An Ensign Of One Nation?
|I have been reading Richard Burton’s 1863 account of life in Utah, The City of the Saints. It is interesting to compare how Burton situates the Mormon “Kingdom of God” and how Mormons are seen today by foreigners (Burton was an Englishman). For Burton, Brigham Young’s “theocracy” was definitely a world unto itself, far removed from the United States. Today, when the foreign press talks about Mormons (usually polygamists), it is usually in the context of Americana. The Saints in Burton’s portrait are not really "American" and he describes the ambivalence-cum-hostility of the Mormons towards their former country. In 1863 Utah, the 4th of July was barely celebrated, for example, shunted aside by what would become known as “Pioneer Day” on the 24th. I had to smile when I read of how the words of the Star Spangled Banner were changed by the Saints:|
Oh, see! on the tops of the mountains unfurled,
The evolution (revolution?) of Mormons from American outsiders to uber-Americans is well documented, but remains startling nonetheless. Mitt Romney tells the world that Mormonism is a “quintessentially American faith.” One wonders how Brigham Young would have responded to that. Certainly it is in Romney’s best interest to close the gap between his religion and his political ambitions and he is probably right: Mormonism is American. 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.
So when we cheer Mitt on and nod in agreement of over his Mormon Americanism (or American Mormonism), spare a thought for those of us who have to justify our religion in other ways. Should we fall back on Brigham’s position, that the Kingdom of God is not beholden to one nation, that its destiny is apolitical and anational? 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?