Category Archives: LDS Organization

Changes in missionary age: a brief observation

Like most wards here in North America, we’re seeing more of our young men and women leaving on missions; I help my wife lay out the weekly sacrament bulletin, and the list of missionaries serving keeps growing longer.

Beyond that, though, I’ve noticed an increased seriousness and maturity among our priest-age young men, especially those in their senior year of high school. We’ve been in this ward for eight years now, so I’ve watched most of these young men grow up, and I can see those changes as the weight of their mission calls — impeding or actual — settles on them.

It will be very interesting to see the long term impact of this change. I think it will be significant and very positive. ..bruce..

My $0.02 on the Big Announcement

I’ve been doing some thinking about the announcement made today regarding the lowering of ages for young men and young women to leave on full time missions. I think this change will have some significant changes beyond the obvious.

First, it ups the ante in Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women classes, particularly in the former. There’s a well-established pattern in which young men make it through high school and then spend a year or so deciding whether to go on a mission and to get themselves ready to do such. Now that young men can leave on missions immediately after turning 18 and graduating from high school, they will have serious decisions and preparation to make while they are still in high school. Likewise, having young women leave at 19 will, I think, make mission preparation a growing theme in the Young Women’s organization. And for those in both groups who are considering serving a mission, Seminary will take on an additional importance.

Second, and somewhat contradictory, the statements made by Pres. Monson at General Conference and by Elder Holland at the press conference afterwards indicate an official Church observation that there is no single age at which young men should leave on a mission — merely that 18 is the earliest age at which they can leave on a mission. For several decades, the “go-on-a-mission-at-age-19” meme has been a strong cultural milestone within the Church, at least in the US, and young men who choose not to leave on their mission at that age are often looked at with some concern or even disapproval.

But the statements by President Monson and Elder Holland made make it clear that while a young man can leave at 18, he may for various reasons choose to wait longer. The consequence may well be a general acceptance within the members and local leadership of the Church that there is no one set age at which a young man should leave on a mission, but that it is up to him to make a decision on that timing based on his own circumstances, choices, and inspiration. So, for example, while many may choose to go right after high school, others may choose to complete college, vocational training, or military service first, and then serve a mission.

As for the impact on young women in the Church, I can do no better that to repeat the comment made by Becca over at By Common Consent that said, simply, “Fewer child brides; more sister scriptorians.” A glib remark, but one with weight behind it.

[UPDATE — 10/07/12, 1009 MDT]

Reading some of other posts, tweets, and news reports about this change raises a related thought, one echoed in some of those sources: this will cause significant upheaval in long-established and heavily entrenched social patterns and mindsets among LDS youth in high school and college. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next decade or so.  ..bruce..

Deacons and the sacrament

Not having a teaching assignment myself during Sunday School, I tend to bounce between Gospel Essentials and Gospel Doctrine, while occasionally going to neither and instead hanging out in the chapel with my iPad. A few weeks back, I happened to attend Gospel Essentials, where Phil[*], a lifelong (and still staunch) Catholic who has been attending our ward since early this year with an LDS friend, asked a very good question. He noted that in the Catholic Mass, it is the priest, the father, a man dedicated to full-time church service and who has been through extensive training (his words, not mine), who prepares and administers the Blessed Host. He questioned, then, why it is that we let kids prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament in our own church.

I am (rightly or not) considered the “go-to” person for tough or obscure questions in that class, so the instructor turned and looked at me. I started to give a fairly standard answer about the Aaronic Priesthood being a preparatory priesthood, but stopped before I got very far into that, because something entirely different came to me, something I’m not sure I had ever considered before. What I ended up saying was something like this:

The Savior, through His ministry, emphasized time and again themes such as “except ye be as a little child”, “the last shall be first”, and “the least of these my brethren”. It is perhaps in that spirit that He selects the youngest and least “qualified” of His priesthood bearers to perform one of the most sacred duties, to carry and give His body and blood to the congregation.

I can’t remember if I said much more beyond that, but I have looked at the sacrament with fresh eyes since then. I know that having deacons pass the sacrament is a relatively recent innovation (end of 19th century/early 20th century); nevertheless, it can serve as a powerful reminder that the Lord calls upon “the weak and simple” (always a favorite missionary scripture) to do most of the work of proclaiming His gospel. It is also a reminder that, from where the Lord sits, there isn’t that much difference between the “highest” and “lowest” of us. As I said in the post I just linked to, “[God’s] grace is not only greater than we imagine, it is greater than we can imagine.” The Savior on the last night of His life stooped to wash the dirty and calloused feet of his disciples; we should not scorn to take His body and blood from a 12-year-old boy.  ..bruce..

[*] Name changed to protect privacy.

The Second Quorum of the Twelve

The Nephite Apostles

[Note: this is a follow-up to the discussion in the comments to this post some months back (from the date of the original post in 2009). Also, I’ve made minor edits over time as I have re-read this post.]

We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church . . . .
— 6th Article of Faith

Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem. And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem.
— Mormon 3:18-19

“[The Book of Mormon] tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists, the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings, as were enjoyed on the eastern continent . . . ”
— Joseph Smith (from the Wentworth Letter, 1842; cf. History of the Church 4:538).

Back during the ‘Primitive Church’ era, it appears that there were 24 apostles on the earth, organized into two separate quorums: the Twelve in the Old World (led by Peter) and the Twelve in the New World (led by Nephi3). While it is true that the New World Twelve were never specifically called apostles within the Book of Mormon (though see Mormon 9:19 and Ether 12:41, either or both of which could be referring to the New World Twelve as ‘apostles’) , Joseph Smith referred to them as such (as noted above), and Joseph Fielding Smith cautiously agreed.

Mormon’s comments, cited above, indicate that the New World Twelve were subordinate to the Old World Twelve. In modern-day LDS parlance, we could refer to the Old World Apostles as the First Quorum of the Twelve, and to the New World Apostles as the Second Quorum of the Twelve.

Nowadays, however, we only have the (one) Quorum of the Twelve. Given the 6th Article of Faith, the question comes up: what are the chances of the Church setting up a Second Quorum of the Twelve, as existed in the Primitive Church? And if the Church did so, how would it work, particularly given the tradition of succession in the modern Church?

First, let’s see why the Church might organize the Second Quorum of the Twelve.

When I joined the Church in 1967, Church membership was around 2.6 million, with about 450 stakes and 4,200 wards and branches. The large majority of that membership was in the Western United States, Western Canada, and northeastern Mexico. Apostles and even First Presidency members would visit stake conferences on a regular basis; I got to shake hands with Pres. Hugh B. Brown and Elder LeGrand Richards as a teenager that way. Back then, each bishop was set apart by an Apostle.

Today, Church membership is approaching 14 million, with 2,800 stakes and nearly 25,000 wards and branches (roughly a 5x growth in all three categories). Over half of the Church membership lives outside of the United States. And we still have just twelve Apostles.

The gap has been filled by the Presidents and Quorums of the Seventy (not to mention stake presidents). They really are the eyes and ears and legs and hands of the Apostles throughout the world. But the collective Seventy still have to feed into just twelve Apostles. I suspect that the members of the Quorum of the Twelve carry tremendous administrative, spiritual, and ministering burdens — and yet in all that, it is the core of their calling to be special witnesses of Christ.

Imagine, then, how that burden would be lifted if there were a Second Quorum of the Twelve, another set of 12 Apostles among whom to share the load at that level of Church administration.

How might this work?

Let’s follow the model in the meridian of time and assume that the Second Quorum of the Twelve is subordinate to the First Quorum of the Twelve. Seniority in the Second Quorum would work just like, but be independent of, the seniority in the First Quorum. There would be no automatic succession from the Second Quorum to the First; instead Apostles in the Second Quorum would be put on emeritus status when they reached 70 years of age. However, the Second Quorum would provide a fertile ground for candidates to fill vacancies in the First Quorum upon the death of an Apostle.

In other words, it would work pretty much just like the Presidency of the Seventy works right now. In fact, I could argue that the Presidency of the Seventy fills the function of the Second Quorum of the Twelve, except that there’s only seven of them and they don’t have Apostolic authority (i.e., being sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators).

Now, what if that were to change? What if the Church dissolved the Presidency of the Seventy, organized the Second Quorum of the Twelve, and then organized the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Quorums of the Seventy, with an Apostle over each Quorum? Church government and organization is flexible as the times require; I was once a Seventy myself, and was even a President of Seventy (it was a stake position some 25 years ago — there were seven Presidents of Seventy in each stake). So it wouldn’t bother me in the least if the Church were to do this kind of reorganization. (I will admit being startled for a second when the Church organized the Eighth Quorum of the Seventy, though I believe a careful reading of D&C 107:95-96 allows that interpretation.)

As an alternative approach, what if the Church left the Presidency and Quorums of the Seventy just as they are now, but called an entirely new Second Quorum of the Twelve? This second Quorum could truly act as a “traveling presiding high council” throughout the Church, going as a quorum, in pairs or individually, to various parts of the world to help strengthen the church. In fact much as Elders Oaks and Holland did for a year in the Philippines and South America, respectively, members of the Second Quorum could live outside of the United States on a permanent or near-permanent basis, providing resident Apostolic authority throughout the world, while traveling back to Salt Lake on a regular basis to meet with the First Presidency and the First Quorum of the Twelve (though I suspect the Church would use two-way, satellite-based videoconferencing to reduce actual travel).

Given this second approach, I suspect that the Second Quorum would largely comprise Apostles whose native language is something other than English and/or whose native country is outside of the United States and Canada.

This approach would allow Church members throughout the world to hear in person from Apostles speaking their native tongues on a regular basis. At the same time, these worldwide Apostles could work more actively and directly with the governments of the countries over which they preside to help see to the Church’s interests in those countries.

This approach would, I believe, tremendously strengthen the Church worldwide, especially in those areas (Latin America, Africa, the Philippines) where Church growth frequently outstrips the leadership pool. And for those keeping an eye on the Last Days, it would also ensure Apostolic authority distributed throughout the world in the event of major war and/or natural catastrophes.

Any thoughts?  ..bruce..

The effectiveness of the Mormon Network

Here in the Denver area, we are in the middle of what may turn out to be the heaviest snow storm of the entire winter. We’ve got drifts 2-3′ deep on our back deck, and our driveway (which is about 150-200 yards long) is covered with thick, heavy, wet snow (the worst kind to use a snow blower on). And it’s still coming down.

Stake Conference for our stake is scheduled for this weekend, and there was to be a Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting at 4 pm today, with the Adult Session of Stake Conference at 7 pm. Both have been canceled. How do I know? Well, so far, Sandra and I have received five (5) phone calls to that effect:

  • from the Stake Choir director (Sandra and I are in the Stake Choir)
  • from the Stake Music director (I’m also in a group of men who were to sing at the Priesthood session)
  • from our ward executive secretary (I’m a member of the PEC)
  • from a member of my high priests group leadership (I’m a high priest)
  • from one of my wife’s visiting teaching supervisor (My wife is in the Relief Society, natch)

From a communications network point of view, the redundancy is very impressive; I strongly suspect that everyone in our ward who can be reached by phone and who is likely to have attended these meetings has indeed been contacted. My impulse after the first call was to phone my own home teaching families, but since they are (a) the bishop and (b) the ward clerk, I figured they already knew and were busy with their own calls.  ..bruce..

Yet another cautionary tale from other churches

In the LDS Church, we sometimes chafe at the strict control that Church HQ imposes on what individual wards can do or buy. Among other things, this often leads to a slow adoption of technology; less than 10 years ago, the ward I was in was still using a computer that ran Windows 3.x and was hooked up to a dot matrix (not laser) printer. In fact, around the same time frame, the print edition of the Sugar Beet (think: LDS version of the Onion) ran an article to the effect of the Smithsonian recognizing LDS ward computers as being the oldest continuously operating personal computers in America. Of course, in the past 10 years, the Church went through a significant upgrade, moving to Windows XP, laser printers, and dial-in membership/tithing updates, but still, that was years overdue. (On the other hand, if the Church currently mandates that all new ward computers run Windows XP instead of Vista, that could actually be a good thing.)

On the other hand, this story from today’s Washington Post suggests just how much trouble individual LDS wards could get themselves into without those controls (emphasis mine):

The District government has filed a lawsuit alleging that five companies defrauded at least 30 Washington area congregations of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a computer equipment scam that has spread to at least 20 states.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, in a 16-page affidavit, alleges that agents for the companies offered the churches free computer kiosks to enhance their outreach. What the churches actually received was inexpensive computer equipment that often did not work. The kiosks, located in church foyers, were to serve as electronic bulletin boards for announcements and community activities and would pay for themselves through paid advertisements.

But the suit alleges that congregations unknowingly signed leases obligating them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for faulty equipment. After the kiosks were installed, Nickles said, church accounts were drained by unauthorized withdrawals and unlawful collection practices.

Read all the details, then reflect upon the LDS tendency to trust LDS entreprenuers and professionals, even when said trust isn’t warranted. I could easily see something like this happening. Something to keep in mind next time you’re inclined to grumble about Church policies and restrictions.  ..bruce..

Future(s) of the LDS Church

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..

Some thoughts from a Catholic as well

E. D. Kain at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen has also taken note of Michael’s Spencer’s prediction of the collapse of Evangelical Christianity and added some thoughs of his own from a Catholic point of view:

Now my personal take is that the disintegration of the highly political evangelical movement which Andrew [Sullivan] identifies as Christianist would be overall a very good thing. But if Evangelicals drift over into the Catholic Church I do think there is cause for concern.  I think one thing the Church absolutely does not need is a large population of biblical literalists and fundamentalists swelling its ranks.  The problem with protestantism in general, to my mind, is its lack of mooring in history and tradition, something that really forms the foundation of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

What the Catholic Church does need is a Vatican III.  What could help save Catholicism, which I think in the long run stands a better chance of survival than evangelical or even mainline protestant churches, is a reform in its priesthood.  It’s time to allow priests to marry.  This prohibition on marriage in the priesthood is foolhardy, and one of the major stumbling blocks not only in recruiting new priests, but in winning back public trust of the Church itself.  Beyond that, the Church needs more transparency.  I think there is a case to be made against total transparency, but with all the scandals that have beset the Church in the past few decades, from child molestation to cover-ups, the only way to quell the slow uproar over these seemingly never-ending revelations of deceit is to open up.  Let us see what’s going on behind the veil of obsfucation.  The wrong thing to do would be to take the Church away from Vatican II reforms.  The right thing to do would be to move toward a relevant Vatican III.

Of course, what neither Spencer nor Kain address is what happens if some significant percentage of those Evangelicals move into the LDS Church (as opposed to the Catholic or Orthodox Churches).  ..bruce..

[UPDATE: Here’s a post to discuss possible futures of the LDS Church, particularly in America.]

And now a cautionary lesson from the Evangelicals

Early in February, I wrote a post titled, “LDS history and organization: a cautionary tale from the Catholics“. It deal with the controversy within the Catholic Church over the Legion of Christ and recent revelations regarding its founder, Father Marciel Maciel. I drew conclusions about the need for the LDS Church to continue to to be open and honest regarding its own history.

Today in the Christian Science Monitor is an article by Michael Spencer, a self-described “postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality”. The article is entitled “The coming evangelical collapse”, and while I think that Spencer may be overstating his thesis, his reasons for thinking that Evangelical Christianity will collapse are worth considering as Latter-day Saints:

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. . . .

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we’ve spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. . . .

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. . . .

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to “do good” is rapidly approaching. . . .

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up.

For the most part, the Church has avoided or is seeking to avoid these very problems. The big exception is #1, particularly in light of Proposition 8 in California (the irony being that the Evangelical group Focus on the Family alone spent three times what the LDS Church did in supporting Prop 8, yet no one is burning Bibles in front of FotF HQ down in Colorado Springs [or as we say here in Colorado, “the Springs”]).

I do not have enough expertise in the Evangelical churches to judge the accuracy of Spencer’s observations and the likelihood of his predictions. My suspicious is that he is (consciously or not) overstating his case in order to conform with his own frustrations and expectations, something not unknown here in the Bloggernacle. But be sure to read the whole article. ..bruce..

[UPDATE: Here’s a post to discuss possible futures of the LDS Church, particularly in America.]

LDS history and organization: a cautionary tale from the Catholics

Within the LDS Church, we continue to debate publicly and agonize privately over issues in LDS history (hagiography, naturalism, etc.) as well as occasionally getting our knickers in a twist over perceived or real issues in LDS leadership, both local and general. However, I think we sometimes lose perspective at just how open our history is and how self-correcting our organization is.

I write this because while doing my usual scan of the blogosphere this morning, I stumbled across a series of posts having to do with a Catholic order — the Legion of Christ — and the parallel lay organization, the Regnum Christi Movement. I claim no particular knowledge of or familiarity with either group or their respective context within the Catholic Church. But what is clear from the posting I’ve read today is that the founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marciel Maciel, who died about a year ago and who is very much venerated by the LC and RC membership, is now acknowledged to have fathered at least one child out of wedlock (on top of earlier accusations regarding sexual abuse of young men).  This appears to be quite devastating for those who have been defending Fr. Maciel’s name for some time (mostly in light of the earlier accusations). Here are some more links to discussions on this issue: here, here, here, here and here.

I write none of this to somehow attack the Catholic Church or its beliefs; to the contrary, the Catholic Church itself appears to be doing its best to deal honestly and appropriately with these issues, which really exist in organizations outside of itself. Instead, I think there are two important lessons here for us, one in terms of LDS history, the other in terms of LDS organization.

First, the sense I get from the various postings on this subject is that Fr. Maciel was revered by LC and RC members to a degree that even the most zealous Joseph Smith fan might flinch from. To quote from the New York Times article:

In Catholic religious orders, members are taught to identify with the spirituality and values of the founder. That was taken to an extreme in the Legionaries, said the Rev. Stephen Fichter, a priest in New Jersey who left the order after 14 years.

“Father Maciel was this mythical hero who was put on a pedestal and had all the answers,” Father Fichter said. “When you become a Legionarie, you have to read every letter Father Maciel ever wrote, like 15 or 16 volumes. To hear he’s been having this double life on the side, I just don’t see how they’re going to continue.”

Of course, we’re studying writings of Joseph Smith in Priesthood and Relief Society, and the LDS Church is now putting out 30 volumes of of the Joseph Smith papers. But the recent trends in “faithful” LDS historical scholarship have almost all been towards frankness (Rough Stone Rolling, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball) to an extent never seen before. There has been much debate in the Bloggernacle and elsewhere about “inoculation” and openness in LDS history; I think that the issues surround Fr. Maciel suggest the need to continue that openness.

Second, for all the grousing that goes on about the “Mormon hierarchy” or, on occasion, the lay nature of most LDS leadership, I think that the host of problems and the apparent divisiveness that appear to surround the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, particularly in light of the new information about Fr. Maciel, underscore the danger of such ancillary priesthood orders and lay organizations. While an undergrad at BYU (1970s), I remember having a discussion with one of my professors about some friends who were starting an independent scripture study group. The professor said — half-joking, half-serious — said, “You realize that’s how most apostate groups get started, don’t you?” Those friends didn’t apostatize, but I certainly ran into my share of such groups that had while I was at BYU, both as a student and as a teacher (cf. C. S. Lewis on “the lure of the Inner Ring“).

Try this thought-experiment: imagine organizing a group independent of the LDS Church explicitly (and strictly) led by Melchizedek priesthood holders, focused on the Restoration gospel, publishing its own books and materials, training its own personnel, and carrying out specific priesthood functions parallel to and independent of the Church. (Right now, depending upon your age, you may be thinking either of the Freeman Institute or one of the many Utah-based multi-level marketing corporations, but that’s not what I’m talking about.) Now imagine a lay (or, as we would say, “auxiliary”) organization specifically for families that reports to and is guided by this group, again all operating completely independent of the LDS Church itself.

Right about now, “train wreck” may be what is passing through your mind; it’s certainly what passes through mine.

We grouse at times about the quality of teaching and leadership within the LDS Church, about the arbitrary decisions often made by bishops and stake presidents, about the uniformity imposed by the Correlation Committee, and the simplicity of the “Sunday School answers”.

Yet, I think those are all either tremendous strengths or, at worst, acceptable issues that are much better than the alternatives.  While we all at times feel a wish to remake the Church in our own likeness and image, it is not at all clear that this would be a good thing for anyone but us, and possibly not even for ourselves.  In short, the next time you’re tempted to grouse about the Church, be careful what you wish for.  ..bruce..