All the Lights Were Red: Thinking About Reform in Mormonism

A funny thing happened on the way to the conference. On Saturday morning I was driving to the final day of the SMPT Conference held on the BYU Campus. I hit the main BYU intersection near the Marriott Center. My light was red. There were cars stopped at other approaches as well. Everyone was stopped. All the lights were red. As I had been thinking Mormon thoughts while driving down Provo Canyon and onto campus, that seemed like a sign: Nothing is changing. No movement. Full stop.

I exaggerate only slightly. There are small changes and a bit of movement. A few women now get to sit up front at General Conference and a few women address the assembled Saints. But no one is surprised that all three of our new apostles are old white males. We enter the 21st century with a 17th-century Bible and a 19th-century message, then wonder why an increasing proportion of Mormon Millennials just wander away, finding our Sunday meetings to be dull and uninteresting and the Church as a whole to be not so much false as misguided (the endless war on gay marriage) or simply irrelevant. Any chance for change or reform, or are all the lights stuck on red? What does Mormon reform even look like?

Reform is not a four-letter word; it is meaningful positive change. An institution that does not change loses efficiency and relevance, and over time people go elsewhere to find whatever was once provided by that institution. Here is an example of church reform: Once upon a time (until the 1960s) Catholic services were conducted in Latin. If you went to Mass in Denver or Philadelphia or Atlanta in 1958, the liturgy was performed completely in Latin, not English. The reform to vernacular languages seems simple and obvious, but it required a huge institutional undertaking (Vatican II, a three-year conference of Catholic leaders from around the world) and was very controversial. Churches are conservative institutions; change is never easy.

That wrenching reform episode is recounted in four short chapters by Garry Wills in The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis (Viking, 2015). Vatican II was only the end of the process; the struggle over Latin lasted five centuries. Here is how it started.

By the sixteenth century, control of doctrine could no longer be maintained simply by refusing to have it dealt with in any language but Latin. The Renaissance humanists had discovered the charms of Greek, which Erasmus praised as superior to Latin — as well as being the language in which the New Testament is written. … The leaders of the Reformation began to preach from and promulgate the Bible and catechisms in the English of Wycliffe, the German of Luther, the French of Lefevre d’Etaples. Aided by the invention of the printing press, such works swept down in a torrent on the closed Latin citadel of Rome. It was not enough, in that situation, to keep the laity from straying by keeping all theology in Latin. One must now keep them from reading Bibles and church instructions in other languages …. (p. 20)

Part of the Catholic response to that initial challenge was to establish the Index Liborum Prohibitorum, or List of Prohibited Books, in 1559. It was not formally abolished until 1966. One might draw some parallels to current Mormonism (the Internet is like the printing press, formally prohibiting books is like informally discouraging non-Correlated reading, excommunication is still excommunication) but that is a post for another day. I have a simpler question: What small positive Mormon reforms are possible and what Mormon institutional avenues are available to promote such small positive changes?

Here are a few example proposals: Move away from the KJV and use a modern English translation for seminary and for the curriculum. Shorten the Sunday block to two hours or 90 minutes. Allow non-LDS family members to attend temple weddings. Allow LDS Relief Society Presidents to give worthiness interviews to LDS young women. I’m not making an argument for those changes or reforms, just posing them as reforms that many Latter-day Saints would regard as positive and achievable. Hey, if Catholics could change the entire language used in Sunday services across the entire global church, we ought to be able to make some small positive changes. But how institutionally can we promote positive change within the Church? Any success stories?

124 comments for “All the Lights Were Red: Thinking About Reform in Mormonism

  1. “Move away from the KJV and use a modern English translation for seminary and for the curriculum.”

    Great idea, simple to implement.

    “Allow non-LDS family members to attend temple weddings.”

    I don’t see how we could work this and keep the temple a place set apart for worthy recommend holders. I could see making a uniform rule that abolishes temple weddings in favor of only doing temple sealings that have to take place after a civil wedding.

    “Allow LDS Relief Society Presidents to give worthiness interviews to LDS young women.”

    Great idea, not difficult to implement.

    “Shorten the Sunday block to two hours or 90 minutes.”

    In the minimum wage debate when all of the wonderful, positive effects of a $15/hr wage are extolled, I often wonder why stop there? If it’s so great to make it $15/hr why not make it $30 or $100/hr, wouldn’t that be even better? So Dave, if shortening the meetings is good, why stop at 90 minutes? Let’s just get together for the sacrament prayer and the sacrament and then go home. Or, in other words, I’m not sure that the length of our meetings belongs in your list of problems, and I think making a 90 minute meeting would hurt rather than help. But maybe you’re right, so the next step could be having a weekday sacrament service for those who “can’t” make it on Sunday. And then we would be emulating the Catholics even more, my Catholic HS friends used to attend a quick Thursday night mass to free up their Sundays, why should we be denied that blessing?

  2. Your complaint about the “endless war on gay marriage” reminds me of the psychologist who told the man taking the Rorschach test that he had an unhealthy fixation on sex, to which the man replied, “But you’re the one who keeps showing me the dirty pictures.”

  3. KLC: Actually, I don’t think that a Thursday mass will free up a Sunday. Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation, on which attendance at Mass is required under Canon Law. That requirement may be met by attendance on the evening prior to the Day:

    Church Canon Law # 1248 §1 states: “The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic Rite either on a holyday itself or on the evening of the previous day.”

    Still, your general point is a good one. It’s not so much the length as the quality–if we had better meetings–better music and better speakers and teachers–I am guessing that we would have fewer complaints about their length. And we, not some faceless committee in Salt Lake City, are the ones ultimately responsible for the quality of the meetings.

  4. “I’m not sure the length of our meetings belongs on your list of problems…”

    Teaching the 6- and 7-year olds in the 3rd hour of the block might change your mind.

  5. It probably would. On the other hand, some serious training of Primary leaders/teachers by people who are good at early childhood education (not me–but I’m married to a pro), might make a difference.

  6. Dave, I think your model of reform is off. The examples you give are all about requiring less commitment on the part of church members or lessening the tension between Mormonism and the surrounding society. But the Protestant Reformation and prior reform movements were brought about by people with extraordinary amounts of commitment to their religious lives who saw the church or some aspect of it as having become too much like the fallen world around it, and who were determined to purify the church by heightening the demands (on members of religious orders, for example) and increasing the difference between their lives and a worldly life. A Mormon Reformation, if there were to be such a thing, would more likely aim for radically stricter Sabbath observance than at increasing the time for Sunday leisure activities.

  7. Seldom, why do you think I haven’t done that? Your trump card trumps nothing at all. The 6 and 7 year olds are going to have to be doing something somewhere during that hour, why is the only solution that they must not do it at church? When I taught that age group my only goal was to get across one concept, my only plan was to let them move and perform and act out that concept if at all possible. 6 and 7 year olds are capable of that, even during the third hour. Maybe if you had that experience with them it would change your mind.

  8. I’m just one fellow in SE Idaho, but here’s what I see happening …

    The single biggest thing I see happening right now with the Mormon faith is community building on the fringes. Facebook. Social Media. Podcasts. Blogs. People disaffected with the core, SLC Mormonism, are able to form stable communities on the edges.

    These communities first and foremost serve the purpose of helping people realize they are not alone. If Mormonism isn’t doing it for you in some way, there is a community of people out there similar to yourself. You’re not alone. The formal LDS experience really does not reach these people. At all. I mean, there are sincere, good people who find the messages coming out of General Conference absolutely toxic. I see communities coming together to help people realize they are not alone.

    With a stable community, people start creating different Mormon experiences. I’m aware of women who gather for baby blessings. People discuss “tithing” and other ways to maintain the principle of giving 10% though not necessarily to the LDS church. People talk about a Sabbath observance that includes only one hour of formal church or no church (gasp). I could go on. The communities people are developing are beginning to develop a different religious experience.

    Also within these communities is a network to discuss how to work out a marriage where spouses approach LDS beliefs in different ways. That is completely absent in the LDS faith. Communities are building up outside the faith that are developing solutions of their own.

    I’m just one guy, but I see a lot of people ignoring formal channels (if they exist) and forming their own seemingly stable communities.

  9. If you read Finke and Stark’s “The Churching of America” what Dave is asking for is increased secularization, not true reform. As J. Green states above, real reform would include stricter rules, not the loosening of them (many of Dave’s Catholic examples, for example, are used in “Chruching” to explain a steep decline of religious commitment among Catholics; Dave is asking for “reforms” that would result in decreased religious commitment from Mormons).

  10. “The 6 and 7 year olds are going to have to be doing something somewhere during that hour, why is the only solution that they must not do it at church?”

    The kids do fine. It’s me that gets hungry, fidgety and in need of a nap.

  11. Tell bishoprics and stake presidencies to not ask the youth if they masturbate or not in worthiness interviews.

  12. I can understand the argument that Dave may be advocating reforms that lead to less commitment, but I think it’s more nuanced than that. Perhaps a shorter Sunday block is possible not because the quality is poor, but increased quality may make it possible to get more out of less. Moving away from KJV in no way suggests less commitment, and jettisoning the old english does not equal secularization. Allowing women in leadership to interview other women just makes too much sense, and has nothing to do with commitment. Somehow, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived into thinking that greater distance between Mormonism and surrounding society means greater adherence to some mythological spiritual reality. This breaks down pretty quickly, upon inspection.

  13. Let’s see. Make sacrament talks about spiritual topics, not two talks or one talk all about Treck or EFY or favourite quotations from your speakers like Hank Smith or Bytheway or Time-Out for Women people. Don’t discuss stats or “how to have better ward councils” in sacrament mtgs or stake conferences (not everyone attending sacrament mtg or stake conference is on a ward council and so doesn’t care at all-if you were attending a Mormon church for the first time would want to hear that stuff?) Get rid of the same stupid format for stake conferences, when it isn’t a broadcast- I don’t want to hear every conference, trophy converts and their “conversion” stories, the Temple and Mission President, people going and coming on missions (is it any surprise what any of them are going to say? Just have regular members give talks) I am dealing with a ward mission leader that thinks the world of himself and is adult bully, the missionaries cannot stand the guy and don’t trust him. He offends people, racist and thinks gay people a secret combination trying to overtake the government. I bet you he lays awake at night wondering why he wasn’t called to the Apostleship, he wants to be a Bishop, Stake President etc to put on his resume for his “church career”. So, don’t give these guys callings, just let them come to church and sit and no one has to pay any attention to them. Get rid of the ward clerk bureaucracy. In my previous calling NONE of the ward clerks guys did much and so we had the missionaries go out and find all this information about people who moved, broken phone numbers etc and all of that information is still sitting in the clerks office gathering dust. It’s a total waste of missionary manpower, like thanks Elder So and So and Sister So and So from England coming here to the middle of Canada and doing all that for us but we can’t get these High Priest Chumps off their cans to do anything with it for God knows what reason. I was this close to mailing it all off to Salt Lake myself to member records and let the chips fall where they may. That is just a few things i’d change

  14. The funny thing about people and stoplights – we always want our light to be green, and view all the red lights as burdens. Even so, vehicle fatalities in the United States are still high. Imagine what it would be if we opened up the lights to all greens (escaping those oppressive reds) and let people figure out the system themselves.

  15. Sure, hold a 90-minute worship service, on Sunday afternoons. Priesthood quorums can gather early Sunday morning when they have no conflicts other than a leisurely breakfast. Relief Society can gather mid-week sometime that suits the women. Primary for the children can be after school mid-week. That will keep the Sunday afternoon worship service to a manageable 90 minutes.

  16. Green is right about the reformation’s fundamental motivation being to raise the demands on and sanctification of the masses. But it also had to do with spreading out the attendant spiritual blessings. Both need to go hand in hand. Insisting on modern translations is more demanding in a similar sense as the translations that took place during the reformation. Substantively increasing women’s ability to participate in both ritual and governance is an example of reform in both senses. We don’t want less commitment. But nor do we want silo’d participation and inequitable distribution of spiritual blessings.

  17. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Note that I wasn’t issuing a Manifesto for Change — I just listed a few possible examples (you may have your own) and focusing on the institutional question: how can we support such changes or move them forward? Mormonism does not have a tradition of ecumenical (i.e., church-wide) councils as a vehicle for change. So we need to use or discover or create other institutional vehicles to promote change.

    Jonathan (#6), I’m looking at small positive change possibilities, not a Mormon Reformation.

    Josh (#9), it is surprising the Church is not more supportive of establishing more ancillary groups still under the Mormon umbrella. We set up special branches for certain national or language groups; we have low-key addiction recovery groups meeting in LDS buildings, with couples called to run them. Why not a Doubter Recovery Group or something? Why not try a little harder to keep fringe members in the boat by meeting their needs rather than simply lecturing them to conform?

    Ivan (#10), I read the Finke and Stark book ten years ago and even posted an online review. I think reforms ought to aim for more participation and activity, not more secularization. The problem with overburdening members is regularly acknowledged by senior leaders; shortening the block is one option to accomplish that goal. I’m not wedded to my short list of possible reforms (which I put together in five minutes as I was writing — it’s not my secret wish list). There are plenty of other possibilities, some of which might move towards more strictness or orthodoxy.

  18. Dave, your question here is a great one — and hugely challenging given our history and structure. The two most effective things I can think of are:

    1. Publish books with broad (as opposed to niche) appeal.

    2. Become a bishop or stake president or a close friend of one of them and work hard to help them see the efficacy and faith promoting nature of your small scale reform ideas.

  19. The Church has done tests with shortening meeting time. That it’s not been rolled out more widely suggests that there were negative consequences to the shortening. Knowing how few do personal study during the week, it might be that people simply need that longer period, even if boring.

    Personally I think they should just shorten Sacrament Meeting to one talk + sacrament and then make Sunday School a bit longer and have more diversity of classes. Of course the way typically 3 wards meet in a single building that may not be doable as a practical matter.

    Regarding Relief Society Presidents giving worthiness interviews, I’m not sure that’s possible without a revelation just due to the duties involved. However one thing that wouldn’t require a revelation is having both men and women in Primary and Sunday School Presidencies.

  20. Dave,

    That wasn’t really my point. Your original post is about Mormon reformation, or how reforms are instituted.

    What I see is community building outside of the formal structure. So LGBT individuals form LDS associations or groups, e.g. Affirmation or Mama Dragons, and those groups build something that is not mainstream Mormon, but something new. Some LDS folks are concerned about women’s place in the church. They can form communities around their ideas. There are LDS people concerned about the corporate nature of the church. Again, they form a community. There are people who want out, post-Mormon communities abound. There are people who doubt, ATF. Heck, there are probably people out there who desperately want a seer stone and will go dig for them with you this coming Friday night if you’d like.

    My hunch is that most people are finding what they want out of Mormonism without the formal structure because community building is so doggone easy in 2015. Change is on the edges and people are doing it on their own. That’s my point.

  21. I thought the point was to make church boring to prove your worthiness because you endured to the end of it, and developed patience as a result.

  22. Dave:
    ” I think reforms ought to aim for more participation and activity, not more secularization. ”

    However, pretty much all the reforms your propose would fall under secularization (as I sated above, the changes in the Catholic church that you are so enamored of were secularzing changes for the most part) rather than reform, so perhaps you need to re-read the book.

    Two excerpts from “Churching”:

    Page 257: “The distinctive sacrifices and stigmas of being Catholic were abandoned (without replacement) . . . Recent declines in the vigor of American Catholicism reflect one more cycle of the sect-church process whereby a faith becomes a mainline body and then begins to wilt.”

    Page 283 : “Each reduction seems so small . . . No doubt most Methodists were glad to be permitted to go to the circus, just as most Catholics probably welcomed the chance to skip Mass from time to time . . . There comes a point, however, when a religious body has become so worldly that its rewards are few and lacking in plausibility . . . Here people begin to switch away.”

    In essence, Dave would like Mormons to become more like mainline Protestants, which is (IMHO), a terrible idea.

  23. “Tell bishoprics and stake presidencies to not ask the youth if they masturbate or not in worthiness interviews.”


  24. Ivan (#24), thanks for the comments and the excerpts, but I think you’re trying to put words in my mouth. The four examples I provided in the last paragraph of the OP are hardly a program for secularization. I can’t see how they really have anything to do with secularization. And, as I noted above, those four examples are not even my program. They are just some examples that some Mormons would find reasonable and positive.

    If someone proposed ditching the current Sunday School curriculum and instead reading and discussion great literature — that’s secularization. Having missionaries set aside traditional contacting and teaching with the goal of baptism and instead shooting for service activities most or all of the time — that might be deemed a move toward secularization. And so forth. I did not suggest any of these things.

  25. Dave – you’re dancing around how the Catholic reforms you use as models were held up in the ‘Churching’ book as examples of what drove the decline of Catholicism in America.

    Changes (or “reforms”) don’t have to be explicitly secular to drive an organization closer to the “mainline” in the church-sect process; all it has to do is slowly but surely erode things until the church is “mainline” and thus (as they say on page 283), “always headed for the sideline.”

    Your suggestions are just that – an attempt to make us more like the mainline. While “some mormons” might find them acceptable, not all would be (and, as they point out on 282-283, many of the drives towards reducing costs that ultimately reduce the membership and “market share” come from the members: “humans begin to bargain with their churches for lower tension and fewer sacrifices” – and that leads into the quote from 283 above).

  26. I don’t want small institutional reforms. It’s like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. That being said, I think we have some low-hanging fruit that is substantive, broaches doctrinal issues, and would make a difference.

    1) Allow RS Presidents to give interviews to LDS women and young women
    2) Allow civil marriage ceremonies (in all countries) around the time of a temple sealing (for non-LDS family members)
    3) Allow women (once again) to give blessings
    4) Get out of the discipline business
    5) Adopt Masonic ideals about the equality of all men and take steps away from the corporate suit and tie LDS leadership deification.
    6) Change the communication style of the church. We don’t need more “delivery” of messages or speeches, we need conversations, dialogues, and Q&As. No more speeches. (see #5)
    7) GAs should follow the King Benjamin model and work full-time jobs in addition to their church service. (see #5)
    8) Remove all copyrights and author royalties for LDS books and materials published about sacred topics or as a result of a church calling. LDS content should be all open access.
    9) Become environmental stewards, involved with issues negatively impacting nature.
    10) Shift focus from conversion to service (missionaries, church welfare, etc.)

  27. Ivan (#27): early-morning seminary, two-year full-time unpaid missions, tithing, local callings — how could anyone imagine that the LDS Church is in danger of becoming a low-cost mainline church? The Stark model is not the last word on what drives church membership and activity, but if you apply that model, it is clear where the LDS Church falls on the spectrum. Small reforms or changes aren’t going to change that location. I doubt you could fill a phone booth with the number of Mormons who have gone inactive over the last twelve months because the Church was not asking enough time, money, or other sacrifice of them.

  28. “LDS content should be all open access.” Not as long as there is content being published by PhDs who make their job by their knowledge.

    “GAs should follow the King Benjamin model and work full-time jobs in addition to their church service.” Really? I don’t think this is realistic, and I’d go the other direction, and slightly professionalize it. Give General Authorities some training in scripture and history.

  29. Dave –
    it’s possible to get a “worst of both worlds” approach, such as what happened with the Catholic church reforming yet still keeping some “high cost” items (like birth control and celibacy for holy orders).

    In the way that the Catholic church lost lots of candidates for holy orders with the reforms, it’s possible that with certain “reforms” Mormons would stop going on missions or paying tithing. If the costs are paid, the church becomes more mainline, because the costs are seen as less and less important.

    A small handful of small reforms aren’t going to change much (although the quote above shows they are on the path, and they add up over time), but considering your comments about marriage above (and elsewhere) and other issues above, you don’t really want the reforms to stop there; you won’t really rest until we’re fully mainline (luckily, I doubt that will ever happen).

  30. Ivan, I’m struggling to see how Dave’s proposed reforms are asking for “increased secularization”? Perhaps you could point me to where in the OP he is proposing this. Somehow, I really don’t see how using an easier-to-understand translation of the Bible, shortening church a bit, or having Relief Society presidents do worthiness interviews for young girls is secularization, but maybe I’m missing something. I also don’t see how the OP is suggesting more laxity in rule-keeping, just changes to help increase positive experiences at church. Should members only be reading the Bible in ancient Hebrew and Greek and should we have a 4-hour block instead of a 3-hour one? Is this what you mean by “real reform” and “stricter rules”?

  31. Jonathan Green (6):

    The examples you give are all about requiring less commitment on the part of church members or lessening the tension between Mormonism and the surrounding society.

    Wait, where? Reducing church to 90 minutes? I’m not sure how that equates to less commitment. It’s not like Dave was suggesting 5% tithing or no more requirement to wear garments.

    But the Protestant Reformation and prior reform movements were brought about by people with extraordinary amounts of commitment to their religious lives who saw the church or some aspect of it as having become too much like the fallen world around it, and who were determined to purify the church by heightening the demands (on members of religious orders, for example) and increasing the difference between their lives and a worldly life.

    No, the Protestant Reformers were not necessarily trying to heighten demands on the members, they were questioning the authority of the Catholic leaders and getting Christians to actually read the Bible themselves and shape their lives and inform their understandings of doctrine not through religious authority, but their own readings. Some outgrowths of the Reformation were more strict, yes, but most certainly not all. The Universalist Unitarian Church is as much a product of the Reformation as the Westboro Baptist Church. If anything, the Reformation spawned reason as an interpretive mechanism rather than appeals to authority. And Dave’s approach appears to be quite in line with the spirit of the Reformation.

    A Mormon Reformation, if there were to be such a thing, would more likely aim for radically stricter Sabbath observance than at increasing the time for Sunday leisure activities.

    I thought the Sabbath was a day of rest. Wouldn’t stricter observance of the Sabbath in the traditional sense mean less movement and activity? So if anything, requiring fewer meetings would actually be in line with stricter Sabbath-day observance, wouldn’t it?

  32. it’s possible that with certain “reforms” Mormons would stop going on missions or paying tithing

    You do realize, Ivan, that increased rigidity in rules and rule-enforcement could also lead to decreases in tithing and mission-participation. And if that is what you are all about, increasing full-tithe payers and mission-goers, then your apparent separate-the-wheat-from-the-tares approach seems counterproductive.

  33. If you’re going to misunderstand me that much, Brad L., then there’s no real point in a discussion (I was responding to Dave’s examples, for crying out loud, and from that you get that rather uncharitable reading of my personality? Sheesh).

    As for “I really don’t see how using an easier-to-understand translation of the Bible, shortening church a bit, or having Relief Society presidents do worthiness interviews for young girls is secularization, but maybe I’m missing something.” – as Methodists didn’t really see the big deal about being allowed to go the circus (see the quote in my comment 24 above – better yet, read the whole book).

    What they do is decrease tension between the church and the surrounding culture, they make us less “peculiar” and therefore more “mainline.” You can have *too much* tension with the surrounding culture, but generally more tension is better than less tension when it comes to committed members and a thriving church.

  34. “Reform is not a four-letter word; it is meaningful positive change.”

    I thought the whole point of the Mormon restoration was that they were ambivalent – at best – to reformation?

  35. Brad L.: Actually, yes, cutting the length of obligatory Sunday meetings by 50% is pretty much the definition of requiring less of a commitment – a time commitment, in this case – from members, just like reducing tithing to 5% would be a 50% decrease in how much of a financial commitment is required. That should be obvious.

    Also, it’s very odd to refer to Unitarian Universalism (or Westboro, for that matter) as a product of the Protestant Reformation, as if the present-day UU church tells us anything about the nature of the Reformation. The current UU church came about about 400 years after Luther as a result of a whole bunch of intervening steps. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that every wing of the Reformation in the 16th century made increased demands on the laity, whether that meant more austere worship or increased discipline of the community or the more active and informed engagement with scripture that you refer to.

    Also, do note that the Protestant Reformation was only one of several medieval reform movements (the “prior reform movements” of my comment), most of which were focused on members of monastic orders. In some ways, the popular notion of what reform entails is distorted by focusing on the one movement that led to a church-rending schism.

    But Dave points out that he’s not actually talking about a Reformation anyway, and more interested in processes than in specific changes. Dave, I think it’s fair to call the things you mention examples of incremental secularization, and that there are costs and trade-offs involved as Ivan points out, although sometimes the cost may be worth it. To get back to the question of process, the challenge for any change is that it has to, in some sense, make the church more true, and not just easier for members, without implying that the previous practice was in error. Meetings can be streamlined, for example, because that makes the church more compatible with parental involvement in family life, which is a higher priority. Making that case is easy for some changes, but may be more difficult for others.

  36. Yes, Ivan, there isn’t too much point in discussion over your gross misunderstanding of the OP. Dave doesn’t overtly appear to be calling for increased laxness in adherence to the LDS church in this particular post. If you think that hinting at a 90-minute church schedule is evidence of this, then you have read him wrong. Bear in mind that the LDS church did reform the church schedule some time ago from having sacrament meeting, Sunday school, and priesthood/relief society at separate hours to a three-hour block. Should the LDS church have not done that? Did they make it too convenient for members so that they didn’t have to sacrifice more? Did they risk secularizing the church in so doing? That makes no sense. As to your suggestion that creating more rules that are more tightly enforced would produce “real reform” in light of Dave’s examples, it would logically follow that we should have a four-hour block, right? If 90-minute church services would lead to a lag in adherence, then increased time should lead to greater adherence, right? Maybe you think there is an optimal amount of time that the church service should be. But why would 90 minutes be inherently less optimal than 3 hours? In the Istanbul branch, church was only two hours (sometimes less), and the members there (most of them expats from all over the worlds) seemed fairly strong and active.

    I don’t see how Finke and Stark’s book is relevant to the discussion here, let alone the notion of tension between a surrounding culture (and Methodists and the circus, what the heck?). That’s an interesting discussion, but one for a different time. The LDS leaders have made reforms and adjustments in the past (and I’m not even talking the priesthood change or polygamy) with the aim of increasing church activity. Why must any suggestion or hint of further reform be deemed as creeping secularization?

  37. While I can see it opening a number of other issues, move the decisions of length of service, classes, etc. to more of a local level. At some point it may need to be realized that a global standardization across all bases may not be the way to go with the administration….

  38. OK Jonathan, let me rephrase. I’m not sure how decreasing church to 90 minutes would in and of itself negatively affect members’ overall commitment levels across the board. While 90 minutes is indeed less of a time commitment, using that logic, a 16-hour block is more of a time commitment. So could we increase overall commitment by switching to a 16-hour block? No. Why? The change to a 16-hour block could very well lead a good number of otherwise non-questioning members to question their relationship with the church and thus a decrease in aggregate commitment levels in all areas of church activity. Indeed a switch to a 2-minute block could lead to decreased activity as well. But I can’t see how shortening church an hour or so should necessarily lead to a decrease in overall commitment. Are youth going to be inherently less willing to serve missions because of slightly shorter church? Are people not going to pay as much in tithing because of it? I can’t imagine so. And I can’t imagine that even if the LDS church switched to a shorter block and that there was a decrease in overall commitment that we could attribute such to the shortening of church. There would be so many other factors to take into consideration. There is a possibility that 90 minutes is a more optimal time period for church that could lead to increased activity. Those who are inactive because they find the three-hour block exhausting and unmanageable might be swayed to return to activity with a more easy-going schedule.

    On the Protestant Reformation, it is a bit off topic, but you did bring it up in an attempt to refute this supposed idea that Dave was promoting (which he wasn’t) that reform should come through decreasing the demands for commitment. At any rate, you write:

    I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that every wing of the Reformation in the 16th century made increased demands on the laity, whether that meant more austere worship or increased discipline of the community or the more active and informed engagement with scripture that you refer to.

    This is not a good understanding of the Protestant Reformation, in fact, it almost appears as if you are imposing a modern frame of understanding (or at least the modern debate about religion) on the past. It isn’t as if the early reformers were primarily concerned about the laxness of the laity’s adherence to the church’s required patterns of behavior, instead they were preoccupied mostly with the correct interpretation and application of doctrine. In some cases, reformers repudiated seemingly rigid traditional practices that they didn’t consider doctrinal. Huldrych Zwingli, an early Protestant Reformer in Zurich, famously rejected the requirement to fast during Lent and ate a sausage in protest of tradition, saying, “Christians are free to fast or not to fast because the Bible does not prohibit the eating of meat during Lent.” In other instances, reformers insisted on more rigid interpretations of scripture and more austere worship and discipline. But increased austerity never appeared to be the main point, it was freedom to read and interpret scripture and question papal authority and practice. There were all sorts of different reformers during the 16th century with different interpretations of correct doctrine and good living, and of course, there are all sorts of different outgrowths of the Protestant Reformation, and much like the early 16th century reformers, some are more rigid and some more liberal (hence my mentioning of the UU and the Westboro Church). It is not as if reform was achieved by collectively increased puritanism, as you suggest.

  39. I really hope that people like Ivan Wolfe and Jonathan Green are not making decisions about the future of the Church. Their response to the OP is to try to move the discussion to the level of sociological theory while they bypass the real-world concerns that motivate the original post. The real issue here is the sense that the Church is losing touch, and the evidence is in stagnating real growth, especially in the loss of young adults and in the failure to retain converts. Something about the way we’re doing things now isn’t working, and it’s just not responsive to dismiss a discussion of change with reactionary platitudes about secularization.

    Do you want to argue that we’re getting too soft and too secular? Then let’s hear ideas that actually build on that position rather then smugly knocking down Dave’s attempt to open a discussion.

  40. Plus, the Protestant reformers were about proposing reforms to the higher clergymen. Reforming the laity was of secondary concern for them. If we are to draw any comparisons between the Protestant reformers and the OP (which is a stretch), then Dave is most certainly on the side of the reformers in suggesting the LDS leadership to undertake certain reform measures (be these more austere than the status quo or not). Telling the church members (laity) to get more in line with what the church leaders say (which appears to be what I’m hearing from many commenters on this post, not that they’re wrong per se) seems to run counter to the spirit of the early Protestant reformers.

  41. Meetings can be streamlined, for example, because that makes the church more compatible with parental involvement in family life, which is a higher priority.

    OK, couldn’t it be argued that a 90-minute church block would also be more compatible with parental involvement in family life?

  42. I have yet to see solid evidence the church is really losing more people (even “young people”) than it has in the past (most studies I’ve seen show we do way better than pretty much every other church, though we could and should do better).
    However, if retaining (young) people is what you want, then why not look at what serious study of religion has found? Declaring that our concerns are “reactionary platitudes” is silly (as silly as if I said something dumb like Dave’s concerns are “progressive fear-mongering”).

    But, I’ve had my say, and I’m not sure I would do any good responding to the rather odd attacks of some commentators. J. Green is doing a better job than I am at expressing the concerns I have anyway; he seems to speak the language of this blog better than I do.

  43. “rather odd attacks of some commentators”

    I hope you’re not referring to me. I have nothing against you, I simply can’t make sense of your issue with the OP. I can’t understand Jonathan Green’s issues either. I simply don’t understand how the OP is proposing ideas that would lead to “incremental secularization.”

  44. There is a reason Bishop Causse and Elder Anderson are trying in their general conference talks to get people to snap out of their cynicism and see with renewed spiritual eyes. To me these suggested reforms seem like a bunch of red lights.

    Does anyone think any of the suggestions in the OP or comments will strengthen testimony, commitment, families, or unity in the church as a whole? I don’t see a single one except maybe meeting length, but I personally appreciate that extended spiritual nourishment.

    In light of the Catholic language example, I submit that any of the so-called trivial administrative or organizational changes the church has made in the past few years show how much further along the LDS church is and how little it needs large shakeups. I would also count the Sabbath day reemphasis in that category and think it will have profound positive repercussions for a good portion of the members throughout the world.

    Yet, the restoration continues and there are many great and important things yet to be revealed. I just personally think you’re really selling yourself short if for you, these suggestions fall into the ‘great and important’ category.

  45. I’m sorry to say that “reactionary” is precisely the word for those who fear that offering an intelligible Biblical text will erode a people’s religious commitment.

  46. Last Sunday in the heart of Davis County, an LDS Ward held a family fireside at 6:00 p.m. in the evening that went for nearly two hours. Various families in the ward participated on the program, including children from young ages,and teen-agers. The chapel was completely filled, and the people stayed through the entire meeting, which included many short talks and several musical presentations by families. The meeting was widely enjoyed by members of all ages, as were the brownies and ice cream that were waiting in the cultural hall. This after a regular 3-hour meeting block in the 9-12 a.m. time period. I was personally busy in the nursery during the meeting where 22 young children played in remarkable harmony for such a long stretch of time.
    Tell me again about what is broken in the LDS Church? Or are the problems being discussed more about individuals who are inwardly focused, rather than imagining how they can be creative participants and have a positive influence in their member communities (i.e, family wards/branches, YSA wards/branches, quorums, relief societies, youth groups, etc.)?
    Sundays usually consist of about 16 waking hours. Is it really such a challenge to stay focused on (hopefully) spiritual matters for three hours? How do we manage an 8- or 10-hour work day if 3-hour Sunday meetings are a burden?
    I will agree with one point of reform suggested here: It is time to welcome the use of modern-language scriptures, as they increase understanding, and are helpful in multi-language and multi-cultural communities. That is, however, quite complicated to implement, and is not at all intuitive to everyone.

  47. Inviting nonmembers to witness temple ordinances is a non-starter. Particularly given that the sealing is considered the highest temple ordinance normally received, and that it includes a specific element that is ceremonially restricted from disclosure. It would seem odd to keep the temple closed to nonmembers for baptisms and endowments, yet open for what is considered the culminating and most sacred ordinance.

    I’m not saying it couldn’t ever happen in the history of the universe, but it’s not a simple policy revision. Significant multiple prior changes would be required before it could even be considered an option.

    Allowing or requiring the marriage to take place outside the temple just before the sealing, on a worldwide basis, would be an easier change. Facilities could even be provided for that purpose on temple grounds.

  48. We need to find someone with a direct line to Jesus to find out how He wants His Church to be run. Do we have any bloggers and/or posters here who fit that bill?

    We do seem to have a rather vocal group of people who think that they know how to run the church better than the people who have been called to do so. Of course, say there are fifteen hundred of those sorts, you will find probably fifteen hundred different opinions on just how it should be run. The only thing they will have in common is the opinion that the current crew has not a clue.

    If I recall correctly, Jesus himself had a lot of Pre-mellenials turn away from Him because He told them some things that they did not want to hear. And when that happened Jesus asked the twelve would they also go away. And Simon Peter answered tellingly “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

    Assuredly, there will be people wandering out of the door for one reason or another. And no matter what changes the Brethren do make, it will not be enough for this person or that person, this group or that group. And there are changes that it will not make to please the world. But where will those people go, for the Church of JESUS CHRISTof latter-Day Saints. It is Jesus’ Church. and through it, we receive the words of eternal life, and the ordinances and blessings that can lead to eternal life.

    I don’t think a modern day version of the Bible would make any difference. People don’t read their lesson manuals to any great extent, which are written in modern day English.

    The Church has always been administered by lay people without divinity degrees. The classes have always been mostly taught by lay teachers without formal training. Teaching by the spirit is much more important than anything else and is the best qualification any teacher can have.


  49. Tom #48: Interesting you should pick that one example, it being the only one of the suggestions I like (my own preference, and it’s my own preference, so I don’t try to confuse it with how the Lord would run things, is to have a parallel Bible, with the KJV for liturgical purposes and a more modern one for understanding – I have several parallel Bibles and even more parallel New Testaments on my shelf).

    Brad L. #46: re:”odd attacks” – I somewhat was (though more on Tom’s use of an loaded adjective like reactionary), since your comment #39 was full of logical fallacies like reductio ad absurdum and straw man, but that might just be the nature of blog comments (it’s hard to connect all the logical links in an arguemntative chain in a short comment).
    If you say the real issue is that you just don’t understand, I’ll take you at your word. The only suggestion I can have (at that point) is that if you really do want to understand, read Finke and Stark’s “The Churching of America” (and, if you have time, Armand Mauss’s “The Angel and the Beehive” which is more explicitly about the LDS church).

  50. A few thoughts.

    Tom (42) While the church isn’t growing as much as it used to this is part of a much wider cultural shift in religiosity. Compared to nearly all religions Mormonism is doing quite well. Could we do better? Yes, but I think we have to ask what the real issues are. Including sociological theory is important in that otherwise we just get a list of what people like or don’t like. However the church is quite diverse. What *I’d* like in Sunday School is almost certainly not what the average person would want or necessarily benefit from.

    I think we should talk about why people leave. But we should also realize that perhaps we can’t offer them what they want to stay without compromising the gospel we preach. (I’m very skeptical meeting length is the reason people leave – even though I’m a big advocate for shortening Sacrament meeting)

    Ivan (45) I think the evidence is pretty clear we’re growing less and retaining less. However you’re right that it’s not a huge difference. Statistics are hard to find but it appears like we *may* have gone from 70% retention to perhaps ~ 65% retention of members of birth. Figures for converts are harder to find and most converts leave within the first 8 months. That said the growth rate clearly has slowed but that’s mainly due to missionary work being far less successful. (Speaking of the US here – statistics for other countries are much harder to come by)

    That said I do think we have lots of room for reform. To my eyes the brethren are trying. As I said they’ve conducted tests of various meeting changes. They’ve also done things like put WiFi in all buildings. So while we may not think change is happening fast enough, it is happening.

    Cliff (49) I think one problem is that since we are a lay leadership based church quality of various programs can vary significantly from one ward to an other. I suspect a lot that people point to as structural problems are really problems due to the makeup of a ward or how callings are dispersed.

    Left Field (50) I think allowing a ring ceremony outside the temple prior to the sealing would be beneficial. As a practical matter in many countries you technically get married before the sealing anyway. While I think this would avoid many stresses for those with non-member families, I’m not sure this is that big a deal for the church as a whole though.

    Glenn (51) I think this is right. A lot of the reason people don’t want to be associated with the church are due to rising secularization, a lack of commitment to larger social organizations, and dislike of commandments like chastity or the word of wisdom. I think we can do better to try and help the young gain a strong testimony. However there’s only so much one can do.

    Ivan (52) I like the idea of slowly moving away from the KJV by shifting to the NKJV with more modernized language. Yeah we’d have to pay some royalties but it wouldn’t be that bad. We could then perhaps slightly modernize our other texts with the original words in the footnotes.

  51. Just a note on retention. I’ve discussed Mormon retention on my blog before. The figures depend upon the study you look at. Pew has had retention go from 70% in 2007 to 64%. However there are reasons to be a bit skeptical of the Pew data. Mormon retention roughly matches Evangelical retention, although clearly much more is demanded within Mormonism. Black protestants are higher at 70%, Jews at 75%, Muslims at 77% and Hindus at 80%. Although again what that means varies. Also for the latter three they are small populations like ours so there may be some measurement bias. Also moreso than for Mormonism they are associated with an ethnicity. So the meaning of saying one belongs may vary.

    That said, Evangelicals are much more innovative and diverse in terms of meetings. So it’s much easier to find a service one is entertained in. It’s not clear how that affects things though.

  52. Ivan (52), sorry if my arguments came off as logical fallacies, it is just that you were unclear about how Dave’s suggestions were evidence of increased secularization (and continue to be), so I indulged in some guesswork as to why you might see it that way. Also, bear in mind that Finke and Stark are looking at church growth between 1776 and 1990, before the internet was widely used. We live in a different age now, so I’m not so sure that their interpretation of why churches in the US grew would be an applicable model in today’s world.

    Cliff (49), I’m glad that your ward had a fireside that was thoroughly enjoyed by many adults and youths. It’s also remarkable that you were able to manage the nursery so well for that long (you should come manage it in my ward). I’m assuming that your ward, like mine, consists mostly of less active people (and low activity rates is something that is “wrong” with the LDS church that members and leaders should be working to fix, right?), many of whose circumstances and schedules don’t permit them to be fully active. If by decreasing the church black you are able to attract more of them to activity (and I don’t know if that would be the case), why would that be a bad thing? Furthermore, shaming and blaming those who suggest that shortening church might increase activity levels seems counterproductive. Preaching the gospel and perfecting the saints are central missions of the LDS church. Invoking Zwingli in my comment 41, there is no where in the scriptures where it says that we have to have a three-hour block.

  53. Brad, while the internet does affect things it’s unclear this is the source of recent social changes in religiosity. For instance the Canadian shift happens about 10 years prior to the American shift in the 90’s. Also I’d argue that a lot of the shift is primarily a nominological one. That is people who in the past were loosely associated to a religion would still say they were members. Now they don’t feel that need.

    While many people like to point to the internet I’m really skeptical this is the case. If it is affecting things I suspect the biggest role is to enable people to feel parts of other communities in a way not possible in smaller more homogenous communities.

  54. Be careful what you ask for. The last time we had a Mormon Reformation, Brigham and Jedediah cracked down on the Saints and birthed a major retrenchment. That seems to be what we Mormons are good at. Remember that Mormons, by and large, are conservatives. The conservative mind, by definition, resists change and is backward looking. For a church that believes in eternal progression, we certainly have forgotten how to think progressively. Joseph Smith was a revolutionary. He probably wouldn’t recognize the Church he founded. Not because of all the business suits, but because of the mental straitjackets we’re wearing.

    So, is there any way out of this conservative corner we’ve painted ourselves into? I’m frankly at a loss. Shortening the block to 90 minutes wouldn’t change the fossilized Mormon mentality. Filling the 90 minutes with something besides quotes from ETB or superficial explorations of the scriptures might do something, but I can’t see Salt Lake approving any revolutionary changes anytime soon.

    Let’s face it, the Church is struggling, especially in international areas. I heard a missionary report from South America recently. 40,000 members in his mission; 4,000 active. A member of my high priests group who works for the Church was visiting another South American country. In the ward he visited, there were 4 priesthood holders in attendance at priesthood meeting. Another missionary reports 7 percent activity rate in his mission. Obviously, what we are doing is not meeting the real needs of real people. Your comment about being “irrelevant” hit a nerve. How does the Church become more relevant in people’s lives in the 21st century?

  55. Clark, how is retention defined when you cite percentages? Is it a lifetime incidence kind of thing?

  56. “I’m assuming that your ward, like mine, consists mostly of less active people…many of whose circumstances and schedules don’t permit them to be fully active.”

    Brad L, in 40 years of adult life in the church, in countless visits and interaction with the less actives in the wards I’ve lived in, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone whose real reason for inactivity was that their circumstances or schedule just didn’t permit them to be active. I have known many people whose work didn’t fit our meeting hours, the motivated ones just attended another ward that had hours better suited to their situation.

    I’m dubious that “many” of the inactives in your ward desperately want to be active but can’t because of their schedules, and even more dubious that cutting the meeting block by a third or by a half would suddenly bring these unfortunates back to full activity.

  57. Brad, I didn’t intend my comment to be shaming or blaming. But when I see thriving LDS communities (wards, branches, quorums, whatever group) regardless of structural questions (like meeting block length) I conclude that it is the people in the community that are making the difference. From a TBM viewpoint, I might conclude that it means that members and leaders of a thriving community are more inspired. From a practical viewpoint, I more likely conclude that in that sort of community the members and leaders are committed, loving, seeking, trying to be more Christ-like, in other words, taking responsibility and taking action within their community to bring everyone together in Christ.
    Even though the length of meetings is not spelled out in scripture, there are structural objectives that we seek to accomplish in the meeting block. Youth speakers are an integral part of the youth programs that try to strengthen and prepare young people for missions and adult life. Adults called to teach in the auxiliaries should have the time to present lessons that are not just superficial catechisms. That takes preparation and sufficient time for discussion, generally. Socialization goes on throughout the block, and before and after, and that is critical to fellowship between members. My point in citing the example of the Davis County ward is that if the quality of worship and teaching is sufficient, and things are done in a loving Christ-like spirit, the quantity of time spent in Sunday meetings is irrelevant.

  58. Fake (59). Most of the polls are broad and just ask if they were in the same religion they were raised in as a kid. The GSS data is pretty untrustworthy due to size. I say I find Pew a bit problematic as some of the results just seem non-sensical (such as tithe paying or recommend holding rates which are extremely high) You can click through the links at my blog to the original studies.

    Lew (58) I think we have to distinguish between small © conservative as in slow to change and big C conservative, which is a pretty reformist tradition. I’m not sure it’s fair to say Mormons are conservative in the small sense, although there are elements they are conservative on. It’s also important to ask about the period in question. Mormons in the early 20th century were pretty progressive in many ways. I think this is a much more complex question than it appears at first glance.

  59. As a conservative Mormon, I would like to add my own ideas for some adjustments to church:

    1. Shorten the meeting length by removing 10-20 minutes from each 1 hour block. The point of this is to leave people wanting more. Recently in my ward we had several instances where the schedule for Sacrament Meeting needed to be shortened and I can say that a 60 minute Sacrament meeting is refreshing in a way that a 70 minute meeting is not. Since then I have also noticed that the 60 minute mark does seem to be when things start getting antsy in the congregation. This does not mean however, that we are just shortening the time spent at church, instead this could be paired with an increased focus on serving our fellow man in meaningful ways. This will also be a particular blessing to people with social anxiety for whom a 3 hour church block is intense in a way that 8 hours at work is not.

    2. Introduce the Humanitarian Service Committee. I see the HSC as being staffed by volunteers, with the Bishop calling a few members to serve as the leadership. A good HSC leader or president would be someone with charisma, enthusiasm and a genuine love for and desire to serve his or her fellow humans. The general membership of the committee would be voluntary to keep it limited to people who want to serve as opposed to those for whom it would be just one more obligation. The general goal would be to perform service in the community (preferably within ward or stake boundaries) and to have at least one service event per month. There would be a strict no proselytizing rule for these events, but members would be permitted to state which church they are with and to bear their testimony of service. Missionaries would be allowed to take part, but would also be subject to the no proselytizing rule. Paradoxically, I think that this would actually result in more convert baptisms and higher retention rates, if it was done properly (i.e. not as a missionary activity). Also give the HSC the option of meeting during Sunday School and possibly listening to conference talks while they do certain types of service (wouldn’t work for everything, but if a local charity needed a mindless repetitive task like envelop stuffing done this would be a great way to get it done).

    3. Increase the focus on Jesus Christ. Instead of talking about how much we talk about Him, we should actually talk about Him and Heavenly Father.

    4. Related to the above, why can’t we have independent adult scripture study groups? I belonged to a non-denominational group for Christian students when I was at school (not “out West”) and our women’s Bible study was a wonderful thing.

    5. Focus on treating people kindly, even if they are different or just plain wrong. Kindness does not mean being a doormat and in some circumstances it is best to be kind from a distance. Kindness does include remembering that every person you meet is someone who Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father love and asking if you would feel comfortable explaining your behavior to Them.

  60. Ivan (56), indeed, I totally missed the second edition. Suffice it to say, you have provoked me to look at the book, and luckily I have access to a full copy via my university’s VPN on ebrary. So I am currently in the process of reading through it. I have just read the last chapter of the second edition and my reaction is still that Finke and Stark still are only including data from the beginning of the internet age and that in light of the data ten years since, their findings no longer hold (well, for Christianity, at least). Furthermore, I don’t think Finke and Stark take into consideration enough variables and are jumping to conclusions, but that’s an issue for a different discussion. Consider this recent Pew Study from May 2015 which shows that all Christian churches, including Evangelical Protestants and Mormons, have experienced decline between 2007 and 2014. The Evangelicals and Mormons have declined at slower rates than other mainstream Christian churches, but still. In their book, Finke and Stark tout the rapid growth of the Southern Baptist Church during the 20th century as evidence of their hypothesis that the stricter the stronger. Well, I’ve got bad news for them. The Southern Baptist Convention recently reported that in 2014 that they lost more than 200,000 members, which is the largest one-year decline for them since 1881. I think that it is time for Finke and Stark to consider a paradigm shift.

    My reading is that the gig is up for a lot of these traditionally more conservative newer churches and that because their members have increasing access to information and are becoming more educated, the same trends that caused mainstream Christianity to hemorrhage are now affecting them. In my view, it is continued decline no matter what reforms they pursue, conservative or liberal. Traditionally conservative churches have to be creative in their reform efforts to survive. You may be right that a sharp turn towards liberal reforms would lead to rapid decline, but so would a sharp turn in a conservative direction. I can’t imagine that increased pulpit-pounding about the evils of gay marriage to positively affect any church in the US. Could you imagine a church making a conservative shift on racial issues? I couldn’t imagine a more rapid decline and falling out if a church began to revert to popular conservative attitudes towards race in the early and mid-20th century.

    Clark (62), data from the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey show a negative correlation between internet usage and attachment to organized religion.

  61. Cliff,

    the quantity of time spent in Sunday meetings is irrelevant

    We must live in completely different worlds, then, because the number one complaint I’m hearing from the LDS folks around me is too many meetings and not enough time for family.

  62. #63 – Thank you for these suggestions and for pointing out that it’s not a strict issue of length–it’s an issue of quality and engagement. We’re disengaging our youth with overlong (and often low-quality) meetings, and then they are growing up and wanting to do something else with their Sundays. I’m already worried about my 5-year-old daughter, who hates sharing time. I asked a friend in the ward how he gets his 5 y.o. to sit though it all and he said 1) bribery/rewards for good behavior 2) a lecture to his son about how sometimes in life you just have to deal with things that are boring or unsatisfying.

    While that’s not a bad lesson, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with my daughter’s main takeaway from Sunday services being “Sometimes life is boring or unsatisfying and you have to deal with it.”

    I taught in Primary for many years and even as an adult I loathed sharing time. Every now and then you find a Primary presidency and a music director with real gifts for engaging children; otherwise it’s an hour of torture with little benefit for anyone involved, particularly for junior Primary.

  63. #66 — Thank you! The problem with quality and engagement is that since we have a lay clergy and are dealing with volunteers who may or may not feel comfortable with public speaking or teaching quality is going to be all over the place. I think that shortening meetings combined with an increased focus on service (including doing our home and visiting teaching) would keep the amount of time spent probably similar (for those concerned with that) but would make the results much more meaningful.

    As for Primary, I remember once talking to an LDS person with a career in child development who opined that three hours of church is just too long for us to expect young children to sit reverently.

  64. Brad (65) typically the problem with too many meetings are activity or leadership meetings not worship services. I have a hard time seeing switching from a 3 hour meeting to a 2 hour meeting making a significantly big difference in quality family time. Having meetings before church, in the evening, and then other meetings does – especially once you factor in travel time and then inability to schedule around in an evening.

    That said, I do think the quality of our worship services matters are great deal. We should be doing better there.

    Brad (64) There is a negative relationship between internet usage and religion but I think this is a accident correlation. (Remember correlation is not causation) The main reason is that the shift we saw in the 90’s in the US happened a decade earlier in Canada when there was no widespread internet usage. People have argued for the connection but I just don’t see it. Also there appears to be a much stronger generational change. The more likely culprit is that people are getting married later and being married has a higher correlation with religiosity. So I suspect the underlying cause is the huge demographic shift in how people live.

    Regarding religion growth rates and Stark’s thesis, according to ARIS the groups still growing among Christianity are the conservative ones. The reasons for the shift away from the Southern Baptist Convention are more complex. But I’m not sure that is a problem for their thesis since the growth areas are still in conservative faiths. So for instance conservative catholics are losing membership but that has a lot to do with the child abuse scandal. (Catholic numbers are largely being sustained by latin immigrants) With ARIS those who self-identify as evangelical are growing quite a lot. Probably a lot of their numbers are people who might have once identified with conservative mainline groups. The main difference is that they don’t self-identify as protestant or baptist anymore. It’s most likely a nominological difference. (i.e. change only in name)

    Mistral (63) I think taking 20 minutes from priesthood would leave basically no lesson at all. I actually like the PH lessons. While we could take time from Sunday School I’d much rather switch to topical lessons there. I find the way we do Sunday School is pretty difficult to do lessons from. (I actually think PH is intimidating for many people because it’s not clear if we’re teaching the prophet like we do scriptures in SS or the topic — but when it’s used just as topic then it goes pretty well.)

    Regarding talking about Jesus, I think we do talk about Jesus a lot. A heck of a lot. I’d note that while Jesus spoke about himself, he spoke about a lot of other things as well. So emulating Christ we should discuss many topics.

    Regarding study groups, they tend to frequently get abused and turned into gospel hobbyism or worse. That’s why they tend to get discouraged although there’s nothing keeping people from doing it on their own.

  65. An increase of tithing to 20% along with complete transparency of how tithing is spent would be a reformation like no other. Fence sitters would be out and leadership would not be boring.

    Neither requires much change in theology or practice but I think they would be reformational.

  66. “We must live in completely different worlds, then, because the number one complaint I’m hearing from the LDS folks around me is too many meetings and not enough time for family.”

    It would be interesting to see home much time LDS people spend on media of all kinds. TV, internet, radio, music, reading newspapers.

    For the rest of the population, people say they want more time and what they mainly do with that time is watch TV. In the USA, we we spend more time on TV than every other leisure activity combined and also as much as on work. Across the adult population across all days, 3.57 hours per day working, .14 hours per day on religious and spiritual activities, .33 hours on sports and recreation, .71 hours on socializing and communication and 2.82 hours watching TV.

    The sad truth is that nothing would compel a typical American to be more committed to church unless it was more popular than TV. Sad but true.

  67. “Could you imagine a church making a conservative shift on racial issues?”

    Does ISIS count?

  68. “While many people like to point to the internet I’m really skeptical this is the case.”

    I think people watch considerably more porn now because of the internet. According to our leaders, that has an effect on religiousness.

  69. I’m on the side of those who say too little commitment isn’t the problem but I’m also on the side who say that church is too boring and irrelevant. To the people I know and love, the issue is that the “language game” that people play at church is disconnected from the “real world”. They literally have no idea how to fit the life and concerns they have in the real world into the menu of choices one has for discussing things at church. Too many people, doing too many things in too many different ways for church to be relevant in a practical sense unless one functions well in with an extremely limited playbook.

    Autism, addiction, education, politics, exercise, environment, travel, demographics, education, gender roles, and on and on. Almost never do I hear people discuss these at church in a way that seems “real”. The people who seem to enjoy church the most are the ones that enjoy the respite from the way they have to talk the rest of the week.

    Again, I’m not talking secularization or less commitment or less obedience or any of the rest of it. I’m talking about the language, thought and emotional and the filtering of language, thought and emotion that happens at church. That is what seems both boring and lacking in spiritual strength.

    Church has become a forum of spiritual correctness with very structured roles. Not as a theology but just in terms of language and roles it feels like a popular soap opera from another era. Something your parents did and only of historical interest.

    Kids these days don’t want to be Isaac, but they know real religious commitment is always on the border of a violent fanaticism. One can’t fake it with bureaucratic change of any kind.

  70. One piece of evidence about growing less: The church’s official UK report and financial statements filed with the government had some interesting statistics. Church membership in the UK had a net decline of 543 from the end of 2013 to the end of 2014. That was after 1,812 convert baptisms. So there was a decrease of at least 2,355 from either death, moving out of the area or leaving the church rolls. If we knew the number added from birth of children of record you could add that to the gross number of those who came off the rolls. These are relatively small percentages of the total 187k members but it is interesting that it is a decline and not growth.

  71. Clark, I tend to agree with what you write on your blog, that the internet is having a negative effect on religiosity (sometimes overstated), but there are certainly many other factors at play. You make some great observations about religion in Canada (which caused me to question my previous assumptions about religion in the country). I’ll use your post for future reference.

    Thanks for pointing me to the ARIS report. I took the time to look it over in detail earlier today (which was fascinating). There is a very important issue to note about it, however, that you should really look at. 1) The report shows growth in the proportion of the US population who self-identify as unspecified Christians and Pentecostals (as well as Evangelicals/Born Agains, although they are quite small).

    Pentecostal/Charismatic – 1990=3.2%, 2001=3.8%, 2008=3.5% (bolded because it is the head category, subcategories italicized)
    Pentecostal Unspecified – 1990=1.8%, 2001=2.1%, 2008=2.4%
    Assemblies of God – 1990=0.4%, 2001=0.5%, 2008=0.4%
    Church of God – 1990=0.4%, 2001=0.5%, 2008=0.3%

    Those who identified as members of Assemblies of God and the Church of God increased between 1990 and 2001 but decreased between 2001 and 2008. The Pentecostal/Charismatic head category showed a similar trend. In fact, the proportion of US inhabitants who identified as Christian Unspecified and Non-Denominational Christian increased the most between 1990 and 2008:

    Christian Unspecified – 1990=4.6%, 2001=6.8%, 2008=7.4%
    Non-denominational Christian – 1990=0.1%, 2001=1.2%, 2008=3.5%

    Those who identified as Evangelicals and Born Agains did increase.

    Evangelical/Born Again – 1990=0.3%, 2001=0.5%, 2008=0.9%

    The report showed no growth between 1990 and 2008 in the proportion of US inhabitants who self-identified as Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Churches of Christ, Seventh-day Adventists, and LDS.

    We have to focus on the unspecified category. I don’t think that it is a stretch to say that this confirms that growing numbers of Christians in the US are seeing themselves themselves as more loosely attached to denominations and congregations, even if they were perhaps formerly attached to a specific Pentecostal denomination. In essence, this is a sign of decline. These data don’t appear to confirm the idea of “the stricter the stronger” at all. Almost every church is experiencing decline except for the Evangelical/Born Again churches.

  72. Mark (74), great observation. I remember seeing that before, and didn’t think to bring it up.

  73. Many years ago you could ask a question of the Prophet or first presidency and get an answer in the Ensign. With the internet surely it would not be that difficult to do the same in public. There could be likes and dislikes for the question and the answer, which would give the leaders feedback.

    A big part of the problem is that we don’t even know whether the things we think are problems are on the leaders radar, and we would like to make sure thy are, and know the present thinking.

    For those who think we are too big to do this try sending an email to Pres. Obama, you will get a response.

    I don’t think anyone is wanting to secularise the church, though some of the ideas that only republicans hold and we hear over the pulpit fit that for me. (such as being under attack by the world, and opposition to gay marriage, and women) We could make change to the church so it helps families come to Christ more effectively.

  74. Brad it was that statistic that makes me think conservative mainline Protestants have become conservative Evangelicals but with little practical change in belief. The Pew data is helpful there as well. While there appear to be the start of some big changes in Evangelicalism the past few years on issues of sex, in general they have been quite conservative in practice relative to other groups save perhaps Pentecostal and Assemblies of God. Part of the issue is that especially past few decades movement within Protestant groups isn’t a big shift. Not at all akin to becoming Mormon or Catholic. The rise of the Nones is even more interesting.

    Note ARIS is relative to US population which has been slowing in growth and with a lot of its growth coming from immigrants.

  75. Ben,
    We desperately need a lds open access policy. There would need to be exceptions for professional lds scholars, but I was specifically referring to full-time lds GAs and sacred content. Should the rich have better access to words of the Prophets than the poor? Should temple workers get paid? No and no!

  76. I’m not sure I follow you, Clark. Which statistic? The one that shows an increase in unspecified/non-denominational Christianity? I don’t think that these groups are necessarily conservative evangelicals, are they?

  77. Brad, #65 “We must live in completely different worlds, then, because the number one complaint I’m hearing from the LDS folks around me is too many meetings and not enough time for family.”
    I often feel that I may live in another world as I read various internet posts on other sites as well. My first response is that while one of the topics in this comment chain is the length of the block meetings, it is only one set of meetings. I asked earlier about the 16 hours on Sunday that we are presumably not sleeping (but I love my Sunday afternoon nap) — is giving up 3 hours plus the get-ready time really that big of a sacrifice? I’m not defending all of the other meetings, but that hasn’t generally been brought up in this chain. If the content of Sacrament meeting and the other block meetings are of at least acceptable quality, that doesn’t seem like such a sacrifice and burden. I don’t hear this as an issue in my ward from members whom I know well. However, you and I are likely of much different ages.

  78. Re #73 and # 78 — One of the commenters is frustrated that he hears “Republican” messages over the pulpit, while the other is concerned about the substantial lack of political, cultural and other other timely discussions. We are all like the blind men and women who have taken hold of different parts of an elephant. We should not be surprised that we each have a different picture in our minds of what the animal looks like. That should lead us to be patient and careful about our conclusions. Change has and will continue to take place.
    Has anyone read or listened to BYU Professor Craig Harline’s wonderful 2013 presentation on change?
    Here is the link. Take the time to listen all the way through:

  79. In general non-denominational Christians are Evangelicals who dislike the formal bodies within protestantism. So you had a shift from people identifying as baptist, lutheran or so forth into just identifying as Christian or Evangelical. Now losses to mainline protestants can’t be fully explained by that but by and large the big shift in Evangelical self-identity from the 80’s until now was a shift away from the traditional concerns of protestant sects. Often there was also a big downplaying of theology in preference to a kind of ecstatic connection to Jesus. However typically conservative social beliefs followed.

    I’ll see if I can get some better stats on that for you and do a post at my blog. But my point is more that this is in practice a nominological change since it just affects how people label themselves. It’s a little bit more to it than that since most of the mainline protestant groups have formal platforms and sometimes a bit of policing. So there was internal political disputes there as well.

    Here’s a good article outlining that shift that especially affected baptists.

  80. #70, #73: I’d be perfectly willing to devote my entire Sunday to service, fellowship, or quality learning, each of which I consider to be crucial to the building of the Kingdom of God. And I often do not find those in our meetings. So I’m not certain that members like myself want our time back to just watch TV.

    For example. I’d love to see us take the 3rd hour at least once a month to do service as a ward. Or have a fellowship hour. (Yes, we have a post-church “munch and mingle” periodically but that essentially turns church into a 5-hour block including cleanup time.) Either of those could be meaningful and spiritually uplifting as well as building engagement across demographics.

  81. BTW Rodney Stark had an interview earlier this year that touches on these issues of Evangelicalism as well.

    Part of the challenge for Mormons looking at all this is that differences within Protestantism simply aren’t as significant as changing church is for a Mormon. Lots of people switch “sects” when they move away from home without seeing it as significant in the least.

    The bigger difference is the rise of Evangelicalism the past few decades. This is a movement that crosses boundaries and isn’t caught well by self-identification surveys simply because how people self-identify could fit many of the categories polled. It tends to be a shift towards a way of talking about religion that places a lot less emphasis on history or theology and into a personal relationship with God. (I’d say that theologically among leaders Calvinism has come to dominate, but I don’t have good data on that – and again its questionable how much this matters given how the laity behave)

  82. The metaphor of all the lights being red reminds me of something I read in The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. Dr. Lerner was advising a woman who was frustrated because her husband wasn’t giving her permission to do things she wanted to do, like take certain classes or something. He wasn’t aggressive in doing this, just whenever he expressed a preference that she not do something, she would instantly fold and be like, oh well I can’t, my husband doesn’t want me to. Dr. Lerner’s point was: it’s time to learn to give yourself the green light that you’ve been hoping he would give you. Not advising her to be aggressive, just to find that confidence within herself to go ahead and make her own decision and move forward with it and tolerate the fact that he would still rather she didn’t. And if I remember right, the woman went and did what she wanted to do, and she stayed married, and everything was more or less fine.

    In the Reformation, the reformers realized they didn’t have to wait for Catholic leadership to give them the green light. They chose to give themselves the green light to go forward with what they felt prompted to do. Martin Luther, for example, didn’t intend to start Lutheranism. He wanted to stay Catholic and just help the Catholic church be better (as he saw it). But the leadership made it clear they didn’t want his help (understatement).

    I wonder if what you’re trying to do with your invitation to suggest doable reforms is an act of hope that LDS reform might be more like the woman and her husband from The Dance of Anger, and less like the Catholics and Martin Luther. But I think the difference in how those situations turned out depended far more on how the husband / Catholic church chose to react rather than on the particular small positive changes suggested by the wife / Luther. We could suggest the very smallest most positive reform imaginable, but if Church leadership continued to display the red light toward it, what then?

    P.S. No more thee and thou when praying out loud.

  83. Following up on what Eve said, many people in my ward have voluntarily reduced the meeting times by only attending some of them or not every week.

  84. Eve,

    That was kind of my thinking up above. I see people quite easily forming communities on the edges. These communities involve ideas, but also enact changes in worship and behavior. They certainly have different understandings that are presented at GC. I think many people are not waiting for SLC. Just my observation.

    Re: Length of Sunday worship

    It’s amazingly easy for individuals to shorten the 3-hour block.

  85. Clark, yes, do some more research and post on your blog, I’ll be sure to read it and we can continue this intriguing conversation there.

    I read through the article on the Southern Baptists. I generally agree with the reasons that the author believes that the church is declining. Although I think that he should add that a growing culture of secularism which is spread largely through internet usage (although through other means as well) would be a general factor to add. I would agree that most non-denominational churches are conservative, but less so than the SBC, and for the reasons that you state, which are that these non-denominational churches tend to lack the platforms and the policing. And it is because of these fewer restrictions that I would deem them less conservative. Again, this would confirm that too much conservatism and rigidity is a problem.

    I also take issue with the the following in the article, “This explanation [that the SBC’s conservative theological and political views are causing decline] would make more sense if all conservative denominations were shrinking and liberal denominations growing, but such is not the case. The Assemblies of God, now the second-largest evangelical denomination in the U.S., has seen 25 straight years of growth, and its views are similar to the SBC’s.” OK, yes, liberal churches aren’t siphoning off conservative Christians. But he completely ignores the huge increase in the Nones category over the past couple of decades, which shows no sign of slowing. He also claims that the AOG church is growing. This doesn’t appear to be the case according to the ARIS report. AOG churches, too, appear to have been declining, self-identifiers as AOG members going from 0.5% in 2001 to 0.4% in 2008.

  86. “We could suggest the very smallest most positive reform imaginable, but if Church leadership continued to display the red light toward it, what then?”

    Eve, my answer to your question is quite simple: find another way to fulfill your goals, to be happy.

    I’m not suggesting you should leave the church; rather, what I’m advocating is incorporating in your life the good the church has to offer—which is quite a bit—and leave the nonsense behind. Then, find another source (e.g., book groups, university classes, work in soup kitchen, political advocacy, music, hospice service, etc.) to fill in whatever is missing.

    I’m fine with those who wish to advocate for change, but they should do so with extremely low expectations. The church is not going to materially change in your lifetime. But you can. And you don’t need anyone’s permission to do so.

    (I also like Martin James and Josh Smith’s suggestions/observations. I, for one, rarely attend Sunday School; instead, I retire to my car to read Kugel, Alter, Sparks, and Bailey.)

  87. Brad (91) Yes that article neglects a lot. I’ll see if I have time to write something up this weekend. Usually the demographic posts are a tad easier to write than the philosophical ones. The important part is the observation that evangelicals (who include baptists) aren’t really changing as much as shifting. Even churches that once were southern baptist are shifting.

    FarSide (92) I think we expect too much from Church at times. It can’t be all things to all people. Typically during Sunday School I remain fairly quiet and read my scriptures and all my reference materials I have for the lesson at hand. Then, since wards have WiFi, I can also do Google searches on various parts. Effectively I do my own lesson as I sit. Priesthood I’ve always enjoyed a lot more simply because it’s on a single topic and usually it’s fairly laid back and practical in consideration.

  88. ^^ My website traffic spikes on Sunday mornings as people sit in class. Not Friday or Saturday as people prepare their lessons. So there’s lots of reading of other stuff going on. Not necessarily bad stuff, just… other stuff.

  89. Clark, Rodney Stark notes that Evangelicalism is growing throughout the world in the interview that you linked. I don’t disagree. It is no doubt spreading rapidly in South America and parts of Africa and Asia. However, I take issue with him saying the following:

    One of the standard ones just drives me nuts is, “Young people are leaving the church in droves, what are we going to do”?
    And in [a forthcoming] book I’m going to put in the table that justifies that by showing that people under 30 are much less likely to go to church.
    And then I’m going to reveal that that table is from data 1972…

    His views are at variance with a Pew study published in 2010 that found that “by some key measures, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young.

  90. You’ll definitely have to explain in more depth what you believe the difference between change and shift to be on your anticipated blogpost. I’m not sure I understand.

  91. Brad, I’ve addressed in a few of my demographic posts what I think Stark is getting at. The people shifting into the Nones are largely people loosely associated with a faith. They’d say in the 80’s they were baptist or anglican or whatever but rarely went to church and had little practical commitment. If you look at statistics on commitment among the religious it’s dropped slightly but not a lot. That’s why a lot of people think the changes are primarily nominalistic. (Which isn’t to deny big social changes amongst believers)

    So consider this religious attendance survey by Pew which shows a slight drop of a percent or two but relative consistency of attendance. Gallup has figures going back to the 50’s and among Protestants if anything attendance has gone up. This isn’t true of Catholics.

    Again I don’t want to say there haven’t been drops. There have and especially among millennials it appears like there are big changes ahead. However things are just more complex than it appears at first glance. As I’ve said I think the bigger shift is the demographic shift on marriage. Typically people don’t attend church as much until they get married and have kids. Now that the perception of family has changed so significantly that is shifting as well. It’s also clearly the case that among non-protestants things are shifting much more quickly. Catholic maintenance of numbers has been driven primarily by latin American immigration. But a lot of the shifts are affecting them quite a bit. So you’re starting to see big drops within Catholicism. Liberal protestantism has been dying for decades. And of course immigration is bringing in increased numbers of muslims, hindus and other faiths.

  92. This advice from FarSide to me about what to do if the church keeps giving the red light to the small positive changes I’d like to see, is basically how the sea change is happening amongst millennials: “Then, find another source (e.g., book groups, university classes, work in soup kitchen, political advocacy, music, hospice service, etc.) to fill in whatever is missing.” It’s great advice. A surprising number of people who spend their whole lives deeply immersed in church activities and church service vastly underestimate the power of non-church activities and non-church service to fill spiritual needs.

    There used to be so much social pressure to belong to a religion that people would just say they belonged to one, and maybe go through some perfunctory motions, even if they weren’t that into it. Some version of that pressure still exists for politicians (atheists don’t do too well), and in deep-rooted Utah families, and in the Bible Belt, and probably other pockets here and there. But overall, there are so many other ways to be spiritually fed, and a growing cultural acceptance that people are fine belonging to any religion they like or no religion at all, that now more and more religions are facing what the Unitarians used to be nearly unique in facing: they don’t have to compete against the Episcopalians; they have to compete against the golf course. (or the book group, or the music group, or the homeless shelter volunteer group)

  93. Eve, the dirty little secret of most Mormons is that the majority of our spiritual activities aren’t organized by the church and that’s what the church keeps telling you to do. I think a large problem is people keep expecting the Church and other members to solve their problems. We’re supposed to be anxiously engaged in good causes, reading from the best books, having our own scripture study and family prayer and so forth.

    This is also, I might add, why many of us roll our eyes when someone complains that they didn’t hear some controversial thing in Sunday School. That was never the roll of Sunday School to be the source for all religious knowledge. We always were supposed to be learning and serving on our own. Likewise tithing and fast offerings shouldn’t be the only service we do.

    Note – this isn’t a criticism of you but an embrace of what you’re saying. For instance I get great spiritual lift from rock climbing and hiking in the mountains. Church can’t do that for me.

  94. Clark, I think there are some similarities between you and the millennials who are going through this shift. Some of them would substitute rock climbing and hiking with other activities or some forms of service, it’s an individual preference, but “I get great spiritual lift from [this]. Church can’t do that for me.” is it. Right there. That’s why they’re leaving. Everything after the ellipsis in “why I stay…” is things that have stopped mattering to most millennials; or things that maybe matter somewhat but can’t compare to the strong spiritual feelings they find elsewhere.

  95. Well, it’s the substitution I have problems with. Further while I have a spiritual experience in the wild, part of that experience depends upon spiritual nourishment elsewhere. Likewise service is important and I think a problem is that people want to be served interesting and exciting things without necessarily really helping others.

    It’s interesting that the studies of the rise of the Nones show that it’s precisely these people who are most disengaged from such community integration. (Not all obviously, but according to polls a disproportionate number)

  96. (Typing with thumbs)

    Martin, normally I’d agree with you. About the slacker thing, because I don’t mind being called a slacker, and because it’s true, and because I find a sort of noble grace in being a slacker. :-)

    I don’t know about “great slackers” though. I think greatness excludes one from being a slacker. I digress.

    For the moment, let’s assume I’m not a slacker. Nor are the millenials slackers. What I’d like to do is say, “let’s assume there is no character flaw at issue. Why don’t some people participate in the LDS faith?”

    As Eve has expressed above, they are making choices about their time, and they do seek transcendence or spirituality. Assuming they are good decent folks who want the best for themselves and their kids, why are they less Mormon than their parents?

  97. Clark,

    The people shifting into the Nones are largely people loosely associated with a faith.

    The Nones are becoming increasingly agnostic/atheist. From a recent Pew Poll: “Over the same period [2007-2014], the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’ – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.”

    As for the data on increased church attendance by the Protestants, the survey was of those who considered themselves Protestant or Catholic. It could easily be interpreted (especially when compared with other data about religion) as saying that in recent years, Catholics who stop regularly attending church are more likely to still consider themselves to be Catholics than Protestants who stop regularly attending church. So I don’t think that this shows that religion isn’t in decline among Protestants in the US. We need to ask if the trend among non-church-attending Protestants has become to not identify themselves with Protestantism anymore.

    As for the church-attendance data, that is interesting that it hasn’t seen a significant drop in the last decade. I would be interested to see data on this stretching back to a longer period of time. I poked around for it for a bit, but haven’t found any yet. At any rate, I don’t think that this says too much (for it is only one measure), especially because if we go back to a Pew poll on millennials and religion that I referenced in a previous comment, we see that 18-30 year-olds are less intense in their religious affiliation, do not attend religious services as often, pray much less, see religion as less important, are less certain of their belief in God, view the Bible as less literal, are more accepting of homosexuality, are more opposed to reading the Bible in schools, and are less opposed to the criminalization of pornography production and consumption than the 18-30 year-olds of the past. This study seems to be slamdunk evidence that Christianity in the US in almost all of its forms is in decline. Evangelicals tend to be in slower decline larger because of their heavy emphasis on gaining converts (Catholics and mainline Protestants have long been less missionary-work-inclined). But this graphic from Pew shows that the percent of those leaving Evangelical churches is only slightly less than the percentage of those leaving mainline Protestantism (8.4% as opposed to 10.4%).

  98. This discussion about length of church has been interesting.

    IMO, though, too much of it has come from the point of view of the believers. I think that’s too narrow. What if you’re a non-member investigator who doesn’t yet have a testimony? Or what if you’re instead a long-time member who is now wavering in testimony?

    I’m the former–RM, served in all the big callings, but am struggling now for various reasons. I mostly believe, but not like I used to. Still hanging on to activity, but it’s a lot harder than it used to be.

    For me, three hours every Sunday suddenly seems like a very big deal–particularly where I usually don’t feel nourished by at least one of those hours due to poor quality teaching (if not two).

    My sense is that I’m far from alone in this demographic. And to put it bluntly: for those of us who want to remain committed and involved with mormonism, it will be a lot more likely to do so with one or two hours of church, rather than three.

    You can call us lazy or lacking in faith or whatever. But that’s just the truth of it.

    And a similar comment could be made–if not amplified–for investigators. I ran into this all the time on my mission. It was hard to convince someone who had no spiritual or cultural groundings in Mormonism at all to come to church for three hours, rather than one, particularly in areas where you have to travel to get to church. I think we lose a lot of potential converts that way.

    Now, it may be worth it–perhaps the losses in those people who are turned off by our meetings may be offset by the refining and strengthening effects for those who are wired such that they are able to tough it out.

    But when I read the NT, I see a lot of stuff about trying to bring the struggling sheep into the fold, not arbitrarily making it harder for them to stay. If our meeting length is doing that–and I very much think it is–then maybe we should be rethinking it.

  99. “A surprising number of people who spend their whole lives deeply immersed in church activities and church service vastly underestimate the power of non-church activities and non-church service to fill spiritual needs.”

    Well said, Eve.

  100. Brad you’ll note that leaves the vast majority of Nones as believers. I’m not saying all Nones are like this. Merely that a lot of the shift are from how the loosely affiliated call themselves. I’d also note that among people who self-identify with a religion many are in practice agnostic. The line between theist, deist, and atheist is particularly blurry once you reject an interventionist God or are highly skeptical of the main texts.

  101. RT (106):


    That is a fascinating idea. What does the worship experience look like when it is constructed by someone other than the believer? First, we toss the idea that doubt or skepticism is somehow a character flaw. This is a church for the seeker, the thoughtful, the questioner, the doubter. What would it look like?

    These thoughtful members care deeply about spirituality. They ask the big questions, and are often much more understanding of simple answers like, “I don’t know.”

    These thoughtful people are getting kicked in the teeth at every possible chance. I don’t want to be offensive, but it is a bit nauseating to attend hours of meetings where childlike faith is held up as the ideal and being a questioning adult is a liability.

    Right now I guarantee you this group of thoughtful people is leaving, emotionally and physically.

  102. The other thing to keep in mind is that these categories are aggregates not people. So individuals often move between categories. There are some studies suggesting the None category is particularly frothy when considering individuals. That is for many people they aren’t consistent or are maybe even uncertain what to label themselves. They may also be uncertain of beliefs. (Here making a distinction between names and beliefs again)

  103. Brad to your final point. The second link had church activity going back to the 1950’s. You might have missed it.

    I should note that I’m not saying there aren’t changes underway. Nor am I denying that groups including Mormons aren’t losing members to the Nones. Just that the majority of this is primarily of those already loosely affiliated. (Again speaking in the aggregate rather than individuals) Certainly the Millenials are the group to watch. However I think the data can also be read to say that those loosely affiliated with religion have become even less so. Yet for the core group the changes aren’t that dramatic in terms of affiliation. Again though we’re in a period of very big change in this regard. As I said I’m eagerly awaiting the next ARIS study which should tell us a lot about these trends.

  104. “Tell bishoprics and stake presidencies to not ask the youth if they masturbate or not in worthiness interviews.”

    When I was in a bishopric and asked the more generic “do you keep the law of chastity,” I had more than one youth disclose that they did not know what that was.

    I’m not sure what the objection is with asking youth about this topic. If a young man wants a temple recommend to go do baptisms, he needs to be worthy. If he engages in masturbation he is not worthy of a TR. What’s being proposed here?

  105. Brad to your final point. The second link had church activity going back to the 1950’s. You might have missed it.

    No, I saw it, but it was measuring not overall church attendance (which is what I was looking for), but only that of Catholics and Protestants. I was just wondering how to reconcile the apparent increased church attendance of Protestants with the data showing overall decline in the number of those who consider themselves Protestants (with maybe some small Evangelical exceptions, but not enough to be significant). My hypothesis is that the Catholics have been historically more church-attending than the Protestants because they came mostly from groups of people who migrated to the US later than the early Protestants, such as the Hispanics in the southwestern US, and the Irish, Polish, and Italians in the northern US. Because they came later, they were of the poorer classes and tended to be more reliant on their religious communities for economic and social support. The mainline Protestants were largely of German, English, Norwegian, and Swedish ancestry who came earlier than the Catholics. They tended to own more land, enjoy larger wealth, and were not as reliant on their religious communities for social and economic support. With increased technology and access to education, the US has become increasingly cosmopolitanized and those who used to be loosely attached to Protestantism became the Nones. Consequently the percentage of people who consider themselves Protestant has gone down, and those who still do consider themselves Protestant tend to be more attached to their traditional faith. I don’t currently have hard data to back much of my hypothesis up, but just food for thought for now.

  106. Mike (112), two words on why the leaders shouldn’t ask the youth about masturbation: Kip Eliason, an LDS Idaho teen who felt so much guilt over not being able to stop masturbating that he committed suicide in the 1980s. This no doubt prompted the church leadership to stop pushing the campaign against masturbation so much. In fact, they don’t even include the word in the For Strength of Youth Pamphlet anymore.

    Much like a bishopric member has no right to pry into members’ personal finances to determine whether or not they are actually paying a full 10% (members have the right to determine that by their own definitions of “increase”), bishoprics don’t actually have any ostensible right given to them in any of the most recent church handbooks (forget about what was written 30+ years ago) to pry into the fine details of the private sexuality of members. Too much prying and prodding can become a form of psychological abuse, not to mention it is extremely inappropriate. It is fine to ask the youth if they obey the law of chastity, and if they ask what that is, then you give them the official definition, which is no person should have sexual relations with another outside marriage. You have no right to hold them to your own personal definition of the law of chastity (where are you getting the idea that masturbation should exclude someone from being able to receive a temple recommend? It is not said in any current manual or church direction (again forget really old material, we’re talking current)). In the same way, a bishopric member has no right to hold a person to their personal definition of paying 10% on income (gross, net, etc.). If someone asks what they should or shouldn’t be doing, you direct them according to what the scriptures and the official handbook say, not your own personal opinion. As Joseph Smith said, teach correct principles and let people govern themselves.

  107. “where are you getting the idea that masturbation should exclude someone from being able to receive a temple recommend?”

    Obviously discretion, adaptation to personal needs and spiritual promptings come into play in this realm, but surely you can’t seriously assert that because overt mention was removed from the handbook the church’s position has been inverted.

    A bishopric member by definition has the right and priesthood keys to be a judge with the gift of discernment in israel. Teaching that masturbation is wrong and letting them choose whether to do it or not is part of Joseph’s principle.

  108. #114 – I think you are taking an overly legalistic approach to this issue. The law of chastity is not limited to having sexual relations with another outside of marriage. Otherwise, a person could engage in all types of conduct that is inappropriate and be unworthy to enter the temple by any reasonable measure, yet argue that none of that matters because they’re not having (or had) sexual relations with another person? How could a knowledgeable member of the LDS Church believe that God approves of masturbation?

    Using your logic, it would not be a violation of the Word of Wisdom if one were to use heroin, since it’s not mentioned in D&C 89.

    If, as a member of the bishopric, I’m interviewing a youth and I either receive a prompting, or perhaps the youth’s parent has tipped me off that “Johnny” has been masturbating at home, I’m not ignoring that. I want to help that young man to become like Christ, so my concern is going to be on how I can help him do that, not on whether someone on the internet thinks I’ve somehow violated the letter of a church pamphlet.

  109. #63 – ” a 60 minute Sacrament meeting is refreshing in a way that a 70 minute meeting is not.”

    I’m sure many people expressed the same type of sentiment when the church went from an all day thing to a 3-hour block. If the church were to shorten the block, in X years members would still be pining for shorter meeting times. It’s human nature.

  110. Cameron N, the post is reforms that could potentially improve the LDS church. My proposal is that bishoprics should be given more specific instructions about what they are not to ask the youth for worthiness questions. There are points where they cross the line, and asking about masturbation is one of them. Bishoprics are to not ask married couples what they do in their bedrooms. Excessive shaming over masturbation is overboard. The fact that there is now no more mention of masturbation as something that leaderships need to specifically discourage strongly suggests that church leaders are actually more inclined towards my position and less so towards yours and Mike’s. My suggestion is for them to just seal the deal and specifically mention that masturbation should not be asked about.

  111. If, as a member of the bishopric, I’m interviewing a youth and I either receive a prompting, or perhaps the youth’s parent has tipped me off that “Johnny” has been masturbating at home, I’m not ignoring that

    Going after “Johnny” over masturbation will likely cause him to feel excessive shame and will likely do more harm than good. Talking with “Johnny” about a heroin usage is a completely different story (need I explain why?). Let me have you ask yourself this, Mike. Have you ever in your life masturbated (don’t feel the need to answer to me)? If the answer is no, then you are most certainly in the extreme minority of the human male population (and I would probably suspect you of lying). It is highly likely that you have, probably multiple times throughout your life. Do you feel like you actually broke the law of chastity, as it is defined by the LDS church, by masturbating and that you should have been subjected to formal disciplinary action over this? Suppose we went the opposite direction that I’m proposing and made the evil of masturbation a regular topic and undertook heavy disciplinary action against masturbators. This would kill the church. A huge number of people would be subjected to disciplinary action. The campaigns undertaken by bishoprics and stake presidencies against masturbation are psychologically harmful and actually run counter to properly defined actions in current church handbooks.

  112. I want to help that young man to become like Christ

    Forcing people to feel deep shame over seemingly minor acts (that aren’t even officially specifically defined as sinful (disregarding past opinions)) seems to be more in line with what the Pharisees were doing in Christ’s time, which Jesus strongly condemned, than with what Jesus was doing.

  113. Brad L,

    You’re right, but you won’t be able to convince some long-time members — they are not working from the handbook or the spirit or the quiet teachings of current leaders. I’m glad you are airing this subject.

    An additional perspective: It is wrong for a church leader to force a confession. A bishop should always be ready to receive a confession, but should never force one. This doubly or triply applies to minors. The adult-youth imbalance requires sensitivity, and ANY questioning of this sort constitutes coercion. I wonder about the legal liability of an adult who abuses his authority by forcing or coercing a confession of a minor’s masturbation. It is wrong. For the zealous bishop’s counselor who posted earlier, well, he is quadruply wrong — only a bishop can hear a confession, and a bishop’s counselor who forces a confession from a minor is wrong in every way.

    Let fathers and uncles handle this matter. This is not a church matter. Masturbation might be a sin, but if so it is a minor sin (especially when committed by minors) and is not a violation of the law of chastity. It does not require confession to a bishop. It is not punishable in our disciplinary councils by express text in our handbooks. Mission presidents are instructed not to send missionaries home for this matter. This is all right. The stuff that is all wrong, in the above paragraph, is left over from the old days and is culture, not gospel or doctrine.

    I’m a father, and I told our bishop that he did not have my permission to ask my son about masturbation. I will do that if it is needed. If a bishop’s counselor ever did it, I might sue him for violating long-standing and written church rules and shaming my son for his (the adult’s) own perverse interests. He would be wrong in doing so. In reality, my son wouldn’t volunteer to tell me that he was asked, and I probably wouldn’t use because that would be more shaming for my son. But regardless, the bishop’s counselor would be wrong.

  114. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Athena (#104), a very interesting post that you linked to. I don’t know that I would go so far as calling for a paid teaching corps or a church-wode council on the order of Vatican II, but that is the right kind of institutional discussion to have: What actual changes in institutional practice would be beneficial for the Church and its membership?

    RT (#106), I agree the three-hour block is a bigger hurdle for visiting investigators and for those whose commitment is wavering. We can’t just write those demographics off — according to LDS discourse, in fact, those two groups ought to be the focus of our attention (missionary work and “the Rescue”).

    As for LDS worthiness interviews that delve into personal or sexual topics, at the very least such discretion is for the bishop to exercise, not his councilors. Not that *any* of them receive any pastoral or therpeutic training, but for a bishopric *councilor* to undertake that discussion is entirely inappropriate, whether with an adult or with the youth. If a TR interview goes in that direction, the counselor ought to refer the member to the bishop for further discussion. Period.

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