There are many people who feel that the collapse of Mormonism is approaching as the dawn of the information age has hit us. The feeling is that the church can no longer control the image of Joseph Smith, Mormon polygamy or of Mormon origins. Since information on the internet cannot be controlled, the church will lose it’s grasp of it members as they become disillusioned and disaffected with the whole story. For an example of this, you can see this You Tube video in which two Mormon missionaries are introduced to more than they knew about Joseph Smith polygamy.
While there is plenty of evidence that there are many Mormons leaving the church based on this scenario (and perhaps worse, many more not becoming Mormons because of it), I do not think this will be the cause of a collapse of Mormonism. Instead I see a different scenario.
There is an aspect of Mormon culture that views the organization of the church in an idealic light. There’s a prevalent cultural view that the President of the Church is having regular encounters with Jesus and that every decision made inside the Church Office Building comes with a direct confirmation from the Holy Ghost. I am of course using a bit of hyperbole in this description and I’m sure if you pressed any Mormon on the street about it they would concede that this is not quite how things operate. But at the very least we could agree that a large number of Mormons are wearing some very rose-colored glasses as they view the decisions made by the church’s full time employees. This attitude coupled with an intense financial scandal could really destroy Mormonism as we know it.
Imagine a scenario where Door-Knobbers, a Mormon owned company, installs interior door knobs in newly constructed facilities (I choose this example because I don’t think any such company actually exist). The company is quite successful and the owner of the company as part of his tithing settlement gives the church a large number of his own shares in the company. Those inside the LDS church that manage the shares are quite pleased as Door-Knobbers continues to become more and more profitable and the shares increase in value. The LDS church decides as part of its investment strategy to invest heavily into Door-Knobbers stock.
What the share managers don’t know is that the vast majority of Door-Knobbers business comes from an exclusive contract it has with the LDS church to install door knobs in newly built ward houses. Part of the reason Door-Knobbers is so profitable is that they are vastly overcharging the LDS church for their services. Also unknown to the LDS church is that Door-Knobbers won the contract by bribing someone in the LDS church to ensure that they would win the contract despite their bid being nearly double the next highest competitor.
Eventually some one discovers the graft, but is told to hush up about it or be disciplined (the Church can’t afford this kind of scandal being the rationale). The whistle-blower decides to go public and indeed is disciplined for it because as it turns out, the church really can’t afford this kind of scandal.
The corruption, of course, would be a major set back for any religious institution or non-profit(see Exhibit A: The Catholic Church). But it would be worse for the LDS church because of the pristine view the members hold of their organization (I’d say the same about Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science and Scientology). This view would forever be shattered. This breakdown in the honesty of the organization would cause many to conclude that the church is not what they thought it was. Whether the LDS church is promoting this view is really not the point, it’s a condition of the LDS culture that the church must live up to.
I’m spoken up many times that I think every good non-profit organization should have open financial records. I think it’s a serious liability that the LDS church is not open and that the membership doesn’t seem to mind. That being said; I don’t know that financial accountability would prevent this scenario from happening. I have no idea who my church purchases contracts from and whether or not they are competitive. I doubt that level of detail would be exposed through financial accountability. But it could be that financial accountability would create a culture within the Church Office Building that would head this kind of thing off at the pass.
The other solution is for the leadership of the LDS church to start gently reminding the membership that their priesthood leaders are sinners too. This doesn’t have to be done in a way that thwarts their authority but just sets appropriate expectations for their own imperfections. At this point it seems like a herculean feat to get any Mormon to admit that someone in their church has ever done anything in the name of the church in a less than perfect manner. It’s okay to be seeking God’s direction and to be doing your best while you don’t hear a “thus sayeth the Lord” from God in every decision. To hear some Mormons explain it, there is not a single beuacratic decision that isn’t being directed by God. This just isn’t a healthy attitude for anyone.