Once there were Mormons.
Many years ago, in 1960, a young scholar, Jan Shipps, discovered a previously unknown ethnic group “the Mormons” in the wilds between the Midwest of Chicago and the West of California.
Created hundreds of years sooner than any other ethnic groups have ever formed due to the sequela of polygamy, they had a religious element but only 10% of them were active in the religion.
The group was unique in that you could join it rather than have to be born into it.
“Mormonism” was a high demand and high reward entity. It had a rich family, cultural and social environment.
Financially the institutional side was break even and often stressed.
At the same time, many of the leaders knew how to minister, even if they did not administer precisely or with great skill. Claims of authority were off-set by the way everyone knew each other and a doctrine and practice that rejected infallibility.
Service in the hierarchy was a sacrifice and a number of people turned down the call.
That legacy has passed into history and Mormons are no more.
Instead of an extended family there is now a church. While there are some who can minister, the hierarchy is chosen for ability to administer and for self-referential social connections.
It is now an expensive and high demand religion with a low return for the average member. For the hierarchy instead of great sacrifice required to serve in the leadership it offers the men involved a very high return.
Outside of a core group in each congregation (known as “the same twenty people” or “the same five families”) there is no rich or rewarding social milieu or socialization for members.
Church members receive just two hours of bland meetings a week and a chance to give janitorial service and sustain the same twenty people as they rotate positions.
At stake and general conferences, it is not unusual for sermons to contain a significant amount of context about social and family relationships between leaders. Such a focus can be interpreted as if the true concerns of the leadership is on their own social connections and position rather than on anything related to God.
The top leadership, a quasi-ethnic group of its own with many daughters’ husbands and sisters’ sons, has a rich financial and social interconnection that is not extended outwards to the common members.
The church is finally wealthy.
But there are no more Mormons.
What do you think?
- What has replaced the extended family that the Church once offered?
- Are “Mormons” now extinct?
- What does a member now receive for their tithing compared to what the Church used to offer?
- Where does the Church go now?
The church hasn’t changed nearly as much as the surrounding culture has. The church was seen in a better light 60 years ago because the culture of those days was more amenable to it.
@Jack, I respectfully disagree–I assert that the church HAS changed AS MUCH as the surrounding culture–in some ways, with the gap between “church” and “society” increasing (e.g. the contrast of the “doctrine” of the family with accepted cultural norms), but in my opinion in most ways with that gap DECREASING:
* at the general member level, sentiments towards LGBTQ rights have softened significantly, in many cases closely approximating the sentiments of society overall
* at the organizational level, a drift away from an ecclesiastical structure to a modern corporate structure that is in many ways indistinguishable from any Fortune 500 company
* at the curriculum level, as the curriculum and “approved” teaching materials (recycled general conference talks) severely under-emphasize (in the best case) or wholly abandon (in the worst and more common case) the unique aspects of our church’s doctrine and teachings such that our sacrament meetings and second hour meetings can only be differentiated from those happening at other Christian churches because the content is just so much more insipid
* at the social level, in that members feel very little connection with the church socially (the decimation of activities and cultural aspects beyond lock-step fawning deference to leaders having essentially dissolved any sense of community that once existed)–so because the church doesn’t offer anything unique or differentiated in the social realm, the once-unique “social aspects” of church approach zero meaning that the church drifts closer to society as a whole.
As many others have (much more eloquently) lamented, the unique beauty that was once a part of “Mormonism” is now but a vestigial memory.
Maybe I’m an outlier or maybe I have a different outlook, but my experience is totally different from the original post.
– Two years ago my wife and I moved from California to Colorado and immediately welcomed into our ward, quickly developed deep and lasting friendships and have had many rich, significant spiritually and intellectually stimulating interactions. This is the same extended “church” family I grew up in North Dakota, 60 years ago.
– I don’t see leadership in the wards and stakes I’ve lived in rotating again a few key families. Instead I’ve seen all members given the opportunity to new and develop new skills.
Mormonism is a rich and vibrant as it has always been. I think you just have to look for it.
Ah, the good old days. When Ezra Taft Benson and Joseph Fielding Smith, each with his own agenda, tried to hijack the Church (and almost succeeded). And if you think social connections among leaders were less important back then, you need to read more Quinn.
Everyone in every generation attempts to hijack the Church.
Social connections have always been important.
It’s interesting to me that the church hasn’t reinvested in the members socially yet. We complain all the time about all sorts of things. Sam Young complained about one-on-one interviews and voila now either parents are invited to attend or the door is kept open during these interviews. Kate Kelly complained about gender inequality and voila now women are speaking and praying in GC. (I realize we still have a long way to go here but we have to start somewhere). Members are voting with their money requesting fiscal transparency and voila Oaks stops talking about the gays and talks about charitable giving. Yet we’ve been lamenting for years the loss of community and still nothing.
@Karl: Good for you! Your stake sounds incredible! But please don’t blame me for not belonging in my stake. I’ve looked high and low for a place to belong. It’s simply not there. Not only do the same 10 families do everything, the breadwinner in these same 10 families all work for the same brokerage firm. Not all stakes are created equal.
It really bugs me when people try to blame the culture. The culture is a natural and organic result of the doctrine. Culture doesn’t just spring to life spontaneously. And even if it does, if the culture is harmful, then fix it.
Ouch. Hits too close to reality for so many of us.
I would note that the LDS movement has always had its “noble families.” But that in times past, there was an extraordinary “common touch” by authorities (I am thinking J. Golden Kimball) and what could be described as a “noblesse oblige” held by some members of these noble houses (I am thinking Spencer W. Kimball and Hugh B. Brown). Local leaders were noted for their long-suffering service to others.
Gradually over the last 50 years, a new class system and ideology has developed in the Church based upon a business/managerial model. An entitled “white collar” attitude has permeated those who operate the church system from Bishop upward. The working class (identified among men by not holding the office of high priest since the dissolution of the high priest groups) are not designated as leadership. In spite of changes to the ward council system, neither are women. Leadership sessions of stake conferences and meetings are formatted largely to stroke the egos of managerial leadership. They don’t actually “do” anything for real people. They talk. They “manage” situations and money. The emphasis is not on personal service to others, but on dogma and self-promotion through the levels of power. (I know several Area Seventies who fit this description). One can only wonder what King Benjamin, Jesus of Nazareth and the old pioneer LDS Bishops who took great pains to care for the underprivileged would think of modern LDS leadership.
So maybe the Church is like a health club you belong to where, at some point, the machines start breaking and are not repaired, no new machines, nobody you talk to there, the place looks a little run down — so you stop going and exercising but still keep paying the $75 a month fee. Maybe you feel more fit just because you pay the money every month. You could save $75 if you quit paying, but then you would feel less fit and maybe even lose sleep at night because you were no longer on the Fitness Path. Your Plan of Fitness was no longer working. As long as you keep paying, you won’t get representatives from the Heatlh Club knocking on your door wondering why you no longer attend and why your dues aren’t being paid.
TBM readers here believe that the COJCOLDS is the one true Church. And I used to think that. But I now view the COJCOLDS as simply the Brighamite branch of the Mormon Church. And the Brighamite branch distinguishes itself from the other branches in that it is a large US corporation with massive wealth that it mostly sits on but also builds enormous and visible buildings all over the world. That’s it. That’s what it is and it shows in how it is organized and administered. The irony is that while the Church is barely growing, it has never been stronger if you define strength in terms of financial assets. I’ll let others decide whether it is also strong in terms of community, spirituality, etc.
Wow. As a happily lapsed Mormon, I would say this is the most potent combination of pithy, insightful, and devastating church critique I’ve read. Money corrupts everything, even the lord’s one true church.
@Jack: I have a different view of the Church’s standing 60 years ago based on my experiences as a member living in New York back then. I noticed interfaith efforts to relieve suffering and asked why we didn’t join in. I was told that because we were the one true church, we didn’t join with false religions. In retrospect, I think it was sour grapes and that other religions didn’t accept US. I had a classmate check my head under my hair to find my Mormon “horns”. We weren’t accepted or respected in those days. It wasn’t until decades later that I saw the Church begin to join with other religions in relief work, etc. Just my experience; others may have different perspective based on their experiences.
I pretty much agree with Jade, except for the “unique beauty” bit. In Mormonism what isn’t creepy, is cheesy.
Jack, 60 yrs ago the Church discriminated against Blacks. That’s a pretty big change. Recent coming clean on Church history is a dramatic change.
Because of changes in society, going back to the Church’s old level of sociability is not a viable option. But leaders should be able to develop new activities that can accommodate societal changes. For example, encourage more participation in local and global humanitarian projects.
Church members need to quit looking backward, and start looking more toward the future. Living a more a Christlike existence and moving away from meaningless jobs and meetings. Less emphasis on the dead and more on the living.
Jade, LHCA, and Roger Hansen,
I agree that the church has changed in many ways — logistical mostly — that are calculated to accommodate changes in the surrounding culture. But it has not changed any of its foundational doctrines, practices, or teachings–not in any significant way so far as I can tell. And it’s the church’s immovable position on those basic elements that have and will continue to cause the most friction between itself and a world whose philosophies are becoming increasingly antithetical to the restored gospel.
“But it has not changed any of its foundational doctrines, practices, or teachings…”
I guess that works if we simply define “foundational” as simply those constants that never change. The problems occur when the church leaders defend things that eventually do change. I guess they did not understand that the things they thought were foundational were not really foundational! And I really wonder what this foundational argument does to the foundational teaching of continuing revelation. Unless continuing revelation is not foundational either…. I better stop, I am giving myself a headache.
“Church members receive just two hours of bland meetings a week and a chance to give janitorial service and sustain the same twenty people as they rotate positions.” Wow, that was a gut punch. Accurate.
A couple of decades ago, a stake president friend told me that, above the ward level, it was “all talk.” Nobody above the level of bishop is asked to help anyone else. Or, as Nibley warned us several decades back, we’ve made “the fatal shift” from having leaders to having managers.