Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America


by Charles Randall Paul

“Offers . . . a compelling course of action for transforming harsh conflict to peaceful contestation.”— Richard L. Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
“Readers should take enormous pleasure and profit from Converting the Saints” —Harold Bloom, author of The American Religion

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Book Description:

Missions are attacks no matter how benign the motive. The history of religious missions is replete with complex social, political, economic, and religious conflict. This historical study of how Americans have managed or mismanaged past religiously-influenced conflicts can provide practical wisdom for our time when many social, political, and economic conflicts are strongly influenced by religious factors. We live in local and global societies that are deeply troubled if not torn apart by the perennial problem of religious or ideological conflict between uncompromising rivals that desire mutually exclusive religious and political ends.

Converting the Saints focuses on American religious history and particularly on the early-twentieth-century Protestant missions to Utah to convert Mormons to traditional Christian belief. After the Mormons acquiesced to federal laws against polygamy and federal pressure to secularize Utah’s governance, the religious conflict over Mormonism’s Christian legitimacy remained unresolved. This was a religious conflict that, in true American style, was engaged as a contest of persuasion held on the figurative battlefield for the human heart. Both rivals understood this, and while unsettled by their mutual opponent’s aggressive criticisms, they did not think it wrong or even strange for their rival to engage them. Centering on the cases of three Protestant missions in Utah, this study explores the crucial understanding at the center of the American experiment: that persuasive contestation over religion, ideology, or founding principles is normal in our secular State, and even healthy for free citizens to flourish within a diverse society.


Praise for Converting the Saints:

“Converting the Saints tells of a time when the tables were turned on the Mormons. In the early twentieth century, after polygamy had been formally halted, and Utah was assimilating back into America, evangelical Protestants stepped up their efforts in Utah to win Mormon souls back to Christianity. Accustomed to proselytizing other Christians, the Saints now had Christians proselytizing them. Paul makes this encounter an illuminating case study in the clash of sincerely held religious convictions. How are we to treat those whom we believe are profoundly wrong and yet refuse to change? Although a Mormon-Protestant story set in Utah a century ago; it is also a contemporary story played out every day throughout the world and in every corner of the land. Paul offers a powerful diagnosis of the problem and, better yet, a compelling course of action for transforming harsh conflict to peaceful contestation.
— Richard L. Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

This is one of the best scholarly books I’ve read so far this year. Yet, most of it is accessible to the average reader. While many may think this is a book only for Mormons, I would hope that all pastors, laypersons and politicians would read this, in order to understand the importance of free speech and ideas. This is especially true in a time when so many want to shout down the other side, and speak violence towards their enemies, who in reality may not be that much different from them. 
The Millennial Star

[Charles Randall] Paul provides an intriguing look into how we can turn the tumultuous cacophony of partisanship into constructive dialogue that promotes a more peaceful society.”
Kevin Folkman, Association for Mormon Letters

“Americans are engaged in a time of great divisiveness at this juncture in history, and Converting the Saints extends an invitation to readers to consider that contesting religion, ideology and founding principles are not only normal but healthy for freedom to truly succeed within a secular, diverse society. Overall, Converting the Saints provides an easy-to-understand overview of the relationship between Protestant Christians and Latter-day Saints in the early 20th century.”
— Ryan D. Curtis, Deseret News

“I found his insights thought-provoking. Not only is this text a welcome addition to the corpus of the literature pertaining to conflict resolution theory, but it is also an important contribution to mission studies in general and to the growing body of Latter-day Saint mission studies in particular.
Ronald E. Bartholomew, BYU Studies Quarterly 58, no. 1

About the Author:

Charles Randall Paul (Ph.D., University of Chicago, Committee on Social Thought, 2000; M.B.A., Harvard University, 1972) is board chair, founder, and president of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. He has lectured widely and written numerous articles on healthy methods for engaging differences in religions and ideologies. He is on the board of editors for the International Journal of Decision EthicsHe has been married to his wife Jann for more than forty years, and they have five children.

More Information:

278 pages
ISBN 978-1-58958-756-4 (paperback); 978-1-58958-747-2 (hardcover)

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