Most Utahns old enough to read could easily guess which denomination the following headlines were written about:
- "University joined by others in stance against Sunday competition."- Legalized gaming called a "grievous and growing problem," and local church leaders are urged to educate their congregations about the "destructive forces of legalized gambling."
- The church "strongly opposes any changes in the law which would allow the sale or use of alcohol" at the 20,000-seat arena.
Given such an impromptu quiz, the majority would most likely guess the LDS Church.
Yet the headlines - all written in the past two years - come from stories referring to the Southern Baptist Convention and the activities of its members. And the stories behind them illustrate the similarities between LDS and Southern Baptist views on a wide variety of moral issues.
Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., was initially the only school in the country - other than LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University - to take a stand against Sunday athletic competition involving its athletes when the National Collegiate Athletic Association adopted a Sunday play rule proposed by the agency's Division I board of directors in April.
BYU and Campbell have now been joined by Baptist-related Baylor and Samford universities as well as 30 other schools across the country in opposing the rule change. Campbell University left the Big South Conference several years ago over the issue of Sunday competition, according to a Baptist press report. Both churches hold that Sunday is anointed to worship the Lord - rather than sports figures.
A moral stand on issues
Gambling is another issue on which the two faiths are like-minded.
In November, South Carolina's Southern Baptists passed a resolution condemning video poker in that state and urging residents to tell state lawmakers that they opposed using the gaming proceeds to fund public education.
Utahns' opposition to a referendum that would have legalized pari-mutuel betting in 1992 gained strength after the LDS Church asked members to vote down the measure. Now one of only two states in the nation that has no form of legalized gambling, Utah has avoided the nationwide rush in recent years to fund public education programs with gaming revenues.
And while many churches have come out in opposition to gambling, few in the past 50 years have publicly opposed the sale or distribution of alcohol.
Utahns have yet to face a certain public policy debate over whether the state's stringent alcohol laws will be relaxed during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Residents might take counsel from their counterparts in Nashville, Tenn., who weathered their own battle with controlling the sale and distribution of spirits during construction of that city's new arena in 1995. Located four blocks from the world headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention, the arena hosts the kinds of events Utahns see in the Delta Center. Southern Baptists there passed a resolution stating their strong opposition to the sale or use of alcohol in the arena, which by law was prohibited.
Other moral issues both denominations take similar stands on include abortion, pornography, gay rights, religious liberty, euthanasia, assisted suicide and culture and entertainment.
Flexing their moral muscles
It is the latter for which Southern Baptists have become most widely known - at least in the past year.
While Mormons have long been counseled by church leaders to avoid watching degrading movies and videos, Southern Baptists have taken their displeasure with such entertainment a step further.
During last year's convention in Dallas, messengers voted overwhelmingly to boycott Disney not only for its increasing emphasis on sexually explicit and violent movies, but over the company's decision to lead out in gay rights - for both its employees and theme park patrons.
The move made front-page head-lines across the country, with Disney executives suddenly at odds with millions of Southern Baptists, many of whom had supported the company's films and theme parks over the years but felt betrayed by its decidedly "un-family" decisions. And while the financial impact of the boycott can only be guessed at, the decision to follow through with it has provided a definite wake-up call for businesses, according to Barrett Duke, director of denominational relations for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
It put companies on notice "that we won't hesitate to call those most responsible (for moral decline) to accountability for their actions," he said. "Here's a company that's been trusted by millions of people, who've paid money to them because they make good kids' programs. Then they go out and use that money to produce materials and programs that undermine the very values of those who have patronized them for so long."
The commission continues to get feedback from people nationwide regarding the boycott, and "supporters outnumber opponents by 20 to 1."
Morality in politics
One of 15 national Southern Baptist agencies, the ethics commission is charged with implementing convention policy with regard to moral issues. It couples direct political lobbying in Washington with involvement in various interfaith efforts, providing leadership and support for conservative Christian groups - such as the Religious Right and the Moral Majority - that seek political change.
It's a relatively new focus for Southern Baptists, Duke said, citing the denomination's definite political shift during the past 20 years after a "takeover" of the convention by conservatives in 1979. Prior to that time, positions take by the ethics commission - formerly known as the Christian Life Commission - were at times out of step with the convention as a whole.
Grassroots Southern Baptists wrested control of the denomination from their more liberal counterparts - who came mainly from the faith's six seminaries and left the convention in droves once the political tide shifted.
Thus, the denomination of which both Bill Clinton and Al Gore are baptized members now opposes their political stances on a wide variety of moral issues, most recently including partial birth abortion, gay rights and school prayer. And Baptists are not afraid to be vocal in their criticism.
Press statements issued by the Southern Baptist Convention's political lobbying arm regularly point out the irony of the liberal positions the pair have taken.
Primarily a rural, agrarian denomination until about 50 years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention has become a political force to be reckoned with in its own right, claiming Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott and Jesse Helms among its most prominent and powerfully aligned members.
Duke said the increasing affluence, education level and influence of Southern Baptists in major metropolitan areas, along with the convention's sheer size, have put it "in a wonderfully unique position to influence what happens in this country."
While Duke said his denomination "would like to see the entire world become Christian and adopt those (biblical) values within their own culture . . . we have no intention of trying to enforce that. Historically, people who have tried to make other people become Christians have only hurt Christianity."
And while they occasionally join with other churches they perceive as non-Christian - such as the Muslims - to make a statement on a particular issue, there's some hesitancy by Southern Baptist leadership to jump into any full-fledged partnership with the LDS Church, even on moral positions both churches share.
"Our experience has been that there is a considerable degree of reluctance on the part of Mormon leaders to sign on with those issues. . . . We don't have to carry each other's mail here," said Tom Elliff, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. "We can happily agree that there are other people who sign on to the same issues we do. I'm grateful others do, but we don't necessarily need to work together. If it works out in some arena where there's no compromise of conviction or faith - neither group will compromise tenets of their faith."
LDS President Gordon B. Hinck-ley told Latter-day Saints during their general conference in April that, "We can and do work with those of other religions in the defense of those values which have made our civilizaiton great and our society distinctive.
"For instance, there recently came to my office a Protestant minister who is a most effective leader in the unending battle against pornography. We are grate-ful for him; we join with him and his associates. We give financial support to his organization.
"We can and do work with those of other religions in various undertakings in the everlasting fight against social evils which threaten the treasured values which are so important to all of us. These people are not of our faith, but they are our friends, neighbors and co-workers in a variety of causes. We are pleased to lend our strength to their efforts. But in all of this there is no doctrinal compromise. There need not be and must not be on our part. But there is a degreee of fellowship as we labor together.
"As we carry forward our distinctive mission, we work under a mandate given us by the risen Lord, who has spoken in this last and final dispensation. This is his unique and wonderful cause. We bear testimony and witness of him. But we need not do so with arrogance or self-righteousness."