I believe the Mormon Church is at a crossroads. The younger generation is just not following in the footsteps of their parents, unlike previous generations that seemed to just go along. Jana Riess’s book “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church” documented how younger members of the church don’t believe or follow all the same teaching as their parents. They drink coffee, skip General Conference (I always knew I was young at heart!), and are accepting of same sex marriage.
A study out this last week also shows that the youngest generations have a much higher percentage that identify as LGBTQ than previous generations.
There is plenty to talk about in the above numbers. The question that jumps out at me is are there really more LGBTQ people in the younger generation or do more identify as such because it is more accepted?
But the focus of my post today is: what is the church going to do about this? A few years ago Richard Bushman was quoted as saying
“I think for the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true. It can’t be sustained. The Church has to absorb all this new information or it will be on very shaky grounds, and that’s what it’s trying to do. And there will be a strain for a lot of people, older people especially. But I think it has to change. Elder Packer had the sense of “protecting the little people.” He felt like the scholars were an enemy to his faith, and that we should protect the grandmothers living in Sanpete County. That was a very lovely pastoral image. But the price of protecting the grandmothers was a loss of the grandsons. They got a story that didn’t work. So we’ve just had to change our narrative.”Fire Side, 2016
While Bushman was specifically talking to our history as the “dominant narrative” that needs to be changed, I think we can also say that so many other things needs to be changed but are not because we need to “protect the grandmothers living in Sanpete County.” If the churched sanctioned gay marriage, how many of those grandmothers would leave the faith? What about allowing tea and coffee after a 100 years of demonizing it as the “devil’s brew”? But what about the grandkids of that grandma that participated in Jana’s survey? Are we as a church in danger of losing them if we don’t change?
One roadblock I see to making any meaningful change is that those in the leadership positions that can make the changes (Q15) are the same age of our Sanpete County grandma. They have hard choices to make. They know there are problems. If they move too fast, they lose the core faithful; if they move too slowly, they lose the next generation.
I think the older generation is more resilient that we give them credit for. Look at the revelation of 1978 giving the priesthood to all worthy males (and letting their wives attend the temple). This is probably the biggest change in church doctrine since the removal of polygamy as a living requirement. While there is anecdotal evidence that some members were upset at the 1978 event, there was no major schism in the church like there was with the 1890 Manifesto.
I believe that we as a church (including my 80 something year old parents) could accept same sex marriage (and even come to call it gay marriage), could accept drinking tea and coffee, and could accept women holding the priesthood, and a different interpretation of the Book of Mormon. Can the church make these changes fast enough not to lose our youth? Or is it already too late?