Mormonism's American Century Draws to a Close
A Peculiarly American Faith Branches Out
BY: Jan Shipps
While holding that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired, they created a separate political system with an established church. Then, church leaders took control of the community's economy and tried to build an economic order in which all could prosper.
The Saints were members of the Church of Jesus Christ. But it was no ordinary Christian church, for its members believed the literal blood of Israel flowed through their veins. They were chosen, set apart, a peculiar people to whom the church and ancient priesthood had been restored. Also revealed to them, they were certain, were ceremonies that when performed in Mormon temples endowed them with power from on high.
Among these mandates were marriage and sealing ordinances uniting men, women and their families for eternity. But a shocked nation soon learned that Mormon temple rites sometimes did more than create eternal nuclear families; they also sanctioned creating families in which men married more than one wife.
But their real capitulation to the American way came after the turn of the century when the church hierarchy acknowledged Mormons would have to live "in the world." Since then, the Latter-Day Saints have worked hard at establishing themselves as something other than a bizarre and eccentric religious movement. Throughout the twentieth century, they have found a way to situate themselves and their church in America, and they have worked out their relationship to the national culture.
Now members' attention is turning outward toward Saints across the world and inward toward their own families. More and more, temple ordinances connect the inside and outside. As family members are united for eternity in identical ordinances, except that they are performed in different languages. This common experience of constructing eternal family dynasties provides Latter-day Saints with a culture-transcending identity. And whatever their national background, these rituals also cement the allegiance of Mormons throughout the world to their church and to each other.
Never again is the connection between the larger Mormon community and the United States (or any other nation) likely to assume an importance like that between Mormons and Americans in the twentieth century.