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Did The Church Change, and if so how

Books and Mormons

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1lawecon
Edited: Jun 4, 2011, 12:09pm Top

Let me start by saying that I am somewhat pro-Mormon and that I use to have great admiration for the LDS Church. However, that admiration has waned somewhat over the decades, and I mainly want to find out if my perceptions underlying that change are mistaken.

My perception is that the Church was much more decentralized in the 1970s and before than it became after that time. The Mormons I knew during that period were quite free about talking about their heterodox doctrines that differed from other sorts of Christianity and seemed to feel free to pick and choose many of the doctrines of the day from the central Church. If I might use a distinction from Jewish debates over these topics, Mormonism use to be more of a civilization rather than a sect.

My perception is further that both those aspects of a typical Mormon are different today. Mormons today seem to want to emphasize their similarities to other sorts of Christianty and have an almost "party line" as to observance and what to say to Gentiles.

Am I right or just deluded? If I am right, are there respectable (not hater, respectable) books and essays that discuss this change?

2cpg
Jun 6, 2011, 10:47am Top

"My perception is that the Church was much more decentralized in the 1970s and before than it became after that time."

I think the LDS Church has always been more centralized than just about any other denomination, but around 1970 there was a renewed emphasis on Correlation, a program in the Church that attempts to promote consistency in doctrine. I also think that the structure of the organizational Church has become more centralized in various ways over the last several decades.

"The Mormons I knew during that period were quite free about talking about their heterodox doctrines that differed from other sorts of Christianity and seemed to feel free to pick and choose many of the doctrines of the day from the central Church."

I think correlation has, to some extent, reined in doctrinal speculation among Church members, but the existence of the Bloggernacle testifies to the fact that there is no shortage of Mormons who feel free to voice their opinions nowadays, with little constraint whatsoever.

"If I might use a distinction from Jewish debates over these topics, Mormonism use to be more of a civilization rather than a sect."

If Mormonism is less of a civilization now, I think that is largely due to geographical decentralization.

"Mormons today seem to want to emphasize their similarities to other sorts of Christianty and have an almost 'party line' as to observance and what to say to Gentiles."

I do think that there used to be more of an emphasis in the Church on how it was different from mainstream Christianity. Nowadays I think the Church tries to emphasize what's intrinsically more important, whether or not it concerns points of distinction. When I was an LDS missionary in the early 1980s we switched from having our first lesson be about Joseph Smith to having it be about Jesus Christ. The current lesson plan used by missionaries is on pages 29 through 88 of Preach My Gospel.

"Am I right or just deluded? If I am right, are there respectable (not hater, respectable) books and essays that discuss this change?"

I wish I had some good books to recommend. I haven't read it myself, but David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism might be relevant. It looks like huge portions of it are readable on Google Books, including Chapter 7: Correlation and Church Administration.

3lawecon
Jun 6, 2011, 11:18pm Top

"If I might use a distinction from Jewish debates over these topics, Mormonism use to be more of a civilization rather than a sect."

If Mormonism is less of a civilization now, I think that is largely due to geographical decentralization.

=================================

Perhaps we are using the key terms in the same way, perhaps not. Civilizations have some shared values and perspectives, but there is a lot of room for differences. Sects have a relatively narrow doctrinal spectrum. If one wants to make the same distinction in terms of nations, America probably was at one time, before the interstate highway system and definitely before the railroads, a civilization. France, meaning, of course, Paris=France, has been for a long long time, going back to before the Revolution, a sect.

In terms of other Churches, the Roman Catholic Church before the emergence of the Italian State was a civilization, but it thereafter tried its best to become a sect. See, e.g., Hitler's Pope

While I know that Mormon faithful believe that these sorts of changes are a matter of inspiration, they are usually as well explicable as reactions to an external threat. In the late 60s certain national politicians found it amusing to start examining the internal Priesthood rules of the LDS Church under the guise of the Civil Rights Acts. Of course, this was entirely unconstitutional, but a lynch mob seemed to be forming until a new revelation defused it. Thereafter we had the correlation movement that you document.

In any case, whether you buy the above embellishments or not, I thank you for your detailed answer. I will carefully read the sources you have identified for me.

4lawecon
Edited: Jun 6, 2011, 11:43pm Top

~3

Wow, by following some of the references in the citations you gave me I am finding some absolutely outstanding resources. I had no idea such things were available, particularly online free. Thank you !!

Later: The selection available on line from the David O. McKay biography you recommend has been truncated to the first three chapters. However, what is available on line is so good that I will be ordering a dead tree copy. Sadly, this is not available on an electronic Kindle version.

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