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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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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

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Comparing Mormons by Generations (Part 3 of 6)

Do young and old Mormons feel the same about Church teachings and culture?  How similar or different are they?  Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll discuss the results of their recent survey of Mormon attitudes and we’ll learn how similar or different we are based on age.  What are differences in Mormons by Generations?

Benjamin:  And so oftentimes in the book, we combined Baby Boomers and Silent Generation into a single category, because they tended to look similar on a lot of things. Whereas Gen Xers and Millennials tended to look similar on a lot of things. The breakdown seems to be between the Baby Boomer and Gen X generation. The trends that the Millennials show were often continuations of things that started or became more pronounced in the Gen X generation, which I thought was really interesting.

GT:  All right, so how are the Gen Xers and the Millennials similar? I think Millennials are even more different, right? How are they more different?

Jana:  Well, they are not quite as politically conservative. They are not flaming liberals by any stroke of the imagination. They’re still Mormons. And so, they’re more conservative than other people their age, but they are less conservative than older Latter-day Saints, politically. And I think in terms of their religiosity, they are, again, in between. So, Millennials as a whole in the nation are the generation that we’re seeing to be most likely to disaffiliate of any generation that we’ve been tracking, in American history. But for Millennial Mormons, yes, they are more likely to disaffiliate than their older counterparts, but less likely to do so than other Millennials. So just think of them as kind of in the middle of these two things. But they’re more supportive of LGBT rights, not as supportive as other Millennials.

We also talked about Millennials’s attitudes about LGBT and the Church, and even referenced Greg Prince’s recent book, Gay Rights and the Mormon Church.

GT:  Yeah, he thought that they would double down for about 15 years. So, it was definitely surprising. I asked Greg, a little bit about how many people left the church? He said, in the first year 60,000 people, which is just…..

Jana:  He and I talked about this as well, and we’re not finding that kind of evidence.

GT:  Oh, really?

Jana:  No.

Benjamin:  Well, that’s one that we’re going to have to take a little bit further look at. So, this happened, it was in 2015?

GT:  November.

Benjamin:  Right. And our survey was literally, just the year afterwards, and so for people to say that they’re former Mormons in here, that would have been only a year for that to have happened. There just weren’t that many people in the survey that we saw identifying as a former Mormon, who had left just in that 12 months before the survey was conducted from when the event first happened there. So, it’s difficult for us to be able to definitively put a number on that one way or another.

GT:  Well, I guess I do have another question. If you look at 60,000 divided by 15 million, that’s a fraction of a percent, right? And how big was your survey of Mormons?

Jana:  We had 1156 currently identified and 540 former Mormons.

GT:  So would your survey even be large enough to ascertain?  I mean, 60,000 sounds like a big number. But, in my statistics class, I always say rates are much better than counts. So, as far as a rate that would be a tiny fraction. Would you even be able to notice that in a survey of 1100 people?

Jana:  Matt Martinich, who is much more advanced on church statistics than just about anybody else, would say no. That’s not enough to move the needle, as he would put it.

What are your thoughts about shifting generational attitudes in the Church?  Is the exodus following the November 2015 Gay Policy a big number, or just a blip?

Check out our conversation….

Are Millennials’ attitudes changing the Church?

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

297: Surprising Mormon Responses

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons