Pennsylvania and Mormons Go Way Back

Susquehanna River baptisms and other fun religion facts.

Mormon. The word conjures up images of child brides, BYU and, well, Mitt Romney. Most of what we know comes from pop culture—HBO’s Big Love, TLC’s Sister Wives, and Tony Award-winning Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, to name a few examples. But pop culture isn’t always accurate.

With the country’s first-ever Mormon presidential nominee, the religion is in the spotlight now more than ever. Time even declared Mormonism to be 2011’s “Religion of the Year.” A 2012 study found that Mormonism is the fastest-growing religion in America, with followers of all different races, political stances and ethnic backgrounds. And it’s not just making national headlines: The first Mormon temple in Pennsylvania is starting construction in Logan Square next month. But how much does the average Philadelphian actually know about Mormonism and its followers?

With all the buzz, now seems like the perfect time to debunk some of the most common Mormon stereotypes.

Mormonism isn’t all that different from Christianity.
Many Christians will vehemently deny that Mormons share their beliefs, but Mormons and Christians have something big in common: Jesus. The actual name of Mormonism is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormons also follow the teachings of the Bible, but supplement it with The Book of Mormon (though they’re not too thrilled about the musical of the same name). The major differences? Mormons believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate beings; that God has a physical body, not just a spirit; and that Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion, is a prophet. The two religions may not be exactly alike, but they seem pretty darn similar.

All Mormons don’t live in Salt Lake City.
Although Utah does have a significant Mormon population, there are an estimated 14.5 million followers living all around the world—more than twice the global Jewish population, to put it in perspective—and more than 50,000 of those are right here in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has actually played a pretty important role in Mormon history: Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon while living in Harmony, and the first Mormons were baptized in the Susquehanna River. During the 19th century, Philly was a port of entry for many Mormon immigrants; the city’s Mormon population grew quickly, with eight to 10 new members joining the local congregation per week during the 1830s.

Mormons don’t typically have a half-dozen wives.
The religion has denounced polygamy for more than a century. Although Mormons preached polygamy in the 1800s, the Church stopped the practice in 1890. A former President of the Church even stated that any members found to have multiple wives would be excommunicated. The ladies of Sister Wives consider themselves Mormon fundamentalists, which is why they’re okay with sharing a husband; they figure that if the original members of the Church did it, they can too. But for the majority of modern-day Mormons, one wife is (more than) enough.

Mitt Romney’s Not the Only Famous Mormon.
We’ve got some famous Mormons right here in Philly. Eagles head coach Andy Reid, of course, is a devout Mormon. He led a symposium recently in Broomall to educate the public on Mormonism and clear up some misconceptions. He’s joined by actors Jon Heder (Napoleon Dymanite) and Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, talk-radio host Glenn Beck, and performing duo Donny and Marie Osmond. The Washington Times has a longer list here.