Saturday, March 17, 2012

American Civil Religion, Religious Liberty, Interposition, and the Mormons

By Lee Trepanier and Lynita K. Newswander here.

A taste:

At the time of Tocqueville’s visit, the Mormon religion was just one year old. Membership was small, and those who practiced Mormonism were a notable exception to the general feeling of religious pluralism which Tocqueville had experienced. Yet, the religion itself – its doctrines, structures, culture, and social practices – had much in common with the more mainstream values of the era in which it was founded. In this sense, the story of Mormonism is, in many respects, a story of America itself. In recent years, scholars have called Mormonism “the American religion”; and some have even argue that the Mormon faith is more American than other more commonly practiced faiths in the US, with its particular combination of spiritualism and patriotism that makes Mormons “American nationalists of a peculiar sort.”6 Others have said that Mormonism was “the first American religion” because the religion “was brand new, with a new identity,” like America itself.7

An American Faith

In many ways, Mormon theology reveres America in a way no other religion does. First, according to LDS doctrine, America was the original home of Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden.8 Later, it became a promised land for God’s chosen people – a branch of Israel who was warned by God to leave Jerusalem around 600 B.C. before its destruction.9 Like the God in the Old Testament, the God in The Book of Mormon warns people if they forgot Him, they will be removed from the promised land of America. This message is interpreted by current members of the LDS Church as a personal warning to themselves as well as a more general admonition regarding the Lord’s expectations for the United States.

Mormons also believe that the founders of this nation were inspired to create a government based on principles of freedom and agency. The Constitution is a “heavenly banner” and a divinely inspired document which created a social, religious, and political environment which allowed Joseph Smith to bring forth his teaching.10 During the early years of the church, members sought to establish Zion in various locations as they travelled west, ultimately choosing the Salt Lake Valley as their own portion of the Promised Land and the modern-day headquarters of the Church. Mormons also believe that at the end of time, Christ will return to earth to rule his people from the New Jerusalem, which will be built in what is now known as Jackson County, Missouri.


Phil Johnson said...

I did a 'Net search on "Lee Trepanier and Lynita K. Newswander" and came up with a passle of sites to continue reading on the subject.
Very interesting and I think they have come on to a timely topic for national discussion.

Ray Soller said...

There was an academic discusion on this topic at A Conference on Mormonism and American Politics, which was held last month at Columbia University. You can find the program and speaker information here. Jana Riess and Randall Balmer organized and hosted the event. All of the presentations are available on YouTube

Ray Soller said...

This book, Mormonism Americanism & Politics, 1961, by Richard Vetterli, was published fifty years ago. It's especially topical today, and it gives an excellent historical presentation. You can read the first page of a review that's published in a 1962 volume of the Ploitical Research Quaterly.

Andrew said...

Some interesting information about US history