July 19, 1999
Unitarians, Mormons, and Southern Baptists: Observations from Salt Lake City
-- Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Unitarian Universalists, who were in Salt Lake City recently for their annual meeting, could not have presented a more distinct counterpoint to the state's dominant religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church.
For instance, during their general assembly, the Unitarian Universalists stretched the traditional definition of family to include gay and lesbian couples, childless couples, unmarried couples with and without children, biracial families, and multicultural families.
"Every family born with love and commitment deserves respect, support, and nurture," said the Reverend Patricia Hoertdoerfer to the 2,000 delegates assembled in downtown Salt Lake City.
The Mormon Church, on the other hand, sees the family unit of a heterosexual man and woman with child as the primal--even eternal--relationship. Rather than embrace new definitions of family, the church put out a "Proclamation on the Family" that celebrates traditional notions of family. Moreover, the church has spent millions of dollars opposing proposals to legalize same-sex marriage in Alaska, Hawaii, and most recently, California.
Currently, the Unitarian Universalists are in a battle with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) over what the Unitarians say are "homophobic and discriminatory" policies: the BSA does not allow openly gay males to be Scouts or Scout leaders. The Mormon Church, which sponsors more Scout troops than any other group in America, supports the BSA position (and does not allow openly gay men or women to be leaders in the church, either).
For all such differences, however, the Unitarians were polite guests in the city that is the LDS Church headquarters. There was no name-calling from the Unitarian pulpits and no attempt to proselytize Utah neighborhoods. With rare exception, Mormons and Unitarian Universalists in Utah work together quite amicably, despite their political and theological differences.
Compare that to last year's visit of the Southern Baptist Convention, which also held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City.
On the surface, the Southern Baptists and Mormons appear to have much in common. Both strongly support what they term "family values." They oppose abortion, urge women to stay home and raise children, and support public prayers. Politically, the two churches see eye-to-eye on many issues.
But the Southern Baptists believe that Mormons are not Christian, that Mormons are in need of saving, so they spent much of their convention condemning LDS theology and witnessing to their Christian faith in a door-to-door outreach program much like the Mormon Church's own global missionary program. For their part, Mormons draw many of their converts from among conservative Christians such as the Southern Baptists. In other words, the belief in theological superiority goes both ways.
So it would seem, then, that sometimes political differences can be overcome with respect and tolerance, but political similarities may not be enough to deter theological opposition.