Since it is a new year I want to make a bit of a confession. I have really struggled with activity in my LDS ward for a couple of years now. It’s a great ward made of great people, but a couple of years ago I felt like I needed to step back and re-evaluate where I was at on my spiritual journey.
My inactivity isn’t due to strictly historical problems or even solely modern issues such as the treatment of homosexual members (though those are both issues), but after years of struggling (I lost belief in a lot of the Church’s truth claims about 10 years ago) I realized that an important aspect of spirituality to me is a community open to diverse spiritual paths, affording the freedom to develop a mature faith. I believe such a community will be critical to spiritual development in the face of secular headwinds in the West, and a conservative tradition alone doesn’t provide the spiritual tools to develop such a meaningful (to me) faith in such an environment.
With that said, it was the November 2015 policy that really shocked me into re-evaluating the LDS Church’s role in my spirituality. It was the impetus for me to say, “I’m not sure this spiritual tradition speaks to me any longer,” step back, and evaluate my spiritual path. Perhaps my age had something to do with it (I’m a bit over 40 now), or a desire for my children to have a spiritual environment where they have the freedom to walk their own path rather than the path specified for them by Church leaders, but the November 2015 policy affected me; something broke and, as a result, I don’t feel particularly spiritually drawn to the Church anymore, even going so far as to seriously explore other options (I’m especially drawn to the Anglican tradition). I do love the LDS Church deeply, though, and have really struggled with how to move forward.
As I’ve considered all of this I enjoyed a discussion on the Mormon Discussions forum where someone going by the handle of Kishkumen described his “Fantasy Mormon Church”. I thought that was a neat exercise, so below I’d like to explore what my Fantasy Mormon Church would look like.
In my Fantasy Mormon Church there would be no doubt what the focus would be: Jesus Christ and his Gospel; and I’m not talking about stuff like temples, family history, home teaching, priesthood, Word of Wisdom, etc., etc. That stuff’s not the gospel; it’s cruft we’ve added on. I’m talking about the good news of Jesus and his resurrection – The Gospel. My Fantasy Mormon Church would make Jesus and his direct teachings the focus of almost all talks, lessons, etc. There is so much to contemplate just within the New Testament that I feel we would never run out of material. We’d dive in and drink deeply from the waters of the New Testament and 3 Nephi 11-30 (this is a fantasy Mormon church, after all). We’d worship Jesus Christ and recognize his place at the right hand of God: as he who was given the holy name. He wouldn’t be relegated to a reference at the end of each prayer but would truly be the heart of all worship in my Fantasy Mormon Church.
Spirituality, Community, and Service
Speaking of worship, my Fantasy Mormon Church would not have bland, boring, three hour meetings. We’d cut services to an hour and hold two in the day, similar to how many Anglican parishes do. One would be more low church, similar to what we do now, while another would be a bit more high church, with more music, a liturgy, etc. People could choose to attend whichever service they’d like.
Regardless, all services would focus on building spirituality and a connection to God both individually and, most importantly, as a community. Organizing as a community is a big part of Mormonism and something we do really well. Our theology even includes the concept of Zion, or the sacralizing of community. Our worship services would be constructed in such a way as to push us toward vulnerability within the community, where the community takes a greater role in the support of one another’s spiritual journeys. Of course, not everyone would have the same spiritual journey, so room for diverse paths and a more open tent would be required.
We’d integrate real, meaningful service as part of our community building. We’d focus on service that impacts the community at large rather than just the LDS community – things such as running a women’s shelter, food pantry, building affordable housing, etc. We could identify as a religious community by what we’ve done rather than what we believe.
My view of Joseph Smith as a prophet is much more limited than that which is understood in the LDS Church. Joseph did some amazing things and some really disgusting, spiritually abusive things (e.g., polygamy). In my Fantasy Mormon Church both Joseph’s achievements and errors would be up for discussion. Rather than deify him we’d treat him as a human who sought to bring a community closer to God. Joseph had a unique religious perspective born of his culture and worldview. We would make room for people who affirm the limits of Joseph’s worldview and who still consider some of what he taught to be prophetic. There would no longer be a need to defend the indefensible and people would be free to disagree with elements of Joseph’s worldview.
In addition, the story of the Restoration would not be dominated by Joseph Smith. Many others contributed to the success of the Restoration and their stories would be more fully included as part of that narrative.
Prophets, Apostles, and Church Structure
Speaking of prophets, my Fantasy Mormon Church would severely curtail the rhetoric of prophets. In fact, we wouldn’t refer to our leaders as prophets altogether unless they actually demonstrated the gift of prophecy. We wouldn’t hang on their every word but would instead view them as potentially wise, but fallible leaders. They would operate according to D&C 121 and would not require obedience by virtue of their authority, but would have to persuade within the religious community’s marketplace of ideas.
Church structure would reflect a more ecumenical model similar to the early LDS Church, where stakes would be more autonomous and the Twelve Apostles a traveling high council. Decisions would be made through the model of ecumenical councils consisting of the First Presidency, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and various stake presidents. Stakes would be free to incorporate more of their local customs, songs, etc. into the religious community. We most certainly wouldn’t provide a religious model consisting of franchises of the Utah church throughout the world, but would instead allow local communities to develop their own traditions and celebrate their own contributions to the Restoration.
In my Fantasy Mormon Church the priesthood consists of all adults. There is no need to maintain a group of male priesthood and women non-priesthood because all who are baptized are part of the royal priesthood. Temple ordinances already make this obvious and my Fantasy Mormon Church would simply recognize it.
There would obviously need to be a pool from whom bishops, stake presidents, etc. could be called, but in my Fantasy Mormon Church, that pool consists of both women and men, so those opportunities become available for women. In addition, since worship services and programs are simplified in my Fantasy Mormon Church, the responsibilities devolving upon bishops and other leaders would require much less time, greatly reducing their impact upon family life.
There would be no worthiness interviews of children or young adults, and nobody would be ordained to the priesthood until they are 18 (as part of their visit to the temple). Even the very concept of “worthiness” interviews would be jettisoned in favor of “preparedness” interviews, for that is what they are for: assessing one’s preparedness for the next stage of spiritual responsibility within the community, and a chance for mentors to learn what spiritual education is needed.
My Fantasy Mormon Church will also steal an idea from Kishkumen of the Mormon Discussion’s forum:
In my Fantasy Mormon Church there are two important priesthoods: one belongs to the family, and one belongs to the community. In the family, the parents co-preside and do whatever they feel they need to do for the family within the family. They can bless as they like, dedicate as they like, bless and pass the sacrament as they like, etc. The congregational priesthood involves rituals that impact or occur within the community as a whole. Parents prepare their children to be baptized, and then baptism and confirmation are witnessed in the congregation, for the child to join the congregation.
Scripture in my Fantasy Mormon Church would be free to be taken metaphorically. We would not push literalness upon those who do not view scripture through a metaphorical lens, nor would we force a metaphorical perspective upon a literalist. Instead, scriptures would take a sacramental role where they are used as an expression of the community’s relationship to God. What makes them scripture is how the community views and uses them, not whether they are the literal word of God. They become the word of God through their spiritual use within the community.
In my Fantasy Mormon Church temple recommend interviews would focus on spiritual preparedness rather than as a litmus test for correct belief.
The secretive nature of the temple is a relic of its ties to Masonry and Joseph’s use of it to introduce polygamy to his closest followers. We no longer need to treat it as a secret society and aren’t trying to lie or obfuscate polygamy, thus we are free to treat what goes on there more honestly and openly. As a result, preparedness classes would discuss completely what goes on in the temple
Any vestiges of gender inequality will be removed from the temple narrative and ordinances.
In my Fantasy Mormon Church, the temple will also not be used as a wedge to separate families. The stupid one year prohibition for couples who marry outside the temple will not exist. Marriage outside the temple will be celebrated as legitimate and, if couples want to be sealed within the temple following a non-temple marriage, they may choose to do so.
Oh, and garments outside the temple will be completely optional. My Fantasy Mormon Church doesn’t require hair shirts or other forms of self-flagellation.
In my Fantasy Mormon Church financial transparency is a given. External auditors would publish the full financial records to all members. There will be no lawyer-notice at the bottom of donation slips indicating that my Fantasy Mormon Church can use the funds in whatever way we choose. Instead, we will respect the wishes of members within my Fantasy Mormon Church.
Also, since services are simplified and we don’t have endless meetings on Sunday, church buildings can be smaller in my Fantasy Mormon Church. Temples, too, would be simplified and not be some sort of attempt at signaling our belief in the Prosperity Gospel. In fact, temples could simply be a part of a ward building set aside for such rituals. As a result, tithing funds can be put to use according to their scriptural mandate: to feed and clothe the poor.
The rhetoric surrounding tithing will also look different in my Fantasy Mormon Church. What you pay is strictly between you and God so there are no tithing settlement meetings.
Theology and Dogmatism
In my Fantasy Mormon Church theological speculation and discussion is encouraged. While there will be a shared theology determined by ecumenical councils, people will be free to have and express varying opinions. Nobody gets to theologically run roughshod over anyone else. We’re all just doing the best we can, trying to make sense of the ineffable. None of us can be precise or certain about any of this stuff so dogmatism isn’t part of my Fantasy Mormon Church.
Gender and LGBT
There is no way for us to know anything about pre- or post-mortal gender or sexual practices, so in my Fantasy Mormon Church we don’t give a crap what gender you espouse, and we welcome LGBT people in full fellowship.
What about you? What would your fantasy LDS Church look like?