Considering that it took the Mormon Church more than a century to acknowledge what scholars have long known to be true, it may take another hundred years for the elders in Salt Lake City to proclaim that the prophet, seer, revelator and founder of their religion was the kind of guy who would have to register with the police today before moving into a neighborhood.
Still, for all its painful equivocating, the Mormon Church has done a fine thing in opening up about its past. For too long, the Mormons have tried to airbrush an extraordinary chapter in the history of the American West. Here was a sect, though persecuted and ridiculed, determined to institutionalize in the New World something that Islamic patriarchs and Old Testament graybeards practiced in the old.
Sir Richard Burton, the 19th-century sex enthusiast, traveled to the Great Basin to witness this experiment in the Americas. Mark Twain, after visiting the social frontier of the Mormon kingdom, called it “a fairyland to us, for all intents and purposes ”” a land of enchantment and awful mystery.”