The Fourth Age of the Church?

I happened to run into my friend Sam a couple of days ago in the food line at Costco, and his first words were, “I’ve been diligently reading your posts on Times and Seasons.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“I only said I’ve been reading them. I didn’t say I liked them.”

“So you didn’t like them?”

“Well, some of them have been . . . interesting. But you’re dodging and dancing around the elephant in the room.”

“That would be quite a feat,” I said. “But what do you mean? What elephant?”

“The elephant,” Sam said obscurely, “is the prevailing paradigm. It isn’t viable anymore. And what you can’t bring yourself to say is that we need to be prepared to enter into the Fourth Age of the Church.”

“Well, that sounds pretty portentous, but you’ll have to explain. What is ‘the prevailing paradigm’? And the Fourth Age? I suppose the first three were, maybe, the primitive church of the Apostles; and then the medieval church . . . .”

“No, no,” Sam interrupted. “I’m not talking about Christianity in general. I’m talking about our Church. The Mormon Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

We reached the front of the line, paid for our hotdogs, then sat down together at one of those metal picnicky tables.

“To understand what I mean,” Sam continued, “you need to remember the idea of paradigm shifts. Some dominant model or theory or conception– some paradigm– works for a long time. But then it comes under severe pressure. For a while, for a generation or more maybe, its defenders try to patch it up, make small corrections. Hold the fort. Keep their fingers in the holes in the dikes. (Pardon the mixed metaphors.) This works for a while. But then more holes keep appearing, and there aren’t enough fingers, or the holes become too big for the fingers, and . . .

“I get the idea,” I said. “I’ve read Kuhn.”

“Well, the point is that the old dike just can’t hold, and so a new fort has to be erected. It will use the materials of the old fort, will look a lot like the old paradigm in some ways. But it will also be fundamentally different. Some of the same terms will still be used, but they will acquire new meanings.

“And it’s a painful process. These paradigm shifts have to happen, but they can be wrenching. Some people who can’t make the shift– who think ‘This isn’t the fort we know and love’– will always get left behind. That’s why we need to be prepared . . . .”

“I understand. Like I said, I’ve read Kuhn. But you began by saying, about the three ages–”

“Well, the Church up to now has gone through three main phases. Three paradigms, separated by two paradigm shifts. The first age was a short one, maybe too short to count as its own age; but it was the phase of the restoration of simple, primitive Christianity. That’s what the first Mormons thought they were signing onto.

“So the Book of Mormon was– is– a thoroughly Christian book. It’s ironic that some evangelicals say we’re not Christians because we believe in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is actually more Christian than the Bible. Doctrines that took early Christians centuries to work out, like the Trinity and the Incarnation, are already there explicitly set forth in the Book of Mormon.

“But the first age– the age of the primitive Christian Church– passed into a second age: the age of the radical or iconoclastic Church. The key new components– the radical components– were the United Order and the ideas we associate with the King Follett Discourse and, above all, polygamy. That was a difficult transition for some people. Founders like Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer refused to go there.

“The radical Church had to move away from the settled United States in order to have the space to practice its radicalism. And all things considered, the Church flourished. But then the pressures built up– all of the laws and raids against polygamy, mainly. We resisted, heroically. And then things broke, and we renounced polygamy, and entered into the third age. The age of the bourgeois Church, you might call it– I’m no Marxist; I don’t mean that as a pejorative term– or the ‘traditional values’ Church.

“We became more American than Uncle Sam. This was a huge change– what had before been essential and non-negotiable was suddenly now forbidden– and again, some people couldn’t accept that. But you can see that the shift was necessary: without it, the whole Church would be like those people in southern Utah.”

“Okay, I can see how you could interpret our history in that way. It’s a pretty standard interpretation, really. Oversimplified, but I understand that these schemes and categories are always oversimplified. But why do you think a fourth age is coming?”

“Because it has to. The pressures are getting to be too great, and something will have to give.”

“What pressures?”

“Two kinds of pressures, really. At least two, one coming from the outside, and the other from the inside, so to speak; and together they put put us into a sort of intolerable squeeze.

“The outside pressure has to do with the situation of the world. Up until now we’ve lived in what was essentially a Christian world. Not that people lived up to the ideals of Christianity, of course. But Christianity supplied the accepted framework.  It was the standard, told us how things were supposed to be.

“Now all that has changed. Christianity is under siege from a new leviathan. I shouldn’t have to explain this to you; it’s what your book City Christians and Pagans, or whatever it’s called, is all about. I think you might have picked a better term than ‘paganism,’ by the way. But your basic point is correct.

“This change means that we need to transform our relations to the world, and to the rest of Christianity. Within a Christian world, we naturally viewed the other Christian churches as rivals. In a Pagans vs. Christians world, what we need is solidarity. We need the other Christians, and they need us. (Heaven knows that a lot of them are flailing worse than we are.) But again, you already know this. You’ve been writing about this in your blog posts.”

“Right. But you said there were two kinds of pressures. What’s the second kind?”

“The second kind is more focused on us specifically. I’m referring to a whole barrage of fundamental challenges to what we’ve treated as the basics of our religion. Challenges to our scriptures– the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham. Challenges to basic notions of revelation. Not the fact of revelation– we could never give that up– but the process and nature of it.

“So far we’ve responded to these challenges in the ways the defenders of a paradigm always do– by bracketing or ignoring difficulties, or by making small adjustments and admissions. And patchwork apologetics. Instead of ‘translating’ the Book of Abraham, we now say, Joseph used the scrolls as a ‘catalyst’ to receive revelation. That sort of thing.

“Now, don’t misunderstand me: there’s nothing wrong with these measures. And some of the apologetics are impressive, and illuminating. Overall, though, these are fingers in the dike. Stopgap measures. And measures that can work only on the already committed. You can ask committed, faithful members to bracket their suspicions, or ‘doubt their doubts,’ and concentrate instead on what they know and believe. Concentrate on the positive. This makes very good sense. People know that the Church is helping them live godly, fulfilling lives. Why should they sacrifice that just because they can’t come up with a satisfying explanation for the Book of Abraham?

“Even so, bracketing and looking away can only go so far. And you can’t ask an investigator– an informed investigator, that is– to do those things. Because she doesn’t have the preexisting commitment that provides the motivation for these measures. So you can’t just tell an investigator: ‘Don’t worry that the Book of Abraham was nothing like what Joseph said it was.’ Because she is going to think, ‘Hmm. That seems like a big problem for you, and you don’t seem to have a very satisfying answer.’

“And so you would expect the Church’s growth to slow down a lot, especially among more informed people. And it has.

“The upshot,” said Sam, “is that unless the Church is to stagnate in some sort of cultural ghetto, changes will be necessary. Not just patchwork changes. A new paradigm. A fourth age.

“The new paradigm will have a lot of continuity with the old ones. We’ll still believe in restoration, and revelation, and priesthood. But some of these things may come to have quite different meanings. In the way that ‘gather to Zion’ at one time meant ‘Leave your homes and come to Utah’ but later came to mean almost the exact opposite: ‘Stay where you are and perfect yourselves there.’ I tell you: it’s going to be hard for a lot of people.”

“And what will new paradigm look like?” I asked.

“Ah, that’s not for me to say,” Sam answered. “I don’t know, and who cares what I think anyway? I do have a few ideas. But the changes will have to come through the leaders, with the assistance of inspiration or revelation.”

“I can agree with that,” I said. “Still, I’d be interested in what your ideas are.”

“Some other time,” Sam said, crumpling up his now empty soda cup. “My wife is going to be wondering where I am, and this is probably enough for one conversation anyway. But, you know, I think your wife invited us over for dinner next week. Maybe we can talk then.”

For myself, I’m not at all sure that we are on the verge of any paradigm shift or “Fourth Age.” Seriously, could that happen? And people can live with doubts and dissonance; that’s pretty much the human condition. Still, if Sam has anything interesting to say about what this “new paradigm” will entail, I may let you know.

31 comments for “The Fourth Age of the Church?

  1. I think the divgence here is the 4th age makes sense for the US in the current environment, but shooting for what the US and what the world will use as a paradigm that holds is too difficult. Instead of a 4th age of repurposed Christianity for the secular US, this will be an age of fracture with the Church meaning something different in different areas and countries. Even for different folks in the same congregation. How does the church handle Decorrelation? How do we dialogue? How do we be high church and low church? How do we be the Church or the privledge US and the Church or populous Central Africa? Etc….

  2. I think Philip Barlow added the correlation era as a fourth age or paradigm of the church.

    I do think we’re transitioning to something a bit different with both the adjustments the Church is making under President Nelson and in response to the pressures that were brought up, but it’s very hard to say how extensive that change will be or what we will look like coming out of it while we’re in the middle of the changing process. So, I guess I’m not sure if we’re entering a new age or not.

  3. There are other forces that your friend didn’t mention that could drive the paradigm shift in directions he doesn’t expect. During the last conference, particularly on Saturday, I got the sense that the brethren were preparing us for the day that this could become a third-world church. Story after story was about African saints–far fewer than usual about Utahns. The third paradigm might not be working for educated Americans and Europeans, but if it works for Ghanaians, Guatemalans, and Filipinos, why change? And with a $100 billion dollars lying around, the Church could afford to go that route (assuming that a “gospel culture” will lead them to become self-sustaining eventually).

  4. “We’ll still believe in restoration, and revelation, and priesthood. ”

    I see the current status of the church as completely bound to authority and authoritarianism. We base everything, ultimately, on proper authority. The restoration restored the priesthood authority, revelation restored temple ordinances which are the proper authority to enter into celestial glory. We send our missionaries out with the message that we have the real authority to baptize, to seal, to administer god’s kingdom on earth.

    When the world the church existed in was also authoritarian this was a great message. If your investigator also believed that authority was a necessary component of religious life you had won most of the battle, you just had to convince her, or get her to convince herself, that the church had the real authority that you both agreed was necessary.

    The trouble is, we no longer live in that authoritarian world. We can no longer assume that our audience believes that authority is necessary or even that it is a good thing. We tell people that we have the sealing power so that their family can live together forever. A citizen of an authoritarian world says, “Tell me more, I recognize I need that authority in my life.” A 21st century western citizen is now more likely to say, “Why would a loving god deny me the company of my family forever?” Once our audience rejects the need for authority our message falls on deaf ears.

    Can we redefine authority for our different world? I think we can. When you read the historical record from leaders and members regarding polygamy many of them saw it as the defining mark of the true church. The principle was the fulcrum that balanced the whole structure, until it wasn’t. I think we need to do the same thing with our view of authority to thrive in this new world.

  5. The American church is going to start looking more like the international church in terms of fewer prescribed activities and less culture and higher relative member commitment (this is already happening).

    In many ways, international saints in some of the world’s biggest cities are already much more committed to a more limited set of social requirements than Americans are (generally, we believe that being participants in a church culture makes us active, but we are also mostly followers). Those members seem to readily accept that doctrines and practices evolve, more readily than we do – since the church is younger there, they are evolving faster. There’s also an expanded sense of “I know that this conference talk is metaphorical and while it doesn’t speak to my situation, I understand it’s importance”.

    There’s also a greater sense of collaboration between senior local leadership and new members than here, due to a greater social reliance on older members of society, even if they are new in the church.

    I also think international members have it easier than members in the Greater Zion area, because there’s no social currency in opposing or leaving the church. People just stop going. You’re not going to get blasted on social media by someone who stopped going to church.

  6. I doubt the church moves to another country. Call the place, the mountain of the Lord, etc. 70% of the United States still identifies as Christian, and decline has actually leveled off.

    That said, I think the fourth age is already begun. Call home centered, church supported is a big shift, and most members haven’t caught the vision yet. Most members are not studying Come Follow Me at home with their families.

    Those who are not doing this will not be prepared for what’s coming.

  7. I thinl we’ll find that the appeal to authority is going to grow the church internationally.

    Some of our membership longs for a greater international flavor as a way to liberalize the church, but they should be careful what they wish for. Adding an African, a Russian, and an Australian to the Q12 might make that body significantly more conservative (not politically, but in terms of demanding personal sacrifice to ideals).

  8. I’ve wondered as the Church grows larger outside of CONUS if someday another assistant president will be called, as it was in Church history. The 12 would remain intact, but attention can be given to a global Church despite world wide disruptions of communication, war, pandemic and difficult politics.

  9. Your friend Sam has some good insight. The internet has allowed members to have conversations and discussions and share ideas and experiences that pre-internet, well pre-social media, social conventions and norms wouldn’t have allowed. Nibley-era apologetics just doesn’t have the same effect. There are lots of available online sources claiming to refute these types of apologetics and many are persuaded by these to completely reject the Nibley apologetics or at least take them with a grain of salt. I think the older generation Mormons, with obvious exceptions, tend to view Mormonism through a decades-old prism and remain tied to old ways of thinking and viewing things. To them, Nibley still matters. However, this older generation moves every day closer to death and the younger generation every day moves closer to middle age where they are given callings to administer local congregations. What they think is mattering more and more, and honestly, I’m just not hearing the same enthusiasm about, or even acquaintance with, Nibley and the like from them, myself included (I’m 40, and acquainted with Nibley, but unimpressed with his apologetics or that coming out of Book of Mormon Central). Discourse on the bloggernacle is changing. Online discussion among believers seemed to once rave about the latest Nibley-style apologetic research. Now, Dehlin and the CES Letter and the issues they are concerned about have become hot topics for online discussion affecting many believers who either outright reject the church and share their innumerable experiences on the very popular and quickly growing ex-Mormon subreddit (which in turn continues to have a profound effect on shaping discourse among those active in social media) or they have found a very nuanced way of understanding Mormonism which emphasizes personal relationships and culture over adherence to doctrine. More young believers know someone who used to be a very strong believer, but left the church. That has a profound effect on Mormonism in ways it just didn’t in the past. People often cite the impact of the CES Letter or Dehlin or other voices in the church as having the strongest influences in making people decide to leave the church. I think it is personal stories. If you read about someone who grew up in a similar environment as you and their personal experiences and stories leaving the church, I think that has an extremely profound impact. It makes you think about possibilities of a lifestyle change or belief change that you hadn’t previously considered.

  10. I hope Sam gets back to you with his ideas. I’d like to read what he thinks might be in store.

    That being said, Sam should also take a moment to consider that being one of the “informed people” can entail its own set of biases. What might make perfect sense to the well-informed – because all our friends tell us it is so – can end up diverging dramatically from the reality in the pews. (Sam refers to an expanded definition of translation as “bracketing” or “looking away,” but I look at it more as the result of taking a hard look at all the evidence, precisely the opposite of looking away.) I think I belong to the “informed,” but the most important internal pressures the church faces may well be entirely different than the ones I perceive.

  11. Thanks for the OP, insightful, and exciting to me. It seems clear to me we are in a massive Kuhnian paradigm shift in this church. I’d say it’s 5th, with Correlation as the 4th as pointed out by Chad / Phil Barlow. Maybe even 6th? with whatever happened post WWII until Correlation, which seems like a major culturally different time in the church, dominated by white middle-class Americanism, booming American economy, and American conservatism–all bound up in Joseph Fielding Smith / Bruce R McConkie Mormonism. For a number of month, Dan Wotherspoon on Latter-day Faith podcast has been talking about witnesing the last death rattle of the old paradigm and what is specifically shaping the new paradigm: I couldn’t agree more with KLC that a major part of this paradigm shift is away from authoritative/authoritarian conceptualizations of the the Church and it’s whole position, framing, and meaning in the world; really of the whole meaning of the Restoration in terms of authority. I anxiously welcome the unfolding emerging new paradigm that incorporates a creative moral reimagination of “a whole barrage of fundamental challenges to what we’ve treated as the basics of our religion.” I’d like to simply reiterate what seems painfully obvious to me and to many LDSs that “unless the Church is to stagnate in some sort of cultural ghetto, changes will be necessary. Not just patchwork changes. A new paradigm. A fourth [5th or 6th] age.”

  12. Lots of food for thought. Here are a few items where it’s obvious “the fort has moved.” This list makes it seem that the transition has been underway for a decade already. 10 years more and it will be a new era.

    * Priesthood– 10 years from now, the 20th Century view of priesthood will be obsolete. Pres. Oaks “moved the fort” when he suddenly proclaimed women already have priesthood authority. Stay tuned for additional developments.

    * Home-centered Church– Church supporting families rather than vis versa.

    * Missions for personal development rather than conversion

    * Racism, Blacks, Lamanites, and the Curse of Dark Skin– The Randy Bott episode of 2012, and the current uproar over the JFS quote in Come Follow Me are telling.

    I’m sure we all have additional items we could add.

  13. The important question is; while you had this conversation with yourself, did you eat two hot dogs or just one?

  14. So many interesting comments here, and they remind me of what I knew already– that many readers of this blog are so much better informed about church-related scholarship, current events, and controversies than I am. I started trying to compose a response, and I may still try to do that, but there were so many interesting questions and points (many of which I agree with), and I got so tangled up trying to address them in a succinct and orderly way, that I decided to hold off for now. So I’ll only answer the most momentous question (and I can see that my post may have been misleading on this point): it was only one hotdog. Plus the soda, of course, refilled a couple of times: that comes with the deal. I would have bought one of those wonderful ice cream bars that Costco used to sell but, sadly, they don’t have those anymore. Another sign of civilizational collapse.

  15. I think Sam is right, and I think the church leadership has been trying to prep the general membership by spinning the shift as God-inspired rather than necessary because we ran out of fingers to poke in the dam.

    When I was growing up, we talked about the restoration as something that already had taken place by Joseph Smith. We were living in the fullness of times.

    Very recently, church leadership has shifted to talking about the church as if it were still experiencing an ongoing restoration. I don’t recall this type of talk happening before. Perhaps I was just oblivious to it… I won’t be offended if someone can pull up an abundance of quotes talking about a continual ongoing restoration from 20 or 30 years ago. But according to my memory, this change in dialog is a newer development, and I think a sign that church leaders recognize that things are going to have to change soon.

  16. 3rd World Church growth rests upon 2 assumptions: #1, that these populations will be attracted to a kind of America-based prosperity gospel; #2, that these populations are not yet sophisticated enough to notice gaping holes in the narrative – because if the BoM is not historical and the BoA is not a translation I don’t understand what any of you think is left. Do you believe the situation will somehow improve w/ the rise of AI or further decoding of the genome? Just the opposite. It is more likely that we’re looking at the Final Age instead of the Fourth.

  17. As usual, I enjoyed the post and the comments. I don’t think I have any great thoughts to add about a Fourth Age for the Church. But this has opened a new line of thought for me, and I am grateful.

    But I have to disagree in part with KLC: I think the world is entering an authoritarian era, at least in politics: Erdogan, Duterte, Putin, Xi Jinping, etc., and Trump has a fondness for strongmen. Democracy has disappointed after the collapse of Communism, and people are abandoning the traditional democratic political parties, usually for nationalist movements. I was shocked that Sinn Fein actually led the vote in the recent Irish election. I would agree with KLC that the Western world is moving away from authoritarian religion, but Hindu nationalism is persecuting Christians and Muslims in India, and militant Islam has long been a challenge.

    I appreciate Dr. Cocoa pointing out that the Church has been shifting toward the idea of an ongoing restoration. I shall pay closer attention to upcoming GC.

    The Church has to adapt to the new requirements of a new era, or it will become irrelevant. But the problem for Church leaders, I think, is that to adapt too quickly carries the risk of our becoming just another fad-following religion.

    But it is a good thing that we do adapt, even though it upsets a lot of members. I think that if BY were to come back to earth today, he would be very uncomfortable with the Church’s renunciation of polygamy, and I think ETB would likewise be horrified at the Church’s now-cordial relationship with civil rights groups.

  18. My son is starting his missionary service soon, in the US. I will be interested to observe his marching orders from the powers that be.

  19. Steven: Such an assortment of friends you have! You need to gather them all together and form a Socrates-Sophist-Academy-Meets-Joseph’s-School-Of-The-Prophets brain trust. Or are they already part of one brain?

  20. I seem to remember a post on here in the past that the church was stagnating and that it had in the past, and then taken off with different emphasis.

    I am hoping that the Romney v Trump thing will be an opportunity to separate the church from Republicanism. Do you realise there are members in Australia who facebook about how wonderfull Trump is, as part of the church duty, and who will denounce you as not church material if you question?

    Because of our opposition to gay marriage, (which is related to right wing conservatism) we take on a whole right wing culture; anti abortion, anti climate change, anti immigration, anti feminism, homophobic, . Notice these are all fear based.

    For years the church has had “obedience is the first law of heaven” as how to live your life. That the path to exaltation was obedience. Being obedient requires no moral judgement. Just a perception of what to obey.

    I am hoping that we drop the republican culture, and with it the obedience culture, and change to:

    36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
    37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
    38 This is the first and great commandment.
    39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
    40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    Now if you add to this that “be ye therfore perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect”, is talking about loving your neighbour. We are here on earth to learn joy by loving our neighbour as God does, perfectly.

    With love for our neighbour/fellow woman discrimination becomes unacceptable. Neighbours do not have borders, or gender, or race. Leaders can obediently hide truth, they can not lovingly, though they have claimed to discriminate lovingly in the past this must stop too.

    I do not know whether this will be more or less acceptable in the third world, but is the gospel of Christ, without the politics. I do think it will be acceptable in the first world where the present version no longer is.

    The brand is very damaged, and it will take a definite change, not just going quiet on the old way for those entrenched to realise/accept.

    I hope it begins in April if not before.

  21. Geoff AUS
    Sin does exist and homosexuality, acting on it, is one of those things.
    It’s not possible to talk or rationalize this out of existence.
    Gay sex is deadly to the body and to the soul.
    I’m curious how a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints arrives at the conclusion that gay marriage is okay.

  22. You should know, Brother Miranda, that members of this church have believed all sorts of interesting things – for instance that 50 year-old men could marry any number of teenage girls if they so pleased. This obtained until nosey and unrighteous Federal official ruled it illegal.

    As for gay sex: what do homosexuals do that straight couples don’t? Please advise. Thank you.

  23. Its quite simple Jon.
    If we love our neighbour as God does we will not discriminate against gays. God creates 10 times as many gays as members. Does he love them better?
    If we are not politically conservative we will not discriminate against gays.
    If we have been in the church a long time we will be aware that conservative culture has been taught as gospel then disavowed, or just quietly dropped.
    Opposition to gay marriage has only been an eternal truth for 25 years, and I will be surprised if it continues for another 10. It is becoming about as acceptable as racism.

    Sex within marriage is just as loving and rewarding whether straight or gay. There is no justification for your assertion; it is a lie. There is so much more to marriage than sex.

    Why are you obsessed with other peoples sex lives?

    I do not know how old you are, or where you live, what you do for a living, or why you believe as you do, but I w

    When I was married 1970. It was a sin to be black. It was a sin to marry inter racially, and it was a sin to use birth control. Within 20 years none of these were sins anymore. They were all the conservative culture of church leaders being taught as if it were gospel. Our opposition to gay marriage, and equality for women is the same.

    Might be good to soften your position so you can cope when it changes.

    In Australia lived a professional rugby player named Israel Falou. He was LDS but left. He had a $4millon contract. He tweated that “gay marriage was a sin and gays were going to hell.”
    His was sacked, he has just got a job with a french rugby team, he has agreed not to tweet about gays, but other teams in the european competition say they will hold the french team responsible if they loose sponsors or attendance numbers.
    If your comments about gays are searched by a future employer, there could be consequences. Be careful.

  24. Geoff USA
    Nothing you say invalidates the fact that acting on homosexual desires is a sin.
    Alcohol is legal but you may not have full fellowship in the church if you’re a practicing alcoholic.
    Gay marriage is legal but you may not have full fellowship in the church if you are a practicing homosexual.
    The prophets anciently and today warned against this sin.
    if as church members we are encouraging people to pursue this path we will be held accountable.
    Widespread acceptance of homosexuality is a sign of a society in decline.

  25. Jon, You are an example of why the church has to remove the republican culture so the gospel of Christ can shine through again.

  26. A note in reply to Taiwan Missionary’s comment.

    The turn toward authoritarian government is not the same thing as embracing greater political authority. It’s a shift to a different type of authority–and not for the better, of course. We are seeing the rise of various ideologies among various groups: racism, populism, nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and an ideological hostility to the idea of government. All of these strands are coming together to weaken our shared commitment to the rule of law. When we no longer submit ourselves to the authority of law, authoritarians rush in.

    It’s not clear to me whether this is related to the decline in religion’s social authority that Steven Smith posits. My default assumption would be that they’re not related, unless someone can describe a linkage. I don’t think it would be an easy argument to make.

    However, this trend in world politics does suggest an observation that I think is relevant to the original post. The Church has always defined itself, usually implicitly but sometimes explicitly, as an American religion. Our doctrinal and social identity has evolved in response to American realities. For a while, it has been obvious that this must change in some ways as the balance of Church membership tilts more international. But we haven’t yet seen much substantive change. Now there is the possibility that American politics is on the brink of change. To put it starkly, if the American government continues on its present path, the United States could be transformed from an international beacon of hope into a cesspool of decay, corruption and outright evil. Whether or not this actually happens (and I fervently pray every day that it will not), Church leaders must come to grips with the possibility. The Church’s adaptations must account for the challenges of running an international church under radically changed political conditions. I have no idea where that leads. It could mean greater political involvement for the Church, or it could mean a dramatic withdrawal from the public sphere, or almost anything in between.

  27. Stake Conference today (33 miles from HQ) and our area president GA seemed to double down on Joseph Smith, BOM, and the Restoration.

  28. “This change means that we need to transform our relations to the world, and to the rest of Christianity. Within a Christian world, we naturally viewed the other Christian churches as rivals. In a Pagans vs. Christians world, what we need is solidarity. We need the other Christians, and they need us. (Heaven knows that a lot of them are flailing worse than we are.) But again, you already know this. You’ve been writing about this in your blog posts.”

    Sam’s point here seems exactly the opposite of what I’d expect. I’d say we officially abandoned the paradigm of competition with other Christian churches around the 70s — concurrent with allying ourselves with conservative Christianity in political and cultural questions. And, of course, by that I mean “Evangelical Christianity,” which has dominated LDS interreligious discourse for decades, to the detriment of our political and theological imaginaries. I’d suggest to Sam that we can look for other interlocutors and conversation partners even within Christianity (and without!), and use those conversations to develop what’s unique and beautiful in our tradition (instead of merely explaining or covering what other folks feel to be improper).

  29. Interesting article. Along these same lines, there is a very thought-provoking article published by the Interpreter Foundation last summer entitiled Welding Another Link in Wonder’s Chain ( The author argues that church members need to find new ways to present or to celebrate the restoration to grow into the next century.

  30. Interestingly, this is a space specifically designated for civil discourse, and it seems difficult to maintain that even here.

    For those who are specifically called to be judges in Israel at this time, then that is their calling within ‘Israel,’ which for the purposes of my comment please accept as the church. Those who do not accept the authority of the church, nor invite it, are outside of the perameters of that judgement during mortal life. God will do as He sees fit consequently, and I have no authority to judge Him or my brothers and sisters in the interim. Doing otherwise only creates contention and ultimately conflict as we can clearly see, so what is the point unless it is that which we seek?

    We need to allow others the right to practice their own religion or otherwise peaceably in order to not become part of the problem, and allow God to bring forth His own work. I have learnt by sad experience that I am in no position to judge even my own children, let alone those of others.

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