"The church learned you can’t fight the internet, in the sense ignore the internet or tell people not to listen."

KUTV in Salt Lake came out with two very significant stories this week:

Race and the Priesthood: LDS Church Statement Reaction

LDS Church Releases Sensitive Documents to Address Information Age Findings

I view this as a positive.

Change is the most significant constant of reality. Religious reality as portrayed and perceived includes the recognition and acceptance of change with a large number of believers.

However, to many other believers change is not part of religious reality.

“God is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

When theologians declare such a thing, do they not seem to be saying that an absolutely rigid and inflexible Divine attitude in terms of how religion is taught, practiced and proselyted is in place?

It is one thing to insist that in a “true church,” purity of doctrine remains unchangeable throughout history. It is another to stand rigidly and inflexibly by policies, attitudes, value judgements and so-called authoritative opinions from those called to preside whose opinions become somehow divinely-approved and fixed in place as well.

The LDS Church among other fundamentalist groups involves literalism as more-or less the official way of belief in God in heart, mind and practice. For these particular believers, it seems as if the notion is there that all things hang on an absolute truth – or on the absolute truth of scripture – as a rigid and inflexible portrayal and communique of the mind of God. In Churches which are led by an authoritarian hierarchy human declarations made in an authority-driven and prophetic context may be perceived as part and parcel of the unchanging nature of God’s mind.

Generations of believers in these literalism-ordered churches have invested emotional and behavioral energies based on the absolutes accepted within the culture as what God has revealed … or commanded.

However, Mormons have in their Articles of Faith (the closest written expression of credal thinking in the Church) the additional acceptance that God also reveals much to humanity today and will continue to reveal much to humanity in the future.

It seems that with this new information approach,  the LDS Church has launched a program that expresses and admits to the reality that has technologically and socially stormed its way into the lives of members and impacted the Church’s previously sheltered way of teaching, preaching and learning gospel principles.

Again, I view this as a positive.

We seem to now have an official acknowledgement that for many who in this 21st century information access society,  a crisis of faith is an almost unavoidable consequence of learning things previously evaded by Church policies intended to protect the faith of its membership. In terms of my generation of baby boomers, not to mention our parents, many of us have encountered information that directly opposes the absolutes we were taught in our childhood, in Primary, in Sunday School and in other meetings and conferences.

As KUTV put it,

“If you’re asking why the LDS church is making the move to dig into its past now, the answer is fairly simple. Bottom line, the internet has changed the world as a whole and that includes the LDS church and how its members study their faith and its beginnings. 

A new generation of Mormons is going online to find answers to historical questions long avoided in Sunday school classes. The new statements slowly being released by the church are the official answer to those searches.

If you talk to Historians that have spent their lives studying the LDS faith you will hear different ideas. In the end there is one consensus, some members of the LDS faith are becoming convinced that they have been betrayed, or they believe they have been lied to. “

What the Church is doing is wise and courageous.

As expressed by some interviewed by KUTV, the Church has viewed its primary mission as that of promoting faith in Jesus Christ. What that promoting looked like in the past and what is possible now are not the same – regardless of the sacred worthiness of the primary mission itself.

My own journey into dissent led to my leaving the Church until such time as I could find a way to make peace with my issues and was then re-baptized. My wife was integral to that process and we celebrated baptism the same day almost two years ago.

The on-going and increasingly difficult challenge for the Church is that of what should be done about those who inform themselves about the Church and do so outside its official teaching programs.

The process of a correlated teaching program has – perhaps as an unintended consequence – what in reality is an instructor teaching a tightly scripted lesson to a class that for the most part is expected to give equally scripted responses to scripted questions asked by the instructor.

Such a managed and controlled information flow goes in the face of a Church founded on direct revelation from God to man and from the idea that all that God has revealed is not all God has or will ever say to humanity.

This becomes then a social issue more than a functional issue.

In trying to control the information flow within and among church members by formal spoken and unspoken rules, the Church may successfully discourage dissent among a majority, but there are always those driven by natural curiosity to ask questions the answers to which dance on the edge of risking a loss of faith …

Why do we say the things we say?
Why do we say them the way we say them?
Why do we do the things we do in the way we do them?

Traditional answers often seemed to imply that in a performance-based religion – which in many ways best describes the mode and manner of Mormon worship – the Lord is a detail-oriented and micro-managing Divinity who by commandment tells the Saints what they should do and believe. The extension of that notion is that the Lord has a means or method of recording what members say and do with accompanying membership accountability for thoughts and actions which then must be monitored by Church authority.

But such is only a notion and not reality.

The wisdom of what the Church is doing is laying out the “truths” of its  history and trusting that our natural human curiosity will lead us to pertinent information from more than one perspective and hopefully allow us to find our own form of inoculation. Otherwise, would we not be unnecessarily vulnerable to the  inevitable intellectual and emotional flame throwing – not only by non-Mormon critics of the Church, but by offended believing truth-seekers within the membership itself?

Truth is always one of the highest virtues. A truth of all things – not a spin-doctored truth, or half-truth from which undesirable information is withheld – will set the members free.

Such truth is that to which all are entitled whether or not the cost of learning is harmful to formal “faith” notions.

Members who learn the truth, who weigh the truth, and then who choose to stay true to the faith do so because they understand human nature, human frailty, human gullibility, and the overwhelming human ability to knock, seek and find.

Such members may very well remain and actually grow to be part of the future foundation of a vital, open and trusting church that has confidence in the collective wisdom of its membership.

Protecting “the true church-iness of it all” need not be the over-arching reason for belief, fealty and belonging.