Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Mormon recessional

Empty interior of the abandoned Kirtland Temple

A recessional is a closing hymn, marking the end of a church service. It is also the title of Rudyard Kipling's inspired poem of 1897, which -- although it is about the British Empire, written at its height and prescient of its end -- has long been part of the Mormon hymnal, under the title "God of Our Fathers, Known of Old."

In a post with the very appropriate title "The Singing Has Ended," John Mansfield of the Junior Ganymede writes:

What would a dwindling, a withdrawal of priesthood from the world and the church look like that is different from the ministry of Russell Nelson as president of the church? A sad, inglorious task to be given, but in sad, inglorious times some obedient son oversees the withdrawal of gifts.

Predictably, there is some obligatory looking-on-the-bright-side in the comments. One Michael Towns writes:

Of course, I recognize that we live in dark times. I acknowledge that. But I can’t agree with the idea that priesthood is being withdrawn from the world . . . . How many temples are being constructed right now? Seems to me the priesthood is advancing, not dwindling.

Mansfield, though, remains clear-eyed.

If, in a coming decade, it should be decided that since women perform many great roles (wife, mother, missionary, temple worker) without holding priesthood office, there is really no reason for most men to be ordained priests or elders, people will wonder then why I should care, and think my feelings of loss are nothing more than sentimental attachment to old-timey window dressing and scaffolding. I’m getting pretty used to that response.

The church age has ended. Institutional Christianity has done its work. The future, for the followers of Jesus, lies in a different direction. Is every church doomed to the grotesque cancer of full-scale convergence and apostasy, or will a select few be permitted to withdraw from the world stage with something resembling dignity? Have I been too flippant with my "Satan popping on the apricot tree" tag? Is Russell M. Nelson, for all his faults, fundamentally an "obedient son overseeing the withdrawal of gifts"?

How consciously and intentionally I cannot know, but President Nelson does seem to be paving the way for a post-church Mormonism. "Home church" was being promoted even before the birdemic. Where in the past members were cautioned not to go beyond the official (carefully edited) church study manuals, now the unabridged Joseph Smith papers are available for free online, courtesy of that same church. Perhaps most significantly, Nelson's "rectification of names" campaign has released the word Mormon into the public domain. Like Christian, it is no longer the exclusive property of any institution. I can now freely say, "I am a Mormon," with no need to clarify that I am not affiliated with President Nelson's organization.

One thinks of the prophet Jeremiah, preaching that Babylon would win, that Jerusalem would fall, that the Lord would not save his people, and that they should not resist. When the Babylonians took charge, they treated Jeremiah very well, and it must have seemed to many Israelites that he had been a fifth-columnist all along -- but he was a prophet of God. Where President Nelson falls on the continuum from Jeremiah to Nebuchadnezzar is not for me to know, but in their different ways both Jeremiah and Nebuchadnezzar were instruments in the hand of God.

I grew up in Joseph Smith's old stomping grounds -- "Thompson, Ohio, home of Doctrine and Covenants Section 51," I used to say when Utahns asked where I was from. Today I was moved to reread the revelation that was my little town's claim to fame.

And thus I grant unto this people a privilege of organizing themselves according to my laws. And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence; . . . And whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life (D&C 51:15, 16, 19).

Look again at that picture of the Kirtland Temple, and think of when Joseph Smith himself used to stand at that pulpit while the congregation sang, "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning." Now it is a mere tourist attraction, owned by a completely converged once-Mormon organization that calls itself the Community of Christ, ordains women and performs same-sex "marriages," and operates out of a deliberately ugly "temple" that looks like a soft-serve ice-cream cone.

Kirtland was my backyard. Many a time have I walked those once-hallowed halls. Sometimes, when the mood is right, the ghosts of its glorious past make themselves manifest. One can see the Prophet and the cloven tongues of fire, feel the rushing mighty wind, hear the resounding chorus, "We'll sing and we'll shout with the armies of heaven, Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb!"

But they are only ghosts. The singing has ended. Zion is fled.


Bruce Charlton said...

This discussion hits home with me (as much as an outsider can be hit); the CJCLDS is currently recapitulating the trajectory away from Christianity already trodden by most of the organised Christian churches - and with formally the same discussions and reactions (the content differs, but the rational structure is the same).

And this is a terribly sad thing, because much that was good is being lost.

One thing I have noticed is that each step towards convergence is treated in an absolutely isolated fashion - a line is drawn around it, and then it always turns out that - taken in such complete isolation - the thing being changed is never *really* essential, and need not make any significant difference.

This is, for instance, what happened with every small incremental step of the sexual revolution - starting with decriminalization of adultery and fornication, and easier divorce - and a few generations later arriving-at (but Not ending-with) the state-imposed mutilation and hormonal brain-damaging of children.

What is necessary is discernment of the motivation behind the trend of such changes. I'm not in any serious doubt that the motivation is convergence with mainstream secular leftism - not least because a large organization so integrated-with the modern world as the CJCLDS (by multiple bureaucratic and legal ties, and via the employment conditions of many of its members).

The choice for any significant institution (including any church) is convergence/ assimilation - or death.

The difference is whether this process is honestly acknowledged, or dishonestly denied - and the reason why churches (including the CJCLDS) are now leading millions away from Christianity is their dishonesty - which includes many individual Christian's habitual-denied dishonesty With Themselves, as well as the systemic dishonesty of the actual institution.

G. said...

"Bright were the halls then . . ."

Michael W. Towns, Sr. said...

"Forced enthusiasm"?

Nowhere did I indulge in that, nor did I engage in the histrionics of "CJCLDS is still the Fastest Growing Religion and that The State of the Union Is Strong."

Your reading of my comments was extremely superficial.

Otto said...

You glossed over an important point: Why does that pulpit bear the initials "P.E.P.E."? M(eme) M(agic)?

Jorgen said...

Thanks G for that reference to an Anglo-Saxon poem, which has renewed my interest in such poetry.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...


Yes, that was an uncharitable exaggeration. Corrected.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...


It’s a reference to the ancient Mormon formula “Point emerging, probably entering.” This was the motto of the Knowledgeable Elders of Kirkland, or K.E.K.

(Seriously, it’s the two Presiding Elders of the Melchizedek order, or something like that.)

Mr. Andrew said...

When I converted to Christianity, I decided to become a Traditional Catholic. When I tried to convert, the first diocesan Priest I talked to pushed me away: "why do you want to join?" - a couple years later he laicized.

His attitude was on point though. Catholics have completely given up so many of their gifts. They threw away their unique Mass (smells & bells) and the hierarchy actively fights it, they threw away all missionary work (though a few individual lay members still engage), they threw away culture: most Holy Days gone/moved, fasting rules basically removed, processions gone, etc.

Where it hasn't become completely converted of the world and become a simple Social Services organization (the Pope, et al), it's basically withdrawn from the world (small groups of Traditional Catholics who mostly recruit from lapsed from Ordinary).

As you said, the institutional Church everywhere seems done.

Did Covid kill the CJLDS missionairy work?

Juneteenth National Independence Day

I know, I know, I should just pass over this one in silence -- but I'm an English teacher, dammit, and I just can't not  say somethi...