“Too much tension with the surrounding culture invites scorn; too little threatens its uniqueness:” Such is the dilemma facing Mormonism after nearly two centuries of existence, writes Peggy Fletcher Stack in The Salt Lake Tribune (April 21), after talking with veteran Mormon sociologist Armand Mauss. The LDS Church cannot afford too much conflict with the wider society on issues such as gay rights or women’s roles, explains Mauss, but it must not dilute its positions for fear of losing appeal, and thus find “optimal tension.” Among internal issues of concerns, Mauss mentions the centralization and reorganization of LDS ecclesiastical experience since the 1960s, with a focus on “ideal U.S. members” in families, marginalizing other categories and imposing American practices on the LDS in other countries. Another issue is the pressure of managing a high number of converts by LDS missionaries for local, all-volunteer congregations, leading to a burnout effect among some local leaders.
The role and status of women will continue to be a contentious issue within and outside the Church. Due to the absence of an explicit doctrinal barrier, women’s ordination might start in this century, but it might have the unintended effect of decreasing the commitment of male leaders. The LDS Church will have to learn to deal better with doubtful members and make them welcome, whatever their degree of faith. Especially with the spread of hostile information on the Internet, the room left to a variety of interpretations and understandings will be a serious question. Other scholars interviewed by Stack add more challenges. For example, the rise of American individualism versus communal, hierarchical religions such as Mormonism or Roman Catholicism, or the consequences of the “coloring of the Church” (with Latinos losing their LDS faith not as a consequence of doctrinal issues, but due to a feeling that their specific needs are not addressed.)