|Empty interior of the abandoned Kirtland Temple|
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.
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 But I can’t agree with the idea that priesthood is being withdrawn from the world .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.