Or maybe two kinds of Mormonism. Go read Boyd Peterson’s recent essay “Eugene England and the Future of Mormonism” and decide whether you are an England Mormon or a McConkie Mormon. Or whether you prefer England Mormonism or McConkie Mormonism. Or whether, if you were moving into a new ward, you would rather find Bishop England or Bishop McConkie to be your new local leader.
In the essay, Peterson gives a balanced appraisal of both approaches to Mormonism and finds each to be important. Regarding Elder McConkie’s approach, he reflected on the powerful General Conference address and testimony that Elder McConkie delivered in 1985. Peterson also recalled a course he had at BYU: “I was enrolled in a Book of Mormon course taught by Elder McConkie’s son, Joseph. There I found that same McConkie testimony and authority that inspired deeper scripture study and personal commitment.” Regarding Eugene England’s approach, he said:
I believe Gene’s vision of owning and confronting our past is critical. He understood that burying shameful history can lead not only to individual disillusionment and loss of faith, but also to institutional dishonesty. But Gene’s honesty about our historical and theological history was not disinterested, nor disheartening. He loved examining the difficult choices members of the Church confronted because he saw that we each confront many of the same problems.
It is surprising that now, almost two generations later, England and McConkie still personify these two different approaches. Peterson concludes his essay with the observation that, while both Elder McConkie and Professor England “brought me closer to the Spirit of God and closer to the community of Saints,” the ubiquity of information in the Internet Age “requires us to embrace an approach to the Gospel closer to that of England’s.”
Note he does not simply endorse England’s approach but one “closer to that of England’s,” so he still sees a mixed approach as ideal, just in different proportions. My response to conservative readers worried about this specter of an emerging liberal Church is that in reality the vast majority of local leadership follows an approach much closer to that of Elder McConkie, and they are encouraged in that approach by senior LDS leaders. When the chips are down, formal priesthood authority is the only trump card; the merits of an issue or pragmatic concerns carry little or no weight. If disagreement persists, formal church discipline has once again become the pastoral weapon of choice. We’re stuck with a McConkie church in an increasingly England world.