By Lee Trepanier and Lynita K. Newswander here.
At the time of Tocqueville’s visit, the Mormon religion was just one year old. Membership was small, and those who practiced Mormonism were a notable exception to the general feeling of religious pluralism which Tocqueville had experienced. Yet, the religion itself – its doctrines, structures, culture, and social practices – had much in common with the more mainstream values of the era in which it was founded. In this sense, the story of Mormonism is, in many respects, a story of America itself. In recent years, scholars have called Mormonism “the American religion”; and some have even argue that the Mormon faith is more American than other more commonly practiced faiths in the US, with its particular combination of spiritualism and patriotism that makes Mormons “American nationalists of a peculiar sort.”6 Others have said that Mormonism was “the first American religion” because the religion “was brand new, with a new identity,” like America itself.7
An American Faith
In many ways, Mormon theology reveres America in a way no other religion does. First, according to LDS doctrine, America was the original home of Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden.8 Later, it became a promised land for God’s chosen people – a branch of Israel who was warned by God to leave Jerusalem around 600 B.C. before its destruction.9 Like the God in the Old Testament, the God in The Book of Mormon warns people if they forgot Him, they will be removed from the promised land of America. This message is interpreted by current members of the LDS Church as a personal warning to themselves as well as a more general admonition regarding the Lord’s expectations for the United States.
Mormons also believe that the founders of this nation were inspired to create a government based on principles of freedom and agency. The Constitution is a “heavenly banner” and a divinely inspired document which created a social, religious, and political environment which allowed Joseph Smith to bring forth his teaching.10 During the early years of the church, members sought to establish Zion in various locations as they travelled west, ultimately choosing the Salt Lake Valley as their own portion of the Promised Land and the modern-day headquarters of the Church. Mormons also believe that at the end of time, Christ will return to earth to rule his people from the New Jerusalem, which will be built in what is now known as Jackson County, Missouri.