I con­sid­ered titling this “Too Big to Fail?” But no, with bil­lions in assets, mil­lions of Saints tithing ten per­cent, and cat­a­stroph­ic cul­tur­al impli­ca­tions, like Chase Man­hat­tan and Gold­man Sacks, The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints is too big to fail.

While fis­cal fail­ure of the Mor­mon church por­tends eco­nom­ic shock­waves beyond reck­on­ing, such a col­lapse would mean dol­lars in the pock­ets of rank-and-file mem­bers: No more ten per­cent to the Prophet. No more $10,000 to bankroll an off­spring on a mis­sion. No more thou­sands for Church-relat­ed programs.

Nev­er­the­less, for mil­lions of the Faith­ful, col­lapse of their Church would trig­ger emo­tion­al and cul­tur­al dev­as­ta­tion to beg­gar eco­nom­ics. Hear­ing their “Prophet Seer and Rev­e­la­tor” declare Joseph Smith’s sto­ry and Book as frauds, Mor­mons and Mor­monism would expe­ri­ence per­son­al and soci­etal shock­waves akin to Catholics hear­ing the Pope denounce God.

Despite dis­as­trous eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al impli­ca­tions, twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy and inquiry throw Church valid­i­ty into seri­ous ques­tion. His­tor­i­cal research, absence of any arti­fact to sup­port the Book of Mor­mon–met­al imple­ments, the wheel, a scrap parch­ment, a rusty pin–and genet­ic proof that Native Amer­i­can roots lie not in the Near East but Asia, con­vince “Ex-Mos” and oth­ers that Joseph Smith’s Church is bogus as the clichéd three-dol­lar bill. Chal­lenged by fact and social media, what strat­a­gem might the Gen­er­al Author­i­ties employ to pre­clud­ing a melt­down of Mormonism?

Not to wor­ry. Faced by a cacoph­o­ny of inquiry and chal­lenge, with bot­tom­less pock­ets and a legion of attor­neys, bankers, and MBA’s mind­ing the store, the Board of Direc­tors will nev­er allow LDS Inc. to go under. So how might The Elders keep Mor­monism afloat?

With past as pro­log, query and cri­tique from out­side The Fold receive a boil­er-plate response: Silence.

Mem­bers with questions–members in general–are nur­tured like mush­rooms: Feed ’em manure and keep ’em in the dark. Those stub­born or fool­hardy enough to per­sist in pesky ques­tions stand before their Bish­op, head bowed hat in hand, like a tru­ant third grad­er. When intim­i­da­tion fails, Mor­mons who refuse to recant are boot­ed out!

No Man Knows My His­to­ry, a researched inquiry into Joseph Smith’s and the Book of Mor­mon’s roots led to–an his­to­ri­an and niece of Church Pres­i­dent David O. McKay–Fawn Brodie’s excom­mu­ni­ca­tion. For An Insid­er’s View of Mor­mon Ori­gins, a mem­ber with impec­ca­ble cre­den­tials, Grant H. Palmer was like­wise sanc­tioned. With Ex-Mo press­es rolling and shelves of hereti­cal pub­li­ca­tions expand­ing, excom­mu­ni­ca­tion tri­bunals would seem at haz­ard of becom­ing overtaxed.

Sure­ly Gen­er­al Author­i­ties, Stake Pres­i­dents, Bish­ops, and BYU pro­fes­sors, see the writ­ing on their desk­tops and lap­tops. But how to respond? Can nine­teenth cen­tu­ry stonewalling and intim­i­da­tion hold against twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy and inquiry?

Reli­gions are organ­ic; they change over time — Mor­monism not except­ed. From incre­men­tal grass­roots shift to stun­ning rever­sals of Doc­trine, The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints adapts and adjusts.

At the pro­sa­ic lev­el, when I was a lad face-cards were anathea in Mor­mon house­holds. The Sab­bath was for Sun­day School, Sacra­ment Meet­ing, and Fire­side Chats. Apart from “Sun­day Fun­nies” in the Salt Lake Tri­bune, Sun­day enter­tain­ment was ver­boten. My obser­va­tion is, today, except for the most straight-laced Saints, face-cards, Sun­day movies and TV watch­ing are far from uncom­mon in LDS homes.

The Word of Wis­dom coun­sels mem­bers not to drink tea or cof­fee. For decades this sanc­tion extend­ed to cola drinks, on the assump­tion I pre­sume that caf­feine is the cul­prit. Recent­ly this restric­tion lift­ed. Did Coke and Pep­si stocks find their way into the Church’s portfolio?

At the insti­tu­tion­al lev­el, folks who have been “through the Tem­ple” report cer­e­monies sacro­sanct since the Prophet Joseph’s time have changed or been dropped.

Dra­mat­ic shifts in doc­trine are doc­u­ment­ed in Church canon:

Doc­trine and Covenants, Sec­tion 132, Verse 4, record­ed July 12, 1843,

For behold, I (God) reveal unto you a new and ever­last­ing covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be per­mit­ted to enter into my glo­ry.” (my emphasis)

After exhaus­tive ram­bling, Verse 61 gets to the “covenant”:

if any man espouse a vir­gin, and desire to espouse anoth­er . . . he can­not com­mit adultery.”

While Verse 62 extends the num­ber of vir­gins to ten. With the Prophet lead­ing, Mor­mon Elders expand­ed their priest­ly pre­rog­a­tive to as many vir­gins (non-vir­gins?) as prac­ti­cal­i­ty allowed.

Fast for­ward 47 years: When Utah’s state­hood hinged on the issue of polygamy, Doc­trine and Covenants, “Offi­cial Dec­la­ra­tion I” reversed course:

After receiv­ing rev­e­la­tion, Pres­i­dent Wil­ford Woodruff issued the fol­low­ing Man­i­festo, which was accept­ed by the Church as author­i­ta­tive and bind­ing on Octo­ber 6, 1890. This led to the end of the prac­tice of plur­al mar­riage in the Church.

Fur­ther on, the Pres­i­dent fessed up that per­sist­ing with plur­al mar­riage would lead to,

impris­on­ment of the First Pres­i­den­cy and Twelve and the heads of fam­i­lies in the Church, and the con­fis­ca­tion of per­son­al prop­er­ty of the people.”

Did the Big-Guy-Up-Stairs change His mind? Or, did the Elders trade being “damned” and barred from “my glo­ry” for polit­i­cal clout and to dodge the ‘ol Slam­mer? In any case, Jan­u­ary 4, 1896, Utah became the 45th State. The “ever­last­ing covenant” last­ed less than a half-century.

A sec­ond sur­pris­ing instance of Mor­monism adapt­ing and adjust­ing revolves on the Church’s view of dark-skinned peo­ple. From incep­tion, black men were barred from the Priest­hood. In Sun­day School I was taught black peo­ple are descen­dants of Cain and/or angels who strad­dled the fence in a celes­tial war between God and Satan.

The Book of Mor­mon’s and hence the Church’s posi­tion regard­ing dark-skinned folks is unequivocal:

1 Nephi 12:23

they became a dark, and loath­some, and a filthy peo­ple, full of idle­ness and all man­ner of abominations.

Alma 3:6

And the skins of the Laman­ites (Native Amer­i­cans) were dark, accord­ing to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their trans­gres­sion and their rebel­lion against their brethren . . .

Mor­mon 5:15

for this peo­ple shall be scat­tered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loath­some people . . .

Do such scur­rilous indict­ments reflect Divine wis­dom or nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can igno­rance and bigotry?

Accord­ing to its Intro­duc­tion, The Book of Mor­mon:

is a record of God’s deal­ings with ancient inhab­i­tants of the Amer­i­c­as . . . writ­ten by ancient prophets by the spir­it of prophe­cy and rev­e­la­tion . . . on plates (which) were deliv­ered to Joseph Smith, who trans­lat­ed by the gift and pow­er of God. (my emphasis)

fur­ther on,

Con­cern­ing this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mor­mon was the most cor­rect of any book on earth, and the key­stone of our reli­gion, and a man would get near­er to God by abid­ing by its pre­cepts, than by any oth­er book.”

Such assur­ance, backed by ref­er­ences to “Jesus Christ,” “God, the Eter­nal Father,” and “the Holy Ghost,” make it clear Nephi, Alma, and Mor­mon speak for Almighty God Himself!

Fast for­ward again: Doc­trine and Covenants “Offi­cial Dec­la­ra­tion 2”:

(a) rev­e­la­tion came to Church Pres­i­dent Spencer W. Kim­ball and was affirmed to oth­er Church lead­ers in the Salt Lake Tem­ple on June 1, 1978 (which) removed all restric­tions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.

Did God again change his mind? Or, Civ­il Rights Hounds at their heels, did the Elders make anoth­er polit­i­cal­ly savvy call?

Regard­ing gays, les­bians, bisex­u­als, trans­ves­tites, ques­tion­ing (LGBTQ) folks, the Church is clear–think Cal­i­for­nia Propo­si­tion 8. At least one in twen­ty-five Americans–probably many more–experience oth­er-than-het­ero­sex­u­al feel­ings. If Mor­mons fall in the range, with a report­ed fif­teen-mil­lion-plus, mem­bers, upwards of half-a-mil­lion do not share “nor­mal” sex­u­al pro­cliv­i­ties. At the aver­age LDS Sun­day School, Priest­hood, and Relief Soci­ety meet­ing, straight men, women, and chil­dren sit, sing, and pray along­side twen­ty LGBTQ fam­i­ly and friends.

With Civ­il Rights and sex­u­al clos­et doors burst­ing, leg­is­la­tors, jurists, and the grass-roots rec­og­nize the injus­tice in forc­ing sec­ond-class cit­i­zen­ship to folks who, through no fault of their own, experience–some would argue God-given–minority sex­u­al inter­ests. In Amer­i­ca, pres­sure for moral and legal change regard­ing atti­tudes around sex­u­al pref­er­ence can only increase. Faced with this ground-swell, will the Church con­tin­ue forc­ing men and women to choose between act­ing on their feel­ings and excommunication?

With the Elders seek­ing more polit­i­cal­ly favor­able ground could “Offi­cial Dec­la­ra­tion III” be in the off­ing? Out of the ques­tion! Like the notion only decades back of black men bless­ing the sacrament.

Prag­mat­ic impli­ca­tions demand the Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints not fail. At the same time twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy, inves­ti­ga­tion, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion pose dilem­mas for the Gen­er­al Author­i­ties to cross Solomon’s eyes:

A cos­mos of inves­ti­ga­tion refutes the black hole of phys­i­cal evi­dence to sup­port the Book of Mor­mon. Sci­ence proves that Laman­ite or Native Amer­i­ca genes derive not from the Near East but Asia! A grow­ing cho­rus of argu­ment chal­lenges the valid­i­ty of “Church His­to­ry” and Doctrine.

In short, evi­dence and ratio­nale that Joseph Smith’s sto­ry and Book are a lie seem irrefutable.

What to do? Stonewall? Dou­ble­s­peak? Adjust? Adapt? Retire Shep­herd Joe while some­how keep­ing his flock penned? Grant H. Palmer sug­gests Mor­monism might morph into a less prob­lem­at­ic Chris­t­ian model–Not ’til the old guard dies off!

For the Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints, these are inter­est­ing times.

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Heber Frank
January 24, 2018 10:03 pm

In the book of Mor­mon, the Lord curs­es the Laman­ites with racial changes. Per­haps they inter­mar­ried with degen­er­ate peo­ples for this to hap­pen. But at any rate, there is every rea­son to believe their DNA would then be dif­fer­ent than the Nephite DNA which was Israelite.

Lat­er, the Laman­ites destroyed ALL the Nephites. Thus, the Book of Mor­mon record shows there should be NO Israelite DNA in Amer­i­can natives.

Fur­ther­more, there is no hon­est rea­son to believe that Israelite DNA of 600 BC would be the same as Jew­ish DNA today. And also: the Jews are only part of the twelve tribes of Israel.

So you see, since I know this, I would be a liar if I said the lack of Jew­ish DNA in Amer­i­can natives dis­cred­its the Book of Mormon.

Wes T
May 29, 2017 4:11 pm

Very good thoughts, Dean. I appre­ci­ate it. The LDS church has built so much of its doc­trine in a way that accept­ing LGBTQ mar­riages is extreme­ly difficult.

I expect the major­i­ty of Chris­t­ian church­es will even­tu­al­ly stop dis­crim­i­nat­ing against LGBTQ folks, long before the LDS church. But here’s hop­ing they move faster than I expect them to!

A Happy Hubby
May 29, 2017 1:34 pm

I would agree that the Mor­mon church will con­tin­ue to evolve in prob­a­bly dra­mat­ic ways to keep itself rel­e­vant. It may stop grow­ing in num­bers in the US, but it does seem to have bal­ance of “we are different”/“we are just like oth­er Chris­tians”. I like the way Armand Mauss has described it in sev­er­al of his books.