Today’s guest post is by David H. There is a well known tension among Mormonism’s principles that God never changes and yet continues to reveal things that look like change.
It was important when the practice on priesthood/temple and race/lineage was ended that the change be understood not as a rejection of a fundamental doctrine, but instead as the fulfillment of prophecy that was already part of the doctrine. When polygamy was abandoned, it was similarly important for people to believe that the principle remained, but the practice of the principle would be deferred.
Along those lines, I think the silence of the Church about the reasons for the prior priesthood/temple practice is meant so that in a generation or two, when memories of prior statements on the history and reasons (including curse of Cain or Ham) for the practice have dimmed, those statements can be completely jettisoned and disavowed in the same way we currently downplay many 19th century teachings of the pre-Manifesto era (and how much of the Protestant solo scriptura world ignores many of Paul’s anti-feminist teachings).
I personally think that the proxy sealing of women to all their husbands is part of change without change. In a generation or so, if it is announced that living women can be sealed to a second husband without cancellation of the first sealing, this may be a ho-hum event–“We have been doing this for deceased women for decades. It isn’t much of a change to stop forcing living women to wait until they are dead before we can seal them to a second husband.”
Homosexuality is another issue on which doctrinal understandings or underpinnings are incrementally adjusting. The institutional Church (like other organizations) may prefer that attention does not focus on such modifications. Perhaps that is why there was a somewhat sharp reaction when the press picked up that there had been movements on the subject in the handbook.
(This preference that change be “under the radar” may also be important if or when liturgical changes are made in sacred rituals.).
Other churches, including our Community of Christ cousins have experienced disruption and schism when abrupt change occurred, like extending priesthood women. Same is true in the Protestant world with changes of policy on sexual orientation and behavior, and the Roman Catholic world is still experiencing disruption from Vatican II (as well as from the Pope’s recent mere hint that perhaps condom use could have a moral justification in narrow situations–perhaps maybe).
One could argue, if change is right, we (i.e., God and the Church leaders) should make it immediately regardless of whether anyone else in the Church would follow it (“do what is right, let the consequence follow”). I argue that would be inconsistent with a key Mormon principle that is too often underemphasized. While the Church is structured to be led by revelation hierarchically, it also is to be led by common consent. The Church leaders may be the eyes or brain of the Church, but the body of the Church–its arms and legs– is just as important (according to Paulene writings that seem as true today as when written). Arguably it doesn’t do much good if the spirit/mind wants to go in one direction and only one leg and one arm follows (and the other arm and leg go in a “different direction”).
I have thought for 30 years that one interim step to address inequitable treatment or access to power in the Church might be to add the RS president to the bishopric, or at least as a formal member of the PEC. But I must say that the decision to grant additional power via an existing council by simply raising its significance on the organization chart is brilliant. We haven’t created a new council, nor have we changed the composition of either the bishopric council or the priesthood executive council. We have simply altered their relative significance in administering the Church at the local level. Roslyn makes some cogent observations about this.
Another tricky thing, that might await another day, would be changing the relative powers of the stake council versus the high council. Or perhaps a similar change at the general church level.
Of course, this change does not necessarily cure real or perceived inequities in the Church. As others have pointed out, even on the ward council there are significantly more men than women. And bishoprics may not promptly delegate as much power as contemplated, at least for some period of time. But I still think it is a brilliant move, at least on paper, to extend more real authority (and give a greater voice) to women without making it appear to the old liners that the Church has changed.
How do you feel about the church’s approach to change? Discuss.