LDS Doubt in the NY Times
Well, this should be interesting. The NY Times has a story published on the web yesterday discussing the ongoing brouhaha in Sweden involving members who have had a crisis of faith. There is a bullet-pointed list of major concerns:
– Why does the church always portray Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon from golden plates, when witnesses described him looking down into a hat at a “peep stone,” a rock that he believed helped him find buried treasure?
– Why were black men excluded from the priesthood from the mid-1800s until 1978?
– Why did Smith claim that the Book of Abraham, a core scripture, was a translation of ancient writings from the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, when Egyptologists now identify the papyrus that Smith used in the translation as a common funerary scroll that has nothing to do with Abraham?
– Is it true that Smith took dozens of wives, some as young as 14 and some already wed to other Mormon leaders, to the great pain of his first wife, Emma?
There’s also a video interview with former Swedish area authority Hans Mattsson in which he says, “What I felt kind of sad about, and I felt I didn’t really like, was that they said that you’re not supposed to talk to your wife, your children; you don’t talk about these issues in church.”
The story isn’t exactly news for anyone here, but it is news that the matter is getting such high-profile attention.
@48: â€œI donâ€™t know whether there truly is an exodus from the Church, or whether things are relatively stable. I think an opinion on that kind of determines how one reads the articleâ€
AND the problem with this statement IS???
From the post chanson links to:
IOW, the Church is aiming to gain control of ITS IMAGE in the digital age — a problem compounded by bad policy choices in the 1960s and 70s (and well, the unsubstantiatable issues with Mormon mythology itself).
It’s not trying to ward off an exodus in the sense of the Church is shedding too many members and is about to die. Of course it cares about these members leaving, but not principally. There are gradations of exodus, in which an exodus can be occurring and the Church still be quite stable. That’s kinda what happens when you’re talking about an organization with millions of people.
Holly here is all about: “An exodus is happening! An exodus is happening!” And I’m like, “Yeah, and? There’s a bigger picture.”
@51: Oh, Jesus christ. So much for Alan’s hope @49 that he could somehow stop being ridiculous.
If only, Alan. If only you had said, “OK, so there’s an exodus happening. What’s the bigger picture?”
Instead, you were like, “Nah, I don’t think so.”
You can never get the basics right, so that any “bigger picture” you think you’re trying to call attention to is skewed, wrong and out of focus.
To wit: you quote this approvingly: “Relatively speaking, the number of people who have left is pretty small.”
But in point of fact, the number of people who have left is half to two-thirds of the church.
Whoever considers THAT pretty small really needs an education on the ways that size matters.
What was that you were saying about looking stupid the more you say something, Alan? You might want to take your own advice here.
This is the statistic for those who are “inactive.” Meaning, inclusion of those who get baptized and go for six weeks and don’t come back. That’s an issue with the Church trying to inflate its numbers and offering a substantive spiritual milieu, not [solely] an issue of an exodus.
The core of those in a tightly-knit Mormon communities still numbers in the millions. The bigger picture is that a relatively small number of people are “exodusing,” if such a term is even appropriate [given how it implies a kind of all-or-nothing], and their reasons for leaving are being broadcasted, affecting the Church’s image. Is the Church’s image so severely affected that those in the tightly-knit Mormon communities are also leaving? To some extent, of course, just like what happened in the 1960s over black ordination.
It’s like you’re mixing End-times thinking with Ex-Mormonism: “We’re in the End-times for the Church.” It’s not very realistic.
Yep. It includes those people, but it also includes people like me and so many others I know, who served missions and married in the temple and THEN left.
And you know who it doesn’t include? People who have had their names removed from the records of the church. People do it more and more–mere “inactivity” isn’t enough, since you’re still lumped in with other inflated numbers.
meh. This is like arguing that Rush Limbaugh still has too many listeners to be worried about the future of his audience. OK, sure, there is a certain number of people who tune in and listen to his show, but is it a sustainable audience? Are there any young people? Or will the audience grow so small as to be insignificant as it dies off, given that it’s composed primarily of old white people?
Want to know the largest demographic exodusing the church? Young women–and not just young women who got baptized and then got bored after six weeks, but young women who were baptized at age 8. The number discussed in top church meetings of their attrition rate is 80%.
For every Hans Mattson, there are loads of anonymous 18-year-old women.
Except that I’m not. I’m not predicting the end of the church. I do think it’s behaving stupidly but I don’t expect it to disappear, soon or ever, really.
So, when Richard Bushman says
Do you think this is an unsatisfactory analysis, and that there is something more damning happening today than yesterday?
Basically, I just see it as Packer et al’s bad policy in the 60’s/70s, and that Michael Quinn tried to warn the Church about — not to be anti-intellectual. In the long run, the Mormon belief that “what we know trumps what we do not” will pan out UNTIL the bigger issues come up, I dunno, 200 years from now concerning the BoM’s inherent colonialism/nationalism.
So it’s more like a small river rock rolling in the current?
It seems like the Church is putting temples up all over. I’m guessing the one’s in Rome and Paris are for the Mormon tourists like my parents. Oh look there’s the one in Panama. And here’s the slide of the temple in Mexico City.
Considering the big disconnect between what the Church claims as members in Mexico and what is reported in the census, perhaps the temple there is for members getting good feelings on Book of Mormon tours to sites that have nothing to do with Alma slept here.
It seems for many groups of people the temple experience is different, even when they’re in the same session.
And judging by 500+ comments on various bloggernacle posts, the eternal prospect of polygamy is a factor in disaffection for many women. (and some love it, like Centennial Park). And many men don’t seem phased until they learned Joesph established Top Doggyness by marking their women.
I’ve read a bit of Butler, but way more of Wilson. So I’m all for looking at extending population biology and evolutionary theory to social organization.
That is an unsatisfactory analysis.
Like most people who have very deep roots in the church, I have always had apostate relatives in every branch at every generation. I am well aware that people have always left for a variety of reasons. But because I have been observing this for a while, from both inside and outside the church, I maintain that this is different.
Sure, in the past people have left over specific events–Prop 8, The September 6, ERA, the 1978 revelation on race, both manifestos, the Mountain Meadow Massacre, Joseph Smith’s marrying young girls, the bank problems in Kirtland, whatever.
But the thing is, now there are those such issues as they arise–and they invariably arise–as well as every previous issue, because of the internet. As Bushman himself says, “Since the rise of the Internet, more people have come across unsettling historical facts.”
I mean, maybe he didn’t actually mean “more people.” But in point of fact, more people have found this stuff. This is what they are saying: “I wouldn’t have found this stuff except for the intenet, and now that I have, it’s a big old problem.”
Also, leaving because of a faith crisis is just so much easier now. I’m not saying it’s a piece of cake, that people don’t endure a lot of pain and suffering throughout the crisis. But good lord, the post-LDS community is AMAZING. For people who left prior to about, oh, 2003 and became a post-Mormon community of one, the fact that you can go to real life support groups of people you met online who have shared your experience is pretty darn striking. I don’t know if you can quantify that, but I think it has a real impact.
As someone who lived through that and remembers what the church was like pre-correlation, I think that the bad policy of Packer et al from the 1960s & 70s is certainly part of the problem. The church just sucks now–at least for non-black people–in ways that it didn’t in 1978. It wasn’t so petty and mean. Sure, it didn’t let women have a temple recommend if they were married to a non-member, even if they’d previously had one. But it didn’t pick on kids and bereaved people. It never would have done things like forbid a girl to perform “I am a Child of God” at her own frigging baptism because the ward always controls the programs for baptisms, or heartlessly tell people that they should have gospel sermons at funerals and not focus too much on the deceased, which is the kind of bullshit they started pulling early in this century.
But I see that bad policy as something in addition to the history, not instead of. People left over history before the internet, and before correlation. People read “No Man Knows My History” and left. Sandra Tanner (who, when I finally met her, was just AWESOME and really nice) has been doing her gig for a long time, and it has had some influence.
But people didn’t leave because of history AND because of the assholishness of Packer et al circa the 1970s AND because of periodic crises/changes like the 1978 revelation or the ERA or Prop 8 AND because of the doctrinal implications of polygamy, even today, and the basic misogyny of the church AND because of the church’s hostility to intellectual pursuits AND because of all the stuff people find out on the internet AND because they know there’s a support community to help them do it–until NOW.
It might not be a perfect storm, but it’s still some pretty seriously bad weather.
So yeah, I think Bushman misses a lot.
Yeah, but there’s also a new generation of Mormons accustomed to the internet, already and soon to be working at the COB engaging in the “how do we fix this info conundrum.” You said above that this is a “process” and “give it time” … but, you know, if the Church could survive and flourish after the death of polygamy as it entered the 20th century, this initial bad weather of the 21st century seems a drizzle in comparison. Not trying to be overly optimistic or pessimistic (depending on one’s perspective), but just realistic.
Except, of course, that 1) polygamy didn’t die as the church entered the 20th century, either in terms of actual polygamous families OR doctrine (see the whole D&C 132 business); instead, the church quit sanctioning new plural marriages, not forcing people to renounce existing ones (see for example BH Roberts, who died in 1933) and 2) that’s not what insiders say. Insiders say that this is worse than anything since Kirtland.
I asked before and I’ll ask again: what do you think you know about this that they don’t? What information are you privy to that makes you so sanguine about this, even as Marlin Jensen stresses that it’s a really big deal and that the brethren are very concerned?
And I guess it also depends on what you mean by “flourish.” Sure, the church didn’t die after it got rid of polygamy. But its growth was slow enough that in 100 years, it had enough growth to justify a grand total of 16 working temples. Not very impressive. It didn’t experience much growth until the latter part of the 20th century–until it implemented many of the policies that you say are now bad policy.
I’m trying to be realistic. I fully expect the church to weather this storm in some form or another, and given the birth rate of Mormons, they’ll at least manage to acquire some new members. But arguing that this is a “drizzle” when people much closer to the situation and with a lot more information than you say it’s actually a much bigger deal seems pretty far from realistic.
The GAs are like fish that don’t know they’re in water. I don’t think it’s particularly odd to not turn to them for interpretations of history or social forces.
Sure. They suck at that. But they’re generally pretty good at manipulating numbers to give them the story they want, and that’s what they absolutely can’t do now. Which is one more reason this is probably a really big deal, not a drizzle.
I was just thinking that maybe what we’ll see soon is an adjustment in the Church’s counting methods. It would give the Church a painful dose of surety amidst all this doubt, haha.