The common answer heard today in the Church is no. A variety of reasons are usually given: the religious freedom in the U.S. allowed it, it was prophesied in the BoM, the position of the U.S. in the world fosters its continued success, etc. These ideas find supporting statements from LDS Church leaders, from Mormon historians, and from application of recent sociological theories of religious markets. But are there reasons to think the answer could be yes?
I think some of these â€œnoâ€? reasons are based on the idea that God works through humans. Essentially, the logic is that for the Restoration to succeed, these humans had to be in positions (emotionally, financially, spiritually, socially, etc.) to succeed, and the conditions were just ripe in early 19th century New England for it to work. The implication of course is that God must somehow be unable to do it elsewhere and elsewhen. His influence is just not powerful enough in other circumstances. The Mormon God is finite and therefore more limited than the God of many other faith traditions, but letâ€™s consider another avenue to this question.
Perhaps what is at stake here is not just theological claims about Godâ€™s limitations but also our own sense of what is the restored Church. Let me develop this. If Joseph Smith would have failed instead of succeeded, then would God have raised up someone else to be the founding prophet? Most of you have already probably thought of this question. Given our belief in free agency, it certainly could have happened. Maybe Joseph was actually the second, third, or fourth option. If so, the Church we have today is probably very different than it would have been if restored in some other place and time. It could be just as divine, of course; just different. By this line of thinking, perhaps when we answer no, we are saying it couldnâ€™t have happened somewhere else and have turned out the same as it has. Thatâ€™s not a bold claim at all, but maybe weâ€™re afraid to say yes because we are tied to thinking that the way it happened is the only way it could have happened.
To be honest, Iâ€™m pretty convinced that it happened when and where it did for good reasons (the standard reasons do make a lot of sense), but Iâ€™d like to raise the possibility that it could have happened elsewhere and it would have been very different. How different? Hard to say. It probably would not have had the same evolution of auxiliaries, or it would not have the same correlated curriculum after 180 years of existence, etc. Think about it. If Joseph failed and God tried again in 20th century Peru, what would the Church look like? OK, so maybe Josephâ€™s replacement would also have been named Joseph and had a father named Joseph (2 Ne 3: 11-15) if you assume that the BoM would have been the same in that alternate Restoration. But even if you believe the limited geography view, then an angel could have buried the plates anywhere. What would the Restoration have been like if in Mexico? Guatemala?
I do think this hypothetical is useful. Programs and policies come and go, and so we should not think of these when thinking about what is the essence of the Church. If the core message of the Restoration is universal, then maybe it should have been able to take root in other places and times. If so, weâ€™d probably have stake soccer tournaments instead of stake basketball tournaments. Of course, one thing wouldnâ€™t change: thirty year old men would still be very unsportsmanlike no matter the sport.