Jack Mormon

Jack Dempsey

Jack Mormon is a slang term originating in nineteenth-century America originally used to describe a person who was not a baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints but who was friendly to church members and Mormonism, sympathized with them, and/or took an active interest in their belief system.

Sometime in the early- to mid-twentieth century, however, the term began to refer to an individual deemed by adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) to be an inactive or lapsed member of the LDS Church who, despite his personal religious viewpoint, maintained good relations with and positive feelings toward the church.

LDS historians trace the term to sympathetic Democrats in Jackson County, Missouri during the Kirtland period of Latter Day Saint history, circa 1834. When Church members were expelled from Jackson County by a mob, many fled to Clay County, where local citizens, mostly Democrats, were sympathetic and friendly toward the Mormons. These citizens were pejoratively labeled ‘Jack’ Mormons by the antagonistic citizens of Jackson County.

During the early 1980s, it was also used as a description of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church) who broke from the church, in part, over belief in plural marriage.

LDS Church membership was made up predominantly of liberal-leaning Democrats until the early 1900s, possibly due to anti-Mormon positions held by the Republican party during the latter half of the 19th Century. However, the church’s conservative positions on social issues such as sexuality, drug use, traditional family values, and the role of religion in government caused large numbers of previously Democratic Latter-day Saints to shift to the Republican Party by the late 1970s.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the LDS church took a stand against the Equal Rights Amendment, and again increased the population’s participation in the Republican party. At that time, many members who were registered Democrats were called ‘Jack Mormons,’ not as a negative term, but to distinguish them as traditional liberal Democrats. Because of the negative connotation of the term’s modern context, this usage was short-lived. An alternative theory and contemporary usage holds that the term refers to a person who is a Mormon in ‘name only’ (as in having a common Mormon surname).

The term was made popular by heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. During the 1920s the greatest American sports hero of the day was undoubtedly Babe Ruth; his closest rival was Dempsey, a tough heavyweight boxer from the mining West. Around 1880 an LDS Church missionary converted his parents and they moved to the Mormon village of Manassa, Colorado. While his father parted ways with the church, his mother remained a devoted member. Jack would write, ‘I’m proud to be a Mormon. And ashamed to be the Jack Mormon that I am.’

The term is now used to describe a baptized member of the LDS Church who rarely or never practices the religion, but is still friendly toward the church. Alternatively, it can be used for someone that is of Mormon descent but unbaptized or non-religious. Some Jack Mormons still support the goals and beliefs of the LDS Church, but for various reasons choose not to attend services or participate in church activities. They are also colloquially known as ‘Cultural Mormons,’ the LDS equivalent of a lapsed Catholic, a ‘Christmas and Easter Christian’ or a ‘Yom Kippur Jew.’

Some modern LDS youth today use the term to describe a baptized member who chooses not to follow the ethical, moral and cultural guidelines common to Mormons. These guidelines include refraining from profanity and pre-marital sex. Other common cultural limitations include following the Word of Wisdom by consuming a healthy diet, seeking exercise, and avoiding the use of drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and coffee and tea. Often such individuals are noticeable for public consumption of tobacco or alcohol.

It is unclear how or why the meaning of the term changed to its current usage, which is almost the reverse of its original meaning. Preston Nibley, a mid-20th century LDS author who had a large impact on Mormon culture and folklore, mentioned the term in its modern context during the late 1940s and used it extensively in the 1950s.

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