Justin Hart

In 2004, hundreds of Mormons crowded into the Provo Tabernacle and listened intently as the speaker, who was not a member of the LDS faith, exclaimed, "We have sinned against you."

Was this Bryant Gumbel apologizing for slighting the BYU Cougar's 1984 NCAAF title? No, it was noted evangelical scholar Richard J. Mouw, President of the Fuller Theological Seminary.

In the rush of news articles examining the awkward tension brought about by Pastor Jeffress remarks at the Values Voters Conference is an unnoticed but significant thaw in the troubled relations between Evangelicals and Mormons.

The Big Freeze

Of course, before the thaw, there was the freeze.

The two religious movements share similar roots in the early 19th century revival period. However, while the predecessors of American evangelical proselytizing enjoyed the fruits of their labors across New England unabated, Mormons were being forced westward.

The motives behind the Mormon ouster were generally competitive (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew to 100,000 converts in less than 15 years) but also economic (Mormon-dominated Nauvoo, Illinois had a population eclipsing Chicago's in 1844) and certainly cultural.

After the murder of Joseph Smith in 1844 the Mormons left Illinois to find refuge in a desert valley next to a large body of salt water. The parallels to Israel were not lost on the Latter-day Saints who looked to Brigham Young as an American Moses as they founded communities up and down the Wasatch front.

The Saints bore their exile with a certain amount of pride giving little thought to their “brand” in the East as immigrants streamed in by the thousands. Separation had a fermenting effect upon the burgeoning religion as a generation of Mormons raised their children in relative peace.

While this first religious rift ended in physical separation the second rift ended in theological banishment from Christendom.

In the 20th century, Evangelical Protestants found huge numbers rallying to the revivalist message of pastors on the lecture circuit. Simultaneously, Mormons left their mountain haven to vie for converts. In 1950 the Mormon Church had over a million adherents. By 1981, Mormons numbered 5 million, with 2 million members overseas.

Justin Hart

Justin Hart is the Vice President of ElectionMall Technologies, the premier technology firm helping politicos succeed online.

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