It is hard not to admire Winston Churchill. Churchill flinging oratorical rotundities into the face of the Luftwaffe and Hitler bestride Europe in 1940 is surely one of the truly heroic moments in human history. (I also have a deep respect for the Churchill of 1944 and 1945, doggedly trying to save post-war Europe from communist totalitarianism and Roosevelt’s naivetÃ©.) Mormons can also claim Churchill as a minor hero.
In 1910-1911 an anti-Mormon hysteria swept Britain. Mormon missionaries were attacked, meetings were disrupted, and the papers bristled with lurid stories of Mormon missionaries using their powerful sexual magnetism to lure unsuspecting English lasses into the harems of Utah. At the time, British politics was divided between Labor, Liberals, and Conservatives. The distinctions here are a bit complicated. In contemporary American terms, both the Liberals and the Conservatives were of the right in some sense, but the Conservatives were more like Adam and the Liberals were more like me. At the time, the Liberals were in power, and Conservative MPs began questioning the young Home Secretary (the minister charged with domestic law enforcement) in the Commons about what the government intended to do about the looming Mormon menace. The Home Secretary was Winston Churchill, who throughout his career volleyed back and forth between the Liberals and the Conservatives, and happened to be in a Liberal phase in the years immediately prior to the Great War.
Churchill responded by investigating the supposed Mormon menace. Finding no truth the tales of Mormon woman snatching (or apparently to the alleged sexual magnetism of Mormon missionaries), Churchill refused to take any action. When Conservative MPs pointed approvingly to the steps that the police of the German Kaiser had taken in expelling Mormon missionaries, Churchill caustically reminded them that the police in the United Kingdom lacked some of the powers possessed by the Prussian authorities. In appropriately Churchillian language, he intoned in 1913 “let us continue upon the solid rock of religious equality . . . giving tolerance, freedom, and reverence to all religious beliefs, giving State favors, State enforcement, State privilege to none.”
World War I emptied Europe — including Britain — of Mormon missionaries. During the war, the Liberals under Lloyd George were forced to bring Conservatives into the government. After the war, the Mormons began seeking visas for missionaries. By now, Gallipoli had officially ended Churchill’s political career, and a Conservative occupied the post of Home Secretary. The Mormons found all of their requests for visas were mysteriously delayed, lost, or ultimately denied. British officials in London and Washington responded to inquiries first from George Albert Smith (then president of the British mission) and later from Reed Smoot with the mealy-mouthed and meaningless letters that made crystal clear that the Conservatives just didn’t regard the Mormons as “our sort of people.”
By 1920-21, the situation was critical. There were less than a dozen Mormon missionaries in the whole of Britain. Mobs of unruly students in Edinburgh had stormed a Mormon meeting there, roughed up some missionaries, and left one old man semi-paralyzed. The English Church desperately needed the energy and support of missionaries. Reed Smoot took the matter to the Secretary of State, when sent official letters to the Home Secretary demanding that His Majesty’s government cease its def acto discrimination against Mormon missionaries. In the face of rising American pressure and diminishing fear of the Mormon peril, the Conservatives relented, and the elders once again began to flow into the United Kingdom.