I don’t have any Big Important Mormon Topics to talk about this week (but stay tuned) so I’ll go with something that’s at least relevant and timely: Welcome to the Slow-Growth Church. In Mormonspeak, I guess that would be: Welcome to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of the Slow Growth. Numbers have plateaued, and I don’t think that’s going to change in coming years. I don’t think Covid has anything to do with this, as the trend has been evident for decades now, but Covid has probably exacerbated the problem.
You might ask: Problem? What problem? Just ask a missionary: Fewer people want to join the Church, or even talk about it. Ask a bishop: Some people just stop attending. They check out. Ask some financial guy squirreled away in the basement of the COB: Tithing receipts are down. In marketing terms, the Church is no longer a growth company. It’s a cash cow.
I stole this topic from my own recent comment to Bishop Bill’s excellent post “A Common Enemy.” Here’s the last part of my comment:
As Church growth continues to stagnate and leadership retreats more and more into well-funded religious fundamentalism, there will be more and more of all this. It’s just not much fun being a Mormon anymore. Imagine being on a 2-14 football team, when the only question about next year is whether the team will go 2-14 again or sink to 1-15.
The “all this” I’m referring to is the relentless search for an explanation of why slow growth is affecting the Church, of why people both in and out of the Church seem to be losing interest. An enemy hath done this: who might it be? But more broadly, think about the reactions that senior leaders and the whole bureaucratic Mormon machine have to the now-so-evident problem. It seems to be changing the whole tone of the Church program. More pleas from local missionaries to help find someone to teach. More tone deaf lessons on faith crisis and how not to be offended when someone says or does or teaches something offensive. More Conference talks titled, “God Loves You, So Pay Your Tithing and Go to Your Meetings, All of Them.”
Not fun anymore? I’m sure someone will comment that Church isn’t supposed to be fun, but it at least has to be interesting enough that people will come back for more. The Church needs repeat customers. I had some hope for Sunday School when Pres. Uchtdorf got promoted downward to, among other assignments, oversee Curriculum. As for Uchtdorf, the phrase “was never heard from again” almost fits. As for the curriculum … well, I’m hard pressed to see anything that changed for the better. The best teachers ignore the manual and just teach good stuff. The best students ignore the manual and just read scriptures and informed commentary.
I can think of a few generic responses to my comments, along these lines:
- “Dave, you’re way off base. There is no problem. The Church is healthier than ever.”
- “Dave, Covid was the problem. Now that masks are no longer required and some people have been vaccinated, the problem will go away and things will be back to normal.”
- “Dave, there is a problem and it’s you. If you think church on Sunday is dull or uninteresting, you’re just not trying hard enough. Your job is to make it interesting, not lose interest.”
- “Dave, there is a problem, but the Church will fix it. I’m confident Pres. Uchtdorf and his team of Mormon whiz kids are holding a meeting this very hour to cook up a new plan to fix things.”
- “Dave, there is a problem and it’s unlikely that LDS leadership can fix it. They are likely unwilling or unable to delve deeply enough into the problem to even identify the real causes of the problem, much less make any changes. It’s easier to just name a new scapegoat candidate and carry on. So the problem will get worse, not better.”
I admit that “fun” is not quite the right word. Please feel free to find a better word. “Church isn’t supposed to be fun, but it at least has to be X.” And it is X. Or it isn’t X but it should be. If you just can’t think of an X and you don’t like any of my generic responses, at least weigh in on your feelings on the Covid-sponsored Great Home Church Experiment we’ve been doing this last year or so.
It seems that many US congregations have lost the sense of community that existed several decades ago. Many reasons for it. But it does seem absent.
I loved your comment on the other thread but also agree that “fun” isn’t quite the right word. I’d say “meaning” is the right word. The Church’s ability to give me a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection (with God and with other people) has seriously declined over the last decade for reasons ranging from a disbelief in fundamental truth claims (meaning), a discomfort with (and outright rejection) of the Church’s denial of the humanity of blacks, women, and gays (purpose), and a disconnection from both the Trump & anti-masker Mormons (especially after so many progressive Mormons seem to have fled after November 2015) and from the Mormon God (after finding much more expansive views of God from other sources than the view served up at General Conference) (connection). And those are truly human needs, and needs I think religion was designed to meet. If it doesn’t meet those, I don’t see how it’s valuable. (I think the decline in growth is both a result of those factors and further compounds them because it no longer feels like being a part of a growing, energetic movement with special truths that will eventually cover the globe – it feels like being part of a fringe religious enclave with embarrassing prejudices that will become increasingly irrelevant in the world at large.)
And this quote came to mind:
“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel
A big problem is that people are having fewer kids. University enrollment has shrunk 11% in the last decade. In the West and in East Asia the population is aging. It will present problems across the board for decades to come.
Church attendance and religiosity in general have been stagnate or on the decline for decades, at least in the “west” (at least 50 years in the U.S. and 100 to 200 in Europe?). I’m not a big fan of Nietzsche but he may have been right on the point the the modern world had outgrown the need for religion. I think this larger trend has finally caught up with the LDS church. Sure, it has been accelerated by the information age and now covid, but in many ways I think it was inevitable. It is only such a shock to us because the “only true and living church” was supposed to be an exception to such sociological trends.
Thanks for the comments.
jc, yup, sense of community is definitely on the decline. On top of a general decline, the deep divisions resulting from Trumpish thinking and tactics have done additional damage.
Elisa, you wrote a better post than I did. Great thoughts.
Society as a whole has gotten soft. People expect all institutions to entertain them, whether it be church, school, or employment. It is part of the entitlement mentality that asks: “What’s in it for me, and how little can I put into it?”
Church is not meant to be fun, it is meant to be edifying and uplifting. It should be a place where people learn how to be better and treat each other better, not a place where people come for balloons and lollipops.
So why are people leaving? They simply have more options for “fun.” Video games, Netflix, and cat videos on YouTube all provide the “fun with no effort” that true religion never can. True religion requires work, and those who are unwilling to do so will leave for frivolity.
1. Elisa: you rock. Your post is right on.
2. Most of you have heard of the description “validity Mormons” vs. “utility Mormons. In sum, the validity Mormons believe the Church’s truth claims so they keep active. The utility Mormons keep going because the Church (community, culture, standards) works for them and/or their families.
If you’re like me, the utility and validity parts are diminishing over time for various reasons. I suspect I’m not alone. Without truth or utility pulling me in, I’m out. Multiply my experience across the Church and boom, the numbers are down and the growth is flat. It’s pretty simple.
While church is not meant to be fun, it is meant to be relevant. Sadly, the Church has ceased to be relevant for most young people.
The Church continues to fight battles that young people do not believe in. The continued fight for Proposition 8 ideals really turns younger members off. The predicted devastation to family life if same sex marriage was allowed never came. Young people can see that.
The continued restriction of the WoW also turns young people off. The fight against green tea makes no sense to either young members or the billions of potential converts in Asia. To outlaw a drink with proven health benefits and no mind altering substances simply does not make sense.
And then there is tithing. When the Church keeps its finances a secret, and whistle blowers reveal that the Church is sitting on $100B+, that is hard for young people to accept. Transparency would go a long way.
Of course, young people are not alone. Older folks who spent their whole lives being taught one version of church history take it hard when they find out that what really happened was quite different. It is tough to regain trust once it is lost.
I guess I am the only one that doesn’t see this as a problem. If the Church is merely the work of men, nothing will come of it and it will go the way of all outdated ideas. If it is the work of God, it will survive and if most people reject it they will get to talk to Heavenly Father about it.
Dave, you’re wrong because you’ve ignored innovation. A few weeks ago the mission president in our area began talking about a new program that will generate exponential growth. As you can imagine we are all excited to be in on the ground floor of something so incredible and we’re waiting for the reveal of this key to the pot of gold at the end of the missionary rainbow. As soon as I learn the secret I’ll come back and share it with all of you.
It is interesting to try to map the stagnation in growth to the Book of Mormon’s discussions of that happening in the referenced society.
I’ve been tempted.
I can’t always tell when JCS is channeling the ghost of Bruce R. and when he is responding in genuine fashion, but I will say I think he is mostly correct today. I, too, think church should be edifying and uplifting. But that, in effect, is what Dave was also saying in a more colloquial sense. Yes, it should be a place where people learn to be better to one another. But I don’t know that it was ever edifying or illustrative of how human beings should treat each other. I always found it to be tribal and often divisive. In my mind, the church has always served up “balloons and lollipops” in the form of confirmation bias and boundary maintenance: The church is true. You are among the Lord’s chosen people. You see more clearly than the unwashed rabble out in the world. Raised in Utah, most Mormons I knew had little interaction with non-members ; my parents are still ensconced in their suburban SLC community that is almost exclusively white and Mormon. They know how to act among Mormons, but things get a bit tricky in other circles.
Elisa’s quote of Rabbi Heschel is the most relevant assessment of organized religion I’ve ever heard. Churchs in general, and Mormonism in particular, can make the normative “should” argument until they are blue, but it won’t succeed in the long run. The church does not have to be fun, but it has to be relevant, and after all the changes in recent years and the Covid sabbatical, the relevance is waning.
If I could upvote Elisa’s comment a thousand times, I would. The loss of connection she mentions, along with the quite deliberate continued marginalization of women, any racial identity that isn’t white (and American), and everyone in the LGBTQ community means that the church has essentially lost me. Rudi makes a great point about the church fighting battles that young people don’t care about. I’m middle-aged and I don’t care about them either. And that’s where I think my interest has just been on a kind of steady decline over the past decade. It’s difficult to sit in church and hear stuff about “the adversary” doing all of the bad things, or to hear anti-science, anti-progress rhetoric that’s often couched in the vague terminology of virtue-signaling righteousness and feel like the church has anything to offer someone like me.
And back to Elisa’s point about religion actually being designed to meet a lot of needs, that’s what’s so disappointing. The church employs so much of the rhetoric of exceptionalism while simultaneously making not much (and in some notable cases, actively working against) progress on vital issues of human well being. The tragedy is that we really could make a huge difference in the world if we shifted our focus and practices. I think we’ve become a church that is more concerned about the “truth” of our founding than about the truth of human suffering, economic and racial disparities and the general state of things. Anyone who cares deeply about those things seems to have a harder time fitting into this church. I think that’s one reason why we’re growing slowly/not at all. And so far I’m not really seeing effective solutions to or even ideas about the problem.
josh h: I hear that.
Dave, the word I would use is “compelling,” and josh’s comment describes two different ways for Church to be compelling (utilitarian or valid). JCS is off base in thinking that frivolity is a compelling alternative, at least in the long term. It only lasts for a very short while. Ultimately, during Covid, a lot of us have filled our Sundays with things we find more compelling because we had to, and we had time to figure out that the frivolous stuff wasn’t enough. Now that going back is an option, it feels like there’s nothing there to go back for. I wouldn’t find a Trump rally compelling. I wouldn’t find an anti-LGBT lecture compelling. I wouldn’t find an hour spent talking about gender roles compelling. I am really not interested in two-dimensional takes on scripture anymore. Since we moved, I have no friends in this new ward, and I don’t know why I need to make them among this limited pool that will police my thoughts, expect dress code and behavioral conformity, especially realizing that most of them are at least lightly sexist, racist and homophobic in addition to thinking “religious freedom” to maintain those attitudes is an imperative. Why not just maintain the friendships I have and expand to making friends who aren’t in the Church?
Mr. Charity: I don’t disagree with you entirely. It’s true that people have become more soft and it’s also true that there are many other uses of time that compete with the Church. That’s why involvement in all civic and religious institutions is down. Heck, even attendance at NFL and NCAA football games is down (pre-Covid) due to big screen high def home theaters.
However, you tend to oversimplify the issue (as usual) with your colorful descriptions (lollipops, balloons, etc.). When you say that people don’t want to do anything hard (previous posts) you are way off base. When I was fully active in the Church and even in leadership, I was on cruise control. I knew it was all true so it was all so easy. It’s when I did the work and effort of leaving my comfort zone to discover erroneous and incomplete Church history that I came to new conclusions. Then I looked into corresponding truth claims and made other inconvenient discoveries. None of this was easy.
So please don’t paint a picture that those who do the work and effort are believers and that those who do not aren’t. My experience is quite the opposite.
@John Charity Spring
At the best church I have sometimes attended, a few people are dressed nicely, but most arrive in very comfortable clothing, often pajamas. Beeps from electronic devices are common. The meetings are short. Speakers or testimonies are deeply heartfelt. At the end, the church leaders let every child choose a blanket, which are spread out on a table.
It’s hospital church. We’ve attended in the south with a female chaplain. We sang Jesus loves me, this I know, and she related the story of Zaccheus. Also attended at Primary Children’s Hospital. Youth leaders visit anyone who wishes, with an uplifting, hopeful message. Even after I was no longer a believing Mormon, I found it moving when a sincere couple brought the sacrament bedside for a brief stay my spouse had.
I have come to value your comments – I just wanted to throw this out there.
There are some very good points here, but I disagree with one of them. I think Covid has had an impact that will keep people away.
My wife has served faithfully in many callings over the years. She has always gone beyond what is required. But her calling essentially didn’t exist for the last year. She has said that the last year has taught her that she doesn’t need a calling to be happy or fulfilled.
I think there are many who feel that way. I think many will respond to a call by saying: “Thanks for thinking of me, bishop. But I enjoy spending time with family on Sunday instead of being in meetings. I know longer believe I have to have a calling to have spiritual experiences.”
I also believe that there are many missionaries who will come back and say: “I’m done. The Church kept me inside an apartment for months on end and we accomplished nothing.” Leaders think that everything was fine, and they will be surprised that pretending that missions were still worthwhile during Covid was a big mistake.
p.s. Last time grandkids were over, we danced to Bon Jovi. We all had fun.
I’ll buy some lollipops for next time.
The church of my youth and childhood entirely captivated me. Road shows, area b-ball tournaments, Gold & Green Balls, RS Bazaars, Scouting, paid entertainers performing in the cultural hall, ward picnics and camp outs, monthly stake dances, super activities, dance competitions, Aaronic PH banquets, and on and on (Elisa – I like “meaning builders”). Most of that is gone. As has been noted, correlation has choked the life out of our exciting lessons.
Looking back , I may have become a cafeteria Mormon – willing to go along with the “program”, as several past prophets have called it, because there were still enough favorites on the menu. Now it seems like it’s all pretty much brussel sprouts (you may like them – I don’t). I don’t need to like everything on the menu at Golden Corral in order to have an enjoyable meal and think it is worth the price. There just has to be enough goodies to make it worthwhile.
For me – and many, many others – the balance is off. And I constantly hear the religious equivalent of “Eat your brussel sprouts!” I feel like much of this beautiful life God has afforded us – growth, love, sorrow, peace, personal authority, agency . . . – has been meticulously and minutely defined to serve the principles and practices that support the church’s appetite for order, control, and dominion.
I feel like all of the great stuff you can find in the church can be found elsewhere. My covenants are with God – not with the church. My accountability is to Him – not to the church. He doesn’t need a church through which to funnel His power, voice, and blessings to our lives.
The decline in church participation in the USA began to show up a few decades ago in Mainline Protestant churches. They’ve been evident for some time in my own denomination, Community of Christ. Conservative critics (including some in the LDS church who have commented on W&T) often simply blamed the liberal/progressive bent of such denominations. Now that it’s happening to the Southern Baptists, a good many evangelicals, and, yes, the LDS church, the excuses range from secularism, laziness, or perhaps it’s just the Devil at work. Nonsense. I think the key question to ask is this: Is our primary responsibility and allegiance to the church and its institutional ways or to Christ and Christ’s mission? That quote from Rabbi Heschel should be required reading before answering.
Every where in the scriptures we read about how at various times and places in history, corruption of institutional religious power led to scattering.
Isaiah comes strongly to mind.
Joseph’s visions-translated-into-text prefigure a motif of institutional corruption within the church.
John’s Revelation is about apocalypse within the church; none of it is about the secular world. The whore sitting on the beast is an image of saints worshipping political ideology and the market economy. (Utah?)
To me, leadership is clearly corrupt. We build shopping malls instead of support widows and single mothers. We excommunicate members over conscience. We dogmatize belief-systems that have no place in Zion. The wealthy LDS resemble those members in the Book of Mormon who see themselves as “prosperous,” not realizing that the Hebrew “propser” refers to having “the Spirit coming mightily upon,” rather than material wealth.
The fraternal false priesthood claims the “power” and “authority” to act in the Name of God; but if we ask:
What constitutes the “power” and what constitutes the “authority” of priesthood?–there will be nothing except grumbles and secret handclasps.
It doesn’t make me want to leave the church. Instead, I’m encouraged to stick around, see how the Lord turns this wine into pure water.
Church doesn’t necessarily have to be “fun”, but I do expect it to at least try not to be dull, vapid, soul-sucking, frustrating and intellectually stunting. In my experience, it usually is all of these things and more, and even more so now than in the past. When I was a kid, I remember making some offhand remark on a Sunday afternoon after enduring 3 hours of church, about how it was “boring”. My dad heard it, and proceeded to chastise me for even considering the thought, and exhorted me to change my “attitude”. Even back then, there was a sense that if Church was at all entertaining or fun or even interesting, you’re doing it wrong; that dullness was simply part of the program, but you wouldn’t dare complain about it because that’s the way God wants it. We were also taught to look down on the local evangelicals and contemporary Christian congregations with their lively rock-band music and flashy gimmicks, claiming it was not “reverent” enough for true worship.
Thirty years later, my own 10-year-old tells me emphatically that church is boring and she doesn’t want to go back at all. Rather that chastise her like my dad did to me, I could only express agreement and empathy. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it feels like current Church leaders (local and general) are actually trying to make Church even more boring than it used to be. Dullness is so entrenched in the culture that some people (especially those in charge) feel like it’s a required part of the experience. And then they wonder why attendance is so sparse.
Engaging. The word you are looking for is “engaging” The church just isn’t as engaging as it used to be.
Why? Here are some ideas.
1) Church IS less fun. No more road shows. No more church sports. No dances, dinners or balls. No scouts. Lame, corrolated youth conferences. Trek burnout. Cheap, infrequent ward activities. Non-existent EQ activities and irrelevant and infrequent RS activities. Church activity is less fun and less engaging.
2) The church’s messaging is out of sync with contemporary questions about the meaning of life. No one asks anymore “which church is true” We need to answer the question “Why church at all?” Our message isn’t engaging.
3) Why was everyone thrilled at 2 hour church? Because we aren’t engaged. Sac meeting is hit or miss. Sunday school is not educating (and I’m the ward SS president so it pains me to admit this.) EQ is boring as all get out, and RS is a cry fest (or so I’ve been told by my DW). Pointless leadership meetings. There is very little engaging during Sunday church.
4) The church isn’t engaging on social issues. We’ll, let me rephrase that. They church itself is engaged in social issues, but increasingly they are on issues the membership just isn’t engaged with. LGBT rights? Most of us have friends, family and associates who are out and we see as just regular people. So what’s the fuss? Cannabis? Most members seem fine with it as medicine and see few issues legalizing it. Word of Wisdom? Caffine is no longer the boogeyman it used to be, who why are coffee and tea “bad?” Tithing? Still waiting for those windows of heaven to open up… still waiting…. oh wait… you mean the windows are of million of dollars made from GameStop shares? (BTW, it’s kind of ironic that the church had absolutely no issue making a ton of money off of one of the largest distributors of violent video games). Religious freedom? See LGBT comments. In summary, the issues the church are focusing on aren’t issues at all with a larger and larger portion of the membership.
Without engagement, you get it’s opposite, disengagement. People, members and non-members alike are disengaging from the LDS church and I just don’t think our geriatric leadership is capable of understanding why.
Just yesterday I got both a phone call and an email from the missionaries “just wanting to get to know me”, but soon after that I got a ward-wide email that definitely gave away the game. They have ambitious missionary goals for the ward, including having 5 members return to activity, which means I’m certainly a project. As of now I’ve ignored the overtures, but I’m half-tempted to offer to talk to the young missionaries about structural sexism and racism and the Church’s appalling treatment of LGBTQIA folks. Mostly likely I’ll continue to ignore them. I’m definitely with Angela in that anti-LGBT lectures, talks about gender roles, watered-down, proof-texted scriptural readings are just not compelling to me, and they outright conflict with my inner sense of integrity and morality.
Missions – youth retention or a robust convert gathering program?
There is a planned broadcast on 6/26 on the topic of sharing our faith more naturally, but I do not have great expectations for it.
Jack Hughes – My wife, who is in YW, just let me know that the Area Presidency has asked that all YW presidencies meet weekly. My first reaction, in agreement to hers, was “Are we trying to bore the, to death?” For some reason, the leadership has chosen to focus on the introverted, rule following youth. They have forgotten about the youth who have “follies” and need stimulation in order to be engaged with church. You hear it in program after program. We will have more meetings! Get youth involved in indexing! More time to sit quietly in the temple! Whatn is missing is the time for them to learn how the spirit works in a busy world and how we can recognize that spirit in our own life.
JLM – your second point struck a nerve with me as did Elisa’s post. The religious world has failed this generation. Not just the church, but the whole religious world. Between the sex scandals in the Catholic Church, the Evangelical church has been hypocritical about their moral standing as they turned a blind eye to Trump’s behaovior.The Boy Scouts have had their own scandals. Then the church has had its own issues. Basically, religion lost its role as a moral guide becuase the leaders of those religions could not practice what they preached. I don’t blame people for giving up, but I do not agree with Nietzsche. I don’t think we have outgrown the need for religion. I think we very much need religion. We need the common values that religions offer (like the Golden Rule), but we may have outgrown the belief that the leaders of religion are any better or more moral than the rest of us.
Sorry for the grammatical errors above. For some reason, my text kept disappearing while I was typing and I could not review what I wrote.
All these responses are what I expect from wheat and tares. Everything negative. This past year has made me realize the great resources we have to learn… some of the best most edifying lds works have recently come out. Follow Samuel m. Brown twitter page to learn a method of how to worship in the 21st page .
Joseph Smith when referring to certain doctrines said that they tasted good. The church is not supposed to be “fun” but, it should taste good and be nourishing and sustaining in difficult times. We are now fed junk food in Sunday School, Priesthood, and Sacrament Meeting.
@Gilgamesh, Brian McLaren’s excellent book “faith after doubt” makes your exact point – explains how and why religion is failing us but also how and why we need it (and how it could change). It’s an excellent read (I read it twice in a row).
Curious about the YW meetings – like, a presidency meeting every single week? Or an activity?
It seems that for a while there was a big push to reduce meetings but that did not last long. I asked to switch from a YW counselor to advisor for several reasons, one of which was that I like teaching and working with the girls but am not interested in all of the meetings. Quite happy with my demotion.
@JLM, agree, agree, agree.
@Josh H I think the church is suffering on both validity and utility fronts. I thought I was a utility Mormon until the church seemed to be doing me more harm (to my mental and emotional health) than good. Then I decided I better do a deep dive into the validity piece because if the validity was gone, poof went the remainder of the utility (to the extent it was partly based on the utility of getting me into heaven). Although I really agree with the idea that we tend to make decisions with emotions and not really reason as much as we claim to be rational. So when it’s no longer fun to be in church, suddenly the validity challenges resonate a lot more than they did when the church was useful. Anyway, that’s a rambling way of saying utility and validity are pretty intertwined IMO.
@JLM “No one asks anymore, ‘Which church is true?’ We need to answer the question, ‘Why church at all?’”
And the church just won’t do that. It’s all about authority, literal plates and literal Nephites. You have to take a very specific stance on Joseph Smith, or you don’t get a recommend. And *everything* is about going to the temple.
Ruth, I sometimes think I must belong to a different COJCOLDS than many others who read this blog. I have never been asked in a temple recommend interview to take any specific stance on Joseph Smith. It’s probably implied that I believe him to be a prophet, but that says nothing about what a prophet is, or when JS was acting as one and when not, or how much his efforts to convey revelation to others were intertwined with his own cultural and linguistic abilities, or how much of his inspiration was addressed to 19th century American frontier issues, or whether I understand anything he said “correctly.” I’m curious what specific stance you must take where you are.
I take “Do you have a testimony of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ?” to mean that Joseph Smith was given exclusive priesthood authority from God to do it.
But you’re right. I shouldn’t have phrased it that way.
I think the events of 2020 split off a sizable fraction of active members, who are now convinced that the majority of Mormons do not share their values. The combination of LDS support for the Trump administration and the Church’s disappointing response to Covid-19 was so discouraging, that these families are likely lost to the Church, forever. Right or wrong, these people feel the Church is more influenced by the GOP than by Jesus of Nazareth.
PS: Hey Ensign Peak Advisors, YOLOing millions of dollars in tithing money on meme stocks like Gamestop doesn’t help this situation.
Thanks. Yes, that question can be understood the way you take it. But it doesn’t have to be, and I am not asked what I think it means, nor do I ask the interviewer what he thinks it means. In that regard, I can recall instances of various Church leaders confusing “gospel of Jesus Christ” with COJCOLDS (as if there were no distinction between church and gospel), and others with varying views of the completeness or correctness of the “restoration” at any particular point in time ,and still more with varying views of what constitutes the “restored gospel.” For me such discussions are beyond the authorized scope of a temple recommend interview — and they would often be pointless — so I don’t need to take the question that way or to care how the interviewer takes it. Maybe that attitude is why it sometimes seem I belong to a different COJCOLDS..
In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger makes a point that might have some bearing on this discussion: “Humans don’t mind hardship. In fact, they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
I’ll admit I sympathize with quite a few of the counterarguments the OP brings up. I also think our society has become far too consumer driven, and that this attitude has affected many in the Church, though I do understand many aspects of the OP. Additionally, though doing my best to avoid a Savior complex, if there is one thing Covid has taught me about my relationship with the Church, it’s that I go more out of concern for others than I do for me. It’s an attitude I can live with.
I recently learned about a woman from a mutual relative. This woman grew up in a family that although active, weren’t always committed. Notwithstanding, she served a mission. Not long after coming home she started dabbling in drugs, lesbianism, and came close to suicide at one point. After a few years, our mutual relative (who wasn’t active either) suggested she try going back to Church. Reluctantly, she did. She went to a ward in which she knew absolutely no one. When our mutual relative asked how it went she immediately started crying. She said she cried the entire sacrament meeting. She felt like she had come home. It was meaningful for her, and she basically jumped back in with both feet at that point.
Admittedly, my knee-jerk reaction was “Holy Crap, who talked in Sacrament Meeting and what did they talk about?” One could also make an argument that someone at their lowest will latch onto any emotional buoy, no matter how boring, seemingly outdated, or irrelevant by most worldly standards. I think most of these are gross misrepresentations, and I doubt the meeting was hugely different from any average sacrament meeting. After pondering for a while, I’m forced to conclude she simply felt the Spirit telling her this was where God wanted her to be.
As hard a time as some of have with Church, I think there are tens, if not hundreds or thousands of people just like this woman who are experiencing the same things she did by returning to Church on any given Sunday. It kind of forces me to ask if it’s really more about getting the Church to change to meet my needs, or changing my attitude to be more like is woman’s, since she obviously saw something valuable in it. Reluctantly, I’ll admit it’s probably somewhere in between, but if the Church works for someone like her, I have a harder time asking why it doesn’t always work for everyone else. I’m still a sinner. Maybe not in the same sense but a sinner all the same. While there will always be a rogue member here and there impeding the way, if I don’t feel like I’m “coming home” the same way this woman did, I’ve got to at least ask myself if I’ve made the necessary steps past the threshold.
@Eli I get that. A lot of my loved ones really understand my issues with the Church but also still really feel the meaning, purpose, and connection that I feel is lacking. (Btw I don’t think they are totally lacking – I’m still active – but they have diminished significantly and I’ve had to look elsewhere to fill those needs and make Church just one of many important things in my life when it used to be the center of my life.). Many people I know still feel like Church gives them opportunities to love and serve others despite its flaws. Those people also mostly happen to be men – and so the reality is they have ways to serve and make an impact at Church that women simply do not. For example, I think they feel they are in a position to elevate women’s voices and we certainly need men who will do that. I’m just burned out on being the one whose voice needs a male sponsor to be elevated.
Side note, I’m not sure what “dabbling in lesbianism” means, but I did just today listen to an excellent podcast episode featuring a lesbian Mormon and it was worth listening to for insight in what it’s like to be a lesbian Mormon (since so many well-known gay Mormons are men). Podcast is called At Last She Said It.
Sadly, the pandemic has opened the eyes of many people whose eyes weren’t completely shut before. I have very devoted church-going children who throughout the last 15 months who have had beautiful spiritual experiences with their families while having church/sacrament at home. Couple that with listening to 3 consecutive General Conferences where the messages they heard struck them as being heavy-handed (sad heaven), and prophet-worshipping. They are now pretty un-inspired about returning to mind-numbing lessons and endless leadership meetings. They would rather be at home worshipping with their families. For them (and for me as well) it has not been about a lack of fun, but the sense of increased spiritual experiences that have no dependence on the church. I think the sub-conscious message from the Church has always been – “you need us to have the spirit in your life”. That has simply been proven to be not true.. If that is the case, why endure the non-essential slog that has become church activity?
By “dabbling” I basically meant experimenting to some degree, although possibly not 100% committed. Looking up the definition of the word, only one aspect comes remotely close to what I thought it was, so perhaps there was a much better word for it. Thank you for the podcast suggestion as well.
I may be in the minority (certainly so with regards to this blog and its frequent commenters), but it’s been my belief for some time that as important as a prophet is in our lives, their purpose is to get us spiritually self-reliant enough that we become prophets unto ourselves, to the point that the words of the prophets largely are needed only for administrations of how the worldwide Church functions, and for “bigger” events that they can now see on the horizon from their watchtower. Having said that, the Church is growing fast (compared to other Churches), and there will always be new members on a spiritual path to be pointed that direction as well, and rely on the one pointing a little more than normal at first.
Our stake president is very conservative and by the book, yet I think he was quite likely the last person in the stake who wanted to resume Church. He saw the pandemic as an extraordinary opportunity to allow members to become more spiritually self-reliant and to make the home a place for spiritual experiences not obtained elsewhere. Since I can imagine things far worse than Covid in the future of the Church, getting by without it does indeed seem part of the point. Echoing my earlier comment somewhat, I see it less as the Church saying “you need us to have the spirit in your life” and more as “we need you to help point the way to others to get the spirit in their life.” I’ll humbly accept that request (though I’m not above being pointed a better direction from time to time either).
Eli, you make a good point. My wording could have been improved.
When I was young, the Catholic Church was the “great and abominable.” It was even implied in the temple ceremony until DOM had the text changed. According to DHO, the “g&o” has been redefined as secular humanism. That’s a bit troubling.
And, of course, the Church now is an ally with the Catholics on several issues, including gay discrimination, foreign assistance, abortion, etc. My how things have changed. And our new logo looks surprisingly Catholic. It looks like a rendering of Christ you might see in a nook in a cathedral.
rogerdhansen: Actually, our logo is literally a copy of the famous statue of Christ in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark’s Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen. The artist was also commissioned for statues of the original twelve apostles, and they line the nave of that Church. It is open to the public. Next time you are in Denmark, it’s worth stopping in (unless there’s a wedding). The one in Temple Square is also a copy of this famous statue. Funny thing is, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark is highly progressive, ordains women and is LGBT inclusive. I’m not sure if the statue is just not copyrighted or if the Church has an agreement to use the image.
The Christus statue was completed in 1833. Copyright expired long time ago and is now in the public domain. Copy away to your hearts content!
This bloggernacle-memorable post and all the comments should be mailed to every GA at 50 E North Temple.
I’d use the word “participatory” instead of fun. We used to be more of an egalitarian church with everyone putting their shoulder to the wheel. Every person and their unique talents were celebrated as god-sends to bring about the millennium. We were building Zion with our bare hands, and we had a long way to go to eradicate poverty, sickness, disparities, and shine light into the world with our acts, hands, and voices. (No we’ve lost our millennial zeal- we are failing to keep Mormonism weird.)
Today- we live in a strict hierarchy (so not fun) and everything is done for us. SLC spends the humanitarian money, builds our temples, writes our curriculums, dictates everything. We passively participate, mostly with our butts in seats- watching temple movies (no longer acting) or listening to the same talks regurgitated. We are vessels to be filled, not fires to be lit. We aren’t co-creators, but dumb sheep.
Compared to other membership organizations, the church sucks at working with its members. Less than 0.0001% of the members ever have input (BTW you have to essentially be white, rich, related to a GA and live in SLC for that honor).There is no back-and-forth in the church, everything comes down from Mount Salt Lake. Common consent is a joke, except when the entire ship Zion starts going kilter (e.g. the POX), and even then the brethren deny experiencing the slightest bit of turbulence. We as members have zero mechanism for membership input and for years I have felt completely useless and resultantly, unmotivated. I can play the organ and teach pianists organ fundamentals, but why? They have tapes of all the hymns, so why bother? People can give talks and lessons, but most wards have speakers re-hash conference talks. Our size is unmanageable and so correlation is there to regulate us, but it’s strangled all the creativity, voice, and a lot of the inspiration out of our shared experiences. Didn’t Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury warm us of this? People in the church used to shine in certain areas-‘as musicians or genealogists, youth teachers, BOM, NT, OT, etc scholars, church history buffs, primary teachers, clerks, etc. now everyone plays musical chairs with callings and never really creates. a groove or a lifetime passion. I suspect that is by design- the church doesn’t want individuals going too far in any direction, they want conformity. So we bumble around as perpetual novices, praised for blind obedience and conformity. It’s so robotic, so soulless.
Most organizations morph into different creatures over time, shift focuses imperceptibly. It’s often their downfall. If we’ve shifted from an egalitarian and participatory church to a cash cow., it looks like SL either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.’It has no desire to refocus on the members, as long as the bottom line (investments) are solid and the doctrine veers fundamentalist. Everyone else can fall off the good ship Zion, especially non-conformists. After all, we’re extra work for the people at the top-they have to corral us and facilitate us, we aren’t seen as light-bearers or G- forbid, partners.
Copies of Thorvaldsen’s Christus were in use in multiple places not Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark long before one was obtained in the 1950s for SLC Temple Square as a symbol of Christianity long before the ELCD became LGBT affirming. The current LDS logo seems modeled not only on that Christus, but also on the Bathtub Jesus, a variation of largely Catholic lawn shrines not uncommon in the Midwest, Northeast and South of the US (though more commonly Bathtub Madonnas. See, e.g., http://paulding.blogspot.com/2009/10/bathtub-jesus.html. I suspect the designers of that logo were far more familiar with the Temple Square and Deseret Book contexts for the statue than with Catholic shrines or niches of any kind, if indeed they knew anything at all about the latter. But the Bathtub Jesus logo is one of the rare fun things about our current Church. 🙂
Prompted by Mortimer’s last comment and this is probably a topic for a different post but I think it speaks to a loss of church community.
A family in the ward needed some help at a storage unit 20 miles away this week. EQP sent out an email asking for help.
Do mass emails really produce results?
Regrettably I was right in the middle of an issue at home…
Regarding green tea being an impediment to Asian members/converts, I understand that mission offices, missionaries, and essentially the members look the other way on it. Not sure whether SL is on board. Yeah, it’s a major impediment. There’s just no way it can be erased, it’s such a core cultural element. And have we given up our pot roasts? No.
Aside from green/black tea’s health benefits, there are plenty of reasons both historically and contemporarily to ethically oppose consuming it, especially in the west: slavery, lack of fair wage, colonialism and wars fought over the export, sugar (a slavery-based product).
Pioneer Mormons boycotted several products including wine sold from anti groups, and tea during the revolutionary war (many early saints were daughters/sons of the revolution and even founding families). I’d like to think that section 89 contains both a health and a moral code that could have extended to human suffering, and I’d like to think that even today we would be champions of product boycotts for human rights/dignity. Many of the products we use today could benefit from some moral/ethical scrutiny including tea, coffee, cattle/meat, chocolate, grapes, fossil fuels, rainforest deforestation products, Amazon, etc.) But, yeah- we don’t go political any longer, but spiritually- the principle and precedent remain.
Mortimer: Unfortunately the Church does still go political, but its ideas of what is moral don’t coincide with my own, and certainly not with easing human suffering among LGBT, through police reform, or anti-discrimination. As for free trade and worker exploitation, I have to think that they would give that one a head scratch.
I think your comment is the one to send to SLC — I applaud your writing style in that comment, even if I am not sure I endorse everything you wrote — I endorse your passion and the need for honest conversation.
I often wonder about matters such as the one you described. I wish individual members would ask for moving help from their friends, including fellow church members, rather than laying a tasking on the elders quorum president. What else can the EQP do?
ji: I also have some personal reservations about ward members being tapped to do work (for free) that members can afford to pay for in our communities, including from (potentially) members of the ward who run those types of businesses. Basically, it feels wrong that the ward should be a competitor to a member’s business (or even a community business) by agreeing to do it for free, except where there is a charitable need. A friend of mine runs an in-home health care company in Salt Lake, and he said the Relief Society was his biggest competitor.
The scripture says something about the laborer being worthy of his hire.
My Catholic comment was meant for the “Enemy” OP, not this one. Sorry for the diversion into Christus. However, the connection of our logo to Bathtub Jesus is truly zany.
The Church’s stagnant growth is probably worse that it appears. I suspect that conversions have stalled or are approaching zero in the US, Canada, and Western Europe. Any Church growth is occurring in South America and particularly in Africa. And I suspect that retention rates are quite low in both areas.
One way to improve retention rates, might be to improve the Church infrastructure in South America and Africa. And I’m not talking about temples (read Jana Reiss’s recent post at RNS). I’m talking about educational opportunities, work opportunities, social engagement, etc. One reason that the Mormon Church has, in the past, had success is because it has encouraged the educational growth of its members. Which, in turn, lead to increased tithing donations. Maybe a similar model would work south of the Equator.
@rogerdhansen & @Angela C & @JLM & @Wondering
The LDS church also struck a deal with the Lutheran Church in Denmark and made excruciatingly precise laser measurements of Thorvaldsen’s Twelve Apostles, which were recreated and placed in the LDS temple in Rome, along with the Christus.
Honestly, don’t any of you have friends who posted
“So grateful we were able to visit the dedication of the Rome, Italy Temple! #GiveThanks”?
Angela C/ Hawkgrrl,
How clumsy of me, I meant to say that we don’t typically participate in boycotts (the last one I recall was President Hinckley saying we didn’t need to see the movie “Chicago”. My point was- we should probably be much more aware of the impact of our lifestyles on other people and participate in ethical purchasing as individual saints, and as the church invests its stocks.
I shouldn’t have used the broader word “politics”’as you are right- we venture into that arena- sometimes with horrible missteps (Prop 8), and sometimes with compassionate stances (pro family unity at the border).
Well, rogerdhansen, If you think the Bathtub Jesus logo zany, you may want to consider whether there was any prophetic inspiration behind Steve Evans’ post at BCC on the top ten hymns made more awesome by adding “In The Bathtub” to the title: See https://bycommonconsent.com/2014/08/14/listicle-bathtub-hymns/
Who says we can’t have fun?
ji responding to your comment 5/28 – in my situation above the EQP should have also mentioned in the mass email that this family had two recent deaths in their immediate family and were probably emotionally taxed and not able in the moment to use their own resources for moving a few household items.
For me, I’d certainly underscore the complete loss of confidence in “Church Leadership”; and perhaps with most people who self-proclaim that they are (somehow) our leaders or our betters. I think one of the best things that the Church could symbolically do is to eliminate (and destroy) the Red Velvet Chairs in the Conference Center and Tabernacle; and force these people to sit with everyone else. For that is what they truly are “just like everyone else”. The senior, as well as local, leadership have ruined the teachings of Christ. Their presumptive arrogance, their bloviating pride, their finger waving proclamations have become like “the sound of tinkling brass”; vapid, vacuous and impotent. I can imagine that the great Creator (whomever he or she is) is quite ashamed of these people.
Lefthandloafer: Yes, to this! The red chairs symbolize something that is antithetical to Jesus’ teachings: elitism.