What do Mormon athletes do on Sundays

The Lord is with them

By Peter Hossli (text) and Robert Huber (photos)

Sister Swiss beams longingly. Lasciviously, their eyes aim directly into the other person's pupils. She smiles because she is allowed to serve God. Unbelievers, she also knows, respond to it.

A good two hundred 19-year-old boys are lined up in a straight line in the windowless room, their hair trimmed short, their suits black. Martially they recite the "Call to serve" in a choir.

Swiss and the young men crap cheeky teasing and singing in a barren classroom in Provo, the barren city 45 miles south of Salt Lake City in the US state of Utah. There the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) - commonly the Mormons - operates a training center with space for around 2500 missionaries.

They are all sent into the world "to spread the true gospel of Jesus Christ," explains one of the missionaries. He will soon be leaving for Hamburg. The church, with eleven million members worldwide, is "clearly set for rapid growth," he says. Its cornerstone is global proselytizing.

Now the world comes to the missionaries. The Mormon capital Salt Lake City is home to the Winter Olympics in February. One and a half million visitors are expected. In addition, 9,000 press people who carry the gospel of sport and Angel Moroni on television in billions of rooms.

It is the culmination of a young religion made in the USA. A thoroughly American creed that extols self-control and a high work ethic and appears to be extremely artificial and culturally poor. A church as artificial, immaculately clean, efficient and listless as a Holiday Inn suite. Its members hope that the big event will finally lead to the absolution of the secular world.

For some Mormons, Olympia is God's sent revelation, a continuation of His plan. "Now Isaac's prophecy is being fulfilled," explains religion professor Craig Manscill, who teaches at LDS University in Provo. Isaac wrote in the Old Testament that people would one day climb high mountains and worship God together. Now the moment has come. Everyone could now see: "We are the restored Church of Jesus Christ."

For the first time ever, a religious community is holding an Olympiad. Mormons have made sure that she comes to the "promised land" in Utah, where over 70 percent of the LDS follow. Mormons organize the games. Mormons use it as a perfect PR space. No wonder the US press already referred to Salt Lake in 2002 as the “Mo-lympics”.

As was the case for the last time in Berlin in 1936, the main purpose of the organizers of the international sports festival is to familiarize the world with an ideological system and to use the mass media to convince it that it is safe. If Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels took on the task of demonstrating the efficiency and peacefulness of Germany, the similarly strictly organized Mormons want to convince suspicious Christians that they are not a sect or a cult but real Christians. Polygamy, often equated with Mormons, is a relic from dark days.

The abstinence lifestyle - no alcohol, neither coffee nor tea, no tobacco, no extramarital sex - is not nonsense against pleasure, but healthy. Mormons generally lived longer.

Last but not least, their church corresponds exactly to what Jesus founded 2000 years earlier and LDS founder Joseph Smith had restored in 1823 - a prophet at the top, 12 apostles and millions of zealous disciples.

Do not worry. Those attending the Games are not struck dead with the LDS companion book, the Book of Mormon. As demonstrated in Berlin, Mormons proselytized during the Games. “We only offer our services when asked,” says Craig Zwick, a Church leader. The games were given to Salt Lake City and Utah, not to the LDS.

Only: Without Mormons, nothing works in Salt Lake City and Utah. City and US state correspond to classic theocracies. Ninety percent of the members of parliament belong to the church, as do the governor, the mayor, the heads of the local and state Olympic committees and the two senators sent to Washington. 24,000 volunteers, mostly Mormons, look after the visitors during the games.

Pushy smiling missionaries in long black coats teach athletes, sports fans and sports reporters in dozens of languages ​​at Tempelplatz, the spiritual center of the LDS. Schwyzerdütsch included. They lead tourists to the kitschy but perfectly prepared religious sites, through the information center or the bust room of the prophets. Brigham Young University, part of the LDS, suspends classes for a week. Linguistic and religiously versed students then help Olympia.

The church has set up its own parallel to the Olympic press center. On the excellently functioning website, it presents more than 100 ideas for possible articles in several languages, enriched with print-ready and free photos for downloading. Any question that the Church wants to answer, she also resolves online. An army of nice PR people accompanies all journalists who are interested in the church at every turn. And they will be interested in the Church. There's nothing in Salt Lake City but the church.

The Olympic torch is carried into the stadium through the same mouth of the valley that Utah founder and most important Mormon, Brigham Young, walked on. Medals will be given to winners south of Temple Square. A welcome visual effect. When the national anthem sounds and tears of joy roll down the cheeks of the downhill skiers, the marble towers of the temple shine in the background, broadcast live.

At the top of the foremost tower is a golden statue of Angel Moroni. It was this Moroni whom the journalist Joseph Smith allegedly met in 1823 in a wooded area north of New York. The Indian angel presented the then 18-year-old Smith with gold plates scribbled with texts. According to the LDS doctrine, they had written by descendants of an Israeli tribe who sailed from Yemen to Central America 600 years before Christ. According to Smith, the native Americans are from the Middle East.

Smith is believed to have translated the message and wrote the Book of Mormon. God would have chosen him to succeed Christ. His mission: He must restore the Church of Jesus. He just chose himself to be president with prophetic status and hired 12 apostles. The same hierarchical structure still applies today, with Gordon B. Hinckley, 91, as the prophet.

Many believed Smith and joined the new Church. He sent missionaries to Europe, married several women, and quickly attracted hatred from US Protestants. A mob shot him dead in 1844. Smith, the self-proclaimed Jesus, had become a martyr himself.

His successor in the presidential and prophetic chair, Brigham Young, led the persecuted believers on a trek west from Illinois to Utah. In 1847 he settled in an uninhabited desert valley, surrounded by high mountains. Where nobody wants to go. Just two years later, California's gold rush drew hundreds of thousands to the pristine west. The still polygamous Mormons lost their isolation. In return, they did good business with the travelers.

Young founded 270 companies, banks, insurance companies, and shops, thus laying the foundation for a prosperous church. He asked his disciples to lead a "submissive and clean" way of life.

Principles that still shape the Mormons today like nothing - and suggest to anyone who asks about the reasons for the success of this sterile church. In Utah, almost no one doubts the LDS teaching, "because it is correct," is the standard answer.

Nobody likes the word brainwashing. Rather, religion is based on total voluntariness. Nonetheless, it is astonishing how uniformly, briefly and concisely LDS members deal with similar questions. There are no deviations. "Our church has hardly changed since the beginning," says church leader Zwick. There is no discussion about whether women should not be ordained priestesses after all. "God said women bear children and look after the house," says Zwick. Amen.

Those who shower, cut their scalp hair short and shave smoothly every day live cleanly. Even more important: those who do not drink alcohol, coffee or tea, disdain tobacco products and marry immaculately. Chewing gum is also frowned upon.

Beer in Utah is thin. Hard drinks are only served in private clubs. In proper restaurants, the wine list must be expressly requested. Even then, the waitress only brings her to the table, disgruntled or hidden under the dessert menu.

This draconian way of life is derived from the word of wisdom, which Joseph Smith is said to have received as a revelation on February 27, 1833. Only those who adhere to it are allowed to marry in the temple. On top of that, the Church promises "eternal happiness" and "eternal family togetherness", even in the hereafter.

Mormons take every opportunity to emphasize the centrality of Jesus. Nonetheless, they are different from other Christians. They believe that God was once like man and later acquired a divine body. Now he lives with a divine woman, the mother of the Mormons.

Before a new life begins, God and said mother create man. In the meantime, he is given a mortal body. After his death, the person goes back to heaven and remains united with the family.

So Joseph Ogden has a real problem. He is 31 and single. Doesn't have the ultimate Mormon imperative: a large family.

He doesn't look bad, at most the man looks a bit uptight. A good game. Like most Utah Mormons, a polite guy. Never loud, always eloquent, smart. He teaches marketing at Brigham Young University, has an MBA and has worked in Asia for years. It just doesn't work with marriage. He had already had a few girlfriends. And sex? "I'll save that for later."

Joseph Ogden is sexually abstinent because premarital or extramarital pleasure is "only detrimental". Lead to unwanted pregnancies. Bring unpleasant illnesses. He renounces fleeting pleasures. The reward for this: a “all the better and more fulfilling sex life,” says Ogden, by no means an expert.

It is not just sexuality that controls the church. The sometimes totalitarian social supervision goes far with the LDS disciples. Everyone is watching each other. The church stands everywhere in the middle of the village, is the omnipresent center, a few steps away from home. Here you can find spouses, friends, business partners.

If a single congregation has more than 250 members, it is immediately divided. Nobody is alone. Single people only meet in groups. Two to four LDS PR people were currently accompanying the reporters in Salt Lake. If you speak to missionaries, two other sisters join in and listen. During their two-year mission, missionaries are assigned a fresh mate every three months. This prevents debates about faith or friendships.

Mormons are trained intellectually at Brigham Young University in Provo. Around 32,000 students study mathematics, economics or law. All of them also attend seven religious courses. Before class begins, they pray with their hands clasped or arms crossed. Catholics, Muslims and Jews are also allowed to study here - as long as they adhere to the moral code. The students like it. "I'm here because everyone wants these rules," is the uniform answer.

Although Brigham Young University is highly regarded nationwide, students pay far lower fees. The church subsidizes them.

She sees the university as an "investment," says Ned Hill, director of the economics department. "We produce the best LDS members." They would easily find a job - because Mormons bring with them what the modern, global business world values ​​so much. Almost 80 percent of BYU graduates speak one or more foreign languages ​​fluently. You don't drink. Fear of God and morals make them "honest and hardworking workers," says Hill.

Prosecuted a hundred years ago, Mormons are everywhere today, shaping the economy, politics and society of America. Sometimes they embody ideals of the new right that wants to reverse what social freedoms were achieved during the sixties. With considerable success.

No church in the world is growing faster. An LDS member directs the business school of Harvard University, the country's cadre school, as principal. Brown University in Rhodes Island, one of the top schools in the USA, is also presiding over a Latter-day Saint. The currently only profitable US airline - JetBlue - had invented a Mormon. Their business model - low prices, little service - is seen as the future of air travel. Hotelier Willard Marriott founded one of the world's largest hostel chains. Eleven members of the US House of Representatives and five out of a hundred American senators profess their faith in Moroni.

The Mormons have long supported the state. Anyone who wants to achieve something in American politics or business can no longer ignore the Latter-day Saints. "Because our books tell the truth," says Senator Orrin Hatch. Hatch has been in the Senate for 25 years. One of the most influential politicians in the country. For many years he worked for the Olympic Committee for the Mormon city of Salt Lake City as the venue. Last year, the 67-year-old also applied for the office of American president. He lured voters on the right edge. Hatch continually warned that George W. Bush was not really conservative.

"Our church is so successful because the world is morally collapsing," says the gaunt Hatch. Today's youth is at the same time "the worst and the best". Media and pornography would have spoiled many. "On the other hand, I am happy for those who live upright morally."

The senator is probably referring to the students at Brigham Young University. Around twenty young women and men meet in a sparsely furnished student apartment. The 18- to 26-year-olds play good gossip and guessing games. "We Mormons can have fun without alcohol," says the host. But in the best case it is reminiscent of Sunday school, in the worst case of pre-kindergarten. Only nice and morally clean young people. To drink there is kiwi-strawberry-lemonade.

It is true that Utah has one of the lowest divorce rates in America. On the other hand, the pornography business is flourishing underground. "Quite a few marriages are perishing because of this," says Chelsey Anderson, a student who describes herself as a "flexible Mormon" and is not very close to the Church. Quite a few men are downright addicted to Internet pornography. "Hypocrisy is widespread in Utah, too," says Anderson.

Even more than polygamy. Mormons and polygamists are mistakenly considered synonyms. Rather, it serves as a welcome veil for the Church today. About 30,000 people are still polygamous in Utah. If the US media track down a polygamist again, they fill newspaper columns and TV magazines.

Sure, the subject is sexy. However, the official church has long since banned polygamy. Anyone who operates will be excommunicated. Its abolition was once a condition of the US government to admit Utah to the confederation. Today it no longer fits into the picture of a modern, highly efficient organization that wants to double its number in ten years.

Those who keep talking about polygamy are overlooking far more problematic aspects of LDS. For example the extremely aggressive and global missionary work. Wherever the church is legally allowed to appear, it sets up mission stations, primarily in the Third World. The missions serve to expand by leaps and bounds - and to punish male members.

There is always a festive mood in Provo on Wednesdays. After lunch, around six hundred parents deliver their 19-year-old sons to the Missionary Training Center, the training center for future Moroni missionaries.

Future converts come from all over the world for further training. Two Italians who only speak fragile English crouch in the huge introductory hall, as do believers from Canada and Australia, the Philippines and the South Pacific. A red dot on the name tag indicates the newborns. The men are now called Elder. The few women - the sisters - sit on the edge, dressed in good, wide seals. "The world knows who you are," said President David Wirthlin at the orientation meeting - "because of your clothing, behavior and language." The short-cropped men sit there in dark, classic suits, with a pure white shirt and a simple tie.

For between three and six weeks the boys learn one of the 48 languages ​​taught as well as the missionary trade. "You are worker bees, you are here to work," says Wirthlin. Then he sends the parents away. One last hug, one last photo, tears of sadness. The President describes the first day of mother and father's two-year renunciation of their son as a “happy day for the whole family”. "They bring us children, we give them back real men."

Over 61,000 are currently in the service of this Mormon army. Men have to, women are allowed to carry the gospel moronis into the world. Not an easy time.

In addition to mutual supervision, there are also bans. One should devote oneself exclusively to missionary work, not watch television or attend events. You are not allowed to talk to the opposite sex alone, just as you are not allowed to leave the region assigned to you. Missionaries can only call home at Christmas and Mother's Day. The missionary is allowed to write a letter to the parents by hand once a week.

The church sets itself high goals. According to LDS leader Zwick, 100,000 Filipinos will join in the 2002 Olympic year alone. For Brazil, he is forecasting a growth rate of 8 percent this year, which corresponds to 60,000 new Mormons.

For the Latter-day Saints, growth always means increasing sales. LDS members cede ten percent of their annual income before taxes. Solvent members also feed the humanitarian and training fund. Nobody knows how rich the LDS is. "People speculate that we are sitting on $ 300 billion," says Zwick.

Is there at least a decent wage for the labor of the missionaries? Oh no. The missionaries pay for both the training and the two-year mission. A shy Elder from Idaho said he had saved years for it. His colleague left university and worked in the factory instead.

Bronson Nerenberg has been saving on his mission for almost two years. Bronson is five years old. He has three sisters and lives in Riverton, a pretty suburb of Salt Lake City. The living room of the Nerenberg family is perfectly tidy. Billy, the 31-year-old father, works in the administration of the chip manufacturer Intel. His wife Rhonda is 28 and studied mathematician. She runs the household and takes care of the four children, three daughters and Bronson. “There's nothing like a solid family,” says Billy. He is holding 3-year-old Riley in his arms. They are quoting scriptures from the Book of Mormon. Like all other LDS families, the Nerenbergs celebrate an obligatory evening on Mondays.

The three older children already speak a few bits of German in preparation for their mission. "Bye," they call after the team of reporters. Why german? Father Billy did missionary work in Switzerland from 1989 to 1991. There he converted “mainly asylum seekers”.

A classic goal. The Church aims at people on the fringes of society and those with no orientation. They are most likely to be convinced. The church in the Salt Lake City or Provo area attracts the homeless and poor to its Welfare Square. Hungry people can get food produced on LDS farms for free.

The bishop of a ward decides who receives how much. The head of the Welfare Square, Mel Gardner, emphasizes that “non-members also receive the LDS alms”. However, many recipients would convert. They are trained by the church to become hardworking professionals - and in future they will give up ten percent of their income.

The cash register is served by Darel Austin and his wife Pauline, both in wheelchairs. They have been married for 46 years and raised nine children. Despite their ailments, they work for free.

The Church expects this. It deliberately keeps its members busy. There is no time to think about the meaning of the absurd teaching. "Impossible" to be an inactive member, says Billy Nerenberg. Mormons have two full-time positions: gainful employment and total devotion to the Church.

They do voluntary service several times a year. On Sunday you spend three hours in church. Monday is for God and family, the rest of the week for other LDS events.

In addition the genealogy. Nowhere is Mormon narcissism more evident than in genealogy. They are obsessed with creating family trees. Every believer must visit his ancestors at least four generations back and list their dates of birth and death as well as family relationships. The church collects the data centrally. She posthumously baptizes the dead and welcomes them.

"We weld families together forever," says Alex Schmalz, an archivist at the Family Research Center, the world's largest genealogy center, who once emigrated from Ber to Utah. German local clan books are stored here, as are old Swiss residents' control cards, and even a list of names of the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. In total, the LDS operates over 3500 research centers in which data flow together on microfilms. To date, the church has recorded around 600 million names. The end goal is as ambitious as it is frightening - "we want to baptize everyone ever born," says Schmalz. Back to Adam and Eve.

What if someone doesn't want that? “That doesn't bother us,” says the archivist. In addition, the dead could not defend themselves.

Shortly before sunset, a homeless man in a camouflage suit steps onto the sidewalk in front of the hotel on Tempelplatz. He points to the temple with a stick. He calls himself Pancho Villa after the Mexican revolutionary. "Go to hell, let them, the Mormons." They are polygamists who have changed the Bible and do not accept Jesus as the only Son of God. Why is he in Salt Lake? "Someone has to tell the truth during the Olympics," says Villa. "But I will probably be arrested first." Then the hotelier drives him away.