Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Discussion of Mormon apostasy spreads

A number of articles have come out in the past few days regarding a large number of people leaving the LDS church. Apparently some Latter-day Saints who have learned about church history through the church's "correlated" curriculum of faith promoting stories are caught off guard when learning other aspects of Mormon history. Some Internet-savvy Mormons are struggling to reconcile the correlated views they learned in church classes with the history they find on the Internet.

A set of events, inadvertently, and perhaps symbolically started by the LDS Church Historian have been unfolding, bringing an awareness of this "crisis."  Below is a list of the unfolding events and articles:

  • A "Q&A" with the LDS Church Historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen was hosted by the John A. Widtsoe Association for Mormon Studies at Utah State University on November 11, 2011
  • By January 3rd, A recording of Elder Jensen's Q&A was posted on the Internet.  The person who recorded it summarized the the Q&A session in a blog post where Jensen was asked if church leaders were aware that Mormons were "leaving in droves" which Jensen confirmed.  He elaborated that "maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I'll call it apostasy, like we're having right now."

    The post was revised to be more objective, and later removed by the author (summarized here).
  • By January 18, news of  Elder Jensen's frank discussion of an apostasy circulated on some Mormon blogs
  • On Janurary 28, Rueters News pubilished a "Special Report" about Mormonism's difficult encounter with the modern era. Regarding the younger generation, the article quotes Elder Jensen as saying, "there's no sense kidding ourselves, we just need to be very upfront with them and tell them what we know and give answers to what we have and call on their faith like we all do for things we don't understand."
  • An interview with Elder Jensen and others was published in an article by the Salt Lake Tribune on January 30. Jensen noted that controversial issues "haven't been emphasized often because they were not necessarily germane to what is taught at present" indicating efforts are underway to include such items in seminary and institute manuals. He continued saying the church has "a strategy to get church history onto the Web," and that the church is "working on an initiative to answer some of these more pressing questions."
    He went on to say that critics are over emphasizing the exodus from the church. But faithful Mormon scholar Terryl Givens called it a "real crisis" and an "epidemic."  Givens said t
    here is a "discrepancy between a church history that has been selectively rendered through the Church Education System and Sunday school manuals, and a less-flattering version universally accessible on the Internet ... The problem is not so much the discovery of particular details that are deal breakers for the faithful; the problem is a loss of faith and trust in an institution that was less that forthcoming to begin with." (1)
    Over a thousand comments about this article were logged during the first 24 hours.
  • In a Washington Post article on January 30, author Carrie Sheffield  described her experience at BYU when she "spiritually imploded" as she encountered uncorrelated Mormon history and science, leading to her exodus from the church. In the article she hopes the scrutiny of Mormonism during Romney's bid for the presidency will break down the church's "fundamentalist trappings" including barring unfaithful and non- Mormons from attending family weddings in LDS temples, honesty about its past, "anti-women doctrine and homophobia."
  • On Janurary 31, John Dehlin, founder of Mormon Stories published the initial results of a survey, Causes and Costs of Mormon Faith Crisis.Over 3,000 unbelieving Mormons participated in the survey. Findings indicate the top four reasons Mormons loose their faith are:
    • I lost faith in Joseph Smith
    • I studied church history and lost my belief
    • I ceased to believe in the church's doctrine/theology 
    • I lost faith in the book of Mormon

'The three lowest ranked reasons include reasons that some members and leaders have pointed to as reasons some lose their faith: 'I wanted to engage in behaviors viewed as sinful by the church (e.g. alcohol, extramarital sex)', 'I was offended by someone in the church', 'Lack of meaningful friendships within the church.' "

The biggest "primary" historical issue negatively affecting belief were:
  • The Book of Abraham
  • Polyandry / Polygamy
"Most respondents cited multiple primary/strong factors in losing their belief ... This may challenge conventional wisdom that some who lose their faith do so because of single-issue hang-ups. Many respondents made the case that it wasn't necessarily the historical issue per se that led to their disbelief, but rather a sense of betrayal at what was often viewed as a dishonest approach to the church's history."

The survey went on to measure the cost a non-believer incurs in family relationships. Respondents indicated that the church should not encourage spouses to divorce disbelievers, but should instead encourage believing spouses to stay married to their partner. The survey also showed an increased cost in mental and spiritual health among unbelievers who remained active in the church.
  • January 31, in an article titled "Number of faithful Mormons rapidly declining", KUTV 4 notes, " there are more than 14 million members of the church worldwide. But according to the article, sociologists estimate active membership may as few as only five million."
  • February 1st, the Deseret News quotes Richard Bushman,  "I first became aware of the problems shortly after 'Rough Stone Rolling' came out." Then Bushman heard that many other scholars were also being beset with queries from members of the LDS Church ... He began to hear the same thing from ordinary Mormons who had friends or family who were having problems. He also heard from people at BYU how it was a problem there as well. People were encountering things about church history and losing their faith — not just in Mormonism, but in God. ... "I've been aware that the LDS Church has been concerned about this for quite a while," he said. "And the church historian has been saying for quite a while that we just need to get this information out." ... Elder Jensen noted that "there [has] been more attrition over the last five or ten years" while John Dehlin says the problem has "grown exponentially." Bushman said it is important that people in the church do not reject those who have questions. "That is the problem," Bushman said. "They think nobody in the church thinks about anything. They think they have all this knowledge and all these people around them are ignorant and don't know what they know. You have to tell them to keep studying, keep looking, go to the depths of the problem."
footnote: (1) In "An approach to Thoughtful, Honest and Faithful Mormonism(Mormon Stories #291) Terryl Givens further elaborates on this:
"The manuals distributed throughout the CES and the Sunday School program are deplorable. They are full of errors, of disinformation. I don't think there is a deliberate program of disinformation going on. The best scholarship taking place in the church history department hasn't filtered down to the level of the curriculum. Every day that it doesn't it doesn't, the church is going to loose more Mormons. And the problem is not information, the problem is betrayal. Nobody really leaves the church because there isn't information to answer a question. And that's one thing the church hasn't gotten yet. People leave the church because by the time the question arises, its too late.

"If you're 45 years old and you learn for the first time that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with a peepstone, you have every right in the world to feel betrayed. "Why wasn't I taught the truth in seminary or in Sunday school?" I haven't heard a good answer to that. And their really isn't any excuse for the church not to be moving faster to revise and update and make more truthful and full those manuals that convey our history to our children and adults alike. ...
 "I don't think there is any ill intent - I don't think there are any scheming manipulators trying to conceal our history as is often presented as the case. Its inefficient. The people running the church are not historians. It is not their calling or vocation. I think that if you were to ask many in leadership positions, they wouldn't have the foggiest idea how the Book of Mormon was translated, when were the seer-stones employed, what about the hat.