About a week ago, James posted a reflection on Harold Bloom’s (frankly awful) New York Times op-ed. Rather than directly responding, though (other than expressing his rightful disappointment), James engaged with Dr. Bloom’s allegation that Mormonism and Protestantism are converging. Though concerned about such a convergence, James ultimately (and rightly, I believe) doesn’t think we’re headed inexorably down that path.
That said, Dr. Bloom is right that the Church has changed a lot between 1844 and 2011.[fn1] Change is inevitable and, as Ecclesiastes tells us, is to be expected. And, frankly, there have been a number of changes that, even if they risk our Protestantization, I’m really happy about.
And I’m not talking Official Declaration 1 or 2 stuff—I’m going to assume that most of us are grateful that polygamy is no longer the sine qua non of the faithful member, and that all of us are grateful that we don’t live in the world of a racially-based Priesthood ban. And I’m also not talking about our wishlist of things we want changed. I assume most of us have one or two, even if they’re just wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if kinds of things.
No, I’m talking about less-prominent practices that the Church once had that have left. And there are two that leap to my mind:
I’m actually not talking about the standardization of mission expenses, even though that’s pretty nice, too. I’m actually talking about going on missions with purse and/or scrip. See, throughout the 19th century, and even through the first half of the 20th, missionaries would travel without purse or scrip. And that practice undoubtedly helped connect modern missionaries to early Christian missionaries, making the latter-day and the ancient churches that much more connected. But really, I liked having reais in my wallet as I went preaching in Brazil.[fn2]
Come to Zion
I’m also glad that the meaning of Zion has shifted from a literal physical gathering to a broader sense of Zion as being where the Church is organized. Why? Because I liked growing up in California, living in New York, Virginia, and Chicago. Moreover, I like that we’re full participants[fn3] in the world, rather than being cloistered and physically set apart from it. I realize that physical gathering has its power and its place. But I’m glad it’s gone.
[fn1] Between 1992 and 2011, on the other hand, not so much. This is beside the point, but I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what happened between 1992, when Bloom was gung-ho on Mormonism, and today, when we’re, in his words, on the path to “just one more Protestant sect.” The only major changes the Church has instituted during those two decades that I can think of are (1) the introduction of the mini-temple, (2) the changed logo, and (3) the Perpetual Education Fund. But none of these support the Protestantization of Mormonism. As James points out, the temple is a distinctly un-Protestant institution, and the mini-temples have made temples significantly more pervasive in the Mormon world. The emphasis of Jesus in the logo is mostly cosmetic; it may reflect a renewed emphasis on Jesus, but that’s far from un-Mormon. And the Perpetual Education Fund, while it looks a lot like microcredit (which, as far as I know, isn’t a particularly Protestant institution), also looks a lot like the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which is a particularly and historically Mormon institution.
Or maybe he’s thinking about the How Wide the Divide crowd; while that project seems to have a lot of BYU support, it hasn’t crept into my Church experience in any material way.
That’s not to say that the Church hasn’t changed, and changed significantly, since Joseph Smith’s days. But I can’t think of any material shift between 1992 and today. But again, this is all tangential to the point of the post.
[fn2] Okay, just one more: I’m glad we initiate the mission process, rather than being called during conferences. And that missions don’t last much more than 2 years. And that I won’t be asked to leave my wife and children to go on a mission. I do like a lot about our current mission procedures, especially in light of the way it used to be.
[fn3] I actually probably don’t mean full participants, but I do think that our rhetorical opposition to “the World” is overblown. Sure, there’s bad that we need to avoid (or, better yet, fix). Still, but for the World, we wouldn’t have jazz or iPhones or the Doughnut Vault or a ton of other things that I appreciate on a regular basis. And I’m glad I can both be a faithful and believing member of the Church and eat simply amazing doughnuts in Chicago while listening to jazz on my iPhone, or whatever.