Thursday, May 06, 2004

Reformed Mormonism 

by Dave
Not a term you hear too often. The idea of "reform" of the Church is utterly alien to the orthodox LDS perspective, as if a "restored" church couldn't possibly ever be in need of reform. I just finished The Catholic Church: A Short History (Modern Library, 2001), by Hans Kung, the noted Catholic theologian. I'm surprised at the extent to which "reform" as a theme dominates modern Catholic history: it ignored 16th-century Reformers and lost half of Europe, then adopted some reforms in the Counter-Reformation, then successfully opposed accommodation to modernism in the 19th and half of the 20th century, then finally made some major reforms following the decrees of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Catholicism has the institutional resources to accomplish reform: a tradition that recognizes Councils as an independent source of authority to the episcopal hierarchy and church bureaucrats (the Curia); and independent Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals who are capable (some of them, in their better moments, on some issues) of recognizing when reform is required and pressing for it.

Mormonism lacks these institutional resources: the tradition offers no countervailing source of authority to the GA hierarchy, whether concilar or otherwise, and the none of the local leaders, regional leaders, or GA quorums possess any real independence of outlook or authority from the senior leaders in the hierarchy. Anyone who attempts a serious dialogue attempting to identify doctrines or practices needing (in their opinion) reform is quickly marginalized and possibly expelled. So the Church is effectively insulated from any threat of reform. You may see that as a potential problem, a non-issue, or a blessing.

I won't make a list of potential reforms--that's not the point. Maybe the point relates to Nate's fine post about a centralized institutional structure, this being a consequence of such a structure. Or maybe it's a more general question of whether the Church is truly immune to earthly flaws and thus beyond any possible need of reform? If not, where institutionally does recognition of and motivation for reforming change come from?
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