It feels to me that today this church is much less situated in a salt water desert basin in Utah, and much more part of a bigger, broader, more vibrant world that is aware of who we are and what we are doing. —Matthew S. Holland, UVU president
OREM — Utah Valley University President Matthew S. Holland said Tuesday that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are learning to swim in contemporary religion's mainstream during what he referred to as "the post-Mormon moment."
"It's one thing to think about loving others and getting along with people from different faith perspectives when you are insular and existing outside the main body of faith," Holland told a classroom full of students and professors during his appearance as a guest lecturer for UVU's special "Mormonism in the American Experience" class.
"But those questions," he continued, "become very real, very challenging when you are suddenly in the mainstream and part of a society in which we interact more regularly and are more connected globally."
And that is precisely where Holland believes Mormonism is as a result of the so-called "Mormon moment," which he said consisted of an extraordinary set of situations and circumstances — from the two presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney to "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway to the LDS Church's own "I'm a Mormon" media campaign — that put the church and its members squarely within the bright light of intense media scrutiny.
"It would be easy to over-estimate how much impact the Mormon moment had," Holland said, speaking as both a political scientist — he holds a Ph.D. in political science from Duke University — and as a lifelong member of the LDS Church. He referred to Pew Forum data indicating that 82 percent of respondents said they learned "virtually nothing" about Mormonism during the most recent Romney campaign.
"But it has been undeniably a very public, sweeping view of Latter-day Saints" that has taken place during the past several years, he said. "You had this sense that something pretty dynamic was happening. We just have to have some caution with what inferences we draw from that."
Still, said Holland, who is a member of the Deseret News editorial advisory board, "if it is true that something happened coming out of the Mormon moment, if there is a greater awareness of the church, a greater comfort at some level, then you have to assume the LDS people and the institution of the church are in a different visible space than they were four or five years ago."
And that signals "a unique new moment for us, a sort of coming out of the wilderness," he said.
"It feels to me that today this church is much less situated in a salt water desert basin in Utah, and much more part of a bigger, broader, more vibrant world that is aware of who we are and what we are doing," Holland said.
And that, he continued, invites Latter-day Saints to reconsider themselves.
"How does this shape how we think and how we talk?" he asked. "How do we relate to others now that we are no longer in society's wilderness but are considered to be more mainstream?"
He referred specifically to the doctrine of Christian charity, which on one level features the expectation that you "eliminate enmity and replace it with friendship and collaboration," but on another level can reduce the sense of "enlightened good will" when the love of God requires obedience that "sort of heightens the differences."
"As Latter-day Saints become more connected, more involved, more interactive, that call to love their neighbors and be more tolerant is balanced with this continuing commitment to care about what God says — especially about the things that make us unique and different," Holland said. "Being able to navigate those two manifestations of Christian charity is one of the real challenges the church will be working out with its members in this post-Mormon moment era."