Let’s do a little crowdsourcing on what the Church in 2018 is up to, your sense of whether the Church as a whole is focusing on the right things (the important things, the big things) or the wrong things (or at least less important things, the little things). My sense is that the last few years have seen a fair amount of emphasis on relatively minor points of doctrine or practice while the bigger problems facing the Church seem largely unaddressed.
Here are some recent examples of putting a lot of emphasis on minor or unimportant things:
- Hot off the press, an insistence on using the full and proper name of the Church, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” and avoiding “the Mormon Church” and even “the LDS Church.” Pretty much everyone agrees this is not going to work and even if it does it just makes for awkward writing. But I expect those directly tied to the Church (CES, the missionary program, curriculum materials, the Deseret News, the Newsroom) will slavishly adopt the new directive.
- Last year, the big push was keeping the Sabbath day holy. This topic seems to get regular attention in the curriculum, local talks, and General Conference talks. I’m pretty sure there isn’t an active, church-going Mormon who doesn’t already know they shouldn’t shop on Sunday or spend the day waterskiing, and most don’t. It seems like the leadership is beating a dead horse here.
- Last year a GA visited my home ward and spend about half of his fifteen minutes addressing the congregation talking about taking the sacrament with your right hand. It wasn’t about the symbolism of the sacrament or communion with God or renewing covenants … it was about using your right hand. How really important it is to take the bread and water with your right hand, not your left. Even those little deacons know how important it is to use only your right hand. A kitten dies every time you take the sacrament with your left hand (okay, he didn’t really say that). But then, he added, if your right arm is in a big cast, you can take it with your left hand. Or if you are sadly missing a right arm, then you can use your left. So it is really, really important to use your right hand, but if you can’t and instead take it with your left hand, no big deal, God understands.
Here are some examples of larger or more important themes that, whether you are personally cheering for them or not, at least represent significant or important goals for the Church and its membership:
- Every young man should serve a mission, said President Kimball. It got a lot of airplay and seemed to have a significant impact. Once upon a time, missionary service for young men was sort of hit or miss affair, more like frosting on the cake than an expectation for every young LDS male. Pres. Kimball changed all that.
- Flood the earth with the Book of Mormon, said President Benson. Way back in the 1950s and 1960s, a lot of LDS scriptural discussion and proof-texting focused on the Old and New Testament. The current focus on the Book of Mormon owes much to Pres. Benson’s push to read and use the Book of Mormon more. Granted, his plea was likely rooted in his view that the Book of Mormon’s discussion of Gadianton bands and secret combinations was telling us all to beware of the Great Communist Conspiracy, and that if we just read the Book of Mormon more carefully we’d all join the John Birch Society. But at least this was a grand theme that captured the attention of the membership and changed the emphasis in the curriculum and in the personal scripture study of millions of Mormons.
- Let’s build hundreds of temples, said President Hinckley. And we did. There are temples all over the place. Billings, Montana has a temple. Afton, Wyoming has a temple. Even Bismarck, North Dakota has a temple. There are at least six LDS temples in Africa. Once upon a time older LDS couples would get up in fast and testimony meeting and talk about visiting all 17 or all 22 LDS temples in the world. That doesn’t happen anymore — there are just too many LDS temples for that.
Am I missing anything? I don’t think the adjustments to home and visiting teaching are really a big change. I don’t think the creation of a merged High Elders quorum is a big change. Maybe the age change to 19 for women was a big change given how many young women are now serving compared to ten years ago.
I’m hoping this is not a “be careful what you ask for” thing. I don’t really want to get an announcement in the next General Conference that we should all move to Missouri next year or that we should all start naming babies with Book of Mormon names to better spread the word. I guess I’m thinking of some progressive change on the Gay Policy that is driving away our youth or the Three-Hour Marathon aka Sunday meetings that is wearing people out. Or maybe making LDS finances transparent by issuing actual financial statements showing contributions, earnings, investments, and expenditures to go along with the annual opinion read over the pulpit at General Conference by the Church’s internal auditors (what use is an opinion on financial statements that are not released?).
Help me out here, people. Has the Church become too focused on the little things that don’t matter so much? What bigger things or themes or policies could energize the membership or move the Church forward?