Are theological friendships possible between different religions? At times I am skeptical. Consider the always fascinating question of which Christian denomination likes Mormons the least?
The answer to this question varies geographically. I would venture to guess that in the United States the overwhelming majority of religiously motivated anti-Mormonism grows out of evangelical Protestantism. While many American Mormons view Baptists and other evangelicals with suspicion — these are the people who hand out copies of the Godmakers to their friends — they tend to view Catholics as less hostile, and more friendly. It is tempting to see a theological affinity here. After all, both Mormons and Catholics break with Protestants by having a strong notion of priestly authority and an ecclesiology that endows the institutional church with a cosmic significance in God’s plan. Yet if one crosses the Atlantic, one finds a different relationship. In continental Europe, it is by and large the Catholics that are likely to be pushing for the anti-cult laws that can entangle Mormons. (Although it is worth adding that continental secularism is not especially hospitable — legally or ideologically — to the Restoration.) In this context, we are likely to find that our allies are evangelical Christians and other “new” churches that are seeking to move into largely Catholic domains.
These are two imperfect and impressionistic data points, to be sure, but they do suggest that what matters is not theology but politics. Bluntly put, Mormons are a minority religion and hence we tend to find that other minority religions (Catholicism in Protestant America; evangelical Protestantism in Catholic continental Europe) are our most likely allies and majority religions are our most likely persecutors. If this generalization is correct, it means that 20th century Utah was probably, in many ways, a uniquely bad place from which to understand Mormonism’s place in the world’s religious ecology. The Intermountain West presents the truly anomalous situation of a place where Mormons are frequently a majority religion, and are likely to view themselves from the point of view of a majority. Furthermore, the 20th century, particularly the mid-20th century, probably marks a high-watermark of Mormon identification with Protestant America. My sense is that with correlation came an increasing emphasis on the Book of Mormon and on temples, an emphasis that accelerated in the last two decades of the 20th century and serves to emphasize those aspects of our faith that are the least Protestant.
If I was to hazard a prediction it would be that the Mormonism of the future will increasingly be dominated by an ideology of Mormonism-as-a-minority and that with this will come more political alliances with other local minorities, even while the possibility of theological alliances becomes increasingly remote.