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Latter Day Saints in San Diego

Nobody doesn't like Mormons

"Our boys stick out so much. The white shirts and dark trousers, riding bicycles.” - Image by Randy Hoffman
"Our boys stick out so much. The white shirts and dark trousers, riding bicycles.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is now the fastest-growing religion, in the United States and worldwide. San Diego County, by no means a Mormon stronghold, is home to more than 52,000 members. "What LDS has going for it that a lot of other religions don’t is that it covers everything. It’s an entire way of life,” says Steve Andersen, a local attorney and former church bishop. Available through various Mormon businesses and organizations are food, clothing, social services, and education.

Mormon Battalion monument, Presidio Park. When the battalion arrived, they found 248 white persons, 483 "tame” Indians, 1550 “wild” Indians.

Perhaps the most visible of the Mormon-run organizations is Brigham Young University, but this school is only one part of an extensive network of educational services. At, non-Mormon campuses throughout the country, the LDS Institutes of Religion operate facilities for religious instruction, recreation, and social activities for Mormon university students.

Seven San Diego County college campuses have such facilities. Allan Gunnerson, Southwestern regional director of the institutes, says the program locally enrolls about 60 percent of university-level LDS students. For students in grades 9 through 12. religion courses are taught at Mormon meeting houses throughout the county. Closer to 70 percent of high-school-level LDS students take part in these seminary programs.

San Diego Mormon temple under construction. In the rendering, it looks like a giant spacecraft.
  • Secular knowledge, important as it may be. can never save a soul nor open the celestial kingdom nor create a world nor make a man a god.... Do not be deceived!... Can you see that the seminary courses should be given even preferential attention over the high school subjects; the institute over the college course?...

— Former LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, quoted in an Institute of Religion brochure

Allan Gunnerson: “Students memorize 25 scriptures in a year."

An "exemplary” local seminary program, according to Allan Gunnerson, is held at the Hillsdale Road meeting house in El Cajon. Here, about 130 students from Granite Hills, Gross-mont, El Cajon, Monte Vista, and Valhalla high schools gather before school, five days a week, for 45 minutes of religious instruction.

Betty points out ritual clothing: "As you can see. the garments are all white.”

“People in LDS are known for showing up on the dot, not a second before,” Gunnerson had said. At 6:30 a.m. one recent morning, when a bell rings in the Hillsdale facility, barely a teen is left in the building lobby. Backpacks have been left on the gold industrial carpeting, on the orange couch beneath a three-by-four-foot portrait of Jesus. From cabinets in the building’s classrooms, students have grabbed yellow binders, copies of the Bible (King James Version) and the Book of Mormon from cardboard boxes cut away to hold the books upright.

Bishop Tom Stay, manager of the Bishop’s Storehouse: "We maintain a warehouse wherever we have a large church population."

John Jones, an attorney, has run the seminary program at Hillsdale for four years. For this he receives a small stipend. which probably covers his gasoline expenses, he says. Jones’s job, like those of the teachers here, is a church assignment. “It’s a calling,” he explains. "Your bishop tells you, and hopefully you receive personal confirmation through your feelings.”

"The church produces 65 to 70 percent of the items on the shelves in the store."

In the building’s center is a chapel, where three wards — geographically defined Mormon groups — hold Sunday services. Today, the adults who have driven children to class sit in the chapel pews, passing the time watching a church film. Behind the chapel is a recreation room with a stage. Across corridors around these two large venues are the smaller classrooms.

Eight classes are in session this year, two for each high school grade level. The teens are following a standard curriculum set by the church. In one room, 19 high school seniors are "scripture chasing.” says Gunnerson, as he leads the way into the classroom. “[Students] memorize 25 scriptures in a year. For seniors it’s Old Testament.” Moveable bulletin boards hold a color map of the Holy Land, a Biblical time line, and lists of minor and major prophets. “Promises of God to Adam,” reads one board. “Posterity, Property, Priesthood.”

At first glance, the students appear no different from teen-agers anywhere, though they seem uniformly more clean-cut and certainly more attentive, eyes on open Bibles. Most of the girls are blonde, with well-kept fingernails. The boys slouch in T-shirts, none of which promotes a rock band. Their teacher, an enthusiastic woman in a pleated floral-print skirt, picks students to read aloud the story of Abraham and Isaac. Afterwards, the teacher interprets the passage and questions students about its meaning.

In another classroom, a heated discussion is audible halfway down the hall. "Do you know what it takes,” an authoritative female voice asks, “to walk up to a teacher and say, ‘Hey, that offends me’?” Someone giggles. “This is very serious.” A girl can be heard complaining that she asked a high school teacher not to use swear words, and he said he didn’t care. The woman, apparently their teacher, responds, “It doesn’t matter. Do you know why, class? Because when this, is all over, Jesus will come up to Julie and thank her for standing up for him.”

A boy asks. “Ever seen an R-rated movie?” Titters of embarrassment erupt. The teacher maintains her composure. “Yes, and I wish I never had.” It is soon established that the film was Conan the Barbarian. “I didn’t stay through the whole thing, and my date never asked me out again.... Once you’ve seen those images, they stay with you. You can be sitting in temple and they’ll appear in your mind. One of Satan’s many tricks.” The teacher pauses politely for every interruption and prompts her students to use "please” and “thank you” often. “The Prophet [church President Ezra Taft Benson] says we are not to see R-rated movies.... If Christ were here, he would tell us not to go to R-rated movies, right? We know this because the Prophet told us, that’s how we know, right?”

At 7:15 a bell rings twice, and students rush out into the hallway, hurrying to get to high school on time. Two beautiful girls, Wlhalla High School students, walk side by side toward the exit. Allison Weeks, a blue-eyed blonde, was raised in the church, “loves it,” and will make it a part of her life until she dies, she says. Dawn Hockaday, the only African-American in sight, is just visiting the seminary. "I’m here because [Allison]’s my best friend, I like the people, I need to belong to a church.” but Dawn remains uncommitted.

Allison traces a pink fingernail along her blue raw-silk sheath dress as she talks. Her outfit is expensive, sophisticated, right down to Perry Ellis T-strap flats. A girl this pretty and self-confident couldn’t be unpopular, but Allison admits that she is subject to pressures other high school students are not. "Now it’s gotten to the point where people don’t even ask me if I want to go to parties because they know I won’t. If they cuss in front of me, it’s like, ‘Oh! Sorry.’ It’s neat!” Allison admits there was a time about a year ago when she “had a conflict” with the church. “It’s just that when you get so caught up in school and in material things and stuff like that, all of a sudden you completely forget that the church is there. And then you have to start getting money for stuff on your own, and you can't turn to your parents. And then, once you do that, you realize that the church is true to yourself, and it’s like ... I don’t know how to explain it.” She turns to Dawn and the two burst out in giggles. “What if my mom sees this!”

Allison continues, “If you really believe in a church, then you don’t have conflicts with it. I mean, I know what I want out of my life, and the church is in it.”

The account of Mormonism’s birth sounds complex and JL implausible to non-Mormon ears. In 1820, Joseph Smith, Jr., from a family of "seekers” — people without any sectarian religious affiliation — prayed for guidance under a tree near his cabin in Palmyra, in western New York state. Smith claimed to have had a vision during prayer in which "two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description” revealed to him that all existing religions were an "abomination” to God. Three years later, during another prayer session. Smith was visited by an angel named Moroni (more-own-eye). Moroni, according to Smith, was the resurrected

last member of an ancient American people called the Nephites. originally from Jerusalem, who had been destroyed by an evil, dark-skinned race — the Lamanites — just prior to the fourth century A.D.

Moroni told Smith that he would find several gold plates buried in a hill near Palmyra. The plates were inscribed in an ancient language and presented an account of the Nephites in the Americas. Smith would also find in the hill what could most easily be described as a pair of “magic glasses,” with which Smith was to read the plates. The glasses, Smith later wrote, “were two stones in silver bows — and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummin...”

Smith found the glasses and the plates and. over the next few years, deciphered their stories. He published, the work in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, though suspicious circumstances surrounded these events. Smith read the plates in secret, and several men claiming to have seen the plates later withdrew their testimony; scholars could not verify the authenticity of the language samples Smith produced, which he called “reformed Egyptian.” Even so. Smith and his associates began to meet regularly under the guidelines presented in the Book of Mormon, and the church expanded. Growth was aided by the influx of immigrants into America, who were offered homes, jobs, and other necessities in exchange for their membership in the church.

In the following decades. Smith and his followers were hounded from New York to Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. As a self-reliant, highly structured religious community with practices considered odd or even demonic by their neighbors, early Mormons often became involved in outright warfare, sometimes with the police and militia.

Ironically, the resulting insularity of Mormon life has only perpetuated the very stereotypes it was developed to protect Mormons from. "There is generally a misperception ... of our zeal.” Steve Andersen says, speaking to one such stereotype. “One would have the impression that Mormons are a fiery-eyed, grim bunch of folks who are almost militaristic. Cultish about their practices. That they spend endless hours memorizing doctrine.... That if a member starts to stray — if they become inactive or stop paying their tithing or something — they can anticipate that, ding-dong, the doorbell’s gonna ring, and there’s going to be a couple of grim-faced elders of the church banging on the door and calling him to repentance.... When I was a bishop, in my dreams I would have had people I could send out to drag back those who were straying!” He pauses. “Urn, and that’s just sort of a joke, because I wouldn’t have done it anyway.

“The second thing is that it’s just not true. We send people out to make visits. We do that out of concern for our members.... Those stereotypes are just not consistent with my experience of being a member of the church here in Southern California for my entire life The church rightfully is proud of the diligence and faith of its members. They are exemplary in that regard — more so, I would guess, than the adherents of a lot of other Christian churches.”

The Mormon tradition of storing extra food, water, and clothing is linked to the church’s belief in the rapidly approaching Millenium. The "latter Days” of the church’s name refer to our current epoch. There is no official date set, but it is believed to be soon.

In Steve Andersen’s garage are four 50-gallon drums of fresh drinking water, 30-gallon canisters of wheat, some honey, sugar, salt, and dried prepared foods. “During the time in the church’s history when the nearness of the Millenium was a more potent part of our everyday feelings about life, it may have been the case that people were stockpiling food and clothing because they wanted to survive its arrival. But in my lifetime, certainly in my current thinking as an adult member of the church, the reason I store some things at home is because all it takes is a bridge to collapse over 1-5 or the drought to get worse or a water main to break, and it could be very useful to have some supplies.... The idea that I’ve got a garage full of stuff and I’m going to be out there with a shotgun blazing away at my neighbors if they come get something to eat is ridiculous!”

Church founder Joseph Smith became Mormonism’s first martyr on June 27, 1844, while incarcerated in Nauvoo, Illinois, on a riot charge. The jail was stormed by a mob. According to one account. Smith was lynched. According to another, he was shot in the back, dragged across a yard, and more formally dispatched by a firing squad of militiamen. Following his death, Brigham Young and other prominent Mormons fought for control of the church. Groups splintered off and left Illinois for less hostile territories to the west.

In June of 1846, while the U.S. was at war with Mexico, the U.S. Army approached a wagon train of Mormons at Council Bluffs, Iowa. They were offered money, food, blankets, cookware, and other necessities in exchange for enlistment in the Army to help the U.S. maintain control of the California Territory. Some 500 Mormons, including a handful of women, joined in the cause, forming the Mormon Battalion.

Their 2000-mile journey — the longest march in U.S. Infantry history — ended on January 27, 1847, in San Diego. Three hundred of the original company survived the hardships of travel and military engagements with Mexican troops. The Mormons camped at Fort Stockton, now Presidio Park. (Today, the Mormon Battalion Visitors Center in Old Town commemorates the site.) When the battalion arrived, they found, according to a census of the day, a population of 248 white persons, 483 "tame” Indians, 1550 “wild” Indians, 3 Negroes, and 3 Sandwich Islanders. A battalion soldier. Private Bliss, in his journal, described the scene this way:

  • San Diego is a small town built after the Spanish fashion with a public square and house of worship, three or four stores and as many groceries. Our flag waves in the center of the town and another one on the Fort above the town; the (shipping) wharf lies five miles south of town and the breakers of the sea are in sight west four miles, and the roar of the same would not let us sleep were we not used to the noise. Of a still night there is a quiet harbour and perfectly secure for vessels from a storm; between us and the coast west is another bay but not sufficient water at the bar .for vessels to pass in....
  • [The Mexicans) are very friendly and intelligent, many of them live like gentlemen; the Indians are their servants. Their sports are to ride on horseback, heave the lasso, gamble and go to the fandango. The California ladies dressed in silks and satins, and were exceedingly fair.

During their encampment in San Diego, battalion members graded streets, built sidewalks, dug 15 to 20 wells, whitewashed public buildings, and dug a coal mine on Point Loma. They are credited with building a courthouse and school on Old Town Plaza, these works paid for by public donation. Bricks were fired in a kiln in the Mormon-built brick yard. Soldiers opened a blacksmith shop, a tannery, an adobe business, and built an oven for cooking bread and meats.

Only four or five of ten Mormon women who made the journey survived. According to one archival account. the first American Anglo child born in San Diego was born to one of them, Mrs. Lydia Hunter. Upon her death in childbirth, Mrs. Hunter became the first American- Anglo interred in San Diego.

In June 1847, the war with Mexico ended; in July, the Mormon Battalion’s term of service was over. The Mormons were commended to the governor of California for their industry and asked to re-enlist. “If they are continued'' a Southern Military District commander wrote, “they will be of more value in., reconciling the people to the change of government than a whole host of bayonets.” Eighty-one re-enlisted to remain in San Diego but eventually journeyed to Salt Lake City, now the firm center of Mormonism, via a route that later became I-15.

The first LDS chapel in San Diego was not built until 1913. It still exists, a small wooden building with a peaked roof, at Tenth Avenue at Pennsylvania, in Hillcrest. The chapel now serves as the Family History Center, a library devoted to genealogical research. A side entrance to the building is marked “Beehive Clothing” on a wooden sign above the porch.

A short ramp leads into a narrow waiting area before a long, L-shaped service counter. Behind the counter, wooden shelves run floor to ceiling in neat rows. The voice of Frank Sinatra floats from corner speakers. An architect’s rendering of the San Diego Temple, currently under construction, decorates one wall. In the rendering, it looks like a giant spacecraft. Two pea-green Naugahyde love seats are empty in the narrow floor space. Betty Hancock, Beehive Clothing’s manager for I3V2 years, is just visible behind a partition at one end of the room, near a sign that says. “Merchandise for Latter Day Saints only.”

“Oh!” Betty notices someone waiting, leaps from her desk and around the counter, grabbing a pen and square of scratch paper in one smooth motion. “You caught me dozing off. How can I help you?” She peers unsurely from behind spectacles, mouth open. Finding that her professional services are not needed, she lays down paper and pen next to an old cash register and smooths her rose-toned flower-print dress. "Church service workers needed. Benefits are Heavenly,” reads a plaque affixed to a shelf behind Betty’s head.

Beehive Clothing is the only San Diego supplier of temple garments — clothing for use in Mormon temple rituals — and of the Mormons’ specially designed underwear. Donning special garments for temple ceremonies is said to underline the seriousness of the occasions and to symbolize the spiritual purity with which one is supposed to engage in the rituals. The underwear, referred to as a "regulation garment,” resembles men’s and women’s bathing suits from the 1920s. Men’s have closer-fitting legs, while women’s are a looser “bloomer” style. A devout Mormon wears the regulation garment from puberty onward, sometimes even outside temple.

Betty points out other ritual clothing on a black display board in a glossy wooden frame. (A sign in the corner of the board reads, “Happy Thoughts Lift the Spirit.”) Betty says, "As you can see. the garments are all white.” Carefully pinned to the board, at angles around a depiction of the Los Angeles Temple crocheted in fine thread, are a man’s dress shirt and slacks, two men’s ties, a handkerchief with lacy border, and a long-sleeved, knee-length cotton dress with waist sash.

This is the slow season for Beehive Clothing. “We do most of our business around Christmas and vacation-time. People need extra garments for special occasions, when people get married.

And they like to give them as gifts. Sometimes well have anywhere from 25 to 100 people a day in here.” The tall shelves behind Betty are stocked with clothing in hundreds of plastic packages and cardboard boxes. She estimates that her inventory is worth about $50,000. All of it is white.

On the counter are plastic-wrapped packages of second-quality T-shirts from Beehive Mills in Salt Lake City; the display is marked “20 percent off.” Even without the discount, prices in the shop are low. A letter board behind Betty lists men’s ties at $3.70, shirts at $13.35, dresses at $32.00.

Betty’s position at Beehive is paid, and when things are especially busy she has a volunteer in to help. “It’s nice. It’s a good, clean place to work. No bad language is used. It’s quiet and everyone’s really friendly.”

Betty was raised in the church. Her father moved the family here from Provo, Utah, in 1933, when there were still few Mormons in the county. She has never felt stigmatized by her association with LDS, she maintains, although she admits the general public has become more tolerant over time. “They no longer joke about polygamy, because it’s so long ago now. If I stick out at all, it’s because of our rules [against] smoking and drinking alcohol and coffee. But I think people respect people in our church because of our high moral standards,” She mentions the recent murders in South America of two church missionaries. “It’s because our boys stick out so much. The white shirts and dark trousers, riding bicycles.”

Betty also says she has never chafed against the restrictions on women’s participation within the church. An LDS woman traditionally places the roles of wife and mother above all else. “It’s never bothered me at all. I like it. Women are given a lot of respect. I had a lady friend who was looking into the church at one time, and she felt the women were treated unfairly. We’ll never have a bishop who’ll be a woman, of course, because that’s not the way our priesthood is set up. But I think most women who don’t like the way things are in the church just leave it.”

The Relief Society is an LDS woman’s main theater of activity outside the home. In the past 20 years, the structure of the society has increasingly come to resemble the hierarchy of the church’s all-male priesthood. Still, women do not make policy decisions and lack any offices that parallel the priesthood’s higher echelons. At monthly “homemakers’ meetings,” church women discuss activities like upcoming fund raisers and charity events or make holiday decorations.

“There are some divorces in the church,” Betty continues. “People begin to think more selfishly. Women wanting to ‘fulfill themselves,’ I’ve heard about cases like that.”

She moves over near a tall, glassdoored wardrobe along one wall. In it are what appear to be wedding gowns. “These are called session dresses. They’re used in certain temple ceremonies. Some are long, but we just got this lovely two-piece in last week.” On tiptoe Betty takes a dress from the wardrobe, brings it over for inspection. “We have the long half-slips to go under them too.” She lifts a long sleeve in her hand. The dress’s bodice and collar are bordered in lace. The fabric is an inexpensive, shiny, loose-weave polyester — Corban, she explains. “We have all the temple garments here. For men and women. Even the slippers. You spend long hours in the temple, getting up and down a lot. These keep your feet comfortable.” Returning the session dress to the wardrobe, Betty retrieves two plastic bags of slippers, men’s and women’s. “They’re made by Dearfoam.” The men’s are plain white velour, the women’s made of a shiny quilted synthetic called Bemberg, a rayon-nylon mix. Both pairs are the shape of the bottom of a clothes iron.

“All of these items are available in a variety of fabrics.” Betty bustles down the counter and picks up two fans of fabric samples — men’s and women’s. She turns the squares over, pointing to their stapled-on labels: cotton jersey, cotton mesh, polyester mesh, Bemberg, Corban, polyester cotton, cotton thermal. One swatch of tan cotton jersey was “for the underwear of people who served in the Gulf.”

There are some 4.3 million Mormons in the United States, just a little over half the church’s worldwide membership. These millions are presided over by Ezra Taft Benson, 92, the church’s president since 1985. (He was Secretary of Agriculture in the ’50s, under President Dwight Eisenhower.) Benson’s current post is a lifetime appointment made by church hierarchy. According to Mormon doctrine, church policy decisions go straight from God into Benson’s ear. The president is aided by a First and a Second Counselor, beneath them the Council of the Twelve Apostles, followed by the First and Second Quorums of Seventy, which supervise the church’s geographical subdivisions.

In San Diego County there are now 13 Mormon “stakes,” each with 3000 to 4000 members presided over by a president. Every stake — the word refers to Joseph Smith’s analogy between church structure and tents — is composed of seven or eight wards. Each ward is headed by a bishop.

Former Bishop Steven Andersen explains, “There are strict geographical confines to each ward. Lines are drawn up by the ward president, approved by Salt Lake, and maps are published. It’s brilliant because it prevents elitism and encourages a socioeconomic mix.” Assuming, of course, the geographical boundaries of a ward encompass a diversity of neighborhoods.

Every Sunday, Mormons attend services in a chapel or meeting house. Three or four wards share a meeting house, so each stake has two or three meeting houses to use, as well as a stake center. In recent years the church’s worldwide missionary activities have centered on the Third World. Foreign membership reached 3.4 million in 1990. There are more than 600,000 Mormons in Mexico alone. This led to the opening of Spanish-language, Cambodian, and Asian meeting houses in San Diego, where members of those groups cross ward boundaries to congregate in their own places of worship.

Currently, the most important development in the San Diego church, the one that will have the most impact on the daily lives of its members, is the construction of the San Diego Temple. In the past year, the steel frames looming above I-5 near Nobel Drive have increased the church’s visibility — literally — like nothing else. The structure rises from a four-acre parcel of land purchased by the church in 1984. Even in its skeletal stage, it is imposing, ominous, and with its jutting towers, somewhat fantastical.

The importance of the Temple lies in the rituals that take place there. Church members in good standing — that is, those who attend services regularly, tithe, support the community, and adhere to the Mormon strictures against the use of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine — receive a “temple recommend" that allows them to enter the temple. There, they can be married for eternity (the vow is carried on into the hereafter, unlike alliances made in Mormon chapels). They can perform "endowments” — ritual baptisms for their non-LDS ancestors, which ensure those long-gone souls’ entry into Mormon heaven and their continued evolution towards a god-like spiritual state.

Since San Diego currently has no temple of its own, LDS members with temple recommends must drive to Los Angeles to participate in these special rituals. This will change when the San Diego Temple is completed in 1993. At a projected cost of $24 million, the construction ranks as one of the church’s most important projects. Bishop Clyde Romney, head of LDS public affairs for San Diego, emphasizes that when complete, the temple will be open to the public only briefly before its dedication. After that, it will be as closed to nonbelievers as the holy places of Islam.

The architect, William Magnuson of San Diego’s Deems Lewis McKinley, designed the building to resemble the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City but thrust forward with a futurist vision in mind. Four stories high, the temple will be anchored by a concrete tower at each corner. Each steeple will contain 44 tons of steel. Ten spires will rise from the building, two of which will be 190 feet high. A 10-foot statue of the Angel Moroni will cap the east structure; an 8-foot finial will top the west steeple. The exterior of the building will be faced in gleaming white stone, a compromise for the white marble originally planned but abandoned as too expensive.

The church’s long history of conflict with the society around it has led to the development of numerous support services for Mormons. In Chula Vista, a rehabilitation center and a branch of nationwide Deseret Industries provide training and employment for disabled Saints. A social services department inducts needy Mormon families into a system that offers financial assistance, housing, counseling, job training, and employment.

In a group of undistinguished cinderblock buildings located in Kearny Mesa, the church operates an employment center, a tuna cannery (which ships its product to LDS food storehouses across the country), and the regional Bishop’s Storehouse. The presence of these operations is indicated only by small signs surrounding the property.

The storehouse’s double doors open into a lobby with brown tile floors, a plain reception counter, pale yellow walls. Bishop Tom Stay, manager of the Bishop’s Storehouse, is a cheery man with a light, small voice. His handshake is firm and his manner courtly. "We maintain a warehouse wherever we have a large church population. The San Diego Storehouse services over 100 wards. Food is stored for a selected bishop and Relief Society president to distribute to the poor and needy, to people in their time of need.”

Bill Keel, one of five church service workers who toil from one to two years at the Bishop’s Storehouse, wanders into the hallway. His firm bulk is crisscrossed with bright-colored striped suspenders. Under a full, brown mustache he grins broadly. A handshake is followed by an embrace. “We like to greet everyone here with a hug.” he says. The hug is light and correct. “The volunteers work 8 to 30 hours a week,” informs Keel. “It’s a church calling. Sometimes Tom will ask a bishop to ask someone in their ward to help. Others volunteer, especially the elderly, who like to have such work to do. Sometimes disabled people too.”

In his office. Stay settles into a swivel chair before a worn wooden desk. Some chipped metal file cabinets, a couple of brown Naugahyde chairs, a few stacks of papers are all the office’s furnishings. Stay says he loves his job.

He ran a church welfare farm in Riverside for 15 years, and he loved that too. As he grew older, he ceded his position on the farm to a more energetic leader. For a year and a half now, Stay has been bishop of the Twin Oaks Valley ward in San Marcos.

In a corner of the office, behind Stay’s desk chair, are two standard two-way radios sitting on a small table. "Those radios?” He is surprised they are noticed. “They are for in case communication goes down in a disaster. They provide a link between various church organizations.” To Stay’s knowledge, the radios have never been used. He denies a direct link between the presence of the radios and the Saints' belief that they are living in the Latter Days. “The fact that those are here,” he explains, “has more to do with our belief in preparedness than with any expectation of disaster.”

Stay rises from his desk and slowly leads the way to two double doors across a corridor. “Well, this is the store.” It appears to be deserted. No clicking cash registers or squeaky shopping cart wheels to be heard. Is it always this quiet?

"Actually, the recession has increased the number of food orders we receive. We’ll have anywhere from 10 to 40 families come in per each of the four days I’m open.” At factories across the country, the church produces 65 to 70 percent of the items on the shelves in the store, under the Deseret label. There are some 130 commodities available. The store looks like an old elementary school lunchroom; .yellowish cinderblock walls, brown and tan floor tiles. To the left. 20 metal shopping carts are stacked into each other, next to huge piles of cardboard boxes and stacks of paper bags. Light rock pipes from speakers high in the corners.

There is a sign on the wall above a display case of sample items. “Food that Money/Cannot Buy/Produced by/Service and Love.” On the labels of the items is a logo incorporating a beehive. “That’s for the busy bee,” Bishop Stay explains. “Always working, always thrifty. And Utah, of course, is known as the Beehive State.”

The rest of the room is mostly long rows of display shelves, about 5 feet high and 10 feet long. Laid out in neat regiments on unadorned wooden shelves are dishwashing liquid, shampoo, cleanser, laundry soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, lightbulbs, tampons, toilet paper, tin foil; flour, pasta, oil, honey, evaporated milk, baking soda; cans of applesauce, beef chunks, chicken-flavored noodle soup, corn, raspberry spread, jam from Oregon, raisins from Sacramento. The cans of chunk light tuna are produced at the cannery adjacent to the storehouse building. There is tomato juice, peanut butter from Texas, apricots. There are racks of bread, from (non-Mormon) Holsum Bakeries, along a side wall. At the back of the room, a cold locker stores plastic bins of stew beef, franks, hams, roast beef, pork roasts, from a slaughterhouse in Spanish Fork, Utah. Another refrigerated case contains cardboard boxes of zucchini, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, and celery. Metal tables along one wall contain plastic bins of potatoes, carrots, onions, corn, oranges, and apples.

Bill Keel ushers in two women customers, one weary-looking, the other expressionless. A small, excited girl trots in to join them. They take a cart, “you’ll see everything’s marked on the shelves,” Bill tells them. “Just start down the first aisle right here.” He points to the extreme left of the store. The women take a cart and begin down the indicated aisle.

Bishop Stay watches the interaction with paternal pride. Most of the Saints who come to the store are women; beyond that, he can’t stereotype his average customer. "We don’t particularly have a large number of minorities come in,” says Bishop Stay. “Those people are quite proud. They don’t like to come in unless they really have to. Especially the Spanish-speaking people.”

Racism and sexism — especially as the latter relates .M. m. to polygamy — are two subjects for which the church has received widespread criticism. Historically, Mormon doctrine states that all creatures exist before and after life on Earth in a spirit world. The forces of light and darkness battle for control of these spirits. What side a spirit aligns himself with determines who comes to Earth and when, as well as what color his or her body is to be. According to original doctrine, blacks receive their earthly skin color and other “curses" for siding with the darkness. The color first appeared, it is said, when Cain killed Abel.

This explanation has changed with the times, as Mormonism bowed to pressure from within and without its ranks. In 1978, then-President Spencer Kimball declared that in a "revelation” he was told that black males were now worthy to become members of the Mormon priesthood — a privilege traditionally reserved for all “worthy” males over the age of 12.

Says Andersen, “The story of the mark of Ham, as it’s called, tends not to be found in official church doctrine but in theories developed by fairly high-up church officials and Mormon theologians to explain a phenomenon."

But an official statement in Mormon Doctrine, written in the 1960s, contends, “Those who were less valiant in pre-existence ... are known to us as the Negroes.”

On polygamy, Andersen says, "To begin with, it was not as widespread as the layman believes. During its heyday in the mid-l800s, only 5 percent of LDS men and perhaps 12 percent of LDS women were involved. The church officially banned the practice in 1890.” While the lives of female church members continue to be confined by traditional roles of helpmeet and mother, increasing numbers of LDS women venture out of the home, perhaps to do missionary work like LDS men. In 1990, the church eliminated from temple ceremonies the ritual vow of obedience to their husbands that had been taken by Mormon wives. Steve Andersen says his “sort-of feminist” wife is his equal partner. “I’ve never been dictatorial or invoked any supposed covenant she has to be obedient to. We work things out and come to a consensus like other typical married couples. The changes in church doctrine, like in the temple ceremony, were most welcome to me, my wife, and a lot of other local Mormons.”

In a 1974 address, former LDS president Spencer Kimball said, "After marriage young wives should be occupied in bearing and rearing children. I know of no scriptures or authorities which authorize young wives to delay their families or to go to work to put their husbands through college. Young married couples can make their way and reach their educational heights, if they are determined.” Portions of Kimball’s speech are reprinted, in a pamphlet dated 1975 and still distributed at the LDS Institute of Religion at San Diego State University.

Nationwide, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints claims impressive ties to the worlds of business and politics. And author James Coates claims in his 1990 book In Mormon Circles that the CIA loves to recruit from among the vast pool of clean-living, morally conservative young LDS men. As a business, the church generates more income from its followers than any other American religious group, largely from individuals — members tithe up to 10 percent of their personal incomes: $4.3 billion a year, according to a recent New York Times article. The same source claims that more than 100 church-owned businesses and land holdings bring in another $400 million.

Locally, bookstores and genealogical research centers generate revenue from both church members and the public. There are two LDS Business and Professional Associations in the county, and local LDS newsletters keep members in touch with the achievements of fellow Saints.

Dan Clark, owner and publisher of the Valley Roadrunner, handles press relations for the church in San Diego. Asked to name prominent San Diego church members, he does not hesitate. “The list would include Congressman Ron Packard, 43rd District. Mayor Joan Shoemaker of El Cajon, the late Mayor Gayle McCandliss of Chula Vista, some city council members in La Mesa, the school board president in Poway, and some of the North County water board.”

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"Our boys stick out so much. The white shirts and dark trousers, riding bicycles.” - Image by Randy Hoffman
"Our boys stick out so much. The white shirts and dark trousers, riding bicycles.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is now the fastest-growing religion, in the United States and worldwide. San Diego County, by no means a Mormon stronghold, is home to more than 52,000 members. "What LDS has going for it that a lot of other religions don’t is that it covers everything. It’s an entire way of life,” says Steve Andersen, a local attorney and former church bishop. Available through various Mormon businesses and organizations are food, clothing, social services, and education.

Mormon Battalion monument, Presidio Park. When the battalion arrived, they found 248 white persons, 483 "tame” Indians, 1550 “wild” Indians.

Perhaps the most visible of the Mormon-run organizations is Brigham Young University, but this school is only one part of an extensive network of educational services. At, non-Mormon campuses throughout the country, the LDS Institutes of Religion operate facilities for religious instruction, recreation, and social activities for Mormon university students.

Seven San Diego County college campuses have such facilities. Allan Gunnerson, Southwestern regional director of the institutes, says the program locally enrolls about 60 percent of university-level LDS students. For students in grades 9 through 12. religion courses are taught at Mormon meeting houses throughout the county. Closer to 70 percent of high-school-level LDS students take part in these seminary programs.

San Diego Mormon temple under construction. In the rendering, it looks like a giant spacecraft.
  • Secular knowledge, important as it may be. can never save a soul nor open the celestial kingdom nor create a world nor make a man a god.... Do not be deceived!... Can you see that the seminary courses should be given even preferential attention over the high school subjects; the institute over the college course?...

— Former LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, quoted in an Institute of Religion brochure

Allan Gunnerson: “Students memorize 25 scriptures in a year."

An "exemplary” local seminary program, according to Allan Gunnerson, is held at the Hillsdale Road meeting house in El Cajon. Here, about 130 students from Granite Hills, Gross-mont, El Cajon, Monte Vista, and Valhalla high schools gather before school, five days a week, for 45 minutes of religious instruction.

Betty points out ritual clothing: "As you can see. the garments are all white.”

“People in LDS are known for showing up on the dot, not a second before,” Gunnerson had said. At 6:30 a.m. one recent morning, when a bell rings in the Hillsdale facility, barely a teen is left in the building lobby. Backpacks have been left on the gold industrial carpeting, on the orange couch beneath a three-by-four-foot portrait of Jesus. From cabinets in the building’s classrooms, students have grabbed yellow binders, copies of the Bible (King James Version) and the Book of Mormon from cardboard boxes cut away to hold the books upright.

Bishop Tom Stay, manager of the Bishop’s Storehouse: "We maintain a warehouse wherever we have a large church population."

John Jones, an attorney, has run the seminary program at Hillsdale for four years. For this he receives a small stipend. which probably covers his gasoline expenses, he says. Jones’s job, like those of the teachers here, is a church assignment. “It’s a calling,” he explains. "Your bishop tells you, and hopefully you receive personal confirmation through your feelings.”

"The church produces 65 to 70 percent of the items on the shelves in the store."

In the building’s center is a chapel, where three wards — geographically defined Mormon groups — hold Sunday services. Today, the adults who have driven children to class sit in the chapel pews, passing the time watching a church film. Behind the chapel is a recreation room with a stage. Across corridors around these two large venues are the smaller classrooms.

Eight classes are in session this year, two for each high school grade level. The teens are following a standard curriculum set by the church. In one room, 19 high school seniors are "scripture chasing.” says Gunnerson, as he leads the way into the classroom. “[Students] memorize 25 scriptures in a year. For seniors it’s Old Testament.” Moveable bulletin boards hold a color map of the Holy Land, a Biblical time line, and lists of minor and major prophets. “Promises of God to Adam,” reads one board. “Posterity, Property, Priesthood.”

At first glance, the students appear no different from teen-agers anywhere, though they seem uniformly more clean-cut and certainly more attentive, eyes on open Bibles. Most of the girls are blonde, with well-kept fingernails. The boys slouch in T-shirts, none of which promotes a rock band. Their teacher, an enthusiastic woman in a pleated floral-print skirt, picks students to read aloud the story of Abraham and Isaac. Afterwards, the teacher interprets the passage and questions students about its meaning.

In another classroom, a heated discussion is audible halfway down the hall. "Do you know what it takes,” an authoritative female voice asks, “to walk up to a teacher and say, ‘Hey, that offends me’?” Someone giggles. “This is very serious.” A girl can be heard complaining that she asked a high school teacher not to use swear words, and he said he didn’t care. The woman, apparently their teacher, responds, “It doesn’t matter. Do you know why, class? Because when this, is all over, Jesus will come up to Julie and thank her for standing up for him.”

A boy asks. “Ever seen an R-rated movie?” Titters of embarrassment erupt. The teacher maintains her composure. “Yes, and I wish I never had.” It is soon established that the film was Conan the Barbarian. “I didn’t stay through the whole thing, and my date never asked me out again.... Once you’ve seen those images, they stay with you. You can be sitting in temple and they’ll appear in your mind. One of Satan’s many tricks.” The teacher pauses politely for every interruption and prompts her students to use "please” and “thank you” often. “The Prophet [church President Ezra Taft Benson] says we are not to see R-rated movies.... If Christ were here, he would tell us not to go to R-rated movies, right? We know this because the Prophet told us, that’s how we know, right?”

At 7:15 a bell rings twice, and students rush out into the hallway, hurrying to get to high school on time. Two beautiful girls, Wlhalla High School students, walk side by side toward the exit. Allison Weeks, a blue-eyed blonde, was raised in the church, “loves it,” and will make it a part of her life until she dies, she says. Dawn Hockaday, the only African-American in sight, is just visiting the seminary. "I’m here because [Allison]’s my best friend, I like the people, I need to belong to a church.” but Dawn remains uncommitted.

Allison traces a pink fingernail along her blue raw-silk sheath dress as she talks. Her outfit is expensive, sophisticated, right down to Perry Ellis T-strap flats. A girl this pretty and self-confident couldn’t be unpopular, but Allison admits that she is subject to pressures other high school students are not. "Now it’s gotten to the point where people don’t even ask me if I want to go to parties because they know I won’t. If they cuss in front of me, it’s like, ‘Oh! Sorry.’ It’s neat!” Allison admits there was a time about a year ago when she “had a conflict” with the church. “It’s just that when you get so caught up in school and in material things and stuff like that, all of a sudden you completely forget that the church is there. And then you have to start getting money for stuff on your own, and you can't turn to your parents. And then, once you do that, you realize that the church is true to yourself, and it’s like ... I don’t know how to explain it.” She turns to Dawn and the two burst out in giggles. “What if my mom sees this!”

Allison continues, “If you really believe in a church, then you don’t have conflicts with it. I mean, I know what I want out of my life, and the church is in it.”

The account of Mormonism’s birth sounds complex and JL implausible to non-Mormon ears. In 1820, Joseph Smith, Jr., from a family of "seekers” — people without any sectarian religious affiliation — prayed for guidance under a tree near his cabin in Palmyra, in western New York state. Smith claimed to have had a vision during prayer in which "two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description” revealed to him that all existing religions were an "abomination” to God. Three years later, during another prayer session. Smith was visited by an angel named Moroni (more-own-eye). Moroni, according to Smith, was the resurrected

last member of an ancient American people called the Nephites. originally from Jerusalem, who had been destroyed by an evil, dark-skinned race — the Lamanites — just prior to the fourth century A.D.

Moroni told Smith that he would find several gold plates buried in a hill near Palmyra. The plates were inscribed in an ancient language and presented an account of the Nephites in the Americas. Smith would also find in the hill what could most easily be described as a pair of “magic glasses,” with which Smith was to read the plates. The glasses, Smith later wrote, “were two stones in silver bows — and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummin...”

Smith found the glasses and the plates and. over the next few years, deciphered their stories. He published, the work in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, though suspicious circumstances surrounded these events. Smith read the plates in secret, and several men claiming to have seen the plates later withdrew their testimony; scholars could not verify the authenticity of the language samples Smith produced, which he called “reformed Egyptian.” Even so. Smith and his associates began to meet regularly under the guidelines presented in the Book of Mormon, and the church expanded. Growth was aided by the influx of immigrants into America, who were offered homes, jobs, and other necessities in exchange for their membership in the church.

In the following decades. Smith and his followers were hounded from New York to Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. As a self-reliant, highly structured religious community with practices considered odd or even demonic by their neighbors, early Mormons often became involved in outright warfare, sometimes with the police and militia.

Ironically, the resulting insularity of Mormon life has only perpetuated the very stereotypes it was developed to protect Mormons from. "There is generally a misperception ... of our zeal.” Steve Andersen says, speaking to one such stereotype. “One would have the impression that Mormons are a fiery-eyed, grim bunch of folks who are almost militaristic. Cultish about their practices. That they spend endless hours memorizing doctrine.... That if a member starts to stray — if they become inactive or stop paying their tithing or something — they can anticipate that, ding-dong, the doorbell’s gonna ring, and there’s going to be a couple of grim-faced elders of the church banging on the door and calling him to repentance.... When I was a bishop, in my dreams I would have had people I could send out to drag back those who were straying!” He pauses. “Urn, and that’s just sort of a joke, because I wouldn’t have done it anyway.

“The second thing is that it’s just not true. We send people out to make visits. We do that out of concern for our members.... Those stereotypes are just not consistent with my experience of being a member of the church here in Southern California for my entire life The church rightfully is proud of the diligence and faith of its members. They are exemplary in that regard — more so, I would guess, than the adherents of a lot of other Christian churches.”

The Mormon tradition of storing extra food, water, and clothing is linked to the church’s belief in the rapidly approaching Millenium. The "latter Days” of the church’s name refer to our current epoch. There is no official date set, but it is believed to be soon.

In Steve Andersen’s garage are four 50-gallon drums of fresh drinking water, 30-gallon canisters of wheat, some honey, sugar, salt, and dried prepared foods. “During the time in the church’s history when the nearness of the Millenium was a more potent part of our everyday feelings about life, it may have been the case that people were stockpiling food and clothing because they wanted to survive its arrival. But in my lifetime, certainly in my current thinking as an adult member of the church, the reason I store some things at home is because all it takes is a bridge to collapse over 1-5 or the drought to get worse or a water main to break, and it could be very useful to have some supplies.... The idea that I’ve got a garage full of stuff and I’m going to be out there with a shotgun blazing away at my neighbors if they come get something to eat is ridiculous!”

Church founder Joseph Smith became Mormonism’s first martyr on June 27, 1844, while incarcerated in Nauvoo, Illinois, on a riot charge. The jail was stormed by a mob. According to one account. Smith was lynched. According to another, he was shot in the back, dragged across a yard, and more formally dispatched by a firing squad of militiamen. Following his death, Brigham Young and other prominent Mormons fought for control of the church. Groups splintered off and left Illinois for less hostile territories to the west.

In June of 1846, while the U.S. was at war with Mexico, the U.S. Army approached a wagon train of Mormons at Council Bluffs, Iowa. They were offered money, food, blankets, cookware, and other necessities in exchange for enlistment in the Army to help the U.S. maintain control of the California Territory. Some 500 Mormons, including a handful of women, joined in the cause, forming the Mormon Battalion.

Their 2000-mile journey — the longest march in U.S. Infantry history — ended on January 27, 1847, in San Diego. Three hundred of the original company survived the hardships of travel and military engagements with Mexican troops. The Mormons camped at Fort Stockton, now Presidio Park. (Today, the Mormon Battalion Visitors Center in Old Town commemorates the site.) When the battalion arrived, they found, according to a census of the day, a population of 248 white persons, 483 "tame” Indians, 1550 “wild” Indians, 3 Negroes, and 3 Sandwich Islanders. A battalion soldier. Private Bliss, in his journal, described the scene this way:

  • San Diego is a small town built after the Spanish fashion with a public square and house of worship, three or four stores and as many groceries. Our flag waves in the center of the town and another one on the Fort above the town; the (shipping) wharf lies five miles south of town and the breakers of the sea are in sight west four miles, and the roar of the same would not let us sleep were we not used to the noise. Of a still night there is a quiet harbour and perfectly secure for vessels from a storm; between us and the coast west is another bay but not sufficient water at the bar .for vessels to pass in....
  • [The Mexicans) are very friendly and intelligent, many of them live like gentlemen; the Indians are their servants. Their sports are to ride on horseback, heave the lasso, gamble and go to the fandango. The California ladies dressed in silks and satins, and were exceedingly fair.

During their encampment in San Diego, battalion members graded streets, built sidewalks, dug 15 to 20 wells, whitewashed public buildings, and dug a coal mine on Point Loma. They are credited with building a courthouse and school on Old Town Plaza, these works paid for by public donation. Bricks were fired in a kiln in the Mormon-built brick yard. Soldiers opened a blacksmith shop, a tannery, an adobe business, and built an oven for cooking bread and meats.

Only four or five of ten Mormon women who made the journey survived. According to one archival account. the first American Anglo child born in San Diego was born to one of them, Mrs. Lydia Hunter. Upon her death in childbirth, Mrs. Hunter became the first American- Anglo interred in San Diego.

In June 1847, the war with Mexico ended; in July, the Mormon Battalion’s term of service was over. The Mormons were commended to the governor of California for their industry and asked to re-enlist. “If they are continued'' a Southern Military District commander wrote, “they will be of more value in., reconciling the people to the change of government than a whole host of bayonets.” Eighty-one re-enlisted to remain in San Diego but eventually journeyed to Salt Lake City, now the firm center of Mormonism, via a route that later became I-15.

The first LDS chapel in San Diego was not built until 1913. It still exists, a small wooden building with a peaked roof, at Tenth Avenue at Pennsylvania, in Hillcrest. The chapel now serves as the Family History Center, a library devoted to genealogical research. A side entrance to the building is marked “Beehive Clothing” on a wooden sign above the porch.

A short ramp leads into a narrow waiting area before a long, L-shaped service counter. Behind the counter, wooden shelves run floor to ceiling in neat rows. The voice of Frank Sinatra floats from corner speakers. An architect’s rendering of the San Diego Temple, currently under construction, decorates one wall. In the rendering, it looks like a giant spacecraft. Two pea-green Naugahyde love seats are empty in the narrow floor space. Betty Hancock, Beehive Clothing’s manager for I3V2 years, is just visible behind a partition at one end of the room, near a sign that says. “Merchandise for Latter Day Saints only.”

“Oh!” Betty notices someone waiting, leaps from her desk and around the counter, grabbing a pen and square of scratch paper in one smooth motion. “You caught me dozing off. How can I help you?” She peers unsurely from behind spectacles, mouth open. Finding that her professional services are not needed, she lays down paper and pen next to an old cash register and smooths her rose-toned flower-print dress. "Church service workers needed. Benefits are Heavenly,” reads a plaque affixed to a shelf behind Betty’s head.

Beehive Clothing is the only San Diego supplier of temple garments — clothing for use in Mormon temple rituals — and of the Mormons’ specially designed underwear. Donning special garments for temple ceremonies is said to underline the seriousness of the occasions and to symbolize the spiritual purity with which one is supposed to engage in the rituals. The underwear, referred to as a "regulation garment,” resembles men’s and women’s bathing suits from the 1920s. Men’s have closer-fitting legs, while women’s are a looser “bloomer” style. A devout Mormon wears the regulation garment from puberty onward, sometimes even outside temple.

Betty points out other ritual clothing on a black display board in a glossy wooden frame. (A sign in the corner of the board reads, “Happy Thoughts Lift the Spirit.”) Betty says, "As you can see. the garments are all white.” Carefully pinned to the board, at angles around a depiction of the Los Angeles Temple crocheted in fine thread, are a man’s dress shirt and slacks, two men’s ties, a handkerchief with lacy border, and a long-sleeved, knee-length cotton dress with waist sash.

This is the slow season for Beehive Clothing. “We do most of our business around Christmas and vacation-time. People need extra garments for special occasions, when people get married.

And they like to give them as gifts. Sometimes well have anywhere from 25 to 100 people a day in here.” The tall shelves behind Betty are stocked with clothing in hundreds of plastic packages and cardboard boxes. She estimates that her inventory is worth about $50,000. All of it is white.

On the counter are plastic-wrapped packages of second-quality T-shirts from Beehive Mills in Salt Lake City; the display is marked “20 percent off.” Even without the discount, prices in the shop are low. A letter board behind Betty lists men’s ties at $3.70, shirts at $13.35, dresses at $32.00.

Betty’s position at Beehive is paid, and when things are especially busy she has a volunteer in to help. “It’s nice. It’s a good, clean place to work. No bad language is used. It’s quiet and everyone’s really friendly.”

Betty was raised in the church. Her father moved the family here from Provo, Utah, in 1933, when there were still few Mormons in the county. She has never felt stigmatized by her association with LDS, she maintains, although she admits the general public has become more tolerant over time. “They no longer joke about polygamy, because it’s so long ago now. If I stick out at all, it’s because of our rules [against] smoking and drinking alcohol and coffee. But I think people respect people in our church because of our high moral standards,” She mentions the recent murders in South America of two church missionaries. “It’s because our boys stick out so much. The white shirts and dark trousers, riding bicycles.”

Betty also says she has never chafed against the restrictions on women’s participation within the church. An LDS woman traditionally places the roles of wife and mother above all else. “It’s never bothered me at all. I like it. Women are given a lot of respect. I had a lady friend who was looking into the church at one time, and she felt the women were treated unfairly. We’ll never have a bishop who’ll be a woman, of course, because that’s not the way our priesthood is set up. But I think most women who don’t like the way things are in the church just leave it.”

The Relief Society is an LDS woman’s main theater of activity outside the home. In the past 20 years, the structure of the society has increasingly come to resemble the hierarchy of the church’s all-male priesthood. Still, women do not make policy decisions and lack any offices that parallel the priesthood’s higher echelons. At monthly “homemakers’ meetings,” church women discuss activities like upcoming fund raisers and charity events or make holiday decorations.

“There are some divorces in the church,” Betty continues. “People begin to think more selfishly. Women wanting to ‘fulfill themselves,’ I’ve heard about cases like that.”

She moves over near a tall, glassdoored wardrobe along one wall. In it are what appear to be wedding gowns. “These are called session dresses. They’re used in certain temple ceremonies. Some are long, but we just got this lovely two-piece in last week.” On tiptoe Betty takes a dress from the wardrobe, brings it over for inspection. “We have the long half-slips to go under them too.” She lifts a long sleeve in her hand. The dress’s bodice and collar are bordered in lace. The fabric is an inexpensive, shiny, loose-weave polyester — Corban, she explains. “We have all the temple garments here. For men and women. Even the slippers. You spend long hours in the temple, getting up and down a lot. These keep your feet comfortable.” Returning the session dress to the wardrobe, Betty retrieves two plastic bags of slippers, men’s and women’s. “They’re made by Dearfoam.” The men’s are plain white velour, the women’s made of a shiny quilted synthetic called Bemberg, a rayon-nylon mix. Both pairs are the shape of the bottom of a clothes iron.

“All of these items are available in a variety of fabrics.” Betty bustles down the counter and picks up two fans of fabric samples — men’s and women’s. She turns the squares over, pointing to their stapled-on labels: cotton jersey, cotton mesh, polyester mesh, Bemberg, Corban, polyester cotton, cotton thermal. One swatch of tan cotton jersey was “for the underwear of people who served in the Gulf.”

There are some 4.3 million Mormons in the United States, just a little over half the church’s worldwide membership. These millions are presided over by Ezra Taft Benson, 92, the church’s president since 1985. (He was Secretary of Agriculture in the ’50s, under President Dwight Eisenhower.) Benson’s current post is a lifetime appointment made by church hierarchy. According to Mormon doctrine, church policy decisions go straight from God into Benson’s ear. The president is aided by a First and a Second Counselor, beneath them the Council of the Twelve Apostles, followed by the First and Second Quorums of Seventy, which supervise the church’s geographical subdivisions.

In San Diego County there are now 13 Mormon “stakes,” each with 3000 to 4000 members presided over by a president. Every stake — the word refers to Joseph Smith’s analogy between church structure and tents — is composed of seven or eight wards. Each ward is headed by a bishop.

Former Bishop Steven Andersen explains, “There are strict geographical confines to each ward. Lines are drawn up by the ward president, approved by Salt Lake, and maps are published. It’s brilliant because it prevents elitism and encourages a socioeconomic mix.” Assuming, of course, the geographical boundaries of a ward encompass a diversity of neighborhoods.

Every Sunday, Mormons attend services in a chapel or meeting house. Three or four wards share a meeting house, so each stake has two or three meeting houses to use, as well as a stake center. In recent years the church’s worldwide missionary activities have centered on the Third World. Foreign membership reached 3.4 million in 1990. There are more than 600,000 Mormons in Mexico alone. This led to the opening of Spanish-language, Cambodian, and Asian meeting houses in San Diego, where members of those groups cross ward boundaries to congregate in their own places of worship.

Currently, the most important development in the San Diego church, the one that will have the most impact on the daily lives of its members, is the construction of the San Diego Temple. In the past year, the steel frames looming above I-5 near Nobel Drive have increased the church’s visibility — literally — like nothing else. The structure rises from a four-acre parcel of land purchased by the church in 1984. Even in its skeletal stage, it is imposing, ominous, and with its jutting towers, somewhat fantastical.

The importance of the Temple lies in the rituals that take place there. Church members in good standing — that is, those who attend services regularly, tithe, support the community, and adhere to the Mormon strictures against the use of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine — receive a “temple recommend" that allows them to enter the temple. There, they can be married for eternity (the vow is carried on into the hereafter, unlike alliances made in Mormon chapels). They can perform "endowments” — ritual baptisms for their non-LDS ancestors, which ensure those long-gone souls’ entry into Mormon heaven and their continued evolution towards a god-like spiritual state.

Since San Diego currently has no temple of its own, LDS members with temple recommends must drive to Los Angeles to participate in these special rituals. This will change when the San Diego Temple is completed in 1993. At a projected cost of $24 million, the construction ranks as one of the church’s most important projects. Bishop Clyde Romney, head of LDS public affairs for San Diego, emphasizes that when complete, the temple will be open to the public only briefly before its dedication. After that, it will be as closed to nonbelievers as the holy places of Islam.

The architect, William Magnuson of San Diego’s Deems Lewis McKinley, designed the building to resemble the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City but thrust forward with a futurist vision in mind. Four stories high, the temple will be anchored by a concrete tower at each corner. Each steeple will contain 44 tons of steel. Ten spires will rise from the building, two of which will be 190 feet high. A 10-foot statue of the Angel Moroni will cap the east structure; an 8-foot finial will top the west steeple. The exterior of the building will be faced in gleaming white stone, a compromise for the white marble originally planned but abandoned as too expensive.

The church’s long history of conflict with the society around it has led to the development of numerous support services for Mormons. In Chula Vista, a rehabilitation center and a branch of nationwide Deseret Industries provide training and employment for disabled Saints. A social services department inducts needy Mormon families into a system that offers financial assistance, housing, counseling, job training, and employment.

In a group of undistinguished cinderblock buildings located in Kearny Mesa, the church operates an employment center, a tuna cannery (which ships its product to LDS food storehouses across the country), and the regional Bishop’s Storehouse. The presence of these operations is indicated only by small signs surrounding the property.

The storehouse’s double doors open into a lobby with brown tile floors, a plain reception counter, pale yellow walls. Bishop Tom Stay, manager of the Bishop’s Storehouse, is a cheery man with a light, small voice. His handshake is firm and his manner courtly. "We maintain a warehouse wherever we have a large church population. The San Diego Storehouse services over 100 wards. Food is stored for a selected bishop and Relief Society president to distribute to the poor and needy, to people in their time of need.”

Bill Keel, one of five church service workers who toil from one to two years at the Bishop’s Storehouse, wanders into the hallway. His firm bulk is crisscrossed with bright-colored striped suspenders. Under a full, brown mustache he grins broadly. A handshake is followed by an embrace. “We like to greet everyone here with a hug.” he says. The hug is light and correct. “The volunteers work 8 to 30 hours a week,” informs Keel. “It’s a church calling. Sometimes Tom will ask a bishop to ask someone in their ward to help. Others volunteer, especially the elderly, who like to have such work to do. Sometimes disabled people too.”

In his office. Stay settles into a swivel chair before a worn wooden desk. Some chipped metal file cabinets, a couple of brown Naugahyde chairs, a few stacks of papers are all the office’s furnishings. Stay says he loves his job.

He ran a church welfare farm in Riverside for 15 years, and he loved that too. As he grew older, he ceded his position on the farm to a more energetic leader. For a year and a half now, Stay has been bishop of the Twin Oaks Valley ward in San Marcos.

In a corner of the office, behind Stay’s desk chair, are two standard two-way radios sitting on a small table. "Those radios?” He is surprised they are noticed. “They are for in case communication goes down in a disaster. They provide a link between various church organizations.” To Stay’s knowledge, the radios have never been used. He denies a direct link between the presence of the radios and the Saints' belief that they are living in the Latter Days. “The fact that those are here,” he explains, “has more to do with our belief in preparedness than with any expectation of disaster.”

Stay rises from his desk and slowly leads the way to two double doors across a corridor. “Well, this is the store.” It appears to be deserted. No clicking cash registers or squeaky shopping cart wheels to be heard. Is it always this quiet?

"Actually, the recession has increased the number of food orders we receive. We’ll have anywhere from 10 to 40 families come in per each of the four days I’m open.” At factories across the country, the church produces 65 to 70 percent of the items on the shelves in the store, under the Deseret label. There are some 130 commodities available. The store looks like an old elementary school lunchroom; .yellowish cinderblock walls, brown and tan floor tiles. To the left. 20 metal shopping carts are stacked into each other, next to huge piles of cardboard boxes and stacks of paper bags. Light rock pipes from speakers high in the corners.

There is a sign on the wall above a display case of sample items. “Food that Money/Cannot Buy/Produced by/Service and Love.” On the labels of the items is a logo incorporating a beehive. “That’s for the busy bee,” Bishop Stay explains. “Always working, always thrifty. And Utah, of course, is known as the Beehive State.”

The rest of the room is mostly long rows of display shelves, about 5 feet high and 10 feet long. Laid out in neat regiments on unadorned wooden shelves are dishwashing liquid, shampoo, cleanser, laundry soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, lightbulbs, tampons, toilet paper, tin foil; flour, pasta, oil, honey, evaporated milk, baking soda; cans of applesauce, beef chunks, chicken-flavored noodle soup, corn, raspberry spread, jam from Oregon, raisins from Sacramento. The cans of chunk light tuna are produced at the cannery adjacent to the storehouse building. There is tomato juice, peanut butter from Texas, apricots. There are racks of bread, from (non-Mormon) Holsum Bakeries, along a side wall. At the back of the room, a cold locker stores plastic bins of stew beef, franks, hams, roast beef, pork roasts, from a slaughterhouse in Spanish Fork, Utah. Another refrigerated case contains cardboard boxes of zucchini, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, and celery. Metal tables along one wall contain plastic bins of potatoes, carrots, onions, corn, oranges, and apples.

Bill Keel ushers in two women customers, one weary-looking, the other expressionless. A small, excited girl trots in to join them. They take a cart, “you’ll see everything’s marked on the shelves,” Bill tells them. “Just start down the first aisle right here.” He points to the extreme left of the store. The women take a cart and begin down the indicated aisle.

Bishop Stay watches the interaction with paternal pride. Most of the Saints who come to the store are women; beyond that, he can’t stereotype his average customer. "We don’t particularly have a large number of minorities come in,” says Bishop Stay. “Those people are quite proud. They don’t like to come in unless they really have to. Especially the Spanish-speaking people.”

Racism and sexism — especially as the latter relates .M. m. to polygamy — are two subjects for which the church has received widespread criticism. Historically, Mormon doctrine states that all creatures exist before and after life on Earth in a spirit world. The forces of light and darkness battle for control of these spirits. What side a spirit aligns himself with determines who comes to Earth and when, as well as what color his or her body is to be. According to original doctrine, blacks receive their earthly skin color and other “curses" for siding with the darkness. The color first appeared, it is said, when Cain killed Abel.

This explanation has changed with the times, as Mormonism bowed to pressure from within and without its ranks. In 1978, then-President Spencer Kimball declared that in a "revelation” he was told that black males were now worthy to become members of the Mormon priesthood — a privilege traditionally reserved for all “worthy” males over the age of 12.

Says Andersen, “The story of the mark of Ham, as it’s called, tends not to be found in official church doctrine but in theories developed by fairly high-up church officials and Mormon theologians to explain a phenomenon."

But an official statement in Mormon Doctrine, written in the 1960s, contends, “Those who were less valiant in pre-existence ... are known to us as the Negroes.”

On polygamy, Andersen says, "To begin with, it was not as widespread as the layman believes. During its heyday in the mid-l800s, only 5 percent of LDS men and perhaps 12 percent of LDS women were involved. The church officially banned the practice in 1890.” While the lives of female church members continue to be confined by traditional roles of helpmeet and mother, increasing numbers of LDS women venture out of the home, perhaps to do missionary work like LDS men. In 1990, the church eliminated from temple ceremonies the ritual vow of obedience to their husbands that had been taken by Mormon wives. Steve Andersen says his “sort-of feminist” wife is his equal partner. “I’ve never been dictatorial or invoked any supposed covenant she has to be obedient to. We work things out and come to a consensus like other typical married couples. The changes in church doctrine, like in the temple ceremony, were most welcome to me, my wife, and a lot of other local Mormons.”

In a 1974 address, former LDS president Spencer Kimball said, "After marriage young wives should be occupied in bearing and rearing children. I know of no scriptures or authorities which authorize young wives to delay their families or to go to work to put their husbands through college. Young married couples can make their way and reach their educational heights, if they are determined.” Portions of Kimball’s speech are reprinted, in a pamphlet dated 1975 and still distributed at the LDS Institute of Religion at San Diego State University.

Nationwide, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints claims impressive ties to the worlds of business and politics. And author James Coates claims in his 1990 book In Mormon Circles that the CIA loves to recruit from among the vast pool of clean-living, morally conservative young LDS men. As a business, the church generates more income from its followers than any other American religious group, largely from individuals — members tithe up to 10 percent of their personal incomes: $4.3 billion a year, according to a recent New York Times article. The same source claims that more than 100 church-owned businesses and land holdings bring in another $400 million.

Locally, bookstores and genealogical research centers generate revenue from both church members and the public. There are two LDS Business and Professional Associations in the county, and local LDS newsletters keep members in touch with the achievements of fellow Saints.

Dan Clark, owner and publisher of the Valley Roadrunner, handles press relations for the church in San Diego. Asked to name prominent San Diego church members, he does not hesitate. “The list would include Congressman Ron Packard, 43rd District. Mayor Joan Shoemaker of El Cajon, the late Mayor Gayle McCandliss of Chula Vista, some city council members in La Mesa, the school board president in Poway, and some of the North County water board.”

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