I just finished scrolling through the reader responses to the Danzig affair in the Trib. Granted, it’s the Salt Lake Tribune and not the Deseret News but I have to admit that I am shocked.
May be, it’s just me but the tone of the discussion seems to have changed. The critics of the LDS leadership are dominating the discussion. For every defender, there are probably three or four critics.
What is even more striking is the tone of the discussion. Although there is still the usual mocking by RfM types, most critics express sadness and their commitment to decency, neighborliness, and American values. They are claiming the high ground.
Only two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. The Trib has always been independent. It is new, however, that there is now a public forum where participants dare to define good and evil in opposition to the Mormon establishment.
That means that the Mormon hegemony has been broken. I do not understand why this is happening now but the Brethren are facing increasingly tough choices. Their menu of options consists of bad and horrible choices.
The historical truth claims of Mormonism are largely discredited, at least in their literalist form that we have all learned in Sunday school and the missionary discussions. There is nothing the Brethren can do about that. The past cannot be changed and apparently the Brethren have lost control over the narrative.
The anti-gay campaign may endure for a couple of years but is largely a spend force, in large part because Karl Rove and George Bush are widely discredited in America. Even in the unlikely case that the Republican nominee should win the White House, the influence of the religious right generally and the LDS Church specifically is declining steeply. Most importantly because the verdict about the nature of homosexuality is in.
As being gay is neither unnatural nor harmful, the official Mormon agenda of discrimination lacks any ethical justification. Only tradition supports the Brethren in this matter, which is a kind way of referring to superstition.
Moreover, Mormons have had to learn that carrying the water for the religious right has only earned them contempt. Rather than reciprocate for Mormon support in the past, Evangelical right wingers have chosen to discriminate against Mitt Romney for his religion. In both cases, the frantic attempts of Gordon Hinckley and Mitt Romney to please right wing Evangelicals have only proven self-destructive.
But politics ought to be the least concern of the Brethren. Power in Washington is relevant only because it happens to decline at the same time as the Brethren’s hegemony of public opinion in Utah has been broken.
I am feeling sorry for them. There are no good choices for the Brethren. If they delay reform, things will be getting worse because the momentum is already against them. Reform, however, raises the specter of a Gorbachev like melt down of the empire.
That puts me into an uncomfortable position. I would much rather be the underdog. If I could offer my services to the Brethren, I would.
Here is my advice: First, do not make things worse. Every time you pick on someone like Peter Danzig or Grant Palmer, you are needlessly bringing things to a head.
However shocking revelations about LDS history may be, in the end, nobody cares about that stuff as long as they are happy at church. When the Brethren pressure people to remain silent, then they are creating unhappiness and are thus only increasing the incentives for resistance and criticism.
Of course, it is only human to respond to challenges and criticism with suppression. Since that is human nature, the Brethren must protect the Church from themselves with institutional safeguards. For starters, church discipline should be governed by the rule of law.
That works pretty well in the Roman Catholic Church where discipline is governed by canon law and due process without compromising Catholic doctrine in the least. When LDS leaders have to account for every case of church discipline according to the precepts of canon law, then they will be more likely to resist the temptation of going after members who are merely trying to deal with Mormonism’s challenges in a way that is consistent with their conscience.
As arbitrary prosecution becomes less likely, the LDS Church and its members would be spared a lot of unnecessary aggravation. When people like Peter and Mary Danzig can be the loyal opposition then tens of thousands of us may be able to remain loyal as well.
My second piece of advice to the Brethren would be, play to your strengths. Mormonism might be weak with respect to historical truth claims but it is strong with respect to the dedication of its members.
You need to figure out how to leverage the dedication of the members to strengthen the Church as a community while its origin myth is besieged by stubborn facts. The best way to do that is to unleash the creativity and initiative of the members.
The way to do that is to train and supervise the members while letting them govern themselves. Self-government in the form of callings has literally transformed the lives of thousands of converts. Paired with accountability, self-government of the members will enrich the life of the members, attract converts and strengthen the LDS Church financially and demographically.
If you do that then I will be gladly on your team, especially since you will be the underdog from here on out.