In discussing women and history, Shipps concluded that women's lives in the Church had become passive whereas men's had scarcely changed. Because of this change, she doubted that Mormon women would be allowed to interpret their own history, a potentially dangerous subject. Mormon women intellectuals' interpretation of the Mormon past threw the conservative present into question. Organizationally, Mormon women had lost much of their autonomy during the twentieth century, and this fact had to be played down. Shipps saw the enthusiasm for a Mother in Heaven among some Mormon women as a thwarted effort to develop a feminist theology. Shipps's reading of the situation rang true for older Mormon women intellectuals, the second-wave feminists, but their daughters, more inclined to make the most of the present, are free of this past. These short reviews indicate the potential and adaptability of this sprawling church. Despite predictions of fatal flaws, the Church avoided destruction and evaded some serious challenges. Because the lumbering organization is fast on its feet, some criticisms now seem dated. Others are still cogent. Will the Church with its hidden books avoid major financial scandals? Will the Church's extreme image-consciousness backfire? Will challenges to the Book of Mormon persuade members? These questions continue to engage observers.
Writers on Mormonism have said that the Church cannot deal with the forces of modernity. A primitive faith such as this is expected to wither in the face of science and modern skepticism. The authoritarian priesthood hierarchy is out of step with America democracy, and the lack of openness and free debate should alienate educated members. Contradictions such as these seem likely to doom the Church to irrelevance or debilitating internal conflict. And yet the Church has grown and prospered. Modernity has not stopped Mormonism from thriving. Educated members have learned to live with the clash with modern rationalism; there are always issues, but none are fatal. The concealment of Church finances rarely arouses insider fears because the Church record of responsible management is long and reassuring. Church power poses no significant threat to the nation. On the contrary, Mormons feel their Church has little influence in most arenas of power outside the Rocky Mountain states.
Critics have suggested that the Church proselytizes to amass revenue through tithing funds. But those who work with new members recognize that conversion is a long-term, high-risk investment. New converts are modest in possessions, socially marginal, and poor in spirit. They cost the Church rather than providing revenue. The American Church provides major financial support for Latter-day Saints in other countries. More to the point is the question if the United States can bear the cost of this worldwide Mormon empire. The answer depends on the strength of the American economy.
On the other hand, after exponential growth, the numbers are slowing. Judging from current conversion rates, the Church is not likely to meet Rodney Stark's high-end prediction of 265 million members by 2080, and even the lower reaches of sixty million seem optimistic. Two reasons for slower growth are the emphasis on retaining members and the emphasis on gathering potential members through media outlets rather than knocking on doors. Television ads gather in people to be taught, but a much lower percentage joins the Church. Slower growth causes Mormons to reconsider their self-congratulation. How will the Church deal with diminished yields, when members have become accustomed to expecting major growth? Members are embarrassed by this change of fortune, but with fewer new people to socialize and fellowship, the Church may be able to mature and enrich its existing programs, consolidating gains. How will the Church deal with inner tensions such as intellectual freedom, democracy in Church government, and above all, gender issues, which affect so many individuals and families? Although women's roles have been predicted to be the next major tension, feminism offers little threat to the Church. Feminist issues are too American to sway an international Church, and the number of feminists is too small even in the United States. More important, new opportunities for involvement and development have quietly opened opportunities to women. The Church is coming to grips with new women, women with career ambitions, even as domestic women are nurtured.
The gender tension of the future will continue to be the preferential treatment for men. The Church has more difficulty retaining men than women, and because they make up the center of the organization, they are the center of attention. The Church has invested too much energy in establishing the family as the unit of priesthood organization, firmly fixing the female as the angel of the hearth and the male as family leader, to diminish male roles. However, modifications occur. Although leaders react dramatically and negatively to social change at first, they usually accommodate in the long run. Change in policy is possible without changing scriptural directives.
Marriages are changing. More serious female careers among devoted members are spurring tolerance and acceptance of strong women. In cooperative marriages, couples share work and child care. Imaginative planning of schooling and work schedules allows partners equal opportunities to develop their talents. Economic circumstances often require that women contribute to household expenses, and as in pioneer families, women pull their own weight. Families with two working parents benefit from the Mormon congregational community-a modern version of the proverbial village rearing the child.