Are Mormons and Evangelicals stuck in a Cold War Mentality?

A barnstar

My uncle–an LDS international political consultant-once mentioned to me that he thought the LDS Church today was like the Soviet Union.  He was speaking of problems with having an 80+-year-old leadership base, but I think the analogy goes deeper.

The Soviet Union started with a bold revolutionary, was consolidated by a shrewd, ruthless, pragmatist, and perpetuated by those who were fully indoctrinated into the established order.

Mormonism also began as a bold, revolutionary movement. Joseph Smith was Mormonism’s Lenin, Brigham Young, its Stalin, perhaps Wilford Woodruff was its Khrushchev.Today it is an institutionalized ideology controlled by a small group of older men who are steeped in allegiance to the party line– much like the final Soviet regimes.

Like the Soviets, Mormon centralized authority has allowed the Church to accomplish amazing things that similarly sized religious bodies simply cannot.  Russians and their centralized economy kept up with the U.S. in weaponry, space flight, and world dominance.  Mormons are rich in resources, talent, and good culture, and the leadership focuses these resources relatively successfully on growth.

Just as with the Soviets, the Latter-Day Saints seek to spread their ideology through the world.  It is inimical to the established creeds and religious order.  Just as with Soviet Russia, Mormonism has been in a Cold War since its inception, waged by the established churches–i.e. the “whore of all the earth,” “the very mainspring of all corruption.”

I was a child of the actual Cold War, and this strange Mormon one. Over the years, I have seen the ideological conflict between Mormonism and the rest of Christianity.  It’s a war of ideas that prevents productive cooperation and community between the same sort of people. And like the Cold War, the divisiveness between Mormonism and traditional Christianity is fueled by paranoia, misunderstanding, and hypocrisy from both sides.

Ultimately both Mormons and Evangelicals still seem infected with a Cold War mentality.  My experience with anti-Mormons and anti-Mormon literature convinced me that although Christians fight against Mormons ostensibly on theological grounds, it is often waged by zealots who engage in the battle for their own gain– making hay with their followers who are happy to have evil foils to gin up interest in their superiority.  It always fires up the faithful to have a righteous battle to fight.   The rise of the internet seems to have added more fuel to the fire, providing more divisive fodder and a forum to conduct the battle.

For their part, Mormons are not overtly antagonistic to other faiths, but their doctrine and rhetoric strike at the core of what traditional Christianity finds sacred, and their growth depends on taking converts from the ranks of traditional Christian Churches. The rank and file are passive-aggressive warriors.

For example, Tim’s mission in this blog is not overtly antagonistic, it seems to be a small-scale Voice of America to the Mormon bloc, seeking to liberate those under the ideological and social burden of Mormonism.  But just like the Soviet die-hards in the Cold War, these efforts are often seen as divisive propaganda, perhaps one reason why we don’t see many Mormons around in the past year or so.  After 150 years of isolation, true-believing Mormons generally see such efforts as pointless at best, or satanic at worst.  Due to the divide, many Mormons in the pews view “born-agains” as misguided, uniformed, and decidely un-Christian in their antagonism.

The Cold War may have seemed necessary to both sides, but it led to millions of deaths and nearly destroyed the earth. It fueled immoral dictators and left deep scars in the third world that have yet to heal.  The relatively peaceful end to the Cold War, to me, demonstrated that average people had little interest in these global ideological struggles, that led to the death of their children, and wasting of their resources.  It was a surprising miracle to those of us raised in the Cold War mentality. 

Since the end of the Cold War, American Christians seem to be stuck in the Cold War mentality. Many spend lots of effort adding heat to new ideological conflicts: Christian v. Muslim, Christian v. Gay, Christian v. Feminist, Christian v. Atheist.   And war drums are getting louder on all sides. As children of the Cold War, they may have grown used to rallying around conflicts rather than rallying around peace. Ironically, many conservative Mormons have adopted these sentiments, even as they sit on the opposite side of the venerable anti-Mormon cold war. 

One of the reasons I have been steadily involved in this blog is that I am still fascinated by the strange problem of intractable ideological conflict between two groups with so similar in values.  For me–having been raised by Mormons who were consummately Christian in their outlook on life–these ideological cold wars seem un-Christian in character. At root, they pit neighbor against neighbor. They inspire fear and prejudice, not faith and love.

But there is hope. It’s refreshing to see that some Christians have started to recognize the toll that cold wars have taken on the reputation of Christianity. Gauging from this conversation between liberal religion journalist Krista Tippett and Jim Daly the of Focus on the Family and Gabe Lyons, the founder of Q Ideas it seems like steps are being taken to end the Cold War mentality among Christians.   It’s my hope that the Christian gospel of the kingdom of heaven will ultimately prevail over the dangerous Cold War mentality of the past.

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29 thoughts on “Are Mormons and Evangelicals stuck in a Cold War Mentality?

  1. I thought you’d cite Correlation as the “shrewd, ruthless pragmatist.” Is there/will there be a Mormon Gorbachev? followed by a Putin?

    To be clear: I hope there’s no “Mormon glasnost.” At least not in the sense of relaxing or repudiating our doctrines that consequently insist that mainstream Christianity is wrong. But it would be nice if we could a) be accurate in our disagreements, b) recognize our own doctrinal shortcomings, and c) get over our superiority complex.

    “Tim’s mission in this blog is not overtly antagonistic”

    Right: not overtly.

    “seeking to liberate those under the ideological and social burden of Mormonism.”

    An honest endeavor, to be sure, but also inescapably antagonistic.

    “perhaps one reason why we don’t see many Mormons around in the past year or so.”

    How many Mormons has this blog ever had around? My impression is that it has always been few.

  2. Right, I am not hoping for the Mormon Glasnost you speak of either. I don’t think Mormons need to change their theology much at all to enjoy nearly all of the benefits of Evangelical-style Christianity. Over the past 40 years the Church has moved a lot closer to Evangelical ideas on a practical level, and will probably continue to move that direction.

    I think its clear that Ion’t think you have to give up theological positions in order to embrace people with diametrically opposed theological positions.

    The Mormon superiority complex is an ongoing problem. Many Mormons don’t get that the Spirit exists outside the Church. I think understanding that it does and is alive and well among other Christians would actually strengthen the church, and prevent the slide toward abandoning spirituality that many post-Mormons are on.

    I have also changed my mind on correlation, I think it is a lot better mechanism for ideological unity than orthodoxy.

  3. @JaredC
    An interesting and articulate article Jared. Thank you.

    YOU WROTE:
    I don’t think Mormons need to change their theology much at all to enjoy nearly all of the benefits of Evangelical-style Christianity.

    MY RESPONSE:
    This is where you lost me. Since the vast majority of LdS theology is at odds with mainstream Christian theology I think that quite a bit more than “much at all” is required.

    As former Southern Baptist Convention President Richard Land said well in his Deseret News interview:

    “To some degree (members of the) LDS Church have to get used to the fact that the majority of evangelicals are not going to accept them within the framework of orthodox, Apostles’ Creed Christianity.”
    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865585938/QA-Evangelical-leader-Richard-Land-shares-views-on-LDS-Church-threats-to-religious-liberty-other.html?pg=all

    Perhaps some liberal mainline denominations who have abandoned Biblical authority and the creeds may accept the LdS Church as it currently is but they’re in dramatic decline and increasingly less and less influential on the Christian side of the divide.

    YOU WROTE:
    Over the past 40 years the Church has moved a lot closer to Evangelical ideas on a practical level, and will probably continue to move that direction.

    MY RESPONSE:
    Really? Are we watching the same LdS Church? The only movement I see is in minor rhetorical, spin doctoring, posturing, and occasional public lies (think Gordon B. Hinckley) to appear more mainstream. Other than that nothing substantive has real changed in Salt Lake City since 1978.

    Now if you’re talking about the effort in Provo in the hallowed halls of BYU to sound and be more like Evangelical Christian I would agree with you – they ARE trying to influence things to move that way. However, the problem there is that BYU Professors don’t dictate theology or policy nor do they seem to have much influence on the higher level priesthood holders in the hierarchy who do.

    Just like in the Cold War, until there’s some dramatic movement side on the LdS side of the divide I just don’t see much changing on the Evangelical side. I and many other Evangelicals are hoping and praying for such a change and are even teaming up with Mormons and former Mormons to initiate such change (if you follow my blog http://beggarsbread.org you see and hear a lot more about this starting in October) but until that change occurs I don’t see much changing.

  4. Jared C:

    ” Many Mormons don’t get that the Spirit exists outside the Church. I think understanding that it does and is alive and well among other Christians would actually strengthen the church, and prevent the slide toward abandoning spirituality that many post-Mormons are on.

    Yeah, you nailed it. The part about “preventing the slide…” seems unrelated at first, but I can see how the honesty of it all would have a significant, albeit indirect, effect. I don’t believe any of this is the Church’s major problem, but it would certainly help.

    fredwanson: It is interesting—and disturbing—that you equate Jared C’s “nearly all of the benefits of Evangelical-style Christianity” with being accepted by other Christians. I would think that your relationship with Jesus, greater freedom of religious expression, and sense of peace that comes from reliance on grace would all be more worth mentioning. None of those depend on acceptance from anyone within Apostles’ Creed Christianity. Perhaps you just misread him?

    “until there’s some dramatic movement side on the LdS side of the divide I just don’t see much changing on the Evangelical side.”

    I’m curious what you might envision changing on the Evangelical side. I can’t imagine anything that would change, regardless of what the LDS Church does. (Were the LDS Church to abandon its doctrines and embrace all the creeds then, yes, it would be accepted by Evangelicals. But that is not a “change” on the Evangelicals’ part.) Note: I don’t want to know what needs to change on the LDS side, just what might change on the Evangelical side.

    Side question: why “LdS” instead of “LDS”? It’s unorthodox and requires an extra keystroke.

  5. Brian,

    What I was getting at is the fact that Mormons equate the Spirit so strongly with the Church that a high percentage abandon Christian spirituality altogether when they begin to disbelieve the Church’s historical claims. . . or stop obeying the word of wisdom.

  6. @BrianJ
    YOU WROTE:
    It is interesting—and disturbing—that you equate Jared C’s “nearly all of the benefits of Evangelical-style Christianity” with being accepted by other Christians.

    MY RESPONSE:
    I didn’t. You inferred that and now you’ve created a straw man argument out of that inference.

    YOU WROTE:
    I’m curious what you might envision changing on the Evangelical side. I can’t imagine anything that would change, regardless of what the LDS Church does. (Were the LDS Church to abandon its doctrines and embrace all the creeds then, yes, it would be accepted by Evangelicals. But that is not a “change” on the Evangelicals’ part.)

    MY RESPONSE:
    A: Were the LDS Church to abandon its doctrines and embrace all the creeds it would be accepted by Evangelicals.

    That acceptance would be the change on the Evangelical side of the divide that I was referring to.

    YOU WROTE:
    Side question: why “LdS” instead of “LDS”? It’s unorthodox and requires an extra keystroke.

    MY RESPONSE:
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn’t the “LDS Church” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints#Name_and_legal_entities ) it’s the LdS Church – just look at the name. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the LDS Church (see http://www.strangite.org/Name.htm ).

    And the LdS Church, even though it’s the 3,000 pound gorilla among the close to 400 Latter Day Saint Movement groups throughout Mormon History, doesn’t get to steal the names of other churches by fiat. Rather, they need to learn how to play nicely with others – just as you and Jared C have very correctly said.

  7. @JaredC
    YOU WROTE:
    What I was getting at is the fact that Mormons equate the Spirit so strongly with the Church that a high percentage abandon Christian spirituality altogether when they begin to disbelieve the Church’s historical claims. . . or stop obeying the word of wisdom.

    MY RESPONSE:
    I’m not so sure that’s due to “equat[ing] the Spirit so strongly with the Church” as much as feeling being betrayed by a religious institution that claimed to have the truth that it turns out was lying to them.

    At least that seems to be the common theme among the atheist Ex-Mormons that I’ve heard from.

    The prevailing language seems to be, “If THIS church was lying then they’re probably ALL lying.” And, IMO, this is a by-product, or variation on the theme of the TBM cultural cliche that goes something like this: “If the LdS Church isn’t true then NO church is true!”

  8. Hi I just wanted to chime in a say I appreciate this blog! I am an LDS man and I know that many misunderstandings occur between Evangelicals and Mormons and perhaps understandably so as mormons have some “weird” doctrines that don’t match up with mainstream christianity. My best friend growing up was baptist and now I have a coworker who is becoming a good friend, also a baptist. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ was restorated in it’s completeness with the priesthood, temple ordinances, etc. through Joseph Smith and exists in the LDS church. However, I’m the first to admit that many in my church as overly focused on works (in my opinion) which is likely an false LDS tradition spread by well meaning members (not LDS doctrine). That’s why I like some of my baptist friend’s views and perspective on grace. The race has already been won so to speak by Christ. Just to clarify though the LDS doctrine about grace is that we are indeed already saved by grace. We are asked by Jesus to keep his commandments (“If ye love me keep my commandments”) not because He can’t save us without works because He is God and can do anything he pleases, but he is interested in our own spiritual growth and development and therefore requires works as well as faith. Do baptists/EV believe that one can be saved without works? I don’t know but wouldn’t think so because it would follow that if one would really accept Christ they would keep his commandments, repenting when they err, they would give the charitable service that He requires. Anyway sorry to ramble but thank you for this blog. I appreciate your perspective and if there is anything I could explain or clarify to increase interfaith understanding I would be happy to reply.

  9. JBishop2002,

    Thanks for the comment. I think your experience shows how the interaction between Evangelicals and Mormons can be a very positive thing from both sides. It seems that on some fundamental questions the answers are very much the same. If you follow this blog I am sure there will be topics where your input would be appreciated.

  10. I don’t mind the Soviet comparison. If only the Soviets had had a concept of continuing revelation (or adaptation if you like). And Protestantism is certainly the free market capitalism of religious movements – with a heavy dose of regulation.

  11. fredwanson,

    I am not much interested in post-Mormon anger toward the Church. I don’t think its particularly helpful to anyone. The pain of something or someone not living up to expectations is separate from the understanding of spiritual life. The way to get rid of that pain is simple forgiveness, not anger and antagonism which feeds it. I think post-Mormons are correct in believing that ALL churches present things that are not true as if they were. That phenomena is part and parcel with all human institutions– especially churches. However, again, I can’t see how believing false factual statements would drastically effect how God interacts with people.

  12. @JaredC
    I find it a interesting thing that Mormons tend to discount, minimize, and marginalize the pain and anger of former members rather than listen and learn from it.

    Evangelicals, on the other hands, do surveys, do polls, write books, and try to learn from those who have left:
    http://www.amazon.com/Exit-Interviews-Revealing-Stories-Leaving/

    http://www.amazon.com/Why-They-Left-Listening-ebook/dp/B008N3IDLE

    Perhaps if the LdS Church would stop villianizing former members it might learn something.

    Just sayin’!

  13. Swanson, I don’t think Jared is someone you need to make that point with. The things the ex-mormons are most angry about are things that the LdS church are not going to change because they threaten the church’s fundamental truth claims.

  14. Fred, I don’t see your point.
    I did not say that the pain felt by former Mormons is not real, or worthy of consideration, I said that I am not interested in discussing how former believers feel angry because they feel like they were lied to by a religious organization.

    Are you sayin’ that Evangelicals don’t ever marginalize those that leave and are angry with Christianity for the lies they were told in Sunday School?
    Or are you sayin’ that Evangelicals don’t do it as much as Mormons?
    Do you think that there aren’t polls, books or studies on why Mormons leave the Church?
    And, what is the relevance of Evangelical inquiry into why people leave their churches to the discussion?

  15. Then JaredC I apologize. Your prior post sounded dismissive to me. Apparently I’ve made an incorrect inference, my bad.

    Tim, it’s FWAnson as in “Fred W. Anson” not swanson.

    😉

  16. Dear, Brother Swanson I do not think that you should use a different name like a nick a’name because Heavenly Father OF OUR SON JESUS CHRIST has I mean THY son has told us thorugh a prophet of God (Gordon “B” Hinckley)) that missionaies should not use first names or nick a’names because it does not show respect and in church we always say Brother, sister or Bioshop (OR PRESIDENT). I jsut need you to know this brotyher Swansin I know that you know that I know that you are inifnite worth. WILL YOU PRAY AND ASK GOFD ABIOUT THIS BRTHER SWANSON. WILL YOU.

  17. Dear, Brother Tim I want tyou to know that I know that I want to yell you THANK YOU BROTYHER TIM for saying “Brother, Swanson” because it shows more respect. IN the name of Jesus Christ of the Holy Ghost Amen. I wish you souwld say BROTHER TIM in your name though.

  18. @Gidgiddoni
    It wasn’t I who gave me a “nickname” it was you. My name – just like it says on my profile is “Fred W. Anson” How you ever got “swanson” out of that (or out of “fredwanson”) is beyond me!

  19. Dear, Brother Swanson I do not know if I can tell you this but there are names in the temple which means thwat Heavenly Fathe rof thy son Jesus christ (AND A PROPHET OF GOD!) says names should not be changed! It would be like if you get TATTOO OR CHANGE HAIR COLOR TO Green or very dark colors. Or if you get more than one piercing or give away ytour organs to someone on your driver’s license. Brother, Swanson, I know that these things make it very, very difficult for you to be resurrected at the second coming of Jeuss Christ. I asked the Holy Ghost by tehw power of they Heavenly Father in PERSONAL PRAYER whether it was oay to change your name because of temple names, and would you like ot know what the HOLY SHOST (“A DOVE”) tod me about it Brother Swanson? Please answer this wquestion.

  20. I hope I am allowed to tell you that BNrother Swanson but I do not want you to be not able to be resurrected by the poewr of the Holy Ghost of Jesus Christ (and a living prophet of God, Gordon B,. Hinckley).

  21. Steve, you sound surprised.
    Gidgiddoni is–like many that routinely follow blogs about religion (rather than football or cage fighting)– incorrigibly weird. 😉

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