Mormons, Catholics, BYU and Notre Dame – The Barking Crow
Mormonism is young and Mormonism is small, and before I go too far, I must clarify that I am far from an expert on this particular faith, and this is a blog post based in many cases on perception, not on a well-sought item. But, two obvious truths: Mormonism is young. Mormonism is small.
This youth and this smallness are known, but I am not sure that they are fully appreciated. By a fairly broad estimate (extrapolating relative church affiliations on self-identification surveys), there are about 75 million evangelical Protestants in the United States, about 70 million Catholics, about 50 million traditional Protestants, about 7 million Eastern Orthodox Christians and about 7 million Mormons. About one in fifty Americans is a Mormon. About one in four is evangelical. About one in four is Catholic. There are as many Eastern Christians as Mormons in America. To my knowledge, no successful musical has parodied the Orthodox Church. Is it necessary? I don’t know where he would find his material. That’s not the point here. The fact is that in discourse, Mormonism exceeds its share of the population.
Why is Mormonism so remarkable? Personally, I guess it has a lot to do with the youth of religion. As religions age, in general here, they seem to reform to become conventional within their culture. The early Christians engaged in an important debate over whether their church could extend to Gentiles. It took three hundred years before Christmas arrived. Mormonism is not as new as Christianity two thousand years ago, but it has only been around for two centuries. On the Christian clock, we are only two-thirds of the way to Christmas. In the meantime, the idiosyncrasies persist. The two most troubling—polygamy and the exclusion of black Mormons from many church practices—have been removed, but Mormonism obviously remains distinct from other Christian religions. That hasn’t changed much yet. Moreover, and above all, its self-organization has not fragmented much. It is a very organized church. We estimate the number of Catholics and Protestants. We know the number of Mormons (6,592,195 in 2018).
But why else is Mormonism so remarkable? I’d bet BYU doesn’t play a small role. And that’s why we’re posting this today, when BYU, Our Lady of LDS Church, plays Our Lady.
The famous Notre Dame football became a rallying flag for Catholics across the country during the Knute Rockne era. BYU football, in a different way and to a different extent, has served a similar role for the LDS Church. A test of strength and will, sport speaks volumes about the culture that sustains it. When teams win, as Notre Dame did under Rockne and as BYU did under LaVell Edwards, the pride extends to the culture behind them. For Notre Dame and BYU, faith is a defining element of this culture. And faith, for those who practice, is at least ostensibly a more personal identity document than even family. And so, as USC and Oregon fans chant hate speech against BYU players, not quite unlike Michigan officials who shared anti-Catholic sentiment during Rockne’s time, c t is with a feeling of kinship that the game begins. At least for this former Notre Dame.
I have long been intrigued by Mormonism, not in terms of personal interest in conversion, but as curiosity tinged with admiration. The admiration is one that I, a mainline Protestant with a Catholic wife and father, often also feel for the Catholic Church. While in America, Catholics and Mormons endured severe persecution. When my grandmother was young, the KKK came to her hometown, and not because Sheldon, Iowa was a hub of racial diversity. The Mormons ended up in Utah because they needed a place to run. In modern times, each has for the most part maintained a separation from the politically partisan siren call, at which every major division of Protestantism – evangelical and mainstream, going in opposite directions – has tragically and utterly failed. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supports policies as far apart on the political spectrum as raising caps on immigrant visas and banning abortion. Few prominent politicians have demonstrated a principled independence from their party like Mitt Romney and Spencer Cox. Do I have disagreements with Romney, and with Cox, and with the LDS Church, and with the USCCB? Many. Does political extremism exist among Catholic and Mormon people? Yes. But among America’s major Christian religions, Catholicism and Mormonism have resisted partisanship at high levels. Evangelicalism and traditional Protestantism did not. There is an obvious consistency in denying the sirens.
So it’s more than a football match against an echo of Notre Dame’s past. It’s a football match against a current comrade from Notre-Dame. Boston College’s football program is currently not large. Baylor is far from being a Baptist flagship. Liberty is really a mid-major. TCU, although it contains the word Christian in its name, is described by many as secular in practice (much like Methodist schools). Notre Dame and BYU share a parallel history, and they share a similar present, and the religions behind them are – despite vastly different histories and cultural tastes – more aligned with global values than either is. is, in practice, with any other branch of faith. Notre Dame is not BYU. And BYU is not Notre Dame. But there should be respect between them. Each has traveled a similar path. Each will hopefully share a similar successful future. On the football field, yes, but more importantly, in this overview as well.