Op-ed: What do progressive Mormons want? A dialogue about change

A growing number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider themselves "progressive Mormons."

Although no official definition exists of what constitutes a progressive Mormon, one could loosely define progressive Mormons as those who are less likely than traditional Mormons to believe in (1) obedience to authority above personal inspiration (2) the LDS Church's unique restoration claims (3) literal interpretations of scripture (4) strict traditional observances (i.e. Sabbath observance, modesty, tattoos, Word of Wisdom, etc.) and (5) the unquestioned authority of the leaders of the LDS Church.

These progressive Mormons are from all across the United States and around the world and from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life. Paradoxically, a significant number of progressive Mormons fit within a traditional LDS profile: lifelong members, returned missionaries, BYU (or other LDS university) graduates, temple marriages, professional employment (i.e. doctors, lawyers, accountants, dentists, engineers) and high-level leadership positions within the LDS church.

Counting the precise number of progressive Mormons is a hard task, but based on statistics available from various progressive Mormon podcasts, blogs and forums, the number is easily in the tens of thousands.

Progressive Mormons are Mormons at their core and desire to help mold the future of the LDS Church. However, progressive Mormons often find it hard to remain active in an increasingly conservative, dogmatic and stagnant church. Although it is hard to stay, for many it is harder to leave due to family ties, community support, habits, years of time and financial investment and a desire to have a spiritual home.

After experiencing my own faith crisis in 2014, I discovered various online forums where progressive Mormons discuss LDS Church issues. These forums provide a space where progressive Mormons can openly express doubt, desires for change and issues without the fear of judgment or LDS Church discipline. In these forums, I have noticed that several recurring themes continue to surface. As such, I recently asked in several forums what changes progressive Mormons would want to see in the LDS Church. I obtained hundreds of responses.

Although the list below is not exhaustive, it is the top 10 results in the order of frequency (most frequent being #1).

Progressive Mormons hope the LDS Church will:

1. Increase gender equality

2. Apologize for the racist past and mistreatment of LGBT members

3. Accept married gay couples at all levels

4. Permit members to openly question the authority, teachings and decisions of LDS Church leadership

5. Provide financial transparency in the use of tithes

6. Address the mistakes of polygamy and de-canonize Doctrine & Covenants 132

7. Teach the truth and troubling facts of church history (specifically surrounding Joseph Smith)

8. Speak openly of Heavenly Mother

9. Use tithes and offerings more to help the poor and needy and less on capital projects (temples, churches, commercial buildings, etc.)

10. Stop excommunicating people for openly questioning or expressing doubts

Progressive Mormons hope that the leaders of the LDS Church will consider the issues stated above. We seek freedom to speak about these issues publicly, including within the LDS Church without fear of discipline.

A great concern to many progressive Mormons is that a failure to address the issues above, and be a more open faith, will result in the LDS Church becoming increasingly fundamentalist and irrelevant to many of its membership as well as the world at large.

Those who fear such open discussions should remember the words of LDS Church Apostle Hugh B. Brown:

"I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent — if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression."

Julienna Viegas-Haws is a lifelong member of the LDS Church and a graduate of Brigham Young University. Born in Belgium, she worked for the church education system in Brussels prior to serving a mission on Temple Square. She recently moved to Dallas with her husband and three children.

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