The Rise of Mormonism
Author Stephen Mansfield examines how Mormons, including Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have become a force in America.
BY: Stephen Mansfield
These hallmark values and behaviors—the habits that distinguish Mormons in the minds of millions of Americans— grow naturally from Mormon doctrine. They are also the values and behaviors of successful people. Observers who think of the religion as a cult—in the Jim Jones sense that a single, dynamic leader controls a larger body of devotees through fear, lies, and manipulation—usually fail to see this. Mormon doctrine is inviting, the community it produces enveloping and elevating, the lifestyle it encourages empowering in nearly every sense. Success, visibility, prosperity, and influence follow. This is the engine of the Mormon ascent. It is what has attracted so many millions, and it is the mechanism of the Latter-day Saints’ impact upon American society and the world.
engine #1—progress: to pass the tests of life
Ask a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints what he is devoted to in this life and he will likely answer that he is intent upon pleasing his Heavenly Father and becoming like Jesus Christ. Hearing this answer, athe- ists and agnostics roll their eyes and say, “Of course, that’s the kind of thing all religious nutcases believe!” Traditional Christians, who use nearly the same language to answer the question, think this LDS Church member is keeping some- thing from us, that there is more behind his statement of faith than he is willing to reveal. It usually is not so. He’s telling us the truth, but for our purpose of understanding the Mormon impact upon America, it is the way that a Mormon seeks to please his Heavenly Father that tells the tale.
A Mormon believes he is in this world to pass tests. We’ll talk more about why he thinks this a bit later, but for now it is important for us to know that Mormons believe that this life is like an obstacle course they must master in order to qualify for what comes in eternity. It is this word qualify that should be flashing bright red on the page. Mormon rituals and doctrines are filled with the language of accomplishment and achieve- ment, possessed of the virtue of reaching goals and passing tests. Much of the terminology of Mormonism sounds like it comes from the handbook of the US Military Academy at West Point or from the textbooks of an elite MBA program.In Mormonism, the Heavenly Father does not create matter; he organizes it. Mormons are meant to do likewise: be like Heavenly Father in bringing order to the chaotic and lonely world, thus proving themselves worthy. The word orga- nize is used again and again in Mormon sacred literature†, as are terms like progress, pass the test, be found worthy, qualify, learn, make choices, prove, improve, and—unceasingly—make eternal progress. Even the Church’s magazine was once called The Improvement Era and for more than seventy years!
Laying aside the spiritual content of this vision for a moment, the fact that progress and achievement are at the heart of a Mormon’s purpose on earth helps explain why Mormons are so adept at creating, leading, and even rescuing institutions. It is what they understand themselves to be on earth to do. It is the skill set required of their divine calling, and it is nearly the same skill set necessary for real-world success. In other words, there is a direct connection between Mormon beliefs and the triumph of the Marriott Corporation. There is a direct connec- tion between Mormon theology and the remarkable success of Stephen Covey. There is an undeniable link between Mormon religious ideals and the fact that graduates of Brigham Young University are among the most sought after by the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Secret Service, andhundreds of graduate schools around the country.
Mormons make achievement through organizational management a religious virtue. It leads to prosperity, visibility, and power. It should come as no surprise, then, that an Amer- ican can turn on the evening news after a day of work and find one report about two Mormon presidential candidates, another story about a Mormon finalist on American Idol, an examination of the controversial views of a leading Mormon news commen- tator, a sports story about what a Mormon lineman does with his “Temple garments” in the NFL, and a celebration of how Mormons respond to crises like Katrina and the BP oil spill, all by a “Where Are They Now?” segment about Gladys Knight, minus the Pips, who has become—of course—a Mormon.
Mormons rise in this life because it is what their religion calls for. Achieving. Progressing. Learning. Forward, upward motion. This is the lifeblood of earthly Mormonism. Manage- ment, leadership, and organizing are the essential skills of the faith. It is no wonder that Mormons have grown so rapidly and reached such stellar heights in American culture. And there is much more to come.