Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints entertain a belief that our leaders are human. We expect them to speak for a perfect God and to deliver a perfect doctrine yesterday, today and forever. We are perfectly fine with that. But we still claim to believe that our leaders are human. This only gets complicated when they do something human. Or when they don’t. Or when we’re not sure.
Since ancient times those who have led the Lord’s church have been stretched between the Lord’s high hopes for his children and the children’s lesser goals for themselves. The leaders have a generally fine record with this balancing act, but it has caused some curious adaptations. Consider some of the theological detritus: “curse of Cain,” the occasional extermination of several villages, polygamy, withholding “gentiles” from the fold; all the ‘weird’ things from the past.
Even a casual reading of the Scriptures shows that our un-changing God changes quite often. This should not greatly disturb those whose spiritual foundation is rock solid. The tectonic changes are too slow in most cases to be perceptible. But sometimes there is a tremor; and sometimes it is earth-shaking. Founded on our faith, we try to hang on.
There are two ways to fall off a rock: forward or backward. Either the Church has lost all credibility because of some change and we slide fundamentally off the back of the rock, or the Church has failed to change with the reality of the times, and we leap forward, liberating ourselves from that stodgy stumbling stone. It doesn’t matter which way one leaves–––the net result is the same.
A firm testimony of the divine direction of the Church sustains the member in the Church; it also helps the member sustain the leader in the Church. A weaker testimony causes fibrillation of faith. A member might reason: “God (or God’s appointed leader) has changed things in the past, so this-or-that issue may change today.” But this is a dangerous bit of reasoning. Whereas we are required to put our shoulder to the wheel and push along, those who anxiously forecast the divine vicissitudes are often the first to steady the ark against all those who have not yet heard the latest social buzz phrase, and are still “pushing along.” If we did not have social activists in the Church, then how would the Lord know what the issue-du-jour is?
I will refer to these collective (but, for now undefined) social doctrines as the Gospel New Age Theologies, or gnats, if you can swallow such a bad pun. They buzz about. They annoy. In large groups they can make an irritating noise. But pretending to strain at their issues is often just bad acting.
Some things have changed in this dispensation. When I was young (way back in the middle of the former century), there was a socially awkward practice of withholding the priesthood to those men of African heritage. But we were consistently consoled with a promise that the day would come when that restriction would be lifted. We knew that this was a practice that would change. Then in 1978 it changed and we were happy.
I have yet to hear any leader of the Church say that we can someday expect radical change to certain other issues-du-jour. No one has said that the Lord has promised to fill the Elders Quorum with our Sisters at some point in the future, so why are some members anxiously prognosticating? No one has prophesied that the restriction contra gay marriage/sealing in the temple will one day be lifted, so why do some members call out publicly to the Lord, trying to awaken him to this issue? We knew some things were going to change, but we have no reason to extrapolate any other type of change. And we have no authority to bug the Lord for any change we think appropriate for our modern age.
Some things change. Some things have changed back and forth. Some things have never changed. Some things probably never will. But then, who am I to know? After all, it’s not my Church. So I continue to sustain our perfect leader, and his imperfect emissaries.