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    • 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...”


    • 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.


      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.

      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).

    • 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. 😎 🤫 )


      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.


      “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.”