Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America
by Charles Randall Paul
Missions are attacks no matter how benign the motive. The history of religious missions is replete with complex social, political, economic as well as 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.
This book focuses on American religious history and particularly on the early twentieth-century case of Protestant missions to Utah to convert Mormons who had been converting Protestants. When the Mormons acquiesced to federal laws against polygamy and federal pressure to secularize Utah’s governance, the religious conflict over Mormon Christian legitimacy remained unresolved and salient. This was a religious conflict that, in American style, was engaged primarily as a contest of persuasion held on the legitimate ‘field of battle’: the human heart. Both rivals understood this and while they were disturbed by their aggressive mutual criticism, they did not think it wrong or even strange for their rival to engage them. The 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 in our diverse society.