If I Were In Charge: Overview & Topical GuideBy: Mike S
I know it seems a bit odd to explain the purpose of a series after the series has already started, but there has been some confusion and I think I perhaps haven’t explained my goal with enough detail. I’ve described various bits and pieces in the different posts, but here it is all together. At the bottom is also a “Topical Guide” with a list of the posts in the series.
The title of the series is “If I Were In Charge:”. I did debate between “If I WAS In Charge” vs “If I WERE In Charge”, which are both grammatically correct. The word ‘WAS’ implies an indicative mood, which is used to make a statement. The word ‘WERE’ implies a subjunctive mood, which is used to deal with hypothetical situations or ideas contrary to fact. Since there’s not any chance that I will actually be in charge, I used ‘WERE’.
I realize that we each have our own ideas about how we would run things. We each come from unique backgrounds and have had unique religious experiences. Some people are 6th generation pioneer stock, while others may be new converts or even investigators. Some people are “both-feet-in”, while others may feel more of a cultural attachment. So, there are nearly an infinite number of potential topics for the series – so how do I pick them? And why even talk about these things?
First, the what. What topics are or are NOT included in the series?
Doctrinal / Foundational: There are some things that are doctrinal and these are NOT topics I plan to discuss as they are far above my pay grade. Some doctrinal things make no logical sense to change. For example, could the Church teach that Joseph Smith was a fraud yet still claim to be valid? Probably not. Doctrinal things also take a canonized level of revelation to modify – like changing polygamy from an eternal and essential doctrinal principle to something that will get you excommunicated, or blacks and the priesthood. I also think women and the priesthood may fall in this category (?). Since doctrinal aspects of the LDS Church can only be changed by revelation through the Prophet, they don’t really fall in the goals of this series.
Group Characteristics: There is another category of things that exist in the Church that are NOT doctrinal or even taught as policy, but are a natural function of any organization. These characteristics can be found in many groups. For example, in college I was a member of a fraternity. Although we all had a wide variety of friends and contacts, because we spent so much time together, we tended to hang out because of familiarity. I’m sure this appeared cliquish to many people around us. I see the same thing in the LDS Church, but also other churches, the Rotary Club, or any group of people.
There are also bad apples in any group. In the LDS Church, there are leaders who abuse their authority, there are people who perpetuate or are victims of sexual or physical abuse, there are members who value the organization above people, there are “fakers” who act one way around members of the group but a different way otherwise, etc. But these characteristics are found in just about any group – not just the LDS Church. There’s not much I can propose to change here, other than to just try to stamp it out when we see it.
Purpose of Series
So, what ARE the posts about? To answer this, I first want to answer WHY do this series at all. I first started really thinking about this when I looked at Church membership statistics back in a post entitled Good vs Great: Iomega and General Conference Statistics. According to trends given in more detail there, the overall growth rate is half of what it was a few decades ago, convert rates are down, and the number of people whose names are no longer on the rolls is increasing. While we can discuss the reasons why, the numbers are what they are. Predicting the future is problematic, but if current trends hold, in the next 20 years, there will be as many people leaving the church as there are converts. At that point, growth will only occur through children born to members.
And this leads to the purpose of this series. There are external factors largely beyond our control leading to this. There are also doctrinal and historical aspects of the Church which some people just can’t accept. But, there are also unnecessary molehills that we SHOULD change.
Smashing Molehills: I was considering using this as the title of the series, so what does this mean? We’ve all heard the phrase “Making a mountain out of a molehill”. In the context of the Church, there are things that seem fairly trivial to many members (molehills) but which are very big turn-offs to other people (mountains). Examples might be a white shirt or having a beard. The common response from many members is that it is just a little thing and to “just get over it”. But if it is non-doctrinal, non-essential, and can potentially serve as a stumbling block to just a handful of people, why not get rid of it? Why do we cling to non-important things?
As I mentioned in the post on earrings in this series:
The number of earrings may seem meaningless to you, but to someone else is it NOT meaningless. To someone else, our focus on the superficial is enough that they have no interest in hearing our message on eternity. And for someone else it may be that glass of wine with dinner. They may be so confused by our focus on something that even Christ Himself drank that they have no interest in hearing that He actually appeared to Joseph Smith.
I’m NOT clamoring for a “lowering of standards” as some people have suggested. Instead, I suggest that perhaps we see if we can get rid of all the stumbling blocks. Instead of “Mormonism” encompassing a list of hundreds of features, ranging from the truly amazing and sublime to the absolutely trivial, why not jettison the things that might be a stumbling block so we can truly focus on the few amazing things.
If something as trivial and non-eternal as the number of earrings someone has causes even a single person to stumble or perhaps not even investigate the Church, what purpose has that really served?
Discussing sacred molehills is the purpose of this series – to discuss non-doctrinal and non-essential things that potentially serve as stumbling blocks. What we are doing isn’t working. All trends: convert rates, members leaving, YSA activity rates, etc. are going in the wrong direction. We can try to readjust the chairs on the Titanic by coming up with yet another program. We can bemoan the external factors and hope for change there. Or we can be a bit more proactive and talk about changing non-essential things so we can focus on the beautiful and life-changing truths that can be found here.
So, these are things I would change “If I Were In Charge”:
If I Were In Charge: Change Women’s Garments (And Men’s) – While garments have an important symbolic role and remind us of covenants, their current form is a struggle for many people (this post has the most views and comments to date). They have changed significantly over the years from one-piece garments going to ankles and wrists. A few much less substantial changes could make a big difference. There are great comments and suggestions from many people in this post.
If I Were In Charge: Expand The Meaning of “I’m A Mormon” – While we have ads showing diversity, the perception of Mormonism to many people is of a monolithic block of people who all think alike. Some suggest narrowing the definition of what being a “Mormon” entails. I think we should expand it.
If I Were In Charge: Ignore Tattoos – Tattoos are a generational and cultural thing. They have been made into a de facto doctrinal thing. This post also includes some haiku if you want to try your hand at writing some.
If I Were In Charge: Make “I Believe” As Valid As “I Know” In Testimonies – Using the phrase “I Know” is uncomfortable for many people when it regards concepts based on faith. But saying “I Believe” has evolved to imply “less” of a testimony. This can make many people feel inferior and should be changed.
If I Were In Charge: Reopen the LDS Canon – Defining LDS doctrine is difficult. We have situations where we say that prior things made by prophets and apostles were merely opinion and speculation. Having a mechanism where we once again add official “doctrine” to the official canon by inclusion in the D&C would help distinguish between “doctrinal” statements of our leaders and “opinion” statements.
If I Were In Charge: Revisit the Word of Wisdom (Including Obedience and Obesity) – The Word of Wisdom as currently interpreted is quite different from how it was revealed to and lived by Joseph Smith. As opposed to a “health law”, it seems to be more of a test of obedience, only marginally related to actual health. And we completely ignore the parts that have to do with the alarming trend of obesity in the United States.
If I Were In Charge: Separate Marriage From Sealing – Mixed families have become the rule rather than the exception. This is where some of the family are active, temple-recommend holding members, while others are less-active or even non-members. The current marriage policy can be very divisive where family members are excluded from what should be an inclusive and uniting event. And, ironically, changing the policy is easy, as it is already the practice of the Church in many countries of the world.
If I Were In Charge: Stop Counting Earrings – The number of earrings that someone has evolved from an opinion to pseudo-doctrinal status. This post discusses why this is an unnecessary stumbling block.
If I Were In Charge: Stop Requiring Specific Donations For Spiritual Participation – Charity is essential for helping the poor, to support religious organizations, and for our own personal development. But limiting someone’s participation in things of eternal significance unless they give a specific amount of money seems to miss the mark.
If I Were In Charge: Tithe the Church’s For-Profit Businesses – People want their church to act more like a charitable organization and less like a corporation. When the impression is the opposite, many people get a bad taste in their mouth. We can talk about how much we are doing, but do we “put our money where our mouth is”? This post suggests we could perhaps do better.
And more posts to come…
- Do you think the decline in statistics are real trends or just bad interpretation? And if they are NOT real trends, do you have some numbers to support your point?
- Do you think that there are non-essential things that we can change about the Church that could have an impact on these trends?
- Do you think that feelings of the “masses” in the Church have any influence on the leadership?
- Are there any other topics that you would like to see discussed in future posts? If so, list them below and I’ll add them to my queue.