Friday, November 13, 2015

Redefining ‘General Authority’ in the Church: “This Watershed Moment,” Part 2

The LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Utah.

As I have said in an earlier post, the recent policy change involving LDS Church members in same-sex marriages, and the status of their children, is a catastrophic disaster from the point of view of the pain that it is causing to the people involved. However, this policy change has also created a watershed moment for Mormonism, the implications of which I am exploring in this series of blog posts (see the Introduction). In this post of the series, I look at how the idea of “General Authority” in the Church might develop because of this watershed moment. First, we need to consider the policy change, and its implications for the meaning of “general authority” in the Church.

The Policy Change Is an Unmitigated Disaster

 Many members have wondered about the purpose of this policy change, which declares members in same-sex marriages as apostates, and bans the children of same-sex marriages both from being blessed in church as babies, and from being baptized until they are legal adults and “disavow” same-sex marriage. The official position, as expressed in a video interview with Elder D. Todd Christofferson, is that the policy change is meant to “protect” the children in same-sex marriages from being put in the position of being Church members while under the parental authority of apostates.

I have heard alternative explanations for the policy. One speculates that some leaders of the Church are increasingly uncomfortable with the large number of American Saints who support the idea of accepting homosexuality and legalizing same-sex marriage. (In a national survey reported in 2014, the Pew ResearchCenter found that 36% of Mormons stated that homosexuality should be supported by society. In a national survey reported in April of this year, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 27% of Mormons favored legalizing same-sex marriage. Of course, this was all in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in late June of this year, legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.) According to an alternative explanation, the policy is a move to reduce the number of people in the Church who are supportive of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I find this to be an interesting notion; certainly, the policy change will have that effect—although at an immense cost (see below). It is certainly possible that both the official and the alternative explanations are true: one operating on a conscious level, the other on an unconscious level.

Whatever the real rationale for the policy—stated or tacit, conscious or unconscious—one thing is absolutely clear. The policy change is a monumental failure on multiple fronts:
  •  Calls to suicide hotlines in Utah have spiked considerably since the policy change became known a week ago. One person working at such a hotline said that calls to her hotline doubled on the night that the policy change was discovered. (Unfortunately, I suspect that those who call such hotlines are only a fraction of people who seriously consider suicide.)
  • Many members of the Church have expressed anguish and pain over the policy change. While I am personally aware of dozens of families who have expressed this privately and in confidence, others have expressed their feelings publicly.
  •  Thousands of Latter-day Saints have investigated formally resigning their membership in the Church over the policy change. Some of these people have explained their reasons to the public. As of this writing, a “Mass Resignation from Mormonism Event” is planned for tomorrow, November 14, with a protest on Temple Square in Salt Lake City; the Facebook event page for this lists 1,200 people as planning to attend, and 2,200 people as “interested” (as of 9:15 a.m., Friday, November 13). (The Washington Post and Slate have reported this week on this forthcoming event.)
  • It has been observed that the policy change is confusing, and can have many extremely negative consequences for parents and children in many types of family, whether these consequences are intended or not.
  •  Little, if any, of these effects have been mitigated by the clarification issued by the First Presidency today (November 13).

When a policy change is made to “protect children,” resulting in those very children having suicidal thoughts—when a policy is made by a Church that values families so very highly, and yet which forces those children to “disavow” the marriage that raised them in order to partake of the saving ordinances of the gospel—when a policy causes such pain and anguish within families—when a policy, not even a doctrine, brings thousands of people to the point of resigning their membership in the Church—when a policy with so many extremely negative potential consequences is issued—one must conclude the following:
  1. The policy was very poorly thought out and framed.
  2. The policy itself is, in terms of its stated objectives, a failure.
  3. The policy could not be the product of people unerringly guided by the Spirit of God.

And all of this has consequences.

How Church Members Should Treat the General Authorities

What is the upshot of all this? It is simple to state, although enormous in its implications:
Church members should not treat the General Authorities as if they infallibly speak for God at all times and in all places (including formal General Conference addresses, other talks, articles, or policy statements).
This should be obvious. But in practice, this represents a sea change in the way that the Latter-day Saints look at their leadership.

It is nowhere in our scriptures. But the unwritten guideline that so many of the Saints seem to live by is something like the following:
“The General Authorities speak for the Lord—pretty much all the time, and most especially when speaking in their official capacity. If a General Authority says something from the pulpit in General Conference, in a Church-sponsored press conference, in an article printed in the Church magazines, or in some policy statement, we can all be assured that this is the Word of the Lord.”
And yet this is completely against what the first LDS prophet, Joseph Smith, believed. As he put it, in a journal entry of February 8, 1843:
This morning I … visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that “a prophet is always a prophet;” but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 278; Documentary History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 265; see the original page at the Joseph Smith Papers Project.)
 If this applies to the Prophet, then certainly it applies to all General Authorities. The location in which a General Authority stands when he makes a pronouncement—such as the pulpit in General Conference—makes no difference in the matter; the pulpit of the Conference Center is not some magical or enchanted place. One acts as a prophet when moved upon by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit’s seal of approval is not guaranteed by time or place of the utterance involved.

The Saints have put such an emphasis on “following the Brethren” that, as a group, we sometimes seem to act as if we are obligated to follow the Brethren without any thought. This is not what President Joseph Fielding Smith taught when he wrote the following:
It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, p. 203)

In this connection, it is noteworthy that even certain First Presidency statements have been later repudiated by the Church, essentially implying that such earlier statements were uninspired writing. Perhaps the best example of this is the August 17, 1949 statement of the First Presidency, stating that not giving the priesthood to men of African descent was “not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord.” (See also this article on the website of the BYU Religious Studies Center, which quotes this statement.) This official statement, in essence, reiterated a private letter of this First Presidency to a member who had questioned the Church’s teaching on this matter. Of course, this entire position was repudiated, without referencing this First Presidency statement, in the recent Gospel Topics essay on the Church’s website, titled “Race and the Priesthood.”

So, given all of this, how should the Saints treat the General Authorities and what they say? I suggest that the attitude to take should be something like the following:
“The General Authorities are special servants of the Lord. They have special priesthood keys regarding certain ordinances, and setting apart Church officers. Their experience means that their thoughts have special weight as we consider matters of faith and practice. As the scriptures state, as is the case with all those ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and sent out into the world, when it comes to the General Authorities, whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation (D&C 68:4).
“That said, the General Authorities’s official statements are not necessarily the Word of God. Knowing whether a General Authority is speaking or writing by the Spirit in a given instance is a matter of discernment, and prayer: it is not a given that something said in General Conference, or written in an article or presented as a statement, is the Word of God. When something that one or more General Authorities say or write violates one’s conscience, in good faith we should make that clear to the General Authorities involved.”
Of course, this raises another issue as well.

How the General Authorities Should Treat the Saints

Perhaps it is just me, but it seems that in recent years we have heard a number of statements made from the pulpit in General Conference that suggest that General Authorities either do not need feedback from the general membership of the Church, or even that they are positively obliged to ignore such feedback.

Certainly, the debacle created by the recent policy change suggests that the General Authorities could indeed benefit from considering the specific views and feelings of the general Church membership. Let me put it this way: When regular rank-and-file faithful-as-all-get-out members of the Church raise questions to me—I, who have no special administrative responsibility in the Church—questions, I say, about basic doctrinal issues that seem to conflict with this policy, this suggests to me that the Brethren who framed this policy could have benefited by consulting with some families.

Herewith, some suggestions for how General Authorities should treat the Saints:
  1. Realize that, as a group, the Saints are intimidated about bringing concerns to the Brethren. This is because, in some eyes, raising concerns smacks of not being sufficiently “supportive” of the Brethren. This has created a situation where, like it or not, the Brethren actually do live in a kind of “bubble” where they are somewhat insulated, especially from the concerns of Saints who are somewhat marginalized.
  2. Read your own mail. Some have said that all concerns expressed in writing to a General Authority are simply bounced back to that individual’s stake or local leadership. This is a huge mistake. The General Authorities cannot claim to be in touch with what is going on in the lives of the membership of the Church if they confine themselves to contacts with people around the time of stake conferences and so forth. If they are getting so much mail that it seems inconvenient to have to deal with it all—well, that should tell them something about the urgency of the issues being addressed in those letters. If the Church has the resources to finance the City Creek Mall in Salt Lake City, which will cost $3 billion in total, then certainly it has the resources to hire more staff to help the General Authorities with their mail.
  3. No, the Church is not a democracy, and in that sense the General Authorities are not the “representatives” of the Church membership. However, the Church is not a corporation, either: it is a Kingdom, and the GAs are certainly supposed to be the eyes and ears of the King in serving His people, and it is hard to do that without actually listening to them. In this case, that means going the extra mile and take the initiative to pierce the reticence that most Saints have to bring up concerns to the Church leadership.

What Is To Be Done?

So what can the rank-and-file member do to promote this approach to the relationship between the General Authorities and the Saints? I suggest the following steps:
  • We can familiarize ourselves with the issue, the “Brand X” approach that so many Saints take towards the General Authorities, versus the improved approach that is recommended above.
  • We can familiarize ourselves with the sources quoted in this post, specifically in relation to (1) the limitations of authority that are indicated in Joseph Smith’s and Joseph Fielding Smith’s statements above, and (2) the documents related to the former priesthood ban, quoted above, which indicate that even First Presidency statements are not utterly sacrosanct.
  • We can respectfully request that the General Authorities make clear the limitations on their own authority, in General Conference, from the pulpit. This needs to be clear, it needs to be specific, and not just a vague “hey, we’re just people, too” sort of thing. Perhaps it would be appropriate to suggest something like the approach that I mention above, in relation to how the Saints might better relate to the General Authorities.
  • While we’re at it, we can respectfully request that the General Authorities do more from their end to help fix the relationship that they have with the general Church membership, perhaps along the lines of what I have suggested above.

Conclusion 

The recent policy change is a fiasco. But fiascos can be useful if they spark people to make changes in how they interact with one another, including in institutions. We can and should take steps to make clear that we want a better-defined relationship between the Saints and the General Authorities, along the lines that I have suggested above.

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Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and I discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here.)

Visit the Facebook page of “That Mormon Guy Mark.”
Visit Mark Koltko-Rivera’s website.
Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio.

[The photo of the LDS Church Office Building was taken by Ricardo630 on 1 July 2013, and appears here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.]

Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

This Watershed Moment for Mormonism: An Introduction [Series Part 1]


As everyone who would read this blog knows by now, it was recently discovered that a change had been made to the Church’s administrative guide, Handbook, Part 1, which declared that members in same-sex marriages were to be considered apostates, and that banned children of members in same-sex marriages from being blessed as babies, or baptized without First Presidency clearance, and only after such a child “specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage”—effectively stating that they do not support the same-sex marriage of their parent (who may well have raised the child).

This much is well-known, not just among Church members, but well beyond the boundaries of the Church, as national media have taken up this story. Also becoming increasingly well-known is the immense pain that this policy change is causing even now, not even a full week after the change became known. People have decried the pain this is causing to themselves, and to their children. Suicide attempts in Utah have spiked. People—formerly faithful members, including straight family members affected by this change—are leaving the Church over this policy change; one account puts the number who are submitting resignations of their Church membership at over one thousand.

What I do not think is as widely recognized is the degree to which this is a watershed moment for the Church. Things will never be the same in the Church after this moment; the only question is, in what direction will the Church go?

What is a watershed? Geologically, it is a place on a land mass that separates the rivers and streams that flow in one direction (say, east) from those that flow in another direction (say, west). Metaphorically, a watershed moment is an event that changes the direction of a movement, even a war. The Kennedy assassination was a watershed moment in American history; never afterward could one feel that ‘everything is under control.’ The development of the Salk and Sabin vaccines were watershed moments in the fight to eradicate polio.

People rarely realize that, although watershed moments create change, the nature of that change is up in the air in the early part of the watershed moment. Things can work out in several different ways. And that is the situation in the Church today: we will not come out of this as the very same organization, the very same people, as we were when we entered it. But in what way will we and the Church be different? That all depends.

Below, I list several ways in which the Church could be different—if we make it so.
This is thus the index post of a brief series of blog posts that I will be issuing over the next few days, regarding ways in which the Church could develop in positive directions because of the turmoil caused by the policy change. I see these changes as potentially including the following: 
  • A redefining of the nature of ‘General Authority’ in the Church.
  • Increased transparency in the Church.
  • A refocusing on the central Gospel message.
  •  A destigmatization of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

I shall conclude the series with a post on how members of the Church can nurture these sorts of outcomes.
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Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and I discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here.)

Visit the page of “That Mormon Guy Mark” on Facebook

Visit Mark Koltko-Rivera’s website
Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio

Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Recent LDS Policy Change Regarding Members in Same-Sex Marriages, and Their Children

Okay. It's time. I've had all weekend to think about this, and I have concluded that in order to try to live a life of integrity, I need to say something about an issue that weighs heavily on my heart.
Many of you are aware that last Thursday word got out that there had been a change to the leadership protocol ("Handbook, Part 1") that is used to guide local and regional leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--that is, my church. There are two major aspects to this change:
  • Church members in same-sex marriages are now defined as being in a state of apostasy (which usually results in excommunication).
  • The child of a parent or parents in a same-sex marriage may not be blessed in church as an infant; nor may this child be baptized, receive the priesthood, or apply to serve as a missionary, until the child reaches the age of 18, lives apart from said parent(s), and disavows the notion of same-sex marriage.
The policy change has been defended on the grounds that it protects the children of parents in same-sex marriages from being in the untenable position of Church members under the parental authority of parents who have been defined as apostates.
Frankly, I could not possibly care less about the official justifications.
I have read a great deal over the last few days of the pain that this policy change is causing in the lives of Latter-day Saints, pain that serves no godly purpose. That is what matters to me. In being confronted with all this pain, I have had come to mind repeatedly the principle of the English common law: "Silence is assent." I will not assent to this--so I will not be silent.
In pondering these issues, I have come to understand that the Church's policy on homosexuality and same-sex marriage is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of its own scriptures. The same thing happened with the policy of restricting the priesthood from people of African lineage, a policy that remained in effect until 1978--when (1) the leadership finally understood that they had misconstrued the LDS scriptures on this matter for well over a century, and (2) the president of the Church asked for revelation concerning the matter.
Consequently, yesterday I started writing a book on this matter. I hope to have it finished by the end of the month, or certainly by the end of the year. It is one of my two major projects during this period (the other being earning a living).
In this book, I plan to to make the following things clear:
  1. There is nothing in the New Testament Gospels, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Pearl of Great Price (that is, the major part of LDS scripture) that condemns homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Jesus simply did not state anything about this, in ancient or modern times.
  2. The condemnation of homosexuality in the Hebrew Bible is, for Mormons, all under the umbrella of the Mosaic Law, which the LDS consider to have been fulfilled in Christ, and which the LDS do not consider binding today.
  3. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul condemned some aspects of homosexuality. It should be noted that Paul wrote several things that reflected the customs of his time--like saying that women should not speak in church. If homosexuality were really an issue for the Lord, the LDS would expect to hear it in terms of direct, explicit divine revelation received by the likes of several prophets recognized by the LDS, such as Enoch, Peter, Nephi, or Joseph Smith--none of whom had anything to say directly about this topic.
  4. The LDS people need a "thus saith the Lord"-type of revelation on this subject. We need the president of the Church to ask for explicit, in-the-Lord's-voice guidance on this matter. We need the leadership to understand that, when that revelation comes, it may well reverse a half-century and more of LDS policy on this matter, including prior statements of the First Presidency (as happened with the priesthood revelation of 1978).
This is what is in my heart now. I realize that my position on these issues may cost me the friendship of some of you who read this. That will sadden me. But I cannot be quiet about something that causes so much pain to so many people--half a million to a million Latter-day Saints, and now their children, as well.
Should any of you feel moved to do so, I would appreciate your prayers.
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Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.
I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.
I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here.)
Visit the page of “That Mormon Guy Mark” on Facebook.
Visit Mark Koltko-Rivera’s website.
Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio.
Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The First Vision of Joseph Smith--and Its Various Versions

Joseph Smith's First Vision, 1913, artist unknown, stained glass window

In Mormon folklore, today is the 195th anniversary of Joseph Smith experiencing what the Latter-day Saints know as the First Vision, the occasion when Joseph Smith received a visitation of the Father and the Son in response to Joseph’s first vocal prayer. (In reality, no one knows the precise date of the First Vision; Joseph Smith merely stated that it occurred “early in the spring” of 1820.)

The First Vision is crucial to the Latter-day Saint faith for several reasons:
  • It is the foundation of the claim that God commissioned the LDS Church because other Christian churches were not commissioned by the Lord, or had departed from His ways.
  • It is the foundation for the LDS sense of the Godhead as being composed of three separate Personages, rather than the three-in-one Persons of traditional Christianity.
  • It is the foundation for the LDS claim that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.

If the First Vision happened, in the way that Joseph Smith said it did, then the LDS Church is what it says it is: the Restored Church of the living God. If the First Vision did not happen—that is, if it were a fabrication, or some kind of hallucination or delusion, of Joseph Smith’s—then the LDS Church is an extremely well-meaning sham.

The stakes are high with the First Vision.

All the more important it is, then, to deal with the claims that some have made, to the effect that the existence of different versions of the First Vision, each differing from the others in certain details, suggests that Joseph Smith essentially made up the First Vision out of whole cloth.

I have studied this matter for some time, consulting such sources as Joseph Smith’s own writings, not only in the LDS Standard Works but in other collections, including some not published by the LDS Church at all. I have also studied the works of historians, such as Richard Bushman’s excellent, readable, and comprehensive biography, Joseph Smith—Rough Stone Rolling. And this is what I have concluded.

I simply do not see a problem here at all.

Sure, Joseph Smith states in one account that he met one Personage, and in another that he met two such Personages. Angels work into some accounts, and not others. As I have come to understand it, these are not mutually contradictory accounts, but simply reflect a different emphasis in what Joseph Smith wished to convey at different times.

It is important to understand, as Dr. Bushman points out, that the First Vision was not “the First Vision” to Joseph Smith: it was a deeply personal experience, the meaning of which changed for him as he matured. At first, what impressed him most was the forgiveness of his sins by Jesus. Later, as he came to bear the burdens of Church leadership, he came to put less emphasis on the meaning of the vision for his personal life, and more on what it meant for the Church and its message to the world.

Is this not a very human thing? In my own life, I have come to understand the significance of different events—struggles, successes, relationships, even the meaning of an entire marriage—differently, as I have matured and gained perspective. One should not expect this to be any different for Joseph Smith, who emphasized repeatedly that he was a man, and a prophet only when acting as such. If anything, to me, this maturing perspective argues for the reality of the First Vision, and the truth of Joseph Smith’s narratives thereof.

I would invite readers to peruse the different versions of the First Vision for themselves. There are links to them within an essay published on the Church’s website.

Of course, all that this blog entry does is deal with an objection to the First Vision. The real issue is, did it really happen? And for that, I suggest that readers do what Joseph Smith did, and what I did myself to learn of the truth of this experience: seek personal revelation through prayer.

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Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and I discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here.)
  
Visit the page of “That Mormon Guy Mark” on Facebook.  

Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio.

[The photo of the 1913 stained glass window, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” artist unknown, was obtained from the official LDS website. Being a reproduction of an artwork over a century old, it is in the public domain.]


Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why This Straight Mormon Supports Marriage Equality


I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I support marriage equality. That is, I support the passing of laws throughout the United States (really, throughout the world) that give same-sex couples the same right to marry as opposite-sex couples, and with the same benefits before the law.

As it happens, I am heterosexual; I don’t have a horse in this race, as it were. I have held this position for a long time. I have said nothing about it publicly because the Church supports the idea that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and on occasion leaders in the Church (local and otherwise) have taken the position that to differ publicly with the Church on issues like this is itself an offense that merits either an official review of one’s membership status or a withholding of a temple recommend. I have felt very uncomfortable keeping quiet about this important social issue, especially for this reason.

However, the Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune published a story in which Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated unequivocally that expressions in support of marriage equality on social media do not endanger one’s standing in the Church, as long as such expressions do not attack the Church or support organizations that do.

Wow. So much could be said about this statement and its ramifications—but all that is for another time.

Here and now, I will explain why it is that I support marriage equality.

Marriage Is a Civil Right


Marriage is a civil right. It is just that simple.

Sure, as a Latter-day Saint, I believe that God the Father instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. This is a scriptural belief based on writings in the Bible and the Pearl of Great Price, among the LDS scriptures, and also on the LDS temple ceremonies. I am not questioning any of this here.

But when we talk about marriage equality, we are not talking about divinely performed marriages. We are talking about marriages recognized by the civil authority, by the state, utterly independently of any religious authority. This makes marriage a matter of civil rights, not religious doctrine.

On civil grounds, there is no reason to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. There is no compelling interest that the state has to ban same-sex marriages.

“Oh, but the state should strengthen families!” some have said. I believe that completely—which is why I believe the state should permit people of all sexual orientations to marry and form families, rather than forcing some people to remain single by banning same-sex marriage.

Here are some blunt truths that need to be stated, perhaps repeatedly:
  • Same-sex marriages do not weaken opposite-sex marriages. (How could it be otherwise? How could someone else’s marriage make my marriage weaker?)
  • There is no legal justification for confining marriage to people who might conceive children. (I am 58 years old. Any woman I am likely to be involved with in the future will be beyond childbearing years. Should we be barred from marrying because we cannot conceive children? Of course not.)
  • Legalizing same-sex marriages doesn’t mean “anything goes”; same-sex marriages would have the same rights, responsibilities, and restrictions as opposite-sex marriages. (So, no, this is not a step in the direction of people marrying their pet ostriches, or pedophilia, or any of the other nonsense that some opponents of same-sex marriage have put forth as being ‘the next step’ beyond marriage equality.)


Marriage Equality, Mormon Doctrine, and the Law


“But what about the Church’s position?” some might say. “Even though you are free to state your opinion, aren’t you taking a stance against the Church’s position?”

No, not really. The core of the Church’s position is that marriage should be between a man and a woman. It is the Church’s prerogative to take this position—as a doctrinal statement. Let marriage be between a man and a woman, within the Church. The Church has every right to define what marriages it will recognize or not, for religious purposes. None of this has to have an impact on the law, which must apply to all people, including those not of the LDS faith.

I will leave it for another time to consider the issue, should the Church attempt to influence legislation on this matter? Because that is part of a much larger issue, one with a long history to take into account to do it justice.

On the matter of marriage equality, I have made my position clear. I do not attack the Church, nor do I support organizations that do. But I do hope that my taking this position will provoke reflection on the part of other Latter-day Saints.

Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and I discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here).

Visit the page of “That Mormon Guy Mark” on Facebook.

Visit Mark Koltko-Rivera’s website.
See Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio

[The photo of the rainbow flag was taken by Benson Kua, and appears here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.]

Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Denver Post Article Highlights Shift from "Mormon Moment" to Saints' Century



The Denver Post website posted today an article by religion editor Electa Draper, "LDS scholars: 'Mormon moment' could expand into cultural shift." (It will probably appear in today's or, more likely, tomorrow's print edition.) The article is based to a large extent on a detailed interview that Ms. Draper conducted with me in November; it also reproduces a diagram from my recent book, The Rise of the Mormons: Latter-day Saint Growth in the 21st Century (available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon; and in paperback from Barnes & Noble online).

This is no mere puff-piece. Ms. Draper also presents material from interviews and statements of other people, including the president of American Atheists.

All in all, this is a fine reading experience. Enjoy.

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Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, published by Seventh Street Books. (Described here, available here.)

Mark Koltko-Rivera on Twitter: @MarkKoltkoRiver .

The “Mark Koltko-Rivera, Writer” page on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mark-Koltko-Rivera-Writer/13487584827

Monday, December 3, 2012

From the Mormon Moment to the Saints’ Century



            Did the ‘Mormon moment’ conclude with the end of the 2012 U.S. Presidential campaign? Certainly any interest in the Latter-day Saints (LDS) that was fueled by the candidacy of Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, has ended with his defeat. (Of course, ‘Mormon’ is a nickname for Latter-day Saint.) However, the Mormon moment resulted not just from Romney’s candidacy, but from a demographic trend that will only accelerate over the next few decades. The Mormon moment may be over, but the Saints’ century has just begun.

            In 1970, two years after Mitt’s father George Romney ran for the Republican presidential nomination, there were just over 2 million LDS in the United States, accounting for 1% of the American population at the time [see Note 1, below]. By contrast, in 2010, there were over 6 million LDS in the U.S., comprising almost 2% of today’s American population [2]. The LDS have shown a median annual net growth of 1.87% in the U.S. since 1991 [3], even while so-called “mainline” Christian denominations have shrunk, several to a membership less than the Mormons’ [4]. Of the four largest U.S. churches, the LDS were the only group to show an increase in American membership in 2010; the rest shrunk [5]. As non-LDS sociologist Rodney Stark put it, the fact “that the Latter-day Saints have overtaken such prominent and ‘traditional’ faiths as the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and even the Lutherans must be one of the most unremarked cultural watersheds in U.S. history” [6].

            But, for the Mormons, the best is yet to come. In early October of this year, Thomas S. Monson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced changes in age requirements for the Mormon missionary corps. Now many young people may serve for two years soon after high school graduation. Applications for LDS missionary service went up 471% within weeks. Convert baptisms accounted for 70% of LDS growth worldwide in 2011 [7], so a major increase in the missionary force likely will lead to an upward bend in the LDS growth curve.

            As I show in my new book, The Rise of the Mormons: Latter-day Saint Growth in the 21st Century (described here, available here), conservative projections foretell immense Mormon growth throughout the 21st century, both in the U.S. and globally. In the United States, if the Saints continue to grow just at the rate that they did during the years 2001 through 2010—that is, if the Mormons just keep growing as they are right now— they will become the second-largest church in the country by 2090 [8] . If instead, with their larger missionary corps, the Saints return to the growth rates seen during the 1980s, the Latter-day Saints will become the single largest church in the U.S. by about 2105 [9].

            The global picture, if anything, is even rosier for the Mormons. Even if the Saints grow only at the relatively modest rates that prevailed in the mid-1950s, then the Mormons will come to outnumber the membership of any other Christian group in the world but the Roman Catholic Church, by about 2090 [10]. If instead, with that larger missionary force, the Saints grow as they did during the 1960s, then the Mormons will outnumber any other religious group in the world but Islam by 2120 [11].

            Other social trends favor LDS growth indirectly. A recent Pew survey found that the number of people unaffiliated with any religion has grown sharply in America over the last few years—but the unaffiliated are over 19% more likely to convert to the LDS faith than the general American population, as shown by other Pew data [12]. This finding may have international consequences. Rodney Stark has demonstrated that Europeans are not so much irreligious as unchurched—that is, unaffiliated [13]. This bodes well for future LDS missionary work in Europe, where Russia, for example, has seen its LDS population grow by over 80%—from 11 to 20 thousand—in a decade [14]. Mormon growth continues to be strong in Central and South America [15] and sub-Saharan Africa [16], where there are more Saints today in Nigeria alone than there were in Brigham Young’s Utah [17].

            Now would be a good time for the thoughtful public, academics, opinion leaders, and the press to learn more about what the Mormons are really about. As a Latter-day Saint myself, it has been disappointing over the last few years to see my co-religionists and our beliefs ridiculed in public forums, in ways that would never be tolerated if these comments were directed at, say, Jews or Muslims. Such ridicule is fueled by profound ignorance; a recent Brookings survey found that 82% of Americans know little or nothing about the Mormon religion. But the LDS faith—perhaps surprisingly, for some readers—has great philosophical and spiritual depth to it. And, heaven knows, there will be lots more Mormons around in years to come.

          Watch for my forthcoming four-part series in Meridian Magazine, in which I project the growth of the Church during the 21st century in the world and in the United States, I respond to many objections to my projections, and I describe what a “more Mormon” world would look like.

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I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, published by Seventh Street Books. (Described here, available here.)

Mark Koltko-Rivera on Twitter: @MarkKoltkoRiver .

The “Mark Koltko-Rivera, Writer” page on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mark-Koltko-Rivera-Writer/13487584827


 
Copyright © 2012 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Notes

 
Note 1: The 1970 LDS population in the U.S. was 2,073,146 (Deseret News 1974 Church Almanac, p. 197; see References below for all cited sources). The U.S. population in 1970 was 203,211,926 (as shown by various public sources). This yields the 1970 LDS share of the U.S. population as 0.0102 = 1%.
 
Note 2: The 2010 LDS population in the U.S. was 6,144,582, a figure derived by adding the U.S. state totals for U.S. membership found in Deseret News 2012 Church Almanac, pp. 324-415; regrettably, the figure for the country overall that is printed in that source on p. 324 is an editorial error, and instead reproduces the LDS population in the U.S. current at year-end 2009. The U.S. population in 2010 was 308,745,538 according to U.S. Census data. This yields the 2010 LDS share of the U.S. population as 0.0196 = 2%.
 
Note 3: Author calculations (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 86, Table 4-1) of the median annual net growth of the LDS, 1991-2010, calculating from data found in annual editions of the Deseret News Church Almanac dating from 1992-2012. For example, the net growth in 1991 was calculated by comparing the membership figures for 1990 and 1991.
 
Note 4: Author calculations (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 86, Table 4-1) of the negative median annual net “growth” of the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and the Episcopal Church, 1991-2010. These data were found in the annual editions of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches for the years 1992-2012. For example, the net “growth” in 1991 was calculated by comparing the membership figures for 1990 and 1991. Each of these groups had a smaller membership than the Latter-day Saints in 2010, the latest year for which data are available, as reported in Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches: 2012, p. 12, Table 2.
 
Note 5: See Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches: 2012, p. 12, Table 2, specifically the first four lines of data. These data reflect 2010 membership (Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches: 2012, p. 9).
 
Note 6: Stark makes this statement in Stark (2005) p. 140.
 
Note 7: Author calculations from data given in “Statistical Report, 2011” (2012). This source reports “new children of record during 2011” (i.e., babies born to LDS families) equal to 119,917, and “converts baptized during 2011” equal to 281,312. The sum of these two numbers represents gross LDS growth during 2011, and is equal to 401,229. The fraction of this number accounted for by the 281,312 convert baptisms is 0.7011, or just over 70%.
 
Note 8: Here’s how I calculated this:

a)     This is a summary of my low-growth American model (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 90, 91, 95). The median net annual American Mormon growth rate from 2001 through 2010, inclusive, was 1.67%; this was calculated from figures for American LDS membership given in the Deseret News Church Almanac editions for the years 2001 through 2012. The low-growth American model starts from a base of 6,144,582 American Mormons in 2010 (Deseret News 2012 Church Almanac; see Note 2 above). From this base, the low-growth American model posits that “the annual growth rate increases from 1.41% by an additional 0.01% per annum, until reaching a maximum of 1.67% in 2036. The per-decade growth rate thus rises from 17.96% in 2010 to 18.01% in 2045 and thereafter” (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 90). This rate of growth leads to a projected LDS American membership of 22,388,442 by 2090 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 91).

b)     I compared projected LDS membership to the projected American membership of the largest non-LDS American churches for which membership figures were available in the editions Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches for the years 1992 through 2012; I used these figures to calculate the median annual membership change, 1991-2010, for these churches, and I used those change rates (for growth or decline) in projecting those churches’ likely growth year by year through 2120 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 86, 93).

c)      The low-growth American model projected LDS membership that was larger than the membership of any non-LDS church, excepting only the Roman Catholic Church, by 2090 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 91, 93).

Note 9: Here’s how I calculated this:

a)     This is a summary of my high-growth American model (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 90, 91, 95). The median estimated net annual American Mormon growth rate from 1981 through 1990, inclusive, was 5.18%; this was calculated from figures for American LDS membership given in the Deseret News Church Almanac editions for the years 1983 through 1992. The high-growth American model starts from a base of 6,144,582 American Mormons in 2010 (Deseret News 2012 Church Almanac; see Note 2 above). From this base, the high-growth American model posits that “the annual growth rate increases from 1.41% by an additional 0.04% per annum, until reaching a maximum of 5.18% in 2105. The per-decade growth rate thus rises from 17.96% in 2010 to 65.70% in 2114 and thereafter” (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 90). This rate of growth leads to a projected LDS American membership of 106,916,618 by 2100, and a projected LDS American membership of 176,693,348 by 2110 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 91).

b)     I compared projected LDS membership to the projected American membership of the largest non-LDS American churches for which membership figures were available in the editions Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches for the years 1992 through 2012; I used these figures to calculate the median annual membership change, 1991-2010, for these churches, and I used those change rates (for growth or decline) in projecting those churches’ likely growth year by year through 2120 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 86, 93; see also pp. 294-296).

c)      The high-growth American model projected LDS membership that was larger than the membership of any non-LDS church by 2010 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 91, 93).

Note 10: Here’s how I calculated this:

a)     This is a summary of my moderate-growth global model (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 69, 70). The net annual global Mormon growth rate from 1953 through 1956, inclusive, ranged from 4.82% to 4.38%; this was determined by using annual figures for global LDS membership as given in the Deseret News 2012 Church Almanac (2012, pp. 204-205), and calculating change figures from 1952 to 1953, and so forth. The moderate-growth global model starts from a base of 14,441,346 Mormons worldwide in 2011 (“Statistical Report, 2011,” 2012, p. 30). From this base, the moderate-growth global model posits that “the annual Mormon growth rate continues to fall after 2011, reaching 2% by the end of 2013…. The moderate-growth model assumes that LDS growth bounces back slowly: the annual growth rate increases after 2013 by an additional 0.05% per annum, reaching 4% in 2053, and then staying there. The per-decade growth rate would rise from 27.7% in 2010 to 48% by 2062, and hold there from then on” (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 69). This rate of growth leads to a projected LDS global membership of 211,299,979 by 2090 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 70).

b)     I compared projected LDS membership to the projected global membership of the major Christian groupings reported in the Annual Megacensus of Religion. These groupings include Roman Catholics, Protestants, Independent Christians, Orthodox Christians, and Anglicans. The Annual Megacensus of Religion may be found in the Encyclopedia Brittanica Books of the Year for the period 1991-2011. I used membership figures from this source to calculate the median annual membership change, 2001-2011, for each of these groupings, and I used those change rates (for growth and decline) in projecting these groupings likely growth year by year through 2120 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 64, 74). However, for the non-LDS groups, I applied a progressive discount to take into consideration falling fertility rates. Specifically (adapting from Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 292-294):

§  For each group, a nominal projected annual growth rate (NPAGR) was defined, based on the group’s median growth rate for 2001-2011.

§  An annual fertility reduction factor (AFRF) was defined annually for 2012-2120, to account for falling fertility rates predicted for the global population at large (United Nations, 2004). This annual fertility reduction factor was defined at 0.75% for 2012, and increased annually thereafter by 0.75% from 2013 through 2120.

§  The applied projected annual growth rate (APAGR) for each religious body was calculated as follows: APAGR = NPAGR * (1 – AFRF). The projected membership figure for any given year was thus equal to APAGR times the previous year’s membership figure (real, in the case of 2011, or projected).

§  The annual fertility reduction factor, or AFRF, was not applied to calculate LDS global membership because LDS growth is overwhelmingly the result of convert baptisms, not so-called ‘natural increase’ (i.e., the births of children to adherents of a given religious body). Global fertility is all but irrelevant to LDS growth. For most other religious bodies, at least on a global scale, natural increase seems to be the primary engine for growth.

c)      The moderate-growth global model projected LDS membership that was larger than the membership of any non-LDS Christian body in the world, excepting only the Roman Catholic Church, by 2090 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 70, 74, 76-77). This analysis presumes that individual Protestant bodies are considered as separate Christian bodies.

Note 11: Here’s how I calculated this:

a)     This is a summary of my high-growth global model (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 69-70). The median net annual global Mormon growth rate from 1960 through 1969, inclusive, was 5.46%; this was determined by using annual figures for global LDS membership as given in the Deseret News 2012 Church Almanac (2012, pp. 205), and calculating change figures from 1959 to 1960, and so forth. The high-growth global model starts from a base of 14,441,346 Mormons worldwide in 2011 (“Statistical Report, 2011,” 2012, p. 30). From this base, the high-growth global model posits that “the annual Mormon growth rate continues to fall after 2011, reaching 2% by the end of 2013…. The high-growth model assumes that LDS growth bounces back more quickly, and to a higher level, than the moderate-growth model: the annual growth rate begins to rise after 2012 at the rate of an additional 0.1% per annum, reaching a ceiling of 5.5% in 2048, and staying at that level thereafter. The per-decade growth rate would rise from 27.7% in 2010 to 70.8% by 2057, and hold at that level from then on” (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 69). This rate of growth leads to a projected LDS global membership of 2,615,763,633 by 2120 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, p. 70).

b)     I compared projected LDS membership to the projected global membership of the major non-Christian groups reported in the Annual Megacensus of Religion. These groupings include Muslims, Hindus, Chinese folk religionists, Buddhists, New Religionists, Sikhs, and Jews. The Annual Megacensus of Religion may be found in the Encyclopedia Brittanica Books of the Year for the period 1991-2011. I used membership figures from this source to calculate the median annual membership change, 2001-2011, for each of these groups, and I used those change rates (for growth and decline) in projecting these groupings likely growth year by year through 2120 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 64, 74). However, for the non-LDS groups, I applied a progressive discount to take into consideration falling fertility rates; for specifics, see Bullet #12 (b) above.

c)      The high-growth global model projected LDS membership that was larger than the membership of any religious body in the world, excepting only Islam, by 2120 (Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 70, 77, 78, 80).

Note 12: (Adapting Koltko-Rivera, 2012, pp. 142-152:) Of American Mormons in 2007 26% had been raised in other faiths—that is, they were converts to the LDS faith (U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Affiliation, 2008, p. 27). Of American LDS converts, 19.2% had been raised as unaffiliated with any religion (calculated from figures in U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Affiliation, p. 29: 5% of current LDS who were formerly unaffiliated, divided by the 26% of LDS who are converts, yields 19.2% of LDS converts who were formerly unaffiliated). At the time of this survey, the currently Unaffiliated comprised 16.1% of the American population (U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Affiliation, 2008, p. 24). Thus, given that 19.2% of LDS converts were formerly unaffiliated, but only 16.1% of the American population is Unaffiliated, this means that the Unaffiliated are overrepresented among LDS converts by a factor of  [(19.2 – 16.1)/16.1] = 0.19254 = 19.3%.
 
Note 13: See Stark (2011), pp. 381-382. Writing of Scandinavia as an example of supposedly secularized Europe, Stark states: “It is absurd to call these secularized societies when what they really are is unchurched” (Stark, 2011, p. 382).
 
Note 14: The LDS membership in Russia at year-end 1999 was 11,092 (Deseret News 2001-2002 Church Almanac, 2000, p. 389). The LDS membership in Russia at year-end 2009 was 20,276 (Deseret News 2011 Church Almanac, 2011, p. 567). The growth rate over the period 1999-2009 was thus equal to [(20,276-11,092)/11,092] = 0.82798 = 82.8%.
 
Note 15: Comparing LDS membership figures for 1999 and 2009 (see Note 14 for sourcing and calculation method), I found that the per-decade growth rate for Honduras was 42.5%, and for Mexico was 41.4%; similarly, I found that the per-decade growth rate for Brazil was 48.4%, for Ecuador was 30.1%, and for Peru was 44.0%.
 
Note 16: Comparing LDS membership figures for 1999 and 2009 (see Note 14 for sourcing and calculation method), I found that the per-decade growth rate for the Democratic Republic of Congo as 188.1%, for Ghana was 136.6%, for Nigeria was 118.8%, for South Africa was 77.0%, and for Zimbabwe was 112.8%.
 
Note 17: There were 98,359 Latter-day Saints in Nigeria at year-end 2010 (Deseret News 2012 Church Almanac, 2012, p. 533). Brigham Young was President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death in 1877 (Deseret News 2012 Church Almanac, 2012, p. 96). The total membership of Latter-day Saints worldwide at year-end 1872—25 years into Brigham Young’s tenure—was 98,152, the largest figure for LDS membership up to that time (Deseret News 2012 Church Almanac, 2012, p. 203).
 

References

Deseret News 1974 church almanac. (1974). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News.
Deseret News 2001-2002 church almanac. (2000). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News.
Deseret News 2011 church almanac. (20113). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News.
Deseret News 2012 church almanac. (2012). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News.
Koltko-Rivera, Mark. (2012). The rise of the Mormons: Latter-day Saint growth in the 21st century. New York, NY: 7th Street Books. (Book description here; Amazon page here.)
Stark, Rodney. (2005). The rise of Mormonism (Reid L. Neilson, Ed.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Stark, Rodney. (2011). The triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus movement became the world’s largest religion. New York, NY: HarperOne/HarperCollins.
 “Statistical report, 2011.” (2012, May). Ensign, p. 30. Accessed online November 9, 2012 at http://media.ldscdn.org/pdf/lds-magazines/ensign-may-2012/2012-05-12-statistical-report-2011-eng.pdf
U.S. religious landscape survey: Religious affiliation: Diverse and dynamic. (2008, February). Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Accessed November 9, 2012 at http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf
Yearbook of American and Canadian churches: 2012 (Eileen W. Lindner, Ed.). (2012). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.