I saw a blog post from Christopher Cunningham going around titled “21 Reasons It Doesn’t Matter if the Church is True”. I wanted to respond with a short blog post of my own.
A lot of people aren’t looking for a true church, they’re looking for a good church. They want to be part of an organization that is fundamentally sound and makes its members and the world around it better.
I’m not trying to say the Church is perfect. But we so often get stuck focusing on its minor faults and its truth claims that we often miss what an outstanding organization it simply is. Here are 21 reasons we are lucky to be members.
He then lists 21 non-doctrinal, secular kind of reasons the church can have value for its members, such as: a good community, a place to serve, emphasizes education, produces happy, responsible citizens, etc.
I love the approach. The church is in a slow shift away from the focus on black and white origin claims, literal scripture interpretation, and claim of exclusivity to more naturalistic claims about our origins, non-historical views of scripture, and a broader definition of “truth”. Part of this challenge will be redefining the value proposition. The value of Mormonism will move from “of course you have to do it because it’s God’s exclusive, absolute truth” to “this is why we think we can help you and your family live a more abundant life”.
The future of Mormon Apologetics is not to hunker down in claims of literal scripture and claims of exclusivity and try to defend this position. The future of Mormon Apologetics is to provide these kinds of lists. To show how living the Christ-centered-Mormon life can help you in your life today. Testifying of how it works for us. And inviting people to take the Alma 32 challenge. Try it out and see if it enlarges your soul.
Grant Hardy took this approach in his FairMormon presentation this year, giving the list his wife shared. Terryl and Fiona Givens gave their list in The God Who Weeps. My list is shared in the LDS Truth and Beauty Section of this website. All those who decide to stay in this church will make their own list. Most members have a bit of a faith reconstruction after facing historical facts that challenge the “dominant narrative” of the church, and part of that faith reconstruction is to identify the reasons why it’s worth staying.
A couple points I might want to argue with, from the 21 Reasons blog post.
- He intentionally avoided doctrinal items, presumably because he sees these as “true”, and his list is giving non-truth reasons. I would include doctrinal items, even if they can’t be proven to be true, in terms of absolute, known truth about God and the universe. I don’t know with surety, or even believe, that many LDS teachings accurately describe absolute factual reality of God and the universe, but trusting and putting my faith in those teachings helps me live a richer and more fulfilling life. So, I include doctrinal items when I make my list of LDS truth and beauty.
- The definition of the word true. Even though the author is providing reasons to engage with the church that are outside of exclusivity-absolute truth kinds of reasons, the author is still engaged in the losing battle of trying to identify absolute truth. We need a complete overhaul of the word “true”. I don’t believe the Book of Mormon is historical. I don’t think the Mormon church is the exclusive “one true church of God,” but I firmly believe it is “true”. I reject a narrow definition of “truth”.
LDS critics have various ways to demonstrate what they don’t like about the church. Many of these I agree with. A lot of LDS critics are striking at a rigid, fundamentalistic paradigm of the LDS church, which I also reject. But one of their oft-quoted mantras is this one: “What is good about the church is not unique. And what is unique about the church is not good.” I strongly, strongly, strongly disagree with that. I admit, the burden is on the church to prove this is not the case. This will be one of our church’s biggest points of emphasis in the future. This is the direction Mormon Apologetics should go.