Mormon Myths

If you haven’t read “Five Myths About Mormonism,” a piece at the Washington Post by Joanna Brooks, you should. There are plenty of Mormon myths out there, but few people are going to visit the LDS Newsroom or the Mormon Defense League to upgrade their ideas about Mormons and what we believe. We need more articles like this in the mainstream media to get the message out.

Here’s a quick list of the five myths noted in the article, with an added comment or two by me.

1. Mormons practice polygamy. Not any more. The fact that we once did is not something we can get around, but current practice really ought to control the debate. Brooks’ admission that polygamy “remains a source of tension for mainstream Mormons” and the accompanying explanation is the sort of candid commentary that you won’t find at the Newsroom or at MDL. Candor builds credibility.

2. Mormons aren’t Christians. This is the conservative Christian meme that will never die. I am appalled that students taped anti-Mormon notes to her locker in high school. Some of them are probably the same pathetic folks who display “Mormons Aren’t Christians” signs outside General Conference and LDS pageants, which just goes to show that sometimes people get what they deserve.

3. Most Mormons are white, English-speaking conservatives. I suppose you could say that most American Mormons fit those parameters, and in an America that is increasingly polarized along political lines, it’s the “conservative” part that really annoys journalists in the largely liberal media. We need higher profile Mormon liberals (not to be confused with Liberal Mormons) to combat this misperception. It would help if Jon Huntsman would just switch parties.

4. Mormon women are second-class citizens. Sensitive topic, and as a male I don’t have much credibility to respond. Ironically, the presence of LDS feminists within the ranks of the active LDS membership is one of the best practical responses to this objection.

5. A Mormon president would blur the line between church and state. Only electing a Mormon president would dispel this myth, and that is unlikely to happen in the near future. Would a Mormon vice president be enough to kill the issue? Think Obama-Reid in 2012.

What is your view of the Brooks piece? Is this a problem that better PR like the “I’m a Mormon” campaign or more stories like this in the media will remove, or are Mormon myths always going to be part of the social landscape?

77 comments for “Mormon Myths

  1. Ironically, the presence of LDS feminists within the ranks of the active LDS membership is one of the best practical responses to this objection.

    Can you tell me who they are? or are you saying we should get some?

    And with a faltering economy and a Mormon leading the GOP field, I don’t think you can accurately say that electing one president is “unlikely” can you? Since polls show him ahead of the other GOP candidates AND beating Obama, is it unlikely that the frontrunner wins? Unless you think polls will shift back to Obama because he is running against a mormon.

  2. “Can you tell me who they are? or are you saying we should get some?”

    Read the Bloggernacle much?

  3. Jana Reiss just did the same thing at another blog that regularly features reader’s questions about different religious traditions. As you noted the importance of credibility, I think it is valuable to have a statement about the church reflecting the voice of a particular individual. It is easy for someone to deny the credibility of a church PR release, but the personal statement of a real Mormon has much more credibility with anyone who is honest in heart and actually listening. Which is the reason that features so many personal statements; what they lack in precision is made up for in their meta-message, that real people LIKE being Mormons and think it is a reasonable set of beliefs. After all, a first-time reader of an introduction is not likely to retain many details of the content. What they will remember the most is the fact that a real person who looks like one of their neighbors has made Mormons sound reasonable and open to discussion.

    Since the way people feel about Mormons is based on personal knowledge, and since our personal knowledge these days is what we get through the Internet, the more Mormons can show the flag and get across the meta-message that we are ready, willing and able to explain what we believe, and we are REAL people, the more people will understand that Mormons are not a threat to their health, wellbeing or salvation.

    The political rumors right now are that Obama is planning to try to make personal attacks on Romney, and label him as “weird”. Obviously, that is based on Romney being Mormon. The fact that Obama appointed a Mormon to be his Ambassador to China, and that his main supporter in the Senate is also Mormon, would, one should think, make such a campaign a liability, but obviously it would be run with the attacks being made by people other than Obama, often those who are employed in the news media. The fact that his campaign would consider raising weirdness as an issue, when their own man has difficulty persuading some people he was born in the US and, despite growing up in Indonesia with a Muslim stepfather, and a Muslim Kenyan birth father, is himself a Christian, is mind-boggling, but hypocrisy by politicians, especially those accusing other politicians of hypocrisy, is not novel.

  4. I won’t link directly there, but there is a discussion of Brooks’ article over at Main Street Plaza. They were (perhaps predictably) a wee bit more critical of some of her answers.

  5. In her WP article, as in most of what she writes, Brooks draws a few cause-effect relationships that make me squirm, but in general I think what she writes is positive, straightforward and understandable.

    I especially liked this line: “But ask my Jewish husband if he thinks his Christmas-celebrating, New Testament-reading Mormon wife is Christian, and his answer will be absolutely yes.”

  6. Saying that Mormons aren’t Christians isn’t so much a myth so much as a standard definitional argument. I have no problem saying that if we use their definition, we’re not Christians. But that’s sort of a boring argument.

  7. I loved the crack, “It would help if Jon Huntsman would just switch parties” under myth #3. I think he would fit in fairly well as a moderate democrat and would definitely improve the overall mix. It’s unfortunate that we seem to get no credit in the press for having Mormon democrats such as Harry Reid and Orson Scott Card. I suspect is mostly due to various people wanting to “smear” republicans with such weirdos as us.

  8. Problem #1: “Myths” #1 and #2 effectively contradict each other.

    “Christians” (read: Evangelicals and Fundamentalists) deny Mormons are Christian because they’ve narrowly defined ‘Christian’ in such a way that Mormons are excluded. Whereas Mormons will argue that definition is far too restrictive — common sense says (as Paul #5 noted) that someone who reads the New Testament as scripture and believes Jesus is the Son of God meets any reasonable definition of ‘Christian’. Evangelicals are Christian, but are not the ‘gatekeepers’ of Christianity — they don’t have the authority to define who is and who isn’t Christian.

    However (ironically) we then have Church spokespeople insisting that fundamentalists who practice polygamy are not “Mormon”. Now the LDS Church is the one using the narrow definition of a term to exclude others different from them, even though common sense says a church that accepts the Book of Mormon as scripture and believes Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God counts as “Mormon” in the same basic way. There are over 300 different churches derived from Joseph Smith in some way or another — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not the gatekeeper for who gets to consider themselves “Mormon” and who doesn’t.

    We can’t have it both ways; authoritatively claiming a narrow definition one place and a broad definition in another. That’s why Myth #2 is correct, but Myth #1 is wrong: modern believers in polygamy are, in fact, “Mormon” according to any reasonable, common sense definition of the word.

  9. I think I disagree with 1. Joanna states “Mainstream Mormons,” leaving out of the scope of her article other groups of the “Mormon” or LDS religious movement that do practice polygamy. If we are going to consider as Mormons only those who are “mainstream” then yes, polygamy is no longer practiced, but I don’t think this is correct.

    If we moan so much about other Christians not allowing us to call ourselves Christians, simply because there are differences in our beliefs about Christ, why would we then fail to allow polygamist groups of the LDS movement to be called Mormon?

    Don’t they believe in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith being a prophet of God; and don’t they practice a lifestyle that has roots in his teachings?

    I am sorry, maybe the statement “Mainstream Mormons do not practice polygamy” may be true. “Mormons do not practice polygamy” on the other hand, seems contextually incomplete and short of being completely true.

    Regarding number 3, I believe “Most Mormon Leaders, the actual men that guide the Church and whose decisions ultimately reflect what the membership as a whole should be following, are white, English speaking conservatives.” Therefore, you are right, most Mormons aren’t, but all Mormons are expected to align to the teachings and philosophies of their leaders (or in current Mormon code: “support their leaders”).

    About number 4, it is my feeling the fuel that keeps the LDS feminist movement is the fact that some of them do feel like second-class citizens. What good is to say someone is not a second class citizen when that someone feels like one anyway?

  10. Tom D,
    Orson Scott Card claims he’s a Democrat, but he’s not. He’s not even a DINO (ie–moderate). I bet it’s been twenty-five years since he voted for a Democrat presidential candidate over a Republican one. Maybe even longer. There are plenty of good Mormons who really are Democrats, but OSC isn’t one of them.

  11. These five are a combo of myths, things Mormons *want* to be myths, and things Brooks wants to be myths.

    Card sounds like a strung-out conservative on most things, but when you get him going on immigration or social justice stuff or high speed trains, he sounds like he’s preaching liberation theology.

  12. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Jax (#1), I’m sure FMH maintains a long list of Mormon feminists — go there and make inquiries, I’m sure you’ll get some answers.

    Andrew S (#4), thanks for the heads-up. It looks like MSP would have given Brooks better grades if she had affirmed the myths rather than disputing them. So, vis-a-vis the myth problem, it looks like MSP is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Brooks was very candid about disclosing negative information along with her rebuttals to the myths, which is one reason she has some credibility. If those who voice criticism were as candid about the positives of Mormonism, they might have more credibility too.

    KMB (#9), I think the definitional problems of “Christian” and “Mormon” are two different problems. It is possible to argue for a broad definition of Christian and a narrower definition of Mormon. Catholics are Christian and Eastern Orthodox are Christian and even Evangelicals are Christian, so obviously the term is fairly broad. For Mormonism, there is only one large LDS denomination, with one smaller denomination (that has removed LDS from its name to distance itself from its Mormon heritage, now called the Church of Christ) and a variety of very, very small splinter groups. So calling those splinter groups Mormon is more likely to cause confusion (clearly the goal of some of those who use the reference broadly) than to inform readers.

  13. “…and a variety of very, very small splinter groups. So calling those splinter groups Mormon is more likely to cause confusion…”

    Dave, I’m sorry but I feel bad you have such a faulty view and such a prominent and convenient double standard.

    So, when the Church was really really small, and was a simple “splinter group,” it would have been OK to claim they were not Christian, because, well, compared to the main Christian Religions, it would have been confusing…

    I think the solution is not to minimize other groups but to emphasize that they indeed are separate from the Church and following their own current set of beliefs which are different from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    To say that they won’t qualify as Mormons because they are small groups is rather lame and your explanation is further problematic and contradictory. I’m sorry, someone has to tell you.

  14. Manuel (#15), what I am saying is that when the average person hears someone described as a Mormon, they think of the LDS Church, but when someone hears a person described as a Christian, they don’t automatically identify them as a member of a particular denomination without further information. So describing members of one of the very small LDS splinter groups as “Mormon” — typically in an article discussing polygamy — is likely to be confusing. It is hard to dispute this.

    No one is suggesting these groups don’t have historical ties to the LDS Church or to Mormonism. The question is avoiding confusion in media reports. You seem entirely unconcerned about the confusion issue. This leads me to suspect that you don’t really understand the problem that is being discussed.

  15. If the general public actually understood the difference between somebody like Warren Jeffs and the people in the Church of jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then I would be willing to let the term “Mormon” be used in a broad way to refer to all groups that claim affinity to the Book of Mormon. But the fact is that, apart from polygamy, just about any news story or Google search that involves the word “Mormon” is concerned with the Church headed by Thomas Monson. The FLDS does not (so far as I know) have missionaries in 150 countries, it does not send disaster aid to Haiti, Chile and Japan, and it does not have members running for president of the US and occupying a dozen positions in Congress. It does not operate BYU with its campuses in Idaho and Hawaii which generate people into graduate schools around the country, or build temples around the world. It does not have claim to the membership of the millions of people who are most likely to be the Mormons that someone will encounter in their daily lives.

    In terms of the sheer investment that the LDS Church makes into the word Mormon–the Mormon Tabenacle Choir, Mormon Helping Hands, millions of copies of the Book of Mormon translated and printed in a hundred languages, 50,000 Mormon missionaries–the LDS Church deserves to “own” the word, and the people who do the other stuff ought to, every time they talk to someone from the news media, make absolutely clear they have no affiliation whatsoever with the church that gives the word “Mormon” real meaning in the modern world. As noted, the RLDS church has distanced itself from the Mormons and their history of pioneering the west, and the Book of Mormon for that matter. The polygamists can claim to be “Mormon” in a sociological sense, but they clearly are opposed to the LDS Church in the most fundamental ways, rejecting its authority and much of its doctrine. They should not get any of the credit for the real efforts of the LDS Church (which they reject) and its members to be good citizens and to live exemplary lives. For them to advertise themselves as “Mormon” without strong caveats is a way for them to undermine the LDS Church by smearing us with their behavior.

    And by the way, I don’t see in the polygamy that was practiced among the real Mormons the kind of abusive practices that are the hallmark of the polygamist sects, such as effective ownership of all property by church leaders, and control over who marries whom and when.

  16. I believe that the majority of Christian religions choose to isolate Mormons from Christianity because they are intimidated by The Book of Mormon, and other unique aspects of our Church. Namely, we have answers to big questions that they cannot begin to reckon with.

    I am generalizing for brevity’s sake. But it is obvious that at least Protestant religions have our number. They keep copying our rhetoric, and even our doctrine on occasion. And they are smart to do so. For instance, their followers are often perplexed about whether they are going to heaven or not because their famous tenants surrounding “works as evil” does not hold up…
    even to their clergy.

  17. “You seem entirely unconcerned about the confusion issue. This leads me to suspect that you don’t really understand the problem that is being discussed.”

    Hum… did you not read what I wrote? Let me copy/paste it here once again so you can read it this time:

    “I think the solution is not to minimize other groups but to emphasize that they indeed are separate from the Church and following their own current set of beliefs which are different from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    So, for the record, I am concerned about the confusion. But I think it is kind of shady that just because mainstream Mormons today care more about being marketable rather than being honest they conveniently try to erase other groups from the LDS religious movement and act as if polygamy was just a tiny glitch in Mormon history.

    Let’s be marketable, but let’s be honest and fair at the same time. And let’s educate people about the whole religious movement instead of relying on cheap marketing and labeling tricks like “we are the Mormons, they aren’t.”

  18. Re No. 5: “Only electing a Mormon president would dispel this myth…”

    Oh, I’m guessing that the Utah legislature’s antics and the percentage of Utahns who vote GOP each cycle might just keep Myth #5 alive even after Huntsman’s 2017 inauguration.

    Re Comment #14: Whoever wrote “candor builds credibility” got it right the first time. But I understand if you have to qualify that you only meant the upbeat perky kind of candor if that’s the only way for you to get your digs in at MSP. For the record, JB has more than just “some credibility” but that doesn’t mean there’s suddenly 14 million people on this planet who self-identify as LDS.

  19. Dave @14 — If you’re going to make a claim like that, please provide a link to the MSP article so that your readers can judge for themselves. I’d provide it myself, but I understand that any links to MSP posted here get the entire comment automatically sent to the circular file.

  20. BTW, regarding my critique on MSP:

    If you want to combat myths, the best solution is to provide clear, complete, and accurate information. I praised JB for the points where she did this. However, there were some points where her corrections could have been improved. For example, citing the figure “14.1 million Mormons” without even a hint that that’s a figure that has not stood up to independent verification (indeed nowhere near it). That sort of thing doesn’t help her credibility and doesn’t help people sort out the reality from the myth.

  21. Chanson, Mr. Pabst Blue Ribbon has kindly linked his defense of beer to the MSP site. That should be enough for the .01% of T&S readers who can’t figure out how to google “Main Street Plaza blog.”

    It seems we both agree that clear, complete, and accurate information is best, and that Brooks did a pretty good job. Well, I thought she did a pretty good job; you gave her one A, one B, one C, and two Ds. Your criticism of her dispute with the myth that an LDS President would be some sort of covert agent for Mormonism is especially puzzling. No evidence is cited for US Senators or Representatives acting in that way. Do you actually swallow that myth, or are you just playing to the “gone for good” crowd (that’s one of the site’s taglines) at MSP?

  22. Dave, the point of MDL is not an in-depth scholarly analysis of these issues.

    The point is making sure that journalists and the news media get their sound-bites right. And that their sound-bites provide the most accurate summary possible.

    This isn’t a graduate term paper you know.

    As for MDL’s exposure. I track Mormon issues in the news media through various tools. MDL has received coverage from established print newspapers in major cities across the US. Last I checked, the organization had been mentioned in around 20 newspapers.

    Not bad exposure, I’d say.

  23. Is there actually anybody on the planet who doesn’t understand that 14 million is just what the church claims it is? That is, members of record who haven’t died, resigned, or been excommunicated. Is there somebody who actually makes the claim that all 14,000,000 are active or self-identify as Mormons? The church doesn’t tag its membership records as to activity or self-identification (and that would be an impossible task anyway), so it reports the data it has: members of record.

  24. Thanks for the comment, Seth R. I wasn’t criticizing MDL, just noting that an article at WaPo is going to get a lot more viewers than similar articles at the LDS Newsroom or at MDL. Well, I said a little more than that, I suppose …

    About MDL: Apart from its affiliation with FAIR and disclaiming any affiliation with the LDS Church, there is no identification on the MDL site about who is running the place. It’s hard to know what to make of anonymous sites. You really ought to post a roster of the main contributors. I assume you’re the Seth R from Nine Moons? Who else is involved?

  25. ff42 — No, that’s not. Outside of the United States, members in Europe, South America and elsewhere are not nearly as conservative politically as members of the Church in the United States. Given that there are more members of the Church outside of the United States than there are within it, I’d say your clarification is off-base.

  26. On the 14.1 million members: I am reading the book American Grace, which analyzes data from a number of recent surveys about the relationship between Americans’ religious beliefs and practices and other views and practices over the last half century, including political ones. It is clear that in every religious classification, there are gradations of activity among those who identify with a particular religious denomination or faith community. Just because a person does not show up to Sunday meetings regularly does not mean they don’t identify with their chosen affiliation or don’t believe what their fellow affiliates believe about God and heaven. Every religious group has those gradations among its affiliates, so anyone who has not just arrived from Mars knows that reporting “30 million Catholics” or “16 million Southern Baptists” includes a lot of people whose current involvement in the worship and other activities of those faiths is less than optimal, but that affects the meaning given to those numbers, since you can’t precisely quantify all the gradations of personal behavior and belief that are included in that total membership for each classification. Any smaller number you use for subsets of the total would have to be heavily footnoted with qualifiers, so as to make them useless.

    Besides, all of us know Mormons who have lapsed for various periods of time but have come back into activity, either on their own initiative or because the missionaries tracted out their spouse. One such family in my ward had a non-member spouse baptized last week, and brought the inactive wife and two kids into regular attendance. So we don’t write them off until they write themselves off.

  27. I don’t think the first two points are as cut-and-dried as you seem to say.

    With regard to polygamy, it continues to be sanctioned by the D&C, and Mormon widowers continued to be sealed to new wives for time and eternity. Mormons (at least of the mainstream LDS variety) therefore continue to accept and practice polygamy in a sense, though not in a way that violates law or offends majority custom as it did before the Manifesto.

    With regard to whether Mormons are Christian, a good argument could honestly be made either way. Most non-Mormon Christians regard the Nicene Creed as containing the bedrock tenets of Christianity, and almost nobody — Mormon or otherwise — would claim that Mormon beliefs could fit within it. On the other hand, almost nobody would claim that there aren’t lots of LDS folk who try very hard (and very successfully!) to live Christ-like lives.

    But ultimately the Christianity question is unanswerable. Anyone is free to define Christianity however he or she likes. And the only One whose opinion really counts didn’t go beyond saying “I know mine, and mine know Me.”

  28. Just to illustrate the sort of confusion that results from the broad use of the term “Mormon” that some commenters are advocating, here is a headline from a Canadian news story posted today: “RCMP investigates trafficking of Mormon girls from B.C. to the U.S.” First sentence in the article: “The RCMP is investigating allegations that at least 30 girls, aged 12 to 17, were sent from the Mormon community in Bountiful, B.C., to Texas as child brides.” The article mentions the affiliation of Warren Jeffs with the “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day,” but nowhere clarifies that the story has nothing to do with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aka the Mormon Church.

    It’s hard not to conclude that this sort of confusion isn’t in fact what those wanting broad use of the term “Mormon” are actually interested in promoting. So just be honest that what you want is confusion, not clarity.

  29. I suppose it is better to use a narrower use of the term “Mormon.”

    So, for example, FLDS members should be out, but also people who may have once affiliated with the church (say, even were baptized) but who do not currently self-identify as Mormon. To the extent that people who disaffiliate or cease self-identifying later come to re-identify, they can then and only then be recounted as Mormon.

  30. #30 – The Nicene Creed reads almost like a Mormon manifesto, frankly. I wish members would stop castigating it so much, since doing so simply is inaccurate and unnecessary. It’s the much later Protestant creeds, like the Westminster Confession, that are so different from Mormon theology – and it is pretty obvious that it is the Protestant creeds that are referenced in JSH 1:19 when the entire context is considered.

  31. There was a ten-year period (1985-1995) when Mormons held four of the seven seats on the county commission in Clark County, Nevada (county seat: Las Vegas). Three of those four were Democrats. One who cared about such things could look at what sort of distortions to the governing of southern Nevada came out of that.

  32. #33 – For clarity’s sake, here is what is pretty much the standard translation of the Nicene Creed:

    “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

    “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

    “Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

    “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

    “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

    “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

    ONE God. And the ONLY Son of God. I don’t see much similarity here with the King Follett Discourse.

    Of course, it would have been fun to hear Bruce McConkie preach about the “one holy catholic and apostolic Church”! (Yes, I know there’s a difference between catholic and Catholic.) But Mormon this ain’t.

  33. the reputation for conservatism is not just owing to mormonism’s association with red Utah. gallup polling has found that mormons outside of Utah are just as conservative as those in Zion.

  34. Most non-Mormon Christians regard the Nicene Creed as containing the bedrock tenets of Christianity, and almost nobody — Mormon or otherwise — would claim that Mormon beliefs could fit within it.

    Most non-Mormon Christians couldn’t even vaguely tell you what is in the Nicene Creed just like most Mormons couldn’t tell you what the King Follet Discourse teaches.

    Let’s no confuse members with informed theologians.

  35. “One Hair” I honestly think Mormons can affirm much of the Nicene Creed. Not all agree with it but honestly that’s not where the major differences are. The major differences is that most Mormon thinkers deny and ontological difference between God and human creatures. (In the language of the Nicene Creed they are of the same Being) The second big issue, which might be seen as a corollary, is the common denial of creation ex nihilo. The final, more minor issue, is the belief God the Father is embodied like Jesus is. For more info check out this old blog post of mine.

  36. #38 – Thank you for the link to the great blog post. I really appreciate it.

    I agree that one of the major differences (probably THE major difference) between Mormonism and traditional Christianity is ontological: Mormonism holds that God and humans are essentially one species of being, while traditional Christianity holds that they are fundamentally and vastly different. But I disagree that the Nicene creed states that God and humans are of the same Being. It says “Jesus Christ … [is] of one Being with the Father.” This could probably conform with the belief of most Mormons and certainly all traditional Christians.

    I also agree that traditional Christianity believes in ex nihilo creation, while Mormonism does not. But again, this is not directly addressed in the Creed. In my view, the importance of this difference is that belief in ex nihilo creation is necessitated by the traditional view of God as the only uncreated and omnipotent Being.

    In contrast, as you know, traditional Mormonism views God as a species within a very naturalistic, post-Enlightenment framework: Gods come into existence through generational processes like all other species, and have limitations of ability and (if you agree with Brigham Young) knowledge. The embodiment of God the Father seems, at least to me, to be an outgrowth of this view.

  37. “A Mormon president would blur the line between church and state”

    First of all, Thomas Jefferson was a self-deluded fool that the USA reveres almost as a God. You can tell as much by his rejection of the gospels. So, this separation doctrine is as valid as anything else in American politics. In other words, it’s crap.

    Secondly, do you really want a Mormon in office when the Whore of Babylon falls? We’ll all take the heat. Forget about turning the country around. The president is just a sock puppet.

  38. One only has to look at General Conference to understand why people continue to think this is a predominately white church.

    Every Time I look at the quire I wince. I can count on one hand the number of people of ethnic background I see. Are you telling me that with all the people in the church in Salt Lake there are no people good enough other than lily white blonde hair,blue eyed men and women with quality singing voices?

  39. Diane: I agree, the optics are of a very white church at GC. With respect to the “The Choir,” however, this is sort of a demographic/historical quirk. The fact is that the Church remains headquartered in the same place it resorted to 150 years ago to isolate itself from the rest of the world. The isolationism worked very well, and is only now starting to break down. Utah is a very white place (though Hispanic population is increasing), and The Choir is made up of Utahns, because it is they who can make themselves available for rehearsals, etc. It is also a fact, however, that the Church is growing faster in the Third World, and particularly in Latin America, than anywhere else. I am more concerned that you do not see more diversity in the General Authority ranks than in The Choir, but I think that is getting better, bit by bit.

  40. @44)

    The problem that I have with your response is this, I was considering moving to Utah and was looking up meetinghouses, using the locator on the meetinghouse site. There are many wards that are Spanish speaking, as well people, from Tonga. In addition, Utah, has two major universities, one, BYU, 2) University of Utah, as well as other local colleges. So, I’m still not buying the fact that since its local, that only Utahns as you put it are available for rehearsals.

  41. Brad, I agree with your sock puppet paragraph. Someone should pick this up for a discussion. It’s a good one. Really good.

  42. Brad:
    “Brooks is not disingenuous about activity rates in the church. Here is what she had to say in “Religious Dispatches” a couple of months ago”

    “For the record, members attending once a month or more make up less than 20% of the 14 million members on the books of the LDS Church”

    Where does this 20% figure come from? Brooks simply asserts it, and you don’t give any reference, either. It seems way off, at least in the U.S. Take, for example, the Pew Religious Landscape survey. If you take their numbers of self-identifying Mormons and the proportion of self-identifying Mormons who say they attend church once per month or more, you get somewhere between 80 and 90% of the church’s reported approx. 6 million who identify with the CJCLDS, and over 80% of those who say they attend, for at least a 60% activity rate.

    Of course there is some reason to believe that activity rates are lower outside the U.S., but if we follow the above figures for the U.S. and assume that activity outside the U.S. is zero, we still get an almost 30% activity rate worldwide.

  43. @48


    Brooks is an accomplished scholar in her field(Religion) at University of San Diego, I don’t think she really needs to assert anything.

    I left the church a few months ago, I still self identify as Mormon because I was a member for well over 20 years. So, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve earned it, and so has Joanna.

    I think the church has the statistics, but, for whatever reason the refuse to announce them at Church Conference, yet, they reveal everything else, infant baptism, convert baptism, etc, etc, so, I find it odd, if not disturbing they don’t make this known as well.

  44. @48
    I don’t follow your argument. Are you saying that because Brooks is a good scholar of religious history, she doesn’t need to provide any evidence for her claims about activity rates? Since she is in fact a serious scholar, I suspect she wouldn’t agree. My hunch is that she was referring to research or arguments I’m not aware of. Or are you guessing that she has access to super-secret church statistics that we don’t?

    I didn’t make any claim about who should identify as Mormon and who shouldn’t. In fact it strikes me as bizarre that you’d construe what I said as an argument about whether Joanna Brooks is rightly identified as a Mormon or not. In the post Brad linked to, however, Brooks claims that most people who self-identify as Mormon are active in the church, and I think that’s probably true.

  45. Joanna Brooks is chair of the English department at San Diego State University. People aren’t required to footnote statistics in newspaper opinion columns, but those statistics are certainly open to question after the fact.

  46. @48, Diane: Ok, I’ll bite: “I find it odd, if not disturbing they don’t make this known as well.” Why is this odd or even disturbing?

  47. #52)

    I find this odd, because the church has always claimed transparency in everything else, but, they have not been transparent in this particular area, Why? What’s the big deal, I want to know once and for all just how many people are leaving. They keep statistics on everything else, so I know with absolute certainty they have these numbers as well. That’s why I find it odd.

    Jeremiah, You are correct in that I knew she was a professor at San Diego State University, however, I got the area of her discipline wrong. That being said, Brooks publishes many articles Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, and recently, I believe The New York Times, I don’t believe she would be invited back time and again to write if she did sloppy work,(i.e) statistics. all of these writing organizes have their own fact checkers and she would be ridiculed if she ever published something that was quite outlandish as you purpose

  48. To clarify, I’m just wondering about the source of this statistic. Am I asking in the wrong place? I’m genuinely curious about social scientific research on Mormon life, and interested to know if my back-of-the-napkin calculations about Mormon activity rates have been shown to be wrong by a good study, and I’m not trying to attack Brooks or her scholarly credentials. Sorry that this was not obvious.

  49. #53 Diane:

    “I find this odd, because the church has always claimed transparency in everything else” I have never heard or read that claim. They are not transparent about disposition of tithes. They are not transparent about non-church business holdings. There are plenty of things where they are not transparent. They are only nominally transparent on disposition of humanitarian aid. And as a private organization they are under no obligation to be so.

    “I want to know once and for all just how many people are leaving.” I can’t imagine why anyone needs this information, or why the church would volunteer it. In any case, what would you include in this number? Those who have asked to have their names removed? Those who have been excommunicated? (Those two groups are inherent in the numbers as reported, since they are no longer members of the church.)

    As for those who are simply “less active”, how could we count those at any given time? Some come back later. All who are baptized should be assigned home teachers and visiting teachers (except for the very few cases where they explicitly ask not to have them), because the church’s mission is to help them honor the convenants they made at baptism. So why would the church not continue to count them as members since considerable time and energy is spent in trying to help them.

  50. 55)

    I think the general membership needs to know the number so there is an acknowledgement that while the church MAY be growing, that they are also a fair amount of people leaving. In order to know why a church is growing, or why a church is not growing change needs to occur. And change won’t happen without full disclosure.

    By not making this number known Church leadership is failing with respect to being an ALL INCLUSIVE church the way it claims to be. Far from it. For some reason, this thought seems to bother you, Why?

  51. Does the church claim to be all-inclusive? I think not. In includes those who are willing to make a covenant through baptism. Those who don’t aren’t included.

  52. pAUL

    This is the kind of discourse with members that is distasteful to say the least, I think you know as well as I do the church is continuously claiming how they love everyone, when in fact they don’t. This is the only church I know of that uses the most hateful language when it comes to people who don’t agree. (i.e) anti, apostate, this is simply unfathomable, and most unforgiving language that I can think of, why, because someone doesn’t agree? Its’ disgusting

  53. Any Mormon can find out how many people are in the list of members to be home-taught versus how many are attending church on Sunday. The percentage varies a great deal.

    In Marin County, California, there are just two wards left in an area that used to have several, because the active Mormons have left, either because home prices have gotten too high for younger LDS families to buy homes there, or home prices have gotten so high that established older LDS families find that their best long term financial path is to sell their homes and buy a new house in Utah while they bank the rest of the substantial proceeds. Just in the four years we lived there, half the stake presidency and high council left for Utah (including myself). On the other hand, LDS people there who have drifted away from the Church don’t have as strong an incentive to relocate, so we ended up with an accumulation of people who were on our records but did not come to meetings even though they did not want their names removed from Church records.

    On the other hand, when the temple was built in Richland, Washington, where we currently live, the undeveloped land around it suddenly bloomed with Mormons relocating to live closer to the temple, causing our original ward that surrounded the temple to split four times in the last ten years. Because people located here because they are temple-going Mormons, the activity rate for those wards is pretty high.

    A map of the wards and stakes here in the Tri-Cities in eastern Washington shows several wards that are gerrymandered specifically to cut across the socioeconomic and income lines that divide the cities into neighborhoods. More educated and therefore prosperous Mormons tebnd to be more active (as well as consistent in their personal habits of all kinds) so there is a correlation between level of active involvement in church and income levels. The long skinny wards many of us live in ensures that poorer (and more Hispanic) members are integrated into more of the wards of our stakes.

    As to diversity in the Church in Utah, you don’t have to look all that hard to see it at General Conference. I grew up in the Dai Ichi Branch (now a ward) that serves Japanese-speaking members in Salt Lake, principally Japanese members who are going to school in Utah or working for the church, either as paid employees or missionaries. After World War II, there were Japanese war brides (like my Mom) who attended there with their families for the opportunity to fellowship in their native language. And that is just one ethnicity and language group.

    If you don’t recognize the diversity at General Conference, maybe it’s because people aren’t wearing kimonos and lava lavas to church.

    Besides, even the “white people” you see in the Conference
    Center include people who have lived for a year or two in Nigeria, Tonga, Mongolia, Taiwan, Ukraine, Haiti, Peru, and so on. One of the Seventy who was from Europe told about traveling with Boyd K. Packer to a stake leadership meeting in Sanpete County, out in the wilds of central Utah around the Manti Temple, where the main export is turkeys, and Elder Packer asking those who served a mission in a non-English-speaking country to stand and bear their testimonies in the languages they learned. Fifteen men rose and spoke in 15 different languages, as Elder Packer turned to the new General Authority and pointed out there is a much broader understanding of the world and its people among the Latter-day Saints than might be assumed just by looking at them or where they live or how they earn a living.

    If you pay attention, you might notice that the General Conference proceedings are translated live into over 90 languages, so that people all over the world can hear it in their native tongues. It is very much a meeting of hundreds of thousands of people, only 22,000 of whom can be there in person in the Conference Center, who are worshipping and singing with several thousand more elsewhere on Temple Square, and in hundreds of meetinghouses, as well as via KSL-TV, KBYU-TV, BYUTV (satellite and cable), and the internet. If you traveled out to Samoa you would be able to sit down in a congregation of Samoans speaking Samoan and hearing General Conference in Samoan.

    Finally, the church specifically pays to bring many Area Seventies and Stake Presidents in to attend General Conference, as part of the effort to build unity among the worldwide membership. If you look a little closer when you go to General Conference, you might see those people, coming in from 150 nations.

  54. @DIANE
    I am curious. What adjectives would you use to describe someone who disagrees with the tenants of the Church or who actively tries to discredit the Church? I don’t see the words “apostate”or “anti” as hateful, so much as a form of identification. I believe these terms are reserved for those who have serious disagreement with the Church, not for people in the Church who might be struggling to understand a concept or principle.

  55. 59)

    I would have to disagree with your assumption that because people are poor they are less likely to be active, I happen to live in inner city on the east coast and my branch was always full on Sunday.( your reasoning kind of smacks of racism)

    60) Mary

    I was Catholic before I became Mormon,)for just about the same amount of time) We didn’t have any of that kind of language to describe anyone who no longer agreed with Catholicism. Anti is a negative word for someone who simply has a question, or a concern about doctrine that doesn’t match up with what the TBM believe.

  56. @ Diane,

    The use of the words “anti” and “apostate” are found within Catholicism. People with concerns or questions are not considered “anti” by Latter-day Saints. People who ACTIVELY try to lead people from the doctrines of the church would be considered anti. (Certainly not “pro”) Many of my family are “anti- Mormon” and I love them dearly, but given the vehemence with which they attack the Church, I can think of no other way to describe them.

  57. 62)


    If you can prove what your saying I’ll consider acquiescing. Until that time I have never herd anyone in Catholicism call someone an anti-or apostate with quite the same venom as Mormons do.

  58. @ Diane

    No need to acquiesce. Your information is based on your personal experience, which is quite different from mine. At this point, we need to agree to disagree and stick with the original concepts in the post. So sorry you have negative experiences with Church members.

  59. 64)
    Agreed, but, I was thinking about your definition of anti- which was someone who leads a member away from the church and its teaches. I’m wondering if you hold the same standard to a Mormon missionary, who teaches and leads astray members of other faith traditions

  60. Diane: I apologize. I had taken your criticism of the “whiteness” of the Tabernacle Choir and the congregation at conference to be a claim that the Church is too ehite, but I understand from your respinse that you know personally that there are many members who come from what are (in the US) ethnic minorities.

    You seem to think I am denigrating the Saints who have less income. To the contrary, I am culturally a blue collar person that lived in various lower income neighborhoods in Salt Lake County, one that had several active black families, and another where the predominant employment was at the Kennecott mine, truck drivers, and the Post Office (including my Dad). I and one of my three brothers are the first generation in my extended family to graduate from college.

    I served my mission in Japan and my wife and I have lived in Tokyo, the DC area, Omaha, Colorado, Mississippi, the San Fracisco Bay Area, and Richland, Washington, in the desert next to the Columbia River and teelve nuclear reactors. The longest we were in one place was eight years in Idaho Falls. Our ward building was seven miles away surrounded by miles of potato and corn fields, and the members were either farmers or engineers at the 890 square mile nuclear research facility that defined the west edge of our ward, 40 miles west of town. Our homes had wells and septic tanks and irrigation canals for outside irrigation.

    My wife grew up in a home impoverished by her parents’ divorce when she was only seven. She was supporting me in college when we married.

    So I am a mixed race immigrant blue collar person from a lower income culture who got a lot of help financing my BA and had two graduate degrees paid for by the Air Force. The Mormons with lower income are people like my parents and most of my family and in-laws. The Church is making efforts with its financial policues and mission finance policy and ward boundary lines to maintain a unified Church culture despite income differences, and that does more to racially integrate the congregations we attend.

    The Church and its members invest great efforts to reach out to people of every background. And those efforts have been succeeding. The ethnic diversity of the saints today is ten times what it was when I was a boy, and that is clearly on purpose, because we take seriously the Savior’s commandment to take the Church to all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples.

  61. #36 – “ONE God. And the ONLY Son of God. I don’t see much similarity here with the King Follett Discourse.”

    Seriously?? That’s how you summarize that passage?

    We talk all the time about God, the Eternal Father, and Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son. I’m a hardcore parser, and the wording in the Nicene Creed you quoted could be preached from any Mormon pulpit in the world without anyone batting an eye – IF the speaker changed “catholic” to “universal” so the hearers didn’t confuse the term with “Catholic” and if some rewording was allowed to make it easier to understand using our own common vernacular.

    For example:

    “one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen . . . one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”

    If the above passage was rendered in the following manner, completely consistent with the words themselves, I know very few Mormons who would object – as long as some of them didn’t realize it came from the Nicene Creed:

    “We believe in one God, the Almighty, Eternal Father, who directed the creation of everything in Heaven and on Earth – everything we can see and everything we can’t see. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Begotten Son of the Father. We believe that Jesus is a God, as he is the Son of God, that he shines as the Light of the World as the bearer of his Father’s full light and glory, that he truly is a God who was begotten of our true God, that he really was “begotten” and not just “made”, and that he really is one with the Father.”

    I’m not saying Catholics believe what we believe about our eventual, eternal outcome as children of God – but the Nicene Creed itself doesn’t address that aspect of Mormon theology at all. I believe it’s important to limit our criticism of it to what I think it acutally says – not about what the Catholic Church teaches about other things.

  62. If you want to use the word “anti” in regards to Mormon missionaries proselyting members of other faiths, you may. I feel the problem with our discourse is that you have emotionally charged feelings with the word “anti”, which I don’t really have. To me it is not necessarily a perjorative word. It’s more a way of identifying someone’s position.

  63. To follow-up on #68:

    Calling Republicans “anti-Democrats” is silly – unless those Republicans dedicate their lives not toward establishing Republican ideas but primarily toward efforts literally to destroy the Democratic Party. Oh, wait . . .

    Every single person can be labeld an “anti-whatever” – if the definition is stretched beyond usefulness.

    I really don’t like labels, as a general rule. However, I’d much rather people be classified by what they are than by what they are not. That is impossible if the umbrella term doesn’t describe everyone under its cover adequately. Evangelical does not equal anti-Mormon; Mormon missionary does not equal anti-Christian. Sorry for the bluntness, but, from a practical standpoint, that’s just stupid. It’s the primary / exclusive focus that leads to a reasonable application of the term, imo – so only those evangelicals whose primary focus is the targeted destruction of Mormonism is an anti-Mormon.

    Simply preaching one’s beliefs to others is not “anti-” in any menaingful way – or disagreeing with anyone in any way would be “anti-“.

  64. Ray

    You just proved my point because, because someone who talks to a mormon about their faith and a Mormon decides to leave, that’s exactly what they are labeled. A Mormon missionary on the hand who teaches the gospel and essentially doing the same thing is never as you just explained being, or trying to be Anti any religion, which to me is disingenuous

  65. #70 – Diane, if people have said that someone testifying about their faith to a Mormon is an anti-Mormon, those people are saying stupid things. Period. If, otoh, the entire purpose of someone talking to a Mormon is to tear apart that Mormon’s religion through an attacking manner, that is an “anti-” approach. If a Mormon approaches a conversation in that same manner, that Mormon is using an “anti-” approach.

    ***Mormon missionaries don’t do that.*** (At least, they are taught CLEARLY not to do that.) They teach what we believe and are told explicitly NOT to engage in destructive, argumentative tirades. That’s no an “anti-” approach. Period.

    You probably don’t want any advice from me, but here it is nonetheless:

    Model what you want others to do. Find a way to let go of your obvious bitterness and stop calling others what you don’t want others to call you – and those who helped convert you out of the LDS Church. Let them ALL be missionaries following the dictates of their own conscience. Let them ALL be sincere Christians doing the best they can to teach others about how they see and experience God. Let NEITHER of them be “anti-” if they really aren’t.

  66. @ Diane, Not everyone who leaves the Mormon faith is labeled anti-Mormon. I think you are making too broad of a generalization. There are those people, however, who, upon leaving the Church spend a great deal of effort and energy to discredit Mormonism. almost to the point of an obsession, i.e. “people who leave the Church, but can’t seem to leave the Church alone”. These people I would label anti-Mormon, because they don’t really seem to have anything else to offer or to do, except finding fault with what the Church does.

    @Ray, Thanks for your insight and explanation. I feel that the problem lies with Diane’s assumption that all ex-Mormons are labeled by church members as anti-Mormon, and that assumption that is totally unfounded.

  67. Mary, the real problem, imo, is that Diane is 100% correct about how some members react to someone testifying to them. There are far too many members who really do label anyone who openly questions or disagrees with them as an “anti-Mormon”. As I said, that’s a stupid accusation on their part, and it leads to the bitterness Diane feels. We really do have an overblown persecution complex in far too many situations.

    We are our own worst enemies far too often, even if most members aren’t like that, ime.

  68. @Ray,

    Yes, some members do engage in this form of labeling. The reality is that as members of the Church we are taught to not engage in this kind of behavior i.e. Bible bashing, name-calling, etc. Yet Diane claims “this is the only church I know that uses the most hateful
    language when it comes to people who don’t agree”. I assume this opinion comes from her personal experiences with Church members who don’t follow this counsel (which I find very sad) and yes, in that case we become our own worst enemies. Somehow, this “us vs. them” mentality creeps in, but truly is not part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In all of my 50+ years of membership have I ever been instructed to be “hateful” towards those who don’t agree and could site countless admonitions to not engage in destructive argumentation, both from scripture and Latter-day conference talks.

  69. Ray, Mary

    Thanks for at least acknowledging that this is indeed happening, However, I am not bitter as proposed by the both of you. I am merely pointing out the behavior of some members of the church. To assume that I am bitter because I left is in itself another weird Mormon belief, because everyone assumes that when people leave they are bitter, downcast, or what ever negative label you want to attach to the person. This is simply not true.

  70. “To assume that I am bitter because I left is in itself another weird Mormon belief, because everyone assumes that when people leave they are bitter, downcast, or what ever negative label you want to attach to the person. This is simply not true.”

    It’s not a “weird Mormon belief” – and you’re doing it again by saying that, Diane. You are making blanket assumptions about others and using extreme language (“everyone assumes” and “negative lable you [everyone] want to attach”) to do so. I didn’t assume you are bitter because you left; **I assumed you are bitter because of the tone of your comments – which, in more than one case, sounded bitter.** Period. If not bitter, at least extreme – as evidenced by your assumptions in your last comment.

    I know LOTS of members who have left and aren’t bitter, and I would NEVER say everyone who leaves is bitter. In fact, I’ve written lots of things on my personal blog asking members to be more charitable toward those who leave and NOT assume they leave because they are bitter or apostate or bad people or anything else like that.

    I hope you can see that you are stereotyping members (“everyone”) every bit as much as some members are stereotyping you.

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