I enjoyed Lynnette’s post on hoping for change, and the comments that followed. It got me to thinking about the next step after hoping, which might be asking for change. How can a member go about asking the Church to change?
I know that this question makes all kinds of arrongant assumptions, such as that I know in what ways the Church should change, or that its inspired leaders care a whit about what I think. But if you can set aside your shock at my arrogance for a moment, consider that it’s not unprecedented for the Church to change in response to events other than God telling its leaders, “this must be done.” For example, isn’t the story about the Word of Wisdom that it resulted from Emma’s complaint about tobacco use in the School of the Prophets? Or what about the 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to men regardless of their skin color? Would President Kimball (or President McKay before him, if I understand correctly) have prayed so earnestly for this to happen if he hadn’t seen the problems the issue was causing rank-and-file members and potential members?
I suggest that perhaps the way God runs the Church is to directly tell its leaders “this must be done,” only at select moments when no other solution will suffice. But for most other decisions, I suspect that he leaves it up to them to work out solutions without explicit commandment. After all, the bit in D&C 58:27 about being “anxiously engaged in a good cause” and doing things “of their own free will” (without being commanded, see the previous verse) applies to them as well as to anyone else. Therefore, I don’t think it should be surprising that people like Emma Smith, while not called to lead the Church, could still bring up issues that could spur Church leaders to ask for and receive revelation they might not otherwise have asked for, and to make changes in the Church they might not have otherwise considered.
My concern is that the Church has no mechanism to allow its leaders to hear feedback from ordinary members about our concerns. Periodically letters from the First Presidency are read in sacrament meeting that say, in effect, “Please don’t write to us. If you have a concern, talk to your local leaders.” This is completely understandable given the vast size of the Church in relation to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. But at the same time that they officially say, “please don’t write us,” they unofficially encourage letter-writing every time they quote in General Conference from letters that they have received.
Considering that they clearly still do get many letters, and that they’re clearly still interested in hearing from members, I suggest that the General Authorities stop asking members to not write them. Instead, they should encourage us to write them, but just make clear that (1) they will almost certainly not respond, (2) they don’t have time to read all the letters they receive, but they will assign staff people to read the letters and summarize the writers’ concerns for them, and (3) they promise nothing about making any change to the Church, regardless of how often a suggestion is made.
I understand the General Authorities wanting to make clear that core doctrines of the Church are not open to being altered based on members’ feedback. But by explicitly asking to hear no comments from the rank-and-file members as they do now, they effectively elevate every practice of the Church, no matter how arbitrary, to the level of core doctrine.