The last few years have been rough ones for the LDS Church’s top leaders and PR department. The Internet has made controlling the message impossible. Mormon “history” is evolving into verifiable history, instead of sanitized propaganda. And our theology has been slow to come to grips with the advances of modern science.
So is anyone at the forefront of dealing with historical and scientific reality? It is not the Apostles or the First Presidency; it is individual members like: Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens, George Handley, (my apologies to all the others), etc. But the message from these individuals does not have the weight of the top 15, particularly with conservative Mormons.
Historians and scientists have provided LDS Church’s leaders with ample evidence to cleanup a lot of the Church’s history and theology. Letting issues fester has proved to be a disasterous policy. It is time to cleanup the mess. Here are steps that need to be taken immediately:
- Black Discrimination: There is ample evidence that the denial of the priesthood and temple ordinances to blacks was not doctrine, but a racist policy established by Brigham Young that was continued until 1978. The LDS Church needs to acknowledge it’s racist past and apologize. It needs to state unequivically that there was never a justification for discriminating against blacks. It is not enough to just throw Brigham Young “under the bus.”
- Polygamy: The Church’s past history with polygamy has turned out to much more complicated than that described in twentieth-century sanitized Mormon histories. The LDS Church needs to acknowledge that polygamy was a failed social experiment and not a doctrine. There needs to be a review of the historicity of the appropriate sections of the D&C. For example, Gary Bergera states: “Section 132 should never have been canonized. It wasn’t intended for the Church. Joseph never approved the text for publication. In fact, we don’t even have a reliable version of the text.” To quote Steve Evans, “I think [polygamy] was a big, messy experiment started by Joseph Smith, and I’m glad its gone.” And after all, according to a recent Church essay, we have a Mother in Heaven not Mothers in Heaven.
- LGBT Discrimination: The Church needs to overtly acknowledge that there is a genetic basis for homosexuality; that it is not a sin, but a fact of nature. And that conversion therapy is just plain wrong. The LDS leadership needs to reevaluate its prohibition on gay marriage and its attitude toward children with gay married parents. In the opinion of many, including myself, discrimination against the LBGT community is contrary to the spirit of Christ’s teachings.
- Discrimination Against Women: Recent missteps by the LDS Church’s top leadership and PR department have pointed out the need for a more diversified leadership. For example, the Church needs to find more responsible positions for its female members. I’m not talking about incremental baby steps, or the usual tokenism. I’m talking about initiating significant steps immediately. Irregardless of how the priesthood issue is resolved, we need more women in significant leadership roles. We need them now. And the same goes for minorities and non-Utahns.
- Dealing with Advances in Science and Technology: The Church leaders need to acknowledge that: evolution is more than a theory, there was death before the Fall, Adam and Eve may not of been historical characters, global warming is a reality, the OT is neither history nor science (and much of it is seriously problematic), there is a genetic basis to homosexuality, etc. If Mormonism is perceived as being anti-science, then it will continue to lose its young members. Hardly a road map for a successful future. We could use a few scientists in the top 15.
The slow pace of dealing with changes in Mormon history and the increasingly rapid advances in science and technology are causing problems which shouldn’t be problems.
Dave Banack comments on how the transparency of the Internet and social media have disrupted “business as usual” for the LDS Church:
First, the secret handbook giving detailed guidance to LDS local leadership is no longer secret. For a church that has employed secrecy as a strategy in so many areas (the Handbook, the temple, disciplinary proceedings, historical documents in its archives) the transparency of social media and the Internet is highly disruptive. Second, unhappiness can now network, communicate, and organize, and do it quickly. . . . The Church no longer has years or even months to assess the damage and craft a response or execute a retreat from a bad decision or policy.
If the Church does not adapt to the reality of this changed technological environment and modify its procedures and operations, similar scenarios [like current flap over the children of gay couples] will continue to recur.
The above proposed changes cannot wait for decades or generations to be implemented. They need to resolved now, or at least in the immediate future.