Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

The Church At One Hundred And Seventy-Five
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

Also interesting are the confrontations with other groups. The Church does very well as a monolith but frequently suffers in a larger context. 1. Officials of the state of Illinois, discovering that earlier state residents had expelled Mormons and killed the Church's founder in the 1840's, moved to apologize for the act. The resolution draft asked the Mormons for their "pardon and forgiveness," but Illinois lawmakers edited the language that implicated them in acts they had not committed and instead voted for a fainter "official regret." 2. When Mormons made their Tabernacle on Temple Square available to evangelical Ravi Zacharias, as part of a network of 100 evangelical churches trying to improve relations with the Mormons, this "historic occasion" included an apology by Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California, who confessed that evangelicals had sinned against Latter-day Saints. "We 've often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of members of the LDS faith. . . . We've told you what you believe without first asking you." "Let me state it clearly. We evangelicals have sinned against you." Other evangelicals "expressed dismay" at Mouw's statement. "[Mouw] was wrong. He had no business. And it will hurt," said evangelicals in response, calling the comments "insensitive," "inaccurate," and "ignorant." Mouw eventually apologized, saying "I am deeply sorry for causing distress in the evangelical community," but "I make no apology for wanting to foster gentle and reverent dialogue with Mormon friends."3. Joshua Cohen prefaced an obituary for LDS historian Hugh Nibley with a statement unimaginable considering it was about a religious group in a newspaper for a general audience.

From the earliest age, I was taught to be respectful of the beliefs of others, tolerant of their traditions though they might differ from my own. Then I met the Mormons.

I hate the Mormons. I hate that, like a McDonald's Fish Filet, they're the same everywhere. From Utah to Ukraine, I've seen them in their suits, with their Elder-name tags and fluoridated grins. I hate them for their quick American friendliness, a geniality without depth. Above all, I hate them because they pulled off what I've always wanted to do: They invented a religion, and made [a lot] of money in the process.

So has it always been. There is something in people that balks at the Mormons. In the last few decades there has been a steady stream of books identifying the problems of the Church and prophesying their fatal effect. Observers, outsiders, insiders, and "insider-outsiders," study Church literature, interview Mormons, and come up with judgments about the Church's progress in the modern world. There have been at least a dozen such books written since 1960. The Church is large enough, offbeat enough, and successful enough to attract attention. Most of the books offer a diagnosis in their conclusions about the pitfalls the Church will surely stumble into. Yet somehow the Church adapts and moves on. The older books presented problems that seemed insurmountable at the time. When journalist William J. Whalen published The Latter-day Saints in the Modern Day World: An Account of Contemporary Mormonism (1964) he saw a church numbering two million "riding the crest of popularity." Still, he foresaw an emerging conflict between the increasing higher education of the members and a religion of miracles, revelation, and questionable doctrines. He noted as prime issues the priesthood denial to black members and the Book of Mormon's claim to historical authenticity. How could well-educated Mormons accept beliefs so distant from modern rationalism?

After forty years, the Book of Mormon's historicity provokes heated debates, but many educated members still accept its veracity. The 1978 revelation expanding the priesthood to include people of all races reduced racial pressures. As to education squelching religiosity, Mormons cite a 1984 study by BYU professors Stan Albrecht and Tim Heaton in the Review of Religious Research finding that LDS Church members become more religiously active with increased education, the opposite of what is found in most churches. A follow-up study, parsing fields of study, might temper those results. Still, Whalen would find many highly educated Mormons active in the Church.

Twenty years later, academics Robert Gottlieb and Peter Wiley, in America's Saints: The Rise of Mormon Power (1984), reflected the political paranoia of their time. Alarmed by the Church's power to convert, organize, and mobilize new members and to control critical voices, they saw sinister potential in the Church's corporate power and expanded influence. Gottlieb and Wiley noted the programmatic changes of the late 1950s, revising the curriculum, simplifying, economizing, and centralizing the whole institution. Ending their narrative in 1983, Gottlieb and Wiley feared that conservative Ezra Taft Benson, a cabinet member under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, might become Church president, further narrowing Mormon lives. But the authors later acknowledged that the Church had escaped ruin. President Spencer W. Kimball lived on, delaying Benson's rise to power. The appointment of moderates Dallin Oaks and Russell Nelson as apostles diluted the conservatism. When Benson did become President in 1985, he did not take the Church to the far right but emphasized reading the Book of Mormon.

John Heinerman, an anthropologist and Mormon, and Anson Shupe, a sociologist and a Methodist, took on related issues in The Mormon Corporate Empire (1985), seeing duplicity throughout Mormonism. The vastly wealthy, anti-democratic, authoritarian Church with its partisan political influence, sexism, and censorship, had an insensitive bureaucracy. The writers observed member infiltration into power positions in the government, military, and business worlds, preparing for the millennial day when the nation was at risk and the Mormons took control, reshaping American society and democratic institutions, and freezing out other religions. "The LDS Church's goals have not mellowed," they insisted. "The Church . . . still rejects religious pluralism."

Documenting the wealth of the Church, the authors estimated by 1983 the Church held $1 billion in stocks and bonds and had an annual income of $207 million. They estimated the Church's total assets then at $7.9 billion. They urged the Church to open its books to avoid the appearance of evil. The writers feared that the Church might be planning to take over the U.S. government. In truth, rescuing the American nation used to be a regular topic of discussion among Mormons who thought the Church would have to step in when the "Constitution hung by a thread," but no one mentions it now, speaking instead of tolerance, cooperation, and acceptance. Heinerman and Shupe's dire predictions seem no closer now than when written.