The Church has a Christmas present for you: additional guidance (posted Dec. 21) on how you should pray in church and, by extension, how you pray ever. The directive reinstates obligatory second-hour prayers and re-emphasizes using archaic pronouns in prayer. Quoting from the directive (which is in turn quoting the Handbook) “Members should pray using words that express love and respect for Heavenly Father. In English, this includes the pronouns Thee, Thy, Thine, and Thou when addressing Him.“
The first sentence is fine. But you can “express love and respect for Heavenly Father” in standard 21st-century English. You can do that in Australian or Irish or English or American variants of the English language. You can do it as a five-year-old or a ninety-year-old, you can do it if you have a PhD or if you didn’t finish high school. The idea that it is impossible or difficult or somehow unworkable to express love and respect for God in prayer using standard English is simply wrong. I know of no evidence suggesting using archaic pronouns makes prayer more loving or more respectful.
Now it does seem to be the case that senior LDS leaders somehow think using thou and thee and thine in prayer makes a prayer more acceptable to God. I don’t see any evidence for this. Jesus didn’t use thou and thee and thine. The best explanation (a true explanation, not a PR justification) is that LDS leaders have grown up hearing these pronouns in prayer and it feels right to them, reinforced by the archaic language used in the King James Version of the Bible.
What are the consequences of enforcing this policy? I can think of a few. LDS prayer-speak becomes (remains?) stilted as those praying stumble over the correct usage of these archaic pronouns. LDS prayer-makers become very self-conscious. Any visitor thinks our prayer language is a little weird. It makes younger Mormons uncomfortable praying and perhaps unwilling to pray. Anyone who actually believes God prefers these archaic pronouns probably also comes to think God is being a little too picky in how He is addressed. Here is one thing that is almost certainly NOT a consequence of requiring these pronouns: more loving and respectful prayers.
A rather more delicate response is given by Jana Riess at her Religion News Service column: “The thee and thou of Mormon prayer.” As usual, she makes some very good points and is fair to both sides of the argument.
So what’s a reasonable Mormon to do? How shalt thou pray in church? With thy family? In thy closet? Cast thy thoughts about and offerst up good counsel in the comments.