by Sharon Lindbloom
6 January 2022
At the start of the new year, when many of us are thinking about self-improvement and ways we can make 2022 a better year than the one we’ve just lived through, Gordon Monson, columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune, was thinking about how to make his church better.
A member of the LDS church, Mr. Monson prefaced his list of suggestions with a plea to his ecclesiastical leaders that they not have him “chucked out of the church” for posting what he identified as “20 things I would change if I were put in charge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…”
In a nutshell, Mr. Monson proposes that if he were the prophet he would overturn many cultural and doctrinal aspects of the Mormon church — a church that claims to be God’s one true church, guided by continuous revelation. Mr. Monson’s proposed changes that loosely fall under the cultural/social category include (but are not limited to):
#7, #10, & #11: Change the missionary program (i.e., no pressure to go, no stigma for early returns, and allowance for individual choices in dress and grooming)
#6 and #14: Change the treatment of women (i.e., allow women to dress as they’d like without being shamed, and make women feel like authentic equals to men)
#8, #9, #12, and #13: Change the way church members evaluate others (i.e., emphasize the “do not judge” commandment, respect those of other faiths, eliminate the idea that turning down a church calling is a sin, and remove the belief that members must think, act, and look alike)
This is a pretty dismal description of life in the LDS church. In view of Mr. Monson’s evaluation, Latter-day Saints regularly face judgmentalism, pressure to conform, pressure to perform, and congregational-imposed guilt if one should be so bold as to avoid succumbing to those pressures.
Yet most of these policies and attitudes could be changed with relatively minimal fuss. Some Latter-day Saints might even engage in a little self-evaluation and adjustment at the prompting of Mr. Monson’s wish-list. However, there are other items on the list that could not be changed, even if Mr. Monson were to become the prophet. These are the doctrinal issues that can only be changed by God Himself. In this category, some of the changes Mr. Monson believes would result in the LDS church becoming “slightly better” include:
#2: Making adherence to the Word of Wisdom optional
Currently, the LDS health code, known as the Word of Wisdom, is a commandment found in the LDS scripture Doctrine & Covenants 89. Breaking this commandment results in not only being excluded from LDS temples, but also from the celestial kingdom for all eternity. Tenth LDS prophet Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
“SALVATION AND A CUP OF TEA. You cannot neglect little things. ‘Oh, a cup of tea is such a little thing. It is so little; surely it doesn’t amount to much; surely the Lord will forgive me if I drink a cup of tea.’ Yes, he will forgive you, because he is going to forgive every man who repents; but, my brethren, if you drink coffee or tea, or take tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea or a little tobacco stand in the road and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God, where you might otherwise have received a fulness of glory?” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:16).
Though the Word of Wisdom began as a suggestion that later became a commandment, to now reverse that process and change the commandment back into a mere suggestion would be no simple task.
#3: Reducing the church’s tithing requirement from 10% to 5%
Currently, the Mormon church requires members to pay 10% of their income to the church as is commanded in LDS scripture:
“And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people. And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my Holy Priesthood, saith the Lord.” (D&C 119:4)
To change this commandment, in which a 10% tithe is to be a standing law in the church “forever,” would require a revision of LDS scripture cutting the amount in half, plus a new definition for the word “forever.”
#16: Changing the way Mormonism’s eternal kingdoms of glory function
Currently, Mormonism asserts that the spirits of deceased people will be assigned to one of three kingdoms of glory for all eternity. To which kingdom one is assigned depends on how the person behaved during mortal life. Those who were “liars, thieves, murderers, false prophets, adulterers, and those who ridiculed sacred things” will be assigned to the telestial kingdom; those who were “honorable” will go to the terrestrial kingdom; and those who were obedient to God and joined the LDS church will go to the celestial kingdom (see Gospel Fundamentals, 201-202). These kingdoms of glory are defined in the LDS scripture D&C 76.
If Mr. Monson were in charge of the LDS church, he would remove the need for people to “stay on the covenant path,” allowing them to “wander a bit or a lot” and still be able to one day achieve the highest degree of gory. He proposes progression between kingdoms, and making the dividers between those kingdoms passable. But as tenth LDS president Joseph Fielding Smith pointed out, LDS scripture states that such progression is impossible:
“NO ADVANCEMENT FROM LOWER TO HIGHER. It has been asked if it is possible for one who inherits the telestial glory to advance in time to the celestial glory? The answer to this question is, No! The scriptures are clear on this point. Speaking of those who go to the telestial kingdom, the revelation says: ‘And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end.’” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:31. Quoting D&C 76:112. Italics in the original.)
To change the way Mormonism’s kingdoms of glory function would require a change of LDS scripture. Indeed, it would require Mr. Monson to convince his God to revamp Mormonism’s entire system of salvation and eternity.
#20: Apologizing for things the church has done that are “out of step” with a loving God
For this last if-I-were-king change on Mr. Monson’s list, he called out all of Mormonism’s un-godlike “policies and preachments,” specifically mentioning “all aspects of racism, sexism and homophobia.” At face value this would seem like something reasonable — and perhaps it’s surprising that such a thing as apologizing for wrongs would be foreign to a church organization. But LDS church leaders have made it clear that they apologize for nothing. As reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, LDS apostle Dallin Oaks (now a member of the First Presidency) infamously said in 2015,
“‘I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them,’ Oaks said in an interview. ‘We sometimes look back on issues and say, “Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,” but we look forward and not backward.’ The church doesn’t ‘seek apologies,’ he said, ‘and we don’t give them.’” (“We all can be more civil on LGBT issues, Mormon leader says,” 1/30/2015)
Referring to a different sort of event in LDS church history, in 2007 another member of the church’s First Presidency, LDS apostle Henry Eyring, expressed “profound regret” for the “suffering experienced by the victims and their relatives” from the Mountain Meadows Massacre (executed against non-Mormon pioneers by LDS church members in 1857). News outlets reported that in Apostle Eyring’s remarks, he had extended an apology on behalf of the church. But they were mistaken. The issue was quickly clarified through official church channels. An Associated Press article reported:
“Church leaders were adamant that the statement should not be construed as an apology. ‘We don’t use the word “apology.” We used “profound regret,”’ church spokesman Mark Tuttle told The Associated Press.” (Paul Foy, Chicago Tribune, 9/11/2007)
Mr. Monson, along with many other Mormons, would like that to change. The LDS church has been involved in many hurtful things that have been “out of step” with the loving God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. But many of these hurtful things have been doctrinal (e.g., the priesthood ban, polygamy, blood atonement, etc.) and so, according to Mormonism, the actual institution of these things was directed by God through LDS prophets. Therefore, as Mormon apostle Joseph Wirthlin said, “To those who have strayed because of doctrinal concerns, we cannot apologize for the truth. We cannot deny doctrine given to us by the Lord Himself. On this principle we cannot compromise” (“Concern for the One,” Ensign, 5/2008, 19).
Mr. Monson’s living prophets have let him down with their ungodly “policies and preachments,” so he’s seeking to fix that and make Mormonism more palatable by getting rid of the very policies and doctrines that define what his religion is. It strikes me that what Mr. Monson needs isn’t 20 changes in church policy — he needs a different church.
If he wants a church that holds personal, biblically-based conviction in high regard, a church that looks to the Bible to know the ways and act in the ways that are commensurate with a loving God, he will not find it at the LDS church – even if he were put in charge. For to have a church that truly loves Christ and loves one another it must begin with the one true God.
Mormonism has discarded the biblical God for one of its own making and has diminished the steadfast and trustworthy Word of God with nearly 200 years of ungodly preachments. Women wearing pants to church and members having the freedom to drink coffee will not impact the unbiblical fundamental teachings of Mormonism in the least. The LDS church will continue to make eternal promises that it cannot keep; because, as God says, “…this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
For Mr. Monson and all others who are discontent with Mormonism, I pray along with the apostle Paul,
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
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