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    • I couldn’t figure out how to play the interview from that link—it only seemed to provide a live feed to the radio station.

      I did find this remark in the comments section interesting. I wonder what it must feel like to “return to the fold” after so much time away.

    • This program will air again this evening, and then I think they will add it to the podcast inventory for streaming on demand. I hope that link I posted will take people to the podcast after today.

      I have not read the book yet. (There are FIFTY-NINE people ahead of me in the reserve line at my library!) I was quite intrigued by the interview of the author. (She is a convert to the church - joined in the 1990s.) It sounds like my personal experience may be similar to some others she documented in research interviews.

      As for returning to the church after a lengthy time away, that is an interesting topic. While I personally cannot imagine myself taking that route (it took me a very long time to come to the conclusion that the church was not what I once believed it to be), I do have a friend or two who have gone back to the church after a period of disillusionment. They say that they missed the sense of community and the “striving to choose the right,” but don’t really believe the church to be “the only true church on the face of the earth,” nor do they believe all the doctrine. So I suppose they consider it more of a culture they appreciate than a dogma they believe.

    • I'm a huge fan of Jana Riess, the author, and have read many of her blog posts. Peggy Fletcher Stack did a story on the book in The Salt Lake Tribune:

      It was fairly momentous to our Mormon congregation when my wife and I stopped attending after I had been the Bishop, which is the main leader of the ward. Our ward was big (800 people), thriving, and hundreds of our members felt like good friends. They say you can only have 150 friends, Dunbar's number, but through Mormonism it felt like we had many more.

      Lately I've been back a few times. One of my running friends, a fairly young lawyer, lost his wife to a long-term tragic illness and I attended her memorial. She was wonderful. She had undergone a double lung transplant with a goal to live long enough to see her twins graduate from high school. She almost made it; they're juniors. They spoke and dazzled us all with their love for their mother.

      There must have been 1,200 people who attended the memorial. We hugged together, we cried, we loved hearing stories about her and it reminded me of how powerful a community Mormons have.

      We have a new Bishop who is one my best friends and they have been trying to get me back to help with youth service projects. I tell him I want to be involved in something meaningful like that (we used to have our kids read to children with cancer or who suffered from head trauma, and it was powerful), I just wish it could be something independent of religion — Doctors Without Borders, or something like that.

      Lidja, if you tell me where to send it, I'll send a copy of Jana's book so you can review it for Cake. I think you'd love it and write a great review. Just email me your address to chris at cake dot co.

    • Not a big fan personally, but her study data intrigues me.

      At the end of the radio interview, the interviewer and Reiss reach the conclusion that the church may be on its way to becoming its own echo chamber—that it is failing to see the value in diversity of thought, diversity of experience, and diversity of approach. I see members of my own family (my younger brother who is serving as the bishop in an East Bay ward now) holding tighter and tighter to the self-affirming nature of the religious echo chamber and becoming angry about diverse perspectives. I’m not sure there is a way out of this for church members, given the fact that the “chain of authority” (i.e. power invested in the leaders) is so embedded in the culture and is rarely (if ever) called into question...

      @Chris, I can’t promise I’ll write a full-fledged book review, but I will promise to share some of the interesting data for the purpose of Cake discussions.

    • Huh. I don't get around to other wards, but in our Bishop's pitch for me to come back, the argument has been the church membership has changed. It's okay now to not believe all or parts. There are still hardliners, older people in leadership positions, who cling to their traditional views and even double down on them, but there is a wave of progressive Mormons who are young and have decided to stay, at least for now.

      There is a school of thought that in order for religions to endure, they have to come to grips with their mistakes and admit them. Catholics certainly have had to and it didn't kill them. I think in the case of Seventh Day Adventists, they had an internal struggle that almost killed them, but in the end the progressives won and the church is thriving now. It's younger than Mormonism and much bigger and a lot faster growing.

      In our case, the orthodox won the leadership struggles, especially lately, and that has driven a lot of people away. We need a David O. McKay, who I credit for the rise of the modern church, or maybe a President Uchtdorf, not to sideline Uchtdorf for Dallin Oaks. No?

    • In our case, the orthodox won the leadership struggles, especially lately, and that has driven a lot of people away. We need a David O. McKay, who I credit for the rise of the modern church, or maybe a President Uchtdorf, not to sideline Uchtdorf for Dallin Oaks. No?

      Hahahahaha. Wait. Aren’t all these old white men *called of God* and isn’t the top honcho literally a Prophet?

      Who are we to pick and choose?

      ,-)

    • Thanks for the book opportunity. Not Mormon (LDS) and never been but have studied, presented papers on the history of.

      FWIW: it’s still a young religion, and certainly changing (again). It has gone through periods of what seems to be orthodoxy, and then progressivism. Will be interesting to see what happens over next few years.

      I will look for the book in the library - chances are high in NJ that the wait isn’t that long!

    • men

      I don't understand why in the case of Seventh Day Adventist chuch, which were founded by a woman, all the leaders have been men.

      From Pew Research, I can understand the Catholic polling, but I'm gob-smacked by the LDS polling

      While roughly six-in-ten American Catholics (59%) in a 2015 Pew Research Center survey said they support ordaining women in their church, 87% of Mormons (including 90% of Mormon women) in a 2011 Pew Research Center survey said they do not support allowing women to enter the LDS priesthood.

      I wonder how much attitudes have changed since 2011?

    • I cannot speak to those numbers. They don’t make any sense to me.

      Even though I have enormous respect for Kate Kelly, it has always seemed to me that the argument that women should have the priesthood is misguided. Why? Because I have a difficult time with the concept that the priesthood is anything other than men’s way of creating a false sense of importance and an ecclesiastical pecking order. Why would women want to support or participate in that kind of pretense? It makes no sense to me.

      I recognize that there are some people (male as well as female) who are extraordinarily empathetic, others who are extraordinarily gifted as leaders, still others who have extraordinary insight, etc. Recognizing those talents is just fine, and recruiting those people to assist in conducting the business of the organization and coordinating the activities of the community is a good idea. However, I do NOT believe that anyone other than myself has any sort of authority to know, much less judge, my individual standing with God, if there is a God. For me, this is where the whole concept of priesthood goes awry.

    • This is just it. If you are a believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I am, then you believe:

      Leaders are imperfect people called of God.

      We don’t vote or campaign, and you can seek a personal confirmation from God that the leaders of the church are, in fact, prophets.

      The Bible teaches us that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts, and that’s where faith comes in: trusting that the person we might pick to lead the church or the change we might want in doctrine or policy is not better than what God is doing. I believe His will is wiser than my own and I believe He speaks to individuals.

      To someone who doesn’t believe in God or that He speaks to us today, it’s a total paradigm shift. But it’s fundamental to understanding why people may join or leave a church when on paper, it may or may not make sense.

    • I don’t support women receiving the priesthood and I’ve never understood the kerfluffle about it. Men and women are distinct and have different roles.

      Our society has been slow to recognize and revere women’s capabilities and gifts. We’ve been marginalized for sure, both our voices and our vocations. I think the treatment of women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has partially echoed that vibe (not seeking and respecting women’s input, for example). Much like in the workplace, women tended to not speak up and would defer to men unnecessarily when it came to certain things. However, this is changing and improving.

      I still get pandered to as a woman on a somewhat regular basis (by the local hvac manager who assumes I suck at math and don’t do my research and asks for my husband to approve money decisions, etc.) but this rarely occurs at church and certainly isn’t due to any policy in place that promotes it. People change slowly and at this point I think the women are mostly the ones perpetuating the gap because we don’t tend to step forward with confidence and be assertive.

      That being said, I’ve only referred here to minor person-to-person interactions. In the things that matter most, the Church has had it right all along and society at large is floundering.

      Women and men are fundamentally different. Promoting wholescale sameness with men doesn’t elevate women. It diminishes our unique gifts. One of the most powerful and distinctive aspects of womanhood is our ability to create life and nurture a new generation. The Church has always supported, applauded and revered women for this. Mothering is marginalized in society now to such a degree that my friend who’s raising six wonderful children went back to work as a secretary at a law office because she wanted to do something she felt that actually mattered. That is so backwards!

      I could continue but I rarely talk to a woman in the church who has an issue with not holding the priesthood. That power isn’t ever used to bless yourself. It’s only used in the service of others so women are already able to equally access its benefits.

    • @amacbean16 I’m curious (and you certainly do not have to answer this question if you don’t want to), are you part of Reiss’ Boomer generation (54-90yo), Gen X (38-53yo), or Millennial generation (22-37yo)?

    • Mothering is marginalized in society now

      As a man I don't feel fully qualified to speak about this — but as someone who spent years in the church and outside, at least here in the career-minded Silicon Valley, that's something I miss and admire. It seems I've read a half-dozen stories like this recently:

      Where I live you can feel the sense of identity and status of being able to say you're a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer. When women are spoken of admiringly in the press, it's almost always about occupation.

      That's something I loved about Cammi Brady's memorial a few weeks ago. Her service was filled with people who had deep admiration for her as a woman and a mother. I miss that terribly outside of the church.

    • Is this not another angle at the argument that women should not be so anxious to join the existing power paradigm in the church? If women are wrapped into the current power structure, won’t we start to see memorial celebrations that cite, “at age 16, she earned her Eagle Scout award, at 18, she was called to the XXX mission, and served as the mission president’s counselor before returning home to marry another returned missionary, Elder XXX. She raised six children in the church while also serving as Stake President and then the Regional Representative from her Area... yadda, yadda, yadda...”

      Ugh.

    • I wonder how much of this reflects our own personal values. When I was Bishop, I had four teens at home. I wanted to be with them and thought a lot about telling the church I'd be happy to serve after they've grown. I told myself I accepted because so many people had made a difference in our kids lives and I felt indebted.

      Sometimes I would ask myself if I did the right thing, especially during Christmas when I was off at tithing settlement. Did I do it for the respect and attention leaders get? Wouldn't I have massive respect for someone who turned it down to spend time with their kids?

      I joined the church for its focus on family and like you I wish devoted mothers and fathers could be made to feel great about themselves as doing something incredibly important, more important than any leadership position. But I feel that way about social workers and teachers too and yet its the basketball players and Instagram stars who get all the fame and fortune.

      I don't feel that church members are perfect about priorities and who gets respect, but I feel that it's better than the career-obsessed world I live in. Yet I'm obsessed with Elon Musk and I rarely stop to think that he's a father of five. Ugh, I'm part of the problem.

    • We each have to find our own way and eventually, as you say, clarify within ourselves our own personal values.

      That is hard work.

    • Thank you (I think...), @Chris, for sending me a copy of this book and asking me to review it. I have been mulling over the best way to do that. I think I will try to just share Riess’ findings, and let others shape the follow-up conversation.

      To begin, let me share some background.

      *This book is published by Oxford University Press, a very reputable publisher. (Note this is not a Deseret Book publication.)

      *The survey was funded primarily through a Kickstarter campaign which raised close to $20k over the course of two weeks in July 2016. (All of the donors are listed at the back of the book. I was surprised to find the name of one of my cousins there. Ha.)

      *Riess contracted with an online survey firm, Qualtrics, that sent out the survey to its panel of 23,080 (people who have agreed to take online surveys in exchange for rewards - often store gift cards or cash payments). 1696 of those people qualified as appropriate respondents: 1156 “self-identified Mormons” and 540 former Mormons.

      *Qualtrics could not supply the diversity of respondents that she wanted (there were some under- and oversamples), so she had to correct this statistically by artificially weighting various responses. (She says this is a very common practice.)

      *The survey included more than 130 separate questions.

      *In order to create a narrative to make the book interesting, Riess illustrates the data with oral histories she recorded during a project she started in 2012 about childhood and spiritual formation. None of these personal interviews were actually related to the survey in any way, and she says, “these oral history interviews are not representative of Mormons or former Mormons as a whole.” Most of the 63 people she interviewed were Millennials - “young people from whom I had one degree of separation,” she writes.

      *Riess plans to issue a future publication about the data she gathered re: former Mormons.

      I’ll share her first batch of data, “Foundations,” in my next post.

    • FOUNDATIONS 1

      Riess is interested in how Mormons view traditional Christian teachings (existence of God; Jesus Christ’s mission; life after death; the Creation) as well as Mormons’ certainty about LDS teachings. She found, “Almost all self-identified Mormons say they believe in God.” However, “every generation of Mormons shows a drop in confidence on specific questions about LDS belief compared to more general beliefs in God and Jesus.” “The areas that see the greatest decline in certainty all have to do with questions of prophetic and priestly authority.”

      She discusses the post-WWII shift in emphasis from apocalypticism, persecution, the Gathering in Zion to the family and Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, which she tracks through the topics of addresses given at General Conference by (ironically?) prophets and priesthood leaders.

      At this early point in the book, Riess makes a very important observation about the survey results that reveal significant differences of belief between generations, “How much of the difference is the result of generational change and how much is due to a life cycle effect is hard to tell from this snapshot.”

      If there is indeed a “life cycle effect” among LDS believers, this question is significant and could indicate that additional layers of complexity exist within much of the data Riess has collected.

    • FOUNDATIONS 2

      “What contributes, overall, to Mormons’ strong rates of belief and sense of God’s presence? Which factors correlate with increased orthodoxy?”

      1. “Being raised in homes where parents practice their faith openly and with warmth, and where children are enmeshed in intergenerational networks that also support the family’s religion.”

      2. A college education (the survey did not ask if the college attended was a church school). “Overall, the most religiously believing Mormons were those who had obtained a college degree, and the least orthodox were those with only a high school education. On questions of religious transcendence, though, those with a high school education edged out those with a bachelor’s degree by an average of five points, showing the highest scores on measures like being guided by God through their prayers, experiencing deep spiritual peace and well-being, and feeling God’s presence and love. Overall, we can say that a college education is positively correlated with greater confidence in almost all Mormon doctrines, but not necessarily with stronger feelings of closeness to God.”

      3. Seminary attendance. “High school students are not required by the church to enroll in seminary, though it is strongly encouraged—particularly if students want to eventually become missionaries or attend a church-owned university.”

      4. Geography. “Utah Mormons are often, but not always, more theologically orthodox.”

    • FOUNDATIONS 3

      Riess devotes chapter 2 to a look at the missionary experience. The upshot of this chapter is “[it is a] great statistical likelihood that returned missionaries who served the full tenure of their assigned time will remain as lifelong members of the LDS church.” No surprise there (despite the fact that I personally am a statistical outlier). “Only 9 percent of those who were active growing up and served a full-time mission are no longer Mormon today, compared to 29 percent who served partial missions and nearly half, 45 percent, who didn’t serve at all.” These statistics might indicate that missionary service is actually far more important to retention than conversion, as conversion rates have slowed in recent years.

      What I find most interesting are the 2013 statistics she cites about why missionaries return home early: mental health issues (36%), physical health issues (34%), a previously unresolved transgression (12%), and disobeying mission rules (11%). She recounts an interview she had with a missionary who was sent home for a physical ailment. He recites the “devastating” impact this had on his life.

    • She recounts an interview she had with a missionary who was sent home for a physical ailment. He recites the “devastating” impact this had on his life.

      Tell me more

      🙏

    • Fascinating, lidja! So glad I sent you the book to review.

      Eric Bateman compiled a 3-volume set of all the prophet's speeches in General Conference from Joseph Smith to Howard W Hunter and gave us a copy while he stayed at our house:

      I read quite a few of the addresses from the previous century and was struck by how many of them were about the last days and the gathering in Zion. When they shifted to family, virtue and hard work, I resonated with them more.

    • So interesting to think on how the church leaders have shifted the focus over the years. My mother is from a generation that took very seriously the leaders’ admonishments to prepare for the Last Days with a year’s supply of food storage. I don’t think any of her four kids have a year’s supply in our garages like she does.

      Riess spends a few pages on the overall impact that David O. McKay’s “corporatization” of Mormonism (aka “Correlation”) had on the church in the 1960s and 1970s. That was when I was very young, so I do not remember it at all. By the time I hit Young Women’s, Beehives, Mia Maids, and Laurels were all firmly planted in the culture.

    • This is a difficult story for me to read. (frankly, a lot of the oral histories are hard for me to read because they focus so singularly on individual struggle and it sort of breaks my heart).