Some Thoughts on 2013
The past year could be labeled many things in the expanding world of Mormonism: The year of Ordain Women, the year of marriage equality, or even the year of candid history. All of these things have something in common, however. It was, in my estimation, the year of social media.
It has become axiomatic to state that access to information on the internet has encouraged LDS Church leaders to deal with challenging issues. However, it may be less about the availability of information than the formation of ad hoc bands of like-minded people. The internet goes beyond information; it also creates a space where less traditional, even heterodox believers can come together in a spirit of community. And with the creation of community comes the creation of voices of power. Divergent beliefs are no longer isolated in distant wards, they are gathered in dozens of overlapping online groups. If one group, or even one member of one group, gets a whiff of exclusionary behavior on the part of overzealous Mormons, they only need alert the community, and the wheels turn.
• Meridian Magazine publishes a commentary on “liberal Mormons” that historically would have gone unchallenged and unnoticed. Today the publishers are flooded with waves of negative comments, and the article vanishes, replaced with an apology.
• A woman decides to wear pants to church. Historically she would have been eyed with suspicion, perhaps even derided. Today she is part of a broad swath of men and women who show solidarity; she might be the only one in her ward, but she knows she’s not the only one in her church. In the face of stunning anger (and even a handful of death threats) over the pants issue, the LDS Church issues a statement: pants are not prohibited.
• Members in Sweden discover uncomfortable truths about the LDS past, they reach out to others. The problem festers, and LDS leaders and historians are dispatched post haste to address the concerns as best they can. Word of the visit escapes. Others know they are not alone with their concerns. Articles begin to appear on the church’s website addressing the same issues that have plagued inquisitve Mormons for decades. Boundaries shift, orthodoxy realigns.
• A children’s book is published by a general authority’s wife, telling the story of boys and girls who join a “not even once” club, only after they sign an agreement to essentially be perfect. Historically, the book would have sold and little would have been said. Today, Amazon.com is overwhelmed with negative comments, as is the publisher, and Mormons online argue there is more to the gospel than an obsession with perfectionism.
For decades, Mormon dialogue was dominated largely by a handful of orthodox voices with a finite number of outlets: books, magazines, and traditional bookstores, or speeches and firesides. Those voices were usually echoed by members in wards; everyone knows the man in Sunday school who had read Mormon Doctrine more times than he could count. Not that everyone necessarily liked what they heard, but they usually refrained from speaking up. Now they have a way of doing so, of pushing back when they hear something they don’t feel is right or fair, and they have an infinite number of places to do it.
This is a positive development for the LDS Church. Despite the common refrain that those who leave the church “can’t leave it alone,” the truth is, the vast majority do just that. They leave and over time their Mormonism ebbs away. Increasingly, perhaps more will feel they have a place at the table. I am anxious to see what 2014 has in store for the church.
Other highlights that stand out in 2013:
What may have been the first prayer offered in General Conference by a woman.
A lengthy New Yorker profile of Elizabeth Smart.
The passing of Frances Monson, wife of Thomas Monson.
The LDS Church, the largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops, endorses a plan to allow gay youth into scouting.
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute makes changes, and relaunches the Mormon Studies Review with an impressive editorial board.
The announcement that the Council of Fifty minutes will be included in the Joseph Smith Papers project.
An increasingly strong pushback against modesty and purity culture that, while well-intentioned, is deemed toxic.
The passing of Eldred G. Smith, the last church patriarch.
New scripture editions with new introductions.
—John Hatch, acquisitions editor