A chatty post at the This Week in Mormons site, “Americanisms in a Global Mormon Church,” recounts a few of those Americanisms: Scouting, patriotic music in the LDS hymnal, women wearing (or not) pants to church. At a deeper level, the LDS Church has self-consciously embedded itself in the American myth. Consider “The Divinely Inspired Constitution” by Elder Oaks (1992) or “The Constitution: A Glorious Standard” by Elder Benson (1976). The notion that only in the USA could the gospel of Jesus Christ have possibly been restored is part of the Restoration story. Few American Saints really notice the extent to which the Church has Americanized the gospel of Jesus Christ, but non-American Latter-day Saints certainly do. Quietly filtering out overtly American elements of the gospel that just don’t work in a foreign land and culture may solve some of the inevitable difficulties. Is that enough?
For a deeper discussion of this issue, we really need to start at the beginning. First, acknowledge that we have a thoroughly Americanized gospel. You can’t really weigh the merits or consider changes until you acknowledge the issue. Second, decide whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I suspect many LDS, if forced to expressly acknowledge the extent to which the Church expounds an Americanized gospel, would quickly respond that’s a feature, not a bug. Finally, if one both acknowledges the extent of the problem and holds that it is a problem rather than a feature, then a discussion of remedies can begin. What would a less Americanized version of the LDS gospel look like? How much local variation is desirable for a global church, and how much local variation can a highly correlated LDS Church tolerate in 2016?
I expect readers have plenty of examples to offer, both positive and negative. In a nutshell, I would answer the three questions as follows: Yes, it’s an Americanized gospel; yes, it’s a problem for an increasingly global church; and yes, there are things we can do to improve the situation. But who cares what I think? To actually produce positive change, that acknowledgement needs to spread to the general membership and LDS leaders. We need a better sense of how and why this is a problem — or perhaps even an opportunity?
Here is one such discussion that contrasts the church as an institution or community with the culture or society in which it exists, drawn from Burton Mack’s The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (HarperCollins, 1993).
Christian communities do not have to produce a fully fledged working society. The church as a social institution has only to produce other Christians and inculcate Christian ideals. So Christians invariably end up living in two social worlds, the community of Christian values and the work-a-day world of the society in which they actually live. (p. 254-55)
Non-American Latter-day Saints live in three worlds: the community of Mormon values, the attached values and even practices of American society (if not contemporary American society) that come packaged with the LDS gospel, and the work-a-day world of the society in which they actually live. Imagine if you could pare down that second component and uncorrelate the Americanism from the LDS gospel. If you had “The LDS Church in France” and “The LDS Church in Nigeria” and so forth, at least non-American Saints would have to juggle only two worlds (like all Christians do, according to Mack) rather than three. But just acknowledging that the LDS Church (and all Christian churches) are in a sense symbiotes on their host cultures, plus acknowledging the extent to which cultures and societies vary around the world, should move us to consider that, at the level of the country or state, the country-church unit needs more autonomy within the LDS Church. My sense is that two generations ago the Church entered blindly into a regime of global correlation without even considering this entire issue to any degree. Now seems like a good time to reconsider, as we blunder through a bizarre presidential election cycle and the rest of the world (non-American Latter-day Saints included) just rolls their eyes in disbelief.