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The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture

The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture

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by Stephen Mansfield

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Stephen Mansfield, the acclaimed New York Times best-selling author, has highlighted the growing popularity of Mormonism—a belief system with cultic roots—and the implications of its critical rise. Mormons are moving into the spotlight in pop culture, politics, sports, and entertainment via presidential candidates like Romney and Huntsman, media


Stephen Mansfield, the acclaimed New York Times best-selling author, has highlighted the growing popularity of Mormonism—a belief system with cultic roots—and the implications of its critical rise. Mormons are moving into the spotlight in pop culture, politics, sports, and entertainment via presidential candidates like Romney and Huntsman, media personality Glenn Beck, mega-bestselling Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, and The Book of Mormon, the hottest show on Broadway. Mormonism was once a renegade cult at war with the U.S. Army in the 1800s, but it has now emerged as not only the fastest-growing religion, but as a high-impact mainstream cultural influence.

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The Mormonizing of America

How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture

By Stephen Mansfield


Copyright © 2012 Stephen Mansfield
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61795-109-1



I have trouble getting my head around the Mormons.... The history strikes me somewhere between incredulity and horror, from golden plates in upstate New York to massacres out West. The theology comes across as totally barmy. We can become gods with our own planets! And the practices strike me as creepy. No coffee and tea is bad enough. But the underwear!

—Michael Ruse, philosopher

Hugh Riddick has been preparing for this conversation with his grandson almost his entire life. It is a conversation fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandsons have been having in his family for most of the 180-year history of the Latter-day Saints. Now, Hugh will have a chance to help prepare a new generation of Riddicks for the true priesthood of God—just as soon as young Jacob cleans up from his baseball game.

Jacob Riddick is thirteen and tomorrow he will take his first steps toward priesthood. His father was a priest, Hugh—his grandfather—is a priest, and so it has been since Brigham Young led the Saints. This is what it means to be a male member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is what it means to be a Mormon man.

Hugh would have been happy to hear about this conversation secondhand. He would rather that his own son, David, had been here to guide Jacob. But David had chosen to be a US Marine. It was what he wanted to be from the time he was a little boy and Hugh was never able to change his mind. Perhaps he should not have tried. David was a "warrior's warrior," they said, and he rose rapidly in the ranks. That's what landed him in Iraq at the forefront of Operation Phantom Fury during the Second Battle of Fallujah. Command knew that he would lead well. And he did, but David was killed on the third day, November 11, 2004—Veteran's Day. Each year since, that flag-waving, parade-filled holiday has tortured Hugh Riddick and his wife.

Now, though, Hugh is sitting on his back porch enjoying the cool breeze off the pond and waiting for Jacob. When the boy appears, he does not look anything like anyone's image of a priest. He's wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt, his hair is wet and slicked back, and he has a slight bluish mustache from the powdered drink he's been guzzling. He sits down in a rocker, crosses his legs Indian-style in the seat, and takes another sip of his drink. Hugh just smiles. He knows that in spiritual things, appearances do not matter.

"How'd it go, sport?"

"We won. Wasn't that hard. They pretty much caved."

"I see. How'd you hit?"

"Two doubles and thrown out at first."

"Good! Nice going. Any RBIs?"

"Just one. And just barely, 'cause Danny Tomkins is so stinking slow!"

"Oh, I remember him. Runs like he's carrying a ton of bricks. Well, good job batting him in, buddy. Okay, you ready to talk?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you know what's going to happen tomorrow, Jacob?"

"Of course, Pawpaw. I'm going to become a deacon."

"Yes. That's right. And do you understand what that means?"

"It's the first step to becoming a priest. It means that one day I'm going to be part of the priesthood that Heavenly Father restored in the time of Joseph Smith. It means I'm being prepared to receive priesthood authority."

"You've been listening closely to Elder Clarke, haven't you? That's right: tomorrow you will become a deacon. Do you know what that word really means?"

"Uh, I think I do. It means, like, servant or someone who takes care of something, right?"

"That's it. Perfect. It means someone who serves. And after you're ordained, you will be allowed to serve by passing out the bread and the water in the sacrament meetings and serving the priesthood leaders in various ways and helping keep the meeting house in order and so on, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"And then what?"

"Well, if I prove myself, in a couple of years I may be able to become a teacher. Then I can fill the sacramental trays and go with someone on home teaching visits and stuff like that. Then, maybe a couple of years after that, if I qualify, I can be a priest."

"Good. That's pretty much right. And all this is part of what? Do you know?"

"The Aaronic Priesthood, right?"

"Yes. Good, but Jacob, I don't want these just to be words to you. I want you to understand how much all this means. Not long after Jesus Christ lived on earth, the church lost its authority. It was corrupt and had warped doctrine. And so for centuries the Christian church was in darkness and chaos. It was a horrible time and Heavenly Father was deeply displeased. Then, finally, priesthood authority was restored. And you know about all that, right? You know that story?"

"Yes, sir. About the visitations from John the Baptist and Peter and James and John?"

"Yes, very good. So it is important for you to understand that this is all very important. Latter Day Saints died for this gift, Jacob. Your ancestors were slaughtered at places like Haun's Mill and Carthage for having this gift. You were determined for this before you came to this world. This is how Heavenly Father's plan for you is to unfold and how you become what you are made to be for all eternity. I'm hoping you progress on to the Melchizedek Priesthood and then, perhaps, to high priest and even further from there."

Jacob looks out at the pond. Hugh thinks perhaps he has given the boy more than he can absorb, but then he notices that Jacob's eyes are moist.

"Pawpaw," the boy says in a fractured voice, "what kind of priest was my dad?"

Hugh has to look away from Jacob to answer. The searching in the boy's eyes is too much. "He was going to be given the Melchizedek Priesthood when he came home, Jacob. He died before he could receive it."

Jacob ponders this for a few moments and then says, "I want to be whatever he couldn't be because he died, Pawpaw. I want to make it to the level he would have reached and then do it for him."

Hugh is too moved by this to speak. Jacob, seeing his grandfather's emotion, sets down his drink, gets up from his chair, and puts his arms around the man he loves most in the world.

"You make me proud, Jacob," Hugh says through tears, holding his grandson tightly. "Yes, do it for your daddy and all the Riddicks. And do it for the Latter-day Saints."

* * *

It is one of the great ironies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that while outsiders perceive it largely in terms of its unusual doctrines, the Saints see themselves in a completely different light. The outer world focuses, for example, on matters like polygamy. "Holy underwear" is also a favorite topic, as is their aspiration to divinity and their belief that God was once a man. The century and a half they banned blacks from their Temple and priesthood is much discussed. So is the iron-fisted rule from LDS headquarters at Salt Lake City's Temple Square. The Mormon opposition to California's Proposition 8 has made them look homophobic, their insistence upon being baptized for Jewish Holocaust survivors has made them look cruel, and their standard missionary presentation has made them look mindlessly robotic. All of these novelties frame the perceptions of Mormons in the wider world.

Ask a Saint about any of these, though, and an expression of confusion will likely flash fleetingly across his face. He knows that each is part of the Mormon matrix but he likely does not think of any as vital. Doctrine is not primary for him; experience is. The prophecies and the ordinances and the revelations from Heavenly Father are what make up his religion. Most of the doctrines so often discussed in the press are at the edge of his experience and are rarely on his mind.

Let him speak for a moment about his own Mormon experience and a far different picture will likely emerge. He may very well talk about what home teaching is like and how dear the community of the Saints has become. He'll likely describe, even with tears, how he's raising his children to be holy. If he is trusting, he will tell of the time he was sick and a priesthood blessing made him well. He may even speak, loosely, of his sealing to his wife for time and all eternity and of the endowment ceremony he has gone through. He will not give details, of course, but he will still make his point. It is not the doctrines that have won him. He sometimes isn't even sure what all of them are. It's the supernatural empowering of a holy community that is most important to him.

This is the great disconnect between how Mormons understand themselves and then how the rest of the world perceives them. It is easy to see the Latter-day Saints as extremists drawn to extreme teachings, as the descendants of a nineteenth-century cult who are now trying to give their scraggly batch of doctrines a modern, high-tech, public relations overhaul. Whatever truth there may be in this, it misses the central point of Mormonism as Mormons themselves try to live it. And this, in the end, is the version of Mormonism that is going to prevail in the coming century—the version the Saints are living out while asking others to join them.

* * *

What Matters to a Mormon

For a Latter-day Saint, the heart of Mormonism is the restoration of priesthood authority. It is impossible to overstate this. At the core of everything Saintly is the unshakable belief that something lost for centuries was restored through Joseph Smith. It is now present in the modern world. It is present only through the LDS Church. It is what all men will ultimately need.

Mormons believe that the pure Christianity of Jesus Christ lasted only a short while after Jesus left this life. The Christian church quickly became unrighteous and corrupt, and it stayed that way until around 1830. In other words, for centuries the Christian church was a perverse shell of what was intended. Then came Joseph Smith. He not only gave the world the Book of Mormon, but he also received, along with a man named Oliver Cowdery, the restoration of the true priesthood of God. Mormons speak of this as a restoration of "priesthood authority," which they believe was given in two defining appearances by glorified human beings: an appearance by John the Baptist and an appearance by the apostles Peter, John, and James. In these appearances or "visitations," the only real priesthood was restored—to Mormons.

This means that when someone asks, "Where has the great age of miracles and revelation gone?" The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says, "It is here, right now, with us." What Mormons believe they have in this "priesthood authority" is the ability to "bring Jesus Christ into people's lives" through "ordinances." It is the ability to give the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to have revelations, to bless, to dedicate, and even to heal. In other words, it is the supernatural power to do the "great works" that were done before the Christian church went astray.

* * *

The Heart of the Faith

Of course, the nonreligious think this is crazy. The traditional Christian thinks it is devilish. The Jew thinks it is evidence of a stolen legacy. And nearly non-Mormon thinks it is fruit of an astonishing Mormon arrogance.

Still, it is one of the most important truths we can know about what Mormonism is. Despite Joseph Smith's many doctrinal innovations, Mormonism is not primarily about doctrine. It is about the experience of a restored supernatural power, the all-important matter of "priesthood authority." This was what Smith built upon. It is what early Mormons sought. It is still at the heart of the faith. It is what outsiders most misunderstand.

Though it is risky to make the comparison, the best illustration of this vital truth is found in the thinking of the Prophet Muhammad, whom Joseph Smith deeply admired. For a man living in the sixth century, Muhammad was well traveled. His occupation for many years was leading caravans that crossed the known world carrying goods from place to place. This brought the future prophet into contact with nearly all the religions of his day. He likely sat by the campfires of Jews and Christians of every type and heard them talk about what they believed. He admired them both, but their factions and theological divisions disturbed him. Jews rallied around their rabbis and Christians rallied around their favorite theologies and even slew each other over seemingly slight doctrinal matters. Muhammad found it all too complex, too contentious. When he began claiming to have revelations and when this set him to the task of designing a new religion, he decided that simplicity was the key. It should be simple to get into the faith and simple to understand the main doctrines of the faith. The more difficult matter would be actually living it out.

The simplicity of Islam has historically been part of its power. A man enters Islam largely through a one-sentence confession, the Shahadah—"There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet"—and then understands the core of Islam with "Five Pillars" that describe his duties and "Six Articles of Faith" that describe his beliefs. This is the heart of Islam. And the genius. Islam conquered a huge portion of the known world in the first hundred years of its existence partially through the power of the sword and partially through the simplicity of its system. In this matter of simplicity, Islam was to religion what McDonald's is to food: easily remembered, easily consumed, easily replicated.

Though Mormons won't necessarily feel complimented by the comparison, Joseph Smith was much like Muhammad in this popularizing, simplifying work. Dr. Kathryn Flake, a Mormon who is also an esteemed professor at Vanderbilt University, has said, "Joseph Smith was the Henry Ford of revelation. He wanted every home to have one, and the revelation he had in mind was the revelation he'd had, which was seeing God."2 Dr. Flake is referring to the same dynamic in the intent of Joseph Smith that we've seen in the doctrinal system of Muhammad. Though Mormonism appears complex to the outsider, it was actually an attempt to be something like the McDonald's of American religion.

Smith lived at a time of great spiritual upheaval, excitement, and division—as we'll see in the next chapter. Like Muhammad, he was put off by the constant bickering in Christianity. He claimed revelations in which he was told that all churches were corrupt, that none of them had the truth, and that none were worth joining. He wanted his "true Church" to move beyond everything that led to the infighting and destruction he had seen among Christians. This created the Mormonism we know today.

The faith of the Saints evolved by prophecy rather than by doctrine. Smith was opposed to creeds. He thought they were little more than invitations to a fight. As a result, today it is difficult to find a definitive, systematic statement of what Mormons believe produced by the Mormons themselves. By their critics? Yes. By Mormons? No. He also thought that a paid clergy is an abomination—he called them "hireling priests" who would "feed themselves, not the flock"—so most Mormon leaders are unpaid volunteers. They are also untrained theologically. The study of doctrine is surprisingly informal in the Church. As a result, there is little place for professional theologians among the Saints, unlike some denominations in which the theologians almost outnumber the members. And though there are dozens of titles a male Mormon can wear—from deacon to bishop, from high priest to president—none of them come with any academic requirements.

All of this stems from the fact that Joseph Smith was focused more on what a man does than on what he believes. He was interested in spiritual experience, not theories about the spiritual. He wanted revelations, not theologies; an open heaven, not just open books. "Deeds, not creeds," the Saints often say, and this is the intentional legacy of Joseph Smith.

The result is that while the outside world naturally identifies Mormons by the doctrinal oddities they have accrued through the years, Mormons think of themselves in terms of priesthood authority and the sacred life they share together as a result of this grand restoration.

* * *

The Mormons and the Media

Nowhere in American society does this create an occasion of people talking past each other as when it comes to the media pursuing a prominent Mormon.

Reporters naturally want to find something controversial about this visible person, so they ask about holy underwear. But the Mormon won't answer this question directly. He's offended by the phrase "holy underwear"—it is properly called a "Temple garment"—and he won't talk about Temple rituals in any case because they are far too sacred. Besides, betraying Temple rituals is forbidden.


Excerpted from The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield. Copyright © 2012 Stephen Mansfield. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen Mansfield is a writer and speaker best known for his groundbreaking books on the role of religion in history, leadership, and modern culture. He first came to international attention with The Faith of George W. Bush, the New York Times bestseller that influenced Oliver Stone’s film, W. His book The Faith of Barack Obama was another international bestseller. He has written celebrated biographies of Booker T. Washington, George Whitefield, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln, among others. Stephen speaks around the world on topics of faith, leadership, and culture. He is also the founder of two firms: The Mansfield Group (MansfieldGroup.com) and Chartwell Literary Group (ChartwellLiterary.com). He lives in Nashville and in Washington, DC,with his wife, Beverly, who is an award-winning songwriter and producer.

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The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
ChatWithVera More than 1 year ago
First of all, I found that this was not a deep nor controversial book written as a theological expose of Mormonism. It is a clearly written and, I believe, thoroughly researched and documented write dealing with the "birth" of the Mormon religion here in America, what the Mormon writings and individuals actually say and speak of themselves, and the achievement of many who hold to the Religion of Mormonism as their faith in he areas politics, military, arts and entertainment, high business positions, and creation and ownership in mammoth business holdings. Stephen Mansfield has written an easy to understand book that is of timely importance to us at this juncture in American history. We have an accomplished politician, business man, family man, and leader in the Mormon church seeking the highest office in the land - that of President of the United States. Therefore, it would bode well for each of us to understand somewhat about the inner workings of this man an the things he holds dear in his heart , mind, and life. For they will affect his leadership skills and decisions if he should be chosen to lead this nation just as they have shaped his life up to this point in time. There are roughly 2% of the population of the United States who are declared Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Yet that 2% is now in position to wield influence in many areas of life on a day to day basis. They achieve because their religion calls for them to achieve. It is in their belief system. Theirs is a doctrine to be ever moving forward, progressing, and advancing in education. They are bred to manage and to lead because if they do it on this earth, they will surely do well in the afterlife on other earths. It has long been understood by anyone who has studied anything about the beginnings of this religious system, that it has been highly controversial and created strife and ultimate banishment. Their belief in polygamy (though some still practice it, the majority claim it is no longer a practice). Their belief that Africa-Americans are banned from belief - though that, too, changed. And yet, they usually produce model citizens who are productive, well-behaved, healthy, achievers. The media is proclaiming that a "Mormon Moment" has arrived. They (Mormons) have a candidate for President of the United States. They (Mormons) are receiving good, popular press on individuals who are in the spotlight - including Glen Beck, newscaster. Included in Mansfield's book. Background on Joseph Smith (LDS Church founder) giving his family background, what shaped his life, etc. How he found the Golden Plates and translated them. The evolution of Mormon religious tradition, the Book of Mormon, and credibility relating to Smith and the Book of Mormon. Their belief as to the origins of the American Indians. Pictures of key individuals and places. Controversy and violence between the LDS Church and Christian groups historically. A timeline following the birth and growth of Mormonism. I appreciate the easy to read style in which Mr. Mansfield has prepared this work. I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest opinion which I have given unreservedly.
mojo_turbo More than 1 year ago
Stephen Mansfield is a New York Timesbestselling author and a popular speaker who is becoming one of this generation’s most respected voices on religion and modern culture. He is also an advisor to leaders around the world, an activist in a variety of social causes and a regular commentator on the FOX and CNN news networks. His latest book, The Mormonization of America is a powerful “mini-history lesson” on the Mormon religion. Each page is backed by up-to-date research, personal anecdotes, and sixteen pages of photographs. Mansfield examines the influence of the LDS church–past, present, and future. He debunks common myths, expounds on the Church’s beliefs, and unveils many of the mysteries surrounding this influential religion and its loyal members. For instance did you know that only 2% of America is Mormon? That’s roughly the number of people who subscribe to a magazine or who are fans of a hit TV show. In the entire world, there are only about 14 million Mormons. And for most of us, I would say that the Mormons are just one of those things we all know exists, but unless we have sat down to examine it, we are not really sure what they are all about. First of all, they like to be called “Later day Saints” or “LDS” for short. And at the heart of your typical LDS is the idea that their faith is about the restoration of the priesthood. They literally believe that the LDS franchise is the continuation of the levitical priesthood that began with Aaron. Mansfield spends much of his book discussing the roots of the LDS faith with it’s founder Joseph Smith. The organization today would argue that where they are “now” supersedes where they started, but Mansfield disagrees. The Mormon group is famous for being able to re-write history to fit their needs and so taking a glance back at the “founder of the faith” is a great place to see where the bedrock of this practice stands. If you’d like an indepth read on Joseph Smith, Mansfield recommends “No Man Knows My Story” by Fawn Brodie. The Mormon boys will tell you that Mormonism was born because the entire church was apostate. No church or Christian was following the true teachings of Christ anymore and so Joseph Smith began to have visions and began to receive word that he would become a prophet and the patriarch a new “American” Christianity. I guess the Mormon church does not recognize the Christians who adopted abandoned children from the Romans, or Telemachus who was martyred when he tried to stop the Roman games. The Mormons don’t believe Celtic monks who sheltered the mentally ill or who built hospitals were faithful and they probably don’t recognize St Francis of Assisi, or Martin Luther or Isaac Watts or any one of the men and women through Christian history up until Joseph Smith was born in 1805. The LDS faith was given life because Joseph Smith didn’t see a righteous church in his little neck of Vermont. And more than likely Joseph Smith read a work of fiction called “The View of the Hebrews” (which came out in 1825) and he plagiarized it and published it 5 years later as a “Bible” in 1830. This is a great primer for anyone who wants to lean more about the Mormons.
MRCROCCO More than 1 year ago
Eye-opening moments This was my first book read about Mormons and my first book read by author, Stephen Mansfield. With the current political situation in America, I was intrigued when the publisher asked me to read and review, The Mormonizing of America. Skeptical, I approached the book with doubts, thinking it would be filled with the authors biased opinions and his version of facts. Completing the book, I was pleasantly surprised that the opposite was true. I’m not claiming to believe everything I read as absolute fact; however, it became clear immediately that Mansfield wrote, The Mormonizing of America, to enlighten not to preach to his readers. I’m embarrassed to admit the amount of previous knowledge I had acquired in my lifetime about the Mormon religion. I knew the basics and never desired to expand my education. The Mormonizing of America, being filled with information and presented in a clear and concise writing style, enabled me to be receptive; hence I enjoyed the book considerably. The history was fascinating. What scant knowledge I earlier possessed and anything I had questioned about the Mormons, the religion, the church, and the leaders, was answered beautifully by Mansfield. I didn’t feel he was being condescending, yet quite the opposite as I continued reading. I noted passages throughout the book and enjoyed my eye-opening moments. The Chronology from 600 BC to 1904 was an asset, also the Beliefs in Plain Language. The Appendix A, stating Joseph Smith’s Articles of Faith, and Appendix B, noting the Surprising Quotes from Mormon Leaders were appreciated. Given all the information, this was just the tip of the iceberg regarding the subject of the Mormon religion. The purpose of, The Mormonizing of America, was timely, being we currently have a Mormon who is running for the presidency. This is the perfect book for readers to get a feel for the Mormon life and beliefs of Mitt Romney. I filled in so many blanks, from Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates, to why the Mormons are so successful today. It’s amazing to go from being persecuted to running for the office of president of the U.S. Mansfield explained that Mormons have outstripped their leaders and their extreme doctrines. As long as they fulfill the conditions of their faith, they will ascend in American society. I recommend The Mormonizing of America, by Stephen Mansfield, for readers of all ages who are curious about the Mormon history and the life of Mormons.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The U.S. army attacked the mormons, thank you.