Op-ed: LDS Church needs to adjust to modern realities

By Don Gale

Published: January 11, 2014 01:01AM
Updated: January 11, 2014 01:01AM
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Once again, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should adjust attitudes and practices to reflect modern reality.

Attitude adjustment is a key part of church doctrine and church history. Today, change must come with regard to (1) the shame of gay/lesbian prejudice, (2) the neglect of education, (3) the tragedy of fundamentalist polygamy, and (4) the hypocrisy of the Word of Wisdom, among other things.

Sixty years ago, the Mormon church was in danger of losing viability when it insisted on denying the priesthood to African-Americans and other racial groups. When I was in my teens, that was the most damaging issue among thinking Mormons. We talked about it. We struggled with it, and many lost faith over it. Highly respected members of the church wrote about it. A few years later, I wrote my first (and only) novel about it. It may not have been a good novel, but it was a novel based on deep and sincere concern. The LDS Church changed its attitudes and practices in 1978. Recently, the church offered additional justification for those changes by admitting that the practice was never doctrinal.

(1) Now the church is going through similar turmoil with regard to gays and lesbians, particularly where same-sex marriage is concerned. Church leaders have come to accept the reality that God created gays and lesbians to help populate His world. Church leaders advise members to accept these individuals. No doubt, leaders will eventually accept the reality that love and sexual orientation are not exclusionary. In another generation or so, if not sooner, same-sex marriages will be accepted, just as biracial marriages are accepted today. Reality has a way of superseding outdated attitudes and practices. Doctrinal arguments against same-sex marriage are neither supportable nor justifiable. They are no more accurate than were so-called doctrines against inter-racial marriage.

(2) As a young Mormon, I was taught “The Glory of God Is Intelligence” from the Doctrine and Covenants. Emphasis on that reality faded in recent years. I don’t hear as many LDS conference talks about education as I once heard. Many LDS members of the Utah legislature — and a few church leaders — seem to fear education. As a result, the state’s Mormon voters too often reject responsibility to support education, both intellectually and financially. I anticipate a significant renewal of emphasis on education by church leaders. They know that today’s reality makes education critical for social and economic success of individuals and societies.

(3) All Utah citizens should be embarrassed by what happens in Utah’s major polygamist communities. Texas had to prosecute fundamentalist leaders because Utah officials did not have the courage to do the job. We permitted child rape, child abuse, and exploitation of women for too many years. And we still permit it. I’m confident church leaders recognize the evil that takes place in those communities. When church leaders decide to speak openly against it, those practices will be prosecuted. That, too, is a Utah reality. Hiding behind history’s record does not make either historic or current practices right.

(4) Finally, the so-called “Word of Wisdom” has long outlived reality. The old joke about distinguishing a Mormon from a non-Mormon “by the temperature of his caffeine” (hot chocolate excepted) is no laughing matter. This, too, is reality, and it needs a strong dose of serious review. And contrary to Word of Wisdom advice, flesh of beasts and fowls is seldom used “sparingly” on Utah tables. The Word of Wisdom was specifically provided as a “greeting,” not as a “commandment or constraint.” Yet, Mormon bishops deny temple recommends to members who admit to drinking coffee or having an occasional glass of wine.

None of these updates affect doctrine, but they certainly require significant changes in attitudes and practices. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dramatically changed attitudes and practices about racism. It can – and eventually will – change attitudes and practices in other areas. Modern reality trumps outdated tradition.

Don Gale is a long-time writer and observer of Utah events.