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The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon…
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The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant…

by Stephen Mansfield

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There can be no arguing that Mormonism is, as Newsweek put it last year, “having a moment.” But why? What has led to this? Answering questions like these is the goal of the new release by Stephen Mansfield, The Mormonizing of America (2012, Worthy Publishing). Mansfield is a former pastor. He has authored several books including: The Faith of George W. Bush, The Faith of Barack Obama, The Search for God and Guinness (reviewed here), and The Faith of the American Soldier.

In The Mormonizing of America, Mansfield gives us a sketch of the history of Mormonism, a look at their basic doctrines, and some of the challenges facing the modern Latter-Day Saints (LDS) church. He does this while managing to avoid the trap of the book simply being a negative, Mormon-bashing diatribe. He is honest about Mormonism, but he is graceful. Mansfield speaks the truth plainly and clearly, but respectfully. I think this is one of the books strongest features.

Another strong feature is how Mansfield puts Mormonism into its context. In telling LDS history, he doesn’t simply tell the odd story of its founder, Joseph Smith. He describes the historical context that helped make the religion what it is.
Frankly, the book was worth reading for its introduction. In it, the author moved past simply describing the faulty doctrines of the LDS church, and described the experience of being part of the church. I had honestly never figured out why someone would want to be part of a religion built on such a faulty view of history and outrageous theology. It isn’t about the doctrine, it is the experience.

I simply want to make three observations:


  1. Mormonism must deal honestly with history. Their history is checkered, at best. It is a past that is full of questions and concerns. Joseph Smith has been regarded as a criminal, a con-man, and a manipulator. This is true of him both before and after his revelations. It is a history of violence. It is a history of constantly changing theology. When Mormonism began, it often looked more like a radical form of Pentecostalism than the buttoned-down religion we see today. Not only do they need to deal honestly with their own history, but also with their view of world and American history. DNA evidence has proven there is no relationship between Jews and Native Americans. When Smith discovered the golden plates that contained what he translated into The Book of Mormon, he claimed the language on the plates was Reformed Egyptian. This is a supposed language that has never been discovered anywhere else in the world. And his claim that angels took the plates away when he was finished translating leaves the language unavailable for verification. He also claimed horses were in North America before Columbus when all evidence is to the contrary. Those are just some of the historical fabrications the religion was founded on.


  2. There is no authoritative LDS theology. Joseph Smith established the church. He was succeeded by Brigham Young. Young had a number of revelations that superseded Smith’s teachings. And so their doctrine has changed throughout their history. In fact, a constantly changing theology is rooted in their theology. They teach that from its earliest days the church became corrupt. When Smith had his revelations, the proper priesthood was restored. The head of the LDS church is also regarded as a prophet, and a living prophet trumps a dead prophet. By and large, members of the LDS do not know or study theology to any great extent. They are taught how to live. There are not many LDS theologians at any level. For the most part, Mormonism is an experiential religion. They do not witness based on doctrine, but on testimony.


  3. Mormonism is a uniquely American religion. This is true not just in the sense that it began here, but that it is tied into the culture and fabric of the United States. One of the reasons Mormonism is so interesting right now is the fact the Republican nominee for the office of President is an active, practicing Mormon. Many are concerned that he may take orders from Salt Lake City rather than from the United States Constitution. I find this unlikely. And if he does, the orders are not likely to conflict with the Constitution. This is because the LDS church views the United States Constitution as an inspired document, just like the Book of Mormon and the King James Version of the Bible. In fact, they view it as more accurate than the KJV Bible!



At this year’s Republican National Convention, Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan made the comment that Mitt Romney’s life has prepared him to be President. From a Mormon perspective, nothing could be truer. Mormonism builds this into its followers. Progress, family, education, and patriotism are keys to success in American culture. They are also the emphases of Mormonism.

The Mormonizing of America was a joy to read. I found it incredibly helpful in understanding the religion—not just the doctrine, but the history and culture of the LDS church. I believe that as a part of our American society, Mormonism has reached a critical mass and is here to stay. It is imperative that every Christian have some understanding of the religion of people they will encounter on a regular basis. Because Mormonism is such a religion of experience, simply pointing out flaws in its history and theology will not convert most. The only way to witness to individuals in the LDS church is to share the gospel—and to share the gospel in a loving, understanding way. This can only be done when we have some understanding of the Mormon culture. The Mormonizing of America is a great resource for this. I highly recommend it. ( )
  wjcollier3 | Nov 21, 2015 |
Bashing Joseph Smith

With two Mormon candidates for US president in this election (now only one) the Mormon Church has received an unusual amount of news coverage, much of it negative. The Mormon or LDS Church is one of the fastest growing religions with over 14 million members worldwide (about half in the United States) and there are influential and successful Mormons in American politics, business, sports, entertainment, and many other areas which makes Stephen Mansfield very nervous. He wonders how a church that was so persecuted in its early days could have become such a potent symbol of American values and ideals. And, more importantly, he wonders what it might mean if a Mormon were elected president.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which has been known historically as the Mormon Church) has long made a point of saying that its truthfulness hinges on the story of Joseph Smith. As a 14 year old boy Smith claimed to have a vision where he saw God and Jesus Christ, and that through him the gospel of Jesus Christ was "restored." This also involved the translation of The Book of Mormon, which Mormons claim as holy scripture in addition to the Bible. It follows that if Joseph Smith was a fraud, the church would be as well. But if Joseph Smith was a true prophet, then the church he established is true. As evidence they offer The Book of Mormon, and missionaries invite people all over the world to read it and pray about it.

This oft-repeated claim does not go unnoticed by the perceptive Mansfield, and he uses it as the backbone of his attack. While he can be complimentary toward current members, his "history" of Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon is a rehash of every anti-Mormon accusation regardless of merit or source. He repeatedly uses words like "fraud" and "charlatan" when describing Smith, and dismisses The Book of Mormon as boring and unsupported by evidence. (He also conveniently glosses over the fact that Joseph Smith gave his life for his cause and died as a martyr.) Instead, he lamely asserts that the incredible success of the church is due simply to its sense of community, focus on family and education, and its organization.

I tried to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume his intentions were noble, but sadly this is a very poorly-researched book that was rushed to print before the election is over and the issue fades away. Like other anti-Mormon literature, Mansfield uses second-hand quotes and takes quotes out of context to make Mormon leaders seem extra strange, and anything factual is presented in a way to support his own bias. He uses lots of short vignettes that are supposedly real conversations happening every day in "Mormon America" that mostly play on irrational fears or cast Mormons in extreme ways. He continually gets his facts about the priesthood wrong and insinuates that polygamy is still practiced by church members. He even quotes a fictional novel to suggest Mormons claim to have planted all the sunflowers in the American west. And as a long-time member of the church I've never heard some of the "common Mormon sayings" he quotes.

I might agree with Mansfield when he says too many Mormons aren't familiar *enough* with doctrines (pg 56-57), but this ignores the fact that surveys show Mormons are generally more familiar with their own doctrines than non-Mormons are with theirs. He also says the church discourages its members from studying doctrine and favors "experience over doctrines" and emphasizes a "mystical inner knowing" instead, which mostly demonstrates his own lack of familiarity with his subject. He says The Book of Mormon has been "ignored as serious literature," but he's ignoring that it was recently named among the most influential books in America.

His explanation of how Mormons "became a dominant force" is weak (again, he says it's because of an emphasis on community, family, education, etc., and urges other churches to adopt such attitudes) and he questions the continuing loyalty and patriotism of members (even though he praises such attributes). He suggests a higher level of scrutiny is necessary and that the integrity of such previously honest people isn't good enough, which is really just a shameless political jab.

I do not resent or begrudge Mansfield for not sharing my religious beliefs - that's his prerogative - but there is little that is fair or unbiased in his book. He admits "Smith has come in for quite a bashing in these pages..." (pg 210), and laughably makes pretense at scholarly writing (pg xxii) even though the notes and sources at the end of the book occupy only a few short pages. (While I was reading it someone saw the unusually large font the book is printed with and asked if I was reading a children's book.) To use Mansfield's words, this book "need not have been written." (I received this book from the publisher, and as an avid reader I deeply regret the time I have wasted on it.) ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Bashing Joseph Smith

With two Mormon candidates for US president in this election (now only one) the Mormon Church has received an unusual amount of news coverage, much of it negative. The Mormon or LDS Church is one of the fastest growing religions with over 14 million members worldwide (about half in the United States) and there are influential and successful Mormons in American politics, business, sports, entertainment, and many other areas which makes Stephen Mansfield very nervous. He wonders how a church that was so persecuted in its early days could have become such a potent symbol of American values and ideals. And, more importantly, he wonders what it might mean if a Mormon were elected president.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which has been known historically as the Mormon Church) has long made a point of saying that its truthfulness hinges on the story of Joseph Smith. As a 14 year old boy Smith claimed to have a vision where he saw God and Jesus Christ, and that through him the gospel of Jesus Christ was "restored." This also involved the translation of The Book of Mormon, which Mormons claim as holy scripture in addition to the Bible. It follows that if Joseph Smith was a fraud, the church would be as well. But if Joseph Smith was a true prophet, then the church he established is true. As evidence they offer The Book of Mormon, and missionaries invite people all over the world to read it and pray about it.

This oft-repeated claim does not go unnoticed by the perceptive Mansfield, and he uses it as the backbone of his attack. While he can be complimentary toward current members, his "history" of Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon is a rehash of every anti-Mormon accusation regardless of merit or source. He repeatedly uses words like "fraud" and "charlatan" when describing Smith, and dismisses The Book of Mormon as boring and unsupported by evidence. (He also conveniently glosses over the fact that Joseph Smith gave his life for his cause and died as a martyr.) Instead, he lamely asserts that the incredible success of the church is due simply to its sense of community, focus on family and education, and its organization.

I tried to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume his intentions were noble, but sadly this is a very poorly-researched book that was rushed to print before the election is over and the issue fades away. Like other anti-Mormon literature, Mansfield uses second-hand quotes and takes quotes out of context to make Mormon leaders seem extra strange, and anything factual is presented in a way to support his own bias. He uses lots of short vignettes that are supposedly real conversations happening every day in "Mormon America" that mostly play on irrational fears or cast Mormons in extreme ways. He continually gets his facts about the priesthood wrong and insinuates that polygamy is still practiced by church members. He even quotes a fictional novel to suggest Mormons claim to have planted all the sunflowers in the American west. And as a long-time member of the church I've never heard some of the "common Mormon sayings" he quotes.

I might agree with Mansfield when he says too many Mormons aren't familiar *enough* with doctrines (pg 56-57), but this ignores the fact that surveys show Mormons are generally more familiar with their own doctrines than non-Mormons are with theirs. He also says the church discourages its members from studying doctrine and favors "experience over doctrines" and emphasizes a "mystical inner knowing" instead, which mostly demonstrates his own lack of familiarity with his subject. He says The Book of Mormon has been "ignored as serious literature," but he's ignoring that it was recently named among the most influential books in America.

His explanation of how Mormons "became a dominant force" is weak (again, he says it's because of an emphasis on community, family, education, etc., and urges other churches to adopt such attitudes) and he questions the continuing loyalty and patriotism of members (even though he praises such attributes). He suggests a higher level of scrutiny is necessary and that the integrity of such previously honest people isn't good enough, which is really just a shameless political jab.

I do not resent or begrudge Mansfield for not sharing my religious beliefs - that's his prerogative - but there is little that is fair or unbiased in his book. He admits "Smith has come in for quite a bashing in these pages..." (pg 210), and laughably makes pretense at scholarly writing (pg xxii) even though the notes and sources at the end of the book occupy only a few short pages. (While I was reading it someone saw the unusually large font the book is printed with and asked if I was reading a children's book.) To use Mansfield's words, this book "need not have been written." (I received this book from the publisher, and as an avid reader I deeply regret the time I have wasted on it.) ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Bashing Joseph Smith

With two Mormon candidates for US president in this election (now only one) the Mormon Church has received an unusual amount of news coverage, much of it negative. The Mormon or LDS Church is one of the fastest growing religions with over 14 million members worldwide (about half in the United States) and there are influential and successful Mormons in American politics, business, sports, entertainment, and many other areas which makes Stephen Mansfield very nervous. He wonders how a church that was so persecuted in its early days could have become such a potent symbol of American values and ideals. And, more importantly, he wonders what it might mean if a Mormon were elected president.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which has been known historically as the Mormon Church) has long made a point of saying that its truthfulness hinges on the story of Joseph Smith. As a 14 year old boy Smith claimed to have a vision where he saw God and Jesus Christ, and that through him the gospel of Jesus Christ was "restored." This also involved the translation of The Book of Mormon, which Mormons claim as holy scripture in addition to the Bible. It follows that if Joseph Smith was a fraud, the church would be as well. But if Joseph Smith was a true prophet, then the church he established is true. As evidence they offer The Book of Mormon, and missionaries invite people all over the world to read it and pray about it.

This oft-repeated claim does not go unnoticed by the perceptive Mansfield, and he uses it as the backbone of his attack. While he can be complimentary toward current members, his "history" of Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon is a rehash of every anti-Mormon accusation regardless of merit or source. He repeatedly uses words like "fraud" and "charlatan" when describing Smith, and dismisses The Book of Mormon as boring and unsupported by evidence. (He also conveniently glosses over the fact that Joseph Smith gave his life for his cause and died as a martyr.) Instead, he lamely asserts that the incredible success of the church is due simply to its sense of community, focus on family and education, and its organization.

I tried to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume his intentions were noble, but sadly this is a very poorly-researched book that was rushed to print before the election is over and the issue fades away. Like other anti-Mormon literature, Mansfield uses second-hand quotes and takes quotes out of context to make Mormon leaders seem extra strange, and anything factual is presented in a way to support his own bias. He uses lots of short vignettes that are supposedly real conversations happening every day in "Mormon America" that mostly play on irrational fears or cast Mormons in extreme ways. He continually gets his facts about the priesthood wrong and insinuates that polygamy is still practiced by church members. He even quotes a fictional novel to suggest Mormons claim to have planted all the sunflowers in the American west. And as a long-time member of the church I've never heard some of the "common Mormon sayings" he quotes.

I might agree with Mansfield when he says too many Mormons aren't familiar *enough* with doctrines (pg 56-57), but this ignores the fact that surveys show Mormons are generally more familiar with their own doctrines than non-Mormons are with theirs. He also says the church discourages its members from studying doctrine and favors "experience over doctrines" and emphasizes a "mystical inner knowing" instead, which mostly demonstrates his own lack of familiarity with his subject. He says The Book of Mormon has been "ignored as serious literature," but he's ignoring that it was recently named among the most influential books in America.

His explanation of how Mormons "became a dominant force" is weak (again, he says it's because of an emphasis on community, family, education, etc., and urges other churches to adopt such attitudes) and he questions the continuing loyalty and patriotism of members (even though he praises such attributes). He suggests a higher level of scrutiny is necessary and that the integrity of such previously honest people isn't good enough, which is really just a shameless political jab.

I do not resent or begrudge Mansfield for not sharing my religious beliefs - that's his prerogative - but there is little that is fair or unbiased in his book. He admits "Smith has come in for quite a bashing in these pages..." (pg 210), and laughably makes pretense at scholarly writing (pg xxii) even though the notes and sources at the end of the book occupy only a few short pages. (While I was reading it someone saw the unusually large font the book is printed with and asked if I was reading a children's book.) To use Mansfield's words, this book "need not have been written." (I received this book from the publisher, and as an avid reader I deeply regret the time I have wasted on it.) ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
The Restoration movement is a subject that fascinates me. I read a lot about the LDS and other groups within the movement, and I never tire of it. I should point out at the start that I'm not a member of any Restoration denomination and generally take no side on the good or bad of Mormonism. However, I do like a good story. This book, which attempts to explain the current "Mormon moment" and how it will continue and develop, is very good. It's well written, persuasively argued, and filled with information (some of which I wasn't aware of). [a:Stephen Mansfield|14035|Stephen Mansfield|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1297787925p2/14035.jpg] makes his case as to why this "Mormon moment" has developed, and presents well-thought arguments for how it can grow into mainstream acceptance of the LDS church. Living on the edge of the Bible Belt as I do, I'm not sure there will be any such acceptance in the near future, but it is possible. I was particularly impressed with Mansfield's argument that Mormonism is a religious distillation of the best of the Jacksonian democracy of the early nineteenth century. It's one I haven't heard before, and I find it particularly appealing.

So, if it's a good, well-written and persuasive book why did I rate it as low as I did? It's also a somewhat confusing book. In my experience, there's two kinds of popular books about Mormonism. The first kind does nothing but praise the church, is very sanitized (glossing over any oddities present or past), and is generally written by members or church authorities. The second is extremely critical, pointing out all the past and current faults of the church and its leadership, going all the way back to Joseph Smith, and is usually by someone with a personal grudge or a theological investment in attacking the church. This book is unusual in pointing out a lot of the problems in church history, theology and politics, while at the same time presenting an overall positive picture of the LDS faithful. At times, I couldn't tell where the author was coming from. So my rating is probably more related to the fact that I like to know the position of a writer than it is to the book itself. I can fully recommend the book to anyone interested in American history, religious history, current events, or the Restoration movement in general. It's a great addition to the growing body of popular Restoration studies, and I look forward to more books like this in the future. ( )
  grothenberger | Apr 11, 2013 |
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Examines the growing popularity of Mormonism--a belief system with cultic roots--and the implications of its critical rise as not only the fastest-growing religion, but as a high-impact mainstream cultural influence.

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