Mormonism is 200 years old. How the American religion is changing

The Salt Lake Temple is part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), located on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. Photo by Ken Lund (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Most American Religion” is how Atlantic writer McKay Coppins describes the Mormon Church. After all, Mormonism is one of America’s first home-grown faiths, founded 200 years ago in New York by Joseph Smith. Smith said he had a vision from God and declared himself a prophet. His story and his faith attracted thousands of followers and enemies. Smith and his followers were attacked by mobs, targeted by the U.S. military, and ultimately driven west in the mid 1800s to Utah.

Coppins, who grew up in the church, says members of the faith spent the time since trying to assimilate to a Rockwellian ideal of America, only to watch it collapse with the rise of Donald Trump. Mormons have since been the most hesitant Trump supporters among the religious right. Trump finished last in Utah’s 2016 Republican primary.

So with Trump leaving office in a month, and the country battling its most partisan moment since the Civil War, where do the Mormons go from here as a culture and an institution? 

“In some ways, a lot of the divisions you see in America right now are also starting to creep into Mormonism,” says Coppins.