discussions in Utah present many faces, in person or
on the Internet
By Jacob Fullmer
December 15, 2006 | The distinct culture developed
in Utah acts a catalyst for many religious discussions.
These discussions through out the years have taken on
many faces. Much of Utah's history and culture is easily
traced back to the westward migration of Brigham Young
and his fellow Saints. Even before the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints completely
relocated, problems and other Americans joined them
in locations isolated from the rest of the world.
Baptist Deacon Rudy Tarpley and his family were told
by friends about the unique culture ready to face them
before they moved to Logan from New Mexico four years
relocated to the area for an agricultural teaching position
he received at Utah State
University. His new pastor was so excited to have
a USU faculty member around. The pastor wanted to start
a Baptist Campus Ministry student group but needed a
faculty advisor to do so. Tarpley accepted the role
and lead the group's weekly Bible study until another
minister could be brought in by the church. The group
has six to 10 members from the university's 23,000
Being a minority in any situation can be isolating
but Tarpley said when people work together you find
out they are not so different. The Tarpley family frequently
attends activities, like a recent Christmas party, with
their LDS friends and neighbors. Whenever new LDS missionaries
move into town, the Tarpleys have them over for dinner.
The devoted Baptist family has even allowed young men
from the local Mormon congregation to practice for upcoming
missions by teaching them Mormon missionary lessons.
"We've had absolutely no bad experience being a Southern
Baptist in Utah," Tarpley said. "I understand that when
persons of any faith try to convert you, it's out of
Becky Atkins has been involved with USU's Fellowship
of Christian University Students for four years. She
attended high school in a highly Mormon populated town
in Idaho but said Utah is "definitely different" from
home. She has never felt pressured by others about her
faith but said some of her friends express a different
opinion. Her ideas are similar to Tarpley's.
"All the Christian students can come together," she
Crystal Tarpley, Rudy's wife, finds an average of
one Book of Mormon every month purposefully placed on
her desk where she teaches at a local high school. But
interactions are not always one way. Rudy said he frequently
enjoys religious conversations with the students in
his department, who he believes are statistically more
Mormon in number than the general student body.
"I'm probably the only Baptist they've ever met,"
he said. "I'm the face of my faith."
Tarpley could be right but Utahns may need to adjust
to a new group majority in the near future. According
to a recent Salt
Lake Tribune article, Utah was only 62.4 percent
LDS in 2004 and, if current trends continue, by 2030
LDS members may no longer be the majority.
Utah's religious minorities may feel pressure from
the dominant faith here but outside of Utah is a different
story. Many religious sects also try to convert nonbelievers
out of love. Consider Tower
To Truth Ministries, a group of Christian men based
out of Philadelphia, Pa. Their website says their efforts
will be worth everything if they "can help anyone, even
one person, find the real Jesus of the bible." They
have a specific page devoted to Mormonism. It
states, "Many members of the Mormon Church are sincere,
loving, hard-working and moral [but the church has a]
questionable past and strange teachings."
Discussions centered on Mormonism are readily available
on the Internet. USU student Whit Lund said many people
will visit the USU
MySpace page to learn about student life at the
school. Conversations about the university's dominant
religion occasionally appear on the available discussion
"People seem pretty chill at [the] Utah State [page]
as opposed to other religious threads," he said. Lund,
an active Mormon with many friends of different faiths,
said he finds it interesting to hear people's opinions
about Mormonism. He once deterred a MySpace user from
continuing a fake Joseph Smith profile describing the
founder as a pedophile.
"It was just a juvenile thing," he said. "It's just
ignorant people creating belligerent arguments to get
Eric Kettunen, an open "ex-Mormon" from Tennessee
who once served a two-year full-time mission for the
LDS Church, is responsible for a significant portion
of online discussions concerning Mormonism. He founded
over 10 years ago in an effort to help others in their
"recovery from Mormonism." The Web site averages more
than 160,000 hits every day. Its purpose isn't to facilitate
debate but the feelings associated with "leaving a cult,"
he said, can explain some of the evident angst directed
towards the LDS Church found on the discussion board.
Kettunen said the simplified explanation of those emotions
are "realization, the anger of feeling duped, acceptance"
and, finally, moving on.
Searching the web for ex-Catholic, ex-Muslim and ex-Christian
leads to similar websites about people leaving various
faiths. The first link brought up from a Google search
Catholic" is a site reserved for the top of the
page by paying an advertising fee. Operated by a Franciscan
ministry in Ohio, it is intended to strengthen the faith
of struggling Catholics.
Stories about how people became "ex-mo's" are shared
on Kettunen's website in a similar fashion to the LDS
practice of bearing testimonies to lift fellow believers.
Stories are shared so others can "know they are not
alone." Experiences posted include disagreements with
doctrine, abuse from priesthood leaders and feelings
of isolation, to name a few.
Mormons account for some of the Web site's traffic.
Kettunen posts some of the letters
he has received from Mormons. Some letters thank him
for the oppositional views he offers. Others testify
of their beliefs in a friendly manner. Still, others
accuse him of sin and tell him he will go to hell for
"A current believing Mormon does not understand this
site at all." Kettunen said in response to one of the
many pro-Mormon letters he receives. "I would have not
either a few years ago."
is a positive discussion board for Mormons used to examine
"the rich spiritual, intellectual, social and artistic
qualities of Mormon history and contemporary life."
The editor of the associated Sunstone
Magazine, Dan Wotherspoon, said they cover "independent
Mormon thought." There are a lot of things you aren't
allowed to say at church, said Wotherspoon. Sunstone
allows its readers and contributors to explore those
"I think I have a spiritual core to my personality
but also a need to hang my hat on something that at
least has a reasonable basis," he said. But Internet
blogging doesn't satisfy the magazine's editor of five
years. He said he would rather have his ideas saved
in "longer lasting" print.
The religious discussions stemming from Utah culture
and elsewhere have plenty of sides and enough people
to voice their opinion on all those sides. Online or
in person, university student Lund said he thinks people
should be "passive and open minded."
"When it comes to religion and politics, there's no
right answer," he said. "There's one person's opinion
vs. another person's opinion. But there's no concrete