Robert Kirby: Faith is both virtual and real when it comes to church changes

Robert Kirby

The pandemic has forced a lot of changes in the way we think and behave right now. Some of it eventually will go away. Some of it won’t.

Among the most notable changes locally is the number of empty churches. Latter-day Saints don’t technically attend anymore because we’ve been told not to.

Although it applies to all faiths, I’m talking about Mormons right now because I am one. We’ve been counseled to participate in the gospel “virtually.”

The point of manifesting one’s faith is in the heartfelt emotion brought to the moment, rather than having it physically measured by someone else with a ruler, a jeweler’s loupe, or even a dipstick.

Lots of strange things have come to pass recently, including computerized church services and the realization that the church itself is loaded with filthy, but laundered clean, lucre.

So far, I like virtual worship. I keep waiting for more virtual church changes. I wonder if/when tithing will go completely virtual?

I don’t mean transferring cash online. I mean staring at a computer screen and feeling like you’re paying it even though you’re actually not.

Imagine a computer screen with a tithing button. Just by pressing it, you could promise to donate 10% of everything you have to the church. And that’s good enough.

It’s fair. If we can virtually minister, attend church, listen to counsel, and be counted as participating when we aren’t physically there, why can’t more sacred things be virtual?

Before you start thinking it’ll never happen, consider that practices are always changing. Church is no different.

A good example is partaking of the sacrament. Today, Rice Chex can be substituted for bread administered to the faithful who suffer from a gluten allergy.

Nobody in early Mormonism would have considered the possibility that breakfast cereal someday would pass for the Savior’s body anymore than Latter-day Saints today can conceive that the emblems of the sacrament might eventually be chocolate milk and Fruity Pebbles.

Thanks to the ongoing pandemic (yeah, it’s still ongoing) it’s possible that worship will forever have changed. If a simple virus can force change upon us, what’s to say something else won’t?

Suppose tomorrow that we discover (or are discovered by) a silicon-based life form vastly superior to our own. Would that force us to rethink the “flesh and blood” construct of today’s Communion?

It should, unless we’re stupid enough to continue believing that the sun orbits the Earth long after science proved that it doesn’t. Consider some of these changes that have occurred in just the past 50 years.

Temple garments changing to accommodate fashion.

The introduction (and then partial abolishment) of plural marriage.

The edict that caffeinated soda is NOT against the Word of Wisdom.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre “didn’t do it/maybe helped do it/OK, we did it” debate.

And let’s not forget the skin test we once used to determine worthiness to hold the priesthood.

Faith is one thing. But an inflexible faith fails to allow for possible and even necessary change.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.