Friday, May 04, 2007


Newsweek & the Washington Post have a joint blog 'On Faith', which explores the Mormonism as mainstream question in light of the PBS Frontline documentary. How does one define mainstream?

I recall Dr. Ed Harrell lecturing on Pentecostalism, his academic specialty, and discussing the reaction he received in grad school decades ago when he began studying it. His fellow students wondered why he would go to a Pentecostal tent revival rather than a 'mainstream' Episcopal service. Even then the handwriting was on the wall about the Episcopal Church.

Count the number of Mormons in the USA and the world, and compare it other religions. Of course, from a historical perspective, Mormonism is not 'mainstream' but rather created from whole cloth by Joseph Smith's imaginings. Still, can we say that when our Senate majority leader and a major Republican Presidential candidate are both Mormon that it is outside the mainstream of American life?

1 comment:

Bill said...

It depends on how you define "mainstream", I suppose. If you define it historically, Mormonism plainly is not mainstream, but it is increasingly becoming so as the numbers and influence of the church grow. If you define in sociologically, it still is not mainstream given the deliberate separatism the church reinforces amongst its members from non-members (and especially ex-members). Of course, if you define it theologically, there is no question that Mormonism is outside the mainstream of the "historic, Christian faith" (recognizing the broad sweep of such a statement, and is even outside the mainstream of what the average, even nonreligious, American would conceive of God (I believe if Gallup did a poll asking those Americans who identify themselves as "Christians" whether they believe Jesus was the literal offspring created by physical union between "Heavenly Father" and wife, the vast majority would say "no").

There is, however, a way in which Mormonism is mainstream in America. It unquestionably is a movement that could only have arisen in the US. Its exaltation of the US and (at least purported) fealty to the US government (reflected, for example, in its support of the federal government during the Civil War) and quite "Americanist" in their construction. It probably reflects an expansion on the Puritan idea of America as the "shining city on a hill" (words later echoed by President Reagan). From an ideological standpoint, Mormonism is certainly in the maintstream of triumphalist, expansionist Americanism. The rise of Reid, Romney (who wasted his money doing a robo-call to my house yesterday), Udall, et al., simply reflects a natural increase in influence for an ideology that is "Americanist" in its construction.