As this blog should by now have made clear, I’m a committed political conservative with libertarian leanings. On the whole, this means that my political views cohere fairly comfortably with the majority of American Latter-day Saints–and certainly so in the Western United States. They don’t fit in perfectly — I’m somewhat more libertarian than most American Mormons, for example, and, I think, a bit less nationalistic — but there’s never been any major friction.
I offer this explanation in order to say that I understand the social and political attitudes of the majority of my fellow American Mormons pretty well, and mostly share them. So I also understand that many Latter-day Saints have felt themselves aligned with conservative Evangelical Protestants on such matters, and that they have felt that they could make common cause with conservative Evangelicals on issues not directly related to specifically Mormon doctrines.
This is true, to a considerable degree. But Latter-day Saints need to understand that there are Evangelicals out there who hate, despise, and/or fear us, and that their hostility toward us is so intense that they really don’t mind fracturing movements to improve our nation and our communities in order to express their disdain.
Stephen Robinson tells a story from a time, years ago, when he was both serving as a local Mormon bishop in a southeastern state and teaching at a college there. Community religious leaders had determined to band together to combat pornography, and, in his ecclesiastical role, he attended an organizational meeting for the group. Seeing him, though, one or more of the local Protestant pastors announced that, if he continued to participate in the meetings, they would withdraw from the organization. So, rather than risk scuttling a worthy effort, Professor Robinson withdrew, concluding that these Evangelical leaders hated Mormonism more than they hated pornography.
Which may well be true.
Many Latter-day Saints were shocked by the Evangelical hostility with which Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy was met in 2008. I was not. (I had written about it in Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, which is now out of print but is still available, at least for the time being, online.)
There was considerably less of that hostility on public display in 2012, but it was still there, and, by depressing the vote that Governor Romney might otherwise have received, it probably contributed to (though it probably didn’t altogether cause) the reelection of Barack Obama to the presidency.
Now there has been a recrudescence of this kind of Evangelical anti-Mormonism in an ostensibly political venue (Townhall.com), embodied in an arrogant and snarky article by one Mike Adams, a Mississippi-born professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington:
The article is an utterly insincere and disingenuous “apology” to his Mormon readers for a gratuitous offense that he had committed in his previous column:
“People often try to call something a marriage when it isn’t,” he had written. “Calling a union between two men or between two women a marriage doesn’t make it one. It’s like embedding the name ‘Jesus Christ’ in the official title of the LDS church and thinking that makes Mormonism somehow Christian. Call a square a triangle if you like but it’s still a square. Your hardheadedness won’t make it become a triangle. It will only make you appear obtuse.”
And that out-of-the-blue comment, of course, only makes Mike Adams appear a fool — and reinforces the image of (particularly Southern) Evangelicalism as a narrow-minded, noisy, uncharitable, and intolerant sect. (“When I mention religion,” says Parson Thwackum in Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel Tom Jones, “I mean the Christian religion; and not only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion; and not only the Protestant religion, but the Church of England.”)
My aforementioned book, Offenders for a Word, demonstrates, I think beyond any reasonable dispute — not coincidentally, no serious counterargument to it has yet been offered, anywhere — that attempts to redefine Christianity so as to exclude Mormons from it fly in the face of both Christian history and historical word usage. For one thing, among the many things that could be said, the question of Mormon Christianity is logically independent of the question of Mormon truth claims. The Book of Mormon might logically be false while those believing in it are still Christians.
To illustrate the point, Evangelicals and Catholics differ on a number of issues — e.g., the necessity of an ordained priesthood, papal authority, the sacraments, the nature of scripture, the role of tradition, celibacy, Purgatory, the intercession of the saints, the status of communion or the mass, etc., etc. — and they can’t both be right on these disputed matters. Still, to all but a few genuinely extremist Protestants (of whom of course, for all I know, Mike Adams may be one), they’re both Christians. Or, to choose a less well known example, Ethiopian Christians, like Mormons, have a larger canon than do Protestant Evangelicals, but nobody aware of this thinks that they are, for that reason, non-Christians.
Here’s an eloquent response to Professor Adams from an unfortunately no-longer-believing Latter-day Saint. He delivers me from the obligation of saying some of the things that I would otherwise have felt that I needed to say. But, of course, I would go further. “Runtu” concedes far too much, from my point of view. Every single one of Mike Adams’s claims against my faith is disputable — all of them have, in fact, been disputed — and some of them are just plain demonstrably wrong. He’s mastered his anti-Mormon propaganda well, obviously. Not a single one of his accusations is original with him; all of them are derivative. But it’s clear that he hates Mormonism more than he hates liberalism. He doesn’t mind alienating fellow-conservatives, and fracturing political opposition to liberal ascendancy, if he feels moved upon (by whatever spirit moves him) to stick it to the Latter-day Saints.
This is unfortunate.
“The Kingdom of God,” Martin Luther once said, “is like a besieged city surrounded on all sides by death. Each man has his place on the wall to defend and no one can stand where another stands, but nothing prevents us from calling encouragement to one another.” There’s obviously no point in expecting that Mike Adams will recognize Mormons as fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God anytime soon. But the same counsel holds for those who seek to defend basic American principles of limited government, personal responsibility, and religious freedom. To the extent that they train their fire on each other rather than on their actual opponents, they will lose. And they will deserve to lose.
But, on a happier note, inspired by the charming Professor Adams, it’s time to roll out a favorite joke (by Emo Philips) yet again:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”
I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me, too! What denomination?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.