I’ve blogged about this theme many times, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely. It’s always there in the back of my mind, though, like a grain of sand that’s not turning into a pearl, just a gritty irritation. In a recent post, I mentioned two different threats Mormonism faces according to Patrick Mason. The second of those two threats, fundamentalism, falls squarely into this Evangelical connection.

I recently started listening to a new podcast called The Orange Wave [1] that I also blogged about last week (a little out of order). This is a podcast about the history of evangelicalism from the 1960s onward that explains how the Evangelical movement went from an often surprisingly progressive platform to one that is very patriarchal (infused with toxic masculinity), often racist, and nearly always sexist. Even more interesting, the podcast mentions in passing several of the common roots and interests between Evangelicals and Mormons. Mormons aren’t front and center in this history lesson, but any Mormon listening will find a lot of what is said to be relevant to our own Church’s recent history.

The podcast begins by asking who was the first Evangelical POTUS. Interviewer Brad is talking with Professor Randall Balmer, professor of Religion at Dartmouth College. Balmer says that when he poses this question to students, they almost always guess George Bush, elected in 2000. When he explains that it was Jimmy Carter, elected in 1976, students are surprised to learn that the first Evangelical president was a Democrat, one who is known for his progressive stances on race and the equal rights for women (until that finale of Mrs. America tarnished his feminist halo anyway). Somewhere between 1976 and Bush’s election in 2000, it became shocking and unheard of for an Evangelical to support a Democrat or a progressive platform. This podcast, an offshoot of the Straight White American Jesus podcast, aims to explain how this happened.

Another historical feature of pre-Orange Wave evangelicalism that was highlighted in the first episode was a document that was created by 40 Evangelical leaders in 1973, the Chicago Declaration of Social Concern. This document reads like an oasis in the desert to progressives like me. The document decries racist attitudes in Evangelical Church culture, five years before the Mormon Church dropped its racist priesthood and temple ban, and in far more strenuous language than anything I’ve heard from a leader in the Mormon Church:

We acknowledge that God requires love. But we have not demonstrated the love of God to those suffering social abuses.

We acknowledge that God requires justice. But we have not proclaimed or demonstrated his justice to an unjust American society. Although the Lord calls us to defend the social and economic rights of the poor and oppressed, we have mostly remained silent. We deplore the historic involvement of the church in America with racism and the conspicuous responsibility of the evangelical community for perpetuating the personal attitudes and institutional structures that have divided the body of Christ along color lines. Further, we have failed to condemn the exploitation of racism at home and abroad by our economic system.

The document also opposes the unequal wealth distribution in the US…that has only gotten bigger and bigger since 1973, I should add.

We must attack the materialism of our culture and the maldistribution of the nation’s wealth and services. We recognize that as a nation we play a crucial role in the imbalance and injustice of international trade and development. Before God and a billion hungry neighbors, we must rethink our values regarding our present standard of living and promote a more just acquisition and distribution of the world’s resources.

The group condemned nationalism and promotes pacifism:

We acknowledge our Christian responsibilities of citizenship. Therefore, we must challenge the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might – a proud trust that promotes a national pathology of war and violence which victimizes our neighbors at home and abroad. We must resist the temptation to make the nation and its institutions objects of near-religious loyalty.

A late addition, but there nonetheless, the group agreed to include a statement about equal rights for women. Contrast this with the current purity culture of the Religious Right, and male-dominating language in both Evangelical and LDS circles that promotes the idea that men preside over wives and children (one category).

We acknowledge that we have encouraged men to prideful domination and women to irresponsible passivity. So we call both men and women to mutual submission and active discipleship.

Growing up in rural PA as a teen in the 1980s, Evangelicals were not a majority religion; my exposure to Evangelical thinking was very limited. The majority of my same-age peers in Lancaster County belonged to the Church of the Brethren, a more mainstream version of the Mennonites & Amish (my first job was at nearby Elizabethtown College, founded by the Church of the Brethren). I moved away after high school but kept in touch with my best friend who stayed in the area. When I visited her a few years ago, she pointed out how many Evangelical churches there were now. They were everywhere! She had always attended a UU congregation and considered the Evangelicals to be rigid and dogmatic, the opposite of her values.

I didn’t have a much better opinion. They always seemed like more gullible, less educated, more rigid Mormons to me, political strange bedfellows who brought out the worst in my fellow Mormons, used the Mormon network as foot soldiers and our Church coffers as cash cows to gain a political advantage (usually in causes I personally found reprehensible), then derided us as “not Christian,” stirring up bigotry and hatred against us among their flocks. It seemed incomprehensible to me that in our relationship to Evangelicals, we were the insecure girlfriend to an abusive boyfriend. We were happy to be either a punchline or a punching bag, so long as we could have a few crumbs of approval from their more popular and populous group (25.4% of the US population is Evangelical vs. the meager 2% who are Mormons). They barely acknowledged our existence, but when they did, it was usually negative attention. I suppose that’s the nature of competing religions, but I saw the source of their disdain rooted somewhere between their more fundamentalist views (we weren’t harsh enough) and our proselyting efforts (we were a direct threat, both spiritually and financially).

There are some commonalities between Evangelicalism and Mormonism that struck me as I listened to the podcast:

  • Both movements originated in the Second Great Awakening.
  • Both movements were originally progressive, at the forefront of women’s suffrage and abolition.
  • Both movements started out very open-minded, exploring the exciting religious ideas that emerged at this time in American history.
  • At roughly the same time frame, both movements turned hard to the right, steering into patriarchal and conservative views that have since calcified into racism, sexism, and biblical literalism (if not inerrancy on our part) to a high degree.
  • Both movements are tied to and responsible for the political successes of the Republican party to different degrees, including a spectrum of causes across the culture wars.
  • Both groups are very patriarchal in a way that is a regressive contrast to the rest of US culture. Mormons often adopt Evangelical explanations of gender roles and patriarchal marriage such as the umbrella diagram showing the husband protecting the wife and the wife protecting the children under the husband’s protection. [2]
  • Both churches expect orthopraxy (works) as a byproduct of orthodoxy (beliefs). If you believe, as a disciple, you are required to demonstrate your belief by your actions, doing God’s work.
  • Both churches have a significant youth ministry as a key part of their approach, including a strong focus on abstinence before marriage, and youth camps (or EFY in our case) that are led by slightly-older young people with fun activities and devotional content all mixed together. Evangelicals use patriarchal family-led purity pledges for chastity, whereas Mormons use frequent routine bishop worthiness interviews to achieve a chaste youth culture.[3]

There are also some key differences worth noting:

  • Mormon leadership is a gerontocracy; Evangelical leadership, while conservative, is a real mix of ages and viewpoints without a clear-cut hierarchy. There are some older “celebrity” leaders like Falwell and Graham, but there are also young leaders with their own megachurches and movements.
  • Mormonism is (generally) pro-immigration whereas Evangelical Churches are usually anti-immigration.
  • Mormon missions are proselyting missions, but Evangelical mission trips are service missions in foreign countries.
  • Evangelical Churches don’t have a single locus like the Utah-centric Mormon Church. The Mormon Church is fully proprietary with centralized leadership receiving tithes and distributing budgetary funds. Each local congregations has a franchised feel; no matter where you go, the experience is the same with one lesson manual, one hymn book, one meeting format. Evangelical Churches have a lot more variety and are run and funded locally. They don’t have to be aligned. You can go to one and hear rock music, and another to hear something more traditional. The meetings can be dynamic and inspiring, appealing in very customized ways to a specific type of audience.
  • Both Churches expect a “conversion” experience for members, but being “born again” is much more emphasized within Evangelical families for their children whereas Mormonism has completely dialed down on this narrative for the children who are “born in the covenant,” instead sharing conversion stories that are milquetoast and more or less a lifetime of comfort and warm feelings that convince the person to stay put. (The majority of convert experiences, though, usually involve a personal, meaningful, life-changing spiritual experience more like the “born again” experiences sought in the Evangelical community).
  • Both are sexist, patriarchal cultures, but to differing degrees and for seemingly different reasons.
    • Evangelicals cherry-pick Biblical support for the submissiveness of women, whereas Mormons tie conservative gender roles and complementarian marriage ideals to uniquely Mormon theology on families, exaltation, and the sealing process (with polygamous undertones).
    • Due to our lay clergy, Mormon “preaching” at the local level includes a high representation of female voices as the norm (with occasional local sexist practices like always putting male speakers last or having couples speak the same day or preferences for male Gospel Doctrine teachers, a calling ostensibly open equally to men and women). Many Evangelical churches reject women as preachers, but then give them the mic anyway, calling what they are doing something else. [4]
    • One “religious freedom” push by Evangelicals was to allow business owners to refuse to provide birth control coverage to women. While the LDS Church is also an incredibly sexist employer, our Church does not oppose birth control for Church members, and we have not sought to enable any Tom, Dick or Harry to proclaim their business is a de facto Church just because they gave their heart to Jesus once. [5] However, the Church’s policies as an employer are incredibly hostile to women’s health issues, including birth control.
  • Both are anti-LGBT, but to differing degrees and for seemingly different reasons. Again, Evangelicals object to homosexuality due to cherry-picked biblical inerrancy, while Mormon leaders cite gender essentialist views first codified by themselves in 1995 that are based loosely on the Plan of Salvation (which assumes a cishetero heaven and ignores altogether the question of homosexuality, sometimes claiming it will be “cured” in the afterlife).

I’m excited for future episodes to understand more about how we’ve gotten where we’ve gotten, although piddly, tiny-by-contrast Mormonism is clearly not the focus here. I can only bring to the podcast what my personal experience has been in the Church, and listen with that filter to see how we’ve gotten where we are, and whether the forces that led us there were the same, or whether our political alignment with Evangelicals led us to where we are.

  • Were we swept up in the Evangelical conservative fervor, caught up in their ideals or was the path toward conservatism for both religions the byproduct of backlash against the culturally progressive excesses of the sixties? (Personally, I started listening under the assumption that most of the terrible things in the Church are a byproduct of “strange bedfellows,” but now I’m not so sure).
  • To what degree is the movement toward fundamentalism a byproduct of partnership with Evangelicals and to what degree is that movement due to factors within our own faith or our own faith’s unique response to the cultural imperatives?
  • Is “revelation” to Mormons what “biblical literalism” is to Evangelicals? Are both just a cover for leaders’ fundamental leanings (which coincide in both faiths, claiming different root causes)? Is biblical literalism among Mormons borrowed from Evangelicals, or is it something that originated within the Church? (I believe this was either a transplant from Evangelicals or introduced by hardliners like Joseph F. Smith and Bruce R. McConkie).
  • What Evangelical ideological incursions do you see in the Church? Do you see more of them over time like I do? [6]
  • Have any of you listened to either of these two podcasts? If so, what were your reactions?


[1] Which I swear I thought was referring to POTUS’ fake tan when I started listening, but apparently it’s about the wave of fundamentalist Evangelical thought that came out of Orange County, CA, in the 1990s.

[2] An absolute bollocks diagram in terms of how umbrellas actually work, much less marriage.

[3] Both of these chastity tactics are fraught with problems, but each with a different flavor. Perhaps because I’m Mormon, I view bishops’ interviews as slightly less horrible. Although there’s a potential for grooming behavior, at least there is also an element of privacy and agency for women, and we don’t imply that women are the property of our fathers until we become the property of our husbands (encouraging women to wear a ring from their father until it’s replaced by a wedding ring from their husband).

[4] This feels a lot like equality pretending it’s not, something we see in the Church as well: preserving the veneer of patriarchy while undermining it in practice (e.g. saying men “preside” in the home when the reality is most Mormon marriages are equal in practice).

[5] I’m looking at you, Kingdom Cuts. Just because you pinterest a few scripture quotes on the walls of your hair salon, that doesn’t make you a ministry!

[6] Hello, “Covenant Path.”