Slowcowboy asked in the last thread about how Mormons are like Catholics. The question can best be answered from a 20,000-foot view of the goals of Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons within Christendom.
The Catholic goals are (1) to protect and preserve the proclamation of the New Testament and (2) maintain the power and influence of the Catholic church as holders of the keys of the priesthood. Protestants had two primary political goals, (1) rationally clarify and re-proclaim the message of the New Testament as the basis of the church and (2) break the political power of the Catholic church. The Mormons goals are (1) reinstate spirituality over rational theology as the primary mover of the church, (2) re-institute the earthly priesthood authority instituted at the time of Christ, (3) establish Zion in preparation for the second coming. All things considered, the Mormon goals are not unreasonable in the context of the history of Christendom. However, I think the Mormons are operating with some distinct disadvantages in their understanding of Christ.
This topic brings to mind an interesting model that may illuminate where Mormonism is and where it should go. Mormonism could be seen as revolt movement within Christendom which parallels the revolt Marxism was within oligarchy. Marx was a materialist monist who believed in a eschatology based on the brotherhood of mankind. Joseph Smith was a spiritual monist, similar to Hegel, Marx’s philosophical godfather. The ideas of Marx and his contemporaries have radically reformed capitalist democracies, however Soviet Marxism fell into authoritarian malaise. It is arguable that Marxism and Americanism have been the only effective disruption of oligarchy, I think it is clear that both forces are collapsing into a more Roman oligarchical model of concentrated power. (See Thomas Picketty‘s touted explanation.) It is arguable that the Mormon idea of gathering to Zion could be an idea whose time has come if it was able to organize theologically as effectively as it has organizationally within American-style western culture.
Many years ago, in a very enlightening discussion with a faithful Mormon who is also an expert in Soviet history and political science, I came to see that the current church leadership is somewhat typical of the political leadership in the latter days of the Soviet Union. Now, I see LDS Church’s insistence on distinguishing its Christology from Protestantism is similar to the Soviet attempt to survive economically without paying attention to the time-value of money. The Russian communists refused to open their minds to the realities of capital in the same ways that many Mormons refuse to open their minds to the realities of Christ.
I think the Church could live up to many of its aspirations and solve many of its internal struggles if its members would adopt a more Evangelical Christology. As the Church is worried about liberal-minded humanists, like John Dehlin, who are very concerned with the spiritual health of the membership. The best reaction to Dehlin is not to liberalize, but to open itself up to the more powerful understanding of Christ, i.e. the same understanding Joseph Smith embodied in the Book of Mormon but more deeply explained by the New Testament.
In a strange way, the challenge for the LDS is the same as the challenge for the Russian people. Western Capitalism has completely eroded the spiritual base of Russia, and people flock to authority. However, the Russians have the education and resources to transform their society if they could abandon nationalist authoritarianism and follow the democratic spiritual ideals of the left, armed with a conservative and rational economic policy. Mormonism could transform and reinvigorate the church, and the world that they are attempting to convert, if they directed their mission away from the Utah-centric nationalist reactionary authoritarianism and pursue the mission of the church with a more conservative and rational Christology.
I think the Church has much to fear from the reasonable people that respect John Dehlin and what he stands for. American Liberalism has the capacity to completely erode the institutional momentum of the church because Mormons do not have the spiritual technology that can match secular psychology. I would call on Mormons to follow the example of the young Joseph Smith and seek to understand Christ and teach Christ using the “words of wisdom” of their Evangelical brethren, and “seek learning, even by study, and also by faith.