Fair Green England, Essential for the Restored Gospel

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?[1]

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[2] 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.

[1] 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.

[2] Substitute your own word here if you share a certain blogger’s loathing of any perfectly legitimate English word that ends in -ize (or -ise if you are an “international” Latter-day Saint).

8 Responses to Fair Green England, Essential for the Restored Gospel

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good post, John. Being of majority english descent i heartily agree>:)
    Your last question about why there is no praying for suicide bomb victims and such is provocative. (possibly another post on that itself?) Why don’t we? 

    Posted by Bret

  2. Anonymous says:

    Don’t forget the valuable contributions of Ireland to the development of the church. Not sure at the moment what all of them are–but my instinctive response whenever anyone goes all patriotic about England is to respond by mindlessly repeating Ireland until I no longer feel the blood of my Irish independence-fighting ancestors screaming in my ears. IRELAND! Okay, enough said.

    By the way, Ronin’s partially right that the Ensign to the Nations isn’t the Stars and Stripes. It isn’t the red-white-and-blue Stars and Stripes, it’s this blue-and-white Stars and Stripes , which is a version of Joseph and Brigham’s flag of the theocratic kingdom of Zion. 

    Posted by RoastedTomatoes

  3. Anonymous says:

    RT, that’s really interesting. Never heard of that before.

    Bret, Ronan had written a post earlier about how noone in his ward in Malvern had prayed for the families of victims after the 7/7 London bombings and said something to the effect of English saints don’t do such “patriotic” things at church.

    My observation has been that we do pray for such things at church. Even in my ward here in the U.S. several people mentioned the victims of the bombings and their families in their prayers in Sunday meetings on the Sunday immediately following the London bombings. I don’t refute the fact observed by Ronan that noone in his particular ward mentioned it in their prayers in meetings that Sunday, but I would bet that they were mentioned in many wards throughout England that day.  

    Posted by john fowles

  4. Anonymous says:

    All good points, John.

    Mr. Tomato (not rhymed with po-ta-to): have you been reading “How the Irish saved civilization” perchance. BTW, Ronan (as opposed to Ronin) is a good Irish name.

    John, yes I remember Reading. An anomaly, methinks….! Maybe I’m just poisoned by the story my parents tell me. When I was blessed at Church in 1976 WITH ALL MY CofE FAMILY IN TOW, the Ward sang God Bless America. Needless to say, my parents’ claims to have not  joined some Yankee religion were no longer believed!

    Perhaps in 50 years people will moan that the Church is too hispanic. Who knows?

    And as to Temple Square: I do not object to the American flag flying at any other American Temple. But at Temple Sqaure–the home of international Mormondom–perhaps it is time to reflect the Gospel’s global reach and have a UN flag! – only joking. 

    Posted by Ronan

  5. Anonymous says:

    Ronan, that is an extremely unfortunate story. Why on earth would your parents’ ward in England have sung God Bless America in the first place? That doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. On the one hand, I can surely see why that would make you think that the Church has an American-centric flavor. But on the other, it wasn’t Temple Square or the COB that directed your parents’ ward in semi-rural England (in Malvern back then?) to sing a praise to America. Why did the local English leaders select that hymn? Being in the English-language hymn book is one thing (since the same hymnal is used in America and England), but actually singing it is another. I agree that it would make sense for the Church to publish a separate hymnal for England rather than use the one with the American songs in it simply because that one is printed in English. The England hymnal could contain a number of traditional CoE hymns or even patriotic English songs such as the one performed by the Stake Choir in Reading. There is lots of room for improvement, I agree, I just think that there is less chauvanism going on than you often seem to imply. 

    Posted by john fowles

  6. Anonymous says:

    If i’m not mistaken, the national flag is flown at the temples of the world…i served a mission in mexico and i think i remember a mexican flag flying over the Mexico City temple…

    But, aside from that, i don’t think there is any denying that Mormonism is an American faith….granted it is for all the nation’s of the earth, but it started here, is protected by the U.S. constitution and if one reads the Book of Mormon, one will see that America’s religious freedoms are what allowed the restored gospel (mormonism) to come forth in this age. So, while other nations may enjoy the fruit of the gospel and add to it what they may, i think it is self-evident that the U.S. was the place of the restoration for a reason, even if the constitution may hang by a thread one day.

    Perhaps i may have to submit a retraction one day, when we have our first-non-American-prophet; till then, i feel pretty comfortable with the comments above
     

    Posted by Al

  7. Anonymous says:

    You might try this:

    Instead of
    ” . . . this seems a good opportunity to bring it up and contextualize[2] it . . . ”

    write

    ” . . . this seems a good opportunity to bring it up and put it in context . . . ”

    Any time a word gets up to five syllables, especially if it ends in “ize,” it’s time to see if you really need it.

    Besides, who really wants to sit around “contextualizing the essentiality” of anything? Time to run some Gumout through the fuel system and clean the kludge out. 

    Posted by Mark B.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Alright. 

    Posted by john fowles

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