As Ronan has noted, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has referred to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a “quintessentially American faith”. My initial response to the issue was in a comment over at United Brethren, but I want to address it further here.
Ronan uses this reference as an opportunity to emphasize that reference to the Church in conjunction with its country of founding is or can be alienating to “international” members of the Church (meaning, in Ronan’s usage, non-USA American Latter-day Saints). He states
But where does that leave me and the many millions of other non-American Latter-day Saints? Do we really belong to an American religion? Is this something that missionaries would teach? (In France?!) If I were running for Prime Minister of the UK, could I say that my religion was “American?” Not likely.
Ronan also goes further to ask a follow-up question to some of his opinions expressed in an earlier argument on being an “international” member:
Is it time to remove the Stars and Stripes from Temple Square and remind ourselves that the Ensign to the Nations is not a Tricolour, a Jack, or a Star Spangled Banner?
I agree with Ronan that the Ensign to the Nations is not the flag of a particular country. I think, however, that zeal to remove the flag from Temple Square is misplaced. Personally, I don’t care if it there or not, but its presence there only means that that particular temple is located in the United States.
Anyway, I have been reflecting on the essentiality of England for the Restored Church lately and this seems a good opportunity to bring it up and contextualize it. The “quintessentially American” aspect of the Church could, in theory, be eclipsed by the quintessentially English nature of the Church, and not only in the sense of which Nate Oman has theorized. This dual quintessentiality testifies to the hand of Providence in establishing the Church and bringing it forth out of obscurity.
On the one hand, according to what we know and believe about the circumstances of the founding of the Church, we can posit that the Church needed the political climate, constitutional system, and demographic make-up of early nineteenth-century frontier America to be founded. Thus, America and the English language can be described as “destined” for the Restoration of the Gospel.
On the other hand, however, the history of the Church indicates the central role of England in the survival of the nascent Church. Although it may have needed America as a place to be founded, it needed England as a place to seek out its life blood in stalwart converts looking for that exact restoration. At a time when Joseph Smith could have desperately used the assistance and leadership of key figures in the Quorum of Twelve Apostles at home, he was commanded by God to send them abroad, including to England. While in England, the Apostles, notably Wilford Woodruff, baptized approximately 8000 people in the first year of their labors there, at least 1000 of which emigrated to America that very year. The Apostles readily found converts in England because of a confluence of factors that was just as specified as the conditions existing in America that allowed the Church to be established in the first place. Thus, for example, the beginnings of industrialization were combining with the rigid class system to form a hybrid that signaled deepened misery, despair, and hopelessness for a large number of people. This problem would continue to grow worse throughout the age of Victorianism that dawned a little later in the century and whose deprivations Brigham Young very clearly disparaged.
But that was later. In the late 1830s and early 1840s, the poor were only beginning to slip into the wretched hopelessness that characterized the deep age of industrialization (with all its exploitative child labor in the mines, mills, factories, and the crowded slums with their effects). This set of conditions, along with myriad others made England essential for the survival of the Church. Only in England at the time could this exact mix be found that made the fields so ripe and ready to harvest for the Apostles and other missionaries of those early days. Their harvest included some of my own ancestors (one of them the son of a woman who was convicted of pawning laundry customers’ clothes to buy food for her children and sent to Australia on a convict ship with only one of her children, the others, including my ancestor being separated from her and left behind in England). Their harvest also stocked the Church with choice converts, the presence of whom, ironically in light of Ronan’s post and Mitt Romney’s statement, lent the impression to the rest of the America of the day that the Church was a fundamentally foreign, non-American religion.
I, for one, am grateful that the Church is as quintessentially an English religion as it is an American one. At least that is what the blood in my veins tells me.
 I always find Ronan’s attitude on this very curious. He and I sat together at a Stake Conference in Reading, England in 2000 when the Stake Choir sang about establishing Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land and yet he repeatedly states around the blogs that they never sing patriotic songs in England or participate in such patriotic excercises as praying for the victims of suicide bombers.