Reports have come to FPR that currently there is a massive exodus from the church underway on account of members discovering that their leaders have been shielding them from critical biblical scholarship on the Pentateuch. The realization that the ancient literature that constitutes the first five books of the Old Testament is not history in the modern sense of the word and that the various documents and sources that make up its individual components were written to promote certain ideological agendas in the late pre-exilic and post-exilic communities of Judah has left many feeling betrayed and confused. One male member leaving a chapel in downtown Salt Lake City in a hurry commented, “For me it was the death of the Yahwist that was the clincher. The idea of a Solomonic Enlightenment has been definitely disproved, and much of what has been traditionally defined as the Yahwist are actually late redactional additions. So the notion that the Old Testament can be regarded as anything approaching an adequate basis for modern faith is too much to swallow.” Others are said to be not so much upset about the historical particulars, but that they had not been informed earlier. One sister was visibly emotional, “If only I had learned in Seminary that the P account of creation in Genesis 1 rectifies to some extent the misogynistic tendencies of the non-P account of Gen 2-3.”
Ok, to be truthful, these reports are greatly exaggerated. Not many members of the LDS faith leave or become disaffected as a result of exposure to modern critical biblical scholarship. Most are completely unfamiliar with the type of jargon found above and only a few dedicate a significant portion of their lives to understanding the historical intricacies and complex arguments that are found in contemporary discussions of the origins and literary development of the Bible.
Yet even though the Documentary Hypothesis does not loom large in the personal narratives of those who belong to the current and very real exodus of substantial numbers of life-long church members, the issues that modern scholarship of the Bible raises for faith communities are formidable and are only likely to become more vexing for the LDS community in the coming years. Church leaders have been trying to stave off dealing with the inevitable doctrinal and theological questions and controversies that would result from transitioning to something other than a King James-only translation of the Bible, but this approach is becoming increasingly less viable with younger generations in our media and information-saturated world.
No one knows what the future will bring or whether the church will eventually develop a more constructive engagement with modern scholarship of the Bible. There are times when I am exceedingly pessimistic and fear for a creeping Mormon kind of fundamentalism becoming the rule during the 21st century.
I will tell you what I hope the future brings, however. I hope that sincere and rigorous study of the Bible (or religion more broadly) can be a part of why one stays in the LDS faith, rather than an almost automatic handicap or self-imposed psychological hardship. I hope that seeking for greater light and understanding (where the secular and spiritual intersect) is regarded as a reflection of the deepest theological impulses of Mormonism, rather than a sure sign of apostasy. We of all people, who believe in progressive revelation, should be able to assimilate new truths, even difficult truths.