Mormons are often dismissive of some Protestants, especially evangelicals. Few of us know much about what they believe, but we know that we disagree with them, partly because our encounters with them have made it clear. We know that many of them deny that we are Christians, and that some of them have been responsible for scurrilously attacking us and misportraying what we believe. Our difficulties with Protestantism of one kind or another began with the nineteenth-century persecutions, and continue today, though in less virulent forms.
In spite of that, our view of history is closely aligned with the Protestant view, a view we take in with mother’s milk. (See this site for a Protestant version of history that looks a lot like what I hear from Mormons.) From that perspective, the Catholic Church was bad and the Protestant churches were good–or at least better.
We talk about “the Dark Ages” by which we mean “anything prior to the Protestant Reformation,” collapsing 1,400 years of Western history into an unfortunate and inaccurate phrase. Oddly, we assume that the great apostasy was brought about by the Catholic Church, though on our view the Catholic Church didn’t come into being until after the apostasy had already occurred. We read scriptures referring to “the whore of all the earth” (1 Nephi 14:10) or “the great and abominable church” (1 Nephi 11:13), and we assume that the phrase refers to the Catholic Church, in spite of the fact that scripture defines that whore as “he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female” (2 Nephi 10:16). Presumably that includes more than just Catholics, and not all Catholics at that. I strongly suspect that it also includes a few Mormons.
We tell each other that prior to the Protestant Reformation no one was allowed to read the Bible, though that distorts the facts (among them that reading was not a wide-spread skill until after the invention of printing–printing was barely 50 years old when Luther nailed his theses to the cathedral door), confusing who was allowed to read the Bible (individuals who could read) with who was allowed to give authoritative interpretation of it (the Church through those authorized). We honor Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, and other of the reformers, overlooking their dogmatism and complicity in horrible events. We ignore Catholics like Erasmus, St. Teresa, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Vincent de Paul, or if we take notice of them, it is almost always to focus on their weaknesses.
The idea of a great apostasy is central to our self-understanding as the restoration of the Primitive Church. Without the Protestant Reformation, it would have been impossible for that restoration to have occurred, at least because the Reformation made it possible for Joseph Smith to believe that he could find an answer to his question by reading the Bible, and because it helped make new forms of government possible and, so, religious freedom. But neither the fact of the apostasy nor the necessity of the Reformation requires that we understand history in the black and white terms that we so often use. In fact, we are more likely to understand the significance of the Restoration if we understand the Protestant Reformation as not only its necessary precursor, but also as the culmination of the apostasy (in, for example, Luther’s version of salvation by faith alone, which entails that ordinances are not essential, and the denial of priesthood authority).