Or, if you prefer, Mormons are a lot like Fundamentalists. Or Mormons think like Fundamentalists. The reference is to Christian Fundamentalists, not Mormon Fundamentalists (aka practicing polygamists, as opposed to mainstream LDS, most of whom are non-practicing polygamists). That is my takeaway from reading The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Simon & Schuster, 2017) by Frances Fitzgerald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
The Fundamentalists emerged in opposition to the Modernists (who have evolved into Liberal Protestants who attend mainline Protestant denominations). As Fitzgerald recounts:
In the 1890s and the early years of the twentieth century liberal theology took hold in most of the major seminaries and divinity schools …. The shift in Protestant thinking had progressed to the point that biblical infallibility and the immutability of church doctrines were no longer common understandings among educated people in the North. (p. 95)
Fundamentalists were the ones who retained a belief in biblical infallibility and doctrinal immutability.
- Point 1: Infallibility of the scriptures (except when it is convenient to downgrade a Bible verse or doctrine in favor of a Mormon scripture or doctrine) and immutability of church doctrine are certainly current LDS views.
The Scopes trial in 1925 was a watermark defeat for Fundamentalism, which subsequently retreated from public view until roughly the 1970s, when Billy Graham successfully rebranded conservative Protestants as Evangelicals, and the 1980s, when Evangelicals suddenly became politically involved and influential as a wing of the Republican Party. But the Scopes trial and its aftermath gave Fundamentalists a defining identity as anti-evolutionists, which holds true right up to the present.
- Point 2: Mormons score higher than almost any other denomination in their rejection of evolution.
In 1910, as the Fundamentalist movement was taking shape in the North, the Presbyterian general assembly authored a five-point declaration to distinguish the conservatives from those liberal-thinking seminarians, namely:
the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, His bodily resurrection, substitutionary atonement, and the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles” (p. 96).
- Point 3: Doctrinally, standard Mormon beliefs, embraced by both members and senior leaders, line up pretty closely with key Fundamentalist beliefs, with the Mormon twist on inerrancy being “historicity of the Book of Mormon and its accurate translation from gold plates with Reformed Egyptian characters by Joseph Smith” instead of “inerrancy of Scripture.”
Dispensationalism. Premilleniallism. Race-based doctrine. Drinking as a sin (Mormons add coffee and tea). “Below the belt” moralism (sin is largely a matter of sexual orientation and behavior) with little or no concern about social problems like racism, sexism, and poverty.
- Point 4: Right down the line, Mormon views and doctrines match up with Fundamentalist views and doctrines.
It’s only because Mormon history as recounted in official sources (and by many academic historians) is strictly denominational history, with little or no reference to contemporaneous and often parallel developments in the rest of American Christianity, that we Mormons are largely unaware of all this. Mormons and Fundamentalists: We are religious twins, separated at birth.
The second half of the book is largely about Evangelical involvement in politics since the 1980s. The Christian Right and the Moral Majority turned a lot of conservative Christians who voted Republican into right-wing Republicans who went to church once in a while. This is evident in the emergence of the Tea Party movement — largely conservative Christian voters who finally shed the religious trappings — and finally Trumpism, which draws deep support from Evangelicals.
- Point 5: Mormons followed Evangelicals into political activism. Sure, we fielded a not-Trump protest candidate in the recent general election and Mormon politicians on the national stage have been bluntly critical of Pres. Trump. But rank-and-file Mormons support Trump about as widely as rank-and-file Evangelicals do.
The bottom line: Despite avoiding overt anti-intellectualism most of the time and despite the Church sponsoring the BYUs rather than bible colleges, Mormons think and act and sound like Fundamentalists. And if you think and act and sound like a Fundamentalist, you’re a Fundamentalist.