Being from my youth something of a non-conformist, it is somewhat ironic to find myself in a conformist church in my later years. The irony is only superficial since joining the church was in itself an act of non-conformity with American society in general -- and I tend to rebel against attempts by the church to make itself at least outwardly more like the general society.
Mormons of course are only moderately conformists compared for example to the Amish, Orthodox and Hassidic Jews, and some fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. But compared to mainstream American we are conformists.
Now the problem with conformist churches is that amongst Christians, actually amongst all of the Abrahamic religions, they have a well deserved reputation for doing evil. But that tends to only happen when they gain sufficient political clout to dominate society. Absent such political clout they tend to do good, provide diversity of perspective, and in general to benefit society.
Thus while the mission of such churches is to combat the influence of the world, and where necessary to separate themselves from the world -- the world, nevertheless has an important function to keep the minory group from going off the rails. There is no question but what the Puritans made major positive contributions to American society. When they were in the majority, however, they established what amounted to a theocracy on American soil, during this period they also did considerable evil not only in the Salem witchcraft trials or their treatment of such individuals such as Roger Williams, Ann Hutchinson, and Ethan Allen, but also in their attitudes to science and minorities.
Similarly, the Southern Baptists when they were in the minority helped establish religious freedom in America by making an unlikely alliance with a deist, Thomas Jefferson, in developing what became the establishment clause of the First Amendment by collaborating with him to destablish the Anglican church in Virginia. However, when they started obtaining considerable clout in the South they did considerable evil in the form or racism, bigotry and anti-intellectualism. Their propensity to do evil has only been reined in by the fact that they have had to exist in a Federal legal structure which favors of an open society.
It is not uncommon in America to point to the evils and excesses of the Roman Catholic Church. However, that has not been the actual American experience where the Catholic Church has had to struggle to survive in a sea of Protestants. Here in America, the Catholic Church has excelled in its establishiment of fine institutions of higher education and has done noble work in relieving poverty and championing workers' rights. Its activities in Mexico, however, have not been as exemplary. The difference? Their inability to gain political dominance in America.
Our church has a doctrine that although evil, Satan, has a role to play. It does not have a similar doctrine with respect to the world. In its early years, it was necessary for the church to flee to the wilderness for the protection of seclusion. Even there it would not have been permitted to gain the time an isolation necessary to grow and take root had the eastern states not become involved in the greatest internal bloodbath of Amerian history. It could not actually discard this protective seclusion until such time as the Protestant stranglehold on American society began to fall away after WWII.
May the Lord continue to bless The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with perpetual minority status and relatively minor political clout. May the Saints revel in what makes them different from the majority of Christianity, and never know the temptations toward tyranny inherent in obtaining political dominance. And, may this country be spared the tyranny of any other religious group or any similar ideological group which may threaten or destroy its religious diversity.