Just finished The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (U. of Illinois Press, 1994) by Armand Mauss. It is an exercise in the sociology of religion, looking at the experience of the LDS Church in the 20th century and particularly the second half of that century. I can summarize the thesis of the book in one sentence: After spending the first fifty years of the 20th century striving for and largely achieving assimilation with and acceptance by mainstream America, the Church then spent the next fifty years partially de-assimilating and reasserting its unique and conservative religious identity in order to keep itself and its members visibly distinct from mainstream and Evangelical Protestantism. [I didn't say it would be a short sentence.] Mauss terms that de-assimilation process retrenchment.
Examples of Retrenchment
I'll just give some examples from a couple of chapters in the book that illustrate retrenchment. Chapter 7 is devoted to two case studies. One of these looks at the changing status of the King James Version. The KJV was always the preferred Bible for Mormon, but J. Reuben Clark's Why The King James Version (1956) inaugurated a much stronger dedication to the KJV.
Publication of the LDS edition of the KJV Bible in 1979 essentially canonized use of the KJV, effectively delegitimizing public use of any other version of the Bible except by LDS scholars in books or articles (somehow the KJV rule doesn't apply when there's a strong need to actually understand particular passages). Furthermore, Mauss observes, "Having canonized the KJV, the Mormons have since then retroactively Mormonized it, displacing much of the traditional Protestant hermeneutical content with Mormon counterparts," including, of course, JST passages in the footnotes and an appendix.
The second case study looks at the involvement of the LDS Church in national politics, which crossed a threshold with organized LDS opposition to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. LDS political initiative has continued with other family, marriage, and moral issues right up to the present. The author also mentions in passing the replacement of many traditional Protestant hymns in the LDS hymnal by explicitly Mormon compositions, a topic I posted on earlier.
Fundamentalist Thought and Practice
The most interesting material, I thought, was in Chapter 10, "Mormon Fundamentalism: The Institutional Matrix." The reference is not, of course, to polygamy, as the term is often used in Mormon writing. He explains, "Fundamentalism is not a specific creed but rather a certain way of thinking about religion, about deity, and about the other world." He continues:
In its fullest form, fundamentalism is characterized by such beliefs as scriptural inerrancy and literalism; salvation by grace (sometimes through a born-again experience); authoritarian leadership; and strict obedience to pastoral injunctions. Along with this general theological outlook there is also a certain austerity in dress and personal style, traditionalism in gender roles, prudery in sex, and hostility toward "modernist" influences like "secular humanism," biblical criticism, and scientific theories such as evolution.
The balance of the chapter discusses the role of the LDS lay clergy and folk fundamentalism, the effect of the Correlation movement, recurrent instability in the First Presidency (this has not been the case since President Hinckley assumed office), and the changing role of intellectuals within the Church (they are now rarely called to senior leadership positions and are largely excluded from CES except for BYU positions). From the chapter summary: "A kind of fundamentalism seems to have emerged more prominently among the Mormon grass roots in recent decades. ... This chapter has explained how five institutional features of contemporary church life have had the unintended effect of fostering the spread of fundamentalism."
Some people take the liberal/fundamentalist labels too seriously. I think it's obvious the LDS Church has moved significantly toward the fundamentalist end of the spectrum in recent decades, but even so there are countervailing features that maintain islands of liberalism intact within Mormonism: the strong support for pursuing university education and advanced degrees in any and every field; the presence of BYU and the U right in the heart of Mormon Utah; the wise unwillingness of present leadership to pick a fight over evolution; and support for full participation in national politics and corporate America on the part of individual Mormons. Let's be grateful: from the point of view of science or the academy, it's much easier to be a Mormon than an Evangelical.
If you find these and related topics of interest, you should go buy the book and get the full treatment, including the many tables included in the book summarizing quantitative survey data supporting the arguments in each chapter.