I was fascinated to read Ed Decker’s post on The Great Mormon Paradigm Shift and while my first reaction was simple bewilderment at how anyone could get so many things wrong, I have since given it a more patient analysis. Still, much of what he has written is strangely out of touch with reality, but I recognize that some of his conclusions are obviously colored by his hope that they are right mixed with some valid criticism.
Let’s start with the statement that Mormons are ‘sliding…into religious, social liberalism.” While it is true that some of the style has changed over the years, I’ve not seen any change in substance. The presentation style may be different from what was common in the late 19th and early 20th century, but the core Gospel principles have not changed. I see this, from an insider’s perspective to be in line with Thomas Jefferson’s advice that “in matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock”. Much of the perception of change has more to do with misunderstandings of the original position of the Church than it does with changing the fundamentals. In this, I am glad that the latter tone seems to have caught people’s attention and brought them to a better understanding, which is perceive as a change.
Jumping right into the fire, the “curse” pronounced upon Cain’s posterity, was a temporary denial of priesthood; it was always understood that this would one day be lifted. Never was it claimed that there were any people sent to this earth who would not be eligible for Eternal Life in the Kingdom of God except through their own personal rejection of Christ. True enough, many LDS had assumed that this would not change until Christ’s return, but that was always speculation. That the “curse” was lifted in our lifetimes is a source of joy for the vast majority of church members. As for this line, “Now the god of Mormonism has forgiven them and they, too can become gods. I wonder of their skin turns white when they become gods?” Who cares what color their skin does, or does not, turn? God’s promise is that in the resurrection, we will all be raised in our most perfect and glorious form – as God Himself created us. So, I guess that’s up to Him and I will not presume to second guess Him on that.
Membership growth and activity rates: Ed claims that “It is no secret that they have been losing members as fast as they are bringing them in through the missionary program. Fewer people, fewer tithes.”
In a more thorough evaluation of the current growth of the LDS church, it has to be acknowledged that the rate of convert baptisms has slowed and that activity rates among current members is not at its peak either (http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=church_growth_articles&story_id=8), but it is a gross exaggeration to claim that membership is declining. True activity rates and the numbers of ‘free riders’ has always been, and continues to be a concern and that will always be the case where humans are involved.
Somewhere out there, there probably are parents who don’t “want their kids to go through the pressures associated with being out there ringing door bells”, but they are hardly the majority nor do they represent the trend. Even a cursory look at the number of new missionaries (male and female) currently serving would show the opposite trend. The Church has opened missionary training centers in many countries and expanded existing facilities to address the demand (http://www.lds.org/locations/missionary-training-centers?lang=eng).
“Now they are all for gay marriage…” In a word, no. The LDS Church is opposed to efforts to normalize same sex unions as marriages. The stance of the Church is, and has always been, that temptation is not the same as sin. Being tempted to participate in sinful activity is not the same as committing that sin. The standard is the same for all – gay, straight, solo, or other – no sexual activity outside of a valid marriage and even then, within the bounds that the Lord has set. Read carefully: in order to maintain full fellowship and privileges in the Church, before marriage, none at all.
There are members within the Church who deviate from this belief and some openly join marches and other forms of advocacy. They are entitled to their opinion, but do not speak for the Church.
As for the B.S.A. controversy, I agree with the official statement of the Church on this matter. If you follow the standards explained above, then the issue of gay youth as scouts is moot. It is my opinion that some who are so exercised over this policy find them selves in this position because they abandoned the moral high ground on chastity long ago. Having surrendered on the point of pre-marital sex among their straight kids, this is the only tie to God’s law left to hold onto to.
Those “careful interview[s]" still happen. To me, a celibate gay is as worthy as a repentant adulterer or dry alcoholic. As the bumper sticker so eloquently put it “Don’t condemn me because I sin differently than you.” …[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
On abortion: the Church’s position is that there are cases in which it is permissible, but that they are incredibly rare. To save the life of the mother is clearly one of those cases where an exception to the general rule is allowed to be considered. In the Doctrine and Covenants Section 59:6, the Lord restated a few of the weightier commandments thusly, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.” It is into this ‘anything like it’ that I believe abortion falls. Scripture clearly states that murder, in which an innocent life is taken, cannot be forgiven in this life nor likely in the life to come, but that’s not my call. Abortion falls just short of that. In a practical application, a person having previously had an abortion is then introduced to Christ and wishes to join the Church, can receive baptism with the appropriate ecclesiastical clearance, or a member having one can be forgiven after the necessary process of repentance and return to full fellowship; one who has committed murder cannot. Perhaps an illustration is in order as to my understanding of the exceptions to my natural revulsion to the idea of abortion.
A friend of mine was having respiratory problems and after several consultations, it was determined that she had lung cancer. She was in her late thirties and a mother of 8. When they took a closer look, it became clear that she would not survive this – and that she was pregnant. The therapies that would prolong her life would certainly end the pregnancy. Without these same treatments, she would likely not live long enough to bring a viable newborn into this world. After much prayer and deliberation, the family decided that terminating the pregnancy and aggressively combatting the cancer would give my friend a chance to live long enough to see her oldest daughter graduate from high school. She died a few days after that graduation and just 5 months after the original diagnosis. I believe that in this case, there was no other rational option.
It is highly unlikely that my under 25 year old children would not find any of the doctrines that Ed hints at, but does not define, surprising or even unknown.
The R rating standard is still the recommended beginning for a personal standard in seeking entertainment, but it is not a dogmatic rule and does not excuse one for participating in offensive PG-13, PG, or even G rated fare. With many things, once the principle is understood, the rule is irrelevant.
Is there room for improvement in the LDS community? Most assuredly, but the changes that I hope to see are probably not the ones that Ed expects nor the ones he thinks he has found. And yes, the LDS Church “is still the same underneath”, the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. As an insider, I see much of what is perceived as changes in doctrine as an expansion of what I said in the previous paragraph. As a people learn the Principles of Salvation and are able to choose rightly, then higher principles are revealed. Christ did not abolish the Law nor say that we no longer need to follow the 10 Commandments, He simply explained the reasons behind them and asked us to apply them more broadly. We are expected to do more.