to Brackenridge. After
Presbyterian writers and clergymen mounted a political campaign in the
eastern United States to ban polygamy, early Deseret Evening News editor
George Q. Cannon opined that many Protestant churches needed
Methodists established themselves first in the small railroad outpost of
Corinne, followed by establishment of a Salt Lake City church in 1870.
Their early efforts were centered mostly in the mining towns, including
Eureka, Tooele, Stockton, Ophir and Grantsville. They also established a
school system as growth and resources increased.
The Baptist presence in Utah began in 1871, when the Rev. George W.
Dodge was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant as superintendent of
Indian Affairs for the territory of Utah, according to Rathjen.
While relationships between faiths have become slowly more accommodating
since statehood in 1896, a marked warming has developed within the past
With the LDS Church's new focus on interfaith humanitarian outreach has
come a variety of opportunities to partner with other local faiths in
food and clothing production and distribution and disaster relief.
Historic restoration has become another area of shared emphasis, as
fund-raising efforts to restore the Cathedral of the Madeleine and now
First Presbyterian Church have included large donations by a variety of
faith communities, including the LDS Church.
New building construction has also brought Utahns of all faiths together
not only in fund-raising but in sweat equity, as the recent completion
of the Hare Krishna temple in Spanish Fork, a Baptist Church in
Bountiful and a United Methodist Church in West Jordan attests.
And though just under 70 percent of Utahns are Latter-day Saints, the
state's diversity continues to grow. As it does, interfaith leaders pray
that the Olympics will serve as a further catalyst for old tensions to
give way to a new push for unity and a growing respect for the wide
spectrum of faiths that are found here.
©Copyright 2002, Deseret News
Page last updated/revised 021202
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