The words below are the thoughts of Dr. Armand Mauss, one of the most talented and caring of the scholars among the Latter-day Saints, who takes pride in being an “Alternate Voice”, and whom I remember most fondly for having had a definitive impact on the Church’s (or the Lord’s) decisions to give the Priesthood to the Blacks and to encourage the removal of the terribly-portrayed Christian Clergyman from the text of the Endowment Ceremony. Alternate Voices work.
Without question, the leadership of the Church has been taking steps for several decades to reduce the differences between ourselves and other Christian churches. We know from Public Affairs training that, when President Hinckley considered whether being a persecuted minority based on dissonance with other Christians was part of the core of the restored Gospel, he said that it was not.
There is no doubt that the idea supported by non-Latter-day-Saint historians and Socialogists of the Church’s possibility of becoming the new world religion, a fourth Abrahamic religion, as different from Christianity as Christianity is from Judaism or as Islam is from Judaism and Christianity, has great appeal. Raw material for such a possibility permeates the uniquely-LDS scriptures and especially the later revelations and extra-canonical speeches such as the King Follet Discourse and the Sermon in the Grove.
But, ultimately, the people who decide among these possible paths need to be the Priesthood Leadership of the Church. And what appears to have happened is that the Priesthood Leaders, looking at the scriptures revealed by Joseph Smith, his entire life and teachings, have concluded that, for now at least, the most basic core of the restoration is the restoration of ancient Christianity, not a new Abrahamic religion different from Christanity.
During the actions against some intellectuals and feminists encouraged by Elder Packer, my sense is that the Church was going through an important time of definition. My sense is that the Apostles realized that religious organizations, upon reaching a certain age and size, either become more liberal and follow the path of the liberal, mainline churches whose membership is falling rapidly, or they take steps to prevent that from happening and, in the process, step closer to traditional Christianity.
In many cases, intellectuals and scholars, because of their positions in the church’s colleges and universities, end up in control this process, and the church goes in the liberal direction like the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., or the former Reorganized LDS Church now called the “Community of Christ.” Evidently the Church Leadership thought the Apostles and members of the First Presidency should be the ones to control the process, and they determined to tend in the direction of the (conservative) Church of Christ, the Seventh-day Adventists, and the Southern Baptist Convention.
I think we could guess fairly accurately the Apostles and Members of the First Presidency who are supporting and championing this rapprochment with Christianity, and it seems clear that callings in the last 15 years and the most recent callings all tend in that direction.
Love ya, Dr. Mauss.
In certain ways, we can make common cause with relatively mellow fellows like Richard Mouw, or even Craig Hazen, but we will never gain their hearts until we accept their theology (and probably vice-versa, for the most part). The “wide divide,” furthermore, looks wider from their side than from ours — or at least more hazardous to cross. We look at their side and see some error mixed with a lot of truth. They look at our side and see sheer evil — a diabolical cult that hold millions of innocent souls in thrall.
To the extent that I have any responsibilities with LDS Public Affairs, I will continue to do my best to represent the Church’s official insistence that we be considered and treated as “Christians.” However, my private opinion is that we are trying too hard and sometimes giving away too much in trying to part of the Christian family. We’re never going to be accepted as Christians by the majority of the Evangelicals or their spokesmen. The Christian Mainline, by contrast, doesn’t really care. If we say we’re Christians, that’s OK with them, because they don’t know what to believe anyway. The rest of the world is non-Christian, and they couldn’t care less about whether or not we’re Christians. They like our religion or they don’t, and whether we are truly “Christian” or not is a lot less important than what we can do for their people. I rather like the label that has been offered to us by Richard Land (still head, I think, of the Southern Baptists), who thinks of us as simply a fourth Abrahamic tradition. That fits too with Jan Shipps’s theory that we bear the same relationship to orthodox Christianity that Christians once bore to Judaism.
I think the main damage done by our anxiety about being accepted as Christians is that it carries a tendency for us to turn our backs on so much of the wonderful, inspiring, intriguing and heretical ideas of Joseph Smith (even Pres. Hinckley seemed to succumb somewhat to that tendency in public). I regret that. I delight in the heresies of Joseph Smith! They make our religion far more interesting AND meaningful than other religions with the Christian label — much moreso,. even, than the pablum we get in our own correlated curricula.
Long live Mormon weirdness! Down with Christian assimilation !