Since my first visit to Nauvoo in my mid-teens, many years ago, I’ve been interested in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka “Mormonism”). It took only a cursory read of The Book of Mormon in those earlier days for me to see the anachronisms, and with further comparison to the Bible the theological muddle present in the text also became clear. For a time, after I became an evangelical, I imagined I might one day even become a “missionary to the Mormons,” relocating to Utah and building a ministry there. Such naive dreams the young have.
Through the years my interest in this religious group has continued, and so as that church’s leadership attempts to deal with the greater access to information that the Internet provides, I’ve been paying attention to how they respond.
In recent years there has been a certain amount of mockery directed at Mormons for their “magic underwear.” In fact, this garment has changed in style and intended purpose over the years, and there is less superstition related to it now than in the past. In order to respond to the ridicule, a video was released by the church in which this underwear is compared to the sacred clothing of other religions. Personally, although I have no use for the superstition, I also don’t care for the disrespect directed towards good-hearted people who are simply following the dictates of their consciences in an inoffensive, private manner. I’m much more concerned about people promoting Bible teaching and prayer by teachers or invited guests in public school classrooms than about what someone is wearing under their clothes.
Another way that the church is dealing with its identity is with a series of essays about polygamy. While it’s long been known by church members that Brigham Young, the church president who led the largest remnant of membership to Utah after Joseph Smith’s death, was a polygamist, many did not believe that Smith himself also taught and practiced polygamy. In coming clean about this aspect of church history, Mormon leaders are trying to do damage control and show perhaps that it’s not so bad after all.
How this will all be received by rank-and-file membership remains to be seen, but I suspect that any dip in membership will be negligible. People are not adherents of religions solely because of truth-claims. Factors such as family ties, tradition, sentimentality and community come into play as well. Additionally, “true believers” will simply adapt, overcoming any cognitive dissonance and choose to believe despite the evidence. Furthermore, the LDS church continues to grow rapidly in poor and developing nations, places where education levels and access to information will limit any potential harm that could come from the church admitting the less desirable aspects of its history.
Here are the essays:
Here’s the video about the temple garments:
Here’s a little post I wrote several years ago about the Book of Mormon: “Plain and Precious Truths
.”And here’s a New York Times article about polygamy and the founder of the LDS church: “It’s Official: Mormon Founder Had Up to 40 Wives