As one might expect, last week’s piece on our growing impasse with the LDS Church started some important conversations. During one such conversation, we were asked—kindly, not accusatorily—if we still believed in “the Church.” I would like to say it was my response that was the thoughtful and efficient one, but longtime Paper Bullets watchers will know that whatever thoughtfulness comes is usually untethered to efficiency. My wife, on the other hand, simply turned the question back around: “What is the Church?” Our questioner had to admit it was a question he could not answer.
And rightly so. The fact is that the Church is unrecognizable in its current guise, hijacked by the same selfish grievances that powered the Trump Administration and, now, the soon-to-be in exile Republican Party.
The evidence mounts nearly every day. I documented the COVID denial rant of two weeks ago, and recently found out that our neighboring LDS congregation has planned a live, face-to-face Christmas party with, get this, an In-n-Out truck. Note that Los Angeles County reported today daily records of nearly 9,000 cases and 3,000 hospitalized. ICU beds are nearing 90% of capacity, and there are already reports that neighborhood hospitals in our vicinity are at surge traffic already. A serious COVID case not only carries the usual risks, but now carries the risk of obtaining subpar care in warehouse settings, separated from loved ones and hoping to survive.
None of us individually could ourselves plan such a party under current legal restrictions and, of course, no one with any sense would. Not only are the risks unacceptable, but times of privation generally require shared sacrifice. In that spirit, we participated just last week in our town’s Zoom interfaith Christmas service, in which leaders of multiple churches expressed their regret at not being able to gather so as to protect their flocks.
Not so this congregation, exercising a loophole in the County’s rule which allows for religious gatherings. Why its Christmas party is a religious gathering and not our long-running family singalong, no one can say. But it is a moot point, because it is having a party only because it can, while we have the good sense not to use excuses and loopholes to expose our friends to potential harm.
Even if somehow a large party was justifiable in this time of sacrifice, what does it say to the larger community? Christ’s gentle admonition to be different from the world has been weaponized into a giant double-fisted bird at the world. Where might the LDS Church have acquired that attitude? Not to mention the spectacle of catering a hamburger party even as the pandemic creates depression-like conditions at food banks and shelters. Is the question where can we do the greater good, or how can we make ourselves performatively feel better for an hour—and make sure everyone knows we toe the Trump line on COVID as a special added bonus.
As if all of this was not remarkable enough, the LDS Church has long taught its adherents that they are God’s representatives to all the Earth, not simply the baptized few. Bishops theoretically minister not only to congregants, but to anyone in the area that seeks temporal or spiritual aid. Moreover, the Church places missionaries in every corner of the world, teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Members are urged to invite their friends and neighbors to hear it.
But is the Church really as open and inviting as it says it is? Obviously not. A live Christmas party in the middle of the pandemic could only possibly attract COVID deniers and other wanton actors—it would be irresponsible simply to extend such an invitation. And stranger still, the congregation has divided itself because there must be a significant number of people for whom such a party is out of the question if only because they or their loved ones are at risk—or even simply because they have what remains of an independent conscience. And so, at least one LDS congregation has reduced even Christmas Party attendance to a test of Trumpian Social Darwinism. It’s hard to understand why outsiders wouldn’t expect that attitude to permeate the LDS Church.
Meanwhile, LDS members follow their COVID denial with the next step in Trump absurdism, the so-called “stolen election.” This clownery merits no rebuttal, but it raises every one of the same questions as a COVID Christmas Party. LDS members are supposed to be examples to the world. They are supposed to be protectors, champions, and stand for truth. They are supposed to look outside of themselves and care for their neighbor. 81 million of their neighbors voted for Joe Biden. But these Mormons don’t care. And they don’t care for precisely the same reason they don’t care whether people can come to their Christmas party—they act only in pure, distilled, unbridled self-interest.
The LDS Church has regularly promoted a #lighttheworld social media hashtag at Christmastime, ostensibly to share examples of LDS members improving the world. And yet we are aware of several individuals—with no apparent irony—interspersing #lighttheworld posts with ignorant lies about the election. And again, we are left asking for whom they are lighting the world—others, or themselves? Meanwhile, the Church’s hierarchy issued congratulations to both Obama and Trump the day after their respective elections in 2012 and 2016. A few days’ wait was appropriate this year, but the election result has long been settled. The silence now is deafening.
And then there is Mike Lee’s sure-to-be infamous “Captain Moroni” description for Donald Trump in the days before the 2020 election. “Captain Moroni” is a hero of LDS scripture for whom Church followers share a common understanding of his virtue. By misappropriating that virtue to Donald Trump’s benefit, Lee threw a gauntlet to LDS members—and forget us, try millions of international members not similarly obsessed as Lee with Bensonite Bircherism—who never imagined their Book of Mormon heroes as lazy, bigoted, self-absorbed, name-calling, democracy-hating Twitter trolls.
These are just anecdotal examples of a much larger trend that daily presents itself across the Church’s footprint. And so we return to the original premise—is the “Church” responsible? Of course it is. In each of the above cases, Church members misuse Church facilities, ideas, doctrines, and resources for selfish purpose and political gain. That is bad enough, but in each case they force others to cross outrageously improper red lines, and for really no religious or faithful purpose at all. A live Christmas party in a pandemic only self-selects those of like-minded belief not about Christ, but about COVID. Fake ranting about stolen elections denies the votes of 81 million Americans, rendering it morally impossible to expose those millions of voters to a Church that ranted for decades against foreign communism, but has nothing to say about actual, real, impending, and dangerous domestic insurrection. The Church can’t even bother to defend its scripture from a mincing, lick-spittle of a carnival barker like Mike Lee. Instead of allowing “Captain Moroni” to serve his purported latter day purpose, Lee has reduced him to a cartoon character, doomed to be loved or despised as the figurative leader of 21st-Century fascism. If the “Church’s” purpose is to build the Kingdom of God, how did “the Kingdom of God” benefit from Lee’s blasphemy and priestcraft? I could write critical pieces about the LDS Church for the next three decades and not do the damage Lee did in ten seconds, nor undo it in three decades of performative apologetics. The. Silence. Is. DEAFENING.
The LDS Church bills itself as a “worldwide” church, but it isn’t even a congregation-wide church—members are being required to make death-defying choices, and thumb their noses at their neighbors, just to attend a Christmas party. Nor is it a nationwide church—it hasn’t offered a scintilla of support for those of us whose basic civil rights are under siege from its own members. And I’m still—at least nominally—a member, if a second-class, Satan-worshipping one. By the way, what’s next, Mike? Ted Cruz as Enos? Louis Gohmert as Nephi? But all is well. All is well in Zion.
What is the “Church?” I don’t know. That’s the point. Shouldn’t we know by now? It’s easier to understand what it’s not—perhaps what it never was—than what it is. And after all these years, that’s not even close to enough.