Niche Mormonism

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.


13 Responses to Niche Mormonism

  1. JeffC says:

    On the one hand there is nothing wrong with Mormonism (or any Church for that matter) being niche – after all, Christianity was pretty niche during Christ’s ministry.

    But on the other hand, I (as a life-long active member of the Church, returned missionary, and all the rest) can’t for the life of me see how accepting the Documentary Hypothesis, or not, has any relationship to membership of the Church. The attitude of the “accuser” just sounds bizarre to me! 🙂

    • runtu says:

      I think it’s bizarre, too. I’m pretty sure the church will always be a niche church, but members are supposed to invite people to come unto Christ and His church. They’re not supposed to be pushing people out the door.

  2. ff42 says:

    Perhaps I cynical but I interpret Uchtdorf’s remark as “As long as you are paying tithing…”. I don’t see the leadership taking a stance that will minimize the tithing stream – they might be forced to make a decision (gay marriage?, ordain women) that reduces tithing (either way), but I bet they have run the numbers to find the least impact on their mammon.

  3. skepticalalways says:

    You said: “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. ”

    I would have said: “The church seems to be run by people who are not interested in such trivial gospel hobbies but are more concerned about members’ payment of tithing and remaining quit about troublesome aspects of church history and theology.”

  4. Zachtacular1 says:

    Thanks for your thoughts 🙂 I am a member and it is unfortunate how that does occur in the church. I really enjoyed your thoughts and I agree we need people like your friend in it. I strive to be open to other ideas and to hear people out even if their opinions are different than my own. We all have much to work on and no one is perfect. It’s sad when people can “define” who deserves to be a member and who doesn’t. I believe God accepts everyone and that he wants us to have our own opinion.

  5. Mike Clark says:

    The idea that someone should leave the church because they consider the Documentary Hypothesis to be a possibility, or even believe in it? Utter hogwash. If he didn’t believe Jesus Christ to be the Savior of Mankind and the source through which our salvation comes, then he should reconsider his membership. The man’s friend sounds like he needs to found his own branch of Mormonism, just so he can exclude everyone he thinks doesn’t hue to his line.

  6. robinobishop says:

    I think this might be compelling if the blanks can be filled in about who the friend is, who the accuser is, who the other one guy is, and the conservative acquaintance is, as well as where and when, over what time frame this occurred and how you became an inside thermostat for this stuff. That lacking I agree with your personal take on this stuff.

    • runtu says:

      I’m no inside thermostat, as all of this happened in public. My friend has deleted his blog because he has no stomach for continued hostility, so I have decided not to name names so as not to fan the flames. I’m sure you could find all the details with a quick trip to Google.

  7. robinobishop says:

    We are a niche church: just not in the way you remark. Every region is defined by its surrounding membership circumstances. The niche membership can be highly customized, aiming to thrive among the competition from other more generic denominational churches in the area. While living in the heavily Philippine culture on the Big Island of Hawaii, accommodations were made for local traditions in offering Priesthood blessings for deceased members not yet buried. Such blessings have strong significance to the Philippine culture. As HPGL I was originally appalled by the practice performed by our Philippine descended Bishop, but kept my tongue,… asked around to find it was approved to provide comfort locally.

    I will never forget a visit to Colorado by Packer who provided an apostolic blessing to the members of out stake a week after losing our Stake President to an accident on the Colorado River with the YM.

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