- Gift of tongues: In the early days of the Mormon church, the Gift of Tongues meant exactly what it means in today’s modern Christian circles – people speaking gibberish during a religious service. Early church leaders were completely cool with this practice, until they weren’t.
Likely Reason for the Change? I would tend to blame it on the fact that the practice looks strange, and feels somewhat cult-like and creepy. Others suggest that Joseph Smith started to feel uncomfortable with people asserting their own spiritual gifts and power – which in turn began to threaten his authority.
Result? The entire practice has been erased from Mormonism, even though it remains in our Articles of Faith. To justify the change without actually changing the Articles of Faith, a new, revisionist interpretation has been advanced, claiming that this doctrine refers to Mormon missionaries learning languages quickly. That explanation feels cheap to me.
- Last Days/Millennium Emphasis: Joseph Smith believed/taught that Christ’s 2nd coming would likely occur during his lifetime. Subsequent Mormon prophets felt the same way, at least through Joseph Fielding Smith (early 1970s). We are named “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” for heaven’s sake. Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine had 18 pages dedicated to “Signs of the Times.” — I’m not sure if any other topic received that much coverage by Brother McConkie. When I was a Mormon boy, there was a massive, church-wide fascination with prophecies and predictions about the 2nd coming.
Likely Reason for the Change: Christ simply refuses to come. So….frustrating.
Result? Now it seems as though this central Mormon doctrine has been all but mothballed. As a church, we are turning to a for-profit model (through our commercial investments) because we know that we are “in it” for the long haul — that Jesus isn’t coming any time soon to deliver us. But regardless, we won’t admit to the change, or correct the doctrine. That would be…embarrassing.
- Zion: D&C 57:1-3 states very clearly that the Saints are to gather to Zion in preparation for the second coming. Again, from the LDS Articles of Faith, “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel…that Zion, the New Jerusalem, will be built upon this, the American continent.” (Zion meaning Independence, Missouri…because you know….Garden of Eden).
Likely Reason for the Change: We got bi$%#-slapped by Missourians.
Result? Scratch all that. No more literal Zion. Zion is wherever you now live.
- Lamanites: The Book of Mormon was explicitly written for Native Americans. From the BOM Title Page:
“Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.”
Early Mormon missionaries were sent out to proselytize directly to Native Americans…because that was the main point of the Book of Mormon. For over a century, Native Americans were synonymous with Lamanites (within Mormonism). BYU supported the “Lamanite Generation” (a BYU performance group comprised of Native Americans and Polynesians). Spencer W. Kimball preached and preached about the importance of supporting Native American development, championing the Indian Placement Program, etc. – so that the prophecy could be fulfilled that the Lamanites would “Blossom Like a Rose.”
Likely Reason for the Change: In modern times, DNA evidence has shown conclusively that most, if not all Native Americans descended from Asia…not Israel.
- The Mormon church conveniently changed the title page of the Book of Mormon from: “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians” to “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
- Most or all of the Lamanite programs supported by Spencer W. Kimball have vanished.
- BYU’s “Lamanite Generation” has been quietly, and conveniently renamed.
- Native Americans are mostly ignored by the modern Mormon church, with occasional exceptions.
- Man becoming God: Joseph Smith once taught, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” The entire LDS temple ceremony is built around this core teaching.
Likely Reason for the Change: Incessant pressure and mocking from Evangelical Christians — see The Godmakers.
Result? The church has distanced itself from this doctrine, to that point that when President Gordon B. Hinckley was asked about it, he responded, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it.”
- Polygamy: Read it. D&C 132. Part of the “New and Everlasting Covenant.”
Likely Reason for the Change: 19th century Mormons were bit$%-slapped by U.S. government.
Result? Now the modern Mormon church can’t separate itself fast and emphatically enough from polygamy (at least on Sundays, in the curriculum, and in the public eye). Is polygamy doctrinal or not? If the D in the D&C means anything, then the answer is yes.
- Law of Common Consent: All in favor? Some in favor? None in favor? Doesn’t matter.
Likely Reason for the Change: Consent is hard. Monarchy and dictatorships are much, much more efficient.
Result: Google “Sam Young common consent.”
- Prophecy: When was the last time Mormon prophets, seers, and revelators actually prophesied about anything meaningful? A flood? Famine? War? Think about it. Prophet is a pretty lofty title.
Likely Reason for the Change: We learned from Joseph Smith that it’s awkward when prophecies don’t actually come to pass. Even more awkward when you have the Internet to remind folks of the errors on a daily basis (http://cesletter.org).
Result: Prophets who do not prophesy.
- Seership: In 2017, we all know what Joseph meant by “Seer.” It meant that he could “see” things through a peep stone. Are our prophets “see”-ing anything these days? Do they use seer stones at all?
Likely Reason for the Change: Seriously?
Result: Seers who don’t see.
- Modern-day Revelation: Mormon missionaries and LDS CES instructors teach every day, all over the world, that a core, distinctive characteristic of Mormonism is that our top leaders are “prophets, seers, and revelators” – that we have an “open canon,” and that our prophets receive direct revelation from God. Joseph Smith received and published revelations like weeds. Emma shares an idea or concern, or Joseph feels some inconvenient romantic feelings for someone else….and bam! Time for a revelation.
Likely Reason for the Change: Modern-day “prophets” simply don’t have the cajones to add to what Joseph revealed – unless they are rolling back something by force (e.g., polygamy, blacks priesthood ban). Say what you will about Joseph….he had cajones to spare.
Result: A new LDS revelation has not been added to the D&C since….wait for it….1918. You heard it right. Next year will mark the 100 year anniversary of the LDS church NOT receiving or publishing a revelation from its multi-generational gaggle of “prophets, seers, and revelators.” In short, the result is prophets who don’t prophesy.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think that most of these changes are awesome. From what I know about it, speaking in tongues seems silly and superstitious. I think past Mormon policies around Native Americans bordered on cultural genocide. I loathe what I understand to be the practical consequences of polygamy. I LOVE living with the assumption that mankind will need to live on the earth for a long, long time….and thus we need to be thoughtful stewards of it. I think that the idea of men aspiring to become Gods is quite possibly the ultimate display of human narcissism. Most of us know (in our hearts) that modern-day Mormon prophets don’t really prophesy, reveal, or see much at all in modern times (for example, they actually OPPOSED the Civil Rights Movement, the ERA, and LGBT rights), and instead are reliably 30 years behind the educated, developed world on most matters of social import. And have you ever actually been to Independence, Missouri? Again, nuf said.
As far as I’m concerned, HOORAY for these changes!
So why am I bewildered?
These are not peripheral Mormon doctrines. These teachings have been CORE to Mormon Doctrine since the beginning. You might argue that Joseph Smith and early church members literally fought, starved, bled, and (in some cases) died for these teachings. Plus, these teachings are encoded into our Articles of Faith, canonized scripture, and sacred temple ceremony.
What led to the changes? Social pressure – in every case. At the end of the day, the Mormon God seems to cave to social pressure, if the pressure is significant enough.
And so I am bewildered by the fact that so many educated, thoughtful, modern-day Mormons haven’t really noticed, let alone contemplated the implications of these core changes to Mormon doctrine…and instead remain devoted (with money, time, and reputation) to a church/religion that clearly is not what it claims to be…but more importantly…is becoming less and less of what it once was with every passing generation.
P.S. Dear Readers: What core doctrinal changes have I missed? Please share in the comments below.