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It’s the Fantasy Mormon Hymnal!

What would a first-rate LDS hymnal look like for the early 21st century? What hymns would need to go, and what would be added?

LDS-HymnsI heard a rumor recently that the LDS hymnal is going to be updated with a revised edition.

Now, just to quell any Bloggernacle rumormongering (which, as this BCC post points out, has gotten insanely out of hand), please note that I haven’t been able to get any confirmation on this rumor and have started to doubt that it’s actually true.

But true or not, it got me thinking.

What would a first-rate LDS hymnal look like for the early 21st century?

What hymns would need to go, and what would be added? So I started making a fantasy list of possible deletions and additions.

So, for this first of two hymn-related posts, here are five that I would axe. Next week I’ll talk about additions—but feel free to chime in now with any suggestions about the hymns you love and hate.

  • “Praise to the Man” (27). If I could jettison just one song from our repertoire, by God it would be this one—and it’s a shame, because the tune is fabulous and the tempo brisk, unlike the more snail-like LDS hymns. But this theology is simply awful. How is it that Mormons can insist up and down and until Tuesday that we don’t worship the prophet and yet continue to sing this hymn? Here the recently deceased Joseph Smith is communing with Jehovah, mingling with gods, and making plans on our behalf from heaven . . . kind of like God makes plans for us from heaven. Even worse, the song is all about how we need to glorify Joseph Smith, not God: “Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.” I realize this hymn has already been made slightly less vengeful and bloody from a 1927 revision, but that’s not enough: the whole concept of this song is about worshiping a human being. Only God deserves our worship. End of story.
  • “If You Could Hie to Kolob” (284). Oh, this song. On the one hand, I appreciate the sweeping faith claims of statements like “There is no end to glory; there is no end to love.” On the other, we could really stand to get rid of statements like “There is no end to race.” I once sat near some African American visitors when we sang this hymn in sacrament meeting. I think their first WTH moment came with the opening line “If you could hie to Kolob” (uh, what’s that?) and was cemented by “There is no end to race.” They did not return.
  • “Keep the Commandments” (303). What this hymn has going for it is its simplicity, both musically and theologically. It’s so singable and memorable and short!. But the “keep the commandments/he will send blessings” equation just doesn’t work in the real world, and it’s wrong for us to promise it. Plenty of good people keep the commandments and still have difficult lives. Also, the song says that we should keep the commandments because “in this there is safety and peace.” Since when are safety and peace the primary concerns of the Savior who said he came not to bring peace, but a sword? I’m not talking about physical safety here, and I don’t think Jesus was either; he was trying to shake people out of their comfort zones ideologically. This hymn does exactly the opposite. It wants us to keep the commandments just so no one rocks the boat.
  • “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (60). While we’re on the subject of weapons and violence and whatnot, how about this one? Can we just agree that this hymn emerged from a particular time and place in U.S. military history and is not something we need to trot out on every patriotic American holiday—particularly as we are supposed to be a global church? And are we really 100% on board with this exacting, vengeful God, the one who stands ready to impale us with his “terrible, swift sword”?
  • “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today” (227). I hate to scrap another tuneful, fast-ish hymn—especially one written by a woman, since we don’t have nearly enough women hymnodists. But, people! This is one of those songs that may be totally appropriate for your personal devotions when you happen to embody the shiny/happy/rainbows-and-unicorns moods the song demands, and totally inappropriate to force other people to sing in church. You don’t know what they’re going through, or whether they’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, or are having a faith crisis, or a thousand other things. This song is like shaking someone by the shoulders and shouting, “YOU FEEL THE SPIRIT RIGHT NOW, DON’T YOU?!” Not pastoral.

How about you? What hymns would you like to make disappear? Which ones do you love?