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.