The Gospel and the Church in the Future

Before I get to my topic, I just want to wish good luck to the LDS Hugo Award Nominees.  The Hugo Awards ceremony will be at 8:00pm Central time on September 2 in Chicago.  I’ll be putting the link to the live video stream of the awards ceremony in a comment below on the night of the awards. The LDS nominees are:

  • Brad R. Torgersen, in the Novelette category, for “Ray of Light.” This is his first nomination.
  • Nancy Fulda, in the Short Story category, for “Movement.” This is her first nomination.
  • Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson (along with non-LDS co-host Mary Robinette Kowal), in the Best Related Work category, for Writing Excuses: Season 6. This is their second consecutive nomination in the category.
  • Howard Tayler and Travis Walton, in the Best Graphic Story category, for Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication. This is Howard’s fourth consecutive nomination in the category and Travis’s second.

And now, to the topic.  A few weeks ago, I attended a fundraising dinner for the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest being run by Everyday Mormon Writer. One of the things we discussed was how the Church and our understanding of the gospel might be different in the future.

In my story “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” I portrayed a future in which the Church had not only accepted the existence of alien creatures unlike humans, but also preached the gospel to them.  Since the creatures were plasma beings living inside stars, obviously baptism by immersion in water would not be possible — the scriptural explanation for excusing them from that requirement being that John 3:5 required baptism of “man,” not non-human aliens.

But as members of a church that believes that God will “…yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to [His] Kingdom…”, LDS science fiction authors don’t need to rely on careful parsing of the Bible or even the Book of Mormon in order to speculate about future changes to Church policies or even doctrines.  That’s the advantage of having living prophets revealing God’s will in the current time.

I once had a conversation with Stanley Schmidt, the editor of Analog magazine, about a genre movement known as “mundane science fiction,” which basically posits that the future only holds science and technology that can be reasonably extrapolated from what is known today, and that anything that goes beyond that is unrealistic.  Dr. Schmidt said something to the effect that what was truly unrealistic was the assumption that we know the limits of what is possible.

Similarly, for us to think that in the future, official Church doctrine and practices will be almost exactly as they are now, with just a little tinkering along the edges, is to essentially say God has revealed all the great and important things by now, so there are only minor and unimportant things left for Him to reveal.

One of the things we discussed at the dinner was the idea that someday the priesthood might be extended to women, just as it was extended to blacks in 1978. As long as I can remember, my personal position has been that if that time ever came, I would fully support it.  So a science fiction story set in the future which involved a female LDS bishop would not be unrealistic.  And as far as I’m concerned, it is not a contradiction of current Church leaders or a denial of faith to say that God might reveal such a thing in the future.

At the dinner, I even proposed a scenario in which the Prophet gets up in the Priesthood session of General Conference and says, “Brethren, the Lord has been testing us by giving us the Priesthood, and we have failed that test.  We have not been diligent in carrying out our duties, and too many of us have viewed the priesthood as giving us power to wield over others, rather than giving us a responsibility to help others.  Therefore, he is withdrawing the privilege of holding the priesthood from us and giving it to the women of the Church.”  I’m not saying that’s likely to happen: science fiction is rarely an accurate prediction of the future, it is generally just an exploration of the question “What if…?” But from the standpoint of writing fiction, there could be some interesting stories to tell about how different people react to that announcement.

Of course, I would always advise treating the Church and its leaders — past, present, and future — with respect as you are writing.  But in writing about the Church in the future, I think writers are free to speculate about how things we take for granted today might change.

About Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.
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11 Responses to The Gospel and the Church in the Future

  1. Th. says:

    .

    I think you are absolutely right, Eric. And that’s one of the fun things with writing about Mormons in times that haven’t (or didn’t) happen. I do suspect many readers will call foul, but moving past kneejerks, why not?

  2. Card’s story, America shows a future in which the people of North America have chosen evil and are ruled over by a leader from South America. It’s based on an “if” in the BoM that many members do not contemplate being fulfilled, since the founding of the U. S. was divinely guided. I hope I didn’t butcher that synopsis.

  3. Mahonri Stewart says:

    Speaking of Card, I thought his _Folks on the Fringe_ did a really compelling job in portraying a Mormon future which may be vastly different than we imagine.

    Very interesting post…

  4. Alan Horne says:

    Well, if you want to get technical, many women in the Church already do hold the priesthood, and in pioneer times they were even authorized to use it. As an example, there are examples of “Matriarchal Blessings” that were had in the church in the early settlements in Utah. These were not apostate practices but were duly authorized. From the time of Joseph Smith there are examples of women using the priesthood, although this largely stopped when Brigham Young asked the women of the Church to stop exercising priesthood rights and powers.

    And while I can’t say much on the subject, the true connection between women and the priesthood is still explained in the Temple.

  5. Mark Penny says:

    I suspect doctrinally speculative fiction will figure large in the Goldberg contest. It’s quicker to write than historical stuff. For me, anyway.

  6. The Hugo Awards ceremony will be streamed live at 8pm CDT at this URL:
    http://www.ustream.tv/channel/worldcon1

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