The last two posts have dealt with the future (in America) of Evangelism in particular and Christianity in general. Ardis Parshall’s comments on the former post raise the question of the extent to which these same factors impact the LDS Church. I’d like to poke at that a bit, mostly to explore ways in which the future of the LDS Church might be different from what faithful members typically envision.
Let me start by addressing the standard bifurcation between those who believe the LDS Church is what it claims to be — the Church of Jesus Christ, restored by God Himself, the “only true and living church” — and those who do not. Those in the latter camp can and do envision all sorts of futures for the LDS Church, and they do so quite reasonably, since their premise is that it is simply a man-made organization (or, in some Evangelical circles, the Church of Satan) and so can suffer all the varied fates of any such organization.
For believing or faithful Latter-day Saints, however, the LDS Church is God’s kingdom restored to the earth, never to be taken from the earth again between now and the Second Coming of Christ. It is, in the words of Daniel’s vision as echoed in the D&C, “the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (though that passage actually refers to the Gospel, not the Church, as that stone). As such, our vision of the Church’s future tends to be largely more of the same — more wards, more stakes, more missionaries, more missions, more members, and maybe even a few more scriptures — with a brief period of last-days catastrophes, during which we live off our food storage (you do have your food storage, don’t you?), have a much shorter meeting block, and generally encourage and help each other while the rest of the world goes to pieces. Somehow in all this, our homes and our chapels (especially our stake centers) will be places of refuge for ourselves and our nice non-LDS neighbors.
But what if that standard picture is wrong or misleading? What if the course of the Church between now and the coming of the Savior turns out be quite different from what we usually presume? We often cite the books of Helaman through 4th Nephi in the Book of Mormon as providing a type and shadow of events surrounding the Second Coming and the Millennium, but in so doing, we ignore the fact that the Church of God goes from being dominant in both Nephite and Lamanite regions to almost (but not quite) vanishing completely just prior to the great destruction that accompanies the Savior’s death. In fact, one of the first things the Savior does when He appears to the Lehites at Bountiful is to re-establish the Church, reordain its leaders, and re-institute baptism, including for those existing leaders.
Orson Scott Card played with some of these themes in his Folk of the Fringe stories (all written in the 1980s), in which a limited nuclear exchange disrupts American (and American LDS) civilization. The stories are worth reading to see what Card does with this setting, particularly with what is in effect a rejection by God of the LDS Church in America.
Another favorite in this vein is a little short story called “Entry” by Stephen Scott, found in the book LDSF: Science Fiction by and for Mormons (Scott and Vickie Smith, eds., Millennial Productions, 1982). The story is only 3 pages long, and if I could contact either the author or the editors and get permission, I’d post the whole thing here. In brief, the story simply looks over the shoulder of the President of the Church at some future date as he is bringing his journal up to date for the week gone by. But in so doing, we learn about all the things that have changed in the Church (and in the world), such as:
- the calling of full-time bishops
- a reference to “Apostle Kantor’s ‘mixed’ marriage” (no further explanation is given)
- the “new rulings on euthanasia”
- the radical interpretation of the Word of Wisdom as part of the drive against world hunger
- the death of the Prophet’s wives [yes, plural] in the California earthquake a few years ealier
- taping his eulogy for Apostle Yoshimoto
- site selections for new temples near Buenos Aires
- his son serving a mission in Zimbabwe
- his daughter attending BYU-Rome
- the First Presidency meeting with the “Council of Twenty”
- reference to six missions “behind the so-called Iron Curtain”
- the new Church Headquarters, apparently located in Mexico (“across from the Hotel Baja”)
- the reinstitution of the United Order in some areas
- in giving a talk broadcast Church-wide, having to use translators “for those who did not speak Spanish”
- opening of missions in Tibet, Madagascar, and Ceylon
- a new hymn book
- a four-hour private meeting with the Pope
- a reference to “Apostle Hussein”
Again, this was published in 1982, before there were missions in Russia, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar (we’re still waiting on Tibet and Ceylon), before there were temples in Buenos Aires (or even in Mexico, for that matter, though there was one in Sao Paolo, Brazil), or even a new hymn book. What I like about the story is the constant yet understated (and largely unexplained) introduction of things that we might not expect in a future Church, yet things that could well happen.
For example, if the Church continues to grow significantly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Council of Twelve expand into the Council of Twenty; I suspect the Twelve are pretty much overwhelmed as it is now. Likewise, given the relative growth of the Church in Latin America vs. the US and Canada, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Church leadership and organization move south in another 30-50 years, possibly sooner in the event of some catastrophic upheaval (social, economic, political, or even physical) in the United States.
So what are your thoughts for possible futures of the Church? ..bruce..