Mormonism in the 21st Century

I’ve been on a wild ride, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally over the past ten years. My relationship to organized religion has gone from dedication, to disgust, to rediscovery.  I see the church in very different light now.  What does it mean to me to be a “mormon” in the 21st century? First and foremost – it’s about having an personal relationship with The Divine (call it what you want, it’s personal, after all).  It recognizes that we are all in this together, here on spaceship planet earth, and that our actions affect one another. It is a spiritual sensibility that pays attention to WHY you do things, rather than WHAT you do.  Here’s my attempt to paint a picture of what Mormonism could look like in the 21st century:

  • Rather than stressing the scheduled saying of prayers, we emphasize the real creative power that comes from spending a few moments getting into a state of deep gratitude for what you do have. We teach people that gratitude is the first step in becoming one with the mind of God, which is the first step of creating something truly awesome.
  • Rather than preaching the “law of chastity”, we teach people facts about sex. We teach respect for other people’s bodies, minds, and hearts. We teach people to respect their own, too. We teach people to make sexual choices that lead to the betterment of both people.
  • Rather than drawing hard lines in the sand about what behavior is “good” or “bad”, we teach people to be guided by their conscience. We teach people that being honest with one’s self, and then honest with other people, is  how to make one’s inner voice easier to hear.
  • Rather than focusing on the idea that our own little family is going to be “eternal”, we take seriously the idea that we are all children of God – and that we are all brothers and sisters, and that we are all quite literally family, and are all in this together.  We let this world family view inform our politics and the way we vote with our dollars.
  • Rather than attempting to legislate morality, we take seriously the idea that the entire purpose of Earth life is to have agency, and to be free to exercise it. Making choices and then learning from them is one of the most sacred human rights.
  • Rather than shunning coffee, alcohol and tobacco – teach people how to eat cleanly and sustainably. Teach them how to use the earth’s foods and herbs for medicine. “Let thy food be thy medicine”. Rather than focusing on abstaining from substances, we teach people to avoid becoming addicted. To anything.
  • We keep teaching people the principles of self-reliance and emergency preparedness. 
  • Rather than shunning and shaming pornography – we teach people how to be fully present to the magnificent human that is in front of them, rather than on some computer screen.  We teach people to respect one another as vulnerable beings. We teach people about the sacred connections that sexuality can provide, and we do our best to prepare people to experience the divine through sacred sexuality.
  • Rather than banning R-rated movies, we cultivate a taste for true excellence in film and media. We teach our kids how to be appreciators of great cinema. We teach our families respect for human life, instead of allowing the world to teach them to be entertained by the mindless slaughter of life and other displays of gross disrespect on the screen.
  • Rather than focusing on home teaching / visiting teaching numbers, we teach the importance of community and help everyone see the importance of human connections, especially in those that may not get much of it.
  • Rather than creating guilt over “sin”, we constantly remind ourselves that we are gods in training. We teach the principle that our purpose on life is to accumulate and develop our creative powers, to become more like our Supreme Creator. We inspire people to let go of anything that keeps us from growing in that direction.
  • Rather than focusing on the historicity of ancient texts and stories, we focus on the meaning of the story and then spend most of our time applying the moral of the story to our own lives. We recognize that real spiritual information comes from contemplating the symbols of scripture, rather than knowing all of the “facts” about it.
  • We take seriously the idea of personal revelation. It is personal. Not meant to apply to everyone else. Quietly go your way and grant everyone else the same space.
  • Rather than focusing on Jesus dying for our sins, we focus on Jesus’s life and how his teachings help us to get along better with one another.
  • Rather than looking to church leaders as an intermediary between a person and God, we take seriously the message of Joseph Smith’s vision in the woods: God can, and will, engage in a one on one relationship with seekers of truth. No middle man required. The only role of a religious leader is to play an informal adviser role to anyone that may have questions as they strive to purify their one on one connection with The Divine.
  • Rather than sending out missionaries to convert people, we send them out to serve people. Our missionary force can, and should, be the largest, best organized volunteer corps in the world. The value of a young person spending two years concerned ONLY with doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, cannot be overestimated. This is the ultimate vision-quest, a purifying rite of passage.
  • We regard and respect the leaders of the church because they have a hard job to do, not because they are perfect men. We respect any human who has a hard job and does it well. We do not expect perfection from the leaders of the church, at any level.
  • Rather than guilt people into paying tithing, we teach that it is a mindset of prosperity – that if you truly believe you’ve got enough to give 10% away, you are now in the right mindset to manifest even more into your life. Gratitude and feelings of abundance are the foundation to growing more.
  • Rather than stressing over defining what a “family” should look like, we recognize the power of family, and help support people in the creation of their families, however they may choose to do so. Every human tragedy had its roots in a home. We take seriously the opportunity to save the world, one loving home at a time.
  • Rather than congratulating ourselves for having “the gift of the holy ghost”, we take seriously the idea that every person is born with an innate ability to tell truth from error and to receive guidance from The Divine. We teach people the principles of thought and behavior that tend strengthen the individual’s relationship with their own intuition.
  • Rather than spending money on Temples, we divert those funds into projects feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick.
  • Rather than reserving “priesthood” for males of a certain age, we teach that all humans come pre-wired with the ability to create, to manifest, to heal, and that the only purpose of these abilities, is to serve one another. All are encouraged to serve.
  • We continue allowing imperfect people to serve in positions of leadership and teaching. Church is not a finished product; it is a school, spiritual hospital, and a community center. This is why you have personal revelation.
  • We continue owning and running institutions of higher education, but we change their focus. Rather than putting funds into programs such as sports and law, our schools conduct research on things that will bless the whole human family, such as renewable energy technology and cancer research. Brigham Young once said, “The glory of God is intelligence”, and we take that very seriously. There is no reason that BYU cannot become the preeminent technology institution in America.
  • We keep calling each other “brother” and “sister”, because it is true. We don’t force it as a cultural norm, but rather, the expression is used by those who truly feel it. Otherwise, first names suffice.
  • Rather than teaching that “worthiness” is something you earn, we teach people of their inherent perfection in the eyes of God. We create media, tools, and experiences that help people to realize that as a creation of God, they are perfectly imperfect. We teach people to embrace their struggles and to learn as much as possible from them. We teach people to have joy in the learning process. Shame has no place in our conversations. When a person takes seriously the idea that they are an aspect of God, love for one’s self and one’s neighbor is the natural result.

***** Addendum  5 May 2016 *****

Since I posed this a few days ago, I’ve received two categories of responses:

“I’ve felt this way all along, thank you”.

Joseph Smith once said “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

I’m suggesting that we do exactly that.

Mormonism was meant to be a grass roots practice. Stop putting other people in charge of your spirituality. Just BE these things and let the chips fall where they may.


Much love –

Paul Duane

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  1. I think rather then being a “liberal” Mormon you can grow more without the chains of Mormonism. None of these ideas are progressive. These ideas maybe progressive “within” the Mormon church, but healthier outlooks of life exists when outside of Mormonism.

  2. “Mormonism was meant to be a grass roots practice. Stop putting other people in charge of your spirituality.”

    Hasn’t it been a paradox from the beginning? Yes, there is the concept of the heavens being open to even an unschooled fourteen year-old boy, but that same boy grown up administered exacting ordinances, excommunicated freely, pressured women into “marriages,” and gave instructions not to be disobeyed.

    There will have to be significant changes in how we see prophets and their authority before people take more responsibility for their own spirituality.

  3. It is a far shorter path to build all you advocate on our own–fully outside of Mormonism–than within it.

    1. Of course. I think you may have missed the point, though. There is no need to build anything new. Just be these things within the constructs of your life as it is, today. 🙂

  4. Paul. I am saving this among the best written of and in behalf of those of us who want to stay in the church and, hopefully, change it from the inside. You’ve summed up a lot of what I’ve learned since I turned on my critical thinking mind about seven years ago. Wonderful job.

  5. This article is too clever by half. You bold those propositions that are *entirely* uncontroversial and so general as to say nothing much at all, while burying quite radical ideas in non-bold, dependent clauses.

    The most pernicious example, though certainly not the only: “Rather than focusing on Jesus dying for our sins, *we focus on Jesus’s life and how his teachings help us to get along* better with one another.”

    The *bolded* part is impossible to disagree with and has irrefutably been a point of constant emphasis in 19th, 20th, and 21st century Mormonism.

    The unbolded part … is heresy. What is left of Christianity when the death of the Incarnate Son of God is not worthy of focus? Christ as moral philosopher is fine, but if that’s all He is, the sinner in me stands little hope of rescue and reform.
    And if he’s more than that, dear God I hope we focus on what He really is.

    1. Hi Brad! I really like your critique. Mormonism has made a half-hearted attempt in this direction by not focusing on the death of Christ, but rather, the Resurrection. I’m suggesting that Christianity can – and probably would – be more relevant if it stopped worrying about the metaphysics of his suffering, and focused on his teachings. I’ll even go so far as to suggest that doctrines about his suffering and death overshadow actually matters – the things he TAUGHT and the example of his LIFE.

  6. This is perfect. Thank you. I wish this could be a reality for the church, but I don’t believe it will ever change.

    1. I’m glad this resonated with you. Don’t worry about “the church”… it is, after all, composed of individuals like you and me. As the individuals change, so to will the church.

  7. The softer gentler tithing thing has not made it to the UK, we still get at least 1 sunday per month of you must pay tithing, its a commandment, see Malachi, we are still taught pay tithing before anything else even if it leaves you short on other things like food, rent etc

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