I believe the Church will advance only by acknowledging the differences, explaining them and showing what great things Historic Christianity has lost. Unless we have something different and important to offer, there is no reason for anyone to become a Latter-day Saint.
The opening statement of Christ to Joseph Smith in the First Vision ought to be the point we most emphasize. It was the many defects with Historic Christianity and its creeds which provoked the Lord to open the heavens again and start this great, final work. When we neglect that message, and try to seem like another brand of Protestantism we are neglecting the only reason for our Church’s existence.
I know it is not up to me. And I do not challenge the right of the leaders, whom I sustain, to make decisions. But, if I could make a scourge of ropes and drive the social scientists out of the Church Office Building, I would. I think opinion polling and focus group results are worse than meaningless, they are misleading. It is an exercise in followship, not in leadership. If you see a trend through polling, and jump in front of it, that does not make you a leader. It makes you a clever follower.
I suppose this post is nothing more than proof of my tendency to err in judgment. But it is an honest and well meaning error which isn’t being tried by the Church at present. When it was tried, in the early years, the newspapers railed against us, editorial cartoons mocked us, mobs persecuted us, and in turn the Church grew in numbers so dramatic that a single set of missionaries sent to England baptized nearly 7,000 converts. The distinction caused by the persecution was valuable. Certainly not in a public relations sense, but very much in a “harvesting of souls” sense.
Sharp distinctions give the disinterested a reason to consider our message. Persecution attracts the honest who want to know why the persecution is happening. Joseph believed, and history has proven that persecution is the heritage of the righteous. Its absence may not really be a good thing. The cost of trying to avoid it is at the expense of forward progress. This is evidenced by the decrease in convert baptisms we see at present.
I have never seen any statement in scripture affirming that becoming popular in the eyes of the world was good or desirable. On the contrary, I see the Book of Mormon listing that as one of the great evils. (See e.g., 1 Ne. 22: 23.)