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|Steering between Scylla and Charybdis|
Apr. 17th, 2008 at 8:41 pm
Like most Latter-day Saints in North America (and probably quite a few around the world), I have watched the events in Texas regarding the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church) unfold with a mixture of feelings. I believe there are some serious moral, legal, and Constitutional issues here, but I will leave that discussion in the hands of those better equipped to argue on both sides.
Even with my deep-rooted commitment to religious pluralism — which predates my own conversion to the LDS Church — I find myself wincing over the various details that keep coming forth in the aftermath of the raids on the FLDS compound. I worry both for those who have been caught up in this as well as for my own church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), since this will only serve to reinforce unfounded stereotype already prevalent about “Mormons” not just in the US but around the world
What has struck me, though, is that the FLDS Church, and particularly the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) group in Texas, reflects what I suspect many ‘liberal’ or ‘disaffected’ Mormons fear the LDS Church would become were it not for their valiant efforts. I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but only somewhat; many who grumble or rant about ‘savage misogyny’ or ‘patriarchal abuse’ in the LDS Church likely feel that the FLDS Chuch is where we’re headed unless Church leaders pay attention to them.
On the hand, we have the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or RLDS Church). Over the past 25 years, the Community of Christ has steadily moved to shed its Restorationist origins, downplaying the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, and many other distinctive historical events and doctrines. In the process, it has splintered and shrunk in membership as entire congregations have left in order to maintain those roots.
As such, the Community of Christ reflect what I suspect many ‘conservative’ or ‘zealous’ Mormons fear the LDS Church would become were it not for their valiant efforts. Again, I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but only somewhat; those who have complained about Pres. Hinckley not teaching correct LDS doctrine or who pray for Pres. Boyd K. Packer to become Prophet and ‘set things straight’ likely feel that the Community of Christ is where we’re headed unless Church leaders pay attention to them.
Both groups are, in my opinion, wrong. The FLDS Church and the Community of Christ represent (IMHO) natural and, frankly, inevitable trajectories for Restoration churches that no longer have the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Priesthood, and a living prophet. I know that sounds a bit triumphalist, but I make no apologies. All the Restoration churches, save one, have ended up shrinking or vanishing altogether; the only one that has achieved any significant size over time is the Community of Christ, and it has been getting smaller in recent years.
That one exception, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has 13+ million members worldwide, has a steady (if somewhat slowed from earlier decades) growth rate, has 53,000 full-time missionaries around the world, has a tremendous focus (and great track record) on education, and has the resources and will to have provided nearly $1 billion in humanitarian aid and funds worldwide over the past 20 years — all while avoiding (since the Manifesto) any signficant schisms and while maintaining a remarkable degree of doctrinal and organizational consistency across continents, cultures, and languages — all with mostly volunteer (unpaid and unschooled [in seminary terms]) service and clergy.
Since all these churches (including the LDS Church) share a common historical origin as well as a lot of doctrine, it is very fair to ask: why the rather dramatic difference? One could argue (as some do) that it’s a particular set of historical facts — but, again, that doesn’t quite explain the abysmal track record (in terms of growth and viability) of every single other Restoration church.
So the next time any of us feel some panic or dismay because the LDS Church isn’t going in the direction we think it should, it would be good to remember the Church’s track record vs. all the other Restoration churches — as well as our own personal track record. I feel no great desire to be the one to steer between Scylla and Charybdis — I am happy to let a better Helmsman than I perform that task. ..bruce..