MormonStatue 

Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which claims to have 14 million members, is one of the fastest growing religions in the world—reportedly converting over 200,000 souls in 2009 alone—the 182 year-old American-born sect has, until just recently, been largely ignored by pop culture’s cool kids.

In part, the recent emergence of shows such as HBO’s Big Love, TLC’s Sister Wives, and the Broadway smash, The Book of Mormon, is due to the rise of republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a member of the mainstream Mormon Church, which considers polygamy a violation of civil and religious law, and the fall of Warren Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FDLS), a proponent of plural marriage and convicted sexual predator.

It also doesn’t hurt that the religion was founded by Joseph Smith, a larger-than-life, outlaw prophet with multiple wives. After all, society has an insatiable appetite for the sensational and taboo.

Given that Romney remains the odds on favorite to win his party’s nomination, it’s a good bet that both the LDS and FDLS will be increasingly scrutinized over the coming year. But according to Jennifer Sinor, a creative writing teacher at Utah State University, even this sort of intense media attention will only begin to scratch the surface of the faith’s social implications and deep allegiances, especially in her chosen home, where the Mormon Church is headquartered.

“Mormons themselves who come to live in Utah from other parts of the country make the distinction between Mormons and Utah Mormons. The climate is different here,” Sinor, who is a devote nonbeliever, writes in The American Scholar (Autumn 2011). “In this theocracy, in a place Mormons refer to as Zion, I will always be an outsider, but I have made a kind of peace with the state. You have to if you want to remain. The peace is both hard earned and uneasy, tested continually. And it has been the stance of the LDS Church on homosexuality that has most recently challenged any goodwill I have fostered over the years.”