A few weeks ago two Evangelical scholars authored “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason,” an op-ed at the New York Times lamenting the fact that the Republican primary race “has become a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism.” While the Mormons in the race, Romney and Huntsman, were described as “the two candidates who espouse the greatest support for science,” the discussion still invites the LDS reader to reflect a bit on whether there is a similar strain of LDS anti-intellectualism evident in LDS culture if not in LDS presidential candidates.
What might give us pause is the description in the article of three prominent Evangelical leaders who typify the anti-intellectual approach. One has built a young-earth museum depicting humans and dinosaurs living together sometime during Earth’s 10,000 year existence; the second presents a history of America in which “the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation”; the third “has insisted for decades that homosexuality is a choice and that gay people could ‘pray away’ their unnatural and sinful orientation.”
While there are sometimes disagreements about what LDS doctrine does or doesn’t say about these subjects, the present position of the Church avoids the Evangelical/fundamentalist traps discussed in the article.
- Science students at BYU study evolution, not Creationism or Intelligent Design.
- While the LDS view of history sees the US Constitution and its guarantees of religious freedom as inspired, the Church does not embrace nativist thinking and has recently issued a statement calling for “a balanced and civil approach” to immigration.
- The Church does not presently take an official position on the origin or explanation of homosexuality: in the Same Gender Attraction statement, Elder Oaks said “these are scientific questions.”
The dedicated LDS critic could, of course, dig up statements from earlier LDS leaders that called evolution a heresy or that offered a questionable reconstruction of US history. But it is not Brigham Young or Reed Smoot or even George Romney that are running for president this year, it is Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. This is 2011 and if we are going to talk about LDS doctrine, it is present LDS doctrine that is the topic of discussion. In his interfaith writing, Robert L. Millet has regularly emphasized this point. In his article “What Is Our Doctrine?” he recounted a conversation with a Baptist minister who was genuinely puzzled about how to properly identify LDS doctrinal positions. Here is Millet’s response, which I’ll quote at length because it seems relevant to the sort of doctrinal angst that is regularly aired in the Bloggernacle:
1. The teachings of the Church today have a rather narrow focus, range, and direction; central and saving doctrine is what we are called upon to teach and emphasize, not tangential and peripheral teachings.
2. Very often what is drawn from Church leaders of the past is, like the matter of blood atonement mentioned above, either misquoted, misrepresented, or taken out of context. Further, not everything that was ever spoken or written by a past Church leader is a part of what we teach today. Ours is a living constitution, a living tree of life, a dynamic Church (see D&C 1:30). We are commanded to pay heed to the words of living oracles (see D&C 90:3–5).
3. In determining whether something is a part of the doctrine of the Church, we might ask, Is it found within the four standard works? Within official declarations or proclamations? Is it discussed in general conference or other official gatherings by general Church leaders today? Is it found in the general handbooks or approved curriculum of the Church today? If it meets at least one of these criteria, we can feel secure and appropriate about teaching it.
A significant percentage of anti-Mormonism focuses on Church leaders’ statements of the past that deal with peripheral or noncentral issues. No one criticizes us for a belief in God, in the divinity of Jesus Christ or His atoning work, in the literal bodily resurrection of the Savior and the eventual resurrection of mankind, in baptism by immersion, in the gift of the Holy Ghost, in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and so forth.
So is religious anti-intellectualism an Evangelical problem but not an LDS problem? Or did we just get lucky by having two pro-science LDS candidates in the spotlight this year?