My grandfather left his first church when the pastorate joined the KKK. My grandfather believed that racism was evil.
He left his second church when he discovered the building fund was being diverted to the communist party. He didn’t like Stalinist communists either (he was a cultural attaché in the Diplomatic Corp).
His final encounter with religion was in Brazil where he served in the US Army while he was drafted to build US Air Force Bases. He was a guest of an Arch Bishop and ate on gold plate while people starved during WWII.
He came back after the war convinced that God was real but that Churches existed to to stand between God and man and filter the money out.
Too often it seems religious groups spend more time pulling in money rather than serving their congregations.
There also rise questions of how much pastoral and other care a religion provides.
In the ancient world religions provided butcher services (ever wonder why sacrifices gave God the smoke and a few things but the bulk of the meat went to the congregant?).
Modern religions often provide pastoral services and community services. Daycares and more, especially professionally curated youth programs —the one thing Boy Scouts offered.
The LDS Church used to provide social events, community meals, sports leagues, arts festivals and more.
These days with the change in community that has all gone by the wayside.
One result is that the Church fails to engage the youth and there are record numbers finding the church irrelevant.
Most congregations in the LDS Church seem to run on less than 10% of the funds they generate.
Many of adults in the Church have as their identity a political party or ideology rather than membership in the Church. The loss of community has made the community no longer important or significant to them so another identity has replaced their identity as “Mormons.”
I don’t know the solution. But it is an interesting development.
What do you think?
- Is community important to a church?
- What value does a church offer if it does not create community or provide pastoral care?
- What sorts of changes have you seen in the place the Church has in your life the last twenty years?
- What do you see as how money relates to a church?
- What is a Church and what are we now that we are no longer the “Mormon People” or an ethnic group anyone could join?
Our leaders might not be eating off gold plates but the church is more than happy to spend hundreds of millions on fancy temples that only a subset of the tithe-paying membership can enjoy while sitting on a stash of ever-growing surplus member-donated funds in a secretive investment account. Our gold plates are metaphorical, in more ways than one.
I’ve seen a lot of criticism about the Church’s lack of social engagement today vs. the good old days. If you’re my age (50s), you grew up in a church that had Primary during on a week day, great YM/YW activities, robust BSA activities, huge stake dances, road shows, etc., etc. etc. And today, we seem to have just a fraction of all of that, especially for the youth.
And while I don’t hesitate to criticize the Church when I believe it’s warranted, I think these comparisons are unfair. Society has simply changed and there’s nothing the Church can do to bring it back. Can you imagine trying to organize a roadshow today? There are probably several reasons for this and I can think of two easy ones. First, kids are involved in more activities than in the past that compete with church. Two of my girls played high-level competitive soccer and this interfered with YWs and even Sunday church. Second, technology has replaced social and civic organizations. With phones, social media, and high-def TV, people don’t feel like they need social outlets like we did in the past. It isn’t just the church that suffers. Participation in all social / civic organizations is way down compared to the past.
I guess my point is that while the Church blows it in many ways, I don’t think the degradation of the stake and ward youth programs is a good example. There’s nothing the Church can do to go back to the good ole days because society’s needs have changed and that includes our youth.
Community absolutely is important in the Church. All grandfathers know this.
Wards were much closer when they had regular ward dinners, plays, roadshows, and camp outs. Members of the ward came to be close and they considered themselves to be friends. Young people felt happy about coming to the ward house because it was a source of happiness on every day of the week.
Now, many young people dread the sight of the ward house because they see it only as a place they are dragged to on Sundays for lessons. They see the building as a place of boredom, rather than a source of happiness.
It has done wards no favor to eliminate this sense of community. Now, people spend their evenings home alone playing violent video games and watching questionable content on Netflix. When they do gather on Sundays, it is with people they hardly know.
The LDS Church recently purchased a Marriott Residence Inn in Maui for $100 million. Very few members could afford to stay in that luxury hotel even if they could afford to travel to Maui (at $753 per night currently). In contrast, the church’s namesake was born in a meager stable. “The foxes have holes and the birds of the heaven have nests, but the Son of Man does not have a place where He may lay His head.”
This argument is now academic. With the First Presidency announcing today that people should wear masks again in public, church activities are going to bring to a standstill. Those who are vaccinated have no reason to wear masks in public. None. Good luck convincing them to attend any activities at all when they are required to wear masks.
Josh — “And while I don’t hesitate to criticize the Church when I believe it’s warranted, I think these comparisons are unfair. Society has simply changed and there’s nothing the Church can do to bring it back. Can you imagine trying to organize a roadshow today? ”
That is why I am at a loss for criticism. The changes are significant and complete. I can see the result, but you can see I don’t have a solution.
Ivy — I don’t mind attending things while wearing a mask. I’ve been vaccinated, but when purchasing cat litter today I wore a mask. Why should church be different? Though I’ll probably attend via YouTube with my local ward.
tomirvine999 — do you consider investing in a hotel quantitatively different from putting money in a bank?
John Charity Spring — yes, the sense of community is pretty much gone in many places, which is a same. You are right that many youth see the church as an empty place that repeats simplified lessons over and over again, to no purpose. I’m sad about that. I’m hopeful that new growth and vigor will arise. That is what prophets are for.
Ivy, vaccinated people can still catch Covid-19 delta variant. They just don’t get as sick, if they even notice they’re infected. . And they can still pass it on to other people. Wearing masks helps reduce transmission.
And doesn’t the reverse also hold… people have been staying away precisely because others have not been wearing masks?
I am vaccinated. I and others who were vaccinated were promised by the CDC and President Biden that if we got vaccinated, we would not have to wear masks. I expect that promise to be honored and I expect the church to support the honoring of promises.
Wayne, if you can find a single instance where Joe Biden and/or the CDC “promised” you that wouldn’t have to wear masks again if you got vaccinated, please share, chapter and verse.
I find it very ironic that the church is now so concerned about health that it will mandate masks at activities, even for vaccinated members. The same church that cannot have an activity without high-sugar, high-fat food and drinks.
“Now, I want to be clear about what the CD- — CDC is saying and what the CDC is not saying. The CDC is saying they have concluded that fully vaccinated people are at a very, very low risk of getting COVID-19. Therefore, if you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. Let me repeat: If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. “
President Biden, May 13, 2021, 3:58pm EDT.
Biden also said in that same speech: “ If you’re fully vaccinated and can take your mask off, you’ve earned the right to do something that Americans are known for all around the world: greeting others with a smile — with a smile. ”
There you go, Jared’s Brother. The promise could not be more clear.
Wayne, that part of President Biden’s statement was preceded by this: The CDC is saying they have concluded that fully vaccinated people are at a very, very low risk of getting COVID-19.
Sorry, hit post too quickly. The president did not say there was no risk. He urged Americans to protect themselves in the same speech. And he was speaking before Delta arrived on the scene. Also, he noticeably did not use the word ‘promise.’ Healthcare professionals and politicians know better than to use that word when speaking of a virus, generally, but also public behavior.
Come on, Wayne and Ivy. Do you imagine that any person’s promise can hold back a natural disaster? Why would you think that? We do our best. Experts give their best advice. When circumstances change, we adapt our response. Why is it even necessary to point this out? You sound like a person who refuses to leave the beach before the hurricane hits because the weather forecast “promised” that the storm would go somewhere else.
“Is community important to a church?” Yes! And without it, a Church really can’t exist long-term.
“What value does a church offer if it does not create community or provide pastoral care?” Not nearly enough to justify its existence.
“What sorts of changes have you seen in the place the Church has in your life the last twenty years?” There are clearly different needs for community at different phases of life: when you are a kid, when you have kids, when you need help, when you are self-sufficient. I’m now really in that last category. If the people at Church aren’t my friends or people I relate to on a voluntary basis (and right now, they aren’t), there’s no draw.
“What do you see as how money relates to a church?” I’m pretty willing to give churches a pass to the extent that they want to be solvent, but the COJCOLDS let its solvency turn into this behemoth crazypants quantity of money that it doesn’t seem to have any vision for spending. I have empathy for how we got there, but I also don’t think we should keep stockpiling funds like this, and I feel very differently about tithing to help the poor and to build community than I do for vanity projects or hedge funds or fighting gay rights or the whiny self-interested Christians-only so-called Religious Freedom drumbeat that is all about harming other people with impunity while privileging the already-protected rights of the religious majority in the US.
“What is a Church and what are we now that we are no longer the “Mormon People” or an ethnic group anyone could join?” It feels like we are an indoctrination factory at this point, including thought police and correlated curricula with a call-answer, lather-rinse-repeat setup. But the magic still happens in individual wards as we work together as a community to raise and support kids, to
Hedgehog: “people have been staying away precisely because others have not been wearing masks” My consternation is the selfish a-holes who refuse to get vaccinated, causing the rest of us to have to mask up again despite the fact that we are fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, here in the US, there are a whole lot of Mormons who refuse to get vaccinated as a mark of their loyalty to Trump, and obviously we can’t really tell the difference when nobody is wearing a mask (even though they are supposed to be wearing them). It feels like the Church (and for the most part, the country) has just given up on reaching these people.
Wayne and Ivy, as a fellow citizen, thanks for getting your vaccine. It is unfortunate that the virus has mutated to become more problematic, but that’s the reality. Joe Biden cannot change that. Moving forward, please protect yourselves and your families. The data shows that your viral load, should you encounter covid, is as heavy as that of an unvaccinated person, meaning the length of contact required to become infected is now much, much shorter. Also, delta impacts kids where previous variants really did not. Unless the virus is also paying attention to what the president says, it does not matter.
Wayne: You can’t fight a virus with a promise, even if one had been made as you describe. Nice try, and I wish you could.
Trish: obesity isn’t contagious like a virus is. I can choose not to eat the red punch & cookies, but I can’t choose not to partake of someone’s Covid particles.
Your grandfather reminds me of my own. He was the first American-born child of Irish immigrant parents, both devout Catholics. At age 18, my grandfather went to his parish priest and renounced Catholicism, citing the hypocrisy of the church hoarding wealth and his general skepticism of “miracles” and other supernatural claims. He went on to a career in the military (serving in WWII and Korea, seeing combat action in both) but never re-engaged with organized religion for the rest of his life. He was never hostile to or critical of religious people, and he was supportive of his son (my dad) choosing to join the LDS Church as a young adult, and he was kind and decent to others but never a very spiritual person. To him, religion just wasn’t a particularly useful part of living a fulfilling, purposeful life. He had plenty of other social/recreational outlets that satisfied his need for community. He did, however, give generously to the Salvation Army throughout his life. When he returned from his first combat tour in WWII, after his ship sank, SA representatives were on hand at the pier to give out hot food, coffee, blankets and whatever else they needed.
“What Sorts of changes have you seen in the place the Church has in your life the last twenty years?”
I don’t know how much this relates to community, but I feel like the church is being purged of anything artistic. No more road shows, no more singing in Relief Society meeting, removal of murals from Pioneer era temples, no more pageants and no more North Visitor Center on Temple Square. When I was first married, I played the organ in a very old building in downtown Salt Lake City. During the Sacrament I was able to sit on the stand and contemplate the beautiful stained-glass window at the back of the building. For a lot of people, enjoying beautiful art in all forms is part of and enhances their worship. I am starting to really miss the artistic things that used to be associated with the church.
One area that needs examination is early morning seminary. The LDS students have enough on their plate without this drudgery. Let them get their religious indoctrination on Sunday.
Ivy, “the vaccinated have no good reason to wear masks in public.”
What are you talking about? The vaccinated can carry the delta variant even if they don’t get sick from it and spread it to the unvaccinated, who are much more likely to get sick. We wear the masks to protect the unvaccinated from getting sick, to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with sock patients, and to encourage the unvaccinated to get the vaccine, which they can easily do now for free. The church is not being political at all in this decision. It is following common sense public health guidance. It is and always has been the anti-maskers, the anti-vaxxers, the vaccine hesitant, and the idiots who taunt and threaten Tennessee school board members by saying “we will find you” while blocking them from leaving a parking lot who have been playing politics and a dangerous one at that.
“the vaccinated have no good reason to wear masks in public.”
I’ll argue that the vaccinated have ‘less of a reason in terms of personal protection to wear masks in public’. My area has returned to full-masks when indoors. Prior we were mask-mandatory-if-unvaccinated, and almost no one wore them. Since 50% of my county is unvaccinated, what that meant is that the unvaccinated just didn’t care or wanted to pretend they were vaccinated so they could go maskless. By having me, a vaccinated person, wear a mask along with with everyone else, it means the unvaccinated can’t lie/cheat and thus the overall community is better protected. Interestingy, this was true at church as well, which I found deeply disturbing.
I agree with ReTx, and frankly, it pisses me off.
Re. money. I understand that the church needs to be solvent, like Angela said. And then somewhere beyond solvent, who knows exactly how far.
But for some reason, the Rome temple was a final straw for me. I just don’t see how it can be justified. So over the top in a place where I imagine it will hardly be used.
I’m a roadshow-era member, and I have good memories of the closeness in our little branch. We gave our all.
But my kids were quite busy and involved at church, and still left. The strong community is what made leaving so sad for them, and guilt-inducing. More activities wouldn’t have made a difference. Once they saw Joseph Smith as not a truthful person; once they became full-fledged women and looked closely at the history, doctrines, and policies regarding women; once they realized they couldn’t support the churches LGBT stance; once they started to believe that God would still love them – they felt compelled to strike out on their own, sad as they were to go.
Is community important to a church?
My impression from the Brethren is that they believe a testimony is what matters the most. But being part of a church is a relationship, not just a belief system. If the relationship sours, beliefs can only hold you there for so long. Yes, absolutely, the community matters as much as the beliefs, for purposes of putting people in the pews on Sundays.
What value does a church offer if it does not create community or provide pastoral care?
The discussion of truths and right/wrong is interesting. And observing the social experiment of people trying to live by a standardized set of values and beliefs is interesting.
What sorts of changes have you seen in the place the Church has in your life the last twenty years?
It’s gone from being the center of my life to being irrelevant. Over the span of years, my relationship with the Church broke down as my lived experience kept contradicting what the Church taught me. This was after an extremely faithful life – seminary, institute, mission, temple marriage, callings in every ward, attending activities, listening to Gen Conf, fasting, regular temple attendance. I did everything the Brethren asked us to do and I still couldn’t make it work so I finally quit blaming myself and left.
What do you see as how money relates to a church?
Churches need money to operate, but their members have a right to know how the money is being spent. I remember rolling my eyes at the TV evangelists of the 1980s who got their audience to send them money and then they spent it on jets and other luxuries. The Church hoards it instead. It’s not right. The Church could do much better with its funds, including paying its employees more. Quit expecting volunteers to do so much. I’ve been in a place where I’ve seen the real life harm it’s done to expect senior missionaries to do jobs they aren’t qualified for. This is a huge organization, and the Church needs to pay for the expertise it needs, not expect the elderly to hope for inspiration in an area in which they’ve had no training.
What is a Church and what are we now that we are no longer the “Mormon People” or an ethnic group anyone could join?
I don’t know. I still consider myself a Mormon – that’s my heritage and history, though I’ve let go of the idea that I need to live my life by the Brethren’s standards.
TC I’m with you. Beautiful sacred music and visual art can inspire the the soul in ways that words just cannot even begin to do. I’ve had so many private music students return from missions (before Monson became the prophet) and share with me experiences they had where their music (played as a solo or played with other missionaries) literally opened doors, softened hearts, helped investigators understand what it meant to “feel the spirit”, broke down barriers and misconceptions that other people and churches had about our church and always brought a spirit of peace and love to whatever situation the student found him or herself in. Music is the universal language. The leadership of the church appears to have forgotten this important and vital truth. Unfortunately, ward choirs, if they even exist anymore, sing what my husband and I refer to as “the dregs of Mormon music”. I’ve quit the professional music recording scene for the most part because so much of it deals with recording albums for LDS recording “artists”. The quality of the music is generally abysmal, and I personally felt like I don’t want anyone who knows me to see my name in the liner notes. After an especially trying recording session of truly dreadful LDS gospel music my best friend and I both realized that we would be embarrassed to stand before the Savior and have Him know that we’d wasted the our time and our talents performing that kind of music. The same thing goes for art. Before the pandemic the church decided to approve art for church buildings around the world. Most of the art was kitschy at best. And of course, there’s the shameful destruction Salt Lake Temple murals that were painted by men who were set apart and sent on art missions to Paris in order to study with the world’s greatest artists and then return home to paint the most beautiful murals to adorn each of the rooms that temple patrons moved through as they progressed through the live endowment ceremony. These murals were a labor of love as well as masterpieces in their own right. Now they’ve been thoughtlessly destroyed. I’ve often wondered how those men who are now on the other side must’ve felt to have witnessed their labor of love needlessly obliterated.
It’s not just the quality of the music, art, architecture and other “artistic” expressions of the church that are lacking. As a world famous musician told my BYU masterclass when I was a freshman in order for music, visual art, etc. to be of the highest quality it must communicate the love and other emotions that the artist/performer is trying to convey to the listener, viewer, etc. Not only have the arts become an afterthought in the church, but the quality has dropped so low it is usually completely devoid of feeling. I’d rather hear a simple Primary song sung with feeling than to hear an accomplished pianist play a technically perfect solo without any feeling whatsoever. The same goes for visual art.
While I’m at it I’d like to see Boyd K. Packer’s abominable “hymns only” rule abolished for good. In my opinion that was the death knell to beautiful and meaningful music in church. What galls me is that he had no musical talent or training at all. However, he was the president of the Q12 and could throw his weight around-which he did frequently. So one unmusical man’s pet cause became a church wide rule, just like the inane rules about men and boys only wearing white shirts to church or not using the word Mormon. There is so much beautiful music that isn’t found in the hymnal that could inspire and uplift any sacrament meeting. And how about us adding some uptempo African American spirituals to the hymnal? Going to a Black Baptist or Episcopal AME worship service are THE BEST in terms of sheer joy and exuberance of worship. LDS hymns are always sung at the speed of paint drying. Surely we can do much, much better!
Oops! I meant TL. My apologies.
A Poor Wayfaring Stranger – I was TC before I was married and TL after, so I didn’t even notice the difference until after I read your apology. And I love all your thoughts on music and arts.I fear that as we take the arts out of our worship they won’t ever come back. But since I like some of the recent streamlining (I’m especially thinking 2 hour church!) I guess I have to accept streamlining in areas I don’t like as well.
Your grandfather sounds like an observant, astute, and ethical man. What a great legacy he left!
1 – Money
The response to the $100B financial leak was basically “we need it for a future meltdown and for the second coming”. I pictured Jesus asking Rusty to pick-up the lunch tab because he left his wallet in his other robe – on Kolob. And what past global financial meltdowns have left the stock market intact?
2 – The current state of the church
A few months ago I watched “The Catcher Was a Spy” on Amazon (highly recommend it). It’s based on the true story of Moe Berg, a former pro baseball player who was a graduate of Princeton and Columbia law school. He spoke several languages and was recruited by the OSS as a spy during WWII. One of the minor characters in the film was Eric Author Blair – better known by the pseudonym of George Orwell.
That inspired me to re-read “Animal House”. This time, I saw it through the lens of the church, rather than socialism. The farm animals were, to me, very much like us as members of the church: Pledging our time, talents, means, and everything with which the Lord has or will bless us. The noble leaders (the pigs) were wise and benevolent. The changes to the system were subtle until at the end the founding principles were rewritten, old ideas completely forgotten, the common members were constantly to give more in return for receiving less, and the leaders became increasingly isolated, authoritative, and enriched. A cautionary tale for the saints.
3 – I am surprised – and concerned – about how young members from their teens up through their thirties increasingly report feeling traumatized and abused by “regular” church. The first thoughts I had centered around “kids these days” – not quite JCS style. But upon going deeper into their stories, current church authoritarianism, patriarchy, very vocal anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, increasing purity culture, constant high demands to “be more perfect in keeping your covenants”, and an ever growing pharisaical list of expected beliefs and performances is taking a terrible toll on their emotional/phycological wellbeing. There is real and unrelenting trauma.
I think we are past the tipping point for young members. Another decade of the current practices will leave us with very few young families. Us old guys will die off. The enduring legacy of the church in the first world may ultimately boil down to the money in the bank.
I agree with everyone here that community is vital to the Church. I think in an effort to “streamline” and “simplify” Church life, the leaders have stripped away important community elements. The results and problems with that have been discussed at length here. It’s a paradox, it seems life in the “mission field” used to be incredibly demanding, but resulted in a sense of community, even with large geographic distances. When I grew up overseas, everyone in our little branch had 2-3 callings, we were always going to people’s houses for dinner and it was definitely a huge time commitment but very rewarding. I think the effort to simplify Church life has hit wards that are geographically spread out particularly hard. Right now I live in Utah in a small ward where you can walk the ward boundaries. We have a lot of informal gatherings and “neighborhood” get- togethers that are meant to be more inclusive, but also continue to stoke the fire of community. You have lots of friends and feel close to the people you see on walks, at block parties and at Church on Sunday. I love it. People also chip in their own resources and money to keep that going. I have embraced cafeteria Mormonism and love being part of that community, even though I pick and choose what I do and believe. I’m not sure this would work in a large geographic ward where the tendency seems to be to cater to the more hard core members who didn’t come to play and socialize but for the “meat” of the gospel.
It’s also kind of sad how quickly this thread devolved into people sniping back and forth about vaccines and masks. I think that is also dividing people and preventing a sense of community.