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God and Country: Politics in Utah.

God and Country: Politics in Utah. Edited by Jeffrey E. Sells. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2005. 356 pp. $34.95.

This book contains essays on church and state in Utah written from a variety of largely non-Mormon perspectives. Edited by an Episcopal priest who served in Salt Lake City, it includes contributions from local clerics, academics, judges, lawyers, journalists, a former governor, and several out-of-state scholars on Mormon history or theology. Many of the contributors are retired, providing some distance from the fray. Of those who do not represent other faiths, many are former members of the Mormon Church who have become disillusioned or, in one case, publicly excommunicated. The volume takes a generally critical tone of Mormon political power with some notable exceptions.

The essays are united by an interest in religion and politics, but head off in different directions. Several recount the familiar story of the Establishment Clause from a separationist perspective. A local rabbi and a Muslim leader write about broader Jewish and Muslim themes, with a little Utah color thrown in. A Baptist minister recounts the history of Utah's African-American community, largely through Gospel music lyrics. None of these essays directly address Mormon power, while some essays take a philosophical approach to the proper balance between religious freedom and government regulation and the condition of being a religious minority.

The most useful essays directly confront Utah's unique situation: home to a worldwide church that accounts, in terms of membership broadly defined, for approximately 62 percent of the state's population, and where approximately 40 percent of the population are active members. Every statewide elected official is an active Mormon and the state legislature is disproportionately so. The Mormon Church holds an effective veto on certain issues and has engaged in organized campaigns at the national level on such topics as gay rights and women's roles.

Rod Decker, a local television political reporter, and Jan Shipps, a historian, both provide clear and fair-minded summaries of the history of Mormon political power. Former Democratic Governor Calvin Rampton reflects on his experience; he found the Mormon Church to be largely neutral on most political matters. D. Michael Quinn, a historian excommunicated for his interpretation of the Mormon past, writes critically of the church's activism on national moral issues, focusing on its organizational capacity. Stephen Clark, a former ACLU attorney, recounts the struggle over the Mormon Church's purchase of Main Street in Salt Lake, a conflict that divided the community and symbolized, for many, the Church's predominant place.

God and Country provides a good sense of what it means to be a non-Mormon of respectable liberal views living in Utah. It lacks an essential perspective: that of the LDS church and its active members. The volume needs more active editing, and many contributions wander, but it has several useful chapters that provide perspective on an important and often neglected topic.




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Author:Levin, Daniel
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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