There has been some discussion of late, prompted by Douglas Davies’s paper at the Joseph Smith Conference, regarding the status of the church as a world religion. On my mission, one of the common detractions potential investigators would make was that revolved around the idea that Mormonism is an “American” religion. In other words, Russians ought to believe in Russian religion and Americans ought to believe in American religions, so why proselyte in foreign countries?
While I don’t agree with the conclusion that these particular investigators drew, I think that their jumping off point may have some merit. The LDS faith is and will likely always be an American religion.
Let’s start with (what else) a quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:
I testify that America is a choice land. God raised up the founding fathers of the United States of America and established the inspired Constitution. This was the required prologue for the restoration of the gospel. America will be a blessed land unto the righteous forever and is the base from which God will continue to direct the worldwide latter-day operations of His kingdom. (“I Testify“, October Conference, 1988)
We seem to believe that God has taken a direct interest in the formation of the US (Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America seem to be on their own). Additionally, He seems to have a keen interest in maintaining a hand in American politics. There is the “hanging by a thread” prophecy. There is the 10th Article of Faith (which seems at least willing to acknowledge the rest of the continent). There is the current church leadership, driving innocent German Families apart (see the first paragraph).
I know there have been recent efforts for more representation of the newer areas of the church in general leadership. I know that the move to send Elders Oaks and Holland into the mission field were possibly inspired by similar concerns. We do not appear to be a church that is much interested in spreading Americanism throughout the globe per se. Monolithic church culture may be a different issue (if such a thing can survive internationalism).
But America is always going to be central to our ideas. After all, the New Zion is in Missouri, not Brazil, Congo, or Uzbekistan. And, I would assume, that the next two or three generations of leaders will also be primarily American, due to language issues and due to training issues. Correct me if I am wrong but hasn’t the boom in South America taken place primarily in the latter half of the 20th century? This would seem to indicate that the Third World representation we would all like to see probably won’t happen for a while, since we are waiting for people to grow up in a church culture in a foreign land (just think how long it is taking the Catholics).
So, for the time being, we are an American church. But since we are all fellow citizens in Christ, perhaps we make too much of this.