We each have to find our own way and eventually, as you say, clarify within ourselves our own personal values.
That is hard work.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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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).
A personal aside... I was called to serve in the Zürich, Switzerland Mission in 1980. The mission president (now deceased, I think), was called to serve in that mission just a few months before I arrived. Over the course of the next year or so, he sent home so many young elders who just “didn’t believe good enough” that the general authorities over that mission put him “on probation” so that he was required to consult with a general authority before he sent anyone home again. This was exactly the wrong sort of notoriety he wanted, as he was sure this calling as mission president was meant to groom him for a leadership position in the Utah Republican Party when he returned home. (There was an odd number of sisters in the mission, so I was paired with his missionary-aged daughter from time to time, which is how I came to learn these things.)
Serving as a mission president so far away from Utah and its political scene was torture for him, and he did not have the wherewithal to deal with doubting elders. Some of those elders were my friends, and I worried a great deal about their fate after they were sent home. Unfortunately, because of the gender differences and the undeserved shame they bore, we could not stay in touch.
Eventually, this mission president decided I should be sent home, too. A general authority intervened and had me transferred to a different mission to finish out the last six months of my time.
Mission presidents are human, too.
Riess’ next chapter is titled “Rites of Passage and the LDS Temple.” She includes a *lot* of oral histories in this chapter - the statistics are about attendance, recommend status, preparation, and garments.
“Something about the temple is not ‘clicking’ with Millennials and GenXers,” she says, “and both data and interviews suggest that concerns center around exclusion and women’s roles.”
(It probably doesn’t help that the filmmaker who recently updated the temple film was just outed for sexual abuse.)
One statistic in this section has gotten a lot of attention here in Utah among the more orthodox: “only one in twenty older Mormons approve of shedding garments during vacations or women’s menstruation, but among Millennials it’s one in five.”
There are many more details shared in this chapter for those who may have additional questions. Personally, I’m not all that interested in temple statistics.
That story of the missionary who was sent home for health reasons is almost exactly what happened to one of our sons. For awhile, we thought he might die. I wrote about it in the beginning of this ride report:
He was swept away by his mission, completely loving the people and sense of purpose. When he came home, we held out hope that he could return to missionary work so he wasn't released for a long time and kept up his routine of dressing like a missionary and doing his scripture study.
A few years later, he began doing the research on the church's history that led him and his brothers and their wives out of the church. It had a profound effect on our family.
Thank you for posting the link to your ride report. Fascinating. 👍🏻
(PS - It was really fun to stumble upon you and jdg talking about his Secret Santas! Ho Ho Ho. 😎 🤫 )
CHANGING DEFINITIONS OF FAMILY AND CULTURE 1
In chapter 4, Riess explores the topic, “Single Mormons in a Married Culture.”
“Mormons have the highest rate of marriage of any Christian group in the United States, which can make it lonely and painful to be in the unmarried minority.”
“Mormons are about a third more likely to be married than the members of the general population, which is statistically very significant.”
Riess compares US marriage data from 1960 and today (see below), and shares that the median age for Mormons to marry “is holding steady at 22.”
In one of her personal interviews, the subject declares, “...single women are pitied in Mormon culture - single men are condemned.”
One more statistic I found surprising: 26 percent of married Mormons had intercourse before they got married.
The rest of the chapter focuses on the pros and cons of single wards in the church.
We always used to say that Mother's Day was the hardest day of the year for our members. Many single women stayed home on the day, even very faithful ones. Even married ones who couldn't have children.
CHANGING DEFINITIONS OF FAMILY AND CULTURE 2
“Millennial Women and Shifting Gender Expectations” (Chapter 5)
“Mormon women are about nine points more religiously orthodox than men.”
“Mormon women are also nine points more likely to strongly agree that being Mormon is an essential part of their core identity.”
“Mormonism feels to insiders more egalitarian in practice than it appears to outsiders in theory.” (quoting Richard and Claudia Bushman)
After these general observations, Riess writes about a lot of generational differences. Here are the 2016 age brackets as she defines them: Silent Generation 72-88 years old; Baby Boomer Generation 52-71 years old; Generation X 37-51 years old; Millennial Generation 18-36 years old.
“...more than twice as many Millennials (59 percent) are bothered by women’s exclusion from the priesthood as Boomer/Silents (24 percent).” It’s particularly interesting to note the high percentage of Boomers and Silents who strongly disagree that they are bothered by women not holding the priesthood: 61 percent. “This is not a tepid opposition.” (When Riess presented a very similar prompt elsewhere in the survey, “Women do not have enough say in the LDS Church,” the older generations moderated their stance by 8-9 points, which could suggest that the term “priesthood” is a trigger for older Mormons.)
Riess next writes about the impact of the 1995 First Presidency Statement, The Family: A Proclamation to the World as it relates to issues of gender identity. Eight of the survey respondents self-identified as “transgender” or “other.” All eight are former Mormons.
She wraps up the chapter with discussions about family size (Gen Xers and Millennials--especially those outside of Utah—are choosing to have fewer children) and education attained.
Finally, there is this:
“Three-quarters of LDS Millennials were raised by working moms, more than half of those mothers working full time.”
When I first joined in the church, it was very common to hear encouragement for mothers to stay at home to raise their children. I don't remember hearing that for a long time and in our stake we have a lot of working mothers.
Not that I'm being critical; who doesn't admire a woman or man who feels their children are so important they want to forgo or take time off from a career?
I grew up with a full-time Mom. We are very close to this day (even though I have left the church and she clings to the church.)
I waited to go to work until my kids were in school and I found a job with flexible hours so I could adjust things around my family’s needs. My husband worked from an office at home, too, so he was also always available to the kids.
Now, my daughter and son-in-law are both in training for such a demanding career, that this year I am taking care of my 6yo grandson 24/7. Last year, his other grandparents on the East Coast had him 24/7.
My daughter receives much more scorn than my son-in-law does about this.
I am *very* concerned about the absence of strong emotional ties between these parents and their child. Is that just my personal perspective, developed in my own personal bubble? I hope so.
His parents rationalize this with, “Chinese parents do this all the time—send their kids to grandparents in China for years at a time while they pursue advanced degrees in the US.”
I have told the parents I cannot do this for another year. It is breaking my heart to see him grow up and not know his parents. On the other hand, I’m sure I provide more stability and emotional support than they can. It is an awful conundrum.
I think we live in a different world where strong long-distance connections can be created and maintained through Skype and FaceTime. My toddler grandson FaceTimes his aunt in California at least weekly, and their connection is strong based on our family reunion this weekend.
Having said that, I wouldn’t want him deprived of both parents for years at a time. I don’t know if I would have agreed to the “we can do our own thing if you babysit for the next year.” But it’s so hard to say: for some careers you can’t even continue in it unless you get an advanced degree.
His parents call using FaceTime 3 or 4 times a week. They are either at school/work, or in bed when they call (They, too, are living in different cities for training. So all three of them are separated.) Grandson probably answers 1/2 the time. They do not know that he is choosing not to answer.
When they call, inevitably the first question is “How are you?” and then “What did you do in school today?” Both non-starters for a six year old. I could probably spend 20 minutes answering both those questions if they asked me about him. They don’t. They are too tired or too overwhelmed (probably both) with the challenges in their own lives. Gifts they send do not appeal to the child—they don’t even know what he likes.
I had forgotten how much *time* it takes to be a good parent. Being a good grandparent is very different. At this stage in life, being a good grandparent is totally where it’s at for me. Being a proxy-parent is rough, though I love this little guy to the moon and back.
CHANGING DEFINITIONS OF FAMILY AND CULTURE 3
“Minority Mormons and Racial Attitudes”
“Mormons’ views on race are complex...and the experiences and views of Mormons of color defy easy characterization.” Reiss shares a lot of oral histories in this chapter, but there are a few statistics that are also discussed.
“Although Millennials are the most racially diverse of all Mormons, with two in ten being nonwhite, they are not as racially diverse as non-Mormons of their generation; among Millennials in the US population generally, more than four in ten are nonwhite.”
“In many of their religious beliefs, Mormons of color are similar to white American Mormons, and sometimes more devout. Ninety-two percent say they are either very active or somewhat active in the LDS Church, compared to 85 percent of whites; they report equal rates of weekly prayer and slightly higher rates of daily scripture study.”
“Nonwhite Mormons are more likely to have served a mission for the LDS Church: nearly six in ten have done so, while only four in ten white Mormons have. This is especially impressive considering that more than half of nonwhite Mormons (54.5 percent) are converts and presumably were not brought up with the goal of serving a Mormon mission.”
“...nonwhite Mormons are considerably less likely to live in Utah; only 8 percent do, compared to nearly a third of white US Mormons.”
Six full pages are devoted to a discussion about the priesthood ban that was in place until 1978. About the rescinding of that doctrine, Reiss says, “In Mormonism, such a clear and specific disavowal of earlier prophetic teachings is astonishingly rare, so the Church was clearly making an effort to reject white supremacism.”
“two-thirds of white Mormons say blacks are responsible for their own condition if they are behind economically, and two-thirds of black Mormons indicate instead that it’s the result of racism.”
“Overall, only about four in ten Mormons view racial diversification positively... This hold true for both Republicans and Democrats, for both men and women, and for all three generations... it even holds true for nonwhite Mormons, who are actually a bit less likely to view proliferating diversity optimistically... Despite Mormons’ general rejection of racial diversity as a positive trend, they do not demonstrate any unusual tendencies toward racism or discrimination in national surveys.”
“Nearly six in ten Mormon respondents felt that ‘immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents,’ while only four in ten indicated that ‘immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing, and health care.’”
“Many US Mormons, particularly ones who benefit from white privilege, often resist recognizing how much the LDS Church is tied to white American culture.”
Here in Silicon Valley I've attended 4 stakes, each with about 3,000 members. We have a fair representation of hispanics and Pacific Islanders and a handful of Native Americans. I remember a couple from India and a few Asians. I only remember one black in all my years here — a football player for the 49ers who graduated from BYU.
CHANGING DEFINITIONS OF FAMILY AND CULTURE 4
“Rainbow Fault Lines: LGBT Inclusion”
“Mormon views on homosexuality have undergone a rapid change just within the last decade... Overall, Mormons’ acceptance of homosexuality grew from 24 percent in 2007 to 36 percent in 2014 to 48 percent in 2016.”
“In 1969, then-apostle Spencer W. Kimball published The Miracle of Forgiveness, which shaped LDS attitudes toward sexuality for years to come, especially after he became the president of the church in 1973.”
“Kimball’s rhetoric established the pattern for future LDS discourse in four key ways: by referring to homosexuality as “unnatural,” by rejecting any attempts to normalize it under the law, by insisting that the church’s own stance would never change, and by omitting women from the discussion. (The possibility of lesbianism does not appear to have been on the author’s radar.)”
Three major changes have occurred since the Kimball era. 1. Homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior have been separately defined—the church does not excommunicate for homosexual orientation, but condemns homosexual behavior. 2. In the late 1980s, LDS general authorities ceased recommending that homosexuals “cure” themselves by marrying someone of the opposite sex. 3. In the early twenty-first century the church began distancing itself from conversion therapy efforts that promise to “cure” individuals of their same-sex attraction. Such efforts had ranged from the violent (electric shock treatments) to the emotionally abusive.
“In the 2010s, the LDS Church scaled back its involvement with the organization Evergreen, a ‘reparative therapy’ group that featured LDS general authorities on its board of trustees and as speakers at many of its conferences.”
[The ultimate irony: The Executive Director of Evergreen, David Matheson, just announced he is gay]
[Conversion therapy was the topic of a very controversial HB399, proposed during the Utah legislative session that ended just last week. Given the fact that the Utah legislature is 90% active Mormons, and the Church lobbyists took a neutral stand on the bill as proposed, and then as amended, it was a bit of a circus, including a sit-in outside the governor’s office and a letter of apology delivered by the lieutenant governor. The church-owned Deseret News reported on it.]
More from this chapter to come...