In light of the sensationalist press coverage of Mormon fundamentalism, the LDS Church is eager to disassociate itself from more traditional forms of Mormonism.
Whatever the historical and theological relationship between mainstream and fundamentalist Mormonism may be, there is, of course, a big difference between the LDS and the FLDS churches: The LDS Church submits to the sovereignty of the American people.
That’s why mainstream Mormons do no longer practice polygamy, which allows LDS Mormons to participate in American social life and reap the benefits of the market economy.
Hobbled by the laws of a liberal democracy, the LDS Church is much more mellow and less abusive. By contrast, the FLDS Church models what Mormonism might be like if it had been left to its own devices: a community controlled by the whims of semi-educated men who isolate their followers and interfere in intimate family affairs.
Recognizing the difference in the daily lives of mainstream and fundamentalist Mormons, gives me a measure of appreciation of the federal government’s influence on our religion. The greatest presidents for Mormonism were not Joseph Smith and Brigham Young but Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Republican party emerged to confront the “twin evils of barbarism” slavery and polygamy. Eliminating the cornerstone of female subjugation in Mormonism, Lincoln’s agenda would ultimately subjugate the Mormon prophet to the rule of law.
This web site shows that many members enjoyed a modicum of protection from priesthood abuse, Mormonism became more humane and the Mormon leadership became more effective.
Although LDS leaders like Heber Grant aggressively opposed the New Deal, the LDS Church would not have become an organization of such wealth had it not been for the resurrection of the middle class, which rested on the progressive income tax, public investment into infrastructure, and the right of employees to organize unions.
Thanks to Franklin Roosevelt, Mormons could afford to pay tithing during the fifties and sixties, which would finance the LDS Church’s consolidation and expansion. Reaganism, by contrast, characterizes an era where convert retention would collapse because we are now reduced to targeting primarily poor people for conversion. There is more to missionary work than American political economy but upward mobility, clearly, provides special opportunities for a missionary church.
Finally, had Roosevelt not united the American people to assert American power globally, Mormon outreach efforts abroad would have been much less privileged.
If one looks at the big picture, it becomes clear that Mormonism prospered to a large degree because the United States government imposed its blessings against the will of our leaders.
To appreciate the consequences, one only needs to compare LDS social life with that of our fundamentalist cousins.
Lord Acton’s response to papal claims of infallibility applies equally to Mormonism: Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
While Mormon prophets have never invoked infallibility, they have expected and enforced compliance. More often than not, such campaigns have done more damage than benefit to Mormonism, on occasion at the expense of basic decency and humanity.
Thanks to Abraham Lincoln and his Republican heirs, the rule of law shields mainstream Mormonism from its worst self-destructive and abusive aspects.
The Brethren deserve credit for acknowledging the sovereignty of the American people, which bestows the benefits of the rule of law on Mormons. Most of the credit belongs, however, to the United States Constitution, which empowers secular government to spare us the worst implications of our theology.