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”


 

This story is available for republication.

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.

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