Political versus Theological Friendships

Are theological friendships possible between different religions? At times I am skeptical. Consider the always fascinating question of which Christian denomination likes Mormons the least?

The answer to this question varies geographically. I would venture to guess that in the United States the overwhelming majority of religiously motivated anti-Mormonism grows out of evangelical Protestantism. While many American Mormons view Baptists and other evangelicals with suspicion — these are the people who hand out copies of the Godmakers to their friends — they tend to view Catholics as less hostile, and more friendly. It is tempting to see a theological affinity here. After all, both Mormons and Catholics break with Protestants by having a strong notion of priestly authority and an ecclesiology that endows the institutional church with a cosmic significance in God’s plan. Yet if one crosses the Atlantic, one finds a different relationship. In continental Europe, it is by and large the Catholics that are likely to be pushing for the anti-cult laws that can entangle Mormons. (Although it is worth adding that continental secularism is not especially hospitable — legally or ideologically — to the Restoration.) In this context, we are likely to find that our allies are evangelical Christians and other “new” churches that are seeking to move into largely Catholic domains.

These are two imperfect and impressionistic data points, to be sure, but they do suggest that what matters is not theology but politics. Bluntly put, Mormons are a minority religion and hence we tend to find that other minority religions (Catholicism in Protestant America; evangelical Protestantism in Catholic continental Europe) are our most likely allies and majority religions are our most likely persecutors. If this generalization is correct, it means that 20th century Utah was probably, in many ways, a uniquely bad place from which to understand Mormonism’s place in the world’s religious ecology. The Intermountain West presents the truly anomalous situation of a place where Mormons are frequently a majority religion, and are likely to view themselves from the point of view of a majority. Furthermore, the 20th century, particularly the mid-20th century, probably marks a high-watermark of Mormon identification with Protestant America. My sense is that with correlation came an increasing emphasis on the Book of Mormon and on temples, an emphasis that accelerated in the last two decades of the 20th century and serves to emphasize those aspects of our faith that are the least Protestant.

If I was to hazard a prediction it would be that the Mormonism of the future will increasingly be dominated by an ideology of Mormonism-as-a-minority and that with this will come more political alliances with other local minorities, even while the possibility of theological alliances becomes increasingly remote.

36 comments for “Political versus Theological Friendships

  1. Friendships between warring factions never work.

    But the one exception to this has been the Sci-Fi Channel and Universal. I am such a fan of the Sci-Fi Channel. Particularly the great work that Bonnie Hammer and Universal Studios have done since taking it over!

    The science fiction they show now is great. I can’t wait to watch it every day. I LOVED the Battlestar Galactica mini-series. Since then, I have particularly liked the new Mansquito show, but it’s all been great.

    Sci-Fi Channel brings to mind Kerry O’Quinn, Norman Jacobs, Harlan Ellison. They DEFINE Science Fiction. Universal Studios and Bonnie Hammer have done an incredible job on bringing out the potential the Sci-Fi Channel had.

    Viewers like me now have new hope, since Universal Studios acquired the Sci-Fi Channel, simply because Universal Studios HAS SO MUCH IMAGINATION. When Universal Studios isn’t broadcasting the GREAT STUFF from the USA Film Vaults, they turn to Bonnie Hammer’s AWESOME original productions…..what a WELCOME RELIEF!!!

    The Languatron

  2. What does the “ideology of Mormonism-as-a-minority” from your prediction look like? How does it relate to correlation and the increased emphasis on far-from-protestant beliefs and practices?

    I assume there is a link between correlation and the growth of the church beyond the intermountain west (the more far-flung the church, the more essential to preserve its unity central coordination becomes). Correlation also brings to mind the standard complaints (i.e., it renders church materials too conservative, one-dimensional, bland, etc.). Should we also see it as a vehicle through which the church “stays on message” in asserting its distinctiveness or status as a minority religion? Interesting.

  3. I see that the rediculously off-topic bot in comment no. 1 beat me to several interesting points. You have to be quick on the draw in these parts. Forget correlation! Let’s talk science fiction on cable!

  4. I think you’re on to something.

    In Guatemala, there was strong resistance from Catholics. Basically, any movement towards non-Catholicism was viewed equally. However, Protestant religions were much more likely to view us as “just another Protestant church.” Meanwhile, church members were often virulently anti-Catholic but friendly towards Protestants.

  5. Nate wrote, “My sense is that with correlation came an increasing emphasis on the Book of Mormon and on temples, an emphasis that accelerated in the last two decades of the 20th century and serves to emphasize those aspects of our faith that are the least Protestant.”

    I think you are correct to a certain extent. However, I submit that church leaders in recent years often have tried to bring the church closer to the mainstream religions, at least publically, while promoting the peculiarity of church members within the context of conference, etc. Think, for example, of GBH’s interviews with Larry King during which GBH deftly avoided thornier issues such as Adam-God or other commets that suggested mormonism is not that different from other religions. Interestingly, many of my non-member friends prefer the distinctive leanings of mormonism absent any attempts at homogenizing the church.

  6. Alas, “Mormon Doctrine” set the wrong tone for the Saints.

    Nate: So, will increased cooperation and identification with other minorities have a feedback effect? I.e. as Mormons relate to the religious persecution of Protestants and Catholics (China) in other countries, will our efforts to carve out religious liberty internationally have a positive effect on Mormon-Protestant/Evangelical-Catholic relations in the U.S.?

  7. I do have a counter-example to Kaimi’s. In Brazil, which is very catholic in many respects, I (as a missionary) sensed much greater hostility from protestants than catholics. Not only did they draw on the theological differences, but they saw us as competitors for converts. Thus I think economics is another factor that requires consideration: as far as I could tell, the catholic church did not collect from most people–or collected only rarely and for services performed (baptisms, weddings, etc). In other words, demand was strong. In contrast, (again as far as I could tell) protestant ministers there ate or starved according to their ability to get converts and keep them active and filling the collection plate. No doubt they also cared for the souls of those they taught, but I had a distinct sense that their hostility to mormons in particular was also a response to something deeper, or shallower, or atleast more primal.

  8. Shawn: My basic thesis is that between 1890 and the rise of correlation in the 1960s there was a steady drift toward Protestantism within Mormonism. I think that there was less emphasis on uniquely Mormon doctrines and more emphasis the “common core of Christianity.” (Think, e.g., Lowell Bennion, O.C. Tanner, much of President McKay’s sermons, etc.)

    I think that correlation marks a shift because it placed an emphasis on the Restoration scriptures that had not been there previously. Importantly, it placed a very strong emphasis on the Book of Mormon (especially after President Benson became prophet). This allowed the Church to continue to emphasize the “common core of Christianity,” but to do so through the Book of Mormon. This simultaneously, however, places Joseph and the Plates front and center. During the same period (the 1960s through 2000) you see a massive expansion in the construction of temples and a push to make temple worship a more central aspect of Latter-day Saint devotion. I think that the cummulative effect of an emphasis on the Book of Mormon and the Temple is to create a theological wedge between Mormons and Protestants. This wedge, in turn, has the effect of distancing us from the Protestant mainstream of America, and emphasizing our status of American religious minority rather than as another (albeit quirky) member of the Protestant majority.

  9. I didn’t mean simply “In other words, demand was strong.”

    I meant: “In other words, there was either little expectation of profit or a seemingly endless supply (stong demand) of people to baptise and marry.”)

  10. Nate, your comments are enlightening, as always, but I can’t help noticing how much you missed, given the staggering insights offered by our friend Languatron. Care to comment?

  11. Wow, Nate, this is really interesting because I feel like a lot of people have been making it sound like correlation has tended to make us sound generic, like just another Protestant church. Certainly polygamy has been conspicuously inconspicuous in the recent prophet-based manuals, and there are Pres. Hinckley’s Larry King remarks and, for example, Elder Oaks’ talk on whether we are saved, which seemed to be trying to build a bridge.

  12. Nate, at least from an analysis of the scriptures most frequently cited in General Conference, correlation doesn’t appear to be the proximate cause of the recent emphasis on the Book of Mormon. During the post-correlation, pre-Benson decade of 1975-1984, only 3 verses of the Book of Mormon made the General Conference Top 30, while in the Benson decade of 1986-1995, 13 Book of Mormon verses did. The lists can be found here.

    Similarly, the most cited verse in General Conference between 1942 and 1961 was JS-H 1:17. Because there’s no passage that further distinguishes us from Protestantism, or that they reject more absolutely, I don’t know that the verse’s prominence can be reconciled with the claim that uniquely Mormon doctrines were downplayed during the McKay era.

  13. Matt: Trends are difficult to quantify clearly. I am not claiming that somehow distinctly Mormon doctrines disappeared in the mid-20th century. For example, I think that the transformation of the role of temple worship began with President McKay, who build the first temples outside of Mormon enclaves. I don’t think that looking at top 30 scriptures is a good measure of emphasis, however, because this will only capture the extent to which particular verses are repeatedly used rather than the full extent to which whole books of scripture are used. If you look at overall citations of ANY Book of Mormon passages in general conference there is no question but that correlation caused a huge spike in use of the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, if you look beyond General Conference to things like Church curriculum, correlation had the effect of dramatically emphasizing the Book of Mormon. Check out this article for a more comprehensive assessment of the Book of Mormon’s place in Mormon discourse.

    Ben: I think that there is some truth to the conventional wisdom with regard to correlation. However, I think that it is important to note that our Christological rhetoric is frequently tied to Restoration scriptures. If Christ is a more central figure in our discourse, it is not because we have placed a new emphasis on the New Testament but rather on the Book of Mormon. Futhermore, I think that correlation must also be seen in terms of budget priorities. It is not simply a matter of what the Church says, but also what it puts its money in. Here, I think that the proliferation of temples is an incredibly important instance of emphasizing a uniquely Mormon set of symbols and rituals, an instance that is frequently forgotten in the dominant historical/journalistic narrative of Mormon assimilation.

  14. Thank you, Nate, for bringing up this topic which, of course, strikes a chord from my international perspective. In Belgium, Catholic country, our natural allies are the protestants. We’ve always had excellent relations with the protestant Faculty for theology in Antwerp, being invited to give lectures on Mormonism, helping them to build their library, participating in projects. A protestant researcher is now finishing a thesis on the way religious minorities are mistreated in Belgium, including us as example with others. He keeps informing me and we inform him. Indeed, minorities find each other. On the other hand, the Catholic church has been instrumental in many of the problems we encounter, and its political influence in persecuting the “cults” is simply disgusting.

    There is one thing I disagree on, where you say about Europe: “Although it is worth adding that continental secularism is not especially hospitable ? legally or ideologically ? to the Restoration.”

    No, that has not been my experience if you define secularism as a non-religious attitude. Such an attitude often stems from deep disappointment with the Catholic church, but does not exclude openness for a new religious experience. In fact inquiries show that most of our converts come from a secular basis – and rediscovering religion as a still worthwhile journey, in contrast to their disappointment. Also legally, the secular society as I know it here is for diversity, for multiculturalism, and therefore more tolerant towards minorities.

  15. Wilfried: I may be mistaken here, but I was thinking of anti-cult legislation in France. My understanding of the politics here — which admittedly is shakey at best — is that in France secularists have vied with Catholic conservatives in their enthusiasm for protecting French society from the influence of dangerous and irrational religious movements like us.

  16. Good point, Nate, every European country is somewhat different. Yes, the secular base in France, in its aggressive separation of Church and state, has been instrumental in anti-cult legislation, but, as far as I know, not supported by Catholic conservatives. I understand the French Catholic Church has expressed concern about the anti-cult legislation because the wording could also touch Catholics and is menacing to freedom of thought and worship. The French State and the Catholics have been at odds over many issues and this seems another one.

    Perhaps a French reader of T&S could enlighten us. Aucun candidat dans l’Hexagone?

  17. I did some quick homework on the attitude of the French Catholic Church towards anti-cult legislation. As I thought, they are pretty apprehensive, because some of the Catholic movements (Opus Dei for one! and some monastic Orders) could easily be identified as cults. For those of you who read French, here is Mgr. Vernette’s concerned response .

    International Christian Concern (ICC) also wants to us to “pray for all denominations of Christians of France that they may continue to be protected from harm and that the Christian message may be heard and received by all.” Evangelicals. Not sure they would include Mormons though…

    Finally, an interesting article (in English) comparing the U.S. and France on their respective concept of “religious freedom”.

  18. I’m surprised at the lack of discussion on other restorationist-leaning or really “new” churches, e.g. Sevent-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. The great irony of the whole situation is the unscrupulous way the Evangelicals politically maneuver the largely conservative American Mormons to their own advantage (we won’t name names, but our own dear Antichr. . . I mean president has called a certain former governor a “good friend” and a “great ally”), while these people in their own churches talk about us as “the enemy.” (Freaking Orrin (sp?) Hatch was one of the sponsors of Bill Frist’s “nuclear option!”) I’m not so knowledgeable on the international situation, but the bizarre imbalance of political and religious friendship towards “Mormons” in America is disgusting and disheartening.

  19. Interesting comments, Steve. Also within the Church, viewed in its international dimension, the imbalance and shifting of allegiances is bizarre. While a large number of Church members abroad lean to the left, they are flabbergasted when they learn that Utah was the state with the highest percentage of voters for Bush. At the same time Mormons in foreign countries will get support from unexpected corners. It may be from an anti-Catholic left as they perceive Mormons as non-Catholic, it may be from extreme right (like we had, surprisingly, in Belgium during the latest cult investigation). Bottom line is that our “supporters” seldom or never do it out of sheer sympathy but because it matches their temporary agenda.

  20. The adage is ‘all politics are local’ and I think that applies as much to religious political friendships as to any other political relationship. As the comments here point out, who we might ally with is going to vary from location to location based on the other parties’ agenda (as noted by Wilfried).

    However, there is a subtext to Nate’s post (as is often the case with Nate’s posts) and that is to what extent Mormons internally identify with or resemble other religions on religious as opposed to political grounds. I think that we are dreaming if we think that any other Christian group is going to ackowledge us as theologically acceptable. Any kind of traditional orthodox Christian is never going to get past the apostacy and a host of non-traditional beliefs on fundamental issues, and more liberal Christians are going to object to our conservative views on the political and social issues which matter so much to liberal Christians. Note here that I am speaking (as I think Nate was) about group attitudes rather than individuals — individuals might convert but whole churches are not going to agree that we are right. Politically, however, this is probably irrelevant since as we have seen here political alliances have to do with the practical position and goals of the other religions in a particular locale rather than how much we do or do not resemble them theologically.

    How much the Church and individual Mormons focus on our differences or similarities from other religions is really a separate issue. It certainly has an external political component (e.g. abandoning plural marraige to be accepted into the U.S. or emphasizing family values in our PR to create an overall favorable public image) but I see this as being more affected by internal forces rather than the needs of external religious relations. And there I don’t think there can be any dispute but that the overall trend is to deemphasize our distinctive features and to emphasize our similarities with other Christians.

    Whether the Book of Mormon is used more or less is not really that telling — the real test is whether the King Follett Discourse is being used more or less. The Book of Mormon is really quite traditional in most of its theology. I don’t have comprehensive comparative data, but my personal observation is that the King Follett Discourse and related doctrines are being taught less and less. When I was young the Lorenzo Snow couplet (“as God is man may become, as man is God once was” or is it the other way round?) was boldly put forward as representing one of the great doctrines of the Restored Gospel. Nowadays President Hinckley feints and weaves when asked about it in a newspaper interview and the Gospel Doctrine SS lessons don’t mention it or the King Follett sermon once.

    Now there may be good reasons for this shift in emphasis from presenting those beliefs which are similar to those of other Christians rather than those which are distinctive. That subject would surely merit its own post. However, for purposes of Nate’s post, that shift in emphasis is not going to get other churches to like us more theologically and is probably irrelevant to whether they ally with us for political purposes.

  21. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful adage. I think we end up losers by following the scenario you outline, JWL. You’re exactly right that by de-emphasizing our uniqueness we make ourselves no more acceptable to the fundamentalists (and who cares about the mainstream). To see our church go the way of the Reorganites (playing down our origins and playing up our common Christianity) would be a sad thing indeed. In fact, the other two churches I mentioned, the Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses have dealt with the exact same issues and, in my opinion, have gone even further to distance themselves from their founders. This is really tragic and represents a move back towards apostasy (if one takes the original claims of these respective religions seriously). I don’t know if anybody else here read “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins,” but the author of that book ended up asserting that point, that to remain relevant the church MUST move into the mainstream. I think, and I suppose there are some who agree, that the church becomes more and more irrelevant as it moves into the mainstream.

    My political point was just that those who in America use Mormons for their own political purposes are totally unscrupulous and have no regard for Mormonism. I don’t expect political leaders to kiss President Hinkley’s pinky ring, but it would be nice to receive the same amount of respect that the church gives to other religions. I’m interested in the European situation (and I’ve been wondering for a while where church members fit into the whole Ukrainian crisis), but your ridiculous adage was impertinent and moot. In France LDS are not a significant political bloc. In America they certainly are and Mormons wage a disproportionate amount of political power (which is just fine by me). The political situation of Mormons is a major question, and I expressed my concerns because I personally believe that Mormons’ past and current political alliances/persuasions will severly hurt us (as a nation and church) in the long-term.

    (Looking back on my previous post I realize that I didn’t use enough quotation marks. Here are a few for good measure: “”””””””””)

  22. Pres. Hinckley’s avoidance of “uniquely Mormon” aspects comes from a lifetime of historical precedent where such “oddities” (if I may) are hyper-focused on, twisted, derided, held up as a core element of our beliefs and then used for a more basic straw-man argument by our opponents. The “unwashed masses” read the papers, see/hear the news and are thinking “I want no part of those strange people.”

    When Pres. Hinckley became prophet, he greatly emphasized the need for all members (and leadership) to help build bridges with other groups and religions. Such efforts foster mutual respect and understanding and have paid off in spades when you look at overcoming frivolous zoning requirements for churches or temples. It’s also helped our church stand with others as a resource for pushing back legislation that undermines the family. And I can’t help but think that our portrayal by others particularly in the area of the importance of families, community service, respect for others beliefs, common sense in the face of political correctness, etc. hasn’t quietly garnered respect and admiration by others who are increasingly uneasy about the shift away from time-tested standards. People are hungering for the truth, but you can’t change a diet overnight.

    Yes, we have unique attributes and beliefs within the gospel – when compared to “traditional Christian religions”, but that comes with the restored gospel. You won’t get converts by trying to have them shift gears at high speed by expecting them to drop everything that has shaped their lives to that point, and embracing absolutely everything about our gospel. (Besides, I think there are life-long members who still don’t embrace everything.)

    Our actions – based on our beliefs – will help garner respect, closer inspection by others who seek for something more, and will help provide opportunities for shaping our environments (including our communities) for the better. We can bemoan the sad state of affairs around us, but we know (don’t we?) that wickedness never was happiness, and that this desire for a more long-lasting happiness (or the persistent unhappiness) will have people looking for some direction. If we’re not “out there” to be reviewed, critiqued, questioned in a way that can foster a common ground for discussion, then we’ve failed to be a light unto the world.

    Some of the comments pre-suppose that there’s a loss of personal integrity or belief for offering ourselves in a “diminished” capacity where we’re not offering the “entire truth” of the gospel. But the example in the Book of Mormon has consistently shown that there is milk before meat, and that we are taught precept upon precept.

    There are times to be blunt and forceful, but it cannot be constant, or you will not garner respect. I speak not only as a member, but as a politician. And in making my decision to run (for a local community services district, but maybe for a city council position if our incorporation effort is successful), I wrestled long and hard about whether I’d be “selling my soul”. When you’ve lived a life of broken homes and promises, one thing I have to hold on to is my personal integrity, and I didn’t want to jeopardize it in running.

    I took the time to visit a nearby city councilman who is LDS, and asked him about it. He said it’s rather simple. You know what’s right and wrong. Stick by your convictions on them, realizing it may need some persuasion or intermediate steps to convince others. Where it’s tough is when you have no clear benefits or detriments to help sway your arguments or there is an atmosphere where two sides far apart, but are being passionately pushed by interested parties intent on no compromise. Or where you’d like to help, but in doing so, you open the floodgates for being taken advantage of. (I threw that one in from experience)

    How has it helped me? I’ve been able to stop advancement of gambling in my community by well meaning senior citizens looking for easier money to be made – “just for some weekly bingo”. Privately, I expressed my beliefs against gambling. Publicly, I shared the detriments to the community for having such activity within it. We also have a rather rabid group of anti-homosexual protesters making the rounds. There has been an effort by those supporting a pro-homosexual effort to squash public speech deemed “hateful” from being allowed within a city. I was privately approached about putting similar language into a public document. I told them that I’d shoot it down in a heartbeat, but explaining that having served in the military as well as having given an oath to protect and uphold the constitution there as well as when sworn in, I treasured many rights of free speech. I explained that I didn’t approve of the methods being used to push their message, but that the ensuing dialogue was good for the public to have to go through, despite their discomfort. Thankfully, they didn’t pursue it further, as such public dialogue can get sidetracked by ideology from both sides.

    Despite the “hype” that is seen in newspapers (often driven by idealogues and their agendas), most people really, REALLY have a great deal of common sense. It’s those with the agendas that seek to push diametrically opposing viewpoints and remove all sense of common ground that cause the most problems. Look at the recent “Deep Throat” deconstruction going on by people in the media. It’s moved away from identifying the person to judging whether he was a hero or a traitor. I don’t doubt that there were motivations for him to act as he did (some life threatening, I’m sure), but what’s being brushed under the carpet is that he exposed serious corruption at the highest levels of govenment and using those same resources to cover it up. The people of this nation had a lot to lose by not having this disclosed. (BTW, I’m independent, but am conservative).

    Going back to the main topic regarding Pres. Hinckley’s apparent efforts to avoid the “tough” questions – I have no doubt he could answer them. But he knows better than most that the majority of the public is not ready to hear all the truth. It’s why he has further emphasized us to be member-missionaries (well, Pres. Kimball did that, but Pres. Hinckley served with him and continues that message). That requires US to evaluate how we’ve internalized gospel principles and reflect that in our actions within our homes, communities and the world. “By your fruits ye shall know them” seems to be one of the most prominent messages spoken by the Savior as a prelude to “Feed my sheep”. The Book of Mormon tells us that we will not be able to preach the gospel if we don’t have a knowledge of it, requiring personal preparation and a lifetime of commitment to following Jesus Christ before being able to convince others to do likewise. That requires that we learn to speak a common language that will avoid so much of the common dialogue seen by “talking past one another” to prove a point, without really listening to the other person.

    I apologize for the lengthiness. I just discovered this site, and while some of the dialogue is very stimulating, it misses the bigger picture in many areas of personal, spiritual, generational and eternal development in the face of what the world measures as successful (albeit short term)

  23. You’re absolutely right, Justin. How foolish of me to suggest that missionaries should teach out of JD rather than the BoM! Thank you a thousand times for the great fountain of wisdom you have poured out on our ignorant and carnally-minded heads.

    I would just like to suggest that sometimes the attitudes that lead us to be more interested in good PR than giving pure testimony or meaningful service HURTS us more than helps us. I heard a local leader recently tell a wonderful story about a stake president friend who was giving leaders of other religions a tour of a temple during an open house. A rabbi asked some tough questions and the reply? “I could answer your question, but. . .” instead I’m going to bear a feel-good testimony. Way to tell those Jews! Nothing like a soft testimony to stop a heathen hireling in his tracks. Not that we shouldn’t reach out or look for common ground, but we cheat the world (and insult the good intentions and common sense you insist most people have) when we soften the message because we’re worried about people’s perceptions. This doesn’t mean insulting others’ beliefs or hitting non-Mormons over the head with blood atonement, but it does mean many will be offended and disgusted with us no matter how we present our message and I know from personal experience that if we’re so worried about giving the answers we stupidly suppose people want to hear we will lose honest and inquiring minds who would otherwise be interested. Besides, you seem to think that if we get over our petty worries and speak the complete truth to the world we can’t be as “wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.” “You forget we fundamentalists believe the scriptures too. Boldness. Isn’t it about. . . time?

  24. Welcome to the site, Justin! This thread is now dying (though you never know what happens next), but I wanted you to know we appreciate your input. Even without responding, a lot of people read comments, including yours.

    Just a hint towards your remark that we might miss the bigger picture in some dialogue. You will find a wide variety in topics and comments when reading the numerous previous posts and comments. Taken altogether, these do offer many facets “of personal, spiritual, generational and eternal development”. At the same time, a blog like this offers the freedom for quick or for more elaborate comments. Everyone should feel welcome. Keep coming back!

  25. JWL: I’ve no idea if anyone is still reading this, but I wanted to make a couple of points in response. I think that you are absolutely right that there is no question but that Mormons have come to look more like other American churches over the last century. I do think that there is a qualitative difference between the shape of that raprochment before and after correlation.

    The Book of Mormon is in a sense a very ironic document. Its Christology and soteriology are much closer to mainstream Christianity than are the King Follett doctrines and thus its emphasis serves to move our theological discussions closser to Protestantism. Yet the book itself is a massive affront to precisely the tradition that it moves us closer to. Hence the Book of Mormon is simultaneously about both the traditional soteriology of heaven, hell, and atonement and about Joseph, angels, gold plates, and a new dispensation of prophecy.

    I agree with you about the de-emphasis of King Follett. What I find facinating is that the de-emphasis on King Follett mirrors an dramatic rise in emphasis on temple attendence. The temple, in turn, is saturated with KFD theology. Hence, KFD becomes an interior, esoteric doctrine of the temples, rather than a publiclly taught doctrine. None of our public church discussion of the temple or public church curriculum about it talks in KFD terms, but the endowment most certainly does.

  26. Excellent points, Nate. Add to that the perception of many converts: seldom will anyone join the Church (and accept WoW, tithing, significant time commitment, etc etc) if he or she would perceive the Church as another brand of Christianity. Then other churches are much easier to join. True conversion requires a heartfelt acceptance of daring doctrines. And even “simple” things like the First Vision and the subsequent visitations of heavenly messengers are very daring. Missionary work suffers when our preaching becomes deluted. I think that even in elementary discussions with truly interested investigators, very quickly the more “interior” facets of Mormonism come up. Those are also the most fascinating.

  27. “The Book of Mormon is in a sense a very ironic document. Its Christology and soteriology are much closer to mainstream Christianity than are the King Follett doctrines and thus its emphasis serves to move our theological discussions closser to Protestantism. Yet the book itself is a massive affront to precisely the tradition that it moves us closer to.”

    Well-put, Nate. This is one of the reasons why I find it so fascinating to think about the social and intellectual impact of the BoM as a book of scripture, beyond the implications of its actual scriptural teachings.

    “The temple, in turn, is saturated with KFD theology.”

    It is? I hadn’t noticed, unless by “KFD theology” you mean the distinct personhood of God and Christ, the pre-existence, some unclear references to God’s conduct on other worlds, and an unspecified form of deification (we know it involves being a “king” and a “priest,” but that’s about it–certainly nothing is presented which suggests a comparable standing to the Godhead).

  28. Hmm, I don’t think we can go into a discussion of the measure of saturation of KFD into the temple. That would require stepping over boundaries for church members.

    More prone to discussion: I am not sure the Christology and soteriology of the Book of Mormon are that “closer” to mainstream Christianity. The very physical confirmation of God (Ether), the preexistence of Christ as God, and the position of Adam in the fall, to name only those, seem already pretty fundamental differences.

  29. Nate, I’m positively surprised by your admission that Correlation is responsible for turning the almost-Protestant LDS Church of the McKay era into something much different (without trying to state exactly what it has become). This compares nicely with David O. McKay’s supposed remark to the effect that when he saw Correlation in action he finally understood the Great Apostasy. Putting two and two together …

  30. Russell: Glad I could help. Meet me in the celestial room of the DC temple sometime and we’ll talk more.

  31. Perhaps not the best idea, Nate. Celestial rooms rarely lend themselves to vigorous interpretive debate, as I think they generally discourage the necessary gesticulating.

    Hey, didn’t you have a long “defending correlation” comment here just a moment ago? What did you do, retrieve for purposes of turning it into a post?

  32. Something like that. It was too long, and the ideas are best set out in a post when I have some references to make sure that my facts are sorta, kinda, accurate.

  33. Steve, I can understand the sarcasm seen in your response to me, and you bring up valid points (apparently from your own experience). I was involved with the Public Affairs group of church in our area when Pres. Hinckley pushed for an increase in bridge building. Our local leader was most emphatic that we shouldn’t show up at service events with a box of Book of Mormon’s (it happened once), but instead build up genuine relationships across religions through meaningful service. We were also instructed to be very careful about using our organizational resources to “overrun” other churches. We were initially not invited to a council of religions in the Sacramento area, but it was the service rendered by many individual members (some, quite amazing in their selfless service) that led to other members of the council to ask the LDS church in.

    Those years of effort paid off when the Sacramento temple was going through the planning stages. I showed up at a final planning meeting, after many prior meetings filled with crowds of opponents. The representation that we had from church members was expected. What really helped our cause was the number of representatives from other area faiths that stood up before the board and expressed THEIR support for OUR temple. It was noteworthy enough that at the end of the approval, the woman leading the board took time out to mention how astounding it was to see such cross-religious support for the building of an edifice of worship of a single religion.

    The effort continues today (I haven’t been privy to much in this area since moving out of there). But there are times when I wish our own wards/stake would take up more in the way of service in the community and toward other churches. Unfortunately, we’re in a very affluent area, and the churches that come in are pursuing the high dollar demographics, and are someone antagonistic towards any overtures of service. So it’s the individuals that seem to perform the service here, but it’s still mainly clustered around members. My own family doesn’t seem to have really close relationships within our ward, and have more associations outside the church. I can only hope that I can serve as a beacon. (Although my fellow board members tell me I need not be “so damned honest” all the time, and learn to hold my tongue some of the time. :-) )

    Steve, to address your point – perhaps made in sarcasm, not sure as you shfit gears a few times – I am not advocating softening our gospel message. I’m saying that there is some amount of preparation necessary for the gospel to be accepted for consideration by potential converts (and I shudder to say that, because friendships/service should not be done with the intent to convert and baptize someone). My own challenge is my next door neighbor who was baptized long ago, but hasn’t attended church for decades. He moved in 3 years ago, and as the records clerk, I jokingly told him he had 6 months before I turned the missionaries loose on him. I used the time to try to be friends, and be of service for him on his house which he’s nearly torn down and rebuilt up completely. But he staunchly refuses help of any kind because he feels nobody can put the quality into the work that he can. I can sympathize because in some ways I’m like that. But he’s come over and helped me at times when rebuilding a tranny (I’ve blown my back out a few times doing heavy things myself), generally shoot the breeze, and give each other a hard time about our respective projects. I kid him occasionally about going to church, but he knows I’m not pushing. Maybe he’ll come around when something happens in his life. We’ll be there to support him if needed. We occasionally feed him (single guy), but because he’s been literally camping out of his house all this time (still no kitchen), he likes to feel less obligated to us by eating out. He’s turned us down so often, I don’t often ask to help him. And he doesn’t often ask us, partly because he knows I have a huge number of projects as well that fills whatever spare time I have.

    I’ve gotten too long winded again. Let me go back to the Public Affairs push if I may. This is a natural effort for Pres. Hinckley. His long years of service in the church have to do with particular area of emphasis, so it’s natural that he’d try to utilize his skills in moving the church forward in this area. When his programs were initiated, the reason for it came as a response to polls conducted among thousands of people, and we ranked poorly in perception from others. We were listed down with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. What also came of the poll was the often repeated sentiment that yeah, the Mormon’s were family friendly, but they stuck to themselves and helped each other only. When you’re faced with that kind of reaction, do we redouble our efforts to push missionary messages to unreceptive people, or do we make a greater effort to build bridges of understanding?

    I would dare say that Pres. Hinckley is the right type of prophet for our time, and has been prepared for a long time. His leadership and emphasis (along with Pres. Hunter’s focus on temples and family history work) has resulted in an expansion of temples that has been heretofore unparalleled.

    I would dare say that with the rapidly increasing torrents of pornography, the temple (and frequent attendance) are more and more being utilized as goals of worthiness with longer term goals of eternal families endowed with glory in the hereafter. But the immediacy of garments and temples stand as a (much closer) symbolic reminder of the curtains of heaven that separate unworthy elements from those of the world, and their more local proximity is there for OUR benefit to withstand Satan’s efforts.

    With pornography growing to be such a problem within the church, is it any wonder that Pres. Packer might be an ideal prophet to be in place for a more strident or elemental message in standing firm for principles of goodness? (That’s my speculation anyway).

    The Lord uses His servants for a greater purpose, and it’s often fun to speculate on why and what emphasis we will be directed towards as we move ahead. But I think we’re more and more seeing a greater emphasis on self improvement and adherence to gospel principles and practices, but at the same time being more active in bringing the gospel message to others.

    The efforts on correlation are necessary as we expand VERY quickly into more areas that have been devoid of positive (or even Christian) religious emphasis. Trying to bring everyone into the same fold can be a daunting task, and such emphasis on correlation has been necessary to allow us to grow at the rates we can today in such countries.

    I recall asking Pres. Hinckley at a meeting when the church would get the conference talks up on the web. I had been assembling conference talk summaries for years, and I was increasingly frustrated at the glacial pace of the church in developing this area (and feeling more and more inadequate to the task as I heard from people in South Africa, Sweden, Japan, etc) who got my notes. I didn’t want that kind of weight on my shoulders, should I mess it up and I was very much aware of how much I missed. It was further brought home to me when a court reporter sent me an entire word-for-word transcript of a talk, within an hour after it was given, and I could read it and HEAR the talk (including all inflections of the speaker) repeated in my mind most clearly.

    So Steve, I apologize if I sounded condescending. That was not my intent. I had just finished reading many comments from another topic associated with the mesages implied in pictures in the Ensign as it pertains to being housekeeping “divas” and the comments filled with some despair from many women who stated a de-emphasis of higher education in favor of being a housekeeper/mother. The world’s direction of global competitiveness has brougth a great deal of anxiety to our culture and the accompanying struggle to maintain a life on one income continues to get harder. Coupled with an increasing permissiveness in our society and the accompanying ills of family breakups, more and more women are being called upon to raise families by themselves, which is a tragedy in despair all by itself, not to mention the lack of proper time by women to their divinely appointed mission in motherhood due to the financial stresses being met.

    When I see such despair, or implied messages from pictures bringing contention and angst due to imperfections, it’s pretty discouraging. I almost joked there that I would use those pictures as a standard for which to judge my home teaching families, while denying entrance to my own home teachers, lest they judge me similarly. :-) But I felt that it wouldn’t be appropriate in such a forum.

    Now that I’ve hit 40 (if I permit myself some time for meditation and contemplation), I find a lot more solace in being able to “let go” of things that I would let consume my time and mental energies, and try to focus on my important things, while understanding more about myself and others through forgiveness and acceptance of my own weaknesses.

    I also come from a point of view where I used to debate many of these same issues back in 1988 on the internet, before there were graphical interfaces called browsers to zip around with. It became a very depressing cycle to embroil myself in by trying to “defend the faith” push the gospel message over others who would openly oppose or twist its message. It was a hard lesson to learn, but keep in mind that there was only 1-2 LDS oriented gatherings at that time, and not a lot of other places to go. Now it’s much nicer to find uplifting areas elsewhere because of the efforts of others to share the gospel message in their respective ways.

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