Thursday, May 4, 2017

Religion’s Influence on Idaho

Jeanie Cullip
History 4423: Idaho History
Idaho State University


In some states, you can separate the church from the state in fully understanding its past; however, Idaho state’s history is not complete without the topic of religion. The various faith groups: Latter-day Saints, Catholics, and Protestant groups have fervently shaped the state of Idaho. Fifty percent of Idaho’s population has had eminent influence on the formation its “infrastructure, economics, politics, and cultures”[1]; through their openly influential community commitment. According to Jill K. Gill, “religion had the following three thematic influences on the state: civilizer, settler, and server; economic and political conflict; and cultural divider and uniter.”[2] These broader patterns of Idaho’s religious history, ultimately influenced the conflict over growing white supremacist organizations in the late twentieth century.
Religious groups influenced Idaho toward becoming a civilized state. Early on, religion was the purpose that people came to Idaho. A newly forming territory was a high prospect for sharing the gospel; “saving heathens and expanding their influence”[3]. Throughout the state, missionaries were equally accepted and resisted as they “civilized and Christianized”[4] the ways of the West. Those accepting the invitation were given “preferential jobs and status”[5] while their land was taken over “by way of social interaction, charity, education, and a sense of town
permanence”[6] Even those who did not accept the lifestyle change were appreciative of the hospitals, schools, and businesses that came alongside the various assemblies of faith.
Religious groups influenced Idaho toward economic and political conflicts. As the civilized communities grew in population of believers and non-believers, religious leaders and members took to the streets to continue to pursue change outside of the church walls. This caused drastic turmoil as the non-believers felt as though their personal freedoms were being taken away from them; as “religion became a tool for economic and political gain.”[7]
Religious groups influenced Idaho toward culture division and unity. Jill K Gill explains this idea further, “helping to determine which of its citizens should be treated as part of an in-group or an out-group by including and excluding according to religious determinations.”[8] Throughout Idaho, spiritual non-conformists and seekers have been interwoven with “religious libertarians and activists.”[9]         
             The religious groups influence on Idaho has had an effect on those who call themselves “religiously unaffiliated”[10] Which I believe, led to the conflict over growing white supremacist organizations in the late twentieth century. Andrea Vogt writes in her book Common Courage, “prejudice exists and sometimes thrives… where the loss of old ways of life and financial hardships and sense of disenfranchisement accompanying such change pose great challenges to community health.”[11] Had the abundant power of faith that spread the word of love; ultimately lead those toward hate?
White supremacist Richard Butler, arrived in Coeur d’ Alene in the 1970s to establish a headquarters for his racist organization, the Aryan Nations (aka. Church of Jesus Christ Christian) which became a “national hub of hate.”[12] Small towns all around Idaho, “exacerbated racist attitudes”[13] accepted this new church because of their willingness to assist a community in need without all the religious hype. Some wondered if they should address these racists, hiding behind the term Christian; those opposed of “taking immediate action felt as though they should ignore it and it will go away.”[14] This theory failed the communities, as they soon learned that “the face of hate, silence is deadly.”[15] The Aryan Nation and other hate groups activities grew; as religious leaders and the members kept to their story of love and acceptance of everyone. Those upset with how the religious ways influenced Idaho, joined hate groups in hopes that they could take their land and freedoms back. 
Bill Wassmuth shares with Andrea Vogt the decision that was made to fight against the Aryan Nations, “You don’t debate justice and you don’t debate, or tolerate oppression. Being inclusive does not mean being inclusive of someone who is hurting someone, or advocating
violence against someone.”[16] As the hate groups power continued to grow, the people of Idaho finally felt as though the “unspoken but well-defined community limits had been crossed.”[17]
            In conclusion, as religion civilized, advocated, and divided Idaho in the name of love; hate and racism poisoned the hearts deep under the surface. Idaho’s religious history ultimately influenced the conflict over growing white supremacist organizations in the late twentieth century.  Gill states, “Idaho residents … battled the Aryan Nations for twenty years before one of its violent acts led to a lawsuit that bankrupted it in 2000. Butler left the state, and in 2001, his compound was bulldozed.”[18]  The solution against hate, “the neighborly aspects of rural life … honesty, neighborliness, charity, and tolerance of one another’s differences,”[19] says Andrea Vogt. It appears as though; Idaho’s religious influence cannot be separated from the state after all.

Bibliography


Gill, Jill K. "The Power and the Glory." In Idaho's Place: A New History of the Gem
State, edited by Adam M. Sowards, 110-132. Seattle: University of Washington
Press, 2014. Kindle edition.

Vogt, Andrea. Common Courage: Bill Wassmuth, Human Rights, and Small-Town Activism, xvii
Moscow: University of Idaho Press, 2003.



[1] Gill, Jill K. "The Power and the Glory." In Idaho's Place: A New History of the Gem
           State, edited by Adam M. Sowards, 130. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014.                      Kindle edition.

[2] Ibid. 110

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. 112

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid. 113

[7] Ibid. 119

[8] Ibid. 110

[9] Ibid
               
[10]Ibid. 130

[11] Vogt, Andrea. Common Courage: Bill Wassmuth, Human Rights, and Small-Town                          Activism, xvii Moscow: University of Idaho Press, 2003.

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid. 10

[14] Ibid. 11

[15] Ibid 12

[16] Ibid. 13

[17] Ibid 16

[18] Ibid. Gill. 130

               [19] Ibid. Vogt. 20 

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