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By 2020, Mormons will see clapping, brass instruments and some guitar music during worship services, an African apostle speaking at General Conference, female leaders counseling top LDS authorities on major decisions, humanitarian service as the centerpiece of missionary work, and weddings happening largely outside of the faith's temples.
These are some of the bold predictions Mormon scholar and writer Margaret Blair Young makes in a provocative Patheos essay about "The Future of Mormonism" for the next five years.
Unlike some critics, naysayers and even devout members, Young, who teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University, foresees a "bright" future for the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Given the faith's current transparency on historic questions, Young writes, the rising generations will grow up hearing about seer stones, polygamy and fallible leaders and won't be "blindsided" by these discoveries and leave the religion as some of their parents have.
She views the ebb and flow of members as natural steps in the LDS Church's evolution.
"Those tied to the past either by immutable hagiography or by the constant shadow of cynicism will continue leaving Mormonism as its leaders reveal their human foibles and Mormon history unearths more ugly skeletons," Young writes. "But the core of the gospel as seen through the Mormon lens is a glorious thing, including the most expansive imaginings of mortal and immortal purpose and progress."
Young has seen "miracles" since 1998, when she began studying and writing about blacks in Mormon history with Darius Gray, a journalist and black LDS convert, and anticipates "many more."
She makes a handful of specific predictions:
• An African apostle will be named before an African-American but the latter will "come long before the end of the century." She anticipates "changes in American LDS churches which will help African-Americans remain LDS ... [including more liberal music guidelines]."
• An "order" (ordained to a purpose) of "women heading the Relief Society and seated alongside the Quorum of Twelve [Apostles] for all conference sessions." Such women "will not be apostles, but acknowledged leaders who counsel with the apostles in all decisions affecting the membership as a whole. ... Eventually, the various quorums of the Seventy and the extensions of Relief Society leadership will represent all ethnicities and nations where the church is established."
• Weddings will happen "largely outside of temples, with the sealing of marriage partners becoming a more private and family matter, taking place without any required delay." As it now stands, Mormon couples in many European and South American countries can marry civilly and then, as soon as they want, go to an LDS temple to be united, or "sealed," in an eternal marriage. Couples in the U.S. and Canada have to wait a year between a civil wedding and a temple sealing.
• The Boy Scouts program will split from LDS sponsorship, and be replaced by "church-sponsored activities and accompanying 'honor pins' ... rather than 'merit badges.' " Mormon leaders, "deeply troubled" by the Scouts' recent decision to allow gay adult leaders, are considering forming their own international group for boys. Savings by "no longer having to pay the [Boy Scouts of America] for church enrollment," Young writes, "may then be focused on developing a superb program which teaches eternal principles for heaven and useful skills for Earth." There will be a "complementary program for young women, who may choose from a plethora of possibilities for their 'honor pins.' "
• The LDS Church will become "more Christ-centered" with less hero-worshipping of Mormon prophets and other leaders. "We will not be isolated but will be abundantly present and serving throughout the world. We will succor the truly persecuted and will no longer dwell upon our own persecution."
Young points to "Tribalism" between ethnicities and cultures, progressives and conservatives, feminists and not-feminists as among the greatest "threats" facing Mormonism.
She also notes "disrespect in real and in online conversation; distractions (video games and smartphones top the list) from the real-life questions the gospel insists that we confront; addiction to everything from crack to voracious anger and bullying."
The church is on a bridge, which itself "is a part of who we are," Young explains, and there will be more such links in the future.
That's the nature of a "dynamic religion," she says, one that recognizes the bridge of understanding "always takes us from one world to a better one."
Peggy Fletcher Stack