I think this–entitled “Evangelicals, Mormons on Same Side of Cultural Divide”–is spot-on:
Is Mormonism now a part of the American mainstream? That question raises a host of issues — including the question of what constitutes the “mainstream” now anyway?
There are two questions here. One has to do with the status of Mormonism, the second with the definition of the mainstream.
I must answer the Mormon question first, and from two perspectives. As an evangelical Christian theologian, I must clarify that Mormonism is in no way consistent with orthodox Christianity. It borrows Christian themes and texts, but its most basic beliefs directly contradict the central teachings of Christianity.
That is a theological summary, but there is a sociological dimension as well. From that perspective, Mormonism can certainly claim to have achieved a comfort level in contemporary American culture — especially in what might be called “Middle America.” Most Americans would feel quite comfortable with Mormon neighbors. The Mormon effort to identify with American culture has been stunningly successful, and the movement’s idealization and inculcation of family values has won it the admiration of millions of Americans — including many evangelical Christians. The convergence of Mormon and evangelical Christian concerns on a host of cultural, moral, and political issues is no accident. The preservation and conservation of the family is a prime concern of both groups.
Now to the question of the “mainstream.” When sociologist Will Herberg wrote his famous work, Protestant-Catholic-Jew in 1955, he was describing what then appeared to be the mainstream of American religious life. The Protestants he described were members of the “mainstream” or “mainline” denominations that, for the most part, became associated with groups such as the National Council of Churches. Evangelicals were largely, if not entirely, left out of that picture.
Fast forward to the present and those “mainstream” denominations have been losing members by the millions while evangelicals have been in a period of rapid growth. The new American mainstream certainly now includes the evangelicals. From a sociological or political perspective, no one can ignore the evangelicals. By the same token, in vast areas of America — especially in the West — Mormonism is certainly a part of the cultural mainstream as well.
Both evangelical Christians and Mormons have, to some extent, worked hard to enter that mainstream. To a considerable extent, both certainly hope to remain there. Yet, I wonder about the prospects for that. As “mainstream” America moves in any number of directions, and as our current cultural shifts take shape, both evangelical Christians and Mormons may find themselves outside the mainstream once again. Issues including family life, sexuality, the definition of marriage, and any number of social, cultural, and moral controversies may drive both groups out of their cultural comfort zones — and fast.
The challenges of modernity confront both groups. How long will this “mainstream” remain the mainstream? Time will tell.
Okay guys–I stepped in it. I blockquoted Mohler’s whole article last night and pronounced it “spot-on.” I should have known that that was going to invite an unnecessary and unhelpful theological discussion. I’m sorry.
Look, here is why I posted Mohler’s piece. First, we at EFM have always been crystal clear that while we see Mormons, and especially Governor Romney, as allies in the culture war, that doesn’t mean we endorse their theology. We have said it before, and we will not compromise on it. Nor will Mohler, and I thought that in general, he did a good job making a point similar to ours–though, as you all have noticed, in different tones. Second, it is a big deal that Al Mohler wrote what he did. As many readers are aware, he wrote earlier that it is an “excruciating” choice for him as a theologian to decide whether to vote for a Mormon for president. I know, LDS readers, that you don’t like it. But Mohler has spent his life studying the truth of the Bible and trying to get the Southern Baptist church closer to it. It’s a big deal for him to even potentially endorse something he sees as different from that truth. You can disagree with it as much as you like, but that doesn’t change the fact that (a) he thinks it, (b) so do a lot of others, and (c) he’s to the point where he’s publicly said that you guys are allies in the culture war. You–and we–need a lot more people to make that connection, and then to make the final connection that when we vote for a presidential candidate we’re acknowledging him as an ally in the culture war, not a theological genius.
So I don’t regret posting the piece. If it made you uncomfortable, well, it exposed you to a perspective you–and all of us who support Governor Romney–need to acknowledge and work with. But I do regret quoting, and seeming to endorse, the specifics of his theological critique. Many of you have written in to say the precise doctrinal items with which he took issue are incorrect. You may be right, or you may not be, but frankly, I don’t care. It’s not EFM’s place to adjudicate theological disputes, and I should have left it the way we’ve said it before–”We would never advocate that the Governor become our pastor or lead our churches—we disagree with him profoundly on theological issues. But we reject the notion that the president of the United States has to be in perfect harmony with our religious doctrine.”
Now–let’s all have a good Saturday and think through all of this while cutting the lawn (or, in the Mitchells’ case, babysitting since we don’t have a lawn–don’t even get me started on that one!).