I was planning on doing a General Conference review, looking at 8 or 10 talks from the recent Conference — but I’m not quite up for that today, and another week of reflection will probably improve the post. So let’s think more broadly and more generally about how things are going in the Church. What’s doing okay, what doing better than okay, and what is not even doing okay? How is the new Presidency of Pres. Nelson and Pres. Oaks changing things for the better or not so better?
I’m mostly thinking in terms of church governance and practices, not so much at doctrine or policy, but y’all can chime in with an opinion on any topic, I suppose. Here are five areas and my subjective grade of how things are going.
- Missionary Program: Okay. The change to 18 for young men and 19 for young women has had mixed results. It seems to be good for the young women, many of whom want to serve and being able to serve at 19 is good. It seems to be tough for the young men to serve at 18, and I attribute the spike in ERMs (early-returning missionaries) mostly to the age change for young men. Another self-inflicted crisis. Changes to allow less formal missionary attire in the field and more frequent contact with family back home via phone or Skype are steps in the right direction. I still think they need to work on making the whole missionary experience more enriching for the missionary and less of a grind.
- New Curriculum: Not Okay. We all had high hopes for an improved curriculum. I was hoping for manuals that actually helped teachers and students by, you know, putting more and better content into the manuals that could actually help teachers teach and students learn more facts and details about the scriptures. The new curriculum goes in the other direction: application, application, application. It’s Mormon Socialization 101, masquerading as a scripture course. For me, my home-centered, church-supported study course is reading the New Testament, using Wayment’s translation and other scholarly (not LDS) commentaries to learn more about the NT, and ignoring the LDS manual. That’s probably not what the LDS curriculum gurus want from the home-centered church-supported program, but the Church isn’t really providing much support.
- Change Is In the Air: Better Than Okay. I think over the past decade or two Church programs and practices were pretty much stuck in a status quo holding pattern. Suddenly under the direction of Pres. Nelson, change is in the air. You might not agree with all the changes, but at least change is a possibility now. The reversal of some or all of the November Policy only three and a half years after doubling down on it even shows they will reverse course if a program or policy isn’t working. This seems like a positive change in how things are running at the COB. It should certainly encourage leaders or staff who are tasked with planning or proposing changes and improvements in various programs. Their plans might actually get implemented now. The new two-hour block on Sundays seems like the best evidence of a new willingness to enact positive changes. I’ve heard talk about this change for twenty years. Pres. Nelson finally made it happen.
- Temples: Okay. Elder Bednar’s talk encouraging the membership to talk more openly about the temple was surprising. It runs counter to a century of counsel to the contrary. We all remember what happened to people who publicly praised the last round of temple changes in 1990 (several were called in and reprimanded by their local leaders for talking publicly about the temple). The problem, of course, is what you or I think of talking about (honest discussion of temple activities, the history of the temple liturgy, the good things and bad things about the current presentation, the nature of the recent changes) are not what the leadership thinks we should be talking about (it’s so wonderful, it makes me feel so wonderful, everyone should get a recommend and attend weekly, etc.). So I’m not going to talk about it in any detail. But I will say that I attended the Salt Lake Temple last week and I think the most recent changes are a good thing that most people who attend the temple will be happy with. I would have graded this topic better than okay except the Church still does a terrible job preparing people for their first temple experience and in addressing honestly the sources and history of LDS temple liturgy.
- Bishops and Interviews: Not Okay. The Church absolutely needs to provide bishops and stake presidents better training in pastoral skills and interview procedures. Additional upgrades to interview procedures and practices should certainly be part of this. Just allowing a parent to attend if they so request is a first step, not a final solution. I hope they can be proactive about this instead of waiting for more and more bad media coverage to force their hand at some point. So often LDS management at the senior level consists of doing nothing until a crisis forces some sort of action, then putting in half-baked changes cooked up while in crisis mode. I thought these guys were skilled managers from their years of experience in government, education, and business? Why can’t we get out ahead of problems and needed changes instead of waiting for a crisis?
So you, dear reader, can agree with my grades in these areas, you can disagree and point out a different way to look at things, or you can offer your own grades on topics I did not propose. Diverse opinions welcome, of course. You certainly don’t have to agree with me if you see things differently.