Jeremy and I were discussing some cultural norms about the church and even the LDS blogosphere, where a majority of participants are within a small geographical area. I think that being in Texas as we are makes us a minority in a way. This is even more true when one heads south of Texas and abroad. I think that the church's history can be roughly divided into two parts: 1) The foundational period, roughly 1820-1890, which includes the Restoration as well as an attitude of seclusion from the outside world; 2) includes the modern period (1890 to present) where the church as a whole decided to participate in society and has helped us to a certain extent become mainstream. I understand that I am oversimplifying but it you want to make it easy, then I suggest these dates.
I believe that at some point, it may have happened already or may yet arrive, we will hit stage 3, massive globalization. Yes, I know that numbers of members in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have grown exponentially recently, but ultimately have we seen the influence of this boom yet? I think overall the answer is no. Yes, we did have our first 70 called from Kenya recently, and there are many 70's from Latin America, yet the overall feeling I get is that is that we are still an Anglo-American organization whose cultural norms (not doctrine) still clash with the background of many of our converts from successful conversion areas.
Let me highlight a few conclusions I have come to. Some of these thoughts were sparked by a T&S post recently but I apologize as I don't remember when or by whom. Acknowledgement is appropriate but I unfortunately don't know who to provide it to.
1) Whether we like it or not, we are a de minimus Protestant religion. Yes, we are unique and did not break off from any other sect thus making us Protestant in the conventional way, but the young church inherited Protestant cultural baggage and ideas that existed in the 1800's. We still see them today. Common justifications for the priesthood ban were very much in line with Protestant ideas at that time. What instruments do you hear in church? The piano, harp, flute, etc. You don't hear drums or sacred instruments of an indigenous tribe of the Amazon, right? Our depiction of Jesus is the stereotypical fair skinned Caucasian. Obedient LDS males dress as if they are on the board of a Fortune 500 company. Men should be clean shaven; even the leaders of the church who are foreign are those who appear the most Western/American. (President Uctdorf is almost more American than me sometimes. I swear he told a story about being a young boy on a farm in South Eastern Idaho...). Politically we line up as a whole with Evangelical Christians to a large extent.
If the church continues to grow, and we know it will, I predict that this model will be unsustainable. Yes, there are already many members in these countries, but their influence is minuscule to what Western LDS cultural is producing. What if in a country wearing a white shirt is not considered respectful but disrespectful? It's as if we force converts to confirm to an American standard for church, which is cultural, when they are already conforming to gospel doctrines, which is spiritual. What if the wearing of facial hair is part of the cultural norm as is common in many places? Are priesthood holders who wear something that would be considered business casual going to become the norm when LDS in the US are vastly outnumbered?
2) I predict that it will take more time that when General Authorities are called from other countries that will really begin to influence the globalized church's norms. This leads me to believe that many of our current practices are as they are because it reflects the ideas of our current leaders. It just seems that the leadership doesn't reflect the make up of the membership...yet. I don't mean this as a criticism, just as an observation. When the time comes that 5 apostles are Latino, 1 is Philippino, 1 African and the remainder have never lived in Utah, I think that a global LDS culture will strongly be in place. We will focus less on the handcarts of American ancestors and more on the pioneers in Ecuador, Mongolia, and other places that reflect the true composition of the church and the sacrifices of all and not just the original pioneers.
Will this mean that I can wear a blue shirt without feeling guilty? Will this mean that a member of the bishopric can wear a beard without "special" Stake President approval? I don't know. But I do know, or at least predict, that what Joseph Smith said about the babe on its mother's lap and not knowing anything about our destiny has not come to pass yet, though sometimes we like to think so. In 50 years, the make up of the church will be so vastly different and diverse, that we cannot comprehend it now and it will influence the way that we think as a whole, instead of as Conservative Western Americans, speaking as a whole generally.
One final note, this is not a criticism of leadership, just a commentary on where culture, not doctrine, dictates our practices. I whole-heartedly support the Brethren and believe the Lord guides them to lead us appropriately. I do recognize, however, that sometimes their personal views can seep into our cultural understanding of Orthodox Mormonism, and that is what I expect to see change. Yes, I was referring to Elder McConkie.
The handlbar mustache could make a comeback, no?