Mormon Membership is Getting Increasingly Restless

With the blossoming of the Internet and social media, it is now much easier for individuals and groups to gather around common causes.  Among the LDS causes are some relatively minor ones like dress standards for girls at Church camp, women being able to attend Priesthood Meeting, and the quality of Deseret Book’s publications.  But there are also more serious issues like women being given more responsible ecclesiastical positions, women holding the priesthood, funding for Brigham Young University, lack of transparency with Church finances, and the Church’s judicial process.  Plus, there are serious doctrinal issues with some Mormon conservatives.

Women Being Given More Responsible Roles:   Even more conservative members of the LDS Church are starting to lobby for higher visibility and more responsible roles for women.  Based on recent successes, feminism in Mormonism seems to be gathering serious traction.  And from a practical perspective, it would seem that limiting the role for half the adult members is counterproductive.

Women Holding the Priesthood:  The idea of women holding the priesthood seems to be moving from the fringes to a wider level of support.  There is still not a ground swell of support for the movement, but the idea seems to gathering momentum.

Funding for Brigham Young University:  Some are starting to question whether the major funding going to BYU is appropriate.  For example, is it fair to heavily subsidize upper and middle-class members while providing only loans to students in developing countries?

Lack of Transparency in Church Finances:  The LDS leadership, since the time of President David O. McKay, has been hesitant to share information about how tithing and other monies are spent.  This issue has started to come to a head as investments in things like a SLC mall are being questioned.

Fairness of the Church Judicial Process:  With the recent excommunication of attorney Denver C. Snuffer Jr., there is going to be increased scrutiny on the Church’s judicial processes.  Are they fair?  Do they need to be fair?  Who should be allowed to attend?

And I’m sure there are other concerns that I have left off–like LGBT issues–from this summary.

These are times of increasing change.  Is the senior leadership of the Church going to be able to handle all the pressure which comes from improved forms of communication?  The Internet and social media have allowed members with similar ideas to come together and interact.  This makes possible a wide variety of initiatives and protests.

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16 Responses to Mormon Membership is Getting Increasingly Restless

  1. Molly says:

    I keep bouncing back and forth on this issue. I am inclined to believe that substantial change won’t happen within the church. The Mormon leadership has always lagged decades, if not centuries, behind social and political progress. In order to be accepted in the modern world, the LDS hierarchy would have to publicly and formally admit that they were wrong about the origin of the world, the origin of racial differences in humanity, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, their archaic views on gender and sexuality, their political lobbying against the Equal Rights Amendment and for Proposition 8 and other anti-equality legislation, the demonstrable incorrectness of the Pearl of Great Price “translation” and goodness knows how many other critical flaws in doctrine, practise, and culture. I believe the hierarchy know this which is why they never apologise for mistakes — just downplay the past and pretend that doctrine never supported behaviours that are now unfashionable. In order to make Mormonism acceptable to the modern world, it would be bent past the breaking point. The religion that remained would have little to no resemblance to the original. The church is already so different from the movement founded by Joseph Smith that you could easily say it’s now a different religion. Given the options of doing all the work to twist and mutilate a creative but flawed ideology into a modern ethical framework or simply walking away, I chose walking away.

  2. Lori says:

    I so hear you Molly.

  3. charles10 says:

    Re Denver Snuffer: are the LDS leaders serious? Snuffer is 100% correct in that the church is radically different today than it was in its infancy. Evidence? Let’s start with the doctrine of polygamy, shall we? Yes, it’s a doctrine and not many members know this.
    Heck, it’s different today than it was a couple decades ago. I was baptized in the 1970’s and left the church in 2000’s. I can tell you that the years prior to Correlation and Strengthening the Members, church was a lot of fun. A LOT of fun and people had more policy and social control over local matters. It was a kinder, gentler LDS church back then; today it is very much corporatized. Top down management is the order of the day and NO ONE gets to communicate with the upper echelons anymore, not even to say “Hi!”. LDS church has become a faceless, even heartless business where numbers matter over people. The church even has a PR Agency handling their affairs. Why?
    While on my mission, I was shocked to learn that Mission Presidents expected us to predict baptism goals. We were taught awful sales techniques to get people to “listen to the Spirit”. We were scolded if we could not get people to convert. The whole thing is ironic, oxymoronic and just plain moronic.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Charles,

      I grew up in Michigan and graduated from high school in 1963. During my formative years, I enjoyed going to Church. It was fun (and intellectually challenging), I agree with you. Not so much anymore.

      In 1964, I served a Mormon mission to France. It was not fun (and not productive). My mission experiences were similar to the ones you describe.

      My concerns with the existing Church are similar to yours. The issue becomes whether we should stay or go. I currently stay for two reasons: (1) family heritage and (2) I haven’t found anything better. For all intents and purposes, I agnostic.


    • Allen says:

      Hi Charles,

      I think the pressure on missionaries to get baptisms varies with the mission president. I served a mission in 1956/57, and my mission president put no pressure on us to get baptisms. This was before emphasis was put on member referrals, and we did mostly door-to-door tracting. As you would expect, our baptism rate was low. In fact, during my two years, I only baptized one person, but I felt very successful as a missionary. We worked hard, met a lot of people, and gave a lot of lessons. We were there to teach and give people the opportunity to decide for themselves about becoming members of the church. We even felt successful when people wouldn’t invite us into their homes, because we had given them the chance to invite us in or not.

  4. Allen says:

    “NO ONE gets to communicate with the upper echelons anymore, not even to say “Hi!”. ”

    I guess it depends on the purpose of the communications. A couple of years ago I sent a letter to President Eyring describing a visit made by his father, Henry Eyring, to the local chapter of the American Chemical Society. As a missionary, I was teaching a man who was Secretary of the local chapter of the ACS, and my investigator was assigned to be host for Dr. Eyring for the day. He asked Dr. Eyring what he wanted to do for the afternoon, expecting Dr. Eyring would want to visit some of the chemical plants that proliferated the Charleston, W. Va. area, and he was surprised that Dr. Eyring wanted to visit the state Capitol and learn about the history of West Virginia. I received a nice reply back from President Eyring thanking me for passing on that story about his father.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Allen,

      Your point is well taken. But I think you and Charles are talking about two somewhat separate things. If we have an issue with the Church as an institution, we are encouraged to go through our local Bishops, and–as a starting point–that is a long way from anybody with any real decision-making capability (Bishop to Stake President to Area Rep to Seventy to ?).

      Your example deals with a personal experience with a relative of a GA. Your communication is of a person nature and not one that voices concerns over institutional issues.


      • Allen says:

        Hi Roger,

        You have a good point about comments concerning decisions, policy, and doctrine. My comment was directed towards Charles’ comment about saying “Hi” to a General Authority.

        I moved from Massachusetts to Utah at the end of 1992. While living in Massachusetts, I was called as the Scoutmaster and served in that calling for about 11 years. My Bishop broke the “rule” of having the scout troop only for Deacons, and he let me have in the troop all boys in the ward. I set up patrols for each age group in the AP. We were a small ward, and with 3-4 Deacons, it would have been impossible for us to have had a functional troop. We would have been, in reality, just a patrol without a troop. By having all boys from 11 to 18, we were able to function as a troop. My Senior Patrol Leader and his assistant were Priests, and they had good leadership experience, experience that wouldn’t have been available if we had only Deacons.

        After I moved to Utah, I wrote a letter to the general scout committee suggesting that the church amend its policy for allow small wards and branches to have in the scout troop all three age groups of the AP. I never did hear anything back from the scout committee, not even a courtesy reply that they had received my letter.

        The church is very big today, and it would be difficult for questions to be received and answered by general authorities. I understand the viewpoint of you and Charles, but I think the size of the church dictates that the current policy be in effect. An example of this is my calling as a missionary in 1955. I was interviewed by a member of the Twelve, and I was set apart in the church office building on South Temple as a missionary by another member of the Twelve. Today, those functions are performed by Stake Presidents. That’s over 3000 men compared to 12 men. Yes, callings and setting apart are less personal today, but the number of missionaries today compared to when I was called is huge, and it would be difficult for 80,000 (or what ever we have today) missionaries to be called and set apart by members of the Twelve.

  5. rogerdhansen says:

    Hi Allen,

    I liked your boy scout story. (I would have liked it even more if you had occasionally included the girls in your ward.) It’s too bad you didn’t get a response from upper management.

    How you deal with a large top-down organization is an interesting one. How do you effectuate change under such leadership? You are right, it is difficult for upper management to deal with innovative ideas because of the large size of the membership. Thus the need for a filter. The problem with the current Bishop-up model is that it takes a long time, and I suspect many good ideas (like yours) gets filtered out.

    A Harvard business prof is advising the Church on innovation. He is currently on the board of the Deseret News. It will be interesting to see what changes occur in the future.

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