According to the MormonNewsroom.org, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is the fourth largest religious body in the United States. By November 6, the LDS Church may very well see one of its own—Mitt Romney—become president. In Syracuse alone, there are nearly 2,500 who identify as Mormon. JERK talks to Marc Clay, Syracuse stake president for the LDS Church, about Mormon culture in Syracuse, some core Mormon beliefs, and Big Love.
JM: For the record, what’s your name and occupation?
MC: “Marc Clay and I’m an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) account executive for BARCO; it’s a medical hardware company. That’s what I do for a living, but in my spare time I’m the stake president for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
How long have you been practicing Mormonism?
“I was baptized in 1978, May 26 of 1978.”
Do you have an idea of how many students at SU and SUNY ESF identify as Mormon?
“There are just a handful at the moment, fewer than we’ve seen in past years. I think that’s more an effect of the economy. Part of the answer is those who identify; I really can’t tell you how many have ever checked Latter-day Saints on their application. I’m aware of just a couple that are undergrad and there’s probably eight to 10 that are in graduate school—probably a similar number that are doing medical residencies in medical school.”
What is Mormon culture like here at SU?
“The LDS students attend service on Sunday at a chapel on Colvin Street, so it’s not far from campus. It’s a young single adult congregation. There are about 40-50 young single adults there, all of them between the ages of 18 and 30. On Monday nights there’s a family home evening at that chapel, which is a short spiritual lesson and activities of some sort—so some social time together. Lastly, on Tuesday nights there’s an institute class and that’s held typically at the Colvin Street building, and that’s for college-age students—single and married—from all around the area. I think there’s typically around 15 students there.”
Does Hendricks Chapel offer any LDS services?
“Not that I’m aware. We have an LDS Student Association on campus; Devon Harris is the president. There are four adult leaders that are attached to that student association; one of them works on campus and the others are associated with local congregations or the institute program.
What is the background of the LDSSA?
“It’s an effort to be organized on campus from a religious standpoint. It enables students to have some say and some input into programs and activities and participate in activities connected with Hendricks Chapel. It allows us also to help solicit the support from students on campus for some projects or local activities that the church might be directing—by activities I mean giving to the community. Last year we went down to the Matthew 25 Farm and helped harvest some crops, pulled weeds, and just good things. The Matthew 25 Farm raises food for local needy families.”
Is there a large population of Mormons in the Syracuse area?
“Yes, inside the boundaries of the Syracuse stake there are eight congregations in the area: Cortland, Auburn, Liverpool, Fulton, Fayetteville, Pulaski, and two of them in Syracuse. There’s about 2,500 Latter-day Saints in those eight congregations.”
To your knowledge, are there any classes taught here at SU on Mormonism?
“It is my understanding that only recently there is a class on the Book of Mormon. I believe it’s taught by a non-Mormon.”
Because Palmyra (the birthplace of Mormonism) is so close to Syracuse, do many students and Syracuse residents make the pilgrimage to Palmyra?
“I think that a number of Syracuse students and local members go to Palmyra primarily for three things: To visit the historical sites that are there; to attend the Hill Cumorah Pageant, which is a large outdoor pageant held in July every year; and then some local members would go to attend the temple in Palmyra.”
When people think of Mormonism, many think of places like Utah and Idaho. Is there a difference between East Coast Mormons and those who live out West?
“No, not really. You would find that if you went to one of our services—and you’re more than welcome to—in the Syracuse chapel on Colvin Street, the family ward, the family congregation, or the student congregation and then went to a service in Provo, UT; Boise, ID; Salt Lake City, UT; or Los Angeles a very similar structure to the meetings.”
Do you think shows like Big Love and Sister Wives present an accurate representation of most Mormons?
“You know, I’ve never seen the shows. But, the church outlawed polygamy 122 years ago and, of the 14.5 million members of the church today, there’s not a one of them that is practicing polygamy. If any kind of that is found, they are removed from the church; their membership is taken away. So we do view it as a serious issue, but I’ve never seen the shows.”
To put the polygamist stereotype to rest, what are some of the LDS Church’s core beliefs?
“We believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and the son of our loving Heavenly Father. We believe that His atonement was necessary and allows mankind to be saved from our sins and we turn to live with God. And we believe that Christ’s original church, as described in the New Testament, has been restored in modern times.”
What are some of the differences between Mormonism and Christian religions?
“I think that we all have a belief in our savior Jesus Christ; I think that we all are striving to be the best people that we can, to be disciples of Christ; I think that we all are striving to make our communities better places to live and to care for the poor and the needy. There are some subtle differences in how we view the Godhead and some other aspects of our faiths, but I think there are a lot of similarities too and a lot of common good in the things we’re trying to do. We do believe in modern revelations, that through prayer we talk to God and through the Holy Spirit, oftentimes in a subtle, quiet way, He provides answers and guidance to us in our lives. We have the head of the church—a prophet and 12 apostles—and we believe that our Heavenly Father guides and directs that prophet in modern times, as He has with other prophets talked about in the Old and New Testaments for many years.”
Are there any students that follow Warren Jeffs’ Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
“No, not that I’m aware of.”
One of the unanswered questions from our SMUT feature on Mormonism is ‘what attracts people to believe?’ Why do you believe?
“I think that, fundamentally, each of us has to come to a point where we get down on our knees and we study and we research on our own and ask our Heavenly Father ‘what’s the right thing to do, where’s the right place to go, what’s the direction for me in a spiritual sense in my life?’ For me, I went through that process in my mid-20s, and some years ago that answer came unmistakably to me that the Mormon Church was the right place for me. I would encourage people, before they form an opinion on Mormonism, to come and visit one of our chapels on a Sunday. The doors are always open; people are always welcome.”
Check out the SMUT feature here.