David Clark stated
I think the hope that many evangelicals have is that there is a path whereby the LDS church gradually moves toward mainstream Christianity and makes a soft landing, i.e. doesn’t cause widespread apostasy, disbelief, atheism, agnosticism, etc. The hope is that over time millions of LDS become orthodox Christians without really realizing it. I don’t think this is possible, the CoC (RLDS) and the Worldwide Church of God have already tried this, and the results were dismal.
I think evangelicals need to ask themselves a hard question: “Do we prefer the LDS church to stay the course and have people with high values and a belief in God (but not of the orthodox variety)? Or is it more important to get a chunk of LDS to be more orthodox, accepting that there is going to be substantial collateral damage?”
I had discussed this issue on an individual level in a previous post, “We Push Them Out – Into What?” I think these are questions that are worth asking and pausing to consider. David’s question puts a new spin on it by asking what kind of organization would Evangelicals prefer of the LDS church, a powerful cultural ally or a fractured and weakened orthodox church?
If those are the only two choices, I think any Christian worth his salt who believes that the LDS church follows a false prophet, teaches false doctrine and doesn’t teach a saving faith to its members would choose doctrinal orthodoxy over a cultural ally. While Evangelicals value the tight-knit family values and social conservatism found in Mormon culture our ultimate goal is to see people brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Family values and social conservatism are viewed as an outcome of knowing Jesus, but not an end-unto-themselves. They offer nothing of eternal value in and of themselves. I think most Evangelicals would prefer to see Glenn Beck leave the Mormon church and become an orthodox Christian rather than speak on the national airwaves in support of their political values (there is an open question if Glenn Beck actually represents Evangelical political values).
The followup question is, can the LDS church be reformed toward Christian orthodoxy with a soft-landing that doesn’t cause it to fracture into hundreds of parts with only a third of its membership intact. I think this question is being actively asked by many different people, with many different viewpoints about what “reform” looks like. The consistent answer is “no”. There are no active reforms that can be made without alienating and disaffecting large segments of the LDS membership.
I’m well aware that the LDS church can’t become orthodox overnight without losing significant membership. There are a great many Mormons who have no interest in traditional Christianity and are only interested in the church as far as its unique Mormon doctrines, priesthood and ordinances are offered. I have no qualms about assuming that these are merely “Churchians” (every church has them). The Fundamentalist Mormon movement proves that these people would most likely break away and start their own Mormon movements.
The Worldwide Church of God only kept about 25-33% of it’s membership and I think the same could be assumed for the LDS church. Since I don’t have any value on the LDS church as an institution that serves as a cultural ally I think the loss would be worth it. The church in my opinion should reject falsehood and embrace truth even if that means a tremendous loss of influence and money. The formation of heretical offshoots is an unavoidable consequence, but all of them combined would still lack the religious influence the current LDS church has and in time most of them will die off (something else we can learn from the Worldwide Church of God).
The only thing critics of the LDS church agree about is that change will be coming to Mormonism. The chief reason is that the LDS church can no longer control information about it’s own history with its membership. The church can’t shield itself from truths that may not be useful in promoting faith. Even in a best-case scenario where the membership accepts the moral foibles and reduced prophetic status of Joseph Smith and continues to attend and contribute, Mormonism will change. I don’t see the church membership being as invested in evangelism or submitting to an authoritative hierarchy as it does now. It’s likely that “unCorrelated” Mormons who attend and maintain membership for cultural or family obligations will gain an opportunity to leave the church without much consequence. With current activity rates being reported at just 18% (attending at least once a month) and growth being at 1%, even these kinds of soft changes will greatly reduce the LDS church’s influence and financial stability. Listen to Dan Wotherspoon’s Mormon Stories interview and ask yourself if most people will maintain their commitment and activity with his “Fowler Stage 4/5” faith. Will Mormons ever again contribute to a political campaign like they did for CA Prop 8? The days of the LDS church being a strong cultural ally for Evangelicals are quickly coming to a close.
In a worst-case scenario, the larger part of the membership will accuse the institutional church of a cover up and Utah will quickly become a largely atheistic state. The LDS church in third-world countries will be unaffected in terms of membership but without the financial backing of American Mormons, will quickly suffer.
With change being a certainty it will be interesting to see how the Mormon leadership responds. Currently it seems the plan of action is to quietly dismiss past controversial teachings and to make Mormonism as mainstream and “normal” as possible. I don’t think this is leadership. It’s passing the problem along for someone else to deal with. Eventually the membership is going to strongly communicate that they’ve got serious reservations about the history and origins of the church. Grant Palmer recently stated that we’ll look back and view this as a time of weak leadership. I think I have to agree. Hard choices will need to be made and courageous men will need to make them.
A better question to ask than “what kind of LDS Church do Evangelicals want?” is what kind of smaller, less-influential LDS church does the current Mormon leadership want?