What will Mormon historians call our period of the church?
The answer will come in the future, but for me, I would like to see this period called the Mormon Reformation.
To use the term reformation directly invokes the memory of Martin Luther, who started the Protestant Reformation by nailing his issues with the Catholic church to a cathedral door. Those issues were mainly doctrinal, but the Reformation did not start because of those doctrinal problems. Rather, what Luther did was challenge the authority of the church. For centuries the leaders of the Catholic church held sole authority to interpret the scriptures and teach church history. But Luther challenged that. According to him, everybody had access to the gospel, every deserved to know the total truth.
Like Luther, Mormons of today are embarking on a similar quest. Their tool is the internet.
For years the leaders of the Mormon church held a monopoly of disseminating information about the gospel. Just like ancient Christians did not have access to the Bible, older Mormons did not have access to the internet. Therefore they had to rely on church leaders for information. Most of the time the information they got was good. But of course the leaders could not talk about everything, so some troubling issues about the church disappeared from public memory.
But now that access to information is at its peak, members no longer need to rely on ecclesiastical authority to get information. They can find it on their own.
Of course, this is good. Over the past decade the church has been forced to discuss issues with our history that have long been swept under the rug. For example, the church now has to acknowledge that Joseph Smith did in fact marry a 14-year-old girl or the wife of Orson Pratt while Pratt was off on a mission. Those issues were never addressed before, but now essays on lds.org directly acknowledge them.
What has happened here?
Simply put, the information dynamic of the church is different now, due to the internet. No longer is information about the church disseminated solely from the leadership. Rather, the members dictate what information is being shared and what concerns the highest members of the church address.
What makes this so good is that it is forcing our leadership to discuss concerns that members actually have, not just the concerns that they believe the members might be facing.
This has also stripped the leaders of the church of their sole authority to teach the gospel. Now anybody can do it, for better or for worse. Members can now share their experiences and understanding of the gospel with each other in a global forum. They can share troubling information about church policy or history with each other, without having to use the Quorum of the Twelve as mediators.
Many orthodox members might find this transition of power scary or heretical. They may point at examples like Kate Kelly, John Dehlin or the CESLetter as examples of why the information is bad, and is weakening the church.
However, information is never bad. If the church is really the true church that it claims to be, any information shared about it should not hurt it in the long wrong. In fact, it might even serve to strengthen testimonies by allowing members to see the full picture, not just the narrow, rose-colored glasses picture taught in gospel doctrine lessons.
Even if a member is convinced that people like those mentioned above are evil, they can not deny that the iconoclastic leaders of the Mormon Reformation have made positive changes.
For example, in 2013 the first woman prayed in General Conference. This change of policy was mostly in response to pressure from Kate Kelly and the Ordain Women movement. 183 years after the church organized a woman finally got to pray in our highest meeting, and that was influenced by an iconoclast. Though many members despise Kate Kelly, few would argue that having women pray in General Conference is a bad thing.
Or take the new essays on lds.org, dealing with issues like polygamy or Mormon henotheism (the belief in multiple Gods but with one to rule them all.) I do not know, but I would not be surprised if they were a direct apologetic response to the CESLetter and other writers like John Dehlin and Rock Waterman who brought to light issues of church history.
Lastly, Mormonism shook when a group opposed sustaining the prophet in General Conference. But that opened the door for the general authorities to actually pay attention to the possibility of opposing votes instead of making the call for them a mere formality. That brings General Conferences more in line with the Doctrine & Covenants.
Both of these things are positive changes, even if members are divided in their opinions about the people who pushed the church to make those changes.
Having more information for church members and giving them more say in the church is not a bad thing. If anything it signals a positive change that our church is going through that will be looked upon with good feelings in the future.