What the LDS Church has always believed about itself …
But in the days of those kingdoms the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, and his kingdom shall not be delivered up to another people, and it shall break in pieces, and shall consume all these kingdoms, and itself shall stand for ever. Daniel 2:44
The assumption by which members beings are to perceive themselves …
Our cultural and religious sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves
Is there not a better way of being?
What does it mean to be an active member of the Church in the 21st Century?
In the first half of the 20th century the Church was growing and elated about it. What was happening, seen as confirmation of prophecy, elated the membership. Statistics seemed to prove that conversions to Mormonism invigorated the notion that contemporary events were bearing testimony to the reality of the True Church.
We belonged to The True Church. We were citizens in good standing of The Kingdom of God as described prophetically. That kingdom – our kingdom – was thriving and guided from amidst the everlasting hills of the Rocky Mountains in the land preserved by God – and in a nation intended by God as the civic foundation from which the Truth would spread.
But in recent decades the proof in that pudding has faded.
The most rapidly growing Christian churches are the socially and media marked American Evangelical movements along with the traditional churches whose missionary arms have expanded preaching ministries deeply into more third world environments. Many have gone where the LDS seem to demonstrate apparent unwillingness to go … to environments where social and economic need outstrips potential for economic contribution to the Church – but a circumstance in and of itself that would naturally attract human beings seeking a new way of being and who would welcome a church that teaches self-reliance as part of a Church built from hard work and love of God.
Those traditional and successful missionary churches have gone to where the fields remain ripe for harvest while the LDS seem almost stubborn as thousands of missionaries continue to be dispatched to 1st and 2nd world countries where one or two baptisms every year gives cause for considering the individual missionary work successful.
Conversions bring new blood and have always been an integral part of growth that expands.
As for those with long-time or lifetime affiliation with the Church, members are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their ability to acquire knowledge through exploration of information about religious beliefs and systems.
In addition, as old social barriers of conformity and blind trust break down, more members discover the wisdom that comes from critical thinking and logic – tools by which most other venues of living in 21st-century communities are negotiated.
Such is why the Church finds it increasingly difficult to meet the spiritual needs of those members and potential members who are not so narrowly stuck in the old 19th-century spiritual place that existed well into the 20th century.
The adults in the Church, particularly those who are part of the growing number of doubters, disputers and questioners are no longer mere and essentially mute responders to our cultural religious presentations that treat all members as if they were still children, adolescents or at best young and trusting adults.
Our sophistication level is much too high for that sort of thing – except perhaps in the minds of those who remain blind and willing acceptors or tolerators of the either/or, black/white or on/off exhortations that seem part of a relentless parade of what passes for weekly worship.
Even that bedrock of the Church’s future, the current seminary and pre-missionary young people, are demonstrating in growing numbers that they cannot be trained up by talk that preaches down to them as if they perceptively exist at the level of popcorn popping on the apricot trees.
What has come to pass?
In most comparative social and economic categories 21st-century American Mormons are effectively competitive. From a statistical standpoint perhaps many of us exceed the statistically common physical medians of life, education and income.
However, in the bedrock environment founded on a 19th-century religious system, the majority of active Mormons seem to be stuck in that mid-century world of the pioneers that had its roots in an older American religious culture.
It was that very culture from which the traditional body of common Christian wisdom, doctrine and definitions were accepted. That acceptance was based essentially on common assumptions of moral authority and – understood in that 19th-century fashion that today seems inadequate because it is for the most part naïve, literal and external.
Once up and running in the 19th century, the Church expanded dramatically based on its own powers and abilities heavily influenced by Joseph Smith’s sharp departure from many patterns that formed the basis of religious thinking 200 years ago.
Joseph’s was a demonstrated mysticism that he also encouraged in everyone else. However, with his death, his leadership heirs did not seem interested in individual personal perspectives of that Father and Son who mystified the young prophet.
Rather, theirs was the original retrenchment back to that early 19th-century American religious fundamentalism upon which the newly thriving Mormon communal harmony could anchor itself.
In the true church itself the natural mysticism that separates fundamentalism from genuine personal experience with God began to die at the hands of conformity-driven starvation,
The budding Rocky Mountain religion eventually exploited its growth and power on the physical and economic plane but the very doing caused the Church in many ways lose touch with its traditional mystical roots.
The corporate church has attempted to put in its place an unreasonable facsimile of religious mysticism that masquerades as corporate “revelation;” an authorized revelation that is only received by the brethren. These are the very brethren who – despite leading a church based on teaching members good principles and letting them govern themselves – has elevated that corporate mysticism into rigid inflexible authoritarian fundamentalism.
In the mid-century – primarily via Priesthood Coorelation – the corporate church attempted to return to its traditional roots in a group-think manner; a process that has essentially narrowed our perspective to that of a society belonging to an almost entirely performance-based theological religion.
We have attempted to return to our cultural roots by making straw-men images of our founding fathers, first presidents, cultural heroes and heritage-based pioneer society – most of which are seriously distorted by the deck-shuffling story-making coorelated lesson manuals that direct formal Church conversations about belief, faith and tradition.
We have and continue to kool-aid our own sense of who we are and thereby make heretics of those who seek our original spiritual roots.
Our two centuries of experience ought to facilitate a return to our traditional roots. With that wisdom we ought to more easily understand our roots and encounter or re-encounter our unique profound and powerfully inward spiritual wisdom and practice.
We don’t seem to be able to do that, focused as we are more on doing rather than being.
We don’t seem to be able to do that if we remain focused on religious merit badges, card-carrying status symbols and shallow value judgments that pay lip service to Christ.
We do so by rejecting the Christ-based mystical perspective that sustains a society that professes acceptance and practice of revelation-based religion.
We struggle to establish both individually and corporately what ought to be a superior way of being both religious and spiritual.
We seem to have no way to mesh the gears of our iron rods and liahonas and in so doing turn our believing society into something that offers clear superiority to mindless and literalistic idolatry.
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