Way back in April 2004, almost exactly ten years ago, Armand Mauss was the very first Times and Seasons 12 Questions guest (see Part 1 and Part 2). A lot has happened in the last ten years, so Armand has graciously agreed to answer 12 more questions. He was a Professor of Sociology for many years at Washington State University (the other Cougars) and is the author of two must-read books for students of Mormonism, The Angel and the Beehive (1994) and All Abraham’s Children (2003). With Lester Bush, he co-edited a collection of essays, Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church (Signature Books, 1984). He recently published his memoirs, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (U of U Press, 2012).
1. The efforts of the Ordain Women group to publicize their request for extending the LDS priesthood to women got a lot of attention in last week’s General Conference, as was also the case with their first attempt to attend the General Priesthood Meeting six months earlier. How does the Ordain Women effort compare to a similar push almost fifty years ago to extend the LDS priesthood to men of African descent? What is similar and what is different?
The two efforts are similar in that both were influenced by social and ideological changes in the surrounding American society. The external changes, and the critiques that they suggested for internal LDS practices, were picked up by many LDS members, whether faithful or critical, and increasingly advocated in literature and forums to which the general LDS membership was exposed. Another similarity is that the changes that actually occurred have been due more to the crucial influence of faithful members internally than to external pressure. In the case of extending the priesthood to people of African descent, I am thinking especially of the case of Brazil. In the case of LDS women, I am thinking of the incremental improvements in the visibility of women during the past decade, which would not have come about, I believe, without the efforts of faithful feminists among the leadership (e.g. Chieko Okazaki, Aileen Clyde) and on the burgeoning blogsites. Even the OW campaign, which seems to be going nowhere in its own right, has nevertheless made some of the less radical demands of feminists seem moderate by comparison, thereby improving their prospects!
There are also key differences between the two efforts. Since half of the Church membership is female, there is potentially a greater constituency for improvements in the ecclesiastical position of women than there was for that of black men. Also, gradualism is a more feasible strategy for the women’s movement in the Church — that is, incremental changes are as much as many feminists (or LDS women generally) really want, if we are to judge from the variety of positions expressed on the various blogsites. In sociological and political terms, each new increment has the effect of “buying off” a portion of the discontented constituency. By contrast, for black men, the issue was always ordination or nothing. There was some talk about starting with the Aaronic priesthood, but that never really went anywhere. Even the Genesis Group was relatively late on the scene and did not feel entitled to advocate ordination openly. Only ordination itself would satisfy the equality advocates. (See also my comment below on the difference between the doctrinal obstacles to equality for the sexes as contrasted with equality for the races).
2. I have read persuasive arguments that extending the LDS priesthood to women would in fact be a much greater leap doctrinally than the (in retrospect) simple extension of the priesthood to all worthy men. The Church has placed so much emphasis on gendered doctrines, gender roles, and the family over the last twenty years that a change of this magnitude would be difficult to explain and to execute. Yet, at the same time, the Church is making incremental changes that do broaden the role of women, such as lowering the age for missionary service for young women to 19 and emphasizing the role of women in ward councils. Is continued incremental change enough to keep most young LDS women happy and involved in the Church?
On incrementalism, see my comment above. Also, I don’t agree that extending the priesthood to women would be a “greater leap doctrinally” than the earlier extension of it to men of all races. Recent LDS Newsroom responses to the OW movement have asserted a doctrinal basis for rejecting the ordination of women, but I don’t know what that basis would be. I know of no scripture specifying that the priesthood is only for men. Even the Family Proclamation doesn’t say that. The main argument seems to be that we don’t know of any ordinations of women in the Savior’s time. Careful reading of certain New Testament passages would raise doubts even about that. I know of no official statement, for the case of women, comparable to the First Presidency letter of August, 1949, which claimed explicitly (and erroneously) that denial of the priesthood to black men was a direct commandment of God and a doctrine taught by all the prophets of this dispensation. Strongly traditional notions about the significance of gender will certainly stand in the way of ordaining women for some time to come, but I don’t think the obstacle is ultimately doctrinal.
3. The other big issue that confronts the Church right now is gay marriage. The legal arguments in favor of overturning existing gay marriage bans now appear to be persuasive to the point that almost any federal court that encounters the issue is going to rule in favor of gay marriage, as the federal district court in Utah did recently (appeal pending). How is the Church going to deal with this new American legal and social reality?
Recent general conference talks have made the distinction between man’s laws and God’s laws where homosexual relations are concerned. I expect the Church to change its policy on marriages in the U.S. to accord with the situation that has long existed in most other countries — namely that the only legal marriage is one that is performed by a state or civil magistrate. LDS bishops and temple sealers will no longer claim that authority. Instead, LDS couples in the U. S., as elsewhere, will be permitted, if not required, to get civil marriages first, followed immediately, or as soon as possible, by a temple marriage. No more waiting for a year between the two. This will remove the scary scenario that has been spooking some of the Saints, namely that LDS bishops and sealers will be required to perform homosexual marriages. This generation will pass away, and probably several more, before we see LDS acceptance of homosexual marriages as legitimate, or homosexual relations as anything but sinful.
4. The LDS Church is a missionary church that places great emphasis on finding and converting potential members as well as socializing and retaining its youth. We were told in last week’s General Conference that there are now over 85,000 missionaries serving, which is easily over 1% of all active Latter-day Saints. But as society becomes increasingly less religious (in particular, less interested in affiliating with organized institutional religion), conversion and retention become more difficult. And the demographic trends are even more threatening, as sociological studies (such as Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace) show the rising generation is considerably more tolerant of gay marriage and women’s equality than prior generations — two issues where the LDS Church is perceived as, at best, quite conservative and, at worst, intolerant and bigoted. One might even predict that if the Church doesn’t change its approach to doctrine and practice, it might at some point actually start shrinking. Is that threat enough to spur changes? Or would such changes actually do more harm than good for the growth of the Church?
As you know from my Angel & Beehive book, and subsequent discussions of its thesis, Church growth will depend on finding and maintaining “optimum tension” along the continuum between our sectarian distinctiveness and our drive toward assimilation and respectability (which, as you rightly imply, will increasingly mean greater secularization). Differences with the surrounding society over women’s equality and gay marriage will be play into that tension calculus but will not, of themselves, be determinant. The greatest threat to Church growth comes not from our management of that tension, but rather from a high defection rate. That defection rate, in turn, occurs at two levels: (a) among the new converts, especially outside the U. S., who typically don’t last even the first year of their new membership in the Church; and (b) among life-long or long-term members who are blind-sided by discoveries, as adults, of scandals in Church history that were deliberately kept from them in the official Church teaching materials.
At the level of (b), things are finally starting to change, but not nearly quickly enough. At the level of (a), I don’t see any effort to finish the conversion process before baptism, since our missionaries are still pressuring people to join the Church in a matter of weeks after the first contact. Decades of failure in the fellowshipping effort of such new members should have taught us the folly of depending on fellowshipping to finish the conversion process, especially in countries outside the U.S., where wards and branches are overwhelmed with partially converted members and burned out leaders expected to hold on to them. (A little hyperbole here, of course, but not much.)
This is really great. Thank you. Can’t wait for Part 2.
The one statement I wish was better explained is this: “This generation will pass away, and probably several more, before we see LDS acceptance of homosexual marriages as legitimate, or homosexual relations as anything but sinful.” I worry that the issue of SSM is coming to a head much more quickly than “several generations.” The vast majority of American youth support gay relationships. LDS youth are not far behind. I am struggling to find a middle ground where youth who disagree with the church on this point can nonetheless feel fully embraced by the faith. I would be very appreciative if Armand has any insights to offer on how to hold on to these youth.
Great answers, of the exquisite level Armand Mauss has always provided in his analysis of Mormon issues.
As to developments in church demography, and speaking from European experience, I concur with the problem of defection of new converts. What I see as a new phenomenon is the slow emergence of Mormon “dynasties”, second, third and even fourth generation Mormons who intermarry and become bound by familial traditions and allegiance. They may also tend to form rather insular groups in the wider society because church life takes all of their social time. These members fulfill most of the rotating leaderhip roles on ward, stake, and regional levels and tend to fundamentalism, leading to a growing breach with other “marginal” members — singles, Mormons in part-member families, and older sisters baptized long ago, all of whom are much more dependent on their contacts with the non-Mormon society. I wonder if this phenomenon is also being observed in other countries outside Europe.
Converts are not becoming converted because while we do ask a lot of our members, what we ask allows us to keep our feet firmly planted in Babylon while paying occasional notice to Zion.
Converts 100+ years ago left their lives behind and gathered to “Zion”, a literal forsaking of a former life at baptism, and in the process of that tremendous sacrifice they (often) came to know God and were converted.
Now, we ask a lot of different things (smoking, coffee, tithing, chastity), but there is not often a corresponding withdrawal from the way life was. It’s still back to work as usual and Mammon has a way of grinding out spirituality little by little.
It’s still the case from what I’ve seen that the strongest converts are generally those who are seeking the truth and then find the church. When the missionaries find and “convert” members who might be called curious passersby the fires of conversion do not outlast the little initial oil which was offered to fill the baptismal lamps by the missionaries and fellow-shippers.
While Armand’s comments are pretty much spot on from what I’d consider a secular analysis, I do think they in general lack some faith in the traditional sense. I see faith in the onward march of progressivism, but that’s not really faith in God*
*Not questioning anyone’s faith in God here, but the workings of the spirit are not really given room in the analysis. It’s basically an analysis that looks at how things would turn out if the church wasn’t what it claims to be.
I think, DQ, that the analysis of potential future changes is fully based on a thorough analysis of how church leaders have reacted to events and pressures over the past 180 years, and in particular over the past century. I think that makes the analysis pretty reliable, without any judgment over the faith-part.
Armand: This is very good, but I suspect that on 3 you are probably wrong. Outside of the U.S. where marriage may only be performed by secular officials the legal basis for the rule goes back to strong anti-clerical traditions that have no strong analogy in the U.S. Furthermore, ministers have been allowed to perform marriages in the U.S. for a very, very long time without being subject to anti-discrimination laws. I don’t think it likely that such laws will be applied to churches, and if they were there are non-trivial constitutional arguments that could be raised against them. (Constitutional law is always a slender reed on which to rest one’s hopes, but there it is.) I think that the scenario you suggest is possible, but I don’t think it very likely.
On conversion and retention, I think that you are spot on.
“I am struggling to find a middle ground where youth who disagree with the church on this point can nonetheless feel fully embraced by the faith”
Do you think the Church should be doing something specific in this case, or is this a general cultural issue of how to feel unity when there’s a clear disharmony?
In connection with civil marriage first, followed by the religious ceremony, it seems Armand is also suggesting that the church would prefer a worldwide uniform rule, in line with international correlation, rather than differences from country to country. Such differences are sources of tensions (think about the Canadian controversy about the one-year wait). As Armand said:
Other countries will not change their marital laws to accommodate the church (laws which are indeed from anti-clerical origin as Nate noted), but for the U.S. there seems to be no impediment for the church to require a civil marriage preceding the religious ceremony (whether the latter is called “religious marriage” as Catholics do or “sealing” for Mormons).
One remark that could be made is that in certain countries, as in the U.S., a recognized religious officer (priest, pastor, bishop…) can obtain the civil authority to marry and can combine it with a religious ceremony. The principle would remain the same: the only legal marriage is the one performed by the person in his/her civil authority, whether in a town hall, a court room, or a church building. However, as Armand noted, it could be that the church would prefer to relegate the legal marriage fully to a state or civil magistrate, to avoid any request to a Mormon bishop to perform a homosexual marriage.
For Mormons, the “sealing” would then remain an additional, separate event. One of the advantages of the system is that family and friends who have no temple recommends can attend the legal marriage procedure and its related festivities. The church would weaken its tool to pressure less active members into obtaining a temple recommend in order to attend a temple marriage, but it would finally avoid the repeated tragedies when close family members (quite often also non members) are excluded from attending the marriage.
I tend to agree with Wilfried’s observations:
“What I see as a new phenomenon is the slow emergence of Mormon “dynasties”, second, third and even fourth generation Mormons who intermarry and become bound by familial traditions and allegiance. They may also tend to form rather insular groups in the wider society because church life takes all of their social time.”
I’ve certainly observed this, and my current stake is particularly strong in these dynasties, and might even be described as a dynastic hub of sorts.
I’m not so sure that I’ve seen this though:
“These members fulfill most of the rotating leaderhip roles on ward, stake, and regional levels and tend to fundamentalism, leading to a growing breach with other “marginal” members — singles, Mormons in part-member families, and older sisters baptized long ago, all of whom are much more dependent on their contacts with the non-Mormon society.”
My experience has been that singles and those from part member families do get to fill leadership roles at a ward level, there just aren’t enough members to be fussy, though at stake and beyond it would be true. Older long-time member single sisters seem to be much admired and well-integrated with the membership.
I have observed that European GAs are in general less fundamentalist than the British GAs, and have wondered previously if this is a language thing, or whether we’re given less cultural leeway from Utah. But a further thought is that for periods of time in the past Britain was not part of the Europe Area for church organisation, but instead parcelled with Africa.
Ben S, I am looking for anything that will help. There are many issues for which disharmony can exist, but SSM is a particularly large and growing one. If Armand is correct that the church will eventually shift on this issue, there will needs be a transitional phase similar to what we saw with the racial priesthood/temple ban (and to some degree what we’re currently seeing with female ordination) in which members sustain their leaders and the church while disagreeing with a particular teaching.
I have not been through a significant transition like this, so would welcome the advice of those who have. As one example, what approaches were effective in the early 1970s for helping youth (and older members) who disagreed with the racial priesthood/temple ban?
However, as Armand noted, it could be that the church would prefer to relegate the legal marriage fully to a state or civil magistrate, to avoid any request to a Mormon bishop to perform a homosexual marriage.
Another rationale would be to avoid the implication that what we do in the temple is qualitatively the same as a civil marriage. That has never been true, but now that the differences have become so stark, it is more important to make the distinction explicit. Having an agent of the government performing his function inside the temple simultaneously with performing his function as a priesthood holder makes that very difficult.
If Armand is correct that the church will eventually shift on this issue…
I didn’t interpret his comments as a prediction that the Church would eventually shift–only that if it were to shift, several generation would have to pass away first.
The middle ground on SSM is officially to direct the ceasing of church discipline of LGBT members in committed long term relationships (or marriages where that is legal). This has already happened informally in a number of stakes (it is no secret to SLC that discipline has stopped in those situations in those stakes), and LGBT members in committed relationship attend without fear of excommunication and in some places even serve in some ward assignments. I think something like this will happen sooner rather than later, and does not require any doctrinal change–non-celibacy in such relationships would still be considered “sinful”, but that type of sin would not require excommunication (in the same way violation of the WofW is not grounds for formal church discipline).
That’s apples to oranges DavidH. A more accurate analogy would be heterosexual unmarried cohabitation, which I understand is subject to church discipline.
Dave K (1 & 9), Ben S (6), David H. (11), and Cameron N. (12):
If the problem truly is helping youth and others “feel fully embraced by the faith,” then it is a matter simply of cultivating friendship and fellowship in the Church with those who disagree with existing policies, whether these policies relate to race (as they once did) or to women’s roles or to sexual conduct or to any number of other policies with which some members might disagree. For that we need mutual love, patience, and tolerance, which official rhetoric seems to be emphasizing somewhat more now than it did in the past. Those who dissent will have to decide what priority to give their association with the Church compared to their conscientious commitments to alternative understandings of what the gospel requires. Thus it has always been.
On the other hand, if, in order for our youth or other members to “feel fully embraced by the faith,” the Church must drop its opposition to homosexual relationships, that is probably not a realistic expectation. I’d expect an acceptance of polygyny before an acceptance of homosexual sex. In Mormon theology, the sex act gets its sacred meaning and justification entirely within the context of marriage that is actually (or at least potentially) eternal in nature with the prospect of eternal increase. That theological context will make it very difficult to take a permissive posture toward homosexual sex officially, though I can understand why, as a practical matter, some priesthood leaders might just “look the other way,” at least temporarily.
Wilfried’s comment (4) pretty much expresses where I was “coming from.” As a practicing Latter-day Saint, I recognize the need for faith as the ultimate basis of religious commitment and active membership in the Church. However, as a social scientist, I see empirical trends in the historical LDS experience that are highly reminiscent of the process we call “secularization” when applied it to other religious traditions.
Wilfried (2) and Hedgehog (8) :
I have seen the same “clustering,” with the same rotation and recycling of the same people in the various leadership roles, that you refer to here as “dynasties,” and early research by Mike Quinn demonstrated that this dynastic feature has been obvious first and foremost among the general authorities of the Church from the beginning down almost to the present (or, as J. Golden Kimball is supposed to have said, “relation” is more important than “revelation” in determining who has received important positions in the Church leadership). My sense is that this is a fairly natural and inevitable function of long-term associations of the founding families (in any organization) during the stressful years of getting established, when mutual dependence and mutual loyalties loom large as determinants of survival. I saw the same process as I was growing up in California during the early years of migration there from Utah, when the leadership in new wards and stakes tended to be dominated by people from the same families — and often from the very same towns or counties — who had known each other in Utah. This “dynastic” feature tends to dissipate in time, of course, but it can last for generations. Even in my current stake, which was founded only a generation ago, today’s leaders (male and female) tend disproportionately to be the children of those who founded the stake. In western Europe, the slow growth, combined with the constant turnover from migrations and defections, has kept the Church there in a more or less constant state of stress comparable to that of the founding period at first in Utah, and then in California and other North American locations, making the endurance, loyalty, and mutual dependence of a relatively few families in each location especially important for the survival of the Church — but also, of course, increasing their insularity, too. I think the different levels of “fundamentalism” observed among leaders and members in different locations is a separate issue requiring a different kind of analysis.
Wilfried (7) and Last Lemming (10):
You have both expressed my meanings and intentions quite precisely. Thanks for your comments and elaborations. See also my comments herein above to Dave K.
Well, we shall see what time will tell us about my point 3. My thinking there, however, very much included what Wilfried and Last Lemming were thinking in their comments here.
I think the Leadership of the church is transitioning us from “obedience is the first law of heaven” to “love is the first law of heaven” as the basis of how the church is run and how members should behave. You can hate/ disapprove of gays obediently, but is more difficult to do it lovingly. The attitude to women would also soften.
If I am correct this would also disconnect conservative culture from church leadership and philosophies. This culture, not the gospel, is the problem for acceptance of Gay marriage, and women’s ordination.
If the appeals against gay marriage in Utah fail (you seem to agree this is likely) would not the position become, we honour, obey, and sustain the law? Thus acceptance, (which apparently is happening some places, but certainly not where I am), would lead to respect and acceptance and down the track, temple marriage. The first step could happen once the appeals fail. Does anyone know a time frame for the appeals process?
I would welcome civil marriages first especially if they were truly civil and NOT performed by the LDS bishop, but rather at the courthouse such as is the practice in Germany etc. Civil marriages can be a major time sink for a bishop. The couple often want him involved in planning, and then attending the rehearsal etc. It can easily take six hours or more (and risk offense if one declines to attend the rehearsal dinner!), whereas a temple marriage only costs half an hour for the recommend.
If the “civil” ceremony is to be performed by the bishop, it would counter to the trend in church efforts to free bishops for actual ministry, by taking other tasks off their plate. For example, in recent years, we’ve seen a marked increase in the availability of LDS social services in areas outside the intermountain west, so that members who need marriage counseling can receive it from a trained professional rather than a well-meaning bishop.
As far as dynasties, we should always keep in mind that we only know who finally accepted the call, not to whom it had first been extended. And sometimes a tradition of service in a family can teach the practical life skills of prioritizing and surviving while serving, so it is not merely their name but the in-home training that qualifies them. When we finally got a stake in our area, the first stake president was a transplant from Utah, but his counselors were locals who took over that role eventually and felt that they could not have done it without the training they had received from him.
Civil marriages in Britain don’t seem to be quite so time consuming for a Bishop as they appear to be in your experience Naismith. I guess that’s more a cultural thing. Prior to temple sealing we all have a marriage in church, the legal bit. I suppose in theory we could go to a registry office instead, but I don’t know of anyone who has done so; it would be very unusual. The church service is a great way to get family, extended family and friends into the church building who would never otherwise dream of setting foot inside, precisely because it is a wedding. The hardest job would be that of the registrar, and there are generally one or two members who agree to qualify as registrars for the church building, and so serve for many, many years. I’d imagine the volunteers are those who love attending weddings. So whilst the Bishop can conduct the service, direct the vows, and perhaps says a few words, it is the registrar who has to ensure all the legal niceties are met, and the vows made correctly. Indeed it doesn’t have to be the Bishop who necessarily conducts etc at all. Certainly, for the wedding of one of my brothers, it was the Stake President.
Any rehearsal is fairly brief, and I have never, ever heard of a rehearsal dinner. I can’t begin to imagine why anyone planning a wedding and reception would also want to be organising a rehearsal dinner. It is customary for the Bishop (or ecclesiatical leader), and registrar to be invited to the wedding reception afterwards (normally held in the same building in the cultural hall, so not exactly an over the top event), but they really are under no obligation to attend, as they have no role in the reception.
Good point about the tradition of service, on the dynasties. In my stake there are a few families (related by marriage) in which the convert parents now have great grandchildren in primary. As they themselves had quite a large families, who mostly remained active, and who also had children who mostly remained active. There were also a number of converts of my parents generation (the generation of these families’ children), including my parents who had particularly large families, so it can feel half the stake is connected by marriage web-like, related to them by the marriages of their grandchildren (my sister is married to one of the grandchildren). Add in that the stake appears to be a magnet for now retired converts and others of my parent’s generation, moving to be nearer their children who have also married in to these families. (Though I should also say one family originating here has moved elsewhere for the same reason.) My convert husband (who I believe from reading other of your comments elsewhere served in the same mission as your son), seems to derive some status here by virtue of his marriage to me (a _____ ), that neither of us possessed when we lived in a different part of the country. I’ll add that my parents served and continue to serve tirelessly, as do many of their generation.
There are problems however, on the periphery. Those who aren’t tied in, and who aren’t long-standing members, can feel on the outside, at a stake level. And some wards are struggling, because whilst my parent’s generation are in those ward boundaries, other wards preferentially attract my generation. And there have also been divorces amongst those in my generation, which disrupt those wider marital connections in some respects.
“I know of no scripture specifying that the priesthood is only for men. Even the Family Proclamation doesn’t say that. The main argument seems to be that we don’t know of any ordinations of women in the Savior’s time. Careful reading of certain New Testament passages would raise doubts even about that. I know of no official statement, for the case of women…”
This was so well stated. I’m glad to hear someone finally express this clearly. I keep hearing that it is a matter of “doctrine,” but no one seems to be able to nail down the doctrine or where it comes from.
My question to the leaders of the Church is “where is the doctrine?” I sincerely would like to hear them point it out.
Hh, thanks so much for that explanation of how the legalities work across the pond. In the USA, marriage laws are determined state by state, and in both the states we have served in leadership, only the bishop was authorized by the state to legally perform weddings, so it was one of the things that could never be delegated to counselors.
If we could have other members volunteer to handle the legal aspects, that would be a huge help, and I can now understand better why the Brits love their system.
Late to the party but wanted to add a Q:
“Church growth will depend on finding and maintaining “optimum tension” along the continuum between our sectarian distinctiveness and our drive toward assimilation and respectability (which, as you rightly imply, will increasingly mean greater secularization).”
Is it fair to say that some adjustments in the Church, then, are due to church members’ and leaders’ perceptions of the surrounding culture? And if so, that skewed views on what sort of threat “religious freedom” is under, etc., could result in actions which make the pendulum swing much further than it would if it were a simple back and forth balancing act? The extent to which we misunderstand current social or cultural conditions, in other words, can greatly impact the Church’s direction if it is in part a reaction to perceived difference. It seems we’d be better off seeking broad commonality and distinctive difference as much as possible in the same moment.