“More Catholic than the Pope”: Mormon edition

Ralph Hancock gives his fellow Mormons some good advice at First Things.  I suspect he’s right that when “thoughtful” Mormons insist that they are “open to continuing revelation”, what they really mean is that they’re on board with a slow-motion capitulation to the Left.

I suspect the situation of the LDS is as follows.  On the one hand, there are liberal Mormons who want their Church to surrender to the Left, and they let it be known that they will fight without ceasing until they get what they want.  (There are fewer of this type than there are liberal Catholics or liberal Evangelicals, which is no small strength for the LDS, but I doubt the ones they’ve got are much different from the ones we have.)  On the other hand, there are the faithful Mormons, who make it very clear that they will go along meekly whenever the leadership decides to surrender.  This does not create the proper incentive structure for the LDS leadership.  Equilibrium requires that force to the Left must be matched by equal and opposite force to the Right.

I would not presume to give advice to my Mormon friends, who after all inhabit a less grievously compromised religious body than mine (at least when judged by what happens at the parish level, rather than what’s “on the books” in the catechism).  However, I suspect that a general knowledge that there will be hell to pay for any compromise on sexual issues would only have a healthy effect on your leaders’ discussions.

8 Responses

  1. Well, the problem is, if you tick off the conservatives too much, they’re just gonna up and leave. As they are conservatives, loyal to their communities and respectful of authority, this will, of course, only happen in under extreme duress, and still be extraordinarily painful for them. But they will do it.

    And they will be very, very angry at their former institution. Hell hath no fury like a conservative scorned.

    So, there is a bit of a built in safeguard.

    In the Evangelical world, there are left leaning intellectuals (I use the world loosely) like Rachel Evans, Scot McKnight, John Stackhouse, Tony Campolo, and Jim Wallis who would clearly like to endorse gay sexual relationships, but just can’t bring themselves to do it because they know that their position in the Evangelical churches would evaporate immediately. And who really wants to be stuck on the dreary mainline circuit?

  2. A interesting example would be what would happen if, say the Roman Catholic church gave the OK for gay sexual relationships: the Evangelicals and Orthodox (and maybe even the Muslims, in certain places) would reap a bonanza of new converts, and there also would likely be a schism with a portion of the bishops/cardinals forming a separate church, and maybe even electing a new pope. Then it would be a slow motion demographic duel to the death with the trads likely winning out in the end, but only after many decades, perhaps even centuries.

    (The Evangelicals are already so decentralized that, in order to get anywhere, liberals have to flip just about every single congregation one at a time, simultaneously prevent new conservative congregations from springing up, and then prevent the collapse of those congregations they do manage to flip. Daunting to impossible.)

  3. @Bonald – As a scientist you need to start from the observation that as a matter of fact the LDS has NOT gone along with the sexual revolution (except for contraception, but this has not had the same effect among Mormons as with everybody else), while most of the mainstream Christian churches have done so – and the fact of suposedly having a strong authority structure or a fixed creed has – as a matter of fact – made zero difference.

    This situation has been going for several decades.

    Your argument would have been more compelling had it been made in the 1960s or 70s, but now we know it is not true.

    The thing about Mormons which got me interested in them before I was a Christian, is that in so many ways the LDS is an *exception* – they buck the trend. So the kind of reasoning you are using is exactly the kind of reasoning which (for the past couple of generations) Mormonism has refuted.

    If one regards the Mormon church as essentially true, then this is no paradox – nor is it difficult to understand, *if* you can arrive at the point of ‘getting’ Mormon theology from the inside (which took me about five years, so it isn’t necessarily easy).

    Then it can be seen that resistance to the sexual revolution is built-into the Mormon world view from its root metaphysical assumptions – for example, that men and women had premortal souls, and these souls had gender from their origin, and therefore that the highest happiness depends upon a man and a woman choosing to become a dyad – that is to say ultimate happiness depends on marriage. And so on.

    In sum, your reasoning is secular, and are leaving out the Holy Ghost which can – and does – influence human institutions.

    Of course the Mormon church could fall to modernity, if that is the choice made – but there is nothing inevitable about it.

    On the other hand the LDS could remain true, and prevail (i.e. could take over as the US ruling elite by default of being the only sufficiently large number of intellectuals left after suicidal sterility among everybody else), or the LDS church remain true and be ethnically-cleansed from the USA, or exterminated.

    These matters are not predetermined, but depend on the choices – between good and evil – of many people.

  4. Hi Bruce,

    I hope you’re right. I would be pleased to see the Holy Spirit preserve the Mormon Church, but having seen my own Church brought low, I find myself unable to trust that He will do much to save us from ourselves.

    Circa 1950 the Catholic Church’s model of resistance to modernity seemed to have an even more impressive success record. In retrospect, one can see that neither fixed creeds nor authority could save a Church from mass apostasy if that’s what its members are set on doing. Fixed teachings can’t respond to new errors, and the fact that the creeds long post-date Christ makes it difficult to maintain that a Church cannot produce new teachings. Thus, Catholics like Newman invented the idea of a “development of doctrine” to defend the authority of the Church and her developed creeds from historicist attacks by liberals. Now, we see the idea of “development” being wielded by liberals to mean that the Church can change her teachings, that they effectively have no authority at all. Thus, both of the institutional restraints on surrender to Leftism have been subverted.

  5. @Bonald – You misunderstand my point.

    I am Not saying that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Mormon Church – who knows what may happen in the future?; and the reality of free will means that anyone may choose to sin.

    I am saying that if they do become corrupted, this is NOT because of the principle of continuing revelation.

    We know this already, because of what has happened in the past fifty years. This isn’t an open question anymore: the theological differences between the LDS church and Mainstream Christianity have NOT had the effect that you predicted they should/ would.

    That’s all I wanted to say, really. I got a bit carried away when I saw the speech transcript; but that was just to demonstrate the way taht the leadership talk, and to clarify the extent to which teh whole of Mormonism is explicitly built upon what protestants call ‘complementarity’ of the sexes.

    If this metaphysical fundamental was subverted, and men and women’s spirits were instead regarded as essentially the same in kind (merely temporarily being clad in differently-styled bodies – as is of course the case for non-Mormon Christians, and which has proved to be such an Achilles heel for mainstream Christianity); then the whole LDS church would probably crumble very swiftly.

  6. Hi Bruce,

    I think you are right that a doctrine of continuing revelation will not be the cause of apostasy. If the LDS Church ever apostasizes, it may well be the administrative fig leaf offered, but every religion has something that could serve this role. Similarly, the idea of development of doctrine didn’t cause the downfall of the Catholic Church. The cause of that was the decision of the clergy that they liked the secular worldview better; “development” was just the handiest word in the Catholic lexicon to soften the reality of their betrayal. If it hadn’t been there, something else would have been found.

    Actually, I’m not sure there’s really any disagreement between us at all.

  7. Bruce, I think you underestimate the concerted attack on the Catholic Church that took place in the middle of the 20th Century by the forces of leftism. Mormonism has been an exception because Mormonism was not a target. It wasn’t just the principles of Catholic ethical thought, which overlap with Mormonism, which were under attack, it was Catholic communities and even Catholic individuals who were face psychological warfare and *physical* violence. I don’t think the left is as capable as they once were of a *coordinated* attack with long-term aspirations, but if Mormonism isn’t destroyed, it is because it was weak when the scientific socialists still had some of the pre-revolutionary cultural needed to wage effective total war.

    BTW, I still think Mormonism will be corrupted by the world. I’ve known too many young Mormons to think otherwise.

  8. Brucecharlton: exactly right about root metaphysical assumptions. Thus LDS resistance to “progress” — even some resistance to consequences of permission of contraception, as you note. So this is why I am not pessimistic. But there are some very smart, intellectually influential LDS who look for ways to distance us from these “root metaphysical assumptions” — etiher by challenging them directly (eg Taylor Petrey), or, in a more subtle and widespread move, simply arguing that doctrine is not that important to us, it’s all about “practices.” But mainstream of LDS, following Church authorities, seem little tempted by these moves. Thus my relative optimism.

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