I have a good friend who is a Bible Studies scholar and an active, believing, faithful Latter-day Saint. He served an LDS mission, married in the temple, has a calling in his ward, served as an institute instructor, and currently has a child on a mission. He’s happy in the LDS church and believes it is God’s true, restored church on the earth.
Recently, he’s come under attack from at least one Mormon apologist because my friend subscribes to the “Documentary Hypothesis,” which proposes that the five books of Moses in the Bible are a combination of two independent narratives along with other later redactions. According to my friend’s accuser, taking a non-traditional approach to the scriptures disqualifies one from belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, the accuser has suggested that my friend leave the church and find another more compatible with his beliefs about scripture.
Whether or not the Documentary Hypothesis is compatible with belief in Mormonism is, in my mind, irrelevant because my friend considers them so. What interests me is the attitude, which I’ve seen increasingly, among some people who feel they have the right to decide who does or does not belong in the LDS church. This attitude crops up usually around a person’s favorite axes to grind. For example, I know one guy who would, if he could, excommunicate all liberal Democrats because he believes “the gospel is conservatism.”
Fortunately, the church seems to be run by people who are not interested in such trivial gospel hobbies but are more concerned about members’ testimonies and commitment. President Dieter Uchtdorf recently remarked that there is plenty of room for people in the church who may not believe exactly the way others do. And people who want to drive them out should “stop it.”
I told my conservative acquaintance that, if he had his way, the church would be smaller and less of a force in the world. He said he would prefer to sift the bad (liberal) elements out because it would “revitalize” the church. I think it would just make for a tiny “niche” church. To my surprise, he was fine with that. He said, “We already are a niche church.”
But I think he’s wrong. What gives the church vitality is its diversity of culture and opinion. Working together, people who otherwise might occupy different ideological spaces build something worthwhile. Organizations focused on ideological “purity” tend to stagnate and eventually wither away.
The LDS church needs people like my friend, good, honest people who are committed and unafraid to follow what they believe.