Misunderstanding Mormonism in The Mormonizing of America

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Abstract: The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield has been touted as a solid, impartial look at Mormon history and doctrine. Unfortunately, on closer examination, the book is seriously lacking both in substance and impartiality. This article discusses the book’s numerous problems.

Review of Stephen Mansfield. The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture. Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2012. 264 pp. $22.99.

Stephen Mansfield’s The Mormonizing of America was published in 2012 at the height of the so-called “Mormon Moment,” which coincided with Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. The book was generally well received by reviewers in publications like US News and World Report and The Washington Post. A number of reviews on Internet blogs were especially laudatory. On the “America Done Right” blog, for example, the reviewer stated how, after reading the book, he had “come away with a better understanding of the history of the Mormon religion and a healthy respect for their beliefs thanks to an honest author.” The reviewer ended by advising, [Page 86]“If you are interested in learning about the Mormon religion then this is the book for you.”1

Among some of the Christian blogs and publications, the reviews were particularly positive. One review explained, “Although Mansfield is writing from a Christian perspective, he is very respectful towards LDS beliefs, writing from an impartial stance and leaving the evidence to speak for itself.”2 Another Christian blopgspot enthusiastically proclaimed, “The Mormonizing of America is a book I’d recommend as a primer on Mormon history and, more so, as a means of understanding why Mormonism has gained such popularity in recent days.”3

Even among some people studying Mormon history and doctrine there was praise. One historian wrote regarding critiques of The Mormonizing of America, “The book has received high marks for its objectivity and balance. Selecting quotes out of context from the author of the book to argue for anti-Mormon bias is inexcusable.”4

In spite of the numerous accolades and applause for The Mormonizing of America, not all readers nor reviewers were impressed. Doug Gibson of the Ogden Standard-Examiner [Page 87]described the book as “a soft-sell piece of ‘Bible-bookstore’ anti-Mormonism, in which the author tries to tone down his righteous indignation using a ‘I-have-a-lot-of-Mormon-friends-I-admire’ maneuver.” Gibson ended his review by predicting the book “is too simple a work to find much of an audience beyond bookstores of the types that have sections devoted to anti-Mormonism books.”5

Gibson’s prediction was partly true. While it certainly was carried in Christian bookstores across the country, it became more popular than expected and certainly more popular than deserved. This review takes an in-depth look at Stephen Mansfield’s The Mormonizing of America and discusses what Mansfield got right and what he got wrong.

Stephen Lee Mansfield, a Georgia native, was born in 1958. The son of a United States military officer, Mansfield lived at military posts around the United States but spent most of his early years in Germany. After a conversion experience, Mansfield attended a Christian college where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy. He spent twenty years as a pastor of a Texas church. While in Texas he also completed two master’s degrees, hosted a radio show, and became a popular speaker. In 1991 he moved to Tennessee, where he pastored a 4,000 member church.6

In 1995, Mansfield released his first book, Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill. This was followed by biographies of Booker T. Washington and George Whitefield, as well as other publications. The Faith of George W. Bush (2003) was highly acclaimed as was Mansfield’s The Faith of the American Soldier (2005). He later wrote The Faith of [Page 88]Barack Obama (2009), which received mostly positive reviews. He also wrote Pope Benedict XVI: His Life and Mission (2005) and The Search for God and Guinness (2009).7

In 2002 Mansfield’s first wife filed for divorce. That was the same year he resigned as pastor of Nashville’s Belmont Church and quit the ministry. In 2007 he remarried, and he and his wife continue to reside in Tennessee to the present. Mansfield continues to undertake numerous writing projects as well as speaking and teaching engagements, including conducting a seminar on Mormonism.8

That Stephen Mansfield would teach a course on Mormonism is ironic given his apparent lack of understanding when it comes to Mormon doctrine and history. It is difficult for almost any historian and scholar to write on a subject that is basically foreign to them. Christians writing about Islam or Judaism, or Catholics writing about Southern Baptists, for example, must understand and discuss doctrines, practices, and worldview different from their own without adding judgment or terminology that would taint their work. While Mansfield claimed to have done that for The Mormonizing of America, he was not successful.

Examples of this basic lack of understanding range from the silly to the substantial, manifested when almost immediately into the book Mansfield recounts how some Brigham Young University students had joked about the amount of candy consumed on campus by explaining that M&Ms are Mormons’ drug of choice. He then writes, “And there we stood, a member of the Mormon priesthood and a decidedly non-Mormon [Page 89]guest, laughing about what would have been too painful to discuss not too many years ago.”9 It is difficult to figure out what had been so painful, Mormons talking to non-Mormons or Mormons eating M&Ms. Either scenario being portrayed as painful is strange, to say the least.

Mansfield doesn’t even get the name of the present LDS church president correct, referring to him as President Robert S. Monson.10 He also announces that “some Saints carry mental images of Smith or Young or Monson (current LDS president) or even Glenn Beck or one of the Marriotts that inspire them as a framed photo of Vince Lombardi might someone else.”11 Such a declaration is obviously impossible to either prove or disprove. The reality is that if most Mormons were asked what mental image they carried with them to seek inspiration, they would probably say they think of the Savior. Many would not have a mental picture—rather they would think of a favorite hymn or scripture that strengthens and inspires them. Fewer would suggest a mental image of Joseph Smith or Thomas S. Monson, the current LDS president. It would be a very few, if any, Latter-day Saints who would mention either Beck or the Marriotts, especially since most members of the church do not know nor care what any of these men actually look like and would certainly not hold them up as spiritual exemplars to follow devotedly.

[Page 90]The book contains an embarrassing number of factual errors.12 Some are just plain silly. For instance, there are nonsensical mistakes like calling the belief in continuing revelation “progressive revelation”13 and describing David O. McKay as the “First President” rather than the president and prophet in the First Presidency.14 Mansfield states that the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants “had 138 recorded revelations in its pages.”15 Not only were there not 138 revelations in the 1835 edition, the 138th section of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants was a vision that was not received until 1918 and not added to the Doctrine and Covenants until 1981. Later he explains that “women are now allowed to go on missions”16 as if that was a recent policy change. How difficult would it have been to perform just a little research and find out that the first Mormon sister missionaries were Inez Smith and Lucy Jane “Jennie” Brimhall, who were set apart in 1898 to serve a mission to England?17

However, there are more serious doctrinal and historical problems. Among the doctrinal problems are when Mansfield states that men “assume [the] priesthood at the age of fourteen” and then several pages later he has an unnamed person say that a young man becomes “a priest at twelve years old.”18 In reality, a young man, if worthy, is ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood, as a deacon at age twelve. Most young men become priests at the age of sixteen.

[Page 91]On another topic, he makes a faux pas by stating, “During this ‘premortality,’ families were already formed and destinies determined.”19 Determining destinies is not Mormon doctrine. That is predestination as taught by Calvinists and others in mainstream Christianity. Mormons outspokenly reject “the belief in predestination—that God predetermines the salvation or the damnation of every individual. The gospel teaches that genuine human freedom and genuine responsibility—individual agency in both thought and action—are crucial in both the development and the outcome of a person’s life.”20 Latter-day Saints do believe in what they call foreordination. Foreordination is the belief in “the premortal selection of individuals to come forth in mortality at specified times, under certain conditions, and to fulfill predesignated responsibilities.”21 But such foreordained roles depend upon whether or not the person makes the right choices and remains worthy.

Mansfield also errs when he describes Jesus Christ as the creator of the plan for spirits to come to Earth and live in mortality as a way of learning and testing.22 Latter-day Saints actually believe Jesus Christ championed God the Father’s plan that Lucifer had rejected. Mansfield also misquotes the famous Lorenzo Snow couplet regarding the progression of man. The Mormonizing of America gives the couplet as follows: “As man is, God was; as God is, man may become.”23

[Page 92]Mansfield describes Mormon history and its potential problems as “the soft underbelly of the Church.”24 Whether or not that is actually the case, Mansfield appears to not have been able to even find the animal let alone discover the so-called “underbelly,” given the historical mistakes he makes. For example, he explains that Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered in 1842 rather than 183225 and that Joseph gave the full Masonic call when he was killed at the jail at Carthage rather than a partial call of “Oh Lord my God …” as quoted by numerous sources.26 At least three times Mansfield refers to Oliver Cowdery as Oliver Crowdery.27 He even gets the name wrong of Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth president of the LDS church, by calling him Joseph Field Smith.28

Not only is Stephen Mansfield wrong about aspects of Mormon history, he is also wrong about some Mormon historians and even wrong about non-Mormon history. He makes a simple, avoidable historical error of referring to Christopher Columbus as an admiral when Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492.29 While Columbus had been promised an admiralship, it was based on the success of his initial voyage. Therefore, Christopher Columbus was not an admiral when he discovered the Americas.

In one of the incorrect and misleading moments in the book, Mansfield refers to Richard Lyman Bushman as “one of [our] own sainted historians.”30 What exactly is meant by that is unknown other than it insinuates there must be other [Page 93]“sainted historians” but their names are not given. While this reviewer has a great amount of respect for Richard Bushman and his work, the sad reality is that most of the members of the Church have neither heard of nor read his works. To suggest Bushman is held up on some kind of pedestal by the majority of the Church membership is not only incorrect, it is deceitful.

But the Bushman canonization for sainthood pales in comparison to how Mansfield handles Fawn Brodie. He inaccurately describes Fawn Brodie as a professor at the time of her excommunication. Fawn Brodie did not even begin teaching at a university level until 1967, when she was hired as a part-time lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles.31 She did not become a full professor until 1971. That was a full twenty-five years after Fawn Brodie was excommunicated by the LDS church. Even more troubling than his misidentification of Brodie’s credentials is Mansfield’s mangled description of her biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Richard M. Nixon as being “celebrated.”32

Contrary to being celebrated, Brodie’s biography of Thomas Jefferson was, by far, her most controversial and most criticized. Despite the book’s popularity among the general reading public, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History received harsh criticism among Jeffersonian and early Republic historians for what they claimed to be “speculations about Jefferson’s private life” and [Page 94]groping for “extremely subtle evidence.”33 The Richard Nixon biography was even more problematic and has been described by Brodie biographer, Newell G. Bringhurst, as Brodie’s least successful book.34

Why Mansfield would make such glaring mistakes is at first puzzling until the above references are read in context. Before calling Richard Bushman a “sainted historian” Mansfield uses another made-up conversation that is supposedly based on a real discussion to demonstrate that “Joseph Smith’s entire religion was rooted in hatred of his father.”35 After obtaining sainthood, Bushman is then quoted, “If there was any childhood dynamic at work in Joseph Jr.’s life, it was the desire to redeem his flawed, loving father.”36

In discussing why the gold plates had to be a fabrication on the part of Joseph Smith, Mansfield introduces Fawn Brodie, who “thought that Smith invented the whole tale,” as an “eminent historian,” “gifted scholar,” and “celebrated for her biographies.” Then, to make sure to bring home her qualifications for believing Smith was a fraud, he identifies her as “Professor Brodie” at the time of her excommunication,37 stating that “she considered the act [of excommunication] a gift [Page 95]of liberation.”38 In fact, later in the book, he again mentions Brodie in a supposed dialogue between two non-Mormons. In the course of the conversation that Mansfield, like some kind of fly on the wall, is able to copy verbatim, the man says that Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate Biography is his favorite book, that he also has read No Man Knows My History and that Joseph Smith is “a total liar.” His wife then says about Fawn Brodie, “What I’m saying is that here she is, this huge historian from UCLA, and she writes all of these big biographies. And the one on Smith gets her booted from the Mormon Church, right?”39

Such purposeful and accidental twisting of historical facts shows up in other parts of the book. During his discussion about Anne Wilde, a Fundamentalist Mormon, he quotes Wilde saying that her parents never knew that she was a Fundamentalist because “it would have been too much for them.” He further quotes her saying that all of the wives of her husband, Ogden Kraut, are dead and that she is “actually quite lonely.”40 Anne Wilde sent a letter to Stephen Mansfield taking him to task for his mistakes. She wrote, “I realize that authors take liberties in their writings, but there are certain statements you made about me that are absolutely incorrect and will reflect badly upon me when friends, family members, and acquaintances read it.”41 Wilde suggested a number of changes to the section discussing her and her experience with plural marriage. At one point, she emphatically stated, “I was NOT and am NOT lonely.” She also wrote, “Most Important: Please make the distinction that I am no longer a member of the LDS [Page 96]church; I’m an independent Fundamentalist Mormon who lived plural marriage separate from the mainstream church.”42

Mansfield claims Joseph Smith received a revelation “that told a fourteen-year-old girl she should marry him.”43 This no doubt is a reference to Smith’s plural marriage to Helen Mar Kimball. Smith actually did not claim any revelation demanding Helen Mar Kimball marry him. Instead, her father, Heber C. Kimball, offered his daughter as a wife to Smith.44 Mansfield also claims that Joseph’s wife Emma Smith “threw several women out of her house and cursed them for overfamiliarity with her husband. She didn’t know the women were her husband’s other wives.”45 This, of course, is absolutely incorrect, as Emma Smith witnessed the marriages of Joseph Smith to Emily and Eliza Partridge.46

To portray Joseph Smith’s plural marriages this way, however, falls more in line with how Stephen Mansfield views Joseph Smith. From plural marriages to accusations of occult practices,47 Mansfield focuses on what he feels would be the most negative. He announces that Joseph Smith “made part of [Page 97]his living through occult practices.”48 Later, while discussing the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, Mansfield makes reference to “the doctrines of the hat and seer stone.”49 He continues to make references to the Smiths and the occult. For example, he comments that even after Smith’s divine visions Smith continued to make “a living in the occult.” Instead of quoting directly from the readily accessible D. Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View about how the Smith family owned “magical charms, divining rods, amulets, a ceremonial dagger inscribed with astrological symbols of Scorpio and seals of Mars, and parchments marked with occult signs,”50 he quotes Quinn by way of Occult America: White House Séances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation. Could it be that the title of the other book sounds even more potentially sinister than Quinn’s book and, therefore, casts an even darker blot on Joseph Smith’s character? It would not be surprising if that were Mansfield’s goal, as his contempt for Joseph Smith is very obvious.

Regarding Smith’s revelations and prophetic claims, Mansfield writes that “Joseph Smith concocted revelations whenever he needed them.”51 He continues, “Smith’s revelations seem to be self-serving, a product of his need and will.”52 At another point he describes Smith as a “misguided mystic” who “lost all restraint.”53 Smith’s revelations and religion, according to Mansfield, “started to get petty” and then “got strange.” From there, “it left being strange and became destructive.”54

[Page 98]Admittedly, it is impossible for a historian to be completely neutral. As the British essayist and theorist Sir Isaiah Berlin, wrote, “The case against the notion of historical objectivity is like the case against international law, or international morality; that it does not exist.”55 Nevertheless, those writing history are encouraged to recognize and admit their biases, and then do their best to hold those biases in check in order to produce a good history. Unfortunately, Mansfield appears not only to have resisted any restraint in his negative portrayal of Joseph Smith and aspects of Mormonism but he seems to have fled from scholarly objectivity like Joseph of the Old Testament fled from Potiphar’s wife.

Although once in awhile the book actually has some interesting insight, most of it seems to be a series of attacks under a thin guise of supposed scholarship. For example, while it is not expected a non-Mormon like Stephen Mansfield would believe in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, is it too much to at least expect a modicum of respect for what approximately fifteen million people view as sacred scripture?

Mansfield makes it clear he believes the Book of Mormon to be nothing more than a cheap nineteenth-century knockoff of the Bible. After complaining that “more than 27,000 words in Smith’s writing came straight from the Bible” and the phrase “and it came to pass” was used “more than 2,000 times,” he writes, it made “the book sound like the King James Bible’s little brother.”56 He continues, “This should come as no surprise. The Book of Mormon’s plundering of the Bible is flagrant. Poor Isaiah took particular abuse.”57

Further on Mansfield writes, “The most searing indictment of the Book of Mormon is the way the story it tells seems to [Page 99]grow organically from the soil of the United States in the early 1800s. Settlers from the East come west by ship to escape an evil system. They settle in a New World and must battle for survival against a darker-skinned enemy. One expects the Mayflower and Squanto to be mentioned by name.”58 Unfortunately, in his enthusiasm to complain about the Book of Mormon, Mansfield seems not to have realized that the Book of Mormon never did say which direction the ship sailed. In fact, given where they were supposed to have sailed from, probably Lehi’s little band sailed east rather than west.

However, with the help of the supposed off-the-cuff but still verbatim recorded anonymous conversations peppered throughout the book Mansfield was able to more fully reveal his contempt for the Book of Mormon. In the course of a conversation two college roommates are supposed to have had about Mormons, one states that the Book of Mormon might have been “written by a demon.”59 Later, one of the roommates says, “And there’s this voice. I mean if you get past all the ‘yeas’ and the ‘verilys’ and the ‘and-it-came-to-passes,’ there’s this personality speaking that is bloated and haughty and—I don’t know, maybe ‘domineering’ is the word. It’s irritating. Freaky.”60 Mansfield didn’t stop there regarding the Book of Mormon. “And it starts to get gross how arrogant it is. I mean there are pages and pages where you haven’t got a clue what’s going on for all the high and holy rambling but you’re still running up against the voice.”61

These undocumented conversations are used to attack not just the Book of Mormon. In another conversation one person exclaim, “Their religion is a joke. Between the underwear and the no drinking and Proposition 8 and now their priests that [Page 100]are twelve. It’s hard to take seriously.”62 Another conversation the ever-vigilant Stephen Mansfield is able to capture is one that supposedly took place between two non-Mormon businessmen. In the course of the conversation, one says about a proposed wine and cigar bar, “We should never have tried to put this thing anywhere near LDS land… They just aren’t going to let a wine and cigar bar anywhere near their holy ground. Even near their city!” The other one answers, “No. And they’ll fight you most anywhere in the state.”63 In the course of the conversation, one of the men says, “It’s a Mormon Taliban around here.”64 The conversation then includes a laundry list of real and perceived problems in Utah. These negative aspects of life in Utah include the high number of porn subscribers, the highest rate of arrest of people who “have sex in the woods,” the climbing rate of sexually transmitted diseases, and the high use of Prozac, ending with the comment, “This state’s a loony bin.”65

The references to Taliban and Utah’s being a “loony bin” are part of an underlying theme of how strange Mormonism and Mormons are. At the very beginning, Stephen Mansfield portrays “secular America,” viewing the so-called “Mormon Moment” as “yet another occasion for the passing parade of oddities that Mormons have long supplied.”66 Near the end of the book, he discusses the meaning of the word “cult.” To Evangelical and Christian conservatives, the word almost [Page 101]always means “an organization built upon a perversion or significant revision of traditional Christian doctrine.”67

In case the readers were questioning if Mormonism fit into that category, Mansfield does not want to leave them wondering long, as the very next sentence states, “This is exactly what Smith, Young, and company intended and it is, by their own confession, what the LDS is.”68 This assertion is given without any documentation or explanation.

Further isolating Mormonism from the rest of Christianity and following in the footsteps of so many other writers, Mansfield compares Joseph Smith to Muhammad and Mormonism to Islam. He then explains that Islam is so successful partially through the power of the sword and partially through the simplicity of its system. In this matter of simplicity, “Islam is to religion what McDonald’s is to food: easily remembered, easily consumed, easily replicated.”69 Like Muhammad, according to Mansfield, Joseph Smith popularized and simplified religion. “Though Mormonism appears complex to the outsider, it was actually an attempt to be something like the McDonald’s of American religion.”

After various attacks on the character of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other early Church leaders as well as mockery of Latter-day Saint history and doctrines, Mansfield seems to offer an olive leaf. He refers to “the Mormon people, the true heroes of the Mormon tale.”70 He then explains:

This is what their experience produced, often despite their leaders and despite doctrinal oddities. They became a people. Even if their Prophet was a liar and their doctrines proved mere fantasies, on earth and [Page 102]in this life they became a people who, in striving to progress and achieve, became exceptional.71

While the backhanded compliment is lovely, it is, nevertheless, a backhanded compliment and exemplifies pretty much the whole message and tone of the book. Throughout the book, Mansfield repeatedly attacks the character of Joseph Smith, the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and the foundations of Church. He naturally brings up real and perceived problems in Mormon history and doctrine. That, of course, would be expected in a book of this nature. That is what would be expected in a scholarly book.

Unfortunately, this book is far from a scholarly look at the LDS church and its members. There were numerous examples of poor research and analysis.72 Even worse is Mansfield’s barely [Page 103]concealed disdain evident throughout the book. There are a number of non-Mormon scholars who obviously do not believe Joseph Smith’s claims of visions, revelations, and translation of the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, scholars like Jan Shipps, Lawrence Foster, and Sarah Barringer Gordon, to name a few, have been able to produce outstanding scholarly work that attempts to be both neutral and informative.

Their publications have not included language such as “those two handsome missionaries just back from the field. What miracles they’ve seen! Heavenly Father has proven himself once again.”73 “The next day of destiny came on September 21, 1823.”74 “Or, perhaps Cowdery could see nothing in the stones because Smith was a fraud manipulating even his own wife into believing he was hearing from God.”75 “It is hard to escape the conclusion that Joseph Smith concocted revelations whenever he needed them.”76 And, “their version of their history is like something out of Disney anyway.”77

And finally one of the more egregious examples of a negative, biased tone is the following:

It is a pious sentiment but it will seem to most outsiders like an excuse: Mormons make dramatic statements about history but then claim God does not intend for the facts that support those statements to be proven. It is frustrating, intellectually unsatisfying, and perhaps even duplicitous, but it is consistent with what every Mormon repeatedly affirms—”I have received the [Page 104]witness of the Spirit, and I bear testimony that the Book of Mormon is true.”78

In conclusion, Stephen Mansfield’s The Mormonizing of America is a poor excuse of a scholarly work and cannot be recommended for anyone who appreciates decent scholarship.


  1. “Book Review: The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield,” America Done Right: Ideas for a Better United States of America (n.d.), http://americadoneright.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/book-review-the-mormonizing-of-america-by-stephen-mansfield/, accessed 9 January 2013. 

  2. “Review: The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield,” Iola’s Christian Reads (28 July 2012), http://christianreads.blogspot.com/2012/07/review-mormonizing-of-america-by.html, accessed 9 January 2013. 

  3. Tim Challies, “The Mormonizing of America,” Challies: Informing the Reforming (1 August 2012), http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/the-mormonizing-of-america, accessed 9 January 2013. Challies’s opinion is not without bias. In his review he describes Joseph Smith as “a polygamous, philandering, ego-centric, irrational confidence trickster.” He continues, “Brigham Young was no better, another polygamous sociopath who presided over a reign of terror in Utah.” 

  4. Copy of a page of comments sent to the author on 4 January 2013 and presently in the author’s possession. The name of the historian has been withheld as a common courtesy. 

  5. Doug Gibson, “Book on ‘Mormonizing’ of America is Bible-bookstore anti-Mormonism fodder,” Standard-Examiner Blogs (21 May 2012), http://blogs.standard.net/the-political-surf/2012/05/21/book-on-mormonizing-of-america-is-bible-bookstore-anti-mormonism-fodder, accessed 16 June 2013. 

  6. “Mansfield Memo – Long Bio,” The Mansfield Group, www.MansfieldGroup.com, accessed 16 June 2013. 

  7. “Mansfield Memo – Long Bio,” The Mansfield Group, www.MansfieldGroup.com, accessed 16 June 2013. 

  8. Bob Smietana, “Stephen Mansfield finds career in God, politics,” The Tennessean (6 January 2013), http://www.tennessean.com/article/2013106/NEWS06/301060095, accessed 8 January 2013 and “Stephen’s Seminar on Mormonism,” The Mansfield Group, http://mansfieldgroup.com/2012/07/01/new-seminar-on-mormonism, accessed 9 January 2013. 

  9. Stephen Mansfield, The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2012), xvi. 

  10. Mansfield, 81. Throughout The Mormonizing of America, little vignettes are included with made-up names that are, according to Mansfield, changed. In other words, whole undocumented conversations take place in which the reader is left to depend upon the author’s word these conversations really took place and he somehow was able to get whole conversations verbatim. The fact he couldn’t even get Thomas S. Monson’s name correct calls into the question the veracity of all of the so-called conversations. 

  11. Mansfield, 213. 

  12. For example, there were basic errors like incorrectly explaining on page 159 how temple garments are worn and how to properly dispose of old temple garments. 

  13. Mansfield, 161 and 180. 

  14. Mansfield, 27. 

  15. Mansfield, 178. 

  16. Mansfield, 160. 

  17. Diane L. Mangum, “The First Sister Missionaries,” Ensign (July 1980), http://www.lds.org/ensign/1980/07/the-first-sister-missionaries, accessed 16 June 2013. 

  18. Mansfield, 159 and 164. 

  19. Mansfield, 158. He then explains, “The ignoble spirits of preexistence are non-Mormons on earth” (which is incorrect). 

  20. Richard D. Draper, “Predestination,” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., et al., The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Predestination, accessed 25 June 2013. 

  21. Brent L. Top, “Foreordination,” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., et al., The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Foreordination, accessed 25 June 2013. 

  22. Mansfield, 158. 

  23. Mansfield, 159. 

  24. Mansfield, 254. 

  25. Mansfield, 211. 

  26. Mansfield, 110. According to “The Third, or Master Mason’s Degree,” sacred-texts.com, http://www.sacred-texts.com/mas/morgan/morg12.htm, accessed 27 June 2013, the full Masonic call for help is “Oh Lord my God, is there no help for the widow’s son?” 

  27. Mansfield, 69–70. 

  28. Mansfield, 254. 

  29. Mansfield, 143. 

  30. Mansfield, 99. 

  31. Newell G. Bringhurst, Fawn McKay Brodie: A Biographer’s Life (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999), 181. Bringhurst explains that Brodie was initially hired only as a part-time lecturer rather than the entry-rank of instructor or assistant professor because “she did not possess a doctoral degree in history. In fact, she had not earned any degree in history. Both her bachelor’s and her master’s were in English.” In fact, according to Bringhurst (on p. 205), Brodie did not become a full professor of history until December 1971, and only after initial opposition by fellow faculty members who were concerned about her lack of history degrees as well as all of her work being in biography rather than traditional historical research. 

  32. Mansfield, 125. 

  33. Bringhurst, 185 and 216–19; and telephone interview of Craig L. Foster with Newell G. Bringhurst, 16 June 2013. During the phone interview, Newell Bringhurst commented that the criticism for Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History was extensive with a number of prominent historians lining up against her, particularly over the suggestion that Jefferson had an affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings. It should be noted that Brodie was proven partially correct when Hemmings descendants did test positive for Jefferson DNA. Unfortunately, that does not prove Thomas Jefferson was the father, only that a male Jefferson was the father. 

  34. Bringhurst, 261–64. This in spite of positive reviews by some Nixonian scholars. Brodie’s biography was published nine months after her death in January 1981. 

  35. Mansfield, 97. 

  36. Mansfield, 99. 

  37. Mansfield, 127. 

  38. Mansfield, 127. 

  39. Mansfield, 164. 

  40. Mansfield, 4. 

  41. Anne Wilde to Stephen [Mansfield], 7 July 2012; copy in author’s possession. 

  42. Anne Wilde to Stephen [Mansfield], 7 July 2012; copy in author’s possession. [Emphasis in original.] Regarding her requested corrections and changes, she wrote, “They may not seem important to you, but they are VERY important to me.” For his part, Mansfield responded with an e-mail dated 8 July 2012 in which he stated, “I will be happy to make those changes. I certainly did not mean to distort anything about your story.” Copy of e-mail in author’s possession. 

  43. Mansfield, 48. 

  44. Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 24 and 28. It appears Mansfield attempted to emphasize the young age of Helen Mar Kimball, being age fourteen. For more information on the common age of marriage during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, see Craig L. Foster, David Keller, and Gregory L. Smith, “The Age of Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives in Social and Demographic Context,” in Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 152–83. 

  45. Mansfield, 48–49. 

  46. Hales, 2:48–49. 

  47. Mansfield, 47. 

  48. Mansfield, 120. 

  49. Mansfield, 134. 

  50. Mansfield, 109. Mansfield did not quote directly from Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. Instead, he cited Quinn as quoted in Mitch Horowitz, Occult America: White House Séances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation (New York: Bantam Books, 2009), 23. 

  51. Mansfield, 131. 

  52. Mansfield, 132. 

  53. Mansfield, 176. 

  54. Mansfield, 192, 193. 

  55. “Quotes about History,” History News Network (26 December 2005), http://hnn.us/articles/1328.html, accessed 28 June 2013. 

  56. Mansfield, 142. 

  57. Mansfield, 142. 

  58. Mansfield, 144. 

  59. Mansfield, 136. 

  60. Mansfield , 137 [emphasis in original]. 

  61. Mansfield, 138. 

  62. Mansfield, 164. 

  63. Mansfield, 13. Such statements are not only inflammatory, but also completely inaccurate. According to Visit Salt Lake, at http://www.visitsaltlake.com/restaurants/nightlife/?listsearch_submit=1&listingGetAll=0&subcatID=2209&regionID=109&listing_keyword=Keywords…&submit=#searchBr, downtown Salt Lake City alone had thirty-four bars and lounges. 

  64. Mansfield, 13. 

  65. Mansfield, 14. 

  66. Mansfield, 1. 

  67. Mansfield, 238. 

  68. Mansfield, 238. 

  69. Mansfield, 60. 

  70. Mansfield, 197. 

  71. Mansfield, 198. 

  72. A number of examples of silly, almost ridiculous mistakes have already been given in this review. These mistakes represented two things. The first was that Stephen Mansfield did a very poor job of research. The second point was that the editorial staff at Worthy Publishing did not do their job when it came to editing this book. On p. 29 of Mormonizing of America, Mansfield writes, “The LDS Church capitalized on it all. It sent volunteers, missionaries, and publicists scurrying to every venue. It hosted grand events for the world press. It made sure that every visitor received a brochure offering an LDS guided tour of the city.” He uses “Mormon Church’s Public Relations Effort amid Olympics Games Sparks Debates,” The Salt Lake Tribune (19 March 2001), http://business.highbeam.com/3563/article-1G1-71876499/mormon-church-public-relations-effort-amid-olympics as his source. Why would he use an article that was almost a year before the actual Olympics? Would it not have been better to use post-Olympics analysis? Simply Googling Mormon Church and 2002 Olympics brings up a number of articles. Near the top was the article by Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Remembering the ‘Mormon’ Olympics that weren’t,” The Salt Lake Tribune (17 February 2012), http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/53520793-80/church-mormon-games-lds.html.csp, accessed 3 July 2013, which states in part, “What most participants and observers found instead during those 17 memorable days was an absence of Mormon missionaries. . . . Plus, Mormon leaders sent out the edict that there would be no proselytizing, no pamphleteering, no handing out copies of the Book of Mormon away from, say, Temple Square. LDS volunteers were trained in how not to share their faith.” Much earlier than Stack’s article was Larry R. Gerlach’s in-depth article titled “The ‘Mormon Games:’ Religion, Media, Cultural Politics, and the Salt Lake Winter Olympics,” Olympia 11 (2002): 1–52, in which he describes the efforts of the LDS church to downplay the so-called Mo-lympics and have an understated presence at the games. 

  73. Mansfield, 80. 

  74. Mansfield, 104. 

  75. Mansfield, 123. 

  76. Mansfield, 131. 

  77. Mansfield, 164. 

  78. Mansfield, 156. 

21 thoughts on “Misunderstanding Mormonism in The Mormonizing of America

  1. Nice review.
    I wonder whether there is an analogy between this sort of soft Christian attack on Mormonism, and the very same sort of attacks by atheists on Christianity. In neither case do the authors tend to allow themselves to be confused by facts.

  2. Craig Foster has had the patience to fashion a detailed response to a dreadful diatribe against the Church of Jesus Christ. He demonstrates that Mansfield’s book, whatever else it might be said about it, is not sound history.
    He does this fully but also with considerable restraint. My only complaint about Foster’s essay is that he is far too restrained, given the extreme provocation provided by the Reverend Mansfield..

    Those not previously familiar with the Mansfield’s opinions about the Church of Jesus Chrsit should pay attention to the title of the book, since it asserts something that has not taken place; it also promises to explain how “the Mormon religion has become a dominant force in [presumably American] politics.” This is bizarre, brazen sensationalism write large.

    I wonder about the unnamed historian who claimed that Mansfield’s book “has received high marks for its objectivity and balance” (see p. 86). Are historians, I wonder, still in thrall to the myth of objectivity? And exactly what did Mansfield manage to balance: error and truth, rhetorical rubbish and serious history, phony, slogan thinking and rigorous research? The word “balance” makes sense in some situations, but not in writing history. Be that as it may, Foster has demonstrated that Mansfield produced shameless, partisan propaganda.

    Foster shows that, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Mansfield’s previous career as a Protestant Pastor seem to have fallen on hard times, and he has, it seems, turned to fashioning books, one of which is on the Church of Jesus Christ, and also lecturing the evils of Mormonism. One reviewer falsely claims that Mansfield, in addition to being “very respectful towards LDS beliefs,” was also “impartial…leaving the evidence to speak for itself” (p. 85.). These assertions are shown to be false.

    Mansfield writes from what one of his apologists has described as a “a Christian perspective,” though without identifying which one of these could possibly warrant such an endeavor.

  3. My own observation is that one way of identifying the genre of anti-Mormon literature is that the author telegraphs to the readers what emotions he or she wants them to feel toward the “facts” they are being told.

    Another indicator is that, given their very negative assessment of the character and writings of Joseph Smith, they must either indict the Mormons for being ignorant, stupid, or moral failures, or else present the reality of Mormon achievement as families and individuals as a complete non sequitur, without explanation, a beautiful lotus blossom growing out of the mud of Mormonism’s allegedly dark origins.

    The inability to reconcile the observed reality of Mormon success in faithfulness, self-sacrifice and volunteer service, family religious unity, and personal achievement, and the alleged murky roots of their religion, is an even more acute problem than those authors appreciate. That is because there are very direct ties between the founding generation of Mormons who knew Joseph Smith personally, and the current generation of Mormons who operate an international church with advanced education and top skills in their various professions. I recall attending a reception held at the Church Administration Building in 1971 when I was acting as an interpreter for a group of visiting Japanese governors when they were invited to meet the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, and then had lunch with them. As each of us in the party went down the line, we each shook hands with all fifteen leaders, including Joseph Fielding Smith, whose father Joseph F. was president sixty years earlier, and who had personal memories of his farewell at Nauvoo to his father Hyrum and his uncle Joseph. Thomas Monson and Boyd K. Packer were members of the Twelve then, and had direct contact with President Smith over the course of years. The emphasis on family history among Mormons and the preservation of pioneer experiences so they can inspire new generations also tend to reinforce very personal ties to the first generation of Mormons. What Mormons are now, in the 21st Century, is very much a fulfillment of what Mormons believed in and aspired to back in the 1830s to the 1890s.

  4. Thanks for this illumination. However, you hit one of my hot buttons with, “That is predestination as taught by Calvinists and others in mainstream Christianity.”

    Jesus Christ is the main stream of Christianity. The Church and gospel that he gave in New Testament times and restored later through Joseph Smith are mainstream Christianity. How much a person or church varies from this is the measure of how far they are outside of mainstream Christianity.

    • Thank you Skip for bringing to my attention the four to six times the phrase “progressive revelation” has actually shown up in a church publication. I stand corrected.

      Since the phrase continuing revelation has been used much more often, I had naturally thought of that. But I do appreciate knowing about those references, as well as the reference to the progressive movement of the early twentieth century and a number of other fun references that came up in the same search.

  5. I didn’t even bother reading this book when I read a few made up conversations between Mormons that would never be said with vocabulary that doesn’t exist in the culture he is trying to write about. The better book of this type is “How I Fell in Love with Joseph Smith,” that is much more honest about its purpose and biases. Its also much more accurate.

  6. I recently read Mansfield’s book, The Mormonizing of America, and found it overwhelming with detail. I’d like to go through it again and reflect on his statements and facts on LDS history and doctrine. I can too, recognize the bias that Mansfield displays in the publication, which is what brings me here.

    I do believe in seeking truth, seeking an explanation to our existence and an understanding of the created order. Such an approach requires open-mindedness and an open heart. I recognize the importance of hearing from the ‘other side,’ as this book doesn’t give a voice to the believer on the claims this book makes. So, I appreciate people like Mr. Foster who offer a critique of the book.

    However, I feel that the review of the “embarrassing number of factual errors” discussed is nit-picky and petty. If someone is worshipping the wrong god, has another Christ (2 Cor 11:4), and has a different salvation, then whether he is right or wrong on minor details does not really matter. Mansfield brings up theological and historical statements that have significant implications on the validity of Joseph Smith, the LDS church and its origins. Focusing in on whether Christopher Columbus was actually an admiral when he discovered the Americas doesn’t and shouldn’t deviate our attention away from a “sacred narrative” of a people group with Hebraic origins that didn’t seem to exist. Whether Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered in 1842 or 1832 doesn’t negate the stunning parallels in both content and order between the View of the Hebrews written by Ethan Smith – Published in 1823, 7 years before the Book of Mormon (less than 100 miles from the Joseph Smith’s parents home). I fail to see the problem as to whether Fawn Brodie was or was not a professor at the time of her excommunication when she offers challenging evidence against the authenticity of Joseph Smith and the LDS faith (She presents the young Joseph Smith as a good-natured, lazy, extroverted, and unsuccessful treasure seeker, who, in an attempt to improve his family’s fortunes, first developed the notion of golden plates and then the concept of a religious novel, the Book of Mormon).

    I don’t mean to exhaust the overwhelming number of challenges put out in this book – we all can read – but there seems to be more significant issues to resolve. As presented in his book, it seems that the revelations of Joseph Smith “contains an embarrassing number of factual errors,” and should be explained.

    • I think the point of Foster’s review is to say if Mansfield can’t even get the simple stuff right, why should we trust him to get the tricky stuff right? The issues you raise are complex, and Mormon scholars have been addressing them for decades (literally). Mansfield shows little to no comprehension of the depth and complexity of these issues. His treatments are quick, glib, and leave much to be desired. (This ranges from his coverage of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, Mormon doctrine, plural marriage, early LDS history, Mormon culture, &c., &c.)

      I haven’t read the entire book, but I’ve read enough of it to agree with Foster’s overall negative assessment.

    • “As presented in the book” is the key. You are relying on the accuracy of a book that is proved to be inaccurate even on simple, straightforward fact questions about which there is no dispute.

      Based on the sample of serious issues that you cite, Mansfield appears to be rehashing the standard anti-Mormon tropes that have been addressed and rebutted numerous times. If you are interested in a considered Mormon response, you could try poking around fair-lds.org or some of the resources available on this website or still available at farms.byu.edu

      • thanks for the lead on fair-lds.org – good resource for sure!

        I appreciate the discussion – I have many questions, a deep yearning for truth and communion with the true Church. I’m still uncertain as to what to believe is truth – the Bible or the Book of Mormon.

        • “I’m still uncertain as to what to believe is truth – the Bible or the Book of Mormon.”

          I think this statement demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding, namely that the Book of Mormon stands in opposition to the Bible.

          The text of the Book of Mormon frequently makes reference explicitly to the “Record of the Jews” and that part of the books purpose is to re-enforce the Bible and
          “establish the truth of the first [books], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.(1 Nephi 13:40)” That the two books “shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions” ( 2 Nephi 3:12), and that the Book of Mormon “is written for the intent that [w]e may believe [The Bible].(Mormon 7:9)”
          According to the title page The Book of Mormon is for ” the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”

          Now if the question is “should either be believed”? study and sincere prayer is the only answer I know.

    • Surely you understand that the “stunning parallels” in between the Book of Mormon and the View of the Hebrews, and Fawn Brodies “good-natured, lazy” Joseph Smith have long been addressed by LDS scholars. What would be the point of Foster rehashing all that here?

      Sure, while some of this might be nit-picky, when factual errors permeate a book, it is an indication of sloppiness on the part of the author and publisher that likely reflects the quality of research and arguments. It is especially a read flag when those factual errors consistently favor the authors obvious biases or otherwise bolster their claims. (Like claiming Brodie is a professor when ex-communicated, making her seem so much more credible and making the event sound all the more scandalous.)

      A relatively brief book review cannot tackle every claim made in the book. What is can do is give readers a sense of the books general reliability, so they can approach the book appropriately, or even choose if they would like to read the book at all.

      • fair enough 🙂

        I don’t mean to offend, and know that my mind and heart are open to hearing/sensing God’s voice.

        I sense a responsibility to test prophets to see if they are from God (John 4:1). Jesus was very concerned of false prophets distorting truth (Matthew 7:15). The Apostle Paul put it this way in the epistle to the church in Rome in the 1st century (Romans 16:17-18), “I beseech you, brethren, mark them who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ but their own body, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the innocent.”

        I guess I am really intrigued with the testimony of Joseph Smith, but want to know if it’s true.

    • “Whether Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered in 1842 or 1832 doesn’t negate the stunning parallels…”

      Whether Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865 or 1855 doesn’t matter.

      Whether 9/11 occurred in 2001 or 1991 doesn’t matter.

      Whether I was born in 2000 or 2010 doesn’t matter.

      Really? That’s an entire decade of difference. A lot changes in 10 years.

      Sometimes, when examining historical figures, we treat them as objects, and not as people. Like him or not, Joseph Smith was, in fact, real. His house really was broken into that night. His tooth really was chipped. He really was beaten. His shirt really was torn, and his flesh really burned. His wife really was traumatized. And one of his adopted children really did die from exposure because of the event. Victims of this kind of abuse in our society today are often heavily medicated or seek continual counseling because of the trauma associated with this kind of experience.

      Saying that human suffering such as this does not matter because someone produced a book with striking parallels to another is like saying Christopher Paolini deserves to be tarred and feathered, publicly humiliated, and have one of his children die because his Eragon series borrowed heavily from Tolkien and George Lucas.

      I can’t even handle that remark. haha. Wow. The trivialization of human life and human suffering occurring here is astounding. Wow.

      I know you probably didn’t intend it that way. But still. Really? haha. Sheesh.

      • “The trivialization of human life and human suffering occurring here is astounding. Wow.
        I know you probably didn’t intend it that way. But still. Really? haha. Sheesh.”

        I’m sorry, I’m not following. I wasn’t trying to trivialize the torture of Joseph Smith. An incredibly horrendous event, I’m sure!

        What I am trying to highlight and discuss: are there problems with what Joseph Smith taught. I’ve spent many years reading and studying Old and New Testament Scriptures, and I am having difficulties reconciling the systematic theology of Joseph Smith and God’s revelation in the Bible. Am I willing to listen to a man claiming to be a prophet of God? Of course! But when I read the revelation of God in the Scriptures, I don’t come to a conclusion, for example, of Heavenly Father having a Father – and He having a Father, and He having a Father and so on. I get a glimpse of an eternal Creator who was, who is, and will always be – the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. When I study the Scriptures cover to cover, I don’t conclude that I, or anyone else, can become a god one day. There are more and more red flags that come up for me when I read the books he wrote – straight from the prophet’s mouth. I have a hard time accepting this revelation as the same as God’s truth revealed in the Bible.

        Now, Joseph Smith could be right, but the rest of Scripture does not coincide in truth claims. Does anyone else wrestle with that?

  7. Someone posting under the name “JSmith” indicates that he is impressed with the detail found in the book by Stephen Mansfield entitled The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics. “JSmith” assures us that his “my mind and heart are open to hearing/sensing God’s voice.” And also that he has “many questions, a deep yearning for truth and communion with the true Church.” And Mansfield’s book, which he is defending, contains considerable detail that calls into question the foundations of what Mansfield calls the “Mormon Religion.” “JSmith” also indicates that he is ‘still uncertain as to what to believe is truth – the Bible or the Book of Mormon.”

    But should not such a one who believes in such laudable things as “seeking truth, seeking an explanation to our existence and an understanding of the created order,” and so forth, not have noticed that one is not confronted with an either/or question when one opens the pages of the Book of Mormon, and especially when one’s mind and heart are presumably genuinely open to divine things rather than already having make a decision over whether to follow some sectarian interpretation of the Bible or the Book of Mormon. Why is this so? Latter-day Saints from the beginning believed that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are true. The Book of Mormon, from the perspective of a faithful Saint, necessarily assists the believer to sort many of the conflicting and even contradictory interpretations of the Bible that have made of Christianity a jumble of quarreling and even sometimes warring factions. And what divides Christians into sects and movement is not over relatively trivial matters such as modes of worship, architecture for houses of worship, of whether or not there are sign gifts, or dozens of other questions about which there have and still are debates and controversies.

    In addition, I wonder if “JSmith” has noticed and can provide an explanation for the title of Stephen Mansfield’s book. Has he demonstrated that there been a dangerous “Mormonizing of America”? Has the Church of Jesus Christ (or what Mansfield denigrates as the “Mormon Religion” really “become a dominant force in [American] politics”? Is this kind of language not the language of partisan propaganda, and hence unbecoming a Christian writing about the genuine faith of other Christians?

    • I don’t know if I would say I’m defending Mansfield’s book. I read it, I understand it, but I want to challenge it, I want to disagree with it – I want to find out that he is wrong. So I want to hear from those who can defend the LDS position on things he brings up.

      What if I told you that my Grandfather reported revelations that he received from God through an angel. The content of those revelations were written down. He began to share the message of these revelations to his friends and townsfolk. It was revealed to him that we (humans) have been getting it wrong – Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism, Pantheism, Evangelicalism, Jehovah’s Witnesses even the LDS Church – all of it. He was to establish a new order, a new experience of spirituality that actually brought us to the heart of God.

      I believe you’re genuine in your faith. I believe you seek truth and seek God. But, do you believe me? Why not?

      Also, I don’t really know why Mansfield titled his book as such.

  8. I just wanted to thank Craig Foster for writing a great review of this book that I can share with others to help them see that the book by Mr. Mansfield is not to be trusted as unbiased, scholarly, or historically accurate. Mr. Mansfield’s appeal to being friendly to the Church in the opening pages is a farce, which makes the entire book disingenuous and merely an excuse to drag the reader into every anti-Mormon argument that has ever been invented.

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