Currently, I believe we can lump the challenges our faith faces to it’s modern acceptance as a legitimate faith choice by outsiders into the following categories: Issues regarding Race, Issues regarding Traditional Family Values, and issues regarding Christian doctrine.
Below I will enumerate these issues and discuss them.Â
1.Â Â Â Â Â Â Potential Polytheism/Non-Trinitarianism
2.Â Â Â Â Â Â No Creatio ex nihilo/Pre-mortal existence
3.Â Â Â Â Â Â Literal Physicality of divine beings
4.Â Â Â Â Â Â Manâ€™s divine potential
5.Â Â Â Â Â Â Modern Revelation can and does happen
6.Â Â Â Â Â Â An Apostacy happened
7.Â Â Â Â Â Â Grace and Works
8.Â Â Â Â Â Â Prophets and Apostles essential to a valid church of Christ
9.Â Â Â Â Â Â Theodicy
10.Â Â Cult like traits (murder, sex, deception)
This is one area in which I feel the Church is doing very well. At a inch-deep level issues 1-8 are covered fairly succinctly in the basic missionary discussions and I think these are issues that members in general feel comfortable with. Issue number 9, other wise known as the problem of evil, has become more of an issue, but it is a burden we share with all of our theist constituents as we enter into dialogue with our non-theist counterparts. Though we are less familiar and comfortable with this issue, I think the last few general conferences have especially focussed on the suffering in the world, and that the Book of Mormon is especially equipped with doctrinal jumping points with which Saints are equipped to more deeply dive into the issue. Issue number 10 is mainly a derivative issue, but I think it also legitimately rises from certain points in our church history, and is a legitmate issue the church needs to deal with. It boils down to the simple idea of lack of trust. I think recent moves toward a more “warts and all” approach by believing historians to openly discuss some of the low points in church history, such as mountain meadows massacre or polygamy, or dannites, etc. has really helped the church in this area, if for no other reason than that these sorts of data points are more available to saints as things to be aware of and be innoculated of. Anther key facotr here is the available of possitive data cheaply via the internet. Fair-LDS is just a few mouse clicks away, and one need not special order a manual from Utah to answer one’s Baptist friends in South Texas.Â
Race related issues
1.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Pre-1978 Church statements regarding Race leaves non-whites feeling racism at church
At the surface, the church has done well lately to repudiate former policiies related to race (President Hinckley spoke on the issue in General Conference) and has proudly and accurately pushed itself away from it’s former segregated state. However, there are issues that have arisen from this race issue which the church will need to publicly address at a future time in order to really get closure on this issue. One issue is whether or not the policy of priesthood denial was divinely mandated for the time it was in effect, and if so, why? If not, the question becomes how could God’s true church have been so wrong about something so large? If the church is wrong about this, what else could the church be wrong about? On top of this, you have the real challenge of the current memberships’ discomfort with discussing the topic, which often leaves new African American Converts blind-sided when they are approached by their non-member associates regarding the issue. More innoculation is needed here.
Traditional Family Values issues
1.Â Â Â Â Â Â Historical Church Polygamy as an outlier to traditional family values
2.Â Â Â Â Â Â Accusations of sexism in propagating gender roles
3.Â Â Â Â Â Â Accusations of bigotry for having an anti-homosexual agenda
4.Â Â Â Â Â Â Issues of singles or other non-traditional families feeling unwelcome and being â€œleft outâ€ at church
Perhaps the biggest pickle the church currently faces is that it’s current divine mission focuses so tightly on traditional family values, with it’s history including what is perhaps one of the greatest outliers of traditional family values, polygamy. Polygamy is the number one concern most outsiders have with the LDS faith, and is also perhaps the fact most outsiders are aware of regarding the faith. While the church does a good job of saying “we don’t do that now and are against it” what perhaps is needed is a more nuanced “We did that then becasue… and we don’t do that anymore because… Our doctrine regarding that is….”Â . Currently the questions around polygamy are everywhere from members wondering if they will be required to practice it post-mortally to Â non-members seeing the church as hypocrtical due to their once acceptance of a non-traditional family in light of their current rigidity regarding these issues. Like the race issue above, the polygamy issue may be unanswered because the church as a whole and church leadership do not have the answers to the questions that are being asked. If this is the case, thay does not mean they should not bring up the issues, but that they should bring them forward and at least give us the “we don’t know the mind of god on these issues” answer. This way, atleast the church is able to defuse the “cult” issue somewhat as mentioned under christianity above.
Other issues, outside of polygamy in the traditional family values set are also important, and should be addressed just as well. The Church needs to work out a clear answer to the paradox of presiding priesthood man with equal partner wife. On Homosexuality, the church has made a definative stand on the issue, but needs to deal with issues around metaphysical being regarding this issue. On retention of non-traditional families and singles, the church needs to assess the needs of these members (perhaps via surveys) and push to meet these needs.
In sumary, The church has done an excellent job of addressing many of it’s theological issues, at least at a layman’s level, however, there are some historical points that the church needs to more fully address as well as issues around the cultural push for traditional family values which need more clarity. These issues impact the theological clarity of the church and dilute the brand value. Until these issues are clearly and concisely addressed in simple repeatable soundbites, the church will continue to have fundamental challenges in gaining acceptablity from outsiders, much less adherants.Â Â
Note: This post is not an invitation to bash on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is an attempt to openly discuss some of the challenges the church is currently facing. I love the Church, and believe in it sincerely and emphatically. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s challenges, nor that they need not be discussed. I am not looking for apologia or accusation, merely conversation that will lead to understandng. It is my hope that by openly talking about them, we can take a step, however little, toward overcoming them. I believe sincerely that that is what God would want. Thanks for your participation in that effort.Â