We Mormons, and SquareTwo, have survived the “Mormon Moment.” SquareTwo can even be credited with helping us through a period that proved a little too heady for some and more than a bit confusing for others.

With all the attention drawn to Mormonism from Mitt Romney’s candidacies and from gay marriage controversies, some writers, bloggers, and Sunday School agitators saw the opportunity finally to reconcile Mormonism with American culture and society, or more precisely, with their view of America’s emerging “progressive” future, and more generally with “the modern world.” Mormon “girls” (and boys) from Cambridge to California sought to leverage national attention in order to separate Mormons from their repressive moral teachings and backward model of the family. The attention that our progressives lavished on each other, with the help of the Salt Lake Tribune and its bi-coastal amplifiers (sometimes abetted by non-progressives like myself, who couldn’t resist poking at their arguments), attained a critical mass of buzz that made an innocent bystander wonder if something was really afoot, if foundations were actually shaking.

They weren’t. The Church and its basic teaching on morality and on the family are still here, and the progressives seem finally to have concluded the Church will not be following their lead anytime soon. Hopefully we have all learned something. Faithful, “traditional” church members have had the opportunity to learn something of the real struggles of those who feel marginalized by sexual orientation or faith crises, and advocates of “progress” away from fundamental teachings have learned that their favored exceptions are not going to redefine the rules. John Dehlin, I am told, is still preaching his gospel of moral surrender, secular “diversity” and thin rationalism, but he is no longer pretending to do so as a Latter-day Saint. (His momentary victory in providing the occasion for the overthrow of good old-fashioned apologetics at BYU is already proving to by pyrrhic.)

So that “Mormon Moment,” the one touted in the media, has passed. The voices on the more radical fringe of would-be Mormonism have retreated to more subdued and patient hopes for “progress,” or have withdrawn from the Church altogether. At the same time, of course, a threshold in America and indeed in Western civilization has been crossed: the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in 2015 sealed the national victory of sexual radicalism and left Mormons among a discredited minority of moral traditionalists. Our moral minority is doubtless a large one, but it faces the relentless opposition of the media and intellectual and legal elites. It is even possible there is still a potential moral majority, but without the capacity to affirm itself publicly, to know and communicate with its members without running the gauntlet of elite shaming, it can never function and experience itself as a coherent and legitimate body.

This confirmed minority status is certainly bad news for America, for the real, natural family, and thus for civilization. But we have to think it is good news for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is our responsibility to make it good news, insofar as we are able, and with faith in God to assure the outcome and in our prophets and apostles to lead the way. It is not a bad thing to have to forsake the 20th-century dream of a comfortable alliance between Mormonism and the American mainstream.

In the most fundamental sense, the “Mormon Moment” we just witnessed is one that was conceived a century ago, as Mormon’s sought to put polygamy behind them and then looked for every opportunity to befriend the general culture. There were good reasons for this (missionary reasons, to begin with), and there were notable successes. In a way this long “Mormon Moment” was already peaking when I was a child in the 1950s, and our charismatic and widely respected white-maned President, David. O. McKay, was at the helm of a church that was beginning to savor the pleasures of respectability. America was reconceiving itself as a god-fearing composite of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, and Mormons were knocking on the door full of hope of acceptance in the ruling councils. Then, in the 1960s and 70s, the countercultural upheaval and the prominence of the question of racial justice practically derailed this mainstreaming of Mormonism. But with the 1978 revelation, the game seemed to be on again: with such assets as the likeable visibility of the Osmonds, the media-savvy geniality of President Hinckley, and Mitt Romney’s near-successful bid for the land’s highest office, mainstream American status seemed to many once again within our reach.

But it was not to be. The lure of Mammon and Sodom was drawing America ever further from the family-centered ideal that had grounded the hope for a true “Mormon Moment.” The Church responded by listening to those who were torn and troubled, by ministering, and of course by standing its ground on fundamentals and by clear warnings to those who preferred the latest thing to the one true thing. So passed a brief period when some good-hearted Mormons were tempted to confuse a certain gleaming terrace of the Great and Spacious Building with the house built on the Rock. The Church will continue to have its detractors, needless to say, indeed more than ever, and some of them, alas, will continue to arise from within—but at least the distinction between inside and outside has been clarified. “Boundary maintenance,” decried by advanced thinkers oblivious to the contours of their own convictions, is indeed a necessary function of any institution. To invite others to share blessings, there must be somewhere to welcome them, and some shared understanding of those blessings and their conditions. And so now, as is plain for all who have eyes to see, the Church’s boundaries have been maintained.

A new, true Mormon Moment may thus be opening. Now that it is clearer who we are, and who we are not, we can take up the task of being Mormon in a world (and first of all in an America) that seems to have set its face resolutely against the goods of the natural and traditional family (yes, a real thing, despite its variations), and thus against what should be common sense and is certainly the only possible foundation of a good society. Of particular interest to SquareTwo authors and editors is the challenging intellectual side to this true Mormon Moment, this (surely long) countercultural moment, the moment of Mormons in internal exile, if you will. Our cultural exile cannot be absolute, and so the challenge of engaging the moral, political, and philosophical ideas at work in the larger society is more urgent and potentially more rewarding than ever.

This engagement must have both defensive and expansive dimensions. Defensive: we must defend ourselves against the incursion of worldviews and ideologies incompatible with gospel fundamentals—not by crude decrials and alarms, but through confident and intelligent engagement based as much on patient study of the facts and of the ideas shaping those facts. Such study must draw from the best books of the philosophical, literary, and theological traditions as well as from solid empirical evidence while staying close to the touchstone of faith and settled doctrine. As our leaders now point out emphatically and frequently, making the case for religious freedom is “job one” in this more defensive posture of the faithful Mormon intellect.

Such intellectual defense simultaneously looks both inward and outward: we must do what we can to persuade non-Mormons who might be persuadable, but first and foremost we must know how to discern for ourselves the premises that lead to hostility to institutional religion as these penetrate our own thinking, and must develop the philosophical anti-bodies to resist them. Religious freedom as a social ideal and institutional practice depends upon religious freedom as a state of our minds and souls.

Expansive: The new, countercultural Mormon Moment also inherently includes reaching out to fellow exiles from the elite-dominated secular culture. We need friends for political and legal purposes, to be sure, but we need them especially as sparring partners in the fight for understanding, both of what is good and of what is possible under current social and political conditions. To make such friends and to share our beliefs in this extended Mormon Moment will be inseparable from learning both to appreciate and to criticize the philosophical standpoints of those with whom we share a readiness to resist the idols of the age. We must approach conversation with moral and cultural allies as an opportunity for both appreciation and criticism, gathering the best we can find in others and thus sharpening our understanding of our distinctive Mormon goods. These goods will become more attractive to others as we come to better understand them through engagement with other philosophies and theologies.

SquareTwo has been a consistent voice of faithful sanity over the last decade. Our writers have approached a broad range of issues while employing diverse intellectual tools of evidence and analysis. They have represented a considerable spectrum of opinion (including notable differences amongst members of the editorial board) while avoiding intemperate ideological passions and frivolous attacks on authoritative LDS beliefs. We have negotiated the hazards and temptations of the media’s “Mormon Moment” quite successfully, and so we stand in a stronger position than ever to contribute to an extended and truly productive Mormon Moment.

I conclude by signaling one particularly important and rich field of intellectual engagement central to the new and true Mormon Moment. The question of the definition of marriage and the proper context for understanding sexual orientation has been largely decided by a reaffirmation of the Church’s fundamental teachings. Now the real work begins. The question of homosexuality, while it touches on doctrinal fundamentals, directly affects only a very small percentage of the faithful. But the question of complementary and equality within marriage, and, more generally, of a proper understanding of masculinity and of femininity, is both philosophically more challenging than the gay question and a matter of more immediate practical concern for all of us. It is also a question concerning which the Restored Gospel provides truly unique resources. The exploration of these theological resources in engagement with the social and ideological trends of the age will require the best of our faith and of our reason. Our chief editor at SquareTwo, Valerie Hudson, has made a major contribution to fleshing out a distinctively LDS understanding of the man/woman question, and it is heartening to see the significant influence of her writing on Terryl Givens’ magisterial presentation of Latter-day Saint theology in Wrestling the Angel. But the task of more fully articulating the profound possibilities of LDS thought on manhood and womanhood and, especially, of getting clear on the bearing of eternal principles on contemporary problems and practices remains still before us. Under Valerie’s leadership, SquareTwo has positioned itself well to carry on this essential work of faithful scholarship and reflection.

Full Citation for this Article: Hancock, Ralph C. (2017) "SquareTwo at Ten: 'Beyond the Moment,'" SquareTwo, Vol. 10 No. 3 (Fall 2017), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHancockMormonMoment.html, accessed <give access date>.

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