By Rachel Youmans
There are 84,876 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Virginia, in 188 congregations. Despite the large presence in our area, many Virginians do not know about the practices of the church.
Junior Delilah Doss, who attends the Hopewell Ward of the LDS Church, converted eight years ago when her family moved and had to look for a new church.
“It was a huge change,” Doss said. “I had to stop drinking coffee!”
Nevertheless, Doss and her family are very happy. Her father, who didn’t convert with the rest of the family, is becoming part of the church this summer.
Junior Ayana Hinton’s family also converted eight years ago, after missionaries visited her house.
“I obey the rules,” Hinton said. “We’re not allowed to date until sixteen, then we have group dates.”
Although Virginia is more tolerant of Mormonism than some other places, there are still some misunderstandings.
“People still think we practice polygamy,” Elder Matthews, a missionary, said. “That’s not true at all.”
Polygamy is the practice of having multiple spouses. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints officially abandoned the practice in 1890, but it is still a concept that is inaccurately associated with Mormonism.
Although Hinton does not think Virginia is an area with a lot of religious intolerance, she admits people sometimes make false assumptions about the church.
“There are misconceptions about the way we dress,” Hinton said. “And some people think we are polygamous.”
The Church of Latter-Day Saints has a long history of suffering from religious intolerance. The roots of the church can be found in 1820, when Joseph Smith had a vision in the woods near his home.
In March of 1830 Smith published the Book of Mormon, which he said was translated from ancient Native American writings. Around this time Smith’s followers organized themselves into a church.
In October 1833, non-Mormon residents drove Mormons from Jackson County, Missouri, the place that Smith had described as the “center place” of the City of Zion. Smith and his followers were forced to move west. As a result of conflict in the area, 2,500 Missouri militia attacked the Mormons, imprisoned Smith and other church leaders, and expelled the remaining church members.
“In Utah there are a lot of protests at religious conferences. Any time there’s a temple up, there are protesters,” Matthews said. “Of course, it’s not like it is always happening; there are a lot of nice people out there too.”
“A lot of people think we’re Amish, too,” Elder Fabrizio, another missionary, said. “They’ll ask why we have cell phones or computers, because they think it’s against our religion.”