God’s Base of Operations: Mormon Variations on the American Sense of Mission

Whatever his nationality, a student of Mormonism soon becomes aware of the significant and central position of America in both the history and the theology of the Mormon church. The importance of America goes far beyond what might naturally arise from the simple historical fact that the Church’s founder and first members were Americans. Mormons everywhere look to America, and particularly to the United States, as “God’s base of operations,” a “great and glorious nation with a divine mission and a prophetic history and future.”

As a non-Mormon European observer who has been studying the American sense of mission for some time, I am interested in the way in which this Mormon sense of America’s symbolic and religious importance is intimately tied, in some very specific ways, to the spiritual and moral ideas which have been prominent in American history from the days of the Puritan settlements. The nationalistic philosophy and rhetoric that manifested themselves in Mormonism almost from the time of its inception are part of a cohesive and identifiable stream leading from the earliest days of American history. A non-Mormon historian views these facts simply as the coming together of philosophical and historical elements that help to explain the sources and the timely appeal of some of the doctrines of Joseph Smith and his successors. A Mormon historian, on the other hand, is more likely to see the hand of God at work laying the foundations for the Restoration. From either viewpoint, I feel the question is of tremendous interest. One cannot understand the Mormon church without understanding its own version of the American sense of mission, and this aspect of Mormon beliefs ties the Church rather closely to an important American tradition that was essential in prefiguring and preparing for the founding and subsequent flourishing of the Mormon church.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 20:1
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