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Lessons for Mormon Leaders (Part 6 of 6)

What are the biggest takeaways leaders of the Mormon Church can take away from the largest public survey of Mormon attitudes?  Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll will give their answers.

GT:  Let’s just pretend that the brethren are here, and you can tell them anything. What would you tell them?

Jana:  You have to have equal representation of women.  You cannot continue having meetings in which decisions are made that affect women’s lives directly without a woman in the room, at least one woman in the room. And not just a little token woman who like, in the leaked video that I was talking about, at the very end, like in the last two-minute Hail Mary pass of the meeting, someone asks for Sister Beck’s opinion.  She gives it. The meeting breaks up, no one even responds to what she said. I mean, it’s entire tokenism to have her there, to ask her opinion and then totally disregard it. So yes, that’s hugely important. It’s important to women.

There are a couple of different narratives that I think we need to keep in mind. The narrative that the church wants us to believe, is what Gordon B Hinckley said, which is “Mormon women are happy, and they’re happy with their role.” Statistically, he’s right. Because most Mormon women who are still in the church don’t seem to have a problem. Younger women are a bit different. But the majority of Mormon women are fairly satisfied, apparently, with their roles in the church. The other part of the story, though, the other narrative that needs to also be told is that women’s roles ranked as the third most common reason for leaving for all women. So, for some women, this was an important enough issue that it was a catalyst to their departure, and we need to keep that in mind as well. We can’t just say that Mormon women are happy with the way things are, because if you weren’t happy, you’re gone.  What would you say?

Benjamin:  So I suppose in addition to that which I agree with, would be that all humans are subject to our cognitive biases and the way we see the world. We tend to take our experience as the norm and project it on to everyone else’s experience. Good faith people who are in leadership positions, of course, don’t intend to do that, but often times do it. And I’m just as guilty like everyone, that’s what we do, right? That’s what human beings do. One thing that this research offers is an opportunity to hear about what the experience is like from people who don’t match your own experience. And that’s really hard, and I like that some church leaders, like Patrick Mason wrote in his book Planted, he’s like, “I get it.” Right? From a leadership position, this worked for you your whole life. You’ve always felt happy here. Why could anyone possibly be upset? Or why would they not want to be here?

There’s just a lack of awareness on their part, not through anyone’s fault, but just simply because we all have different lived experiences. Could we take things from here and incorporate those kinds of messages, and carefully consider them non-defensively and think, “Okay, my experience might not be this, but this is experience that maybe not a majority, but that a critical mass of membership are experiencing. What could we do to create spaces where they feel like they’re fitting in better, even if that means that we perhaps need to change what we emphasize, or give greater room for those kinds of voices to be represented in both decision making, as well as scriptural interpretation? Or how we’re applying the stories about what it means to be a Mormon in today’s world or Latter-day Saints, etc.”  Things like that, that would be one of the pieces of advice I could humbly and constructively offer.

Find out what else they had to say, and find out who our next interview is with!  Check out our conversation….

Dr Jana Riess & Dr. Ben Knoll discuss their beliefs opinions about things Mormon leaders can do to improve.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Jana and Ben!

300: Why Mormons Leave

299: Out of the Box Mormons

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Responses

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons

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Why Mormons Leave (Part 5 of 6)

Why do Mormons leave the LDS Church?  Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll have put together the largest random sample of ex-Mormons and tell us why Mormons leave.  What did they learn?

GT:  That’s pretty awesome I’d say. I know John Dehlin did a survey awhile back.  Were your results similar to his?

Jana: Not at all, and I want to point out that this is part of the difference between a nationally representative survey and a sample that is of a targeted population. Their study, which is really helpful and interesting and well done, they would be the first to tell you, I think, that it’s not a nationally representative sample of all former Mormons. If you look in the really helpful breakdown of who was in that study, they have a very affluent population and a very well-educated population. So, the fact that what they’re finding is that these people are very interested in history, and they’re very interested in some of these more controversial issues about Mormon theology. Well, in part that is because this is a very affluent and well-educated population, and in part, it’s because this is a population that has been fielded through social media affinity groups that are interested in those questions, right?  So, it’s a self-selecting sample, and I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind. That does not mean that it’s not valuable for understanding that important population, but it’s not generalizable to everyone.

GT:  What are some of the reasons that people choose to disaffiliate?

Benjamin:  I suppose the first thing to clarify is, we’ve got information amongst those who chose to disaffiliate for specific reasons that aren’t necessarily just simply lifecycle, adolescent disaffiliation, which is the biggest one right there.

GT:  The biggest one is just, “Well, I’m a teenager, I don’t want to go to church.”

Benjamin:  This is what people in America and Europe do. When they’re teenagers, they tend to just [quit going.]

Jana:  Right, or younger.

Benjamin:  Right, yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, a lot of former Mormons are in that same category. They are people who just for one reason or another, just weren’t that interested anymore.

GT:  Church is boring.

Benjamin:  Yeah, they went on to do other things. Some of them rejoined the church later. Some didn’t. We’ve got some information in the survey about like, what are the lives of former Mormons like? The ones who leave for these historical doctrinal issues tend to have a former Mormon life that’s a little bit different than those who just leave because they just went inactive when they were teenagers, got married to someone who’s not a member, that never really went anymore, because their family’s diverse. So, it’s important that we say, just like within the Mormon community, there are different groups of people and diversity and how it’s expressed, it’s the same thing with former members as well.

Are you surprised?  On the internet we often hear people publicly claim they lost their testimony due to church history.  We don’t hear about these people that quietly leave.  Find out what else they said (like politics.)  Check out our conversation….

Why do Mormons leave the church? Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll tell the results of the largest random sample of ex-Mormons.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Dr. Riess and Dr. Knoll.

299: Out of the Box Mormons

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Responses

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons

 

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Out of the Box Mormons (Part 4 of 6)

There has been a slowdown in growth for the LDS Church recently.  I asked Dr. Jana Riess what the Church can do to halt the slide, and I was a bit surprised at her answer.  Is there a problem with “out of the box” Mormons?

GT : Is there anything in your book that you think that leaders can use to keep people in?

Jana:  Yes, and no. {Chuckling} So that’s my wishy-washy answer. The Yes, part is yes, there are things. For example, backing away on LGBT issues can only help. It certainly would help if the church did a better job of incorporating more Millennials into things that they care about, rather than indexing genealogy or things that the church cares about, but that are not necessarily driving attendance for people in their 20’s. There are a lot of things like that.  We could have better architecture. I have a whole list of those things.

Jana:  But the no side, which I think is just as important, and I’m speaking here as a historian. When we look at the bigger picture of what’s going on in American religion, more generally, Mormons and ex-Mormons are so tunnel-focused on what the Church is, or is not doing, that is driving this problem that they miss the bigger picture that Mormonism is not an island. We have, throughout our history, been buffeted by the tides of whatever is going on in American religion. In the 1950s and 60s, when religion was thriving in the United States, we were also thriving. And in the 70s, and 80s, when conservative religions, in particular, were thriving the United States, we were thriving.  Now we’re in a period where everyone is suffering, we are also suffering. So in that context, particularly because we are less than 2% of the population, there’s not a lot we can do.

Mormonism is really good for nuclear families, but it can be a tough place for singles, divorced, LGBT, widowed, or other members who may not have the ideal Mormon family.  In our next conversation with Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll, we’ll talk about non-traditional families, and how we can make church culture better for others.

Jana: There is one area where I see church leaders really trying to change this outcome. And it’s in the hammering of marriage and having children. Recent talks by certain church leaders have emphasized this. And that’s not to say it hasn’t been an emphasis all along, but the stakes are much higher. We’re looking at a scenario where married church members, according to the church’s own leaked statistics, married church members in their 20s are twice as likely to be active, as single church members in their 20s of the same age. So, the Church says, “Well, let’s just get everybody married,” right? And the people who are most active in the church are the people who have children of school age and are in those programs right now. “Well, let’s get people to have children,” right?  And of course, that plays into the eternal message of the gospel, that marriage and children are part of your exaltation forever. So, it’s not like this is just a cynical, sociological move that we need to up our activity rates. They truly, I think, earnestly believe that this is also contributing to people’s eternal salvation, but they have got to be worried about marriage among Millennials as a whole in this nation. Millennials are delaying marriage Millennials are having fewer children or not having children at all. And in terms of religiosity that is a concern, not just for Mormons, but for all organized religions. Because those young parents are the mainstay. They are the bread and butter of religious activity and tithing and programs, the success of the programs. So that’s where you’re going to see them trying to change that narrative.

GT:  To be more friendly to singles, is that what you’re saying?

Jana:  No. I’m afraid not.

GT:  That’s too bad.

Jana:  To be telling singles, “Just get married already,” which seems to be the message that comes up again and again.

Do you agree?  Check out our conversation….

What can LDS Leaders do to encourage “out of the box” Mormons to stop leaving the Church?

Don’t miss out other conversations with Jana and Ben!

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Response

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons