Mormons and Modernismn”So pale grows Reason at Religion’s sight,nSo dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light. “n—John DrydennLeonard Arrington; Biigham Young:nAmerican Moses; Alfred A. Knopf;nNew York.nRichard L. Bushman; Joseph Smithnand the Beginnings of Mormonism;nUniversity of lUinois Press; Urbana,nIL.nJan Shipps: Mormonism: The Storynof a New Religious Tradition;nUniversity of IlHnois Press; Urbana,nIL.nErnest H. Taves: Trouble Enough:nJoseph Smith and the Book ofnMormon; Prometheus Books;nBuffalo, NY.nLeo Tolstoy called Mormonismn”the American religion” and ascribednto it the potential of becoming anworld power, But the “Mormon”nChurch — properly, the Church oFnJesus’Christ of Latter-day Saints — isntoday still not a major world religion,nand its status in America has beennproblematic from the beginning. Earlynon, persecution persuaded the Mormonsnto leave the United States fornMexican territory. But even beforenthe’ reached their Rocky Mountainnretreat, the Mexican War changed thenboundaries and brought the Latter-daynSaints back under the red, white, andnblue. The subsequent conflict withnFederal authorities over polygamy andnthe political power of Church leadersnwas intense. Federal officials actuallynseized all Church property in the laten1800’s. But after Church leadersnended the practice of polygamy inn1890 and withdrew from politics, persecutionnfinalh’ ceased, and Mormonsnbegan to take their place in modernnAmerica.nSpecifying just where that “place”nnow is, though, is not easy. Geographically,nthe popular perception of Mor-nBryce Christensen is assistant editornof Chronicles of Culture.n81 CHRONICLES OF CULTUREnby Bryce Christensennmonism as a “Utah Church” is nonlonger accurate: only about a fifth ofnthe Church’s fie million membersnnow live in Utah, and almost half livenoutside of the U.S. and Canada. Identifyingnthe Church’s position withinnthe contemporary American religiousnspectrum is even more difficult. Onnsocial issues. Mormons seem to havenfound a spot within the “religiousnright”: a Mormon senator and bishop,nOrrin Hatch, has been a leader in thenantiabortion fight; Gloria Steinem hasncalled the President of the LDSnChurch the single most importantn”Has the day of miraclesnceased? Or have angelsnceased to appear unto thenchildren of men? Or has henwithheld the power of thenHoly Ghost from them? Ornwill he, so long as timenshall last, or the earthnshall stand, or there shallnbe one man upon the facenthereof to be saved?nBehold I say unto you,nNay.”n—The Book of Mormonnman in the defeat of the ERA; andnJerry Falwell identifies Mormons asnone of five groups whose views makenthem natural members of his MoralnMajority. Given the Church’s historynof polygamy, there is considerablenirony in Southern fundamentalists’nasking Mormons to help in defendingntraditional morality. There is irony,ntoo, when descendants of secessionistsnask the great-grandchildren of wouldbenemigrants to join in the cause ofnpatriotism.nBesides these ironies, there is considerablentension within these tacticalnalliances. For religious conservativesnusually take doctrine — not justnmorality—seriously, and LDS doc­nnntrine diverges sharply from that ofnmainstream Christianity. Many Christiansnconsider Mormons heretics,nwhile some even call them non-nChristian. Jan Shipps, a non-Mormonnprofessor of religious studies at IndiananUniversity, concludes her insightfulnanalysis of the faith with the judgmentnthat because Mormons accept thenBible and worship Jesus Christ as thenonly Savior of mankind, their Churchnmust be regarded as “a form of corporatenChristianity.” Yet she observesnthat Mormonism does not fit in any ofnthe “standard categories” used for classihingnother Christian groups. Mormonismnis decidedly a “new religiousntradition,” one that “differs from traditionalnChristianity in much the samenway that traditional Christianit}’ . . .ncame to differ from Judaism.”nTo clarify just what Shipps means, itnis necessary to enter the littie-knownnworld of Mormon doctrine and history.nBoth begin with Joseph Smith, anraw farm boy born in ‘ermont in 1805nbut raised in upstate New York. Beginningnat the age of 14, the young Josephnwas to claim spiritual experiences of annextraordinary sort. Confused aboutnwhich church to join, he claimed tonhave learned in a vision of the Fathernand Son that all existing churchesnwere apostate and that he would be thenLord’s instrument for restoring Christ’snchurch to the earth. Three years laternhe claimed to have been visited by annangel named Moroni, who told him ofnburied gold plates upon whiefi wasninscribed a history of God’s dealingsnwith ancient inhabitants of the New-nWorld. Published in 1830 as a miraculousntranslation of that record. ThenBook of Mormon told of a group ofnIsraelites who were led to the Americasnby the prophet Lehi shortiy before thenfall of Jerusalem in 600 B.C. Once innthe Western hemisphere, this groupnsplit into a barbarous, infidel nation,nthe Lamanites, and a civilized, religiousnpeople, the Nephites. Visited bynthe resurrected Jesus Christ after Hisnascension from Palestine, the Nephitesneventually desert the faith, however,nand are destroyed by the Lamanites,nleaving behind only their sacrednrecord.nBut The Book of Mormon markedn