Challenges for the church in 2019. A view from across the pond

On its website the church has a nice item on how the church changed in 2018, mainly by streamlining its operation: by a massive fusion of branches and wards in many areas, a fusion of priesthood quorums and by limiting Sunday congregation time. Together with Clark Goble’s informative blog on happenings in 2018, this inspired me to think about the challenges facing the Church in 2019. At least as seen from overseas, from Europe.

Internal challenges:
1. Balancing the weight between the Domestic Church (USA-Canada, but mainly Deseret) and the International Church (rest of the world, biased towards Europe). In membership the International Church leads by now in numbers, but neither in lesson materials, nor for that matter in public presentation, has this shift become visible. In administration, like in the Twelve, the shift is starting. In a Dialogue article I once compared the relationship between the two with colonization: a missionizing American church colonizing the rest of the world. The comparison raised some ecclesiastical eyebrows, but still holds, I am afraid. One administrative measure in line with the streamlining policy could be to define a clearer mandate for the Area Presidencies: all decisions on bishoprics, stake presidencies and realignment of stakes and wards. Also, Area Presidents might at last choose their own counselors.
2. Culture. Increasingly the church is confronted with cultural issues since converted Asians/Europeans do not become crypto-Americans; a conundrum for the church is that culture equals diversity, which does not sit easily with a highly localized central administration. The goal of streamlining is effectivity, and inclusion of culture is an absolute must for an effective global ministry. So, for instance, cultural differences might be integrated into the lesson materials. At present French Mormons teach to other French Mormons about some great American examples in gospel living, and the same with Samoa, Tonga, Kenya, Japan and Russia. That does not work, in fact. As a teacher I always have to put in a large series of footnotes in each of the examples given in the manuals.
3. Missiology. Our huge corpus of missionaries is a tremendous force, but in most countries their success rate is minimal, if not abysmal. I know that the learning experience is at both sides, the missionary and the investigator, and I do appreciate this, especially with the very young envoys of today. The barrier to be taken, is – again – culture, and a discipline named missiology is needed to take cultural differences into account. Any simplistic referral to so-called ‘gospel culture’ does not work, that severely underestimates the depth and reach of culture. We have the scholarship to develop a solid missiology, not eschewing the experiences from other denominations. Missiology is not a panacea, for sure, but its absence is counterproductive. Anyway, our missiology should not rest – as it implicitly does now – on the status of the USA in the world, which in these Trump-times is at an all-time low.
4. History. CJCLDS history is extremely interesting, which in anyone’s past almost by definition means it is checkered, with ups and downs, things we are proud of and things we would like to forget or cover up. The latter is no longer possible, thanks to internet, and this is not easy for a church which for long controlled the information flow. The challenge is to open up historical sources in a regulated fashion and clearly the church is gearing to do so, viewing the information offered at on several of the issues and the ‘Saints’ publication, a move towards a new historiography. Much more will have to follow, but I am reasonably confident here. For 2019 I would vouch for integrating the newly opened material of the website into the lesson manuals, for that is still lacking.

External challenges
1. From a theology of success to ??. Thus far our expansion and mission program have been the pride of the church, often cited as arguments for veracity, also in missionary and PR work. ‘The True Church grows, and will cover the world’, conform the famous (and often misused) Daniel prophecy. Now our growth is plateauing: all over the world branches are fused into wards, and the number of units has dropped drastically. Inside the International Church this is most evident, and almost all members in the Netherlands saw the composition of their wards change, since units of long standing were being integrated with others; many members have to travel a lot further these days. While on the whole this measure seems to work rather well, and the number of members that stopped coming to church because of increased distance seems to be limited, it is a signal that growth is slowing down, and that the leadership realizes that we have to hold on more than we can expect to expand. This may well have theological implications: we are no longer a church of spectacular growth, so that argument is fading away. What comes in its place?
2. Feminism. The priesthood-for-men-only rule will continue to generate opposition, and in the commentaries is increasingly being compared to the pre-1976 priesthood ban. This gender inequality will not become more popular and also, how long can we underuse more than half of the spiritual potential in our church? One key question is in what measure the church has really learned from the 1976 revelation on the priesthood and its long history? I have no immediate suggestions here, since this will take time, but we should not move too slowly. On the other hand, our leadership is probably well aware of what happened with our brothers, the Reorganized CJCLDS – now the Community of Christ – when they opened the priesthood for women. In terms of ministry and spirituality it was a boon, but the church did lose 1/3 of its members, mainly by wards splitting off. This raises the question where the problem in this particular gender issue of in fact resides, in the ministry itself or in members’ acceptation.
3. Addressing global issues. The issues raised above are mainly defensive, reacting on a world that is seen as impinging upon the Church. In the USA the church is now among the top five, which brings some responsibilities. I do think we are now at a stage where we can speak out on the problems of the world, the real ones that are not fights over definitions: war and peace, terrorism and violence, refugees and xenophobia, the increasing divide between poor and (super)rich, and finally the way we exercise our stewardship over our planet, so about depletion and climate change. I like to think that we are no longer a besieged minority, not a church under a barrage of critique any more, but a self-confident representative of Christ, reaching out to a world for which we do have an important message. And we definitely do a lot well: a strong message, a stable and coherent structure, a wealthy organization and above all a massive body of committed volunteers, with an above average educational background. Those are huge assets, that could well be used for goals more ambitious than just Church-oriented ones.

All this, I realize well, is highly presumptuous. The Book of Mormon urges us to take Gods counsel, instead of trying to counsel Him, so henceforth I intend to listen. Anyway, these are just some thoughts on the challenges, such as we see them from Europe: what challenges do you from other parts in the world see for 2019?

Walter van Beek

35 comments for “Challenges for the church in 2019. A view from across the pond

  1. This is an accurate and well thought out summary. Thank you. You question “From a theology of success to??” is indeed timely. In my rural Nova Scotia, Canada, branch, we have seen an attrition rate among young people of approximately 90% over the past 20 years. I can ascribe only a small portion of that percentage to rural out-migration.
    When I first met with the missionaries in Atlantic Canada in 1973, some of them still had their original calling cards with the previous mission address, based in Boston. Then the Halifax Mission was opened. Just a couple of days ago I heard that the Halifax Mission was closing, being merged in with a mission based in Montreal. So the growth has peaked, then plateaued, and I suspect it will decline, as membership ages out. Mission realignment is not a bad thing; it is a response to the realities on the ground. For years I have felt so badly for the missionaries I fed and fellow-shipped in my branch. I tried to provide them with uplift and some cultural and theological “education” they might not otherwise receive, because I wanted to help make their missions a bit more meaningful. Clearly, it was a rarity that anyone in the local population was remotely interested in their message. We were a great branch, heavily involved in service. But still, no one was interested in our theology or lifestyle. Now the active members are mostly all in their 60s, less able to physically serve, and there is still no community interest.
    The only improvement I can conceptualize is to move missionary service away from preaching (some might cynically call it “marketing”), towards actual tangible service work. I’m thinking of taking some of the best from initiatives like the Peace Corps in the US or CUSO in Canada. It may or may not yield more converts. What is clear is that what we are doing now doesn’t seem to be working in many parts of the world. So maybe if we can’t have a theology of “success” (conversion numbers), we can have a theology of raw service (few conversion numbers expected – just rendering the pure love of Christ).

  2. I am going to try to put this as charitably as possible, but it’s really hard to take seriously an observation about the concerns of the Church internationally that never uses the words Spanish, Portuguese, Latin America or Africa. There must have been some way to comment on Americentricism in the Church without being so Eurocentric.

    I’m also concerned with accuracy here. This statement “the number of units has dropped drastically” appears to be categorically false on a global scale, which was the context of the statement. The Church added 28 stakes and 14 Districts in 2018, and discontinued 14 stakes and 8 districts. Slowing Church growth is, in fact, a challenge. But it’s hard to take this too seriously when it appears to miss the facts, which can be easily discovered with a Google search.

  3. Walter, I have to agree with Dsc. Given the dropping numbers in Europe and its relative small size compared to the rest of the world, I wonder why you say, “biased towards Europe.” If anything the bias is strongly against Europe that I can see particularly towards Africa. (I think Asia should be included too, but unlike Evangelicals and Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons haven’t quite figured out how to grow in Asia) This is pronounced in the culture aspect too. I think the difference between Americans and Europeans is far, far smaller than the difference between Americans and Latinos, Asians and Africans – culturally speaking. If anything progressive American Mormons resemble European Mormons in many ways.

    I do think that culture is affecting manuals, but I think with the Come Follow Me manuals the way it’s doing that is by being much more vague and open to how the particular needs to the member takes the lesson. This is part of a long standing move against specifying the details in lessons that started in the 90’s and arguably has been accelerating to the point it’s a few vague paragraphs.

    I actually suspect there’s a lot the brethren can do relative to feminist issues. The question is whether feminists would embrace the changes given the diversity of thought among progressive feminist members. I actually think Elder Oaks’ talk from a few years ago sets the stage. Likewise in the historic record there’s many practices women engaged in that could be restarted. And even many feminists arguing for authority note that Joseph may have set up the Relief Society to be more of a similar organization to the Elder Quorum. The problem is that for many women, even if Pres. Nelson made the Relief Society into a parallel organization with similar authority it wouldn’t matter if women couldn’t become Bishops or Apostles. Even if the status and duties or the Relief Society were expanded. For many (although probably not a majority) the only satisfactory solution is the end to gender differentiation.

    The question is how the growing international church sees that. (In some ways this parallels Catholicism where arguable the church outside Europe and America is far more conservative – particularly in Africa)

  4. These objective yet faithful observations from around the world are helpful to those of us who are locked into “Deseret” as a practical reality. I am encouraged by the Primary class my wife and I just completed teaching in our very normal Utah ward, not overly prosperous and few professional or highly educated adults. We had eleven happy, bright and enthusiastic children age 6 on our roll, nine were from active families, one semi-active, and one inactive. Their parents are amazing—every one of the nine children who attended regularly were being wonderfully taught at home, much better than I recall we taught our five children (all active in the Church now as middle-aged adults). In our Primary class, we felt the faithfulness of the families and their children, and it inspired us to do our best as teachers. It was a great experience. Statistics and anecdotes from Utah and around the world sometimes seem discouraging, but when I see the potential of these children and the faith and obedience of their families, I am filled with hope for the future. Perhaps the best spirits truly have been preserved for these difficult times.
    Yes, we can’t “sell” our success story any longer, but the real fruits of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are still remarkable and appealing to many people, LDS or not, who have a desire to live Christ-like lives and who value their family relationships. God’s patience with us is remarkable, and it seems like time is not as important to Him as it always is to us, given our inevitable mortal deadline. I have faith that it will work out as He has hoped, even if the course of events hasn’t gone exactly as we may have imagined it.

  5. I also don’t understand your statement that the International church is “biased toward Europe”. I would have said the Americas/Pacific. Europe seems very small in numbers and doesn’t seem to provide as many leaders as other international areas.

  6. First, thank you for all the comments, and for the correction. I might have let a misunderstanding slip in, it is not the Church, either Domestic or Internationalne, that is biased towards Europe, my own observations are to some extent eurocentric. That is the proviso I wanted to make, since my main data are from Europe, the most secular of all continents. .
    Of course, the cultural differences between Europe and America are smaller than between the North Atlantic with Africa or Asia; as an anthropologist I have worked my whole professional life in Africa: cultural difference is my bread and butter. My point is that when the smaller differences between Europe and America are already an issue, the larger differences with the other continents are surely an issue. The International Church is highly diverse, so should addressed as such.
    Growt: Yes, the church is doing well in Africa – though not nearly as well as could be – and reasonablywell in Asia, but on the whole, growthwise we are way behind charismatic and pentacostal churches. We should no longer use growth as an argument, nor in our theology.
    The statistics of stakes and districts effectively mask the reduction in units – wards and branches – that has been going on in many countries, in Europe and Latin America. I have no info on Asia or Oceania on this. This means that branches have been fused with wards all over the continent, and that stakes now consist of less wards, much less branches, but of larger units. This has been a silent revolution, without any GC announcement, largely passing by the Domestic Church. It was triggered by 1. the realisation that small units do not grow, 2. the notion that an upcoming generation needs a strong ward for support (‘a large village’) and 3. cost cutting. Many meetings houses are now for sale, especially the ones inside adapted townhouses. I do support the measure – even if the membership could have been involved more – but it is a clear sign of plateauing growth, and the fact that the leadership is aware of that.
    Dsc: Of course, Spanish, Portuguese, Samoan etc cultures are highly important, I should have put them into my examples; I did not try to make an exhaustive list.
    Clarke, your observations on the leeway for alleviating the gender imbalance are interesting, but so is the observation that only full gender equality would assuage feelings. Social psychology indicates that in power differences the less the remaining differnce, the greater the urge for full equality.
    rcf: thanks for your supporting story, and I fully agree: we are quite successful in many ways we could well stress. And I do think that type of accomplishment is being highlighted more and more.
    Again, thanks for the comments.


  7. Walter, As an Australian member, I agree with your assessment. The only growth in my area is from members moving from elsewhere in Australia, or from New Zealand, and the islands.
    I do not know if you have the same, but we have a situation where most members try to behave like they are in Utah belief wise. So homophobic, anti feminist. The only other people with those beliefs are actively recruiting church members. The trouble is they are also anti muslim, anti immigration, anti climate change, and antisocial.
    So on facebook members are spouting this whole range of politics.
    In Aus this hard right group we are assocating with are a very small and not liked.
    We need to get out of homophobia, sexism, and back to Christianity. ASAP.

  8. I’m still a bit confused over the units issue. The Church added a net of 302 congregational units between 2016 and 2017. If you have data for 2018, it would be interesting to see. I have heard that the Church is tending towards larger units in many areas, but I still haven’t seen evidence of a net loss of units.

  9. in interests of accuracy, update the post to reflect the correct date of the priesthood revelation, which was 1978. thanks for these thoughts!

  10. I understood your Eurocentric” comment to mean your perspective since that is the prospective from which you are coming from.

  11. Question: with slowed to almost zero growth and trouble with retention rates and lack of opportunities for the young to marry another LDS person, I imagine that for the active there, there is a lot of work to get done and few (aging) people to do it. Are people experiencing burnout? Is there anything being done to alleviate work loads?

  12. I occasionally attend church in Uganda. The service is too Deseret-centric. The music, the male church attire, the format. The service needs drums, more African culture. Our Church services are neo-colonial and boring. According to one senior missionary I talked to, retention is an issue. I can see why.

  13. Roger, interesting comment. Are drums an integral part of modern African culture? Do business meetings, Catholic masses and sessions of Parliament include them? I don’t know but I wonder if your comment about 21st century church services in Africa needing more drums is as anachronistic as saying that 21st century church services in the mountain west need more six shooters.

  14. I’m Anglo so I shouldn’t be speaking for Africans. But here goes anyway. Yes, drums are used in Catholic masses. Most African ceremonies involve drums. Africans are very demonstrative. As for business meetings, etc., they are hardly the same thing as a religious service. But I suspect your comment is tongue-in-cheek. Musical instruments and weapons are hardly the same thing.

    Drums in North American services might wake up some of the brothers and sisters. Just a thought.

  15. Dsc, you might want to check out Matt Martinich’s 2018 report. Here are some relevant points:

    “The number of wards and branches in Mexico declined from 1,987 at year-end 2017 to approximately 1,847 wards and branches at year-end 2018 – a decrease of 140 congregations, or 7.0% of wards/branches in Mexico in a single year. This is the largest decrease in the number of wards/branches ever reported by the Church in Mexico, and the largest annual decrease in the number of wards/branches ever reported in a single country in the history of the Church. …

    “Congregation consolidations in Mexico have significantly affected congregational growth rates for the Church in the world as a whole during 2018. Based on the most recent information available, the number of wards/branches worldwide increased by only about 30 for 2018. This marks the lowest net increase in the number of wards/branches worldwide since 1953 when there was a net decrease of 35 wards/branches for the year. The Church also reported larger-than-normal net decreases in the number of congregations in several Latin American nations such as Venezuela (-15), Argentina (-12), and Chile (-11). …”

  16. Ryan,

    That’s the sort of thing I would liked to have seen in the OP, although that data still shows a net gain in congregations (albeit very small). So to say that the number of units has “dropped drastically” is objectively false. The point is probably still valid, but I think it’s important to be accurate, especially when using verifiable data.

  17. One challenge that the Church faces is the proliferation of vain ideologies and false philosophies on the internet. But the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.

  18. Dear Walter

    A view from AFRICA ….

    I would have liked to respond more comprehensively and in a more granular way to your post but fi place a higher value on my time.
    I will however touch on some points in the hope that your future posts will be more transparent. By transparent I do not mean objective or balanced but illuminated by Gospel truth(s).
    The Gospel and the mouthpiece of the Saviour, His appointed and anointed leadership, do not need to defer to nor be diluted to accommodate cultural traditions, tribalism, ethnicity, comfort or convenience. I maintain this stance notwithstanding any reference to the Church’s so called response in 1976(sic) to the then race and the Priesthood issue. It is not one of the things “we would like to forget or cover up”…. It is however one of the “tenets” or practices that we should reflect upon and seek to gain a deeper understanding of how God works.

    Those of your readers who are on the equity and/or equality bandwagon, may wish to include such doctrine(s) as the clearly discriminatory and anti-diversity and anti-whatever confinement of the Aaronic priesthood to the tribe and descendants of Levi. Imagine how unfairly discriminatory, offensive and humiliating this must have been to the faithful of the other 11 tribes who aspired to offer sacred service? Not to be outdone there came the elitist practice of circumcision separating Israel from everyone else. And even today we are so bold as to claim that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the ONLY true Church upon the earth….
    Will the accusations against us of being arrogant, haughty etc etc persuade us to water-down the requirements for baptism and have us open our borders to whomsoever wishes to come on board…lest we be adjudged by the world to be discriminating.

    God has always been a jealous God and has instituted covenants, policies and practices which set His people apart from the world. I fear that in expecting the Church to respond to the pressures of populism, diversity and uninspired conformity with questionable and unscriptural practices will be akin to selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.
    In the light of what has clearly been presented as the mind and will of the Lord at the recent General Conference (Oakes), to entertain further overtures to accommodate the aspirations of some deluded or misinformed women and their sympathisers/supporters seeking “equality”, is looking past the mark. I take little comfort in your comment that “I have no immediate suggestions here”, and even less in your expectation that “we should not move too slowly.” I expect that you would have sounded the war-cry, watch and pray and encouraged your readers to stand fast and hold to the Iron Rod….

    The choice of the term “challenges” is unfortunate and is perhaps misleading, creating an impression that it is “the Church” (as an organisation) that needs to change/respond/react etc to the several issues which you have raised. The overall tone created by the use of such terms as ” the church is confronted with cultural issues” and “simplistic referral to so-called ‘gospel culture’ does not work” ceases to be a mere observation and instead becomes a veiled threat; if the Church doesn’t respond then….it will have to face the (negative) consequences.

    Your view, as reflected by some of your comments may be adversely affected or somewhat blurred from the your vantage point on the “other side of the pond”.
    I sincerely hope that you are simply attempting to generate thought and constructive discussion from your readership and that it is not your intention to provoke or encourage impressionable people with weak testimonies and fickle minds to wander off the strait and narrow on to the broad side-roads in the hopes of finding salvation/exaltation?

    I am heartened that you, in closing/ “henceforth (I) intend to listen.” I look forward to your next post which I hope will more earnestly and transparently reflect your intention and views to your readers.

  19. Ryan, to go along with that, in an other thread he emphasized this was a change to unify congregations for more support for members. There wasn’t a drop in membership. Whether this will help is unclear. Having grown up in an area where one had to travel far for meetings there’s a tradeoff between the help of fellowshipping and more people to fulfill callings and the hurt of how much more difficult it is to go to visit people, to get to meetings or so forth.

  20. Thanks, again, for the comments.
    The information we have at our disposal on European units indicate that some 700 units were discontinued, merging with other units. We do not dispose of official figures yet, but for Europe this is a drastic decrease, and that is my view-from-over-the-pond. The merging of small units into larger ones was explained by the leadership as ‘need for critical mass’: good for members, to balance demands on leadership, for youth and young adults, and for cost, evidently. For young adults, at least in the Netherlands, the argument is not very germane, since they are very mobile, but the other arguments are valid. There were some costs in membership expected, up to 15 %, which for most units does come out, but the members of some outlying discontinued units are lost: they stopped attended, distance was too large. Yes, this is a trade off, and one any leadership must face, a hard decision , a challenging one. I heard few complaints, but those that are absent, lost their voice.
    Growth is change, also in organizational structure, shrinking is change as well. Growth has been entered into theology, shrinking not yet. But, Europe is just one part, and other parts might do much better, the general balance can still be on the positive side. Yet, the days of self evident growth are over, which doe present some challenge for our theology.
    Challenge in my book, Brian, is not a threat, but an issue a leadership will face in a changing environment. The challenge of secularization in Europe is one issue the leaders did take up. That is why I identified some other issues they might well face, challenges, not ultimatums.
    Women: the ‘voice and the will of the Lord’ has been heard often in the past, also in General Conferences, for instance over the black priesthood issue, voived by apostles of repute. That exclusionist doctrine has been reinterated and restated over and over again, even developing an intricate theology on the pre-existence. All that became obsolete in 1978 (yes!), which I do not read as bending to populism but as a signal of the self-corrective principle of ongoing revelation. It happened with black priesthood, why could it not happen with women? My granddaughter of 14 asked why in every interview she had to face a man, and not a woman, a nice man really – like our bishop – but a man. Handing some issues over in the hands of women, the suggestion made in the comments, might be a first step, but will probably increase the drive for full eqality. I cited research in that area. So I have no suggestions, I just mention an issue that will not recede, a problem that will not go away. #MeToo was not against the church, but did transform the female discourse on power relations with men, and has drastically diminished the tolerance for power differences between the sexes. I wait and see, and hope and pray.
    Africa, my dear annd beloved Africa. My professional research is mainly on indigenous religions, but the many churches I visited all sported drums, which at least were played expertly. Especially after the meeting, when the people gathered outside the chapel, there was drumming, there was dancing, there was a feast of life: what a way to celebrate sunday. Culture is not sacrosanct, the gospel is; culture can be a hindrance, and can be an enrichment for living a gospel centered life. It is always relevant, and cultural differences might be used, instead of eschewed; in short, we could do better, in missionizing and gospel implementation of we involved culture wisely. There are more ways than one to be a saint, also within one gospel.
    Again, thanks


  21. Walter, do you think the comments about the new hymnal by the Church indicates a much wider variety of styles and instruments? Their FAQ seems to strongly emphasize the international character along with apparently regional selections. The clear emphasis is “the needs of members worldwide.” I particularly noticed their explicit “we encourage submission of hymns and songs from multiple cultural styles.”

    Up until now basically you could bring string instruments into church along with flutes, but no brass, drums or even reed instruments. This seems to indicate a pretty strong loosening of instrument restrictions, although the FAQ isn’t quite clear on that.

    Regarding the women issue, I don’t think it’s quite as easy as you suggest for various reasons. Certain theology has been rejected, but either over a very long time or else it was always theology that had been questioned. So for instance long before 1978 fence sitter theology was controversial. Likewise there was already a strong theology that everyone would eventually get the priesthood. What changed was when not if making a much easier theological adjustment. With women in some ways things are easier precisely because of women giving blessings in the past but also the explicit making them priestesses in the temple. In other ways things are somewhat harder because of the way that is done. I’m not saying you don’t have a good point – revisions happen. However in this case I think people want it to happen very quickly. Turn to broader gender issues like LGBT and I think things are even more difficult. I suspect the same people who have the most difficulty with women and authority have the same issues over LGBT.

    All that said, I think that culturally within the Church that the so-called orthodox are most open to adopting change if pushed by the First Presidency. It tends to be more progressive Mormons who demand theology match their expectations (IMO). Orthodox tend to buy into prophetic authority and trustworthiness far more and thus ironically are most open to change. Progressives are extremely open to change but only in one direction. Or so it seems. I’d love for someone to tell me I’m completely wrong there. Some conservatives do disagree with the Church – say Kimball on hunting, Benson on MX missiles, or the Church on immigration. But it’s almost always much more guarded and limited. You also see them going quiet when the Church gets explicit or else using strained readings to argue they aren’t actually going against Church statements. More often than not though they bow to Church pressure. You just don’t see that among progressives. Progressives might say that’s because most of the Apostles are older white conservative men. However clearly on some issues (like immigration) they break substantially with conservatism. I think that significant.

  22. Yes, Clark, I realize that the black an women issues are not replicas. The black exclusion was temporary, debated, linked to specific history and has been unpopular for a longer time. Women has lost part of their agency, also by correlation, retained some in the temple, and here the church does run so much out of sinc with other christians. And I agree with you on dynamics of change: the leaders are aware of public pressure, but do not like to act on it too much, and the discourse on revelation precludes any subservience to public opinion. This has the disadvantage of slow changes, rather late, but it does have the advantage of real change, like in 1978: it came very late, but it did change, and took conservatives along.
    At present LGTB issues tend to highlight gender, and I am worried that this will tend to link women’s issues with LGTB ones, as far as the church position is concerned. The women will not grow silent, also not in the church, but it will take a long time.
    Good for the new hymnal! Now it is up to the International Church to reach out to their cultural reservoir and fit that into the singing of praise. Maybe a new little arena for conservatives and liberals here: how do we dare to be different!


  23. A minor threadjack, but to some an important point:

    Clark: “Up until now basically you could bring string instruments into church along with flutes, but no brass, drums or even reed instruments.”

    If that has been the case in some places, it is not because Church policy. For decades the instruction as to instruments in sacrament meeting (what I assume you mean by “church” in this case, though some have thought wrongly that it was an instruction as to the chapel and not the meeting) has been:

    “Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound [compared to pianos and organs], such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.” Still in Handbook 2 14.4.2

    Nothing is said about reed instruments. (BTW, some organ stops are reed instruments; some imitate brass and percussion instruments.) Not all brass and percussion are excluded. Some brass and percussion players are capable of playing their instruments with a sound no less prominent or “worshipful” than some keyboard instruments. Unless there has been a change I have not seen, it remains within the bishop’s discretion to permit their use in sacrament meeting. Some do.

    The confusion is understandable. The 1984 Church Music Guide for Priesthood Leaders was different. It still stated: “Brass and percussion instruments are not appropriate.” Even some GAs have been known to preach that version years after the change to the doctrine of brass and percussion instruments in sacrament meetings.

    While I doubt there will be a change authorizing enthusiastic (word chosen for both its meaning and its etymology) African drumming in African sacrament meetings, part of the policy problem is keeping people happy who have narrow, if any, understanding of what is worshipful to whom, and who attribute their own cultural traditions and preferences to the Spirit. The listener’s contribution to finding the Spirit in music is much greater than many are willing to understand.

  24. Interesting JR – although I’ve never heard of a saxophone or oboe performance in Church. Of course as a trombone player I always thought the flutes and violins got all the attention while we were persecuted. I’ve also never heard a guitar at Church either. I’m hopeful to see more changes with this new hymnal.

    Joy, I forgot to ask you, were you in Nova Scotia when I lived there?

  25. Clark, The use of such instruments depends greatly on available players, a creative and thoughtful music chairman, and the bishop. In addition to flutes and orchestral strings, our ward has used with approval for various occasions: recorders, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, Highland bagpipes, trumpet, euphonium, trombone, tuba, orchestral bells, chimes, triangle, tambourine, gong, guitar, harp, plucked psaltery, hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer. Most, but far from all, such uses have been associated with Easter or Christmas or, e.g., a missionary meeting on the return of one from Scotland. Using these instruments has widened participation, invigorated congregational singing, and invited the Spirit. You were persecuted.

  26. Basil, There are members who understand the relationship between the church and God as you do and others who are more nuanced. Walter has been a Stake Pres, etc. But is more nuanced. You infer that you are in Africa, where? Just curious.
    Clark, If Pres Nelson announced that women were to have the priesthood the same as men, what problems do you see? The conservative members would probably act like they have with the temple changes, nothing to see here.
    The same with LGBTI. Before 1978 there was the same attitude from the conservatives as now to sexism, and homophobia. There were not the questioning from conservative members you infer.
    People who don’t considder themselves progressive, often attribute strange motives to progressives. My motive for expecting these changes is that my understanding of the gospel, does not allow for discrimination. All are alike unto God, black and white, male and female, gay and straight. There has been more emphasis on loving as God does. Revelation has not stopped until there is no more instutional discrimination. I don’t believe God discriminates, against women or gays, and the church will catch up, the sooner the better.

  27. I’ve played (acoustic, steel-string) guitar and the Irish Bouzouki in church. The only “pushback” I have gotten was once when the second counsellor in the bishopric called me the day before and asked “you aren’t going to do anything weird are you?” and I said “no” and he said “We were sure, but the bishop said I just had to double-check just to be safe.”

    The funniest experience was someone telling me they thought I was going to play “Dust in the Wind” for the first second or two, since the picking pattern and first chord were the same (when the second chord and the singing came in, it was pretty clear I was just doing a standard hymn – I forget which one).

  28. I once heard someone on a Sunday night playing The Doors on the church pipe organ. Does that at least count?

    Geoff, I think most non-progressives understand the principle progressives appeal to. I think the question is more the question of humility about not always knowing the practical implications given what God’s done in the past. But by the same token I think progressives sometimes neglect that conservatives value the same principles.

  29. I like your ward, JR, bagpipes in the church, how wonderful. Does anyone know about experiences in Scotland and Ireland? I would be very curious. Nice exchange on music, much needed. The Old Testament is full of instruments that are now ‘persecuted’. What would be the reaction on blowing the rams horn, the sjofar, in the ward? No instrument has a stronger reputation!
    Yes, progressives and conservatives, the discussion plays in the Netherlands as well, with the latter in larger numbers. I taught a few months in SS about Jona, and faced a staunch conservative who insisted that all these miracles indeed happened; he believed it, and suggested that I should also believe it – inferring that this is what a member in good standing should do. The nice thing as a steacher is that you have a lot of time, so I explained why an interpretation of Jona as a satire held much more water, and solved a lot of unneccesary problems. The majority of the class was with me, here. But, also I found I could easily come to an agreement with him on the basic message of salvation and forgiveness in whatever interpretation of ‘history’.

    Some last numbers on unit reduction: it seems the three stakes of the Netherlands moved from 33 units to 22, Flanders from 9 to 4. We are trying to work out what the effect is on the members, but the first impression is that the predictions of 15% loss tally, unless the distance becomes too large.

  30. Walter,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments and perspective regarding the challenges for the Church in 2019.

    Regarding Church growth, beginning in the early 1980s non-Mormon sociologist Rodney Stark began predicting tremendous growth numbers for us. I think he merely extrapolated the recent Church membership growth trend at the time. Some Church leaders were understandably excited about Stark’s projections and would incorporate this optimism into their talks and teachings. It is always fun to be a part of something that is growing in popularity. In the US you had Ronald Reagan also praising certain aspects of the Church at the time. It was a bellwether era to be involved in the Church!

    We may have forgotten what the Book of Mormon says about our day in 1 Nephi 14:12 where it predicts that while the “saints of the Church of the Lamb of God” would be upon all the face of the earth in the last days, their numbers would be few and dominion would be small. Some of the verses in D&C 45 can also be interpreted in the same way. I recall my seminary teacher way back at the beginning of the growth optimism period warning that this was the likely status of the world as time went on, much to the chagrin of the class. Indeed, in the early 1980s I attended a friend’s sealing in the Salt Lake Temple where Elder Neal Maxwell officiated and in Elder Maxwell’s counsel to the new couple he echoed some of this same type of caution.

    If you plot the trend line of year-on-year Church growth, it has been decreasing steadily in percentage since a peak period between 1976-1981. There is an aberration in the trend in 1989 and 1990 when the Church changed is accounting of members and when we had back to back years of over 300,000 convert baptisms. But besides that, the growth trend is on a 37 year decline.

    As to the women and the Priesthood question, you made an astute observation that the less the difference between men and women in the Church (and in other domains), the greater the push will be for full equality. Your mention of the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) led me to review some of their growth information.

    They allowed women in their priesthood in 1984. As you stated, they then lost about 1/3 of their members. In an Iowa newspaper article from 2001 when they changed their name to the Community of Christ, it was noted that they had about 250,000 members. The same article accurately stated that we had about 11 million. In the latest numbers I could find from 2015, the Community of Christ still has about 250,000 members. We have about 16 million. I say this only to discourage the notion that capitulating to popular causes will somehow bring renewed growth to the Church. It will not. Not only that but disaffected members who were proponents of the popular cause rarely come back after the change. This is the case for both the Priesthood revelation of 1978, and the Manifestos of 1890/1904.

    By the way, when the Priesthood restriction was first announced in 1852, Brigham Young stated that members of black African decent would one day have access to all of the blessings of the restored gospel, so right from the start it was known to be a temporary policy. The same cannot be said of women holding the Priesthood.

    My hope and expectation is that the Brethren, along with the other authorities in the highest councils of the Church, will continue to follow revelation from the Holy Ghost with the objective of blessing the lives of Church members and bringing the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire world without diluting the message even if we must change the presentation and approach.

    Kind Regards.

  31. John Perry, Since 1978, I have often heard that “in 1852, Brigham Young stated that members of black African decent would one day have access to all of the blessings of the restored gospel, so right from the start it was known to be a temporary policy.” But I have never been able to square that conclusion with the rest of BY’s 1852 speech. Other parts of the speech seem to say that that day would not come in this life. How do you square the idea that the prohibition was “right from the start … known to be a temporary policy” (in any sense different from everything in mortal life being temporary) with this:

    Speach by Gov. Young in Joint Session of the Legeslature.
    Feby. 5th 1852 giving his veiws on slavery.
    “Now I tell you what I know; when the mark was put upon Cain, Abels children was in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the preisthood nor his see, until the last of the posterity of Able had received the preisthood, until the redemtion of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon the, until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed; and hold the keys of the preisthood, until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth, and from michals seed. Then Cain’s seed will be had in rememberance, and the time come when that curse should be wiped off.
    … not one partical of power can that posterity of Cain have, until the time comes the says he will have it taken away. That time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privelege of and more. In the kingdom of God on the earth the Affricans cannot hold one partical of power in Government.”

    Have all the rest of the posterity of “Michal and his wife” (presumably Adam and Eve) received the blessings and held “the keys of the preisthood”? I suppose in BY’s culture “keys of the priesthood” might not have meant what it means in current Mormon-speak. I suppose he might not have considered women of enough value to be included in the concept of the posterity of Adam and his wife. But even then, how does his language not mean that those of black African descent cannot have those blessings until, at least, no more boy babies are being born except those of black African descent (which some say we all have anyway)?

    Incidentally, I believe BY was just plain wrong, but that doesn’t justify my supposing that his policy was known from the start to be temporary in any sense other than mortal life being temporary. I don’t believe the policy was generally understood to be temporary or that the thought was even entertained significantly by Mormons generally for about 100 years or more after BY’s speech.

    If we’re going to pick and choose among parts of that speech and try to understand it in contemporary terms, why not choose the part, quoted above, that implies that all the posterity of Michal and his wife, including women, will one day “hold the keys of the preisthood”?

    Perhaps someone better read than I can tell me how otherwise to understand BY’s speech.

  32. JR,
    Thank you for your reaction and thoughts about the element of my post regarding the initial expected duration of the priesthood restriction.

    I’ll start by saying that I read BY’s entire 1852 address and interpret some parts differently than it appears you do.

    First, I think your interpretation is reasonable. When I stated the restriction was temporary, I meant that it would have an end at some point.

    However, when I read BY to say that those of black African descent (the seed of Cain) will not receive the priesthood until the last of the posterity of Abel (the posterity of Michael and his wife, other than Cain) has received it, I believe we already saw that day leading up to 1978. In the decades prior, other restrictions were gradually lifted for various peoples who were included in the original policy (such as for Fijians and others of dark complexion). There is some conflicting language when BY uses the timing of the “redemtion of the earth” and then uses “the times of the restitution”, the former pointing to the millennium while the latter implies any period after 1830, in my opinion.

    Elder Joseph Sitati seems to also see that there was a restorative order of things, as witnessed by his inclusion of Mathew 20:1-16 in his October 2009 Conference Talk, “Blessings of the Gospel Available to All”. He made it even clearer when he visited a Stake Conference of ours the following year, emphasizing that anyone who is invited to labor in the Lord’s vineyard, whether first or last, receives the same recompense.

    I interpret the phrase “until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings” to apply specifically to the language directly after it – to receiving all the blessings of the priesthood which already occurs today for both men and women in temples.

    As to the BY address you linked, the language is choppy and vague enough in parts such that a further exchange on this point would not be productive, in my opinion.


  33. John Perry. Your response is the first time I have encountered any serious attempt to deal with BY’s troublesome language on the question of when. Others have simply chosen to ignore BY’s language entirely. I doubt that particular 1852 speech to the legislature was BY’s only articulation of his theory/testimony as to when, but I’m not interested enough in what BY had to say on the subject to go looking for other speeches or writings that might be less “choppy” or “vague” or confused. Thanks.

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