I’m becoming aware of two Mormon churches in the 21st century: The traditional church and a newer model. The traditional church features leaders like Julie Beck extolling ideal motherhood and general authorities like Boyd K. Packer condemning gays. This church defines gender roles rigidly. It emphasizes sexual purity, stresses modest clothing for girls, and obsesses over young males who masturbate to relieve sexual tension. This church insists Ezra Taft Benson’s 14 fundamentals for following the prophet are essential for salvation. (See Elder Costa and Elder Duncan’s October conference talks). This church harbors devotees of Glenn Beck-style “last days” and conspiracy theories.
The newer model Mormon Church seems to be led by the PR department, especially it’s “I’m a Mormon” series which recently included a segment of Irene Caso, a Spanish sister with a radio/TV career and a stay-at-home-dad husband. This church spotlights–and apparently approves of–testimony-bearing celebrities who follow their own conscience—career women like Marie Osmond and Gladys Knight—sports stars who play on Sunday like Steve Young. This church took a pro-active stand on humane immigration reform and is currently building environmentally-friendly meetinghouses.
Which church will dominate the 21st century? Of course, I’m hoping for the new, improved model. I suspect that if the traditional church continues, membership will continue at its current flat growth rate or even decline.