Beliefs Columns Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

If I had the Mormon prophet’s ear

Cinco Paul

Mormonism is undergoing some changes right now, and yesterday we learned more about them: incoming president Russell M. Nelson addressed the Church and held a press conference, along with his two counselors. I’ll be writing more about that in the future, with some of my  thoughts.

But while we’re adjusting to three new leaders, how about three new changes? That’s what guest blogger Cinco Paul is proposing.

Some of you may remember that a couple of years ago I did an interview with Cinco, who along with his writing partner Ken Daurio has written the screenplays for some of our favorite animated movies, including Despicable Me (1, 2, and 3), The Secret Life of Pets, Horton Hears a Who, and others. His films have grossed more than four billion dollars worldwide.

He’s a Mormon who lives in Agoura Hills, California, with his wife Amy in a house that he says feels really empty now that their three kids have grown up.

So here are Cinco’s three wishes for how to make Mormonism even better for the twenty-first century. Let’s get some Minions on board to implement them! — JKR

P.S. Follow Cinco on Twitter at @cincopedia.

 

A guest post by Cinco Paul

It’s a new year, and I and other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a new prophet, as Russell M. Nelson just replaced Thomas S. Monson, who recently passed away.

This doesn’t mean much will change. I certainly don’t expect anything radical. But the Church is, slowly but surely, changing, as it has been since its inception. And mostly (if not exclusively) for the best.

I imagine I’m not alone in occasionally thinking of ways things in the Church could be improved. I know that culturally such thoughts are generally discouraged, and that there are even cautions in the scriptures against it (“steadying the ark,” etc.).

But then I’m reminded of all the changes that have occurred in the Church because somebody suggested there could be a better way. Emma Smith complaining about the tobacco juice. The anonymous saints (bless them!) who suggested better designs for temple garments. Or the thoughtful members who expressed concern at some of the violent imagery in the temple ceremony. Most change in the Church has occurred because someone, whether in authority or not, saw room for improvement and spoke out. And it’s in that spirit that I offer some small suggestions of my own.

1) Add a New Temple Recommend Interview Question.

The more I study the scriptures, the more I am impressed by the Lord’s emphasis on taking care of the poor and needy, a principle which remains unchanged throughout all the standard works, from the Old Testament to the Doctrine and Covenants (check out D&C 49:20 for a wake-up call!). In the parable of the sheep and the goats it’s presented as the primary factor in deciding what our eternal reward will be.

Yet it’s often way too easy to justify withholding our material goods from those in need (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the same lame justifications trotted out every time Mosiah 4 is taught).

The temple recommend interview questions have changed throughout the church’s history, and I would love it if there were a new question added: “Have you done all you can to care for the poor and needy?” Sure, that would be a tough question to answer, just like the one about being honest, but I feel like it would be a much better barometer of temple worthiness than whether or not we drink coffee, for example. And it would help remind us of the importance of this principle.

2) Stop Separating the Youth by Gender.

There are many ways we are separated by gender in the Church, but for me a nice step in the right direction would be keeping young men and young women together for weekly activities.

Every other church youth group that I know of has teens of both genders gather together. Separating our teens seems like a relic of a bygone era and perpetuates the idea that the opposite sex is “the other”; keeping them together would be better for all involved, promoting increased understanding and empathy (and socialization!).

And then maybe we can consider not separating the adults third hour either. I can’t think of a single high priests group lesson I’ve attended that wouldn’t have been improved by the presence of the sisters. The gospel should be about bringing people together, not keeping them apart.

3) Expand Our Music.

I love the music we sing in church, and like most other members have my favorite hymns (“I Stand All Amazed,” “Let Us All Press On,” “Love at Home,” just to name a few).

But the fact is our hymnal and notions of what music is “reverent” are antiquated and tied to 18th- and 19th-century Western European tradition. Both the church and the gospel are a lot bigger than that now (and in truth have always been). We have been conditioned throughout our lives to think that a certain type of music is “appropriate” for worship, and if we hear anything different we immediately feel it’s not conducive to the spirit. But that’s merely a cultural construct, and is not supported in any way by doctrine.

I know change is always hard (I’m reminded of all the Catholics who stopped attending church once mass was presented in English instead of Latin), but it’s time to welcome other types of music into the chapel, other instruments, other traditions. If we’re truly a worldwide church, shouldn’t we sound like one?

I’m not alone in these thoughts, right? Surely you readers out there have had similar feelings or ideas? If so, let them be heard. And maybe, just maybe, you can be an instrument of change for the Lord, like David Buerger, whose landmark 1987 article in Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought about decreased temple attendance led to the Church’s survey of members’ feelings about the temple in 1988, and the changes to the ceremony in 1990.

As the scriptures say: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

And maybe—just maybe—you’ll get some real gospel music in sacrament meeting.


Related post:

“Despicable Me” creator on Mormonism, Minions, and “the best calling in the church”


 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

37 Comments

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  • Folks are excited about the changes that three new members of the LDS 1st Presidency, but those aren’t the only new leaders coming, won’t there be at least one new Apostle? An opportunity to elect an adult male of color!

  • In examining the last 100 years of hymnals, I’m seeing big steps forward toward inclusiveness of hymns from newer sources and origins outside the Mormon church, but I agree that we can do more (and our choirs do more, for sure) to include great music from other ethnicities than the traditional European sources. We have also weeded out some terrible songs that found their way into those early books. The changes are gradual but they are happening. Sacrament meetings will remain the most conservative musical venue in the church, but we’re doing a lot better in other meetings to include other instruments and styles. Again, changes will come but maybe not as fast as you’d like.

  • One more thing to tell a LDS “Prophet”…When a bicycle riding missionaries get sent packing…have them note the address so future missionaries don’t return and piss-off people even more. This is a problem in my neighborhood, only a few miles from some kind of LDS missionary home base.

    One more thing…the fake “Pleasant and Nice Elder” act doesn’t work…people can see right through it !!

  • ADOPT MORE, GIVE BIRTH TO LESS BABIES?
    Just saw Nelson make a speech and give a press conference (from another article, Daily Herald, Jan 16th, after seeing his name in this one) and for 93 he looks really spry — still, at 93, if people are going to get his ear they better hurry. Many things he said about the church seemed positive like “We don’t believe in the infallibility of our leaders” and other other encouraging responses to a question about problems with leadership. I do have to admit that many Mormons are very pleasant in person, even though I’m an atheist, they often seem like extremely nice people, I just think they are wrong about their belief that a god exits and that faith is a reliable method to know what is true. Plus, seeing the size of his family (118) and the plethora of children that were present was disturbing. In a world where population is stressing the planet, it would be nice if religions would not breed so much and would systematically adopt instead, even though I realize breeding is an easier and more cost effective way to grow the business. These leaders traveled all throughout the world in places with so many orphans and Nelson was stressing helping the less fortunate. As an outsider it looks very bad that the church breeds so heavily instead of systematically adopting destitute children from all over the world (even though I don’t like the idea of forcing religion on children).

  • All vitiated by the following:

    Mormonism is a business/employment/investment cult using a taxing i.e.
    tithing “religion” as a front and charitable donations and volunteer
    work to advertise said business. And the accounting books
    are closed to all but the prophet/”profit” and his all-male
    hierarchy.

    Tis a great business model i.e. charge your Mormon employees/stock holders a
    fee/tithe and invest it in ranches, insurance companies, canneries, gaudy
    temples, a great choir and mission-matured BYU football and basketball teams.

    And all going back to one of the great cons of all times i.e. the Moroni
    revelations to Joseph Smith analogous to mythical Gabriel’s revelations to the
    hallucinating Mohammed !!!

  • For someone whose handle is “Rational Conclusions” it’s surprising to see that you seldom (never?) actually use any kind of rational methods in your reasoning.

    If the Church were principally motivated by “profit”, wouldn’t you see actual people profiting from it? To say that the Church has assets is both obvious and unhelpful to your conclusion. President Nelson, for example, could have continued a successful medical practice and retired on a lake somewhere if not for Church service. Likewise for almost all general authorities.

    More importantly, what’s your motive in spamming the Internet with your repetitive comments that are often apropos of nothing?

  • All great ideas. I think you’re actually starting to see changes with respect to number 2. I disagree inasmuch as I think there is value in gender-segregated activities since mixed-gender activities often present complications for adolescents, but there should be a mix of both kinds of activities. With the Church dropping BSA for older boys, the new program (undoubtedly to be soon replaced with a more comprehensive program) encourages more mixed-gender activities.

  • I like the suggestions. Caring for the poor and needy is a great one. I have to say, the church as an institution needs to set a better example for members in this area. Many church’s have great and lively music that would transform our stale meetings into something more lively. That would be awesome to see.I agree with the separation of boys and girls. It should be stopped. It is just another example of uninspired leadership decisions that members have had to live with.

  • I live in Pennsylvania and it is required by law here. It does add an administrative burden as well as additional cost, but I think it is worth it.

  • There are some presidents of the seventy or members of the seventy that could be selected who are from South America, Asia or Africa. In many of those parts of the world (in Africa and Asia especially) the church is still relatively new and membership is not as strong as it is in North America. That said, as the leadership in those places improves and the church grows, I expect to see more high level leadership, including apostles, from those parts of the world.

    On that note, I live in the Midwest and we recently had a stake conference in which Elder Edward Dube from the seventy presided. Elder Dube is originally from Zimbabwe. It was interesting to see the leadership of the stake give him deference and the congregation listen to his words without regard to the color of his skin. I quite enjoyed it.

  • The biggest hole in your argument is the fact that while the church itself may have vast resources, the individual leaders do not and while those engaged in full-time service (e.g apostles, seventies, etc.) are given a modest stipend to live off of, they are certainly not getting rich and in most cases leave lucrative and successful careers for the privilege of working for the church until they die.

    Don’t believe me. Please check out the book by D. Michael Quinn (an excommunicated member of church mind you) titled “The Mormon Hierearchy: Wealth and Corporate Power” in which he discusses the finances of the LDS church and shows that while the church takes in vast amounts in tithing and business interests, it also has vast liabilities (mainly in the form of the thousands of buildings that it maintains across the world) and spends large sums on humanitarian relief.

  • I agree. I too see value in gender segregated activities. I do wish, however, that the combined activities were better planned and executed and perhaps more frequent. That is really more of a local issue than a church-wide one, however.

  • While I understand the “poor and needy” question, I don’t agree that it is on a par with the honesty question. I would imagine that most people sitting down for a temple recommend interview would already consider themselves as honest, even though that is for the most part a subjective analysis. Asking if one has done ALL they can for the poor and needy represents a default answer of “no” as if they are being honest they would have to admit they could have done more, with few exceptions.

    As far as the hymnal goes, I’d be happy to have a third of the current one removed as we rarely sing those hymns. Back in the day when we had singing practice in Sunday School opening exercises there was time to go over some of the lesser known hymns. Now, people just mumble through them as they might only sing them once every 5 years.

    The youth get plenty of interaction with the opposite sex in school and I’m glad there is a church program that allows teenagers to have time with their own gender. Dump the scouting program and replace it with a program that is more relevant to our current times.

  • Bottom line: Mormonism is a con pulled by one of the all-time con artists no matter how you want to rationalize the large real estate holdings.

  • That’s a nice thought. However, I wonder if you know that the LDS Church people adopt plenty. They even have a LDS adoption as part of the LDS Family Program.

  • MORE AND PLENTY? GOOD AND PLENTY?
    We might disagree on the definition and extent of what “plenty” means or could mean. Even if plenty is true in some definition, “adopt more” may still be applicable. At least in Nelson’s family, the leader of the church, “adopt plenty” did not seem to be the case there. Though, from the video I witnessed, it did come off that LDS Church may be open to making changes, so that may give me some solace, if true (but as an outsider, I don’t know either way).

  • To bring the reality of the con of Joseph Smith to the pew sitters of Mormon just like pointing out the cons of Paul, Matthew, Luke and John to the pew sitters of Christianity and all the other religion-based cons of religion. Once again for those not up-to-date:

    Putting the rational kibosh on all religion in less than ten
    seconds: Priceless !!!

    As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    Fat Buddhas here, skinny, Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups
    calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • I like the first two, the third not so much. While Sounds of the Spirit is my go-to radio station in my car and I have over a hundred songs my modern Christian artists on my mp3 player, with a few exceptions those songs aren’t really appropriate for church meetings.

  • Administrative. Not doctrinal. This person’s involvement with the gospel is superficial though I’m sure zhe thinks it is much more profound.

  • Only because you suffer from the 3B Syndrome, Bred , Born and Brainwashed in the con of Mormonism.

  • I’m not sure you’re one to make comments about cognitive ability given the poor grammar and incomplete thought processes exhibited by your comments.

  • Poor grammar and incomplete thinking? Not even close. Believing in the Joe Smith con, now that is irrational and very disturbing in the 21st century.

  • A new temple recommend question IS NOT needed regarding the “poor and needy.” To have the TR,
    all person must be full tithe and fast offering payers. Fast offerings are to help the poor and needy, as
    our Bishops see fit, as directed by the Lord.

  • Clap in the chap? I’m in! Only get to on 1st Sundays with Genesis Group so I go to more charismatic congregations & worship with them also. Revere is in reverent so my 1099 is ‘with uplifted hands to the Most High’ (Doctrine & Covenants 109:9). And Amen on God caring more for Their kids than coffee!

  • I’m fine weeding out “Then when we have proven worthy of Thy sacrifice divine” in Hymn 172 or accurizing ‘worthy’ with ‘wanting’ since I’m worThy Long-suffering Love & Beautiful Blood no matter what!

  • #1 is a great suggestion, I am not down with #2 or #3. Church is already too entertainment based as it is

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