I know readers of the Slate think they are well-educated on the issues addressed. When it comes to the LDS church, they are woefully inaccurate. It’s better to leave the propagation of LDS beliefs to our 19-year-old missionaries, and let the Slate refer those who have questions to them.
The latest is an effort to link the corporatization and maintream-ization of the LDS church and theology to Elder Harold B. Lee’s correlation committee. (link)
What Elder Lee did was simply unify the church curriculum and apply already existing doctrine to the structure of the church. In short, he was bringing the church back to its roots.
This is a difficult concept for people to grasp. When you have an organization that claims their founding member was receiving revelation from God, it’s rare that the revelations are actually relevant, insightful, and, dare I say it, prophetic. Joseph Smith revealed the organization and structure of the church, which can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants. Details about how the church should be organized and administered are in that book. The curious are welcome to examine its pages and see for themselves.
Over time, church leaders, out of necessity or whatever, have lead the church in directions. Sometimes enthusiastic church members have changed the essence of the church as well. What I’m talking about here is not something malicious. It’s no different than any other large organization with enthusiastic and helpful members. The deviations of the church from the standard have always been small and insignificant, and temporary.
When church leaders have discovered problems within the church, they turn to God and the priesthood organization and authority for direction. Time and again, the answer is simply to look back in history, examine the revealed doctrines, and apply them more fully than they have been applied in the past.
Elder Lee did just that. He looked carefully at what our doctrines were, what has already been revealed, and combined with insight that was heretofore lacking, proposed changes to how we schedule our meetings. (That was the end result of the correlation committee: having our church services in one three-hour block instead of spread throughout Sunday. That, and ensuring that all the materials taught in our churches was drawn exclusively from authoritative, correct, and doctrinal sources.)
Regarding the women’s organization, the Relief Society. The Relief Society has its roots in an effort by the women of Nauvoo to assist in building the Nauvoo temple. They proposed an organization and presented it to Joseph Smith for his blessing. Joseph Smith received, at that time, the revelation that the women were also a critical component of the church, and he told the women he would do better than what they proposed, and organize the Relief Society under the authority of that priesthood. In times past, there has been confusion as to how the Relief Society fits into the system of quorums and leaders. Today, that confusion is all but gone, as the Relief Society is directed and led by God just as the quorums and groups in each ward. I don’t know exactly what role Elder Lee had in that, but whatever it was, it was a restoration of the roots of the organization, not a deviation into new territory.
Mormons have never been a people wont to be separate from the world. We tell ourselves, “in the world, but not of the world.” We genuinely like being around people that don’t agree with us, even if they harbor secret animosity towards us. We genuinely want to improve their lives and build up communities. That’s the way we were from day one. However, we do not turn to the world for leadership and counsel. That means we do things quite a bit differently than the world, and we are very proud of our differences. As an example, we wear modest but modern clothing, we keep our speech appropriate and clean, we do not tattoo our bodies, we do not drink alcohol, tea, or coffee, nor do we partake of tobacco, we try to be honest in all of our dealings, etc… Yet we still adopt and embrace and expound upon every good aspect of the culture we live in. “Seek [y]e learning, even by wisdom and by faith” says our Head, Jesus Christ. “yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118) We have always been this way, from day one.
We were driven out of the United States into Mexican Territory. We raised the Mormon Battalion to fight for the very nation that rejected us and refused to protect us. We lived for a very long time in isolation, building up not just Utah but the entire West, turning the desert into a garden. Today, we are no longer cut off. We never wanted to be cut off in the first place! Even in our isolation, great efforts were made to keep our culture compatible with the culture that tried to murder and rape us. “In the world, but not of the world.” is a very, very good motto.
If people feel like the Mormons are secretive or isolationists, then they are either talking about a handful of specific instances of introverts, or they are thinking about the exodus we had to take to survive. That is not who we are nor who we wish to be.
Elder Lee didn’t change that. It didn’t need changing. The church hasn’t changed in that way at all.
The Slate would have you believe we were once separationists who did what David Koresh did but less violently. Not so, never so.
The reason why we shave our beards is because it separates us from the world, makes us seem like we don’t want to be a part of it, which isn’t true. Nowadays, now that beards are coming back into style, I would imagine the church would begin relaxing that standard since, honestly, the shaving of beards is not doctrine nor ever was nor can I see it ever being so.
The “I’m a mormon” campaign is to show the world that what the Slate is saying is wrong. Mormons are a part of your community. We want to be, that’s who we are. We don’t want to be separate in that sense, we never have. We love you guys, we love you a lot, and we don’t want to build unnecessary walls between you and us. Yes, we do things a little differently, things like taking care of our bodies and not violating the Lord’s law of chastity, but not so differently that we can’t ride Harley’s or go surfing or teach kids in inner cities or whatever.