In this book, which we started discussing here, Flake is quick to point out in her introduction that before the reformative actions of the CJCLDS taken during the Smoot hearings, American had legitimate reasons to be concerned about Mormons in national office. But that fact notwithstanding, her analysis of the origins of the fight against Smoot's seating are quite informative.
The voices aligned against Smoot were loud and broad, but she traces the origins of the movement to the Salt Lake Ministerial Association and its allies involved in protestant evangelism in Utah. Quoting a bit:
Utah was an especially unpopular mission field. Protestant evangelists had arrived in the territory a day late and a dollar short. Like most non-Mormons, they trickled into the territory beginning in 1869, only after the completion of the transcontinental railroad and in support of those who followed eastern business and governmental interests west. An 1870 census showed that 98 percent of Utah's 86,750 residents were Mormon. Though the next twenty years saw their numerical dominance decrease to 56 percent of the territory's populations of 210,779, the L.D.S. Church was deeply entrenched economically and politically. Protestant powerlessness was aggravated by the fact that those non-Mormons hardy enough to exploit commercial opportunities in Utah did not tend to be churchgoing folk. Even after their families joined them, this small group of Protestants could not afford to support clergy, build churches and schools, and proselytize unbelievers. Consequently, Utah's ministers were highly dependent on the financial support of their sponsoring institutions in the East. AS late as 1905, only five of Utah's fifty-two Presbyterian churches were self-supporting. Thus, Utah's Protestant home missionaries both wanted and needed to keep their national organization mindful of Mormonism.
In response to the shortage of funds and to avoid self-defeating competitiveness among the several denominations, state federations formed as early as 1900 to support the evangelizing of the West. The Salt Lake Ministerial Association was one such federation whose shared evangelical purpose was cemented by antipolygamy sentiment…. Still, the poor ratio of dollars spent to converts made was a major source of concern to Protestants. In 1899, when the Ministerial Association calculated "the results of evangelization among the Mormons," it found that only 514, or 16 percent, of its total membership of 3,220 had come from Mormon sources…. Faced with pressuring social problems closer to home and the possibility of doing more good among non-Christians abroad, eastern evangelicals increasingly withdrew their resources from Utah and the West. As has been said of the Presbyterians, so also it was true that all Utah Protestants were "in a state of crisis as the nineteenth century ended."
The Smoot investigation gave Utah Protestants new hope…. By accentuating their differences from the Mormons and obtaining the cooperation of Protestant institutions, social reformers and women's groups, members of the Salt Lake Ministerial Association had every reason to expect that they could convince the Senate to reject Smoot….
In these words, Flake makes a case for something that rings true, but is nonetheless extraordinary and disheartening to my Protestant heart. She makes the case that the Salt Lake Ministerial Association and its allies were motivated, at least in part, to drag the nation through a multi-year protracted public religious "trial" to keep the money flowing.
I am tempted to discuss what such things say about the depth of the persons involved actual faith and belief, and their commitment to the cause to which they ascribe so much urgency, but I will resist as such would border on an ad hominem.
What is fascinating though is that those who would appear committed to a separation of political and religious powers, because of how same had allowed their faith to flourish, would be so willing to use political means to win a clearly religious battle. Rather than figuring out how to more effectively evangelize the Mormons thus keeping the funds rolling through success, they chose to shift the battleground to the political arena. In so doing they sought to create a sense of urgency about their mission by demonizing their opposition, having the dual effect of motivating further funding and delegitimizing the Mormon faith and creating a somewhat more fertile mission field.
I will grant that polygamy was and is a reasonable social/governmental issue, but the Smoot hearings put the entire faith on trial, not simply polygamous practice. Ending polygamy was the compromise solution that came out of the hearings. There were and are ways to address polygamy without attacking a religion.
One is forced to wonder if similar motivations are not at play in current Evangelical and Protestant opposition to Romney's candidacy? I am sure they are in some circles, but can those circles succeed as they did when the 19th turned into the 20th century? There is no polygamy on which they can hang a claim of anti-social. Can they in fact create a political battle where only an ecclesiastical one should exist? One must conclude they already have to some extent. The Question is simply too prevalent.
However, one would hope the nation and the church are more enlightened these 100 years later. One would hope the nation, in this new media age would recognize the issue for what it really is. One would hope the church would have a better ability to execute its mission without resorting to such tactics.
[tags]Mormons, Protestants, funds, missions, motivations, battlegrounds[/tags]