Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Do You Suffer from Mormon Evangelical Syndrome?
The typical American evangelical is far more likely than the average non-evangelical to support war. Evangelicals overwhelmingly stood behind George W Bush in the War on Terror, identifying especially well with Bush's apocalyptic rhetoric, including such phrases as "ridding the world of evil", "you're either with us or you're against us", and "Operation Infinite Justice". Many evangelicals echo the sentiments of General William G Boykin, who said that George W. Bush "is in the White House because God put him there for such a time as this." Unfortunately, a lot of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were sucked in by the rhetoric, too.
Evangelicals have a foreboding sense of being under siege, being especially frustrated by such things as that prayer is not allowed in public schools, and that the Ten Commandments and Christmas Nativity scenes are not allowed to be displayed on government property. They identify strongly with being a part of the moral forces of light in a death struggle with the immoral forces of darkness. While once Communism fit the description, nowadays Islam--not just of the radical variety--is often cited as the vanguard of that darkness against which evangelicals fight. A lot of Mormons share this same sense of anxiety, but we don't need to.
Evangelicals believe that God is pro-war, and that he fights the battles of America. They wonder, in the words of evangelical preacher Mike Evans, whether or not "9/11 was a dress rehearsal for Armageddon." They imagine themselves as being the victors in that last great battle. Many Mormons share the same warped eschatological view.
Those views are not only all wrong, they are unchristlike. I can't answer for why evangelicals have developed a militant strain, but I think I know how Mormons became so much likethem.
A sense of persecution. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi, and later his son Nephi, see a vision of the Tree of Life. One of the major symbols in this vision is a "great and spacious building", from which multitudes of people look down in vaunting mockery on those "pressing forward" to learn more of Christ's gospel.
A Mighty Nation. The Book of Mormon also teaches that a mighty nation would rise up among the Gentiles (which nation we believe to be America) which would be as a nurse to the nations of the world.
The support of God for the righteous in war. In the "War Chapters" of Alma, the longest book in the Book of Mormon, God does seem to bless the righteous in battle. In story after story, the righteous Nephites are praised as being very courageous in battle, are spared death and serious injury against the wicked Lamanites and treasonous King-men. On at least one occasion, God even reveals to their prophets how and where to find and engage the enemy.
It's interesting that Mormons have several things in common with evangelicals. Unfortunately, some of our commonalities are not only unflattering, they are un-doctrinal. Here's why.
The confident faithful do not obsess with being persecuted. In the vision of the Tree of Life, those who fell away after partaking of the fruit of the tree of life were those who paid attention to the mockers in the great and spacious building. Those who paid no heed to the taunters experienced great joy and wanted to share it with others. When we are confident about our faith, we focus on the good in life and on being of good cheer rather than worrying about any scorn that may be heaped upon us for what we believe.
The "Mighty Nation" did some very dastardly things. Is America a great nation? Absolutely. Only in the United States of America could the gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through Joseph Smith. But, unfortunately, it was also the "mighty nation" that scattered and decimated the Native American population of America. Mormons often think that the "marvelous work" spoken of in the Book of Mormon, which "is likened unto [the world] being nourished by the dGentiles," was brought forth by the Mighty Nation. It was not; it was a work fulfilled by God, sometimes despite what errant behavior the Mighty Nation was involved in. Similarly, it was not just the mighty nation that acts as nurse to the world, but rather many nations helped to fulfill this role. The Mighty Nation also participated in digging a pit for those who wanted to worship God.
God abhors war. The Book of Mormon is also very explicit in teaching that war is seldom to be undertaken (and only in defense) and is never to be enjoyed. In one example, a group of warriors-cum-pacifists buried their weapons of war and vowed that under no circumstances would they ever take them up again, lest their bloodthirsty anger be rekindled and put them at enmity forever with God. Later, to prove their promise, several of them were slaughtered while offering no resistance. The greatest military leader in all Nephite history, Captain Moroni, abhorred the shedding of blood and only ever went to battle in self-defense and as a last resort.
Of all people on earth, members of the Church of Jesus Christ have the most reason to be optimistic. It makes no productive sense to have a siege mentality. We recognize that everyone--people and nations--have both their shortcomings and their positive aspects, and that God does not consider one nation "better" than others. And we realize that if God wants us to "beat our swords into plowshares" at some point that we'd be better off to start now to figure out a way to foster peace in the world.
This is not what the average evangelical fundamentalist believes. Unfortunately, even the Mormon variety. Hopefully, if you are a Mormon, you don't suffer from Mormon Evangelical Syndrome.