They're called 'Jack Mormons'
They're called 'Jack Mormons'

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How do you say "Jack Mormon?"

Depending on whose mouth the words come from, it's a term that can be bitterly derogatory or delightfully descriptive, colorful or off-color. Use it in a Cache Valley conversation and it is almost certain to illicit some sort of facial expression from your listener be that a smirk, a frown or a grimace.

Even putting it in print on a newspaper page is a bit scary. No matter what is written about this group of people with the curious nickname, someone out there is likely to become offended.

But it's a subject that is hard to avoid when the topic at hand is Cache Valley culture. If figures from a recent Herald Journal survey are accurate, about 13 percent of the local population would be considered "Jack Mormons" by current popular definition. And their views on local religious and cultural issues present a sharp contrast to those of church members and other demographic subcultures.

What is a Jack Mormon?

According to the Web site, an unofficial LDS information exchange, the term refers to people who are Mormon in name but not in deed. "Just as a Jackrabbit looks like a rabbit but isn't truly a hare, 'Jack Mormon' refers to someone claiming to be Mormon but who does not follow the teachings of the church," the Web site states.

Discussions on the topic with a number of local residents for the purpose of this article revealed a somewhat broader definition.

In the Cache Valley vernacular, a "Jack Mormon" isn't necessarily an outright hypocrite or a closet smoker and drinker, as the above definition implies. Rather, the term is commonly used in reference to all people who

were born into the LDS faith but have drifted away from its practices while remaining on the church's membership rolls. Some try to keep up appearances. Some don't.

Cache Valley author and newspaper columnist John Stewart, a devout member and champion of the LDS faith, looks at it this way: "I think a lot of these people are honest about their feelings that the church isn't right for them, but they don't have their names removed out of fear that just in case the church is right after all, they don't want to be left out of heaven."

Stewart points out that the term "Jack Mormon" originally had quite a different meaning than it does today. It first surfaced in the 1830s to refer to non-members of the church who defended Joseph Smith and his followers on principles of religious liberty. Smith's critics mockingly called them "Jack Mormons."

But over the years, for reasons difficult to pinpoint, the meaning morphed.

Is it intended as an insult today as it was in its first incarnation?

That would appear to be largely a matter of context. In his Herald Journal newspaper column, Stewart has used it as a clearly derisive term for outspoken church critics who were raised in the faith. But among church dropouts, it is a label sometimes worn with pride. A group of Logan-linked rock musicians has even embraced the term for its band name: "Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons."

John Harder, a former Logan Municipal Council member, might be Logan's most prominent self-professed Jack Mormon.

During his successful run for office in the mid 1990s, Harder was known to talk openly of his status as an ex-churchgoer, even an ex-missionary. Many observers considered such candidness political suicide, but Harder won the election. And his victory was over an LDS Church bishop to boot.

"Living in Logan is like living in a glass house," Harder said recently in recalling the election. "I don't think I was trying to hide my lifestyle from anyone."

As Harder sees it, the Jack Mormon lifestyle does not necessarily include drinking and smoking, as is commonly thought. "I think it's more about settling into your own lifestyle, doing what you want to do," he said.

But even more significantly in Harder's view, distancing one's self from the church does not automatically rule out spirituality or striving to be a good person.

"We're not talking about people who don't believe in God; they just don't think God can be confined to a building," he said. "Religion is a personal thing. Just because you don't go to church every Sunday doesn't mean you can't be a good neighbor, a friend, and good son …"

Definitions and terminology aside, the existence of a group of local residents that is connected-but-not-connected to the LDS Church (call them what you will) is very real. The group's unique position in the Cache Valley culture and its distinct viewpoint showed up loud and clear in a recent Herald Journal survey on LDS influences in the local culture.

The telephone survey, which used a random sample of 150 valley residents, explored a variety of religion-related topics. Responses to each of the 32 questions could be broken down separately between LDS respondents, non-LDS respondents, and a group of people that placed themselves in the category "non-active LDS."

This last group, which amounted to 13.2 percent of the valley residents surveyed, was unique among the three respondent groups in that its members lined up in full concurrence on several survey questions. Among those questions:

Would you object to your son or daughter marrying outside your religious faith? (100 percent answered no.)

Are you more likely to frequent local businesses that close on Sundays or don't require their employees to work on Sundays? (100 percent answered no.)

Do you believe a significant number of local educators slant their instruction anti-LDS? (100 percent answered no.)

Other questions on the survey in which the non-active LDS group lined up strongly on one side included:

Do you think religious stereotyping is a problem in Cache Valley? (89.5 percent answered yes.)

Do you resent people from other states who move to Utah and want to change the lifestyle here? (89.5 percent answered no.)

Do you believe the LDS Church exerts a direct influence on statewide political decisions? (89.5 percent answered yes.)

Are you a BYU sports fan? (89.5 percent answered no.)

The obviously non-conformist sentiments expressed by the group might be viewed by many active Mormons as sour grapes. As an old LDS saying puts it, "Those who leave the church never leave the church alone."

Taking potshots at the church and LDS culture is certainly a popular pastime at local taverns, where Jack Mormons often make up a good share of the clientele. But it also is not unheard of for a local bar patron, beer mug in hand, to staunchly defend some aspect of the region's dominant faith.

Though not active in the church themselves, most Jack Mormons still have parents, grandparents, siblings and other loved ones who are devout church members. So their collective loyalties and sympathies aren't as one-sided or easily categorized as a casual observer might think.

The responses to another question in the Herald Journal survey may be a reflection of this complexity.

Although concurring on many points, the non-active LDS group was sharply divided on the question, "Do you think the LDS Church and its membership face unjust ridicule inside Utah?" While 47 percent said they don't think so and 16 percent offered no opinion, 37 percent responded with a yes.

This is almost the same response breakdown exhibited by active members of the LDS Church.

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