Night Out at Temple Square

In light of my ongoing observations on living in a religious theme park aka Salt Lake City, Hubby and I had an interesting experience Friday evening. We were invited to join a group of people for dinner at the historic Lion House (Lions House Pantry), built in 1856 by Brigham Young. (The name comes from the stone statue of a lion over the front entrance.) It’s locally known for its traditional “pioneer dishes” for some, or “comfort food” for the rest of us, and makes the best homemade rolls and pies of all description that are all worthy of mention. Most of the city guidelines refer to it as the one-time residence of the Brigham Young family, but those more intimate with the city will tell you that it was actually home for many of his “spiritual” wives. He and his first wife, Miriam, lived next door, and there were other wives living in other sections of the city as well. Although he is technically known to have had 27 wives, one of whom divorced him and went on to lecture widely against polygamy, Mormon documents apparently account for 55 or possibly 57 wives total. Here are some notable facts about Brigham Young’s wives:

  • At his death there were 23 surviving wives
  • There were 57 children birthed by 16 women
  • Nineteen wives predeceased him
  • Ten divorced him
  • Four are unaccounted for
  • Of the 23 surviving wives, 16 received a share of his estate (might this be the 16 women who bore him children?)
  • Six apparently had non-conjugal roles
  • In 1844 after Joseph Smith was assassinated, he married between 7 and 9 of Smith’s widows.

Oh, you may be interested to know what Brigham Young thought about polygamy, since he apparently didn’t think much of it when Joseph Smith first decreed it:

“A few years ago one of my wives, when talking about wives leaving their husbands said, ‘I wish my husband’s wives would leave him, every soul of them except myself.’ That is the way they all feel, more or less, at times, both old and young.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p.195)

On another occasion Young claimed: 

“Sisters, do you wish to make yourselves happy? Then what is your duty? It is for you to bear children,…are you tormenting yourselves by thinking that your husbands do not love you? I would not care whether they loved a particle or not; but I would cry out, like one of old, in the joy of my heart, ‘I have got a man from the Lord!” ‘Hallelujah! I am a mother–…” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p.37)

 I remember reading a book once that attempted to describe the different rooms and some of the politics concerned with living in a house with so many different women and children, but it could not convey quite the feeling of actually being in the house with its stone walls and low ceilings, a hallway dividing countless numbers of rooms to the right and left, so it was a very interesting experience.

After dinner, our group walked through the Temple Square enjoying the luscious summer gardens while one of the long-time residents pointed out the different historical buildings on all sides. Particularly noteworthy was the building that houses the Ladies Aid Relief Society (I think that’s what it’s called). It was notably smaller and less ostentatious than the others. (I suspect LDS women are quite used to “less than” the men, but that will have to be a different post.)

Our destination was the concert temple for a concert of the Bells on Temple Square. It’s a lesser known LDS musical venue than the famous Choir. Officially formed in 2005, it draws its 28 volunteer members from a 90 musician-callback out of 200 applicants who originally applied for the honor.  Of course most Americans know about the Mormon Tablenacle Choir, but did you know there’s also an Orchestra at Temple Square, and a Temple Square Chorale in addition to the Bells? All I can say is, there’s an impressive number of musicians among the membership. The full evening’s program touted 21 notable musical arrangements that ran the gamet from Bach (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring) and Stravinsky’s Finale from The Firebird, the African-American spiritual Free at Last, to The Washington Post March by John Philip Sousa. It ended with Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance which I could not even imagine being played with anything but violins. But they did it, and it was really nice.

What I came away with after the evening ended was this: there is a lot of good, and good people in the Latter Day Saint membership. But even though polygamy ended at the turn of the 19th century, they still do a real disservice to their women by not allowing any to become a part of the hierarchy of the church. As I learn more, I hope to expound on that subject later.

5 thoughts on “Night Out at Temple Square

  1. Dear onepartharmony.
    I feel I need to respond to some of your points made in your comments regarding our concerts in May, and more specifically, your comments in general.
    I’m very pleased that you enjoyed the performance in the Tabernacle and hope you’ll attend our future events. The Orchestra at Temple Square is presenting their Tabernacle re-opening concerts in August I believe.
    If you go to, then click on “Events” you’ll be able to access the calendar that includes all the upcoming musical opportunities. is also a good place to get reliable and accurate information about the church, it’s theology, and position on current events, etc. It’s a resource for members of the church, as well as for people curious about it’s teachings etc.

    In regards to your comments regarding outside perceptions regarding women in the church. Do not be fooled by the past. Women in the church and in general are held in the highest esteem within the church. We do not look upon our wives as merely “baby factories” as so many have accused. Women and wives are considered full and equal partners in a marriage and deserve all the respect and adoration in the world.
    I love my wife dearly, and can’t fathom the thought of taking on another wife. I am quite glad that we no longer practice polygamy. But do remember that it was common in biblical times for men to have multiple wives. Many people forget that detail.
    It is also very common to this day that cultures and peoples outside of the U.S. still practice polygamy.
    If you hear of Utah groups or communities that still practice it, they are definitely not members of the LDS church; taking on multiple wives is an excommunicatable offense.

    As to the Relief Society. It is the largest women’s organization in the world. It’s membership numbers in the millions of women around the world. You mention the size of their building on Temple Square. That is merely the administration building for the Relief Societies’ President, counselors, and board, all of which are women. The very tall building to it’s east has many more women inside that work every day to help further the work of the Relief Society and the church in general.
    Women around the world are an integral part of church leadership in that they are the people that really make the whole church “work”. While they are not members of the clergy per se, they have responsibility over the education and care of the children of the church, the young women of the church, and the special needs of older/widowed women in their respective wards and neighborhoods, as well as each other. What could be more important than that?

    Do not believe everything you hear about the position of women within the LDS church. The most vocal critics are the people who understand the least of how things really are.

    I am very pleased that you recognize that there is a lot of good, and a lot of good people within the church. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what Jesus Christ was all about. It is He that we look to as an example, it is He who is everyone’s Savior, regardless of color, creed or background.
    Spend some time on Temple Square. Go on the tours. Ask questions of your guides and missionaries on the square. That’s what they are there for. I ask only that you go in with an open mind, earnestly seeking for answers, without the “baggage” of whatever negative comments you may have heard about the church.

    As in any organization, we do have some “bad apples”. Not everyone is a good member of the church. Not all of us set a good example all of the time, me included. We do our best.
    Most of us try to be welcoming and good neighbors. It is advice and counsel that comes to us frequently from the President of the Church and other leaders.

    I invite you to learn more, for as you say, there is a lot of good to be found.
    I hope you have a great day, a great week, and hope to see you in the future at our concerts.


  2. Bellman:

    Thanks for your comment. It’s always good to hear what others think. I certainly didn’t wish to offend anyone with my observations. I know many fine, outstanding people of the LDS faith–a neighbor, my brother and his wife, an uncle and his wife in Florida–to wit. And I’ve always been impressed with the emphasis on families, the way the church is upfront and center with help whenever disaster strikes anywhere, the emphasis they place on education and the arts. I also have no doubt that most LDS men, just as you, are devoted to their wives and families. I know polygamy was abolished by the church in the late 1800s. While I used to believe that women of that lifestyle accepted it, voracious reading, especially after moving here, has made me see otherwise. Even Brigham Young’s first wife disapproved his taking of other wives, notably younger ones. But, polygamy is not the issue here.

    The thing in the church that I most emphatically do not agree with is that women are not given the same opportunities as the men. I believe they should have the same rights as men in all areas of their lives. That’s all. They should be free to aspire to be elders and bishops or whatever. Just give them the choices and opportunities. Then, if “special needs of older/widowed women in their respective wards and neighborhoods, as well as each other” is what they really want to do, well and good. I laud them for it!

    Also, would it be so wrong to allow gay people entry to church membership? After all, the church has reversed its policies on many things in the past, including polygamy and allowing blacks to be ordained. Why should families be forced to reject and shun their gay children, leading to heartbreak and suicide, just because of church policy. If you truly look to Jesus Christ as your example, then I know this would change. People should be accepted just as they are: Heterosexual, Homosexual, Male, Female . . . I think you get my drift.

  3. Thanks for the response onepart. No offense was taken, your points and questions were valid. And please excuse my verbosity, I do tend to prattle on.

    I can’t address the equal aspiration to church leadership issues as that is part of the church’s theology. But an insight in that regard: having been in some of those leadership positions, it’s tough work. Not that a woman couldn’t handle it; your average soccer Mom could probably do a better job than your average man! But the leadership of the church cannot function without the partnership of women in the church. They are a vital part of the work! They are involved in discussions, decisions, action plans, they are not relegated to the sidelines in church matters. And shouldn’t be in others either.

    As to the homosexual issue. It is true that the stance of the church’s approach to it has changed in recent years and I think positively. While the policy is and always will be that homosexual acts are biblically (sp) wrong, BEING homosexual is not a punishable offense. People with same-gender attraction are welcomed, or should be welcomed as full participating members of the church. This has been the stated position of the leadership of the church.
    The problem arises when they ACT on their homosexual urges. That’s when the issue becomes a problem.
    Many members of the church, and a good portion of the general population of the country for that matter, have prejudices, fears etc regarding homosexual people.
    But events like the pride parades certainly don’t help a lot of people’s perceptions…walking around scantily-clad is not a good way to reach out and encourage acceptance.

    There are many families, and certainly not just within the LDS church, who outright reject a son or daughter when they reveal their same-gender attraction. While it’s understandable, (that isn’t exactly what the average parent wants to hear) their son/daughter/brother/sister/friend is still a child of God and should still be loved and accepted. It’s the homosexual behavior, not the attraction that is wrong.
    Whle I prefer that my lovely daughter (14 years old) live a heterosexual life, her not choosing that lifestyle would not alter the fact that I love her more than anything in the world.

    Another insight I’d like to share: the leadership of the church has for many years now encouraged members of the church everywhere to “reach across the pew” and make friends, interact with and be more understanding of people not of our faith. We all have more in common with each other, religiously and otherwise, than we have differences. It’s all about mutual respect and consideration. That’s something that this world needs more of on every level.

    If I could make a simple request: It is somewhat offensive of you to refer to Salt Lake as a “religious theme park”. Every other religion in the world is represented here in Salt Lake. There have almost from the start been other faiths present in the valley. For example: A young Episcopal priest by the name of Daniel Tuttle arrived in the valley on horseback in 1867 and established a congregation which is now a thriving Utah Diocese, (140 years now) with parishes/congregations all over the state. The Cathedral of St. Mark downtown (you may have noticed all the construction there for their new Cathedral Center) has been there over 120 years. St. Mark’s hospital was started by Father Tuttle and his fledgling congregation and has grown into one of the premier hospitals in the state. There is also Rowland Hall/St. Mark’s School that is an incredible educational institution here in SLC.

    The Catholic Cathedral of the Madeleine has also been here over 100 years and is also thriving. (You should go take a tour, attend a service, or enjoy of the many incredible concerts during their multiple concert seasons. It’s a stunningly beautiful church). The Madeleine Choir School associated with the Cathedral has one of the most renowned educational programs anywhere, and is one of a handful of choir schools left in this country. They tour the world frequently and have more than once performed in the Vatican for two different Popes now.
    Would you be interested to know that when the Cathedral was renovated and rebuilt 10 years or so ago, that the LDS church was one of the largest financial contributors to the project?
    This sort of thing happens all the time.
    I’m not bragging or boasting, just sharing some info that isn’t so commonly known.

    So here’s to more love and understanding between all of us onepart.
    I very much enjoy blogging with you.

    Take care.

  4. Thank you for your comments. I believe I understand your position, and hope you understand mine. In the meantime please feel free to continue reading my blog which will include references, sometimes serious–sometimes humorous, about subjects on a variety of topics I care deeply about.

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