Politics of American Religious Identity

Politics of American Religious Identity Cover

Politics of American Religious Identity

The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle

By Kathleen Flake

University of North Carolina Press, Paperback, 9780807855010, 256pp.

Publication Date: March 10, 2004

Description
Between 1901 and 1907, a broad coalition of Protestant churches sought to expel newly elected Reed Smoot from the Senate, arguing that as an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Smoot was a lawbreaker and therefore unfit to be a lawmaker. The resulting Senate investigative hearing featured testimony on every peculiarity of Mormonism, especially its polygamous family structure. The Smoot hearing ultimately mediated a compromise between Progressive Era Protestantism and Mormonism and resolved the nation's long-standing "Mormon Problem." On a broader scale, Kathleen Flake shows how this landmark hearing provided the occasion for the country--through its elected representatives, the daily press, citizen petitions, and social reform activism--to reconsider the scope of religious free exercise in the new century.
Flake contends that the Smoot hearing was the forge in which the Latter-day Saints, the Protestants, and the Senate hammered out a model for church-state relations, shaping for a new generation of non-Protestant and non-Christian Americans what it meant to be free and religious. In addition, she discusses the Latter-day Saints' use of narrative and collective memory to retain their religious identity even as they changed to meet the nation's demands.

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