I’m a writer, which means I spend a lot of time living in a world that doesn’t exist, sometimes a world that can’t exist, sometimes a world that can’t yet exist. Today I’m going to spend some time imagining the Mormonism of 100 years from now. I’m going to do that in part by looking back at the Mormonism of 100 years ago, of 1919. This was a Mormonism that was just starting to emerge from the stigma of polygamy. The 1890 Manifesto hadn’t really killed off polygamy, but the 1905 manifesto had done a better job. Nonetheless, it would linger in the highest levels of the church for another generation, and into the 1970s, when I was born, it would still be something that would be talked about returning in the future.
I suspect that the Mormonism of 2119 will no longer even talk about polygamy with anything like awe or even respect. I think one of the reasons for this is that when I look at Millennial Mormons and Generation Z, the two generations my children are split between, they have no spark of attachment to polygamy. Many of them grew up in a time when the church stopped talking openly about polygamy. I was still given lessons in seminary about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and about how terrible Emma Smith was that she wouldn’t accept this as God’s will, and that she wouldn’t follow Brigham Young across the plains, but pridefully insisted that her sons would lead the church (a prophecy that Joseph gave her to comfort her in all her trials and his).
Despite the fact that Dallin H. Oaks claims the church never offers apologies, I think the church will offer apologies to people of African descent who were denied temple sealings and positions of authority for so long, and who were told that there were doctrinal reasons for this because they were being blamed for choices they made in the pre-earth life. I think we’ll all just get more used to saying that the prophets were wrong when they said these things, just as they are currently wrong about LGBT people.
I think in one hundred years we’ll have temple weddings and sealings for gay couples, for trans people, for non-binary folx and that no one will blink an eye. I think we’ll all get used to using different pronouns and that we’ll even talk openly about spiritual experiences in the temple with ancestors who weren’t allowed to be sealed in previous generations because of old church policies that were obviously not of God.
I think that we’ll be long past the ridiculous current policies that allow local church wards to call members to positions of authority with the youth without doing basic background checks. I think we’ll stop having solo bishop interviews.
I also hope that the church will begin to be more transparent with financial disclosures, though this may only come about because US tax laws will change, demanding that if the church wants to maintain its tax-exempt status that it change this practice. I’m not sure what other things will change, but it may be that the church will no longer be allowed to be so heavily invested in for-profit enterprises.
I think that women will hold the priesthood and will be bishops, stake presidents, and even, eventually apostles, though I suspect it may take more like two hundred years before we see a woman who is sustained as a prophet. These things take time.
I think The Book of Mormon, and The Pearl of Great Price will be seen as the revelations that they are, not as translations of ancient documents. There is no need to claim that there were gold plates or an angel Moroni who delivered them. I think the Mormon church will do a lot more work in making sure people know the history of Joseph Smith’s treasure seeking, and that Mormons in general will spend less time hero-worshipping Joseph Smith or any of the other prophets, modern or historical. We will think of them as men who offer their best words of wisdom and allow us to choose for ourselves what is best for us to follow. I hope that we return to an emphasis on personal revelation, on the idea that even a child can ask God a question and receive a vision. I hope that we spend more time seeing God in everyone around us, and also in pointing out evil in everyone around us.
I think The Book of Mormon will maintain a place of honor in our church, but that it will lose ground to the Bible. I also think that The Book of Mormon will be “re-translated” so that all talk of skin color will be taken out. What the book will look like then, I don’t know. I hope that the church will find a way to make The Book of Mormon a text about people speaking from the margins, that we will take seriously the call to listen better to Native peoples, and to root out our own history of white supremacy.
I suspect the John Dehlins and Jeremy Runnels will be the new object lessons of the future church, the Thomas Marshes who are talked about in terms of what they couldn’t bear. They wanted the church to be one thing and it wasn’t, and they couldn’t see any good in it if it wasn’t “what it claimed to be.” But Mormons in one hundred years will congratulate themselves on not needing to see things in such binary ways, and in not needing religion to be a literal lens to view the world, but rather as a way to get at deeper, mythic truths.
All of this depends on the current trajectory of the church moving forward and not backward, and there not being a nuclear war or a third World War, though sometimes I fear a return of fascism worldwide as nationalistic governments rise.
What will Mormonism even be, if it continues in this direction? We are already moving toward trying to get more acceptance by other Christian churches, as seen by the recent meeting between the apostles and the pope, as well as Elder Holland’s attempts at “ecumenism.” Will we in a hundred years finally be accepted as Christians? I suspect that we will, by and large, though that will only come when we give up certain uniquely Mormon doctrines including:
1. The possibility of becoming gods (already on the way out)
2. The idea of Kolob and of there being other universes and other gods (what other Christians see as polytheism)
3. Our insistence on dividing Christ and God the Father, though we already call Christ the God and Creator of this world.
4. Rejection of Lucifer and other demons as once children of God and therefore siblings to Christ.
I also hope that at some point, we will give up the King James Version of the Bible and adopt other translations that make more sense to the modern ear and understanding. Maybe we’ll even stop talking about “The Old Testament” and “The New Testament” and instead use real historical scholarship on what The Bible is — and what it isn’t.
These aren’t just wishes of mine. They are a compilation of what people who are leaving Mormonism are already asking for/demanding. I think that’s always where you go to look at what the future holds. Look at the fringes. It holds up when you go back one hundred years and look at the fringes that have now become either accepted or conservative policies.