Which is why Trepanier (an associate professor of political science at Saginaw Valley State University, who is not LDS) and Newswander (an adjunct professor of political science at the University of South Dakota, who is) use their book to "explore the contributions Mormonism has made to American civilization and to the values that civilization claims to espouse."
In the process they also discuss LDS history (especially polygamy), Mormons in popular culture, Mormon fundamentalism, Mormons in politics and Mormon theology.
"By challenging the accepted parameters of what it means to be Christian in America — particularly in their source of revelation and their understanding of the role of Christ and America's place in Christian theology — Mormons have indirectly questioned the religio-cultural foundations of America," the authors conclude. "This challenge has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream, and has been met at alternate times with prejudice, reservations and partial acceptance."
Even so, they continue, "Mormons have been able to contribute to defining American civilization. In this sense, Mormonism is not only the most American of religions, but it is the religion of America itself."
Standing up for the faith
At the very least, it's the religion of Sen. Orrin Hatch.
"I'm a firm believer," he said during a recent telephone interview. Which is why in 1995 he published "Higher Laws: Understanding the Doctrines of Christ" with Deseret Book. It was, in his mind, a way to "stand up for my faith."
"My desire is not to let anyone get away with slandering or libeling my church," he said. "That book gave them plenty of reasons not to."
When Deseret Book took "Higher Laws" out of print ("I was kind of shocked when they decided to do that," Hatch said), the senator reacquired the rights to the manuscript, waiting for the right time to publish it again.
That time, he said, is now, referring to the swirl of media attention that has been focused on the LDS Church as a result of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign.
"There is so much information – and misinformation – about the church out there right now, and there's more to come," Hatch said. "I believe that during the coming months there will be some really dirty stuff pulled to try to discredit the church, and in the process, to discredit Mitt."
And so Hatch has worked with Cedar Fort Publishing & Media to re-publish his book as "An American, A Mormon and a Christian." The book is scheduled to be released in September, in time, Hatch hopes, to provide answers to those trying to understand Romney's Mormonism.
"It's impossible to handle attacks on the church in a sound bite," he said. "That's why I wanted to publish this book now. The whole purpose is to answer the basic questions that people might have about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My hope is that if people will read this, no matter what else is said they will see that we are not only good family people, but that we are Christians and we live Christian lives."
Hatch said he tweaked the book a little from its previous incarnation, but acknowledges "mostly it's the same." And while he said he hopes the book will provide accurate information and correct misinformation, he makes no bones about the fact that he hopes readers will be persuaded by his words to embrace the LDS faith.
"I am a missionary at heart," he said, "and this book is basically my testimony. I know the church is true, and I'm not afraid to let people know that."
Taking a similarly faith-based approach to defining Mormonism to a broad audience is Dr. Anthony Sweat, an LDS Church Educational System employee and a popular speaker at various LDS conferences and workshops. His "Mormons: An Open Book" is published by Deseret Book – which is owned and operated by the LDS Church – under its Ensign Peak imprint. It approaches the subject from the perspective of orthodoxy.
Like Hatch, Sweat is a believer, and he wants to share and explain what he believes.
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