The Washington Post

SALT LAKE CITY Rocky Anderson, mayor of the city that will host the Winter Olympics next month, includes in his official press package an article he wrote about his happy hours pub-crawling with members of “the astoundingly beautiful Utah Bikini Team.”

Why was the mayor playing foosball at brew gardens with the current Mrs. Utah and her gal pals? It seems Anderson faces an unusual public relations challenge: how to convince the world that his city is not a Dullsville populated by teetotaling missionaries in skinny ties and sensible shoes.

When Anderson met recently with a group of international journalists, they kept asking not about the vibrant arts and culture, burgeoning high-technology sectors, commitment to public transport, safe streets, or waist-high powder of the slopes.

No, the foreign press wanted to know about the Mormons. The mayor, a Democrat and non-Mormon in a state that is solidly Republican and 70 percent Mormon, took pains to point out that the church should play a role in the Olympics because of its overwhelming presence, not to mention that it was Mormon pioneers who settled this stunning valley and built a city from scratch. “It is a story worth telling,” he said.

“But there is so much more to Salt Lake now,” Anderson continued, boasting not just of the city”s virtues but of its newfound diversity the annual gay-pride parades, the growth of immigrant communities and the rising population of non-Mormons, who now account for about half the population of Salt Lake City.

It is a fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is so entwined in the history, commerce and politics of Utah that its presence at the Olympics will be inescapable.

From the arcane liquor laws that require buying “memberships” at “private clubs” to order a drink, to the concerts given by the glorious Tabernacle Choir, to the presence of 4,000 clean-cut Mormon volunteers dressed in dark suits and plain dresses, the church”s influence will be felt everywhere.

To counter the “Mormon Olympics” image, Gordon Hinckley, the church”s 91-year-old president and “living prophet,” has declared that missionaries will not buttonhole potential converts during the Games here next month. The word from on high is: Keep a low, polite, neighborly profile. Show the world that the Latter-day Saints are a wholesome, vibrant, conservative but mainstream Christian religion, and not some weird cult of polygamists (a practice the church officially renounced more than a century ago).

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