What would you do if you ran the Church? What changes would you make to the structures? What would your communication priorities be?
I think we all think about this often. It’s probably one of the things that keeps the bloggernacle chugging along after all these years. The thing is, I would bet all the apostles have thought of it, too. Everyone’s got their list of pet peeves and hobby horses. Oaks has been preaching against the LGBT community for decades. Nelson mocked the big bang in 2015, and went off about the name of the Church in the mid-90s. Monson was always all about the widows and helping the poor, even adding it as a fourth mission of the Church (is that still a thing? It doesn’t feel like it is). Hinckley wanted to manage the Church’s public image, and had some good instincts about that, many of which have been completely undone by current leadership.
Generally speaking, though, most apostles don’t get to actually do the things that have been their priorities unless they are super lucky and make it to either the top chair or at least a like-minded First Presidency. Like the rest of us, they are constrained to just deal with whatever those in charge do, whether we like it or not. Clearly, Pres. Nelson must have been biting his tongue when Pres. Hinckley launched his “I’m a Mormon” PR campaign. Tongue-biting seems to be part of the apostolic mandate, as seen recently when E. Gong told his gay son not to post the photo of them all at dinner on social media lest people “get the wrong idea.” It’s only verboten because the current top dogs are so anti-LGBT, and fealty is the highest order. The king is dead; long live the king.
So what would my regime be like? Here are some preliminary thoughts. I would say “take your vitamins,” but I don’t want to oversell it.
- Abolish worthiness interviews except for personal ordinances. No ecclesiastical endorsements either. Eliminate the Honor Code Office at BYU except for academic cheating (which is generally run by department heads anyway). Restore the REAL Title IX office and expect the university to abide by it without skirting it using “religious exemptions.”
- Mixed gender presidencies for Primary & Sunday School.
- Train every person in Church leadership, top to bottom, to focus on inviting people to Christ, not on weeding out people they don’t like or assessing the orthopraxy and orthodoxy of individuals. Make tattling on fellow ward members socially unacceptable. Teach leaders that enabling tattling on others erodes social trust and community, when that tattling is for beliefs or victimless actions. Require First Presidency approval for excommunication, and almost never grant it. Maybe for unrepentant serial killers.
- All cases of reported abuse should be taken to authorities.
- De-emphasize temple attendance and building. We are swimming in them. We don’t need a bajillion more micro-temples, and time could be better spent on organized humanitarian efforts. Instead of reporting on the number and location of new temples, report on humanitarian results. We truly do have enough temples already for the people who love to attend, so please, if this is you, enjoy. Quit guilting people to attend if that’s not their jam, they have young kids, or they don’t have time.
- Create a program akin to “Feed My Starving Children” that makes the experience of helping the poor tangible and fun, inviting those of other faiths to participate as well. Honestly, bishops’ storehouse and canning could be part of this. Why not make it a fun half hour instead of a grueling four-hours doled out to the semi-retired rather than youth groups?
- Come out publicly against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and repudiate & apologize for the history of these things in the Church, including polygamy. Eliminate all traces of polygamy from current Church policies, practices, and the temple. Replace quotes about miscegenation with apologies for being racists in our manuals. Be honest about how awful polygamy was and what it does to women psychologically and how it harms marriages.
- Eliminate discriminatory practices from all Church hiring. Provide free child care and no-strings health care coverage (including all forms of birth control) with generous parental leave for both sexes. Expect all departments in the Church and at BYU to achieve parity with specific goals and time frames.
- Move the seminary program to strictly online, self-directed with a Zoom meet-up weekly to review workbook results. Rather than making the Zoom meetups from the local congregation, assign groups so that students are from completely different geographic locations.
- Require CES to hire based on academic qualifications, and require the Religious Education department to achieve and maintain accreditation for a core set of classes. Create a time frame for CES teachers to become qualified or move on. Pay for their qualification process.
- Re-explain tithing as paid on “increase” (or surplus) as it states in the D&C. Eliminate tithing interviews annually. Possibly do an interim step of online attestation of “full” or “partial” status.
- If there’s a pandemic, replace in person Church with organized efforts that help those most impacted by the pandemic: the homeless, essential workers, the elderly. Connect our congregations to the community in positive ways, and we don’t have to rely so much on missions for converts.
- Provide university education scholarships to LDS students no matter where they attend if they don’t get into BYU to lower their tuition costs to BYU-levels. It’s unfair that parents whose kids were declined by BYU have literally paid the tuition for kids who took their kid’s space, especially when the application requirements are opaque and subjective. (This scholarship is a program I’d have to think about to figure out the best way to make it work. It’s just a random thought, which puts it on par with quite a few of the changes we’ve endured).
- Completely forbid quoting Church leaders in talks, including General Conference, at least for one year to cleanse the palate. Maybe just do this forever because it is really really gross, but on the flip side, there are some things previous leaders have said that are pithy and bear repeating. Only about 2% of what actually gets quoted is worth hearing again, and a bunch of that stuff should have died a natural death decades ago (looking at you, Fourteen Fundamentals).
- Mandatory apostolic retirement at 72 (or 80?) or after ten years of service in the role, whichever comes first. Let’s keep things fresh with new blood, and people more invested in participating. Obviously there should be women as well as men, but that’s a given since in this scenario, I’m one of them.
- Take some things in the Church to referendum, not just top-down decision-making. If we had asked about two hour church thirty years earlier, that would have been 150 more hours of our lives we’d have had back. Other things that might qualify: temple recommend questions, garments, tithing, word of wisdom.
- Speaking of getting our time back, I would shorten General Conference to just one two-hour session. It’s too long. Waaaay too long. I’d also create parity between men & women speaking immediately.
- Wards would be run by the ward council, not the bishop, and there would be no veto power. To really get people to grasp the change, all Church finances would be handled by women, top to bottom. All decision-making bodies would immediately include at least 30% women, and in time, up to 100% women, chosen by both men & women.
- Allow people to transfer to other wards with less opposition. Why are we trying to force people to attend wards that suck? Fix the bad ones, how about that? Pay attention to wards that people are fleeing. There’s probably a reason.
- Prospective missionaries would be allowed to choose service-only, proselyting-only, or a hybrid as well as provide input on the length of time they want to serve, as little as six months. They would also be able to provide input on where they would serve. I do think you have to keep the magic open for them to feel the calling was inspired, and you have to bear in mind that they don’t have enough life experience usually to know where they want to serve. I would completely eradicate the counting of baptisms, lessons taught, and meetings attended. I don’t think those have anything to do with actual success and they create so much negative downstream garbage that we just have to start over. Both women and men within the mission would be eligible to be district or zone leaders. Rather than doing this through ordaining women, I would detach priesthood from administrative roles like these and restrict priesthood to non-administrative and non-decision-making functions.
- I didn’t specify ordaining women here, but that’s partly because if I’m an apostle, the question is moot. However, I’m more inclined to think we should unordain men than we should ordain women. How can anyone reading about the original twelve apostles as presented in the New Testament not see that hierarchies lead to jockeying for position which is the opposite of what Jesus taught??? We don’t seem to understand this. Our current twelve literally choose chocolates out of a box based on seniority, meaning the least senior are stuck with lemon cremes I suppose. That’s classic male hierarchical thinking, not servant leadership as Jesus taught.
I realize that every solution is a ticket to a new problem, so despite what I might be trying to accomplish, there would doubtless be a downside. My more inclusive Church would probably mean members have a lower commitment level (but let’s be honest, the most committed ones are the scariest!), and there might be some who leave because they hate women, gay people, and think I’m a communist. C’est la vie.
Now it’s your turn. What would your top priorities be? What could possibly go wrong?