For about a decade Mormons have been in the public spotlight while mostly ignored far longer. Not since the early 20th Century has scrutiny reached such high levels. Reporters and commentators are trying to understand the faith and culture of Mormons, with limited success. An article writer boldy claims members want to be considered just another Christian denomination. He also insists Mormons wanting to be included in the mainstream means giving up peculiarities to the faith. Still another claim is that Mormons really want to take over the government in the guise of a politician because of a dismissed and religiously inconsequential prophecy. None of this is remotely true. Each individual Mormon has their own wants and requests as all people do, but there is a desire to go mainstream. Most reasons for this aren’t surprising and can be rather pedestrian.
To start with, it must be asked what does “mainstream” mean in today’s culture? Several historically marginalized groups have broken out into the normative culture at large. Few today worry about the Irish, blacks won major civil rights, Jews are celebrities, and women respected for more than home life. The Catholic and Protestant wars are virtually gone from open view. For every “victory” one identity group has, another is standing in line. Mormons are no exception. History has proven, for those paying attention, that they have already become part of the large tapestry of the U.S. and other nations. They are at least as integrated as Jews have become.
This cultural blending leads to the first Mormon want; the abolition of ignorance and simple stereotypes. Classifying Mormons as a cult, racist, anti-women, and other name calling is pure politics. The past history and current views are far more nuanced than sound bites. The same questions that are asked to a Mormon Republican, as a self styled comedian pointed out while taking his own swipe, must be asked in fairness to a Mormon Democrat such as Sen. Reid. It is a conservative leaning religion with little doubt. That doesn’t make it much different than many religious institutions. Even the more esoteric doctrines and teachings if understood without sensationalism is unique, but not radical. Agree or disagree, but first understand Mormons on their own terms.
The Mormon radicalism was already crushed years ago, leaving tame unorthodox beliefs. Stop with the polygamy jokes and references. Its in the past for mainline members along with communitarian aspirations. Mormons are mostly proud of their ancestors, but just as disgusted at the modern applications of offshoots as anyone else. The abolition of polygamy through to the first “Mormon Moment” with the Sen. Reed Smoot hearings was the clear learned message to integrate or die as an institution. That carries over to the current members and leadership.
Because of the great forced acculturating, The fear that Mormons want to take over the U. S. government and then the World is pure conspiracy fantasy. They have no more means to do such as the Jews who are in much better government, entertainment, and information positions. Assume that a Mormon becomes the most powerful man in the United States, the President, and then throws out executive orders. Unless the Congress and Senate conspire with him, he isn’t getting very far. Even if they do, it is Catholics who control the Supreme Court as the last word on the laws of the land. They hardly would agree to uphold Mormon centric positions when challenged. All Mormons want is fair participation in political and social discourse just like their neighbors.
The question that never gets asked is do Mormons want to be considered “mainstream Christian” or “Evangelical” for that matter? The answer to that might be surprising to outsiders. Part of the problem for people like Feldman is to assume Mormons want to be accepted into the Christian fold (be reconciled together theologically) when that is not the case. Mormons don’t consider themselves Protestant or Catholic, and would rather not have others tie them to any other orthodox branch. Distinctive non-Trinitarian beliefs among others are strictly understood and believed.
What Mormons do want is pretty straight forward; respect as a religion and religious people, and the designation (hyphenated any way you want such as unorthodox or non-Trinitarian) Christian. The reason is that Mormons worship Jesus Christ as a Divine Savior of the World and when called “non-Christian” it is a slap in the face of that personal devotion. A few Mormons designate themselves as “Mormon Christians,” although personally they consider that a redundancy said for effect. A small minority would be perfectly fine not getting called Christian considering the sullied name it has amassed over the years, if it wasn’t for Christ as the center of their worship stopping them. Finally, Mormons have been part of the “Judeo-Christian” political and religious scene for a very long time no matter if others want them to or not. The label “Christian” is part of Mormon life and faith. Mormons would like others to recognize that fact, because it is a fact.
It is far too late to put the “Mormon genie” back in the bottle. The least Mormons want is for society to recognize their accomplishments and contributions. Far too many people have no idea that there are Mormons in sports, entertainment, politics, technology, education, and every other place that can be considered. There has been almost from the founding by Joseph Smith, quietly doing what they do with faith. Some thought Mormonism would disappear when Joseph Smith died, some when they were pushed out of the United States, some when Polygamy was outlawed, and so-forth. Today it seems some believe that mass media, societal liberalization, and education over the Internet will be it’s death. A group doesn’t go through history of persecution, ridicule, the martyrdom of its leader, forced exodus, a standoff with the United States military, mass incarcerations, and a very public grilling, and come out a weak people with a weak faith. Even if the current “Mormon moment” doesn’t come out too good, Mormons will go back to doing what they have always done; quietly living their religion next door with or without acceptance. They are already mainstream. Mormons want others to understand that.