Patrick Mason warned about two main risks Mormonism faces in his 2016 FAIR talk. To paraphrase, he said the Church needed to avoid the pull of:
1. The “juvenilization” of Mormonism, or reducing it to an EFY-like superficial theological approach, a community built around simplistic memes (Light the World!) and simplified concepts. It made me think of those MormonAd posters of the 1980s or their business equivalent, motivational posters.
2. A fundamentalist takeover of Mormonism like what happened in the 1990s to the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention). Theological fundamentalists took over the churches, seminaries, and governing bodies of the denomination and pushed out liberals and moderates, leaving a distilled group that is more aligned to the religious right than previously, more intolerant of diverse points of view.
“There are occasional signs that moderates and liberals are simply not wanted in the contemporary LDS Church. We have already lost too many who feel, incorrectly in my estimation, that the church is simply a shill for the Republican Party and Family Research Council. But for the most part I’m optimistic that the center will hold, and that Zion will transcend the ongoing culture wars.” Patrick Mason in 2016
My first thought was that these are both trends that have continued since 2016 in large part, although not unopposed. To evaluate whether these trends are indeed taking over, it’s more useful to mute the voices of their proponents and instead to focus on the existence and acceptance of 1) theological depth, and 2) unorthodox views and a wider political range.
I see plenty of evidence of the juvenilization of the religion at Church. The first things that came to mind are:
- Encouraging adults to read and follow the For the Strength of Youth guidelines
- Incorporating Primary songs in Sacrament Meeting
- Dumbing down our curriculum to the Come Follow Me thematic / proof-texting approach vs. the old method of actually reading scriptures in context and discussing them.
- The religion classes required at BYU have gone from scripture-based classes to pablum like “The Eternal Family” which are not even good theology, let alone anything remotely resembling scholarship.
- Downplaying some of the unique theologies that were attractive differentiators in the past such as Heavenly Mother and theosis or “As man is,God once was, as God is, man can become.”
But I also see some areas that are more open and adult or neutral at least:
- Studying at home more means less indoctrination in a classroom setting.
- Using General Conference talks as lesson fodder is probably at least neutral compared to the “Teachings of Living Prophets” manuals that were basically biographies recycled as morality tales, minus historical accuracy. It’s like a chance to rebut or reframe things, by providing Church member input (at least locally) into the views of leaders. Any port in a storm.
There are also trends in Mormonism as in any other organization to broaden through inclusivity of various points of view, then to shrink by differentiating our beliefs, putting a stake in the ground that some cannot agree with. All organizations are in flux until they are no longer relevant.
Within the Church, there is certainly evidence of the Church being a shill of the Republican party (per the quote), but there is also some counter evidence or departure from the party line, implying a different set of principles overriding that pull. Evidence I see of the Church being overtaken by fundamentalist perspectives:
- The sexism that remains in the temple (adding “preside” to the sealing); the sexist differences in sealing cancellations that point to an ongoing belief in polygamy
- The continuing intransigent stance toward LGBT Church members as to their options
- The ongoing fight against the ERA, with the Church erroneously claiming its views haven’t changed on this topic
- The prevalence of scriptural literalism
- The increase in authoritarian activities like worthiness interviews, ecclesiastical endorsements, etc.
- The Church’s pro-immigration stance
- The Church’s welfare program
- Changes to eliminate *much* of the sexism from the temple (despite the grotesque carve out in the sealing wording). Small nods to equalize the importance of women, including *sigh* handing out towels in the baptistry.
- The softening toward LGBT in stating that we believe it is an inherent characteristic, not a choice
- Increasing the profile of women leaders in the Church
- Loosening control through home gospel study (although there’s a chance this was not an intentional outcome).
Personally, I think these remain risks, but I don’t see much movement since 2016 in either one. The Church, to me at least, seems to be keeping pace with it’s “Republican lite” approach, and like all conservatives, they prefer authoritarian approaches and find slogans effective.
The best part is, as usual, you don’t have to agree with me! What do you think?
- Is the Church succumbing to either or both of these trends? What’s your evidence? Is it increasing (since 2016) or decreasing?
- Is one of these a bigger risk than the other?
- Do you see any other risks not identified here that are a greater threat?