If this goes on—

If we wanted to hazard a guess at what the upcoming years and decades hold in store for the church in the United States, the decisive factors will likely be to what extent the country as a whole becomes more secular (or more religious), and how the church correspondingly arrives at a place of higher or lower tension with the rest of society.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the status quo is a fairly reliable guide to the future. But even the status quo in the U.S. is highly varied. There are highly religious areas where Latter-day Saints are the predominant religious element, others where we constitute one point in a varied confessional mosaic, and others where we are an unwelcome minority. There are secular spaces where church members are merely unusual, and some where entrance is all but denied. Sometimes all these places are within walking distance of each other.

Projections based on current trends are perhaps a better guide to the future, and they point toward increasing secularism and heightened tension. But just as no status quo can last forever, not every trend continues to its ultimate conclusion.

So a thumbnail sketch of our possible futures—or maybe just our present fears—might look like this, beginning with a more religious America, with lower tension between the church and society.

America’s Prophet. In a more religious future, the nation re-Christianizes and rechurches, while the church deftly tacks toward the center on a few issues. Damon Linker’s prediction of a socially conservative, economically liberal American mainstream becomes reality. Other candidates for the periodic, ad-hoc position of “America’s Pastor” are disqualified, and Russell M. Nelson or a successor becomes the next dispenser of grandfatherly wisdom and Christian aphorisms. Utah finally gets a Supreme Court justice.

Back to the ’80s. Somewhat more likely is for the church to simply outlast the current controversies over cultural issues, much as it outlasted the controversies of the ’60s and ’70s, by making adjustments in order to find a stable place on the American religious spectrum. In a repeat of this scenario, that Supreme Court seat may not be entirely out of reach.

A more religious America does not necessarily mean less tension with society, however.

No BoM in Gilead. Like a story co-written by Margaret Atwood and Stephenie Meyer, a more religious country could simultaneously be more hostile to the church. (Or if you prefer Golden Age science fiction, see Heinlein’s novella If This Goes On.) Think of it as the entire U.S. and institutions of all kinds turning into something like your least favorite parts of the deep South. I hear Winnipeg is nice this time of year…

But the uncomfortable fact is that the more likely outcomes are those in line with current trends, and those trends point to increased secularization, so that tension with society rises even without any action on the church’s part. The church has experienced high levels of tension before, in the 1900s, or the 1880s, or the 1840s. In highly secular scenarios matched with low tolerance, however, it’s hard to see a path to a positive outcome.

The fanatics will inherit the church. In a thoroughly secularized and intolerant society, what today seems completely normal to us (and many of our neighbors)—Sunday church attendance, weeknight youth activities, contributing to congregational life through service in auxiliary callings or leadership positions—can be seen as an as intrusive, even harmful monopolization of a healthy human life. If a secular society comes to regard moderate religious faith as something that is indistinguishable from inactivity, then traits of fanaticism will become adaptive for institutional survival. We can either try to become helpful, friendly fanatics, or the only ones who stay will be those who already have fanatic traits. Book of Mormon inerrancy becomes the default position when inerrantists are the only ones willing to teach or attend Sunday School.

The progressively reorganized church. “Reorganized,” like “Mormon” is another institutional designation currently in search of tenants. To maintain current levels of tension with a future society that is much more secular and much less tolerant might require shifting fundamental church teachings in ways that alienate committed members. It might involve disavowing Joseph Smith’s teachings on marriage and Brigham Young altogether, along with everything all prophets since them have taught on gender and sexuality; a retreat from exclusive claims on truth or authority and surrendering the historicity of the Book of Mormon; a Protestant rather than hierarchical view of priesthood; and a more congregational structure. How many members would follow the church to that place is anyone’s guess, but the experience of the Community of Christ may be a guide.

Dwindling in unbelief. Depending on one’s perspective, this scenario is compatible—or even synonymous—with the previous outcomes. The lowest degree of tension with a thoroughly secular society is where members of the church become as secular as the surrounding society over the space of a generation or two. Meetinghouses or temples could be repurposed as community centers, museums, or performing arts spaces, the church’s universities sent off into the world with a clap on the back and a sizable endowment, while Mormon Helping Hands could continue as the Restoration’s answer to the militant monastic orders that survive as charitable organizations. The last prophet could be tasked with redacting and burying up our records for the benefit of some more fortunate generation.

66 comments for “If this goes on—

  1. Continued stagnating grow in the US, Canada, and Europe. We can blame it on the current secularization trend, but the Church’s problems run much deeper than that.

    Continued growth in developing countries. This will change the dynamics of church finances, and can possibly explain the GA’s current investment strategies.

  2. I thought we were supposed to have 200 million members by the end of the 21st century? Where’s that option?

  3. I don’t have much to add (although “fanatics inheriting the church” seems to me the most likely of your scenarios, although if pressed to make up my own, I might come up with some different ones), but I just want to say that I think the last sentence of this post is brilliant understatement.

  4. If I have enough time to do more than drive-by comment in the next couple of days, I might post some.

  5. Great food for thought. I really can’t imagine scenarios 1 and 3. I think that the church will outlast some controversies and also make a steady progression of small somewhat progressive tweaks to try to mitigate other controversies. News cycles move fast, so many times leaders can just get away with not saying anything and the issue is forgotten in a month.

    Already, though, the tilt seems to be toward fanaticism for the active and a gradual fading away for progressives, at least outside Utah. Many of my European contacts inform me that it seems that only the most stalwart and rigid keep the church in operation there. I see a similar trend in California where it is the most rigid who last and progressives gradually lose interest. In Utah County, by contrast, Mormonism is such a strong, overpowering norm that it is difficult to envision a social life without activity in a ward, although even there that is beginning to change.

    Suffice it to say, I simply cannot see the younger generation of Mormons becoming like what the today’s older generation is. It is fascinating to see how the changes occur from year to year.

  6. Is secularism agressive in America? By nature secularism I think is tolerent toward religious so long as religious people just want to live their religion. When they try to impose it on others they have problems.

    I expect US society to become more secular, because religious people have misused their power in the past, gay marriage, abortion, sexism, are examples, and are loosing credibility. That leaves secularism.

    The church will either remove its discrimination in the near future, or all that will be left are fanatics.

  7. For the record, Utah has already had a Supreme Court Justice–George Sutherland, known as the intellectual leader of the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” during the 1920s and 1930s–four libertarian Justices so named for their opposition to most social welfare legislation).

    Sutherland was born in England and immigrated to Springville as a toddler along with his convert parents. Because his parents became disaffected with the Church shortly after arriving, Sutherland was never baptized. He was raised in Utah County, however, and was one of Karl Maeser’s prize students at BYU before leaving the state to study law. He practiced in Provo and Salt Lake City, often representing the Church, and represented Utah in the House and Senate before his appointment to the Court. His last speech was delivered to a BYU graduating class in the early 1940s (read by his son because Sutherland was too ill to deliver it himself).

    Perhaps the OP meant, “Utah finally gets a *Latter-day Saint* Supreme Court Justice, though it’s not clear why such a Justice would need to come from Utah.

  8. I think the most likely scenario is that the country becomes more secular. Trump is destroying any credibility the Evangelicals ever had. The Church will try to hold the line on traditional teachings, but this is a long, slow losing battle. We’re already losing our younger generations. Growth will be very meager, historically speaking, with no prospects I can see of improvement. Leaders will have to give in to mounting evidence regarding BoM historicity, LGBTQ normality (meaning these are not “choices” people make), and the infallibility of leaders (we mouth the words now, but soon we will need to acknowledge the reality in practical terms). How the institution will attempt to become more relevant is a mystery, but the notion that we are “the only true church” with the only path to heaven will become more and more difficult to sell as we remain a minuscule sect in a vast and increasingly secular world.

  9. It’s worth asking what events would lead to these outcomes. As I’ve mentioned before, I think we’re in a period of conflict which will bring rapid social change. It’s roughly akin to 1965-1975 or 1915-1925 or even 1860-1870. However I suspect so many things are contingent upon how events turn out that it’s impossible to make a prediction. Just look at the last election. Small changes (Hillary not saying “deplorables” and not pushing pro-choice judges so overtly) could have swung the election. The last three years with a President Clinton would likely develop quite differently from three years of President Trump. I suspect the election next year will be like that too. Then there are the unforeseen events like war or technological advances. Look at the role of widespread deployment of birth control in the 1960’s for instance.

    The backlash to the “free love” movement, drugs and crime led to a social conservative uprise in the 1970’s through 1990’s. While one could say that backlash in many ways failed (drugs are at least as prevalent now, sexual mores haven’t followed the “moral majority,” etc.) it did fundamentally shift religion.

    It’s really hard to make these sorts of predictions just because so much affects it. How would the 1960’s counter culture movement have been affected had Johnson not escalated Viet Nam?

    Everything points towards rising secularism in the United States. My sense is that a lot of this is technologically driven in subtle ways as well. But will that trend persist until we reach European levels of secularism? It’s not clear. However even in the midst of this rising secularism is the development of new religious traditions. (“Spiritual, not religious” is one) You also have the rise of pseudo-religious tendencies where activist movements come to have very strong moral codes enforced by shunning or worse and many of the psychological trappings of religion. (Much like arguably explicitly secularist Marxist movements in Europe had religious overtones in the late 19th through end of the 20th century)

  10. I honestly see the dwindling option becoming the most likely. The fact that large numbers of members of the Church were actively discussing the possibility of revisiting the WoW this past conference is not something I had ever seen before (though I readily admit the rise of social media has made that discussion far easier so perhaps I’m making something of nothing). It makes me wonder what other seemingly core Mormon characteristics are up for debate. Also, part of what I think will drive this discussion is that I don’t think Gex Xers and Millenials are or will be nearly as willing to toe certain Church-prescribed lines in the sand with their children and grandchildren as Boomers and Silents have been (I’m sure Gen Z won’t). I guess you could also throw in the conspiracy theory that President Nelson is pushing to stop using the name “Mormon” because he is trying to position the Church to more fully unite with the wider Christian world ala Community of Christ (my apologies if I’m not accurately reflecting CoC’s shift).

    I’ve always been of the opinion that the Church would give up its exclusive authority claim when hell froze over, and I think that’s still the case, but maybe I need to start checking the weather reports for Hades.

  11. I think most of the coffee discussions online were tongue in cheek and largely trolling people.

  12. I’m ok with more fanatics.

    I think the assumption is that a fanatic will be a crazy racist Trump supporter rather than someone willing to leave home and family, travel halfway across the world and start a new life in the promised Land. You know, Book of Mormon people restoration era and pioneer stuff.

    I’ll take those fanatics any day.

  13. Just wanted to say that I was grateful to the shout-out to Heinlein’s Future History (and that was exactly where my mind went on reading the title (Nehemiah Scudder! Ack!) I think of that tale often. I suspect we think both too small and too large in our imagination of the future. By the way, “If This Goes On” does not stand alone… “Coventry” has to go with it to get a better view of the message.

  14. P, as I know you know when it comes to the significance of what we call the Word of Wisdom relative to coffee we’re primarily dealing with inspired practices and doctrines given in the 1920-40’s that are tied to but not the same as D&C 89. It could easily be that the brethren one day interpret D&C 89’s hot drinks as literally hot tea and coffee but not the same drinks at a moderate temperature. My own view is that is likely the original intent of D&C 89. However if they with their authority ban coffee that’s fine. Just like abuse of cocaine isn’t in D&C 89 but is still prohibited. I feel it part of my covenants I’ve made to be obedient to them on that issue. Certainly God can change that, much like we’re not forbidden to eat pork but at one time Jews were. I don’t think such prohibitions mean they are intrinsic moral wrongs. However I do think for those of us who’ve made covenants in the temple we’ve agree to abide these directives by his servants.

  15. p – really? Why don’t you question the commandment to pray. What will you get. A lot of reasons based on experience. Well, if you want to know why to abstain from coffee, there are a lot of reasons. Many supported by studies. But I can surely tell you from travelling with coworkers around the world at all hours of the day and morning, I’ve never been one to insist we stop what we are doing so I can go get a cup of coffee to think straight.

    Ya, we have other big fish to fry in healthy olive oil when we consider healthy habits. Go and do what God has revealed to you on the matter rather than expecting everyone else to comply to what was given to you.

  16. what, exactly, is the problem with coffee?

    For starters, your spiritually unhealthy and perhaps bodily unhealthy obsession with it.

  17. p – who says revelations from God have to be grounded in changing nutritional science? I realize you think you’re smart dropping that trump card on us all… “Oh man, got me good, have to give up on the church now or start drinking coffee to show how sci-woke I am…”

    It might be news, but almost everything I do and believe is not grounded in current science. It’s also not surprising that everyone throughout history lived their lives not grounded in current science — and that had no bearing on how well lived of meaningful their lives were. And most importantly, if you think you can throw around “current science” as though it was enshrined in some kind of black and white case law that nutritional lawyers and doctors can’t argue over like pharisees, then you’re still living in Plato’s cave.

  18. Wow, I didn’t mean to get the conversation sidetracked on coffee. It’s certainly possible what I read was merely trolling, but I didn’t take it that way (though overly enthusiastic speculation it may have been).

    To move the conversation along, I’d suggest taking a look at the replacement for mormon.org, ComeUntoChrist.org. It’s a very mellow (perhaps even lax?) take on the Church than I believe is the lived experience of most (American at least) members. The point appears to be “hey, we’re Christians just like you, with some subtle additions.” If the website is at all suggestive of where we are headed, then I stand by my prediction.

  19. *a much more mellow… take on the then Church than….”

    [proofreading is hard]

  20. Then let’s just say I pray for a progressively reorganized church, and leave it at that. Sorry for the thread-J. Excellent piece.

  21. I knew you could do it. And in fact, it would be perfectly on-topic to suggest that a progressively reorganized church might re-evaluate the Word of Wisdom and the role of certain hot beverages within it. Social beverages that were raised in an environmentally sustainable way with respect for fair trade practices and consumed in a culturally authentic manner could be recommended, or even required. The larger context of what else was changing would probably determine whether committed members perceived this as a progressive reorganization or dwindling in unbelief, however.

  22. Based on my data the already shrinking church will fade into obscurity & darkness, probably yielding to the fanatics. The leaders seem reactive trying to stop the bleeding; not prophetic.
    The real Prophets of today are scientists, they warn, call for change(repentance) .AND. They Predict the future. Additionally they’re quite unpopular with powerful government officials and wealthy. BTW We don’t listen to them very well either. This was quite a piece for T&S.

  23. What would happen if we began/continued to emphasize our positive features– uplifting doctrines (like eternal families, a truly personal God), attractive programs (assistance to the poor) and attractive cultural and communal features (uplifting music, genuine loving service in our wards and branches), while ceasing to lead off with the features that separate us from the rest of Christianity and are likely to be alienating to serious Christians. (E.g., the great apostasy followed by the “dark ages,” “the only true church,” etc.) Based on my limited experience and impressions, my sense is that most faithful members are committed to the Church, and love it, because of the positive features. Many of them find the more “separatist” elements embarrassing. (Although, to be sure, many don’t.) I also suspect that these separatist themes are not only off-putting and injurious to Christian fellowship; they are, let’s say, not the most plausible part of our self-understanding and presentation anyway. If we placed all of our emphasis on the positive features while laying off the invidious comparisons and doctrines, would the Church lose its distinctiveness, so that commitment would wane? Or might the Church be able to assume a more positive and leading role in representing Christianity to a world that desperately needs the Gospel?

  24. SDS – Have you seen the mormon.org replaement comeuntochrist.org? It appears to be attempting to do exactly what you say. It’s an odd thing because in doing so it has lost all culturally distinctive identifiers (at least on the homepage). There seems to be some pros and cons to that.

  25. ReTx– Yes, I have looked at that site, and on the whole I thought it was excellent. But a couple of clicks and you come across “What happened to Jesus’s Church?”, and you’re quickly into the standard story of the Great Apostasy, centuries of darkness, the Reformers perceiving the need for a return to the true church but their inability to actually restore it, etc. That’s the kind of thing that serious and knowledgeable Christians (who are admittedly more scarce than they once were) will likely find not only alienating but implausible. With good reason: this is IMHO a pretty selective and impoverished rendering of Christian history.

    You seem worried that we might become “just another Christian church,” and this does seem to be a legitimate concern. I worry about it too. The other side of this, though, is that many of the Christian churches seem to be (again IMHO) less and less committed to essential Christian teachings, both doctrinal and moral. (I understand that just what those essential teachings are is a huge and contested issue.) For a variety of reasons, our Church seems to be more solid in its commitments. And those commitments seem to be more fully realized in our communal life than they are in many other places. Isn’t there something distinctive here that could support continuing faithfulness, as well as perhaps serving as a “light to the world”?

  26. The religious landscape changes over the decades. In America, the 20th Century division of the population into Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish portions is no longer our pattern. My wild speculation: this moving away from distinctive “Mormon” (so-called) and “LDS” markers is preceding a time when most Christian sects will have dwindled, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be what most people think of when they think of organized Christianity. It’s a variation on Jonathan Green’s “the fanatics will inherit the church” scenario. The fanatics (formerly known as Mormons) will inherit Christianity.

  27. SDS, I do think the Church hasn’t adjusted to the primary audience for conversion being either secularists unfamiliar with religion or from non-Christian religions. The apostasy narrative works for conversion only within a certain class of potential investigators. Until that changes I think missionary effectiveness will continue to drop.

    That said, I’d disagree with you over whether the apostasy narrative is implausible. Although I’ll not go down that rabbit hole here and distract from the OP.

    By and large though, I think the Church’s historical point of conversion were people already familiar with Christianity who were worried about truth and duty. Even among Christians that’s just not the concern anymore. Yet we’ve not really changed the message we present.

  28. There isn’t going to BE a future because the second coming will be on October 17th and consequently all this guesswork is for nothing. Of course, I might be mistaken about the date or how quickly it will actually happen. “The church” probably does not have a Plan B in case the millenium doesn’t start on the expected date. This is a situation that happened around the year 1000 AD when the second coming was supposed to happen or at least widely expected.

  29. These are hard questions, and I feel fortunate in having the luxury of thinking and discussing without having the burden of actually making the judgment calls about what direction the Church should go. I take comfort in believing that, ultimately, the Lord is directing the course of things.

    That said, here are two comments. First, granted the difficulties of forecasting the future, something like the scenario described by John Mansfield seems not implausible– and (to me at least) not unattractive. Except that “fanatics” doesn’t seem to be the right word here. Even aside from its pejorative connotations, “fanatics” suggests “fundamentalists”– people who hunker down around the tradition’s distinctive and exclusivist features. Whereas in the scenario John describes, it seems that Church members would be in a sense the opposite of this; they/we would be emphasizing not the exclusivist features but rather the common and essential commitments that many Christian churches historically shared but have moved away from.

    Second, I think Clark’s observations about the current audience for conversion seem right. But in the future we seem to be moving into, conversion isn’t the only concern. I think there’s also a concern about our ability to collaborate with those Christian individuals and churches that do retain a commitment to the essential Christian commitments. (I didn’t mean to imply, by the way, that we are the only ones who retain those commitments.) We may not be likely to convert many of those people, but it may be a very good thing to collaborate with them. That’s already happening, I think, but I wonder whether our exclusivist, somewhat invidious themes make such collaboration more difficult– and prevent us from assuming much of a leadership role in such collaborations. Just wondering . . . .

  30. Secularism has a reproduction problem. Although rich countries have trended secular, overall religion hasn’t been declining in the world. The religious will inherit the earth through greater fertility.

  31. Left leaning christians value love, justice, equality, freedom, so work to raise the poor, and bring down the rich.
    Right leaning christians value obedience, morality, means opposing, abortion, homosexuality, adultry, euthanasia, and imposing that view on others.
    I see the church as right leaning with occasional ventures toward the left.
    I do not know if the church would be stronger if it transitioned to left leaning. It may already to damaged from its right leaning past and present.
    I would be more comfortable in a left leaning church, but I am a minority.
    I do not see a future for a right leaning church but there seems to be a move to the right, certainly in numbers larger than the church so perhaps a niche market
    Is that what the restored gospel that was to roll forth and fill the earth has come to?
    Recently on holiday in india a billion hindus, and then middle east with a billion muslims. 15million of the true church?

  32. Geoff, oh it’s much less than that with the truth.

    Many are called, few are chosen.
    Strait and narrow, and few that find it.
    Do you suppose there’s more room gathered around the base of the tree of Life or in the spacious building that’s so large even the ground can not contain it?

    Latter-day value saints value love, justice, equality freedom before God, service, and obedience,

    In fact, all of those can be summed up by love towards God first and love towards fellow man, second.

    True Latter-day saints understand that to the core, have it revealed in the marrow their bones, engraven on their hearts, and there are much fewer than 15 million of those. They came to that knowledge, but trusting in the good word and acting on it, sacrificing of themselves, time, talent, and money, in behalf of others; while never opposing the Lord’s servants.

    You seem to have skipped that latter part of being a Latter-day Saint.

    Reread the oath and covenant of the priesthood please.

  33. Martin, that’s not necessarily true since as those countries become wealthy they become more secular. The United States was one of the few outliers for which that trend didn’t happen. However it may be that our exceptionalism has ended and we’re becoming more secular in line with other wealthy countries.

    If that is the case (and I’m not yet convinced it is although it seems more likely every year) then the closest analogy for what Mormons *might* become is Judaism. Many Jews over the centuries effectively merged in with the population with a small “ethnic” minority distinguished primarily by what distinguished them from larger society. Further they tended to face lots of persecution.

  34. GEOFF -AUS writes “Left leaning christians value love, justice, equality, freedom, so work to raise the poor, and bring down the rich.”

    How did it come to these particular Christians to bring down anything at all? There is no commandment to rob the rich and give to the poor, and you wouldn’t obey it anyway.

    How is it possible to have equality and freedom at the same time? If we are free then we are not equal. If we are compelled to equality, then one of us is not free; probably everyone is not free.

    “Right leaning christians value obedience, morality, means opposing, abortion, homosexuality, adultry, euthanasia, and imposing that view on others.”

    How did it come to these particular Christians to impose views on others? I do not consider it possible; for if it were possible, my children would have my views, but they do not. And if my own children do not have my views, how is it to be considered possible for me to impose my views on you? Do you have my views? We both know that you do not. How do you propose to raise the poor and bring down the rich without imposing your views on others?

    I value obedience and morality; for with the absence of both society cannot exist and there will be no place in heaven for a person with neither morality nor obedience to God.

    “I see the church as right leaning with occasional ventures toward the left.”

    It is certainly more dimensional than just right and left; but to the extent that left-leaning people tend to be selfish and right-leaning people tend to be charitable, I will assent to that part of it.

    “I do not know if the church would be stronger if it transitioned to left leaning.”

    Strength comes from obedience! It is easy to guess at the result.

    “I do not see a future for a right leaning church but there seems to be a move to the right, certainly in numbers larger than the church so perhaps a niche market”

    Your idea of niche is amusing. Islam is huge, demands obedience and is obviously large and strong.

    “Is that what the restored gospel that was to roll forth and fill the earth has come to?”

    Yes, for here it is. Next year it will come to something else, and after that, who knows?

  35. Since there’s likely to be some challenge to my sense of left and right with regard to things like charity and equality, raising the poor and taking down the rich, I will elaborate.

    The left is hive or herd minded, groupthink, often uses the word “church” as if it were a person capable of having a mind or of being right or left (but never up or down).

    Left leaning charity is group charity, not personal, and often presumes upon Other People’s Money. Obedience, if it exists at all, is group obedience, not personal obedience. Revolution and “civil disobedience” is valued by the left. The left is exemplfied by cats; they do what they want when they want. They do not organize and cannot be organized despite no end of trying to do just that.

    The right is personal. My duty to my God and to my neighbor is mine; not yours. I do not presume that a hive or herd is going to do my work for me. The Good Samaritan is singular and assisted one man. The right is exemplified by dogs; organizing into hierarchical packs with a purpose.

    There is no church, only people! It is a word to describe a set of beliefs and practices, and perhaps also the people in aggregate that subscribe to those beliefs and practices.

  36. Please note that broad-brush descriptions of the difference between left and right are about as welcome here as a discussion of the benefits of coffee.

    I would point out that denying the existence of something because it only consists of constituent parts is fairly silly, but I do not want to give that particular distraction any more life than it already has.

  37. No. No one mentioned coffee. Not even once.

    I think John Mansfield’s reading of the tea leaves – no, I did not just say that – is pretty smart. I can see how recent and hypothetical future changes might put the church in a position to become something like the face of organized Christianity in the U.S. It may not be likely, and it would depend on things outside of the church’s control (things on the order of American Catholicism not recovering from scandal, Evangelicals lashing themselves to the mast of the Republican Party just as that ship goes under, and the traditional mainstream secularizing itself into oblivion). Highly unlike, but under the right conditions, and if the church played its cards just right…maybe.

    SDS raised the question about the church’s exclusivist claims and founding narratives of apostasy and restoration. Productive collaboration may require some nuance, but personally, I’d be hesitant to back off those claims. Retracting them holds a high risk of alienating the most committed members, people who are in it not just for a good church experience, but for the one true church. In a best-case scenario, those founding narratives would reinforce an upgrade in the church’s position in American religious life, something along the lines of: We always said that Christianity had fallen into decay and needed a restoration, and here, among the wreckage of the American religious landscape, we find ample evidence for that claim.

    Is this likely? Is it even possible? I don’t know. But John’s suggestion is as plausible an explanation for where we’re headed – or trying to head, at least – as any I’ve seen.

    And, as a couple of people have mentioned, I mean no disrespect to fanatics. Fanatics have brought me lots of casseroles when I needed them, both literally and metaphorically. There are better, less prejudicial terms for people with high levels of commitment.

  38. “SDS raised the question about the church’s exclusivist claims and founding narratives of apostasy and restoration. Productive collaboration may require some nuance, but personally, I’d be hesitant to back off those claims. Retracting them holds a high risk of alienating the most committed members …”

    Here’s the problem: critical elements of those claims are in the process of backing off all by themselves. Our book of early American history is apparently not history at all; our book derived of papyrus translation is apparently in no way shape or form a translation. And so on, all the way out to our current clueless mistreatment of a relatively small group of biologically-determined individuals known as homosexuals who we still, after all this time, do not understand – IOW on a number of issues we are poorly positioned to assume the mantle of American Christianity.

  39. On what reasoning do sci-woke members praise toxic homosexuality? It’s presence in a minority of humans and select animals alike? It’s foundation in attraction and carnal desire that we charitably call love?

    Why is love and toxic sexual anomaly to be praised? Where is the science in that? If you get a few peer reviewed studies must we now accept everything? Where’s the peer reviewed study for that conclusion? And where’s the study for the study that says I should care about your study?

    When you suppose to base everything you imagination on indiscriminate logic alone, you are only discriminating in favor of your chosen logic.

    My sci woke friends should recognize the intersectionality of evolutionary reproduction, the reality of a human body and relationships that are conceived in reproduction, zygotes which divide and reproduce themselves, developing bodies which are growing through cellular reproduction, human lives which nearly it’s entire existence is focused on reproduction (monthly “period” anyone? What’s the period in question here), back to our bodies which join together with another and reproduce themselves and start the cycle over again. Across generations of time and Joseph would add all eternity and worlds without end.

    Homosexually doesn’t intersect with the science of it anymore than it interests with the exalted godhood of it. It’s there. But it’s an anomaly like much in the fallen world. Not a rule to upset the ideal or standard. That we can pursue the wrong direction and call it good because we find pleasure or happiness or joy in it says nothing of its eternal utility. And if pursuing it causes us to actually reject the purpose to which we are created, the purpose of our existence, the eternal destiny of becoming as our Father and Mother? Then it’s not just a different choice, but emphatically the wrong choice.

    Denying your past into infinity and denying your posterity into eternity.

    Because you can’t go down that path without rejecting the reality of the biology of your creation and the divinity of eternal lives.

    So no need to tell me about books of Mormon historicity or books of Abraham to undermine what’s true about life.

    I don’t negate the fact that people feel the way they feel, for all kinds of reasons. But I know that they should never close the door or choose a relationship that at the same time denies the reality of their biological existence and eternal potential.

    We are the only ones equipped to assume the mantel of Christianity. The only problem is we live in a generation that claims to believe in science while ignoring it’s most fundamental truths that our bodies are organized around.

    You can’t expect Christianity or Latter-day Saintism to conform to a logic that discriminates against as a foundational postulate.

  40. Are the exclusivist claims necessary? They might be. I can imagine two different senses in which those claims might be necessary. First, it’s possible that many members’ commitment is dependent on these claims, in a sort of psychological sense. (“If this isn’t the only true church, I’m not paying my ten percent.”) This seems unfortunate to me. Why isn’t it enough that the church be true, and a path to salvation, and a place where God is truly present in furthering his work? Why is it necessary to insist that everybody else is less than “the true church”?

    But the exclusivist claims might be necessary in a different sense: they might be so centrally bound up in our overall theology and self-conception that if they were pulled out, the rest would unravel as well. Some members might say, “For myself, it’s enough that the church is true; it doesn’t need to be ‘the only true church.’ Still, Joseph Smith did say that it was the only true church– in his account of the First Vision he basically said that God told him that– and other General Authorities have said the same thing. So if it now turns out that they were mistaken on that point, other things they said become untrustworthy as well.” And so the whole thing comes tumbling down?

    So maybe there is no getting past the exclusivist claims. And yet . . . I remember hearing a missionary report in a ward I was in some years ago: it seems there was an investigator who believed in the church’s doctrines and wanted to join the church, except that he couldn’t believe the full Joseph Smith story. And I wondered: If someone believes in baptism and the sacrament and the Atonement, etc., and if they believe that God is present in the church, and if they want to serve in the church, shouldn’t that be enough? Should it be necessary that they also believe the standard formulated story about how all these godly things were given to us?

  41. Lots of ways to be a fanatic without being a Book of Mormon inerrantist, and I’m sure we’ll find new ways in this axial age. I’m excited to see them. We’re in a time when crazy ideas will seem honest by virtue of how much they differ from the status quo, very similar to our 70s-80s growth spurt where, I’m convinced, space doctrine played as big a role as OD2. Convinced by anecdotal evidence, I’ll add, by staunch members who were baptized in that time period and talk about such doctrines as foundational parts of their testimony. I’m not as interested in statistics, not that we could even gather them for that data; we’re at a civilizational high point in propaganda and spin, and the Prince of the Air rules the airwaves.

    For example, has anyone considered how the idea of a church that’s its own country could bring people to Christ? I’ve literally heard Catholics pine for “a Catholic Utah!” Our provincialism could be a great benefit there! Or, rather than pondering how to escape the rising tide of nationalism, thinking about how a church that is traditionally nationalist for itself and for the USA *at the same time* could attract those drawn to such movements. Not the kind of people we’d like in the church, you say? Was Saul of Tarsus?

    Our normal fanatics are those people who talk loudly in Sunday School about Skousen, true, but we will see new authors in this generation with new oddball theology that leaves Skousen in the dust. We will see our difference from Babylon set in a new frame, and we will see intense 70-year-olds in 50 years who are as unrecognizable to us today as Reaganite/Bundyites would be to Heber J. Grant. Vive la changement!

    Apologies for sloppy ideas, I am fasting on a streetcorner right now.

  42. Mars, if you’re suggesting that the future fanatics will advocate separatism, nationalism, and theocracy, then the future is now.

  43. I’m suggesting that’s where they’ll *start.* I’m seeing a general revolt against modernist ideas – we talk about the Rise of the Nones as if millennials are becoming cool rationalists when in my experience if you scratch one you’ll find their horoscope – so I bet even nationalism as expressed in the 20th century will die the uncool death, in favor of, I don’t know, feudalism or something. We’ve had LDS anarchist groups for a long time now, is it that much of a stretch for us to try monarchism? Or something with the benefits without the word “king.” Making the Huntsman demesne official.

    My point is anything could happen. Partisans in our current political climate are coming up with all kinds of justifications for their doctrine in the scriptures and prophets, proclaiming it as just a common-sense good-person way to see things – and maybe a lot of it is, either or any side of it. The Gospel is eternally rigid but the Church is quite flexible. Becoming more hardcore could be a Skousenite stomping on your face, forever, or it could be radical space colonist planners, or United Order extremists who want ethnically segregated wards, or anything you can’t think of because God likes the story he’s telling and won’t spoil all of it.

  44. Ironically we’re discussing LDS future-shock here, existential struggles for an institution that stresses preparedness as a primary virtue. The Internet was a devastating surprise. Unfortunately the Church and its members have responded politically and ideologically, i.e. splintering, which is like responding to an equation w/ a fistfight.

  45. nah, that’s just information processing, splintering would be more events like the (apparent?) rise of Ogdenites/Snufferites; we still get along way way better than people at most other churches, who have been able to subvert, schism, and just plain stop attending their way to far greater polarization. We’re in a better place to discover a compromise philosophy, whatever my feelings about that might be, than the other denominations, which + fertility is a reason I believe we’ll rise greatly in proportion this century. Our identity is just too strong to really splinter. There’s nobody who’s charismatic enough to be nearly as much of a rallying point as The President Of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints, and of course they wouldn’t have any institutional legitimacy at all.

  46. There has been so many changes in the church in recent years it is hard to tell where we are going to be at the end of next conference, let alone in a few years. I think a lot of the changes are much needed and in the right direction, but I worry that it might be a bit late. There is already growing a big divide between Mormonism and mainstream and it might be harder to bridge. Part of it is culture is changing so fast. If we want to remain relevant, we need to move just as fast and stay as leaders of morality.

  47. I’m afraid that moving with and as fast as the culture and also remaining “leaders of morality” are contradictory objectives. I’d favor the latter over the former. Of course, you have to try to make your message intelligible to people, and try to show people how your message is relevant to them. But when “relevance” becomes a primary objective, all is lost.

  48. Wouldn’t it be nice to have leadership who could see the future and move to have us ahead of the world, instead of 20 years behind. Perhaps the best change would be to have a retirement age for Apostles, so we could have leaders who would be able to recieve revelation from God. From reports like Joseph Smith, who found it exhausting even for a young man, it would probably kill someone over 60.

  49. While it is certainly true that Joseph was at the fringe of his contemporary thought, he was also deeply restorationist. He certainly was able to integrate new understandings of science and so on into his understanding of the revelations he received, but he did not innovate completely new world views. Thus, Jospeh could see his contemporaries completely misunderstanding the nature and purpose of sexuality and he didn’t embrace new-age thoughts on marriage, but rather returned to the lost/forgotten biblical perspective on plural marriage and connected it to Godhood and the concept of eternal lives.

    What you seem to be looking for is someone who will just invent revelations out of whole cloth that explain, “oh ya, that gender sexuality stuff is all a myth, if you’re a nicer person and consenting adults and if it feels good, do it as long as you call it love and serve each other.”

    The reality is that perspective is not assured to bring a good result for the individual, and is likely actually destructive not only for the individual but society in the long run.

    Joseph saw families, centered around a mother and a father as the center of eternity that was reproduced across worlds without end. Not people who were misgendered by natural selection and really just need to embrace hormone drugs and surgery and societal acceptance as the path to temporary happiness before we die and return to the earth.

    The purpose of the church is to organize and teach the principles of Godliness across generations and administer the ordinances that bring us closer to God so we can all become one in the Godhood and become as our Father is.

    At some point, I can actually conceive of a church within a fallen world that has to take a step back from that ideal to acknowledge that we’re very far from teaching us how to become like Gods here and now and instead just need to focus on a little more charity before we can return to the doctrines of the priesthood.

    But I’m at a loss for how we do that without virtue and there’s just no path forward for homosexuality or re-gendering ourselves. It’s confusion, delusion, social contagion, and and could even be linked to hormonal issues relating to how our bodies develop in a world of plastics, wifi, chemicals pesticides, and so on mingled with adled perverse entertainment and false doctrine.

    But the reality is, it was ever thus. Do you think a world of barbaric evasions, rapes, fear strangers, diseases, lawlessness, lack of resources, and so on didn’t create a plethora of body chemistry induced/perpetuated/intermingled social problems?

    The strait and narrow has always been the way, inspite of the many problems in every age. I can assure you, whatever you think about the problems Latter-day Saints face, few if any of us have been carried away into captivity and forced to live within a dominate culture for generations.

    Certain Daniel acquired a greater understanding and a different perspective on Babylon than he would have had raised in the safety of Jerusalem, but that does not mean he should have listened to what must have been very convincing voices at the time telling him that his God had failed his people and he didn’t to update his understanding of religion and mix it with true faith.

  50. GEOFF -AUS: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have leadership who could see the future and move to have us ahead of the world, instead of 20 years behind.”

    Have faith, brother. God has called prophets, seers, and revelators to effect His will, the judgments of history and bloggernacle commenters be damned.

  51. Libcon, Mother Nature didn’t need “barbaric evasions, rapes, fear, strangers, diseases, lawlessness, lack of resources” and all other such catastrophic negatives to create a full spectrum of sexuality on this planet. In what kind of crazy-ass world are we all supposed to be the same to make it into heaven? No thx, it’s all yours.

    Deseret Defender, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  52. “Joseph saw families, centered around a mother and a father as the center of eternity that was reproduced across worlds without end.”

    Except for those families centered around one father and more than one mother, of course. We shouldn’t rule out future revelation that allows for families centered around parents of the same sex. Stranger things have been revealed by Mormon prophets.

  53. People primarily expect new revelations to confirm their existing political views. It’s rare that people are self-critical and worry whether their political views are correct. The political shapes our religious expectations and the current conflict within religion is really just a manifestation of larger issues of politics and society.

  54. P asked, “In what kind of crazy-ass world are we all supposed to be the same to make it into heaven? ”

    It’s should be a baseline assumption for Latter-day Saint discussion that the various sexual confusions or celebrations depending on your perspective do not keep one from attaining a kingdom in one degree of heaven.

    It certainly limits the progression possible to the celestial kingdom. No apology for repeating that reality.

    An the fact is, the church’s primary purpose – to organize an teach and endow with priesthood power our Father’s children, which enables them (us) to progress to that eternal life.

    Christ already did the work to get us into a heavenly kingdom as you know.

    From time to time there are members whose pride and enmity toward their fellow man really buck at the idea of being the same as someone else. Take comfort, you don’t need to be like me anymore than I’m like Christ. But if you want to be where Christ is, who is like his Father, you have to be like Him. If you become him you’ll receive all the Father has and receive a fullness of his likeness, power, glory, and dominion.

    You’ll become part of the Godhood, for that’s what is taught when the Savior prays that we can be one in him as he is one in the Father.

    Yes, you’ll be you. But if you think eternal you should be more like me (or like you are now) rather than like the Father, then you’re mistaken.

    This goes to the heart of the LGBT issues. There are no doubt some who have come to the right conclusion (lgbt is not God’s will) through the wrong reasoning (uncharitable icky bias – life is icky if you think about it for 10 minutes). But that doesn’t make the reality that our Father’s ultimate blessing which the church is organized around is to inherit that highest kingdom where all who will receive that degree of salvation will indeed be like him.

    Yes, we have a long way to go to get there and I’m certain that your differences and mine can help us both arrive there without us needing to try to be the same here and now.

    But so many people come to this issue with a lack of understanding or willfull blinders on what kind of being our Father and even our Mother in Heaven are, if you’ll receive wisdom.

    I get it if you have not received revelation on the subject. I have, and it’s a clear and veil parting for me as it gets. So in this case, there are times when I feel compelled to speak it. Other times I remain silent. Obviously you don’t have to comply with anything I’m saying, but you should give much more weight to the brethren’s authority in this matter than it seems you do.

  55. Clark, Some people believe (perhaps personal revelation) that discrimination against gays is not in line with the gospel. Nothing to do with politics.
    libcon, I am not aware of any thing that says gay people, or other non hetrosexuals, of Gods children will be excluded from the celestial kingdom. As I believe the gospel applies to all Gods children, I am more concerned for those who refuse to love our fellow man, may not be recieved in the celestial kingdom themselves.

  56. LibCon’s comments make me reevaluate any residual orthodoxy I may still have. Some things I can no longer believe even if I want to. Were I Catholic I’d be struggling w/ eye-witness accounts of Marian apparitions. Our world is bizarre & wonderful, and it’s impossible for me to believe the good (crazy) stuff is all Satan’s doings.

  57. Geoff, certainly I agree. The question then becomes what counts as discrimination and our interpretations are affected by our politics. I also fully agree nothing excludes homosexuals from the celestial kingdom. The question is what laws they must bind themselves to in order to enter.

  58. Clark, Discrimination is where you treat someone differently because, in this case their sexuality. So to not discriminater is to treat them the same. All are alike unto God.
    I would think the same laws would apply, chastity, that we only have sex with the person we are married to.
    Simple? Just treat everyone the same.
    I do agree that politics is what makes some discriminate against others.

  59. Which begs the question of what it means to treat people the same. The argument, as I know you recognize, is that homosexuals are treated the same but that because of their attraction being treated the same is seen as discrimination. It all depends upon what same is. Is it same to say marriage for everyone is the same? Or is it discrimination when sameness doesn’t account for differences in attraction. That’s why “same” is unfortunately not terribly helpful a criteria since the whole point of most contemporary social debate is over changes to practice to accommodate differences.

    Now I recognize you’ll say, “same” is “marry whomever they’re attracted to” but that just highlights the issue. To change the requirements requires a pretty explicit revelation from God, and as has been discussed that has huge implications to basic conceptions of cosmology and even the very meaning of salvation. (It pretty well entails that gender isn’t eternal for instance, despite that seeming a pretty longstanding core doctrine)

    I think most members want to do the right thing and avoid discrimination as much as possible. But clearly this is a pretty complicated situation even if some people don’t think it is.

    Not to go down an other tangent since we’ve discussed these things here numerous times. I think all orthodox members are fine with whatever the Father wants. We just want to do what he wants.

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