Why the Church is More True in Argentina

My name is Stirling Adams. I’ve been invited to be one of the Dialogue guest bloggers.

If the Mormon wards you’ve attended in the U.S. are similar to mine, it’s likely you’ve heard periodic reports in sacrament meeting about a visit to another ward and the comfort in finding that the church is the same wherever you go.

For most of 2003, my wife and I and our 3 children (then 9, 7, and 3), lived in Buenos Aires. Based on our experience, my report is a little different. In case I take too long to develop my point below, let me summarize it now:

In Argentina, I felt like I experienced a Mormonism stripped of a heavy overlay of U.S. politics; a Church less burdened by assumptions of cultural superiority and institutional pride that I feel can be associated too often with the U.S. Church; a Mormonism with members more attuned to how individual and institutional actions fare when judged by scriptural teachings (particularly the injunctions towards social justice in the N.T. and BoM).

Also, the just-released issue of Dialogue ( Vol 38:4, Winter 05, dialoguejournal.com ), has an article called “Mormon Europeans or European Mormons? An ‘Afro-European’ View on Religious Colonization.” It is written by anthropologist and former stake president (and current bishopric member) Walter E. A. van Beek. It is part of a continuing series of articles on international Mormonism. At the end of the post I’ll briefly relate his analysis of the church in Europe to my experience in Argentina. But first, here’s a summary of that experience.

In Buenos Aires, we lived in a 24-story apartment building in the center of the capital city. Our children attended a local school and soccer academy while my wife and I pursued our separate professional activities. The Mormon ward we attended averaged around 200 in attendance. The ward boundaries included a “villa” (the B.A. equivalent of a “project,” “slum,” or “shanty-town”) near the central train station.

A large majority of the ward was not Porteño, most were immigrants from other South American countries. I think all of the investigators we met were also immigrants, including some from Russia.

We attended ward meetings on Sunday when we weren’t out exploring the provinces, or Uruguay or Brasil. I was a leader in the Young Men’s group and met weekly with the youth as they performed plays, competed in a speaking competition, hiked (see here) attended music concerts, played futbol (and sponsored a stake-wide tournament), and put on a talent show for the ward. One Friday we had around 10 youth over for a pijama party (their idea) that started at 8 pm ended the next morning at 10 am.

We frequently invited ward members and investigators over for Sunday dinner. Once we accepted the invitation of a couple to have them present family home evening in our home. That turned out to be a pitch for multi-level-marketed nutritional supplements.

Due in part to Argentina’s serious economic woes, it was easy to become involved in service. We had the opportunity to assist in directing a food kitchen, build a small school for children living in a villa, help immigrants find and/or prepare for work, etc.

In “Mormon Europeans or European Mormons?” Van Beek refers to the Church in sociological terms as a “greedy institution,” one that claims the much or the life of an individual (24). For us in Argentina, the church certainly was greedy, and I welcomed that in a way that comes much harder back in Utah.

You may know that in 1986 Argentina won the World Cup with an assist from the “hand of God” in a game against England. In the land of Maradona I felt that as a family we were able to act as the hand of God in meaningfully providing physical or spiritual support to others.

With that background (which may explain my thesis better than my following comments), let me get back to my argument that the “the church is more true in Argentina.”

We left Utah County for Argentina in January ’03. If you’ll remember, the U.S. war against Iraq started that March. We left a Church in Utah where we heard multiple pro-war sermons (in both stake conference and sacrament meeting). In one of our last weeks in Utah, a ward member who works for the Church’s education system bore his testimony that whether or not one believed the upcoming war was justified, church members were obligated to support the war because our nation’s President had chosen that course.

We left the Utah winter to arrive in the Argentine summer, and in a religious contrast just that stark, in our first Argentine church meetings a woman spoke about how she had joined her husband in a prominent anti-war march. She hadn’t wanted to because she considered the dispute to be someone else’s. Then she described her strong spiritual feelings while participating, and concluded that because we were Christians it was important to raise a voice against the war. Similarly, one Sunday in March, in a talk based on Christ’s sermon in 3rd Nephi, the speaker wondered how the United States could think of itself as being a “Christian” nation while pursuing the war.

Mothers of the Argentine \"missing\" protesting the U.S. war

I’ll share one more example of the war as a common topic of conversation, because it provides details about members’ response to the war. In April, during a social gathering for the men, at around 11:30 pm, after we’d played futbol in the court adjacent to the church house, and as we were finishing some beef burgers, I was grilled on the U.S. justifications for the war.

The bishop offered his opinion that Pres. Bush had gone to war to kill Iraqi youth because Bush thought doing so would reduce the number of future Osama Bin Ladens. The bishop predicted that the war would increase the number of Arabs who wanted to damage the U.S.

I explained that I didn’t support the war due to the process the U.S. had followed, but because of the Iraqi government’s significant crimes against the Iraqi people, if the U.S. had first exhausted the weapons inspection process, and if we had obtained U.N. approval, I might have supported it in certain circumstances. One person suggested that even then the war would not be in keeping with BoM or NT teachings. Another brother tactfully suggested I had erred by accepting Anglo lies about Iraqi weapons programs (Argentines, he said, were better detectors of government lies as a result of their experience in the Malvinas (Falklands) war with England). Another suggested people in the U.S. too easily choose war to resolve disputes (again, rejecting BoM and N.T. teachings) because our phenomenal war machine had turned us into a “war-like people.” He, like most of the other men, was echoing the opinions most commonly offered in the Argentine newspapers at that time. A year later, when I read Quinn’s “Elder Statesman,” I was struck with how similar this last brother sounded to First Presidency member J. Rueben Clark in 1945, when he wrote a statement for the First Presidency to lobby against a peace-time military draft. Among other arguments against a peace-time military draft, Clark wrote:

“A great standing army has the effect of making the whole nation war-minded. It makes a nation truculent, overbearing, and imperialistic, all provocative of war.”

Ok, enough on the war. Some other areas where I noted significant differences between Argentine SUD and U.S. LDS members were:

  • The role a church should play in government affairs (note that Arg. is 80% Catholic and the Catholic Church has long had official influence on the government, so it would seem especially easy for non-Catholics to be uncomfortable with church-state confluence).
  • Communal responsibility for the poor.
  • International free trade (including capital, labor (immigration), and goods and services)
  • Public policy on issues related to sexuality. For example, the Buenos Aires government granted same-sex couples the ability to enter a civil union. I never heard any commentary by church members (pro or con) on this development, even when the Proclamation on the Family was discussed.
  • Attitudes about wealth and poverty (whether such a status is deserved and what to do about disparities)

All in all, I found their same-but-different religious viewpoint regarding contemporary political issues welcome and refreshing. This may be partially because I disagree with some (not all) of the political platforms many U.S. Saints assert are dictated by their religious values. If, for example, the Church strongly advocated eliminating corporate farm subsidies (to, among other reasons, to allow poor African farmers to compete against our subsidized crops), would President Lorenzo Snow’s 1901 dislike for church involvement in politics still resonate with me? (he is reported to have said “I despise the use of Church influence in politics as I despise the gates of hell.”)

Now, how does Van Beek’s article relate to the above discussion?

After describing 19th century Utah Mormons as a “tribe” using ethnographic terminology, and describing some ways in which our church/tribe was “domesticated” by American colonization, he suggests that once the Church gained power and started to grow in the latter half of the 20th century, we began to exhibit some colonizing behavior regarding the Church in non-US countries. This leads to his title question of whether Mormons who live in Europe are “Mormon Europeans” or “European Mormons.”

His analysis includes examples from various European countries, but since he knows the Netherlands best, he includes more data about the Dutch. Of them he writes:

The base culture for LDS membership is Dutch social culture, with compassion for the less fortunate, tolerance toward different opinions, and the notion that one not only has to cooperate but also to compromise to reach one’s goals

Permissive Dutch society bears the stigma of drugs and other vices among some outsiders (especially for the French and Americans), but most Dutch do not experience any drug problems at all, and a permissive drug policy refines massive support in Dutch society, including among LDS members. The same attitude holds true for… the acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriages, the regulation of abortion, and the official regulation of careful practices for euthanasia…

As many Latter-day Saints subscribe to Dutch cultural norms and government policy on these issues, they tend to avoid discussion about them in church since their collective stance would stand out against an LDS Church policy they find awkward. (30)

One example: a few years ago, when the Domestic Church openly mobilize members in California against same-sex marriages, an apostle told European stake presidents to fight against legislation accepting same-sex marriages in European countries. All stake presidents listen to dutifully and then conveniently forgot the advice…. no LDS voice was heard when those laws were passed in Europe. But more important, the stake presidents felt no reason at all to be against those laws; in fact, acceptance of same-sex marriages take so much wind out of these fruitless debates that homosexuality becomes much less of an issue for Church members as for others…. (31)

For Dutch Mormons this difference [here, the possibility of heterosexual marriage by contract instead of an official ceremony], as well as the others mentioned, is first and foremost a question of culture, not a question of doctrine. They have the impression that the Dutch views as expounded here, could in large measure be accommodated within the restored gospel without losing any essential teachings….

Thus, many members make some separation between doctrine and their evaluation of existing social practices, a cognitive compartment colonization that comes with the minority situation of being a non-European Orthodox Church in a secularized environment or, I might add, even a church on the road to fundamentalization. (32)

He suggests in his final section that in some countries in Europe, the Church’s strong U.S. identity has become/is becoming a liability, particularly as US credibility declines.

Van Beek’s more thorough, sophisticated, and knowledgeable analysis of some differences (or at least different trends) among the U.S. vs. outside-the-U.S. church and church members roughly parallels my experience in Argentina.

But, I hasten to acknowledge that while I chafe sometimes at the uber-Americanness of the Church in the U.S., the preferred alternative is not that we be overly influenced by another country or culture (though if it were Argentina, instead of funeral potatoes, ham, and jello, we’d be having grilled beef, dulce de leche, and more grilled beef at our communal gatherings). Instead, it’s that we ought to try to focus our religious community and efforts on our core principles, taking care not to get bogged down too much by the shifting sands of fickle American politics and culture.

Stirling Adams


  1. … the Church’s strong U.S. identity has become/is becoming a liability, particularly as US credibility declines.

    Ah, for the good old days, when prophets took the king to task and called him to repentence. Now they just do photo ops with the President, instead.

  2. Having moved from New York State when I was 15, to Utah, and finding the culture at church to be so different as to FEEL like an alien experience, I can say, heartily so, that I wish culture and church were more separated, sometimes.

  3. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    This speaks to me because of the frustration I’ve been feeling with what I percieve as peoples views of “zion” (that america is zion and all it stands for is gods will) one day we won’t have to worry about politics and church “combining”. but unfortunatly that probably won’t happen in America for a while (when christ comes maybe?)

  4. I believe that the Church has been long kidnapped by American culture and way of life. Activities, suggestions and most everything comes from an American (Salt Lake) point of view. It was only in the 1990’s when the membership of the Church outside the United States was bigger than within. One of the biggest challenges the Church has is becoming ‘international’. Stripping the ‘Americanness’ of the Church is a big thing. In most parts of the world, it is still considered an American Church. And the missionaries get most of the complaints about the US policies on Iraq, detainees, etc.

    Now that there is a non-US apostle, it would be good if some international perspective is given. What really constitutes the essential teachings of the Gospel? What can be learnt of other cultures that enriches the Church in the US? Maybe a separation between civil and temple marriages, which happens in most countries outside the US. Although most of the manuals come pretty much standarised, there are many things that are tied to the US. I really appreciate your post Stirling, because it gives a forum to discuss how the Church need to recognise there is a separation of the Gospel and plain American (Utah) Mormon culture.

  5. Stirling,

    You post resonated with me, as I spent two years on my mission just across the Rio Plata in Uruguay, and Paraguay (not across the river . . but close anyway). I too felt a difference in how the Church members approached the Gospel. I think in large part it has to do with economic circumstances. Certainly there are some Church members of means, in South America; however, for the most part they are much more modest in means.

    The other big significant difference I noticed was that the United States Flag did not adorn the chapel behind the podium as was the custom in many U.S. wards when I left on my mission. I don’t ever remember a Uruguayan or Paraguayan flag in any meeting house anywhere on my mission. Yet, I still see some American flags in some wards in the U.S. While I love my country, and for the most part being an American, I have always felt that practice to border on the sacrilegious, regarldess of which country’s flag would be on display in a Chapel of God.

    As far as I know, Christ is not any nationality. and in mortality he was Jewish. Anyway, thanks for bringing back some memories.

  6. Guy– I saw quite a few Argentine flags in Mormon chapels on my mission and even sang the Argentine national anthem in Sacrament Meeting. I think we can try to separate American culture from Mormon culture without veering into Jehovah Witness territory.

    I don’t see anything wrong with the saints of all countries being patriotic.

  7. To clarify, I think that emphasizing patriotism for the saints in each country (like Mexico and Canada) can help curb the U.S.-centric attitudes in the Church.

  8. NFlanders–I have no problem emphasizing patriotism in any country. I just don’t think Sacrament meeting is the place to do that. When all is said and done, we are members of Christ’s Kingdom on earth, not individual patriots loyal to an earthly government. Thanks for the correction though on the flags. I just don’t remember seeing them in my mission–but I could be wrong.

  9. Stirling,

    You suggest disapproval of the US Mormon tendency to proclaim their political beliefs on religious grounds, but then suggest approval of the Argentineans who appear to be doing exactly the same thing in a very similar way – and perhaps to an even greater degree. How is this justifiable if American practices are not?

  10. Stirling, I agree that participating in the Church in South America feels different than in North America. The Church community feels more tight-knit, more intimate, and more focused on Christain service.

    I also agree with you that the experiences you share as background support your thesis much better than the rest of your comments about the Argentine Saints’ political attitudes. In order for the rest of your comments to support the thesis that the church is more true outside the U.S. you have to assume that #1) the words of the prophets (scriptural and modern-day) prescribe a certain set of foreign and social policies and #2) that the Argentine Saints’ political ideologies are more in line with these prescribed policies than those of North American saints. I don’t think that #1 is true, so #2 is irrelevant.

    The way I see it, both the pro-war and anti-war testimonies you heard on successive Sundays were inappropriate. I don’t think there should be any discussion of foreign or social policy in church meetings.

  11. “One example: a few years ago, when the Domestic Church openly mobilize members in California against same-sex marriages, an apostle told European stake presidents to fight against legislation accepting same-sex marriages in European countries. All stake presidents listen to dutifully and then conveniently forgot the advice…. no LDS voice was heard when those laws were passed in Europe. But more important, the stake presidents felt no reason at all to be against those laws; in fact, acceptance of same-sex marriages take so much wind out of these fruitless debates that homosexuality becomes much less of an issue for Church members as for others….

    I found this to be an example of apostacy. The church is europe is in deep trouble. Hence the call of Elder U.

  12. Very interesting topic.

    I had the same initial reaction as Eric and Tom…Stirling talks about keeping “politics” out of church, but it seems he really only objects politics that he doesn’t agree with. (And he acknowledges as much later in the essay.)

    I wonder whether it is realistic to keep church and politics separate? To the extent that political issues are important and related to our beliefs, it seems unrealistic to expect that nobody will discuss them in our meetings.

  13. I agree with Stirling’s proposition but for different reasons. That Church members in Bountiful or Buenos Aires or Brussels have political views similar to those of their neighbors is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the farther you get from Utah (and this applies in the US as well as outside the US) the greater the likelihood that the Church will be unencumbered by the socio-cultural accretions that encrust the Church in the western US. Heavy Church involvement in politics is one of these accretions. But there are many others, such as narrow standards for clothing and music and rhetoric, longing for materialistic success and its symbols, ‘folk’ religious beliefs in areas such as race and the end times, anti-intellectualism, concern for family lineage and connections, the view that poor people are just lazy, etc. Another advantage of being far from Salt Lake is ignorance of the unpleasant internecine politics of the professional church bureaucracy. In fact I am sometimes tempted to think that it is distance from 50 E. No. Temple rather than distance from Utah or the US that makes the Church truer.

  14. Ahh, I feel like I can take a big breath of fresh air. I am suffocating in a ward where Sunday and other Church meetings are frequently infused with quotes from Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity (my neighbor and first counselor tells me KSL plays 20 hours or so of Hannity and he catches every minute), and people (not people, it’s always just the men) go out of their way to mock political viewpoints they disagree with.
    Your post, and the Van Beek article (which I am now hunting down), give me hope that we aren’t doomed to an unending turn toward religious fundamentalism. Perhaps there is salvation in internationalism.

    Lynn S.

  15. Tom, wrote: “The way I see it, both the pro-war and anti-war testimonies you heard on successive Sundays were inappropriate. I don’t think there should be any discussion of foreign or social policy in church meetings.”

    I’m not a pacifist (I supported the first Iraq war, not the second) but don’t you think that if you are going to listen to a testimony on war in church, isn’t the one that’s “anti-war” more likely to be consistent with Christ’s teachings than one that is “pro-war.”
    Lynn S.

  16. The “pro-war” nugget in Stirling’s post I found most interesting was this:

    “In one of our last weeks in Utah, a ward member who works for the Church’s education system bore his testimony that whether or not one believed the upcoming war was justified, church members were obligated to support the war because our nation’s President had chosen that course.”

    Here, we’ve gone beyond the unfortunate practice (and fundamentally un-Mormon sentiment) of “once the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done,” to “once the President of the U.S. speaks, the thinking has been done.”

    For me, that’s what the post and Van Beek article highlight: due to our geographic and political setting, we necessarily see through a glass darkly, and we need the gospel, scriptures, and continuing revelation to avoid continuing blindness.


  17. “I found this to be an example of apostacy.”

    I found it to be an example of church leaders not giving into the social policies of those from other countries.

  18. Kim,

    You realize what you are saying right?

    If an LDS SP decides that instruction from an apostle is wrong for political/cultural reasons he can just ignore it?

    Would it have been OK to ignore the directions if it had come from Elder U?

    How does one decide which direction from an apostle to ignore?

    Its a clear example of dissent/apostacy put your label here.

    What else can it be?

  19. I’m all for trying to correct church leaders (heaven knows I have lots of suggestions!) but don’t you think that the area presidencies have a better idea about the “apostasy” of their Stake Presidents than we do?

    Speculating with no evidence is kind of silly.

  20. Nice post, Stirling. While the institutional Church is pretty good at keeping Republicans-versus-Democrats politics out of Sunday services, the soft glow of triumphalist Americanism is almost always present. It seems like the growth of the “international Church” in coming years will balance out and partially mute this background Americanism.

    But it’s hard to imagine a fully de-Americanized LDS gospel, just like it’s not easy to think of de-Italianized Roman Catholicism or de-Arabized Islam. And if the LDS Church is always in some sense an American religion, US foreign policy will always be a potential item of contention among US Saints with differing political views and (even more) among overseas Saints with rather different views of the US than most US Saints would be comfortable with.

  21. Two quick points:

    (1) I am inclined to agree that Mormon theology and American culture and politics are probably combined by many American Saints in an unhealthy way. That said, I am less than certain how to disaggregate them, as I am not always sure where the one ends and the other begins. Are any of us? Does this exercise run the risk of becoming a “I don’t like so-and-so about the Church, so I’m going to call so-and-so an unhealthy cultural influence”?

    (2) This project is made even more difficult by the Mormon claim that the American constitution is “inspired,” etc. I’m not sure what the implications of that claim are, but they surely must complicate any facile discussion of where the real core of Mormonism ends and American cultural influences begin.

    Aaron B

  22. I’d be interested to see footnote 31 to van Beek’s article, from the paragraph about European stake presidents’ reactions to encouragement from an Apostle to fight gay marriage laws. The text suggests that the stake presidents “forgot” the advice and furthermore, “felt no reason” to opose those laws. I wonder how van Beek came to know the reasons for the apparent inaction.

    I can suggest several possibilities for their inaction that wouldn’t cause bbell to say “Apostacy!”:

    1. The stake presidents discussed matters in their high councils, assigned members of the council to write letters to the local legislators, and considered the task accomplished.

    2. The stake presidents asked bishops to ask members to get involved. Some of those members, listening in the congregation, went home and wrote letters to their local legislators.

    3. The stake presidents asked bishops to ask members to get involved. The bishops, being like bishops everywhere, were loaded down with things to do, and let this one slip to the bottom of the “to do” list. By the time anyone reminded the bishops to do anything, the laws were already passed.

    4. The stake presidents and the bishops met and discussed who might be asked to undertake the effort. All of the active members, with work, family and church commitments (two or three callings apiece), already had more to do than they could handle, and they didn’t feel that they could ask them to take on a substantial additional assignment.

    One reason that the church is able to mobilize large numbers of people to engage in political activities in Utah and other places in the American West is that we don’t have a lot of 3rd assistant high priest group leaders or three-member YW presidencies, with secretary, and class advisors. People are strained, and political action, which is not usual for most of us, is just one more thing that we don’t have energy to do.

    I’ve never lived in Europe, so don’t have any experience with the church there, but I have lived in Brooklyn, NY for 25 years, and all of the reasons listed above would describe why church members here may not appear to respond to leaders’ calls for political involvement. I don’t think that’s apostasy. It’s “not running faster than you have strength.”

  23. Ian M. Cook says:

    I agree with most of what Stirling has to say. I am afraid that much of what many members accept as the “Gospel” is actually based on our culture. The most pervasive being that to be a good Mormon, you have to vote Republican. I would speculate that if you took every member of the church out of there respective countries and put them in Utah to vote, Utah would be a Blue state.

    Not to say that it’s wrong to be a Republican, but that it is not required to be a Republican.

    There are many other things that you will find in Utah that you won’t find in other countries. That doesn’t make the saints in other countries apostate though.

    I think that as more genaral authorities are gathered from places outside the US we will begin to see more diversity in church culture. That is a welcome thing in my opinion.

  24. Mark,

    Look at the original post. Essentially the SP’s, taking the post at face value, decided that Dutch cultural relativism in regards to SSM was a greater value than an apostles advice/instructions whatever on SSM. your 4 step idea may have value but its not what the post says.

    Can you imagine being an SP and having an apostle telling you that the church believes XYZ on SSM and you saying well actually I live in San Fransisco and we have different values than the rest of the US so I am not going to follow your instructions?

    that is what I am reading in the post. If my reading is correct that the dutch SP’s have a different belief system on SSM than the apostle. They ignored his counsel. in Dutch you would say “Maal” crazy.

    If you ignore a apostles direction in a official capacity as a church leader due to your own culture/belief system you would in my view be in apostacy.

  25. And be assured, bbell, that if the Brethren considered a SP to be apostate, then he would be removed. Nothing for us to worry about.

  26. Thank you, Stirling and welcome to BCC. I have been intrigued by some of the differences between church life in Latin and North America since Elder Holland’s talk in April 2004 Conference.

    One of my favourite quotes on this issue comes from Eugene England’s Making Peace. He says,

    This ethic [of non-violence] may bring us to fearful choices, even the losing of our own and loved ones’ lives. But Christ’s clear call is clear, and one we as Latter-day Saints now, perhaps for the first time in 100 years, can have the security to obey fully–to come out of Babylon, which includes the United States, and approach Zion, which is wherever in the world we create it. In the book of Revelation Christ commands, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (18:4). In the Doctrine and Covenants he invites us to “renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their [parents], and the hearts of the [parents] to their children” (98:16). Then a time will come, Christ promises, when “there shall be gathered to Zion out of every nation” those who are not “at war one with another” (45:69). After a century of difficult choices and detours, it is time.”

    It is here that it pains me to disagree with Ned (#7) — I don’t think the solution lies in countering patriotism with patriotism but in trying to figure out how we can build Zion without being detoured by our cultural and political biases. As a non-American member, I am grateful that the United States provided a fertile ground for the Church to grow and find stability but I also look forward to the day when much of our discourse will be more international in scope. Whether it comes from the top or the bottom, remains to be seen.

  27. Aaron Brown says:

    re: the “good Mormons are Republicans” idea …

    This was a common assumption in the wealthy Southern California ward that I grew up in, and I hear complaints about this view being voiced in wards in Utah all the time.

    However, I honestly can’t say that I have run into this idea in Church in the last 8 years. I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for 3 years, and never ran into it (Surprise, surprise … it’s Cambridge!). Then I moved to Los Angeles for several years and lived in a ward filled with lots of lefties (including the current Bishop). No one ever equated Mormonism with Republican politics. Now I live in Seattle, and I don’t get the sense that anyone would dare say that Mormons must be Republicans, at least if they wanted to be taken seriously. In short, one doesn’t need to leave the country to get a reprieve from this sort of thing. Perhaps one just needs to leave a certain Rocky Mountain state?

    Or maybe I just got lucky.

    Aaron B

  28. Bbell,

    I should have been more clear. As I said in my earlier post, there’s a footnote marker at the end of the paragraph describing the stake presidents’ actions and, more important, their motivations. How did van Beek know what moved the stake presidents to their collective state of inaction? Did he interview them all? Did he talk to a sample? Did he talk to one? Did he talk to the Area President?

    Until I find out what van Beek knew when he wrote the piece, I am inclined to wait and see, and I’m also willing to propose a number of non-apostate explanations for the apparent inaction (thus my previous post).

    One other point: I have sat in Area training meetings, heard Apostles and 70’s giving counsel about things that should be done. But, when the rubber hit the road in the wards and branches, those things just didn’t get done. Apostasy? I don’t think so. Inefficiency or incompetence? To some extent. Lack of resources? Often.

  29. Aaron,

    In my experience, there is an inverse relationship between how urban the ward is and how strong the belief that one must be a Republican. In other words, the more urban the ward, the less strident that belief. Even in red states, wards centered in urban cores tend, on average, to reject the thought that all good Mormons must vote Republican. This theory seems to hold true even in Utah, though perhaps not to the same degree as say Cambridge, or Seattle, or LA.

    I would suspect (though my sample set here is pretty limited) that this same theory would hold true for ethnicly diverse wards. In other words, the more ethnically diverse the ward, the less strident the belief that one must be a Republican.

  30. I think that as more genaral authorities are gathered from places outside the US we will begin to see more diversity in church culture. That is a welcome thing in my opinion.

    I agree. I think a new light will begin to shine when an Apostle or GA from a country outside the U.S. gets up and speaks in his own language, and it is translated into English, rather than the other way around. I do not believe this has ever happened, but I could be wrong.

    If the Apostle/GA is from Canada, it would go something like this:

    “Satan is a hoser, eh, and when he comes tempting you with a sixer of Pilsner, tell him to take off, eh.”


    “Obey the word of wisdom.”

  31. “I found this to be an example of apostacy.”

    I found it to be an example of apostasy when my SP held my temple recommend hostage if I did not collect X amount of signatures to put DOMA on the ballots.

    The Stake Presidency would visit the wards and at the end of Sacrament meeting would say, “Who is willing to collect 100 signatures this week?” And a few people would stand. “150?” “200” “1000!”

    I’m also not sure how much effect the Church in Denmark would have. How many members live in Denmark?


  32. The other big significant difference I noticed was that the United States Flag did not adorn the chapel behind the podium as was the custom in many U.S. wards when I left on my mission.

    I’ve never seen a flag displayed in any chapels I’ve been to. (My limited data sample- wards and branches in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago, Hawaii, and Utah)

    My home ward did have a flagpole in the parking lot, but that’s a significant degree of difference, I think.

  33. I have seen the US flag in a few chapels, I don’t see a problem with it.

    “Satan is a hoser, eh, and when he comes tempting you with a sixer of Pilsner, tell him to take off, eh.”


    Man, Satan is a Hoser eh?

  34. I’m with Aaron B. in #27. I have not heard the “all good mormons are republicans” from anyone who I take seriously.

    In the last few years, the only group I have heard that sentiment from were the people running that “mormons4bush” blog- but reading just one post of that nonsense was enough to know that they weren’t to be taken seriously.

  35. By the way, isn’t it refreshing to attend Church in another culture? I love doing that, and always come away with great perspectives on how to improve church experiences, just as Stirling has.

    For example, I remember the great care taken in Vilnius, Lithuania (where John and I spent several Sundays one summer) to ensure that the sacrament services and associated sermons were available to every member in their own tongue. Even in the (in Lithuania, anyway!) hated Russian tongue!

  36. Anybody that thinks that all good mormons are Republicans are misguided. Take it from a conservative….

    Also why would you put a flag in a chapel again? I have never seen this either.

  37. Jordan: “I’m with Aaron B. in #27. I have not heard the “all good mormons are republicans” from anyone who I take seriously.”

    I’m with you on that score, but I think that says more about us and what we take seriously than the state of affairs generally. And what about statements that all good Mormons must agree with this or that Republican view of things? Whether or not you take such statements seriously, they are in no short supply, either in the chapel (see, e.g., original post) or in the ‘nacle.

    As for your “last few years,” I’m curious as to where they were spent. Ann Arbor and Oxford? Need I say more?

  38. When we recently lived in Europe [country unspecified on purpose] we were talking politics with a Ruropean relative of ours who is devoutly LDS and employed by the church. He asked us what we thought of George W. Bush [this was during the gearing up time for the war] and we responded by saying that we thought he was a fool, dishonest, and overly agressive. “Ah,” said our relative, “then you will always be welcome in my home.” I contrast that to my devoutly LDS American relatives, who inextricably link their devotion to the LDS church with devotion to the LDS party. As a person who is politically liberal, I found it much easier to be LDS in Europe that I do living in the Western US, because I didn’t always feel the tension I feel in the US that my religious devotion is being judged because of my political affiliation.

  39. sorry, European. Can’t spell, apparently.

  40. and devotion to the Republican, not LDS party.

  41. Jenna:

    Note that the key words you used were your “devoutly LDS American relatives”. Your “Relatives” may be a bunch of right-wing fanatic kooks, but that says nothing about the general membership of the church. ;)

  42. Bbell (in #11, 18, 24), it pains me to read your accusation of “apostasy,” but perhaps your definition of the word is very different than mine.

    I think of “apostasy” as either the formal renunciation of one’s religion, or (we Mormons use it this way a lot) as the rejection or significant modification of an essential belief of one’s religion.
    (As a side note, whether the act of “apostasy” is good or bad depends on your context. You and I likely would agree that Joseph Smith’s rejection/apostasy of some traditional Christian beliefs had some positive results).

    Here, let’s assume we have a situation where a majority of LDS general authorities are of the opinion that church members should work to achieve government rules that prohibit or void same-sex marriages or civil unions.

    I don’t think a church member is “apostate” because she doesn’t share that same public policy judgment.

    Let’s look at another (fortunately hypothetical) example: Most LDS would agree that in most circumstances abortion should be avoided. But, suppose LDS leaders held the additional opinion that abortion should not be available as a legal option, and encouraged members to work to achieve constitutional amendments or laws outlawing abortion. Would members be required to accept the leaders’ public policy judgment; would they be “apostate” if they chose not to? No, because they would neither have renounced Mormonism nor rejected an essential Mormon belief.

    Perhaps your main point is an organizational complaint that one of our volunteer leaders is not following directions from a superior. If so, it seems like we could call that “failing to follow instructions” instead of “apostasy.”

    And, once again, whether the act of “failing to follow instructions” is good or bad depends on your context.
    As one example from my son’s 4th grade history project, when the Mormon militia in 1850 were instructed to “exterminate” the Utes from what is now Utah County, we could have used some Mormons who didn’t follow instructions. Instead, we attacked the Utes’ Provo River camp, chased them to West Mountain where we engaged in a Valentine’s day massacre, then killed the remaining Utes in Rock Canyon(beheading at least 4 of those). Apparently some Utes made snowshoes and escaped Rock Canyon by scaling Y Mountain (we plan to try that escape route this winter when there is no avalanche danger).
    For details on this event, see Robert Carter’s 2003 book, Founding Fort Utah: Provo’s Native Inhabitants, Early Explorers and First Year of Settlement.

  43. Eric, in #8, you accuse me of “disapproval of the US Mormon tendency to proclaim their political beliefs on religious grounds, but then suggest approval of the Argentineans who appear to be doing exactly the same thing in a very similar way.”

    You’re generally right, I’m pretty much guilty as charged.
    But, there are some differences I was trying to point out.
    One is that on some issues (such as public policy on same-sex civil unions), a major difference is that the U.S. Mormon may feel comfortable taking a position on that in church, whereas as the Argentine either would feel less comfortable doing so or it would not occur to her to do so.
    Another difference is that I found the Argentines to be more interested than U.S. Mormons in applying Mormon principles and scripture (particularly the teachings of Christ in the New T. and BoM) to “political” issues. I worry that we in the U.S. are living in a moment when the Christian Right has enough of an influence in America, particularly in the American West, that we are getting swept along with their agenda without taking the time to think for ourselves.

    On the issue of war, yes, in my experience the Argentines did discuss that in church as much as U.S. Mormons, but they did a better job of applying the scriptures. Like Lynn (#15), I’m peace-oriented but not an absolute pacifist, but I agree with Gene England and Kris (#26) that when I tend towards violence as a solution, I’m straying from foundational teachings of my religion.
    Related to this, I think that on several issues where the average Argentine Mormon might vocally differ in church from the average U.S. Mormon (such as communal assistance for the poor), the Argentines have the edge from a scriptural and Mormon historical perspective.

  44. Stirling,

    We are talking about SP’s not your average run of the mill person in the pew.

    I think that if you are SP and an apostle asks you to take the moral side on an issue and you say nah. We are Dutch we do things differently…..

    I really mean apostasy. When your leaders decide to go in a diferent direction then apostles then you are in apostasy or at least heading down the path of apostasy. I can honestly see a situation in Europe developing like this. Cultural norms are so against the law of chastity in Europe that it does not surprise me to see our lay leaders unwilling or unable to teach correct principles on sexual morality. Or take action in support of correct principles as defined by the FP/Q12. I take their unwillingness to take action as a sign of moral drift.

    Elder U’s call was not a surpise to me. His job will be to fight the moral drift in Europe. Good luck to him I say after reading your post about the dutch SP’s

    The word in Dutch is anfaligheid (Apostasy) literal translation is “falling away”

  45. Uh-oh. This is about to become a debate on same sex marriage. So for the record, not opposing government allowance of same sex marriage for purposes of benefits and estate issues (purely temporal affairs) that cannot be easily resolved otherwise IS NOT the same as approving of same sex relationship.

    When anyone decides not to oppose government allowance of same sex marriage, it is a statement regarding the role of secular governments in a secular society, not a statement of discord with any doctrines against same sex relationships.

    Most Latter-day Saints who would not vote against same sex marriage also oppose the same on moral grounds, and see same sex relationships as a grave sin, just the same as Saints on the other end of the political spectrum. They just don’t think the government has a place to prevent those living in sin from being covered by insurance, for example.

  46. Jordan,

    Actually to me its about disobeying instruction by an apostle due to your own cultural-political beliefs in a capacity of being a SP.

    It could be about lots of other issues as well.

  47. Tom, in #10, wrote:
    “The way I see it, both the pro-war and anti-war testimonies you heard on successive Sundays were inappropriate. I don’t think there should be any discussion of foreign or social policy in church meetings.”

    I have conflicting feelings about that viewpoint. I really like President Lorenzo Snow’s 1901 quote of “I despise the use of Church influence in politics as I despise the gates of hell.”

    But, at the same time, I’m glad for President Kimball’s opposition to the MX missile, and that was a public policy issue, and Lorenzo Snow himself engaged in public policy discussions. Here is one from his Jan 1. 1901 century-opening speech originally delivered in the Tabernacle and later published as a pamphlet see here):

    “Disband your armies; take the yoke from the necks of the people; arbitrate your disputes; meet in royal congress, and plan for union instead of conquest, for the banishment of poverty, for the uplifting of the masses, and for the health, wealth, enlightenment, and happiness of all tribes and peoples and nations. …
    Ye toiling millions…Cease to waste your wages in that which helps to keep you in want. Regard not wealth as your enemy and employers as your oppressors. Seek for the union of capital and labor. Be provident when in prosperity. ..
    Men and women of wealth, use your riches to give employment to the laborer! Take the idle from the crowded centres of population and place them on the untilled areas that await the hand of industry. Unlock your vaults, unloose your purses, and embark in enterprises that will give work to the unemployed, and relieve the wretchedness that leads to the vice and crime which curse your great cities, and that poison the moral atmosphere around you. Make others happy, and you will be happy yourselves.”

  48. Brother Bell:

    I certainly understand your position on this issue. And I agree that if the apostles had “called” the Stake Presidents to do something which they then did not do or even try to do, it would be a form of apostasy.

    Since I don’t know what the apostles actually told the Stake Presidents in this situation to do, and since I don’t really know how the Stake Presidents reacted, I would be loathe to call them apostate or accuse them of apostasy, as that, to me, would be a form of evil speaking of the Lord’s annointed.

  49. re # 41:
    Yes, my relatives may be right-wing kooks, but they are fairly representative of the Mormon community that they live in, and many others I have been exposed to. [I’m thinking about my time at BYU as I right it–lots of church-state blurrings there]. There are a lot of these types, and they can be quite vocal, even if they are not representative of blue-city wards. Unfortunately, [or fortunately, I guess] blue people don’t always get to live among their ilk.

  50. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    great quote stirling! never heard that before. thanks.

  51. Stirling,

    The reason that many members feel comfortable taking a position on same sex civil unions, is that the church has come out vocally and officially against same sex-marriages. So there is some background to the idea, a precedent in understanding.

    Argentineans are justified talking about the war in church because they use the scriptures more? There are no lack of scriptures in support of fighting to defend the rights of the weak and over trodden and protecting one another. And you do hear them used.

    Basically, it sounds to me that you plain prefer Argentina because you agree with their positions. That’s fine, but let’s call a spade a spade here. Don’t try and pretend like they have the higher moral ground for any reason other than that you personally agree with them.

  52. My final question. Is there something wrong with the conservative members? Stirling you imply as much in your post. Do they need to repent? I am just wondering because bcc often contains broad judgments of conservative members. ie they do not understand the scriptures about war social justice etc. They are homophobes etc.

    Mormon liberals often talk a good game about how the conservates are judgemental. Then proceed to judge conservatives after taking the next breath.

  53. Bbell # 52
    I believe that Stirling was not talking about conservative v liberal in his post [although some posters, including myself did make that dichotomy] but rather was discussing how non-American Saints did not conflate religious and [American] political issues in the same way that American Saints tend to.

    Your other comments about how judgmental liberal mormons need to be linked to some particular comment to have weight or to be responded to. Otherwise they are just free floating [and not very nice] comments.

  54. Stirling (#47), I will defer to people in authority to decide what they will talk about and in what setting. I like President Snow’s words.

    But in Sunday meetings I want to focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t want to know what brother X thinks about the war in Iraq or what sister Y thinks about the Bush administration’s tax policy. Policy debates can be worthwhile, but by nature they are not very spiritually uplifting.

  55. “a Mormonism with members more attuned to how individual and institutional actions fare when judged by scriptural teachings (particularly the injunctions towards social justice in the N.T. and BoM).”

    here ya go. From the post

  56. Bbell, in #52, that’s an easy one. You ask if conservatives need to repent. Yes, sure. Everyone needs to.
    But, without carefully defining what you mean by a Mormon “conservative” and “Mormon liberal,” I don’t think we’ll get very far using those terms.

    o Is it “conservative” or “liberal” to value individual choice?
    o Is it “conservative” or “liberal” to place a high priority on human life?
    o Is it “conservative” or “liberal” to believe in a theology that preaches continual progression, even to Godhood?
    o If you are Mormon, is it “conservative” or “liberal” to regard the King Follet Sermon as good theology? etc. etc.

    In the Oct. 03 General Conference Elder Holland quoted Joseph Smith as preaching:

    “Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in his views, and [more] boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive… God does not look on sin with [the least degree of] allowance,but..the nearer we get to our heavenly father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.” (Tchgs of Prf JS ‘76 240)

    Is that a “conservative” or “liberal” teaching?

    Generally, I’m suspicious of those terms’ usefulness in American political discourse, and consider them to be distracting when applied to religion.

    That’s not to say that they can’t be useful if carefully defined. Feel free take a shot.

  57. Jenna (#52): I believe that Stirling . . . was discussing how non-American Saints did not conflate religious and [American] political issues in the same way that American Saints tend to.

    He did not argue that the Argentine Saints don’t make the same mistake of conflating religious and political issues that American Saints make. He argued that they conflate religious and political issues better than American Saints do (i.e. they come to more correct conclusions based on the Book of Mormon and New Testament).

  58. Well, I tried to both give an example of how a specific instance of “non-American Saints did not conflate religious and [American] political issues in the same way that American Saints tend to”

    and argue that when they did throw religion and politics into the blender, they did it with more attention to the scriptures, and with more humility, because they weren’t afflicted with what Dave in #20 refers to as our American “triumphalism,” or what Robert Hughes, in Myths America Lives By, regards as the absolutized versions of our national myths of America as a Chosen Nation, America as a Christian Nation, and America as an Innocent Nation. Huges argues that those (and a couple of other myths) can have led to arrogance, pride, and unfortunate public policies (such as our exterminations of native peoples, such as our 1848 theft of the northern half of Mexico).

  59. “Yes, my relatives may be right-wing kooks, but they are fairly representative of the Mormon community that they live in,”

    Guess I found some good liberals judging conservative members as kooks and even acknowledging that the “kook” position seems to be in the majority.

    Oh hi Jenna was that you? #49

  60. I believe that Stirling was not talking about conservative v liberal in his post [although some posters, including myself did make that dichotomy] but rather was discussing how non-American Saints did not conflate religious and [American] political issues in the same way that American Saints tend to.

    Yes, this is what I understood the post to be about. And maybe more examples of such issues would be more along the lines of what was intended for this post.


    Many U.S. LDS (both liberal and conservative) would agree that the U.S. constitution is inspired, and that the right to bear arms is an essential right and is required to defend life and liberty. Whereas Saints living outside the U.S. may have a desire to protect life and liberty, but make no connection whatsoever to a God given right to bear arms because their political/social environment does not include such.

  61. Guess I found some good liberals judging conservative members as kooks and even acknowledging that the “kook” position seems to be in the majority.
    Oh hi Jenna was that you? #49

    Comment by bbell — December 6, 2005 @ 4:53 pm

    I was responding to # 41 that said this

    Jenna: Note that the key words you used were your “devoutly LDS American relatives”. Your “Relatives” may be a bunch of right-wing fanatic kooks, but that says nothing about the general membership of the church.

    Comment by Jordan — December 6, 2005 @ 2:24 pm

    which was a response to my comment that my relatives seemed to think that religion and politics were one and the same.

    So it wasn’t my term, and as I used to describe my relatives I used it lovingly tongue-in-cheek [hard to convey]

    Also, just because someone is right-wing doesn’t mean they are kooks [nor did I say or imply that], although sometimes the two go together, as does sometimes left-wing and kooks. But thinking that religion is politics, well, that is a little kooky, isn’t it?

    Finally, I assume, not hearing your voice, that you don’t mean to be antagonistic, right? I mean, just because we disagree on politics doesn’t mean that we have to be nasty about it.


  62. taking care not to get bogged down too much by the shifting sands of fickle American politics and culture

    or anti-American politics and culture.

  63. Stirling in 43:
    “I’m peace-oriented but not an absolute pacifist, but I agree with Gene England and Kris (#26) that when I tend towards violence as a solution, I’m straying from foundational teachings of my religion.”

    For me, the question isn’t “Are Mormons Christian?” It’s “Are there any Christians left in the United States?”

    I’m with J. Reuben Clark, Kris, and Gene England (and see Pres. Kimball’s anti-MX/arms-buildup comments): to the extent we participate without trepidation in the American military machine (our military budget is about that of all other countries combined), we reject Christ’s teachings (and the lessons of the Book of Mormon (Eric, if you think the scripturs support the Iraq invasion, is your argument that the U.S. is defending itself? Paving the way for the the greater good of Iran?).

    Stirling’s J. Reuben Clark quote reminds me of James Madison in 1795 (Political Observations):

    “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes…known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. … No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

  64. Missing Chile says:

    The church is more true in …
    How about Chile?

    I recently lived there, and our Sunday meetings lasted 2 hours instead of 3. My wife, I, and our kids, now that we are back in the States, all feel that the because of the shorter meeting schedule, the church in Chile was 33% more true.

    Ciao, che.

  65. I’m an International Relations major at BYU, and as a Europhile, I’m very interested in the “continuing series of Dialogue articles” that examines the church with an international perspective in mind. Any details, Sterling?

  66. I don’t know about relative truth in one country or another, but I do know about tastiness, and I can tell you, in Europe I looked forward to ward dinners [prepared to perfection by the central america majorities of the ward] with a ferver I could only dream of replicating here in my Arizona ward [with its well-meaning but wilted salad, and mayonaissy something-or-other].

    So, if food is the issue, I am all about looking to the Saints elsewhere. Amen.

  67. From Oaxaca to BYU says:


    I had a similar positive reaction to my experience as a missionary in Mexico. I’ve attributed that to the fact that most of the church members I knew were so focused on serving and helping each other survive, they didn’t have the time or personal or institutional energy to spend on some of the political issues that seem to be quite important to many U.S. Mormons.

    IOW, in the U.S., and not in Mexico, there is enough wealth to have a paid Mormon clergy with the luxury of the time/energy to improve on Christianity by attacking science (think Joseph Fielding Smith in the 30s and 50s, and BYU prof Joseph McConkie now) and SS civil unionss (think of the BYU professors who write and lobby on this, and the millions the church has spent lobbying).

    I prefer the simpler Christianity, the one I find in the New Testament, Book of Mormon, and D&C.


  68. Stirling, if you are suggesting that the issues you refer to in #58 constitute the motivation for American support of our efforts in Iraq, I actually find that quite offensive.

    Even if it were so, it’s not nearly as bad as the selfishness and apathy exhibited by so many liberals towards the sufferings of innocent Iraqis at the hands of Sunni radicals. That the same people would try to justify their apathy with scriptures and claims of Christian love is particularly hypocritical.

  69. I prefer the simpler Christianity, the one I find in the New Testament, Book of Mormon, and D&C.

    I question the assumption that there was or is one harmonious “simpler” Christianity in these books. I also think the Almas, Pauls, and Josephs that these books refer to would be surprised to learn that their lives, experiences and understanding vis-avis the gospel were simple.

  70. Two comments:

    I think it’s a little curious for Bro. Bell to speculate as to why Elder Uchdorf was called to the twelve. I can just as easily imagine his “purpose” being to correct American insularity as to correct “European moral drift.” Perhaps even both? I’m equally uncomfortable with fellow liberals inferring, in their favor, God’s design from His actions–as when they “wonder” if Ezra Taft Benson’s ill health was a sign that he had swung too far to the right.

    I don’t want to veer this thread into an Iraq war argument, but I did want to point out that the Argentinian Saints might have felt scriptural justification for criticizing U.S. policy because it was a preemptive rather than defensive action, and while there are plenty of NT/BoM precedents for justified defensive war, many in the U.S., and many, many more abroad, felt that the U.S.’s actions were not genuinely defensive, despite the U.S. governments claims (which, of course, have come under increasing scrutiny since then).

  71. What would be more interesting than another debate on the merits of the Iraq War, and what I see as the primary point of the original post, is a weighing of the costs and benefits of associating Mormonism with certain political views.

    One possible cost, as stated in the post, is that “the Church’s strong U.S. identity has become/is becoming a liability, particularly as US credibility declines.” A similar potential danger exists, I think, on the domestic front. See, e.g., Aaron’s post on This Divided State.

    Assuming these are legitimate potential problems (and I don’t see anyone who seriously contests that they are), then what to do, if anything? Sterling says “we ought to try to focus our religious community and efforts on our core principles, taking care not to get bogged down too much by the shifting sands of fickle American politics and culture.” John adds that we shouldn’t get bogged down in “anti-American” politics and culture either. Fair enough. For good measure, I’ll add that we should not get caught up in Utah, or anti-Utah, politics and culture either.

    But this seems grossly oversimplified. No one is advocating putting politics or culture ahead of the Church’s core principles. The disagreements arise in the application. How do we separate “core principles” from politics and culture? And if a “core principle” tells us something about the merits of a political, legal, cultural, or social question (say immigration reform, or tax policy, the Iraq War, or lime jello with shredded carrots), can and should we talk about it in a religious context, or should we shy away for fear of offending someone? And what exactly does it mean to “focus our religious community” on core principles, as Sterling suggests? And how does one go about doing that?

    To these questions could be added many, many others, but I’ve got to get back to work. My point, in short, is that we haven’t really examined the central point of Sterling’s post yet. Perhaps we ought to.

  72. Europhile Payne, in #65 you asked about Dialogue’s series of articles on international Mormonism.

    Dialogue editor Levi Peterson titled his introduction to the new Winter 05 issue, “Thinking Globally: Explorations into a Truly International, Multi-Cultural Church.”

    There, he explains that the series will be published over successive issues. “Under the supervision of guest editor Ethan Yorgason, this series will focus on different facets of the Mormon experience and identity outside the usual Anglo-American cultural realm…Dialogue has a long-standing interest in international and multi-cultural expressions of Mormonism. …In 1996, a special issues under Armand Mauss’s guest editorship was devoted to “the assumption that the future of Mormonism in the next century depends largely on what happens outside North America.”

    I don’t have any further info, except that as mentioned in my original post the Winter 05 issues has the Van Beek article, “Mormon Europeans or European Mormons? An ‘Afro-European’ View on Religious Colonization.”

    Regarding your interest in Mormon Studies in/around Europe, if you haven’t already, you might check out the latest Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 32:2, Sum 2005. It has several articles with an international scope. Because I’m on a Lorenzo Snow kick, I particularly enjoyed “The Waldensian Valleys: Seeking “Primitive Christianity” in Italy,” by Michael Homer, and “Opening the First LDS Mission in Italy, 1849-1867,” by Jim Toronto.
    And I found a third international article, “Popular Mormon Millenialism in Nineteenth-Century Britain, by Malcolm Thorp, a nice supplement to Underwood’s The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism.

    Also, Islam in Europe is a sexy topic now, consider BYU Studies, 40: 4, 2001, the entire issues is focused on the theme of LDS Scholars Engage Islamic Thought

  73. Guy,

    The problem is that every Mormon needs to become half an American. That pressure has become worse since correlation. It compromises the ability of the LDS Church to appeal to self-confident Europeans and thus gets into the way of the mission of the Church.

    For Americans, it is fine and dandy to say that Sacrament meeting is not the place to push patriotism. The fact is that American patriotism is pushed in every LDS meeting and publication. Isn’t that a manifestation of heresy?

    As long as the publications of the Church contain exclusively American images, from American mothers to American telephones with the exception of disneyfied token ‘others,’ it’ll be difficult for us to avoid the impression of cultural imposition.

    As long as our publications and buildings reflect American tastes and American needs, we should not be surprised that we are growing slower than Pentecostal, Seven Day Adventist, and New Apostolic organizations. It’s poor rhetoric and bad theology.

  74. Randy productively suggests (#71) that instead of talking abstractly about “core religious principles” we name them. He has some good questions, too.

    Though this deserves its own discussion/article/book/lifetime to properly define, I’ll take a crack at creating a draft list of what is/isn’t “core” or “essential” to Mormonism.

    That question can be viewed from different angles. For example:

    1. Do we mean core as in what teaching/practice is (in Alma 32 speak) most “sweet,” “nourishing,” or “precious” to an individual member? Below the shorthand I’ll use for this meaning is SAT, from “satisfying.” This is a very subjective measure and likely would vary quite a bit among us.
    2. Do we mean core or essential to achieving eternal life? (the phrase “eternal life” calls for further definition in this context) This should be less subjective. But for me it is harder to definitively identify, in part because I think Joseph’s theology was very expansive and tended towards achievement of of salvation and eternal life for most, even if one isn’t organizationally “Mormon” in this life). The shorthand below for this is EL from “eternal Life”
    3. Do we mean core or essential to the continued or minimally smooth operation of the organization of the church. The shorthand below for this viewpoint is OB, from “organizational behaviour” perspective.

    With that in mind, here’s a draft list of “core” Mormon religious principles.

    o The progressive nature of God and humans. Core SAT, non-core EL, OB.
    o The concept of individual will and the importance of exercising it. Core: SAT, OB.
    o The democratization of revelation from God. Core SAT, non-core OB.
    o That a person’s intelligence is uncreated and co-eternal with God. Core SAT.
    o “Love God, love your neighbor” (the greatest commandment). Core SAT, OB.
    o Charity. Core SAT, OB (NT & Moroni both teach ” if ye have not charity, ye are nothing”).
    o Be humble & meek, seek peace, care for the poor and oppressed, forgive others. (or your own better distillation of the Matthew 5 and 3 Nephi Sermon on the Mount and related teachings by Christ). Core SAT, OB.
    o Efficacy of repentance and the atonement. Core SAT, OB, EL.
    o Concept of eternal families. Core SAT, OB.

    That’s my list. As a digression, below is a draft of what I suggest are some non-core, non-essential principles or practices.

    o Polygamy
    o Exclusive gender roles such as the male as “head of the household,” male as breadwinner, mother as primary caregiver, mother as nurturer)
    o Exceptionalism (that the organizational structure of our church is the only means of achieving salvation)
    o The details (of many items that make the core list)
    o Obedience to institutional leaders &authority. This is a value with benefit, but I suggest it doesn’t make the A team.
    o Organizational decisions on many matters of public policy.

    I’ll avoid suggesting a list specifically of items that due to our changing theology are no longer core (i.e., the gift of tongues/prophecy/visions/healing, the Saints’ “chosen” status as literal descendants of Israel ).

  75. I don’t have a lot of time today, and Sterling has said a lot. A few thoughts in response:

    1. Doesn’t “the Church,” by which I mean the GAs and the official Church bureaucracy, already focus on this draft list of “core principles”? This list could easily pass as a list of conference talks or Gospel Principles lessons.

    2. Putting aside the public policy and gender role items, how would deemphasizing the “non-core” principles increase the Church’s stature in the eyes of the people of Argentina, or Europe, or anywhere else? Are people in other countries really offended by how often we talk about polygamy (which, in my experience, is rarely), or by statements that one must be baptized by proper authority to achieve salvation?

    3. As for matters of public policy, the Church hardly ever goes there in its official capacity. Does the rest of the world see things differently? As for the policy choices of individuals who are Mormon (e.g., most Mormons vote Republican), how does the Church go about addressing that in a way that makes members across the world happy? I suppose the Church could be more aggressively and publicly neutral. Should that be a core principle?

    4. I’m a big proponent of keeping politics (and even the appearance of politics) out of our Sunday meetings, and I think some local wards and stakes could do much better on this front. (Some, as has been said elsewhere, already do a pretty good job of this). But isn’t it a good thing that people use gospel principles to shed light on policy questions? Are you suggesting we discourage that, or that we don’t talk about it publically?

    4. Gender issues are certainly controversial. Are they more controversial internationally than domestically? I don’t always agree with everything that gets said on this front (I suspect that not all the GAs do either), but I’m a bit skiddish about advising the Church to completely drop the issue. They clearly feel it is critically important. Sure, some of the language could be softened, as you suggest, but that won’t make this issue any less controversial.

    5. Obedience to the counsel of the Prophet is not a core value? But the idea that a person’s intelligence is uncreated and co-eternal with God is? I suppose one could marshal arguments on both sides here, but my primary point is that separating core and non-core principles is going to be a pretty tricky task.

    6. As a final thought, I’m still not sure what you mean by “focus[ing] our religious community” on core principles. Can we not talk about other stuff? Just not as often? I don’t even know what you mean by “religious community.” Is this more than official Church meetings and publications? Where does the bloggernacle fit in?

  76. Snowbound Morgan says:

    Hellmut Lotz in #73 summarized for me with this discussion is about.

    “The problem is that every Mormon needs to become half American.”

    For some über-patriotric American, maybe that doesn’t seem problematic. But, consider that the whole idea of the church is that it is a restoration the teachings and Church of Christ (and so necessarily a restoration of something different than American jurisprudence and social policy).
    Though American jurisprudence and social policy has many good qualities, I think we should as a church meet careful not to confuse qualities of “Americanness” qualities (even good ones) with essential qualities of our church or religion.

    Apropros of this blog, D&C 26:2 and 28:13 are examples of a positive (but not uniquely) American quality that shows up in our religion (“And all things shall be done by common consent in the church , by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith.” and “For all things must be done in order and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.”)

  77. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    Exceptionalism (that the organizational structure of our church is the only means of achieving salvation)

    Where is that taught? if anyone believes that it is only because of their failure to understand christs message. IMO

    you and randy both make good points though.

  78. I would like to pipe in here. Before responding, a little background.

    1. I am an American Citizen raised in a as blue as you can get Democratic household complete with card carrying teamster parents.
    2. Both my adoptive father and my biological father were vietnam veterans.
    3. I have served my country in the USArmy stationed in Germany
    4. I have served an LDS mission in Sweden and Finland.
    5. I have lived in Sweden for 16 years of my adult life.
    6. I am married to a Swede and have five children all born in Sweden.
    7. I am politically conservative and support the war in Iraq (not due to weapons of mass destruction, but because I had spent many years seeing boat upon boat of kurds and other Iraqis flowing ilegally into Sweden escaping a Xenophobic Dictatorship that was Saddam and his guard. Having to hear their stories over the past 15 years was enough for me to say that the standard of Captain Moroni needed to include these people. I don’t believe that we as citizens should put our monies into the hands of politically elected officials for redistribution (It the Lord wants to reestablish the law of consecration, than I’m aboard 100%, but men who are not necessarily led by the spirit and who do not possess the priesthood do not get a flyer here)

    Understanding my background, here is my 2 cents.

    I think that the core issue is not the Americanization of the Church in the form of political policy, but that the church as adopted a Midwestern American Conservativism borne out of the depression era as being the window dressing with which the church would be recognized.

    Something as mundance as facial hair was at some time during the turn of the century eliminated and a clean shaven face is now considered proper amongst priesthood leaders.

    The white shirt and tie is another icon of this MA conservatism, that has attached itself as part of the mormon culture that is intertwined with personal belief or cultural doctrine for lack of a better word.

    Now when African immigrants in Sweden come to church dressed in their finest in their honest efforts to dress up for church, and their finest consists of a radiantly colorful button up silk coat(as you may see in among Indians) and matching silk pants and hat to go with it, does the bishop later explain to Brother Osaghe or Anyanwu that the Lord requires a white shirt and tie?

    This IMO is the true sticking point. Politics are not the driving issue.

    Politically, the LDS church is represented by both liberal and conservative thinkers in Scandinavia and Germany just as in the US. We have a sister in our ward that is local leader for the Christian Democratic Party which is as conservative as you can get and still be in the mainstream of politics. Asked why in the media why she was engaged with KD(her party) She said that her church leaders encouraged members to get involved in their communities to influence them in good ways.

    Having lived in Europe for most of my adult life I have to say that the liberalism here has turned me from a centrist into a conservative in an effort to maintain my efforts to living my religion. Given that we have a representative democaracy in Europe, electing a party and than allowing them carte blanche to do what they “feel” is right is a scary thing.

    I was called to the stake high council at a time when there was allot of discussion regarding the gay union issues in Scandinavia. It has recently blown up again as a recent law has been passed that no Lutheran ministers can prevent homosexuals from performing their union in a lutheran church(Use to be called the state church). Those caught doing so risk being fined, jailed and the loss of their vestments.

    There is now talk of trying to ratify motions in the state law to take away the solemnization rights of any free church(non state church which includes all other churches even LDS) which would refuse gay unions being performed on their premises.

    This will most likely fail due to a necessary change in the “grundlag” which requires two majority votes to ammend religious freedom. The attack however is disconcerting at least for those who support the LDS church.

    Recently a minister was on trial for preaching against gay unions, and he was being sued for hate speech crimes. The parts of his sermon that were used as evidence against him were his interpretation of scripture which did not in any way vilify homosexuals, but called such acts as being contrary to Gods will. That fact that this even went to court(In Sweden the judicial process moves ever so slowly.) is a sign of what the Brethren were warning recent Stake Leadership about.

    Some of our church membership in Sweden were quite vocal about it, and did not apologize for taking a stand. Several Stake presidencies were released around this time, and new leaders were called.

    We have spent a decade watching the Hate America mantra gain popularity in the socialized nations of Europe. The irony is that a strong right-wing wind is blowing through here, and issues that Europeans have castigated the US so long for are now being considered viable alternatives.

    My wife and I took the children this summer to visit my sister and here family in Utah. The few Sundays we were there were like heaven to us. My sons went to the BYU football camp, and my eldest was almost in tears. I asked what the problem was, and he said that he was overwhelmed by the fact that he wasn’t alone any more. That there were so many who had the same values that he did, and that was the first time it really hit me just how much on an island my children were living amongst a peer group that violate many of the truths we hold precious.

    Later when we attended the Stadium of Fire concert, again my sons tears flowed because he was touched by love the people at the concert showed for their country. He having never lived in the US said that he wanted to come home.

    We felt a strong and loving spirit in the ward we visited. There was a true sense of service. I am sure had we moved in, we would have begun to notice the flaws that inundate every ward and branch of the church, but that doesn’t matter. Why? Because regardless of where you travel in the World, Joseph Smith was called as a prophet, the BOok of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ, and God Lives
    The church regardless of venue is the construct through which the complete gospel of Jesus Christ is taught, and through which necessary priesthood ordinances are provided. That is in a word awesome.

    The church is global, and that brings with it great challenges, and I look forward to watching these challenges met and changes effected as we prepare for the future. Here, Argentina or podunk Utah you find what you are looking for, and if it is the principles of the gospel, Amen brothers and sisters, it’s there.

  79. In his review/essay in the Nov. ’05 Sunstone ( pdf version) , of Bushman’s and Vogel’s Joseph Smith Biographies, Mark Thomas offers some thoughts on how the international church will come to view Joseph Smith.

    In the context of this blog, what I found interesting about Thomas’ comments was their relation to the observations of Van Beek in the “European Mormons or Mormon Europeans” Stirling referred to in the original blog. In that article, Van Beek primarily notes the “colonization” of international church locations by the Utah church. Under that model, there isn’t much room for the international church to vary in its interpretation or development of basic Mormon issues (such as how Joseph Smith is viewed).

    Thomas, on the other hand, assumes the international church will have significant glosses on Joseph is viewed. Here’s the bulk of his commentary on that:

    “I believe there are three leading indicators for determining the future direction of research on
    Joseph Smith: (1) reaction to Bushman’s and Vogel’s books; (2) the forthcoming multivolume
    publication of the Joseph Smith papers; and (3) the internationalization of Mormonism.”
    “Mormon scholarship is something more than history. And Mormons are something more than Americans. One example of how the prophet is likely to be viewed in future Mormonism can be seen in how artistic depictions of Jesus changed as Christianity spread across the world. In the art of sub- Saharan Africa, Jesus is invariably portrayed as a Black African. The portraits of Jesus in Northern Europe depict him as a Northern European Jesus. This process of creating “culture specific” Josephs is already at work in the art and history of Mormonism as it becomes global. So, what will Joseph Smith look like to a Brazilian who is a believer in spiritualism, Catholicism, and Mormonism? How will a Guarani Indian in Paraguay hear the message of Jesus’ prophet when his people were once massacred and enslaved in the name of Jesus?”
    “…Certainly, we will never abandon the details of Joseph Smith’s historical setting, as detailed by Bushman and Vogel. But as Mormonism goes global, the general view of Joseph Smith is likely to change from an exclusive, American prophet to a universal one. Both Vogel and Bushman are aware of this larger prophetic context, but neither has yet explored it in detail. I believe that such comparisons will undermine Vogel’s thesis of Smith as pious fraud and could also make Bushman nervous by tying Joseph more closely to the prophetic eccentrics that surrounded him. But it seems to me that because of the empowerment that comes from doing so, an explosion in the creation of culture- specific images of Joseph Smith is likely to occur soon. That it is coming is, I believe, the elephant in the room that very few are discussing.”

    “When we set Joseph Smith in the context of world religions instead of western New York, what could he look like? Visions of angels and the light from stones place Joseph Smith in a broader tradition of prophets, mystics, and shamans. The description of Joseph Smith seeing light in the darkness is reminiscent of a broad group of religions. How does Joseph Smith’s gazing at shining stones in a hat to access the spiritual world compare to the use of shining stones by shamans the world over?”
    (from Where is Joseph Smith Now?: Beginning the Second Quest for the Historical Joseph, book reviews by Mark D. Thomas, Sunstone, Nov. 05).

  80. I don’t know, DJ. Most western and northern European Mormons are fairly liberal. For every conservative there are probably two liberals. And most of the conservatives would be liberals in the United States.

    I have only seen statistics for Belgium where people’s ideological attachments can be tracked by their health and unemployment insurance. I have never seen survey data. I find that ratio plausible and would be rather surprised if it would not hold in other European countries as well. I wish I still had the article. Does anyone have a citation by any chance?

    Conservatives are less inclined to join an obscure American religion. The LDS Church will hence primarily recruit among the most open minded people, which are more likely to be liberals.

    It takes a very different mindset to be a Mormon in Europe than in the corridor.

    It seems to me that you feel somewhat besieged in Sweden. That’s too bad.

  81. My international church experience is in Africa, and comes from a semester-long student project years ago, and more recent stays of a few weeks at a time in Africa. So, I’m not an expert on Africa, or the church in Africa.

    I agree generally with the sentiment of the blog. There are many good things about being an “American church,” but we need to pick and choose the cultural baggage we export to other continents. Does anyone disagree with that assertion? Not as an answer to that question but as more info, I can think of several talks by apostles (Elder Holland being the most recent) that have made the point that as we take the gospel around the world, we need to understand the difference betweent the gospel and our Utah culture.

    Should we assume that the musical instruments and tunes we use to worship in Bluebird Utah (sounds that are presumably pleasing to the Bluebirdians ear) will be as spiritually useful in Africa?

    It seems that many Mormons find the wealthy male business-like attire (dark suits, white shirts) conducive to experiencing the spirit (maybe, how else to explain the phenonem?) , it does nothing for me or our sons, and should we foist that on an African member who comes from a completely different cultural background?

  82. John Mansfield says:

    I am an American Citizen raised in a as blue as you can get Democratic household complete with card carrying teamster parents. DJRoss

    This is nitpicky of me, but I’m the son of a Teamster, too, and that doesn’t strike me as a particularly “blue” credential. The Teamsters endorsed Nixon in ’72 and Reagan in ’80. On the other hand, if your parents were not actually drivers, chaffeurs, warehousemen or helpers, but were members as a show of solidarity with the working classes, then that would be very blue as we call it now. This nitpick doesn’t have much to do with the rest of DJRoss’ comment.

  83. Each culture interprets the gospel through their specific set of biases.

    In a perfect world, everyone everywhere would have an identical perception of where to draw the line between good and evil.

    In reality, of course, quite possibly no two people have exactly the same boundaries marked across the gospel spectrum. But we manage to find a lot of common ground thanks to similar backgrounds and experiences. But then you get to larger groups who can be divided into separate categories, such that the members of each group or culture notice significant differences in the way other members of other cultures view things.

    So, you start to get a world-wide church sub-divided into different flavors, according to geographic location.

    We frequently hear of the Zion Curtain referenced in conversation among LDS members who live outside of Utah. They’re talking about how different church culture is in Salt Lake as opposed to, say NYC. But it’s different in NYC than it is in LA, and I suspect in many, many other places as well. Buenos Aires is no exception. Each local culture views the gospel through their own specific lens, and I will bet you that none of them get it exactly right.
    I guess it is worth listening to the external perspectives on our own shortcomings, since it tends to be much harder for us to spot them ourselves.

    But however true or constructive the feedback may be, those providing that perspective need not delude themselves into thinking they are in any way superior.


  84. Late to the dance, I’ve just reviewed (and enjoyed) this thread. From my perspective (which includes two years in England plus study abroad and a summer in Spain), I enthusiastically agree with the general sentiment that it’s important to distinguish the church from the cultural overlays that sometimes are placed on it from Utah, the American West (Utah isn’t much different from ID, CO, AZ, etc), American party politics, etc. I also think that while the gospel should not be used to enforce party politics, it should be used to inform our discussion of party politics.

    Rhetorical suggestion: In Eugene England’s book, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel (Bookcraft, 1986), he makes the case that the institutional and personal infirmities we have and face in the organizational structure of the church are important to learning and growing in the gospel.
    I understand he had initially considered calling his book (or was it the shorter essay?) “Why the Church is More True than the Gospel.” That title was more provocative, but also perhaps off-putting to some, so he settled for as true.
    If Sterling had followed that less-provocative rhetorical approach (“Why the church is as true in Argentina”), I bet the bbell’s and knarfos wouldn’t have started off in a defensive posture.

    My $.02 (or, should that be .02 ¥/€/£?).

  85. Jeff, I think the content had as much to do with the reaction as the title. Stirling supported his thesis that that Church is more true in Argentina by pointing out that Argentinian saints understand the political and social policy implications of the scriptures better than American saints do. In other words, they are more liberal (Stirling bristled at the use of this label, but it’s useful shorthand), and they are, therefore, more in harmony with the teachings of the scriptures. I can understand why any conservative would take exception.

  86. Tom,

    can you imagine a post where a Utah Valley member wrote the following:

    Here in Utah Valley the Church is more true then Argentina. I just visited Argentina and this is what I think of them. We pay our tithing and support the South American saints. In Argentina they pay very little tithing and our tithing basicly is welfare cause they do not want to pay up. We really understand the scriptures cause we voted for Bush and support the war in Iraq. Furthermore our understanding of the D&C is really spot on because we support the death penalty (section 42) The US Constitution (section 101) etc.

    We feel more comfortable here in Utah Valley because of the rightness of our views. We wish that the saint in Argentina could see the gospel for what is really is………

    Imagine the BCC outrage at this post.

    I would say that the Church is AS true in Argentina as it is in Utah Valley.

  87. Tom, I didn’t intend my examples to focus on a international liberal/conservative divide, although because I gave the Iraq war as one example, I see how one might arrive at that conclusion because in this country, a greater percentage of “conservatives” supported the war than “liberals” (although, I suggest that this war–like, say, the 1846-48 U.S. war against Mexico—can’t be so easily reduced).

    Instead, my intended thesis was more broadly that it would be good to avoid letting our church participation and experience be overly influenced by the home country.
    I like Jeff’s suggestion, and I’ll agree with Bbell that “the Church is AS true in Argentina as it is in Utah Valley.”


  88. LOL bbell! If there’s one thing you can always count on liberals for, it’s double standards.

  89. Comment 87:
    But Stirling, that is exactly what you have shown us in your anecdotes from Argentina. Based on your own thesis (applied in reverse) the Church members in Argentina need to expand their understanding of the scriptures, increase their worldview, and begin to understand why many Saints in the U.S. do support the Iraq war.

    The fact is, religions that transcend national boundaries do not have an overarching culture that completely transcends the local culture. This is true for Catholicism and Islam and is true for Mormonism. Non-Mormons in the Intermountain West are more likely to support the war than non-Mormons from New York City. Mormons in Manhattan are more likely to oppose it than ones from Nevada. And yet, I find so many liberals who think that they are some special outlier in the midst of the Greater Church. In a faith with members in lands where the Western political spectrum does not even apply, this belief is very odd. If the proverbial ward where Sean Hannity is quoted in Elder’s quorum actually exists (living in Utah I have never experienced that), there is likely a branch somewhere in Bolivia where the lone Quiroga supporter thinks that he is surrounded by Evo Morales supporters. All of these people would do well to separate their politics from their religion as you suggest and realize that they are really surrounded by friends and saints.

    I am not saying that our faith should never affect our political views. Obviously it is going to. But it should not affect the way we view our fellow church members. In my view, faith trumps politics and I am always happy to run into a fellow Latter-day Saint, whether they voted for Bush, Merkel, or don’t have the right to vote period!

    Oddly, many of my liberal friends (incidentally, I am left of center myself) have a subconscious view of the Western American culture that equates it with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though they constantly deride this conflating of Culture/Gospel their constant derision is ironic evidence of their own confusion. If they realized how big and diverse the Church really is, they would not keep harping on one small piece of the Church’s cultural tapestry that exists along the Wasatch Front. No returned missionary or newspaper reader should be surprised to find different views expressed in wards around the globe. I find the conventional wisdom about the “conservative” church old and tiring. What refreshes me about sacrament anywhere in the world is that it is administered by the priesthood and that the people are doing their best to serve God.

    I grew up in Utah Valley and know hundreds of staunch conservatives who have a rational world view based on their own values. They are highly educated both in secular and spiritual matters. They may disagree with me on things, but I can NOT say that it is because they are either 1) less knowledgeable than me or 2) have the wrong values. I certainly would not say that their Church is less true then the Church elsewhere. Why? Because it is not their Church alone, but belongs to the Lord. I disagree with your view that the Church is not the same everywhere. In the fundamentals it is. It is the same in doctrine and in priesthood and function. Traits like language, skin color, local attitudes and politics are beautiful, but they are traits of the local people–not traits of the Church. This is true whether one is in Provo or Peru. I am sure you agree with this, I just find so many commenters here and at Times and Seasons who lament the “Utah Culture” and don’t realize that is confined to Utah and always has been.

    Personally, I find great beauty in the culture of the Mormon communities of the Western U.S, Canada and Mexico. It is not Latter-day Saint culture (though it is often referred to as Mormon culture). It is similar to the culture of many non-members in the same region but has a distinctive Mormon influence–bequeathed to the locals from their Pioneer forbears.

    I am also amazed that the Lord only chooses to direct his Servants to speak out on VERY few public policy issues. He seems to trust us as humans in making our own decisions about matters as far reaching as the environment and War and Peace. I find it exhilarating and worth pondering that Saints with stridently different political views attend temples in different lands, worshipping the God of Jacob in exactly the same way.

    I am certain that the Lord loves all of his children equally–their virtues, their diversity and even their quaint traits. My experience in many wards across the U.S. has taught me that there are special blessings and challenges everywhere. My experiences in politics have taught me that liberals and conservatives around the world use scripture to their own ends. And it does not alarm or disturb me that the Country where the Church is headquartered happens to have more conservative members than liberals or members who support the war than those who don’t. In fact, I find it refreshing and would lament the day that we turn out to have Argentinean-like homogeneity.

    One last dig in a long (sorry!) comment: The person who believes that Argentine’s are more wary than Americans because of the Malvinas debacle is simply exhibiting the same hyper-nationalism that is currently afflicting peoples the world over. Skepticism and cynicism runs high and distrust of America is at one of its peaks (it has gone in cycles since the early 19th century). We have had our share of Watergates and I don’t think Americans are any more naive then other of the world’s peoples.

  90. Stirling (#87): I didn’t intend my examples to focus on a international liberal/conservative divide . . .

    Your bulleted list of examples of differences between Argentine and American saints’ attitudes concerning policy issues highlights other hotbutton liberal vs. conservative issues besides the war. From your examples I gather that the Argentine Saints are socially liberal, to the left on economic issues, and dovish on the war. In short, in many ways they are what we would call in current American parlace liberals. And I further gather that you approve of their liberal attitudes. All of which is fine with me, but none of which supports your thesis.

    In order for your Argentina examples to support the broader thesis, “that it would be good to avoid letting our church participation and experience be overly influenced by the home country,” you would need to show not only that the saints there espouse a brand of Mormonism “stripped of a heavy overlay of U.S. politics,” but also that they espouse a brand of Mormonism “stripped of a heavy overlay of [Argentinian] politics.” But from what I gather, the general political sentiment in Argentina is socially liberal, economically socialist, and dovish on the war, which also happens to be the sentiment of Argentinian saints. So your examples of Argentinian saints questioning how Americans can consider themselves Christians while supporting the war and their reading the New Testament and Book of Mormon as prescribing liberal economic policies, as well as your approval of these attitudes, undermine your thesis rather than support it.

    I wholeheartedly agree that we should not let the political or social climates in our own countries influence the way we experience our religion (or, as doug suggests, our attitudes towards our brothers and sisters in the church (or out of it)). But this idea doesn’t come across in the essay. I hate to be so critical. Sorry. But what I get from the essay (at least the second half of the Argentina part) is stated in my comments #85 and #57. That, I disagree with (though not vehemently).

  91. Well said Tom. Adding to your comment (#57) about Jenna’s (#52), I think that Stirling’s experience is proof that each culture conflates “religious and [there own] political issues in the same way American saints do.” And in some non-American cultures (maybe Argentina?), Mormons may even do it moreso where it is historically common for religious groups to jump into the rough and tumble of politics.

    All conventional wisdom notwhithstanding, I really believe it is culturally taboo to endorse candidates or platforms in LDS meetinghouses in America. (Not to mention against policy). The LDS-GOP link myth (remember the Tribune article with Elder Jensen in 1998?) has actually caused many people to be hyper senstitive to political issues in Church. I live in a moderately conservative precinct, and no on ever prays for the troops or the President in Church (as I think everyone ought to). But I did hear members in Church talk about and pray for the President not to make the mistake of going to war.

    I think that the over-arching conventional wisdom has caused some conservatives to play it safe and polite by not stepping on any toes, while liberals feel that they have to go all out in expressing their views because they erroneously believe they are “surrounded”. I say this being a liberal myself! I know its easy to get caught up in common wisdom, having done it many times. So I am not accusing anyone of being a dummy. Of course there are people who strongly equate their faith and politics, but the causal link between the Church and Republican hegemony in the Western U.S. is weak at best and flawed at its worst.

  92. Tom, in #85 and #90 you suggest that the positions I had described are “more liberal,” “socially liberal,” and “to the left.” But, I don’t think it works to simultaneously apply a term of “liberal” (or “conservative”) to describe both a religious viewpoint and a U.S. political viewpoint.

    For example, some examples I gave were attitudes toward:
    o Role of church in government affairs
    o International free trade
    o Public policy on issues related to sexuality
    o Poverty, disparities of wealth

    If we limit ourselves to just the U.S. political context, the terms “liberal” or “conservative” aren’t as useful here as one might think. For example, would an advocate of increased international free trade in goods and services be liberal or conservative? The answer isn’t yes or no.
    Similarly, is an advocate of increased immigration by Mexican workers into the U.S. liberal or conservative?

    In the U.S, to be politically conservative isn’t necessarily to be religiously conservative, and this is more so if the terms are applied cross-borders.

    A U.S.-specific example is that a U.S. political conservative may be likely to be skeptical of government regulation on a moral issue, while a U.S. religious conservative may be more likely to favor the regulation, if it matches her view of divine will.

    A U.S. religious conservative is more likely to be comfortable with the idea of “natural rights” and applying it in politics; the U.S. religious liberal is less likely to share this comfort (see what seems to me as an ok definition of “Liberal Christianity” here). But, the U.S. political conservative may be less likely than the liberal to use “natural law” and “natural rights reasoning” when interpreting the U.S. Constitution.
    (For an article discussing the latter point, see Gedicks, “The “Embarrassing” Section 134,” 2003 BYU L. REV. 959).

  93. I wholeheartedly agree with the previous point about the difficulty of applying political labels internationally or to a religious context.

    Further, internationally, when compared to the differences between political parties in many other countries (European countries, particularly, are what I’m familiar with), the differences between the Republican and Democrat parties seems quite minor.

  94. Stirling: I don’t think it works to simultaneously apply a term of “liberal” (or “conservative”) to describe both a religious viewpoint and a U.S. political viewpoint.

    I only meant to label Argentinian saints’ political sentiments as liberal. Politically speaking, in the sense that the term is commonly used (however appropriately or inappropriately), an American “liberal” would be in favor of legalization of same sex marriage, of a more socialist economic policy (heavy redistribution of wealth, extensive government regulation of commerce), of lax immigration policy, and would be opposed to the Iraq war (though much of rationale for the opposition is illiberal in a technical sense). From your essay it sounds like that approximately describes the political sentiments of Argentinian SUDs, at least on those issues.

    I don’t know what label I would give to the way that Argentinian saints tend to conflate religion and politics. But if I were to give it a name it would be the same name that I would give to the way that American members tend to conflate religion and politics. In short, like Doug (#91) says, the tendency is the same, they just come to different conclusions.

  95. I guess since nobody replied to the request for footnote 31, this Finnish Mormon who just received the newest Dialogue today needs to chime in :)

    In fact the number 31 given in the above post refers to the page number, as there is no footnote attached to the comments on the European stake presidents.

  96. Sultan (#77):
    “Where is that [” Exceptionalism (that the organizational structure of our church is the only means of achieving salvation)”] taught? if anyone believes that it is only because of their failure to understand christs message. IMO”

    Sultan, your comments hearten me, but are you serious when you ask where is it taught?
    For starters, I think many in my ward consider AofF 3 & 4 to teach this (with an exception for those who don’t have a chance to accept the gospel in this life):

    Even so, I agree that with Joseph’s revealed concepts of eternal progression, an appropriate conclusion is that the Church isn’t the exclusive means of achieving salvation or eternal life (the atonement of Christ is the exclusive means, but its efficacy isn’t limited to our particular implementation of our ordinances related to the atonement).

  97. Mormonism is bigger than any one person’s, or any one culture’s, conception of it.

    Tom and Sterling quibble over the use of the terms liberal and conservative.
    However that slight digression comes out, I think the valid remaining point is (to quote a BYU Math professor–I think it was Bill Evenson that said, roughly…):
    Mormonism is bigger than any one person’s, or any one culture’s, or one political system’s conception of it.

    Sometimes we forget that because we are so influenced by our dominant self/culture/political system. So, it’s good to step into another person’s shoes, or onto another culture’s streets, to experience Mormonism from a different angle.

  98. I find some of the comments on here so naive as to be laughable, particularly from those who are “liberal” and seem to be overjoyed to find that international Saints do not share the prevailing “conservative” view of LDS in the USA.

    The reality is that Saints in other countries are just as interested in politics, and they have widely divergent views about politics in their own country, and can be just as fanatical about their views as we are in the US. Just ask a LDS Argentine (anyone) about Peron, and you can hear everything from “savior of his country” to “demon from hell”.
    Much the same would be true if you asked a Filipino to comment on Ferdinand Marcos, or a Chilean about Pinochet.

    As far as international politics goes, LDS in other countries tend to reflect the overall view in their country, and that may or may not be favorable to the USA. The members reflect the culture that they grow up in, much as members in the USA do. And it is universal that countries tend to dislike those that are richer or more powerful than they.

    What is different in the US, to an extent, is that one side of the political discourse has shown itself (in the main) to be hostile to religion generally, and the other side more friendly to religion. From my experience in living in 10 different countries, that is not the case in most of those countries. They either are universally disdainful of religion, or show themselves supporting religion (quite usually the State church).

  99. My point exactly El Jefe…what makes you a better writer than me is that you said it with about 1/6th of the word count.

    But I’ve been reading a lot of English Author’s lately…

  100. Hmmm. I understand “El Jefe” to write that its “laughably naive” to observe that country-specific culture and politics aren’t essential to Mormon orthodoxy or orthopraxy. Well, I heartily agree. It’s a comical state we find ourselves in.

    Then, EJ claims that in the U.S. “one side of the political discourse has shown itself (in the main) to be hostile to religion generally.” Doug apparently agrees with that position.
    EJ or Doug, can you define the “side” you are thinking of, and describe how it has been “hostile to religion generally?”
    Are you thinking of particular interpretations of the Establishment Clause or Free Exercise clause?
    Is it that you regard the idea of separation between Church and State as hostile to religion?

  101. No, Stirling. I really can’t explain it to you.

    It would be like explaining to a boquense why River is better.

  102. Walter van Beek says:

    I am happy that my article on ‘European Mormons or Mormon Europeans’ seems to strike a chord with many. At Utrecht University I teach a course on ‘religion, fundamentalism and conlfict’ and indeed the fundamentalization issue is a highly relevant backdrop. I did write on fundamentalization in Mormonism, in a book which might be less accessible for most bloggers
    “Pathways of fundamentalization: the peculiar case of Mormonism’ in G. ter Haar & J. Busuttil (eds.) ‘The Freedom to do God’s Will. Religious Fundamentalism and Social Change’, Routledge, New York & London, 2003. I hope to get some reactions on that one as well.

    Walter van Beek

  103. Stirling,

    It shows up in voting patterns. Bush won 60 plus percent of those that attend church weekly. If you are not aware of the voting tendencies and the general perceptions of the two parties amongst the electorate on religion I suggest you do some internet seraches and check polling data. Its a generally accepted fact of politics in the US.


    I am a lifelong member and I do not see any change towards fundamentalism. Its the same doctrine that my father grew up with the exception of the blacks and the priesthood. What makes us different is that we are not changing with the times on many key teachings. To liberals that makes us seem fundamentalist. Actually we are the same and the world around us has simply changed some of its views.

  104. Bbell, I had asked for justification of the claim that “one side of the political discourse has shown itself (in the main) to be hostile to religion generally.”

    In #103 you assert this is a “generally accepted fact.” I disagree, but I’m interested in hearing your argument to the contrary.
    As evidence you reference “general perceptions” and that “Bush won 60 plus percent of those that attend church weekly.”
    I don’t see those as evidences for the claim, but am willing to listen to your explanation.

    If you believe that the Democratic Party is “hostile to religion generally,” there ought to be strong evidence of that you could cite.

    As a case study of the Democrats, Pres. Clinton seemed to me to be very supportive of “religious interests.” He opened cabinet meetings with prayer, regularly attended prayer breakfasts (sometimes with Congress and Supreme Court members), at prayer breakfasts and other venues he would include religious themes and scripture in his speeches.
    He had quite a few religious initiatives on legislation. I disagreed sometimes with his view or implementation of the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses, and I felt it was fair to criticize him for too much mixing of religion and politics and government.

    Remember Clinton supported and signed the several “Charitable Choice Laws” (1996-2000); Pres. Bush’s “faith-based initiatives” are a continuation of Clinton similar efforts. He supported and signed the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA, it was determined by the Supreme Court in 1997 to be unconstitutional, so you won’t hear much about it now). He signed the 1998 Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act, the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, etc. etc.

    I don’t mean to suggest that Clinton’s personal actions or public policy initiatives were without error, but I don’t see a case that he (and therefore the Democratic Party) was “hostile to religion generally.”

  105. It’s hard to make the case that the Democratic party is hostile to religion. But it is true that people that are hostile to religion tend to be Democrats.

  106. Walter, thanks for stopping by.
    After reading your Dialogue artice, I ordered the book with your essay on “Pathways of Fundamentalization: the Peculiar Case of Mormonism.” I look forward to reading it over the holidays.
    I’m interested in the anthropological discussion about the causes of religious fundamentalism–both generally and within Mormonism.
    I’ve found Mauss’s book, The Angel and the Beehive, helpful in advancing my thinking about the phenomenon of fundamentalism within today’s church.
    Mauss starts out his “Expressions of Folk Fundamentalism” chapter with:

    “Whatever the conditions that might have facilitated the spread of fundamentalist thinking among the Mormons, what evidences do we have that such thinking has actually increased in recent decades? The evidence here cannot be conclusive, for there are no systematic studies of Mormon fundamentalist attitudes over time. But there is some evidence, and it is persuasive. It can be seen in doctrinal trends and intellectual style; in an obedience and control mentality; in a susceptibility to fundamentalist scare scenarios; and in certain exaggerated forms of social conservatism.” (177)

  107. Stirling, I am talking about the what the electorate thinks. This “church gap” in the electorate is a fact that has been noticed by many pollsters. I see a democratic party that is conflicted about religion. Some in the party like my LDS Democratic grandparents are not hostile to religion. But many many others in Blue states are in fact hostile to religion. Those that are hostile to religion are very loud elements of the democratic party. There is a PERCEPTION based on voting patterns that the dems are in fact hostile to religion. I personally think it because the most secular portions of the Democratic Coalition are the loudest. I have seen studies that show that 25-30% of delegates to the 2004 Dem convention were athiests

    Some data on Church attendence/affiliation and voting patterns attached here

    Notice its from PBS. A org that I consider very liberal.

    Look at the green bubble on the left had side. It hads a religious breakdown in voting patterns that includes the LDS. We vote like White born again evangelicals almost at exactly the same percentages!!!!!!!

    Also note the religiously unaffiliated breakdown. Kerry got 70% of their vote.

    Love to see your response….

  108. BBell, perhaps we’re engaged in separate conversations. What I’m asking for is evidence for your claim that Democrats are “hostile to religion.”
    To say that “religious conservatives” or “religious liberals” favor one party or another doesn’t support a claim of “religious hostility” by either party. To say that someone is unaffiliated with an organized church, or secular, or an atheist, doesn’t tell us if they are “hostile to religion.”
    If someone is secular or an atheist it may give us an indication whether such a person is “hostile to government sponsorship of religion,” but that is a very different matter.
    If you differ from Jefferson and Madison because they felt there should a greater separation of church and state than you do, you may not have voted for them as president, but does that make them hostile to religion?

  109. We are talking past each other. I am talking about the perception of the electorate. The perception of the electorate on average is that the Dems do not represent the values of religious church attending voters on average. The Church gap in politics is pretty clear. I personally do not believe that on the whole the Dems are hostile to religion. I do think though that a signifigant portion of the Dem coalition IS hostile to religion or more exactly to conservative religion(s) and to LDS people. (There is also a signifigant portion of the repubs that is hostile to LDS as a whole as well “white evangelicals” )

  110. Answer to Stirling’s #100.

    Actually, I don’t completely agree with El Jefe’s last paragraph in comment #98. I wrote “heartily agree” about the first three paragraphs which I considered to be the thrust of his statement. After reading it again, I probably should have been more specific as to exactly what I was agreeing with.

    I do not think there is any mainstream political camp in the U.S. that is overtly hostile to religion. I do believe that there is something of a perceptual problem though. One of my own theses about U.S. politics is that parties sometimes allow themselves to be painted into a corner by their opponents and then inexplicably begin to agree with the narrow dogmatic line they have been stuck with. That’s a discussion for a different day though…

    Sometimes certain extremists such as certain conservatives who want to foist their own version of God on people or certain liberals who want to advance secularism to the detriment of free communal (not necessarily governmental) religious exercise seem to dominate the media and political agenda. Unfortunately, the rest of us “normal” folks feel we have to chose one side or the other.

    Stirling, while I don’t personally agree with your thesis, I think it was well written and certainly got me thinking. Reading some of your comments I have concluded that you don’t really think that the Church is “truer” (at least not in a doctrinal/priesthood sense) in any part of the world. Of course, I don’t think its “truer” in any sense, but is simply true everywhere.* In that respect, I think the title threw many of us for a loop.

    That said, thanks for the discussion!

    *[Postscript: Of course, you could invoke the “collectively and not individually” clause of D&C 1:30, but I don’t think that is where you were going].

  111. This post was thought-provoking for me, so thanks. There is of course a much longer discussion that I don’t have time for because I am supposed to be doing paid work right now, but the post calls to mind the following quote from GK Chesterton, though I haven’t decided whether the church in this instance would be the clan or a clique.

    “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing that is really narrow is the clique.” – GK Chesterton

  112. please i need a free bible for free of charge please,and other books countain the history of this church.

  113. HiveRadical says:

    I think the most significant issue in all of this is the tendancy for saints in all locals to not balance, or gain sufficient independence from, their worldly environs. I’ve been with saints from all over the world and I don’t think I’ve necesarily seen better or worse tendancy to absorb the values of the local branch of babylonian culture they’ve been inhabiting. Utah and US saints have their respective issues and advantages and the same can be said for saints I’ve seen from Chile, Czech Republic, China, India, Australia, Russia–you name it and I’ve seen terrible adherence to cultural nuances in all cases.

    So ultimately I think it merely ties to the weakness we have as humans to balance between not serving mammon or living worldly and “{making} friends with the mammon of unrighteousness” as Christ advocates. It’s this balance issue more than a “more true” attribute in varrying locals that host stakes of Zion.

    So no, the church is the same level of “trueness” regardless the location, even in the promised land of argentina. Social trends skew all sides and we need to ALL get above them. Satan would turn this into some spat between US and Utah Saints or between US saints and the rest of the world’s saints.

    My perception has been that if it were possible to actually aquire and compare the problems and promise of the views of saints, regardless their cultural circumstance, we’d all be far closer to even than many of us think.

    It’s issues like this that make me glad to know that God is just and will judge us with all factors taken into consideration.

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