Richard N. Ostling is coauthor, with his wife Joan K. Ostling, of Mormon America: The Power and the Promise. He was a senior correspondent for Time magazine for many years before becoming a religion writer for the Associated Press. After Ostling's field reporting on the LDS church for Time's "Mormons Inc." cover story in 1997, Harper San Francisco approached the Ostlings about writing a comprehensive portrait of the religion.
The book has drawn praise from both believing Mormons and evangelical Christians, and criticism from church headquarters in Salt Lake City, which said the Ostlings "take a secular approach to a spiritual subject."
During a recent national book tour, Ostling—;who calls himself a "conventional Protestant"—;spoke with associate editor Douglas LeBlanc at CT's offices.
What sort of parallels have you observed between the evangelical and Mormon subcultures?
If you extract the theology from them, you have two cultures that are very similar—;devoted to family, devoted to their Scriptures, devoted to their churches, filled with anxiety about the moral direction of the American experiment, and feeling set upon by the broader culture. Mormons tend to believe they're the only ones who are getting beaten up by the academic world and by the media and Hollywood, and of course evangelicals share that; they sort of feel they're the special targets. Conservative Catholics feel that they're put upon. I'm sure Orthodox Jews have the same feeling, and we all know that Muslims do. To some extent they're all correct, because zealous, devout, high-profile religious communities do rub against the broader culture.
It seems that Mormons have done a fairly remarkable job of assimilating.
The current prophet, Gordon Hinckley, is very ...