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OK, since we’re starting a new year, let’s try something wild and crazy here. Something different. Something mostly outside my normal sphere of writing. Something that would be, with any luck, not seen as blasphemous or as an excuse to have me banned from a faith I believe in as it is, chucked out of a church I revere and of which I am happily a lifelong member.
I do have independent ideas, though.
If you have thoughts of your own, send them along.
In the lingering spirit of my old friend, retired Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby, I present 20 things I would change if I were put in charge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which would never happen, of course, but if it would, hold onto your flapping shorts) …
1. Give the OK for playing and working in sports on Sunday.
That goes for everybody, not just exempted celebrity members who can make millions of dollars in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, EIEIO, and coaches and athletes at BYU who may not actually presently play games on Sunday in front of the public but who plan and prepare and watch film for the coming week’s opponent in private.
For that matter, go ahead and make it OK for BYU to play on Sunday, too, removing all the inconveniences and impositions put upon opposing teams and schools and leagues, having to make special arrangements for the Cougars and only the Cougars. (Had to get one sports reference in here.)
2. Make adherence to the Word of Wisdom optional, not mandatory.
For a faith that wants to be seen, in a very literal sense, as the true Church of Christ, the question must be asked: What is it actually known as? It is known from one corner of the Earth to the other as the Church Whose Members Do Not Drink and Smoke.
That’s an unfortunate emphasis on the wrong things.
Not saying there aren’t benefits to avoiding certain endeavors of consumption, especially in excess. But for that to be the calling card for church members, the thing that sets them apart, is misplaced. Here’s what would be much better: For them to be known for their charity, for their Christlike acts, for their contributions to society.
Again, not saying church members don’t already do those acts of giving and kindness, but … what I am saying is, if some behavior must be made mandatory, make it service to humankind. Maybe, say, two strong contributions per month. Instead, secondary stuff such as avoiding the use of tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, etc., would be made optional and lessened as a signature for members around the globe.
By the way, which is unhealthier … banned coffee or permissible energy drinks that simultaneously spin the body and blow the mind in a thousand different directions? Did Christ himself sip a little wine? Is this a health issue or a strict control-and-obedience deal?
3. Reduce tithing from 10% to 5%.
Yeah, this would cost the church a stack of cash, reducing its financials considerably. But with modern economics being what they are for most hardworking members everywhere, the strain and stress put upon believers who just want a certain quality of life would be lowered.
Paying 10% of increase might be OK for the wealthy, no big deal, but for all the little old widows out there, all the parents with four kids and a mortgage and taxes to pay, who are struggling to get by, month to month, particularly in common conditions where that extra percentage of income would go a long way to keeping a roof over heads and food in mouths, a reduction in additional church tax would be a tremendous blessing.
Don’t think so? Just ask around.
It would also be a better look for the church overall, given the immense stock and investment portfolio the organization has. When there are a hundred billion or hundreds of billions of dollars in that portfolio, doesn’t requiring for good standing a 10% contribution seem a bit heavy, asking people to pull that out of their relatively sparse pay?
Donate more if you feel so inspired, but you don’t have to do so in the name of good and godliness.
4. Boil down temple-worthiness interviews to three questions.
Drop the specific details and lose the personal confessions that should be left between each individual and God himself — not an ecclesiastical leader who two or three years from now will transform back to the schlub who lives next door to you and your family.
The three biggies: Do you believe in and worship God and Jesus Christ? Do you love your fellow humans, no matter their race, their sexual orientation, whether they look like you or act like you, or think like you, treating them with kindness, honor and respect? Are you honest?
5. Swap out the narrow proclamation on the family for this different, more expansive proclamation.
(It’s something I read on a wall somewhere written by someone at some time for families everywhere):
“Family is love without motive. It’s love without conditions. It’s seeing each other’s jagged edges, but choosing never to look away. It’s nurturing each other’s strengths while embracing the weaknesses. Family is encouragement without expectations. It’s relentless support through the highs and the lows. It’s unquestionably showing up through the calmness and the chaos. Family is potential without pressure. It’s believing in each other with such conviction it ignites courage and confidence, awakening the space for true potential to rise. Family is a circle of strength and love — the safest place for our hearts to rest. It’s fighting hard, but loving harder. It’s making mistakes, but giving grace. It’s genuine acceptance, unwavering protection and boundless devotion. Family is the type of love that will never leave. It’s the type of love that makes us feel at home no matter where we are. Family is beauty and madness intertwined — our storm and shield all at once. Family is comfort. Family is constant. Family is forever.”
6. Get rid of the fascination with the female form and making sure it is covered up.
There’s nothing wrong with modesty, I get that. But the whole notion that girls and women in the church must dress a certain way to be worthy daughters of God is silly, at best, and harmful, at the other end.
What is that fascination exactly? Puritanism or Victorian, or both?
I’ve actually heard church leaders blame girls in the congregation for wearing short skirts and tight shirts, thereby causing impure thoughts to creep into the tender minds of the boys. How dare they? Clean it up, girls.
This is flat wrong.
Too many women of all ages within the confines of the idea that the body is a temple are made to feel shameful for those temples, which, ironically enough, brings additional emphasis on and attention to the bodies that church teachings are attempting to cloak.
Let women wear what they want to wear, including pants to church meetings, if it makes them feel better about themselves, and urge the men to keep their thoughts in the right place. Women aren’t ornaments to be properly covered or shined or kept, rather they are strong individuals who should think and decide for themselves.
7. Cool the religious and cultural pressure for young men and women to go on full-time missions.
The mission experience can be a heavenly thing for some people, and for others it can be hellish — especially when they are pushed and pulled into it. Mental health should and would be hugely considered here, as would earnest desire.
Sending young people on an extended unpaid, nonvacation to a place not of their choice is an intense deal, almost always, particularly when it includes landing in some foreign country, speaking a different language, surrounded by strangers, living in a jungle hut, eating different foods, often being under the supervision of other young people who may or may not know what they’re doing when it comes to helping one another, giving proper advice and guidance, and enforcing mission rules.
The living is strict on a mission: Up at an early hour, studying scriptures, pounding on doors all day and contacting people in other ways, teaching doctrinal principles, being rejected, being rewarded, being rejected some more, working 16-hour days. All that is a lot to handle. Add in isolating these missionaries from family and friends, from normal emotional support, and expecting them to teach people about a gospel that might be strange to those people, hoping to change their beliefs and their lives, is a big, big ask.
It’s challenging mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Try riding around on a bike all day, day after day, in a suit and tie, winter and summer, handing out copies of the Book of Mormon, pouring heart and soul into the endeavor.
Not that hard is universally bad. It’s a wonderful chance for growth and maturation — for some. And for others, it can mess them up, causing in them a negative feeling toward the church, with the pressure it exerts for them, whether they’re capable of it or not, to fulfill, in the case of males, their priesthood duty, and for females, to reach a lofty standard of Latter-day Saint rite of passage.
8. Make it a more emphasized commandment not to judge others.
OK, so I’m judging others who judge. Oh, well. A lot of members seem to miss this one, finding it a duty to be their brother’s — or sister’s — keeper, finding it more important to herd the flock in line, rather than caring, loving, supporting one another in a world that can, at times, already be brutal enough.
A recent quote I read: “There’s no commandment that commands anyone to make sure other people keep commandments.”
That’s the way it should be, would be here.
9. Stress that neighbors who are not members of the faith are held in the same regard as those inside the faith.
This goes for adults and children in friendships and relationships of every kind. Look at everyone the same, treat all the same, do business with them the same.
10. Eliminate the stigma for those who do not serve missions, those who go on missions but later are not deemed worthy, and those who return early.
Went to a church service the other day where a young man was speaking at the pulpit who had started out on a mission, but months in had guilty feelings about certain things he had done before leaving, was sent home for six months to “repent” and was now about to head back out to finish his service.
A couple of things: When a kid finds himself in that circumstance, why would he be sent home to gain his forgiveness? Why couldn’t he gain that forgiveness without being sent home for what amounts to a Walk of Shame in front of family, friends and fellow members before earning his way back out to donate his time as a church volunteer?
Wouldn’t serving as a hardworking missionary be the best way to repent? Forgiveness can come quickly, a good spirit, too, especially when the desire is there for diligent, good works.
As for those who feel left out or shamed when the question is asked at a church meeting — How many of you served a full-time mission? — that needs to change. It’s a burden nobody should have to carry throughout life. You didn’t go on a mission? Shame, shame, shame. No, it should be … so what. You weren’t in the position or frame of mind at a certain time in your life to do the mission thing? So what. You are somehow less? No, you’re not.
It would be a good idea to extinguish negative feelings, as well as feelings of inferiority or superiority for having done this or that or not having done this or that.
11. Throw away the requirement for male missionaries to wear their hair short, high and tight, with the whole suit, tie and light-colored shirt.
There’s a place for cleanliness and hygiene when it comes to presenting oneself as a messenger from God. But requiring missionaries to sport a monolithic look might not always be the right move. Trying to gain automatic respect is a fine objective, but when sharing the teachings of Christ, looking like an FBI agent or the “Men in Black,” may hurt another important aspect of heartfelt communication — relatability.
12. Never pressure or guilt anyone into filling a church calling.
Removing the idea that turning down a calling in the church is a sin would be a priority. Some folks need to be encouraged that, yes, they are capable of doing things they might think they are incapable of doing. But if they are in a place in their lives that makes it overly burdensome for them to do something the bishop thinks he wants them to do, empowering them to righteously express a firm “no” without feeling guilty would absolutely be acceptable.
13. Change the assumption that all members have to act, think and look a certain way.
They do not. They can be Republican, Democrat, conservative, progressive, outgoing, reserved, refined or rugged. They can wear a beard or long hair or flowing robes. They can express themselves and dress however they feel comfortable dressing, style their hair however they want, sport tattoos if they want, have piercings if they want, express themselves as they see fit.
What does thinking or looking like a ball bearing or like the New Christy Minstrel Singers have to do with righteousness?
14. Make sure that women feel exactly equal to men in and out of the hallways of the church.
For too long, women have been honored in the church as God’s heavenly creatures while at the same time being expected to be sweet subordinate followers of men. Whether those women have the priesthood or not, they should be allowed a berth as wide as the men when it comes to church leadership and decision-making. Call it whatever you want, with or without the priesthood, but empower women.
Is that really something God would be against?
And when women fall short of complete and perfect obedience, treat them with the same kindness and respect with and by which men are treated. The next youth leader who uses the chewed-stick-of-gum analogy for any girl who falls short of the moral-cleanliness standard so revered in church teachings would be put in timeout for a few months to rethink that comparison.
It’s ridiculous to have to say it, but here we are: Women are every bit as capable as men when it comes to leadership and knowledge and discernment and organizational skills and empathy and caring and … goodness. They are loved, not condescendingly, not like pets in a cage, but like authentic equals.
Make sure that’s a reality, that they not only are fully aware of that, but make sure they know God is fully aware of it, too. Do not just pat them on the head and sweetly smile at them.
15. Remember and emphasize that agency is a key component of the gospel, freedom to choose your path.
Politicians and policymakers in Utah, and elsewhere, sometimes get confused about this. According to church doctrine, Satan wanted to take agency away and force everyone to do everything just one way.
Don’t be like Satan.
16. Make it clear that eternity is a long, long time...
... and if people in this brief life do not always get or agree with what the church is doing or why it takes the positions it does, and they don’t cling to the iron rod or stay on the “covenant path,” if they wander a bit or a lot, they won’t necessarily be sentenced to some miserable, hellish prison in the Great Beyond, isolated from whom and what they love. They will be able to progress forever, with greater understanding, and know dividers between the three degrees of glory in the afterlife are more way stations than they are inescapable brick walls.
17. Treat church leaders at all levels as respected persons, but do not idolize them.
Too often these leaders are thought of within the church as more than celebrities, as though they are … if not deity, close to it. This is dumb. They are men and women, hopefully smart and inspired men and women, but not already-translated folks who are angels in human form. They, too, are imperfect.
They know this. You should, too.
18. Ban automaton talks in General Conference.
Gone would be sermons that are all delivered exactly the same, with the same tone and tenor, as though they were all written by the same person, without the slightest hint of individuality.
19. Disallow the use of middle initials in church leaders’ names.
Not completely sure where or how this tradition started, every general authority needing an initial somewhere in his name, but, please, let it stop. It has gotten to the point where it sounds too highfalutin, too pretentious, too beyond the average churchgoing Jane or Joe.
The only allowable exception here would be — if that’s the way said leader’s spouse addresses him or her around the house. And if that’s the case, the name game probably is too far gone.
20. Apologize for policies and preachments of the past and present that were and are out of step with a loving God, more specifically, all aspects of racism, sexism and homophobia.
That speaks for itself, or would, if it were done my way.
Amirite or amiwrong? Not sure. Not a prophet here, not officially, anyway. Not a rebel. Just a believer looking for a slightly better way.
One bit of advice: Let faith bridge your own gaps. Maybe some of this is already being addressed. Maybe some of it never will be. Maybe doctrine will change, maybe it will never change.
But hearts can.
Can I get an amen on that?
What say you?
(Russell M., call me anytime. I know, I know, many are called, but few are chosen.)