Can The LDS Church Successfully Be Reformed?

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?

Gay Marriage, why it is moral for Christians to protect this interest

I know we have gone over this before, but given that some may not be clear on what is a critical issue I think it may be worth posting on this, since it has been the subject of lots of threadjacks.

Many here have pointed out that it is acceptable to ban gay marriage on moral grounds because all law is based on some morality.  I disagree.

I am a positivist as far as the law is concerned.  We arbitrarily make laws for all kinds of reasons.  Most of these involve giving some economic or political advantage to one group over another.  The law is a tool in the general competition in values. Its doesn’t have a lot to do with morality to favor the meat industry over the corn industry, for example.

However, morality and fairness come into play when we apply laws and infringe on critical human interests, and this is one of the bedrock moral foundations of American law.  Laws should be fair and just when they protect and disadvantage interests.  When it comes to critical human interests, privacy, expression, religion, liberty the law protects these against infringement by the majority.

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Martyrs On a Gay Spring Day in April

I was reading a report that gay groups in large are planning on protesting outside of General Conference this April.  Some of these groups are known to be “out there” even by gay pride parade standards.  Clearly knowing anything about Mormon culture would tell you that this won’t work in convincing Mormons to change their minds.  Mormons have a deep seated “seige mentatlity” and already feel like martyrs.  Any large scale protest only heightens that martyr syndrome.  Further, any outlandish, public displays of sodomy and sex acts will only convince Mormons that “it’s us against the world.”

What’s ironic about this situation is the homosexual community feels like martyrs in this situation.  They are the ones who feel they’ve been persecuted and have a grievance against the world.  I imagine they are thinking is that holding a large protest in Salt Lake City will bring media attention to the LDS church’s role in passing Proposition 8.  It may not convince any Mormons to change their mind, but it might convince other people to change their mind about Mormons.

I don’t think the general homosexual population should be judge by those who go over the top any more than I think the Evangelical community should be judged by street preachers at General Conference.  But those gay men who like to “show off” their perversity in public got me to ask the question “what are they thinking?”  I can’t imagine that they rationally think that dressing up in a giant phallic costume will convince people that homosexuals are normal, mild mannered people who shouldn’t be feared.  It communicates the opposite.  To some degree, I think it’s an expression of anger toward the rest of society.  It’s like they are saying “We’re going to force our lifestyle on you for rejecting us. So take it, take it, take it (middle fingers [an apropos phallic symbol]  hoisted high in the sky).”

How both groups handle the situation and the press coverage will be interesting to see.  Either way I think the LDS church will be driven further from its mission to the gay community and the gay community will be driven further from its mission the the LDS church.  I think this offers a tremendous opportunity for Mormons to shock and suprise the protestors themselves with radical kindness;  the kind that turns its cheek when struck, but I think the opportunity will be missed.  It’s too great an opportunity to feel persecuted (and therefore the church is true).

As a side note, let me clearly state; protestors showing up at General Conference is NOT persecution.  To call it such dishonors any Mormon ever killed or hurt because of their faith.

In Defense of Mormons and Marriage

LDS might be glad to hear that Evangelical commentator and leader, Charles Colson, came to the defense of the LDS church and the status quo of marriage in a recent Breakpoint commentary.  You can listen to what he had to say here

Or read it for yourself here

The offending advertisement was this one

It’s About Sex not Love

I recently posted a response to Runtu’s take on Same-Sex Marriage.  I thought I’d clean it up and post it here. I don’t really seeing anybody making positive secular arguments for the status quo of marriage.

As a caveat, I think same-sex marriage is likely an inevitability in the United States. I think that civil unions for everyone might be an eventual solution to the problem. I also recognize that a good number of my readers are lawyers so I expect to be ripped a new one for one reason or another.  Take it easy on my legal ignorance and take the opportunity to illuminate me on where I might have it wrong.

Marriage is about property rights, but the question is “why do married people need their property rights defined?”. My impression is that government started issuing marriage licenses in an effort stabilize families for the protection of children.  Men and women who cohabitate together with a sexual relationship produce children as a natural by-product.  To ensure that children are given a stable environment in which to thrive marriage licenses were drawn up. This protected the property of one or both parties and meant it would remain with the newly created family if either died.  The financial benefits of marriage were delivered so that cohabitating couples would feel encouraged to join into marriage and give the stabilizing benefits to their children.

IF the benefits of marriage were created to protect children then they need not necessarily be passed on to cohabitating men and women who do not produce children.  But that’s where the equal protection of the law comes in.  All men must be allowed to marry any woman and all women must be allowed to marry any man. This ensures everyone has the same rights because (generally) the natural by product of cohabitation between men and women is children.

IF marriage is just about joining property with someone you choose to join property with (for love, sex, business, coercion, or any other reason), then marriage should not only be extended to same sex couples, but also non-sexual friendships, cousins, siblings, parent-child relationships and perhaps to multiple partners as well.  None of these relationships affect your marriage any more than same-sex marriage do.  If that’s the litmus test we are using than you really should be in favor of no restrictions on marriage whatsoever.  Any restrictions you come up with will ultimately be shown to be arbitrary with no more weight than you think they are “icky”.

The very fact that marriages must be sexually consummated to be valid suggests to me at least that the government thinks it’s about the creation of children and not just property law.

As dissatisfying as the argument comes across gay men have the same rights as straight men; neither are allowed to marry men.  The same goes for straigh and gay women.  I think Victorian romanticism has strongly injected itself into our thoughts on marriage.  Marriage has been around much much longer than our belief that it should be about love.  It’s about sex (that may produce children), not love.

Mormons Get the Yoke of Prop 8

Gay Marriage The LDS church is making lots of news these days and it’s all in conjunction with the passage of California Prop 8.  In two days I read three articles that mentioned protests against Prop 8 and all three made sure to mention the LDS church in some way.

This one, this one and this one.

Mormons can look at this in one of two ways: 1) We did it, we have influence and now people notice it. 2) Hey wait, we weren’t the only ones who supported Prop 8.  Why are you focusing on us?

I think part of the reason is because the Los Angeles Temple is a major monument closely located next to a large gay population.  It’s the easiest and most noticeable place to set up shop close to home.  There aren’t any Evangelical mega-churches that strongly supported Prop 8 (like Skyline Wesleyan) within walking distance of any gay neighborhoods.

Now this news of possibly boycotting the entire state of Utah takes it to a whole new level.  I have to concede that if this movement picks up momentum it’s singling out Mormons.  To be consistent, the gay community should also boycott Colorado Springs because that’s where Focus on the Family is located and they should boycott Connecticut because that’s where the Knights of Columbus is headquartered.  For that matter they should boycott the entire state of Arkansas for not allowing gay couples to be foster parents (but I think that boycott has been silently underway for decades).

I’ll be interested to see how the LDS church and it’s membership will react to this heightened scrutiny.  There’s a certain Mormon population that will take delight in “being persecuted”. Other’s may feel this isn’t the battle they wanted to get into.  I’m sure the San Francisco and Los Angeles Mission Presidents are less than thrilled that this is what their missionaries will be talking about for the next several years.

My own church did not mention politics at all over the last couple of months except to say “we’re not going to talk about politics.”  Part of that comes from a belief that if you disciple people correctly you don’t need to tell them how to vote, they’ll quite naturally know how to vote.  It also comes from a belief that the Kingdom of God is the first and foremost thing we should be known for building.  State propositions and political parties are not the thing we want people to feel they must align themselves with to enter our doors.  The motivation for that is borne out in these news articles, we don’t want to be known as THE ones who did this or that politically.


I’d like to request that all comments focus on the after effects of the LDS church’s support of Proposition 8 and avoid the positive and negative arguments of the Proposition itself.