Mormonisms March Toward the Mainstream

I found this article written by a Post-Mormon and felt it contained a great deal of truth to it. I thought of rewriting to take the biting sarcasm out of it, but decided to let it all stand. You can read through it and decided how much of it is truthful and how much is formed out of resentment he might have toward the LDS church. If on principle, you don’t read anything by apostates, you’ve been given due warning.

Essentially, every move Mormonism has made has been a move toward mainstream Christianity and not away. There’s no reason not to think the trend will continue and Mormonism will eventually embrace Christian Orthodoxy.

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The good news for people sick of Mormonism – and can wait around for a hundred years – is that many of the most bizarre, repulsive aspects of Mormonism have been in the process of being softened or eradicated for many decades – and there is every reason to suspect this “mainstreaming” process will continue indefinitely.

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After all, the number one impulse for organizations, secular and religious, is “survive and grow”. Exceptions to that rule are rare – for every Heaven’s Gate, there are a thousand organizations who immediately start compromising their “values” whenever they begin to threaten survival and growth. And this is Mormonism’s heritage, at least since Wilford Woodruff did the unthinkable – effectively renounce a practice which he and all his predecessors had claimed was as necessary for exaltation as baptism: “celestial (plural) marriage”.

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Since then at least, it has been one long slide toward normalcy for the Mormons. And if you’re wondering why they’re still so weird….well, that’s just because they started so far away from normal that it’s going to take a while.

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Think about it: Mormon prophets once sounded like KKK leaders on the topic of blacks, even when I was a little kid; now they come out and say (as 70 Alexander B. Morrison did in the “Ensign”) that they abhor racism. They’ve dropped all the penalties from the endowment session. They’ve normalized the washings and anointings. They’ve cleaned up the BOM in edition after edition, replacing “white” with “pure”, trying to make it seem more “Christ-centered”, etc. They’ve been backing away from JS’s pronouncements on the identity of the Lamanites for decades. Its leaders no longer make any prophecies. Gordon B. Hinckley wouldn’t even admit he was a “prophet” in a couple of interviews.

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The demand to have lots of children has softened, as has the demand that women not work outside the home. Leaders no longer insist that birth control is a sin. Mormon prophets back away from the (previously) core doctrine of eternal progression by refusing to admit that God was once a man. Women run church businesses and teach as professors at church universities. Leaders no longer demand that member families keep two years worth of food in their basements. Increasingly, Mormon leaders try to make common cause with evangelical leaders rather than making an issue out of the Mormon belief that all other religious creeds are “an abomination”.

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160 years ago, Mormon leaders were, to a man, fascist, totalitarian theocrats. Even in the sixties they were sending detailed policy papers to LDS Congressmen. Now for the most part, Mormon leaders have backed away from political endeavors – gay marriage and gambling being exceptions. Old-time evangelical hymns like “How Great Thou Art” are increasingly being adopted into the church’s religious canon. Church leaders no longer talk about the origins of The Book of Abraham anymore. Temple garments have been mainstreamed several times. Leaders delete references to Mormon polygamy from church manuals, so that men like Brigham Young come across like ordinary, everyday monogamists. Conspiracy theories are now rarely heard from GC pulpits, as they were even as late as the sixties. Meeting demands, while still onerous, have been lessened for years. Curriculum manuals are increasingly bereft of any uniquely Mormon doctrine – just another way of saying that “Mormon doctrine” is vanishing, and focus more on big, mainstream Christian doctrines like forgiveness, charity, etc.

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Stick around for another hundred years (or two), and Mormonism will have completed the job of eradicating Mormonism better than any anti-Mormon could have done. Mormons probably won’t wear garments except in the temple – if even there….handshakes will probably have been dropped, if they even still have endowment ceremonies…church leaders will probably refuse to categorically characterize the BOM as “non-fiction”, adopting a “Van Hale”-style “it defies categorization!” approach…women might be officiating…missions might be far more optional and humanitarian…atonement doctrines will focus more on “the blood” of Jesus, rather than on us earning salvation…

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Joseph Smith’s Mormonism was a Big Bang, the product of his explosive imagination; but since then, all the exotic, or crazy, doctrinal and behavioral pieces of confetti have been settling, more and more….and the law of entropy being what it is, you can expect that to continue just as long as Mormonism’s survival and growth require it.

credit to Tal Bachman

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25 thoughts on “Mormonisms March Toward the Mainstream

  1. This author is not very well informed, prone to hyperbole, and mostly just wrong. He should start by reading Tom Alexander, Mormonism in Transition and Armond Mauss, The Angel and the Behive.
    How does this author explain the increased emphasis on the Book of Mormon over the last 30 years?
    How does the author explained increased emphasis on missionary work in the last 50 years?
    Further, this argument assumes that “Christian orthodoxy” is some stable, known, concept when in reality it is in constant transformation itself. 19th century Mormonism (perhaps espeically statements on race) were not at all out of step with much of American Christianity. You can’t judge the past of Mormonism against the present of Christianity. What is “normalcy” today? Is it women priests? Performing gay marriages? The term is by definition normative, but the norm is simply assumed.

  2. TT hit it right on.

    I would add that until Mormons stop building temples, and until temples become obsolete (that is, tourist spots open to the public), “mainstreaming,” as he puts it, won’t be happening.

  3. Hyperbole and cheap shots aside. I think there is truth in his basic premise. Mormon distinctives are diminishing.

    Even the emphasis on the Book of Mormon over the last 30 years is evidence of this. The Book of Mormon (aside from it being extra-Biblical scripture) is not exactly a depository of Mormon distinctives. If anything its teachings return the LDS church to its pre-Nauvou period and closer to orthodox Christianity.

    True, a lot of racism can be found in the 19th Century. But very few churches made it doctrinal AND carried it all the way past the civil rights movement. Mitt Romney would not have been a viable candidate and the LDS church would not be a viable organization if a move toward the mainstream had not been made.

    LDS activity and attendance levels at temples make them little more than exclusive LDS tourist spots in the scope of the church’s 13 million membership. Aside from the lip service paid to them, the general interest in temples is pretty weak even among fully active, Temple-recommend carrying Mormons. If they’d admit it, I bet you could get most Mormons to tell you that they don’t really understand or enjoy the endowment ceremony, didn’t mind a sinlge modern change made to it, and wouldn’t mind even more.

    The leadership of the church does not express itself as truly prophetic nor does the membership view it as such.

    Further, this argument assumes that “Christian orthodoxy” is some stable, known, concept when in reality it is in constant transformation itself.

    That’s statement pretty full of hyperbole itself. Christian Orthodoxy has at its core essential doctrines which have been stable for 2000 years. If you want to squabble about the Nicene Creed I’ll give you the first 400 years for the sake of argument and say that they’ve been stable for 1600 years. No major sect of mainstream Christianity will dispute the Nicene Creed. I think by the time the LDS church doubles its age it’s not to hard to imagine an acceptance of its principles as well (though there may be a cultural objection to creeds).

  4. Christian Orthodoxy has at its core essential doctrines which have been stable for 2000 years. If you want to squabble about the Nicene Creed I’ll give you the first 400 years for the sake of argument and say that they’ve been stable for 1600 years.

    I think New Testament Christians living at 60 AD would list “core essential doctrines” that are much different than those given at 200 AD, 325 AD, 1517 AD or 2008 AD.

    The earliest (pre-Nicene) Christians taught that men become gods, that there are other “gods” that truly exist over whom God is the God, that Jesus is “another God” or the “second God”, and that Jesus was ‘begotten before the worlds” were created, the “offspring” of the Father. And for many years Christians taught that water baptism is essential to salvation. And it was not until the Reformation that the “core essential doctrines” of the Roman Catholic Church were put into question. And today, depending on one’s denominational affiliation, the necessity of water baptism may or may not be considered a “core essential”.

    So this idea of “core essential doctrines” seems to be an illusion of sorts, as it changes with the times.

  5. The de-emphasis on works in favor of grace is another fairly recent evangelical innovation. Look back even as little as 200 years and you’ll find most of Christianity every bit as concerned with “works” as they now accuse us Mormons of being (if not more so).

    If anything, I’d say there is a powerful homogenizing influence that modern society and sensibilities exerts on ALL religious faiths. Modernity and prosperity are strong draws and hard for religious traditions to resist. Witness the watering down of Jewish orthodoxy in the United States, such that some ethnographers have speculated that the greatest threat to Jewish identity may not be anti-semitism, but rather American-style prosperity and cultural homogenizing.

    If there is a homogenizing going on, it is equally afflicting all faith traditions, from Muslims (to drop the Islamic state idea), to evangelicals (prosperity gospel anyone?), to Catholics (ever listened to a modern priest’s standard watered-down feel-good sermons? In English no less!), to Jews (of course you can marry a non-Jew!), to Mormons.

    Of course, evangelicals are having a horrid time with this in the form of the mega-church movement and prosperity gospel rubbish. The current highest growth area of the evangelical movement, as it so happens. Recently, the NFL got in a major spat with evangelical mega-churches over copyright issues when it objected to mega-churches screening the Superbowl live on their own bigscreen displays at church, for the benefit of their congregations.

    What is wrong with these people?

    Easy. They are simply exhibiting the national truth that the real American religion is simply “being an American.” Not Christianity, not atheism – Americanism. Plain and simple. That is the true competing faith ideology at play here. And we are all equal suckers for this particular brand of pablum.

  6. The homogenizing that Seth R. mentioned is readily visible in Protestantism. I’ve talked to a fair number of people attending Protestant megachurches who aren’t even certain what denomination they belong to! And it’s no wonder; you often have to work to find out.

    I recently attended a Foursquare Church. In the same church 25 years ago, the worshipers would have been dancing in the aisles (maybe not literally, but close). In any case, it would have readily been identifiable as Pentecostal. But this service was just like any other non-Pentecostal megachurch service I’ve attended. It’s homogenization at work.

    The non-LDS evangelical denomination I grew up in had some clear theological distinctives. Go to its Web site today, and they aren’t even mentioned.

    And the same is true among mainline Protestants. Historically, there are significant differences between Presbyterianism and Methodism, for example (kind of like the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism). Yet clergy in those two denominations frequently share pulpits, and their teachings are indistinguishable.

    I’m not saying this is a bad thing. But I find it disingenuous to argue that somehow Mormons, a people that believe in continuing revelation, are somehow bad when they change while others aren’t.

  7. I think its true that the LDS church has moved closer to “mainstream” Christianity and there is no question that the politics of members of the church are radically different than they were at the time of Brigham Young.

    That said, I think that Christianity based on revelation has always made radical adjustments to its practice and doctrine in response to that revelation. Is the LDS revelation changing the church position regarding blacks and the priesthood really any different in principle than Peter’s vision in Acts 11 which changed the church policy regarding following Mosaic dietary laws and bringing the gospel to gentiles? (You could see the abandonment of dietary laws and rules against visiting gentiles to be simply a capitulation to the practical advantage of growing Christiantity outside of the Jewish population. )

    Arguably the racism in the church and the previous policy of excluding blacks from full participation was against what the Book of Mormon said regarding race.
    For an interesting commentary on this aspect by one who made dramatic racist comments see Bruce R. McKonkie’s reaction to the 1978 revelation. http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=11017

    It will be interesting in what changes may come, I have heard lots of speculation by leaders, including some general authorities, about what may happen in the future regarding women’s participation in church leadership etc.

  8. “Aside from the lip service paid to them, the general interest in temples is pretty weak even among fully active, Temple-recommend carrying Mormons.”

    Tim, you are usually well-informed. This is a glaring exception.

  9. I would agree that this is not accurate. Arguably Mormons are more temple oriented than ever before.

  10. I find this entire article highly unconvincing. The mainstream churches are constantly changing, all based upon the votes of men who don’t even claim to be inspired. For example the Catholic church recently changed a longtime doctrine- it used to be believed that unbaptized babies would not go to heaven, that has been changed— the LDS church has always held that belief. it looks like the mainstream is moving toward the LDS church.

    This article is suggesting that the church is just trying to gain membership so they are trying to become more acceptable, that’s ridiculous. If Joseph Smith had just wanted membership he would have claimed to have just seen one being in the grove of trees, by saying he saw both God the Father and his son he was going against every other Christian church’s beliefs. He probably would not have received any persecution if he had just claimed to see one being and he knew that.

    I find most of the examples in this article pretty ridiculous, oh my favorite was– “Leaders no longer demand that member families keep two years worth of food in their basements. ”
    -food storage remains something that the church focuses on. They have not stopped encouraging members to have 2 years of food, but they realize in many cultures that’s not easy to accomplish, so they are instead focusing on having a 6 months supply.

    Church leaders DO still talk about the origin of the Book of Abraham, but most meetings focus more on general themes that apply to everyone and will help people with their day to day lives, more intense doctrine is saved for sunday school, institute and person study. And yes, many of the early church leaders were racists- it’s true, but so were most Americans at that time. The church is perfect, its members are not.

  11. Brian, don’t worry about it.

    Lucy, keep the shutters closed. You don’t want to know what you don’t know.

  12. Is this the same Tal Bachman that sang that song a few years back called “Shes so High Above Me?” I remember everyone getting all excited about the fact he was a Mormon.

    Anyways, I can see where this guy is coming from in regards to the LDS church changing and I can see and agree with many comments made.

    Regarding temples. First, I would like to see where you are getting your numbers of the decline in temple attendance. If this is merely speculation then we need not discuss it any further.

    I admit that there are very “abnormal” things that happen in the temples, and another question I have is tha if Christians want to get into the temples, yet do not believe in temples, why do they even care? The early Christian church practiced temple worship and there were baptisms for the dead, etc. There is much evidence of this. For more details on temples, check out this very informative blog: http://www.templestudy.com.

    I like the comment #9 about Peter and the revelation. That is exactly what is a distiguishing factor of the LDS church. Peter in this instance was acting as a prophet (the definition of a prophet is one who is speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost) in behalf of the whole church. LDS prophets receive continuing revelation today and I’m sure that them telling us to have some food stored (which they still do) and to have children (which they still do) and to avoid various pitfalls, temptations, etc. in the world are all inspired and prophetic. It’s always easy to reject a prophet when they are on the earth staring us in the face. Remember in the Bible when Naman kept lepresy b/c he didn’t dip in the water 7 times when the prophet told him to? same concept.

    http://www.graceforgrace.com

  13. Is this the same Tal Bachman that sang that song a few years back called “Shes so High Above Me?” I remember everyone getting all excited about the fact he was a Mormon

    he’s the same. He was also in the PBS documentary stating that when he was a missionary he would have strapped a bomb on his chest if his MP had told him to.

  14. The early Christian church practiced temple worship and there were baptisms for the dead, etc. There is much evidence of this.

    BS

  15. #16 #17

    Boy he was pretty intense about things it sounds like.

    #18

    I actually smiled at your comment. BS…that’s probably the shortest repsonse I’ve ever had! My initial reaction was to say BS to your BS : )

    In all honesty though we can find “evidences” all day long that prove there’s a God, temples, Jesus, prophets, etc. One can also find evidence against it. It really all boils down to 1. desire to believe in something 2. praying to know if it’s true 3. confirmation that is undeniable from the Holy Spirit.

    Unless one has a witness from the Spirit, nothing will make sense and we can argue back and forth all day long.

  16. Wrong. You claimed there was evidence. Pony up.

    In order for me to accept your crap about praying to know its true I have to buy into Mormon epistemology which I utterly reject. In fact, at the heart of it, the complete untrustworthiness of Mormon epistemology is the reason I decided the Church wasn’t what it made itself out to be in the first place.

    You’ve pulled a sleazy, slippery move here, spouting off about how there’s evidence of temple worship in early christianity, and then said that the evidence doesn’t matter, all that matters is a witness of the Holy Ghost that it’s true. That’s a bait-and-switch.

    Would you say that about archaeology? It doesn’t really matter if there’s evidence about early Viking settlements in Newfoundland, what matters is a desire to belive, praying to know if it’s true, and the confirmation of the Holy Ghost? About math? It doesn;t matter whether the quadratic formula can be derived; what matters is that you can pray about it and find out for yourself? How about science? It doesn’t really matter how atoms combine into compounds, what matters is the witness of the Holy Spirit?

    Come on, give me a break. You don’t get to call BS on me for calling BS on you. I’m not the one with the burden of proof here. You said there’s plenty of evidence. Well, what is this evidence?

  17. wow! you’re pretty aggressive there. Why are you so angry?

    Here’s the question. Even if I did show you where to find evidence would that convert you? No.

    What do you tell an athiest who claims that Jesus isn’t the Savior? You can come up with all kinds of facts that Jesus existed, but to prove he is the Savior you need to have faith and the Spirit confirm it to you…aka be born again. You need to be ready to learn by the Spirit and it will manifest itself through “like the wind” as jesus says in the Bible. It will be a soft and quiet feeling of love and peace. I’ve felt this as I’ve prayed, read the Bible, Book of Mormon, served others, attended the temple, been in nature, shared testimony, and many other times.

    When you are ready to learn by the Spirit, then you will be ready to receive a witness of the temple.

    However, if you want to find some evidences check out the templestudy blog I mentioned and you’ll find them if you want to.

  18. Pingback: tal bachman

  19. If you look at the essence of the argument, the author is right. The two major changes to Mormon doctrine have been, of course, the retraction of the polygamy and the priesthood given to all worthy males. What’s interesting is NOT that the changes were made…it’s that NO REAL explanation has ever been given about those changes.

    Do we still believe in plural marriage? Do we not? What’s to be understood about our ancestors who were sealed multiple times?

    And what about blacks and the priesthood? The textbook answer is that the “world was not ready.” But that’s not what was said by Church leadership for many, many years. They had very specific reasons why blacks didn’t have the priesthood. What are we to understand from those comments? Was Brigham Young wrong?

    I think the silence of Church leadership is quite telling. If they take a stand on these issues, that draws a line in the sand (a line they may have to be moved one day). Ambiguity is a good defense these days.

    One final note (and I’m surprised it didn’t come up): The last Joseph Smith Memorial Building movie to come out was Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration. Anyone who saw it: Did you notice that the movie presented Joseph Smith and Emma as monogamist? Even taking into account the purpose of the movie (to get the attention of non-members), it is still an evidence of the Church trying to present itself in a more mainstream light.

  20. “They had very specific reasons why blacks didn’t have the priesthood. What are we to understand from those comments? Was Brigham Young wrong?”

    I would say yes, he was wrong.

    I also think he was wrong in reigning-in the Relief Society and abolishing the female exercise of Priesthood ordinances.

    But that’s life.

  21. The author of the article is both right and wrong. He is right that there has been a mainstreaming of the church. He is wrong that there will continue to be a mainstreaming. It’s like a rubber band being pulled back towards the mainstream. It can only go so far before it must snap back to its starting point. Mormonism is already starting to return to its radical roots. The Mormon anarchism “movement” is evidence of that. More will be coming in quicker succession. Mark my words.

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