Today’s guest post is from Simon C.
It’s 2830! We finally made it. Mormonism has reached its 1000 year anniversary! To celebrate, church President M. David R. Nelson-McConkie-Fielding Kris Kristofferson XXIII has announced a program of celebrations and commemorations throughout the year, including a special conference which will be broadcast directly into everyone’s brain and which promises to be not just “memorable” but “unforgettable” (largely because it will be broadcast into everyone’s brain). This isn’t just historic; it’s will be “pure historic”. What can we expect from the future now that Mormonism is a whole millennium old? President M.D.R.N.M.F.K. Kristofferson XXIII explains:
“So many wonderful things are ahead. In coming days, we will see the greatest manifestations of the Savior’s power that the world has ever seen. Between now and the time He returns ‘with power and great glory’, He will bestow countless privileges, blessings and miracles upon the faithful…”
Mormonism is a mere baby compared to many other world religions. Christianity as a whole has celebrated not one but two millennia. Judaism has been around for a few centuries more; Islam a few centuries less. As we look back across the long sweep of history, we can see how religions have grappled with sectarianism, fragmentation, reformation, and counter-reformation. They have tackled questions regarding institutional orthodoxy and orthopraxy, power struggles and the notion of authority, canonicity in their sacred texts, and the place of charismatic leaders and movements. As religions grow they have had to encounter and respond to different societies and cultures, figure out how they live when in the minority and how they live when in the majority, and how they act when they find themselves wielding political power. And above all, what do they do in the face of secularism and secular knowledge?
Mormonism is coming up to being (or has turned) 200 years old, depending on how you count. And although we have seemingly packed in a lot of history in these two centuries, it is nothing compared to the long historical processes that have played out elsewhere. What would these look like in Mormonsim if we wind the clock forward? What will Mormonism and the Church look like in 100 years’ time? 500? 1000?
After 200 years, Christianity itself was in the long process of moving from its charismatic roots to a more settled institutional model. As notions of power and authority began to coalesce around geographical centres, individual leaders, and certain texts, ideas of orthodoxy and heresy were forming as a counter to charismatic and gnostic movements. Narratives were forming. Winners and losers, saints and sinners identified. After 200 years Christianity got its first great theologian in Origen. But we are still a few decades away from the embrace of imperial might, when Christianity saw what political power could do. The great councils that attempted to create settled doctrine for the established church wouldn’t begin to happen for another century; the Reformation and Counter-Reformation for another millennium or more. And all along the way disagreement, persecution, violence, and fragmentation.
Mormonism of course won’t necessarily follow this trajectory. It wasn’t created in a vacuum. Just as Christianity inherited the historical DNA of centuries-old Judaism, so Mormonism inherited the DNA and historical legacy of millennia-old Christianity. Christianity developed in its own context and timeframe; Mormonism, as a very late branch of Christianity, could hit the ground running in many ways and continues to develop along its own (covenant) path.Mormonism may not fight some battles because those battles were already fought a long time ago; on the other hand, there are some upheavals it has gone through and will almost certainly go through in due course because many religions seem to go through the same at some point. What will they be?
- Mormonism moved from charisma to institution very quickly; it was in essence ‘institution-born’. Charisma stills plays a central role in our narrative with the idea of ‘continuous revelation’, and weirdly, charisma has surfaced once again in the form of our cult of personality surrounding the prophet. But let’s face it: ‘revelation’ in 2023 looks a lot different from revelation in 1823 or 1833 or 1843. And the cult of personality seems now to be attached to people with not much personality. What on earth is revelation in the church going to look like in 500 years’ time? How will we revere the prophet then?
- Now that we are turning 200, are we just a few years away from our first great Mormon theologian? Having more or less snubbed it for the last century or so, will the church embrace the world of the seminary and the divinity school, as early Christianity embraced Greek philosophy? Maybe in the next century we will see the Council of Salt Puddle City to finally settle on Articles of Faith II. Perhaps this will be followed in the years after by the Council of Mexico City or the Council of Lagos. And what about the Mormon Reformation of 2682?
- Our great moment of fracturing came in the 19th century. But are there more or even bigger to come in the centuries ahead? Should we anticipate the Great Mormon Schism of 2350 where the church of the global south finally splits from the church of the global north over some contested social issue? Will charismatic movements or popular movements be involved in how this all plays out?
All of this depends on the wider social, cultural and political contexts and forces at play, as the world marches on into the next few centuries. I have a hunch (just a small one) that climate change will have role to play in all this. Maybe even space exploration. Will we be seeing Inter-Galactic Seventies? Christ of course may return soon enough to put us all out of our misery. But then Christ has been knocking at the door for 2000 years now. And there’s no reason it couldn’t be another 1000 years. What will the narrative be then, I wonder…
So let’s look forward in order to look back over the longue durée of Mormon history. What do you think will happen? Whether serious, satirical or silly, all predictions are welcome!