Where have all the cowboys missionaries gone?

Two weeks ago, this headline in The Salt Lake Tribune caught my attention:

LDS add mission in Utah; cut back in Europe, elsewhere (Web Cite)

The article covers how the Church is downsizing its mission force in Europe and parts of America so that it can increase efforts in southern Utah, Central America, South America, and Africa. The Church has published a detailed breakdown of where it is adding and cutting missions, here; even my own neck of the woods is effected with the Chicago South Mission being combined into the Chicago North Mission to create a single Chicago Mission.

What really caught my eye though were these paragraphs here:

This change, one of the largest restructuring of missions in recent years, also reflects a need to stretch the church’s shrinking proselytizing force, which is down to about 52,000 from a high of 62,000 in the mid-1990s.

“While raising the bar [on missionary qualifications] had an initial impact,” says LDS spokesman Scott Trotter, “the primary reason for changes in missionary numbers is the fluctuating population of available missionary-age members.”

What staggers me about that paragraph is that the Church claims to have grown by 3 million members since the time of its peak missionary force. Can “raising the bar on missionary qualifications” and a “fluctuating population of missionary-age members” really account for a 16% decrease in missionary force in the face of 22% church growth? If the growth of the missionary program had matched the growth of the Church, there would be 75,600 missionaries right now, not 52,000.*

Some completely uneducated guesses on my part:

  • Most of the Church’s growth has come from poorer 2nd and 3rd world countries. Families there are less likely to be able to afford to send their sons and daughters on missions.
  • Most of the growth has come from adult converts past the age of serving missions, and the Church has had a difficult time appealing to the current generation of young people.
  • The global fertility rate has been in a steady state of decline for the last several decades. Mormons have traditionally resisted this by encouraging large families, but even they may be beginning to feel the effects of it.
  • The Church has suffered from abysmal retention rates in some areas. I’ve seen estimates in several places (here for example) that only 4-5 million people among the Church’s 13.5 million membership force are actually active. As the baseball baptisms fiasco showed us, conversion numbers are easy to “fake.” Number of men and women committing 1.5-2 years of their life to serving the Church? Not so much. Hellmut of Main Street Plaza did a post in 2008 contesting (based on numbers from Pew and CUNY) that the member replacement rate in the United States is actually negative. So the Church’s growth isn’t quite what it reports it to be.

I’m open to other possibilities. Any thoughts on this?

Furthermore, what could the LDS church do to improve the quality (if not the quantity) of its missions program?

—————-

* Numbers estimated based on the statistical information presented here. I couldn’t find a specific membership number corresponding to the Church’s peak year in missionary numbers. If anyone knows it, let me know and I’ll adjust my statistics accordingly.

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This entry was posted in missionaries, missions, Mormon by Bridget Jack Jeffries. Bookmark the permalink.

About Bridget Jack Jeffries

Bridget Jack Jeffries is a human resources professional living in Chicago. She holds a BA in classics from Brigham Young University with a minor in Hebrew and an MA in American religious history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church and a single mother of two. You can read more of her writings at www.Weighted-Glory.com.

92 thoughts on “Where have all the cowboys missionaries gone?

  1. Re your suggestions:

    #1: Not a factor in my experience. In my mission (a very poor 3rd world country) any native male who wanted to go, and didn’t have a pregnant girlfriend, could go. The church paid the money that the missionary could not. They were DESPERATE for males who would go on a mission, return home, and be a branch president. Also, most natives live a higher standard of living on a mission than they do at home, so mission life was a step up for them.

    #2: I don’t think age is a factor, but I think gender is. The church baptizes more women than men, but then discourages women from serving a mission. That seems like the church is taking a double whammy with respect to missionaries.

    #3: This has cut into the number of 1st world missionaries.

    #4: BINGO! The bulk of new growth retention is absolutely abysmal. This means that the pool of potential missionaries is much smaller than the gross membership numbers suggests. 10-20% retention, with even fewer active males, is common south of the border.

  2. I served in the Swiss Zurich mission, so there is a little bit of wistfulness associated with that announcement.

    Mormons in the U.S. are, in fact, having fewer children on average than they used to. Last I looked into it, the national average was 1.8 kids per woman for Americans, and around 3 for Mormon Americans.

    Activity rates tend to depend on region and how things are defined. The Church counts baptized and confirmed people as members, even if they never take another step into a chapel or temple. They also count children-under-8 of baptized and confirmed people if they know about them.

    The Pew survey asked a “self-identify” set of questions, which can easily explain the discrepancy there. Growth is stagnant in the U.S., participation is slowly waning (maybe).

    Around my home, there is slow growth, and participation hovers around 50%. That’s how we can have 3% of the population on record with only 1.7% self-identifying in a random sample. (That alone is possibly problematic, since a purely random sample will not accurately represent a non-random distribution; Mormons are concentrated in the American West. Did the Pew research correct for that?)

  3. I believe the bulk of convert baptisms are adults. I know that was the case on my mission. And even taking into account youth baptisms, it takes time for someone to be of missionary-age. So the membership growth doesn’t particularly correlate to the number of missionaries. Most missionaries come from the ranks of members of record, rather than from the ranks of converts (note I said most, and not all).

    Over at BCC, Steve G presented this interesting visual.

    But even taking into account the lower number of available missionaries, I think the restructuring also has to do with cutting down on the numer of proselyting missionaries in areas that have been over-saturated by tracting.

    I have more to say, but I need to get to work, so I’ll pop in later and see where the discussion has gone 🙂

  4. Jack, I think your uneducated guesses are pretty good. OK, maybe not, but some of them are the same type of guesses I would make. Foremost, I think that a variety of cultural changes make the prospect of joining a socially and behaviorally conservative church a harder sell than it was a generation or two ago. Other than anti-American sentiment, many of the same factors that have discouraged growth of Mormonism (and of evangelicalism, for that matter) in Europe are also an increasing part of American culture.

    My firsthand knowledge (and even reliable secondhand knowledge) is quite limited, so I don’t know to what extent what I or close friends or family members have observed is applicable to the church at large. But I could probably count on my fingers the number of new members in my stake in the past year (not counting children born into the church) who will be active, participating members a year from now.

    And according to what I was told by a knowledgeable person during my most recent trip south of the border, retention rates are abysmal in most of Latin America. For one thing, religion is often seen as a female thing, and that doesn’t work well in a church that has a male-only priesthood. And the part of the church that emphasizes egalitarian relationships in marriage can be countercultural in areas where machismo is still a significant fact of life.

    This is going to sound classist to say this, but one problem (that might not be the right word) is that in our culture the unchurched people most likely to be willing to spend time with the missionaries are people who don’t have a lot going for themselves in their lives. They tend to be poor, uneducated and are often dealing with substance and/or relationship problems. Definitely, we should love these people and welcome them, for Jesus would have done no less — but in the normal course of events these aren’t the people that bring stability and growth to the institution. There’s a reason that, in general, the evangelical megachurches are found in the suburbs, and that they seem to do a good job of attracting the upwardly mobile.

    I don’t claim to know what a solution is; it is one that is faced by evangelicals as well as Mormons (studies I’ve seen that growth in many evangelical churches comes about by “robbing” other churches, not by drawing in people who never step foot in church). I just see really difficult time ahead by evangelistic efforts by all types of Christians.

    As to what the Church could do to improve its missionary program? I would like to see a much greater emphasis put on service rather than direct proselytizing (as is often the case with senior missionaries). I’m not sure what this would do in terms of numbers (the Salvation Army is still quite a small denomination), but I think it would be a better use of resources and help improve the image of the Church. I don’t have this all thought out yet, but I think that our missionary model was probably a good one 40 years ago (I remember that people even made a living going door to door then) but isn’t all that effective in current U.S. society.

  5. Jack,

    Did you read anything about the raitio of Elders serving vs. sister missionaries and couples? I would think encouraging young ladies to serve full time missions would help out, as well as encouraging more couples to serve. We had a few couples serving on my mission and they were wonderful. They really understood people and offered a lot of support to new members, less active, etc. I know that the LDS church has encouraged couples to serve, but you don’t read too much about encouraging young single women to serve. Perhaps if they did so , they would see an increase in missionaries serving. Just a thought.

    Also, I think the LDS are having much smaller families in comparison to a generation ago. That may definately account to why there are less LDS missionaries ( elders) serving.

    Just my .02,

    gloria

  6. Gloria, my immediate thoughts when I read about this was that the fastest way for the Church to remedy this problem would be to allow sisters to serve at age 19. I had plenty of female friends who wanted to go on missions, and would have if the Church had let them go at 19, but by age 21 other things had come up (not always marriage). President Hinckley stated in one of the 1997 General Conferences that the reason the age is held up to 21 for women is to reduce the number of women who go. Not for safety reasons, not to reduce romantic tension in the MTC, not any of the other dumb rationalizations people offer; just to discourage women from going. Incidentally, it works.

    Don’t elderly couples usually serve service missions rather than proselyting missions? I’m not even sure if that 52,000 statistic is accounting for couples missionaries.

    I also think that implementing short-term missions for high schoolers, like what Protestants have, would be a great thing. Missions that last 2 weeks to 3 months.

    I have more thoughts on this, but I have to run. Thank you everyone for their thoughts so far.

  7. I also think that implementing short-term missions for high schoolers, like what Protestants have, would be a great thing. Missions that last 2 weeks to 3 months.

    Some areas do this, or at least used to do this. Between my junior and senior year in high school I served a “two-week mission.” It basically amounted to hanging out with and living with the missionaries who lived about 45 minutes from my house. Still, I thought it was cool.

  8. Eric, none of what you have said is even relevant to Jack’s question. We’re talking about the number of missionaries currently serving missions, not the number of worldwide conversions that those missionaries make.

  9. Oh, Kullervo, Eric just PWN’T your butt.

    Who says “PWN’T?” It’s pwned. Or, you know, pWn3d, or pW|\|3d or pWnz0r3d or some l33t variation, but spelling it “PWN’T” is just spelling it wrong.

  10. I also think that implementing short-term missions for high schoolers, like what Protestants have, would be a great thing. Missions that last 2 weeks to 3 months.

    I think Protestants should be sending less people on short term trips. Especially high schoolers. The VAST majority of those trips do more harm than good. Haiti and Tiajuana are both a mess despite 20 years of spring break mission trips by high school youth groups. In a great many ways they are worse off because of those trips.

    http://povertyunlocked.com/2009/08/20/when-helping-hurts/
    http://povertyunlocked.com/2007/10/03/pu-008-dependency-oct-3-2007/

    But that’s a thread jack

  11. spelling it “PWN’T” is just spelling it wrong.

    ORLY?

    Tim, I liked the short-term mission trips I did. They were pretty incredible experiences for me. But I also had an awesome youth group and great youth leaders. I’ve heard that youth group retention is a problem for evangelicals as well as Mormons, yet I’m amazed at how many of the students who went to youth group with me are still Christians today.

    There are plenty of churches out there where students just do rinky-dink crap on their mission trips like paint a church building (you know, the same church building that two other youth groups painted last year). Those are the ones who shouldn’t go.

  12. I’m not denying those trips aren’t “good” for the kids that go, they just may not be good for the people they are serving.

  13. I’ve heard that youth group retention is a problem for evangelicals as well as Mormons, yet I’m amazed at how many of the students who went to youth group with me are still Christians today.

    Truth be told, the real purpose of our missionary program probably has as much to do with retention and strengthening the testimony of the young missionaries as it does with proselytizing.

  14. Eric ~ Truth be told, the real purpose of our missionary program probably has as much to do with retention and strengthening the testimony of the young missionaries as it does with proselytizing.

    All the more reason to not discourage women from doing it, given how the church has had problems with hemorrhaging its young women especially.

  15. The raising of missionary standards/pre-requisites reduced the missionary force by a little over 10%. 10+% was the exact reduction as soon as the pre-raising-of-the-bar missionaries cycled out of the mission field.

    I think the next biggest reason is that in the 1980’s, there was a sharp drop in LDS birth-rates, and that shows up in the number of 19/20 year old’s 19/20 years later. Active LDS families went from an average of 4+ children to 3-point-something.

    The third biggest reason is the youth retention rates, which impacts more directly than overall retention rates. I forget where I read it, but the youth/young-adult retention rates were worse than the overall retention rates. (Good news is that many come back around age 30 or when they get married. Missionary cut-off age is now 25 for the age when you enter the MTC. It was 26 back in the 80’s.)

    Perhaps LDS should take a cue from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and get more members to do local door-to-door stuff. Let more members do more of the finding, and funnel those contacts to the full-time missionaries for teaching. According to the D&C, you could send out 2 priests (16/17 yr old males), or a priest and a teacher/deacon. (Teacher = 14/15, deacon=12/13).

    I’ll 2nd what David Clark said, no worthy and willing young man is denied the opportunity to serve a full-time mission for lack of funds. The order of financial contribution goes: self, family, ward, stake, church.

    To thread jack slighty: does anyone have the official story of whether loss of virginity permanently disqualifies someone? I’ve heard some say that it does, but others say that it merely imposes a wait of 1 year for sufficient repentance. And perhaps it matters whether it was prior to age 18 versus after age 18, prior to receiving the Mel. priesthood versus after, prior to joining the church versus after, etc. My local sources say it imposes a 1 year wait (from time of confession, I assume) and is not a permanent disqualifier.

  16. To thread jack slighty: does anyone have the official story of whether loss of virginity permanently disqualifies someone?

    Not at all. I don’t even think there’s a wait of 1 year. Not unless this policy was just implemented in the last two years.

    BTW, thanks for the input on the cost of missions and helping impoverished people who want to go. I honestly had no idea; that’s why I hedged my guesses by calling them “uneducated.”

  17. Perhaps LDS should take a cue from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and get more members to do local door-to-door stuff. Let more members do more of the finding, and funnel those contacts to the full-time missionaries for teaching. According to the D&C, you could send out 2 priests (16/17 yr old males), or a priest and a teacher/deacon. (Teacher = 14/15, deacon=12/13).

    Gods, I’m glad nobody tried to make me do that when I was a teenager. Collecting fast offerings and home teaching were more than bad enough.

  18. Not at all. I don’t even think there’s a wait of 1 year. Not unless this policy was just implemented in the last two years.

    You sure about that? I am under the impression that after the raising-of-the-bar, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to go on a mission if you’ve had (consensual) premarital sex. Before the raising-of-the-bar, minimum one-year-repentance-periods were customary if not absolutely required.

  19. I know someone who was allowed to serve a mission having had consensual sex within a year of entering the MTC. It was less than 2 years ago that he entered the MTC. Either it isn’t enforced very well or both he and his TBM parents (who knew it had happened) didn’t say anything about it.

    It’s too bad we don’t have the statistics for missionaries on a year-by-year basis and the year these “raising the bar” policies were implemented. If it really is the case that “raising the bar” eliminated 10% of the missionary force, we should theoretically see a rather sharp drop-off in the stats.

    In fact, I’m not sure I know anyone who’s been barred from serving a mission or forced to wait 1-3 years. Does anyone else?

  20. This is from Dr. Shades’s mission journal, January 8, 1990. He had been in the MTC less than a week and was preparing to serve a mission to Japan:

    Today I was called in to President Pinegar’s office to resolve my morality problem. What a nice guy! Everyone loves President Pinegar. He wasn’t judgmental at all. He had to call my Stake President and have me talk to him, but it worked out.

    Sheesh! I guess the Lord needs missionaries, for they pretty much slapped my hand and sent me on my way. [Here’s a peek at the man behind the curtain: When I originally confessed my sins to my Branch President, he took out a form and started making checkmarks. On the form were listed questions such as, “Did the transgression take place before or after the mission call?” Then boxes to check “before” or “after.” The questions continued: “Did the transgression take place before or after receiving endowments?” After that, there was a category called something like “Nature of the Transgression” with checkboxes for “Petting,” “Oral Sex,” and “Intercourse.” I was shocked and amazed: Up ’till that point I thought I was some kind of degenerate freak for having touched girls’ breasts and private parts before going on a mission, so I was shocked and amazed that it happens so often that they have a form letter for it that they have to make copies of and give to the Branch Presidents to use!] I guess declaring the Word is too important to mess around with.

    He’s been posting his entire mission journal here.

  21. I also know people who have not been allowed to go on a mission because of premarital sex.

    I got my call riiiiiight before they raised the bar — like, my mission call came, and they raised the bar two weeks later. I remember it being a big deal in the MTC. My guess is that they really tightened up on stuff like that right around the time I went…and then gradually, over the past 8 or so years* it’s loosened up again.

    Gods, I’m glad nobody tried to make me do that when I was a teenager.

    NO FREAKING KIDDING.

    *When did I get old???

  22. does anyone have the official story of whether loss of virginity permanently disqualifies someone? I’ve heard some say that it does, but others say that it merely imposes a wait of 1 year

    I’ve heard if you’ve had sex with only one person, that could be excused after some repentance, but I don’t know the time frame. And, it was implied that it had to be before a Mission Call, Endowment, etc. But, if you’ve had sex with half the high school, forget it!

    If you made someone pregnant, or have been pregnant, you can not serve as a young missionary. This makes me wonder about when a YW gets raped, then gives the child up for adoption, can she serve a mission? It sounds like she can’t then, even if it’s not her “fault.”

    I also heard back in the 1970’s where some SP’s made some wait after a mission interview for petting & intercourse confessions at that time. But, the form I saw for my mission (1978) had a section for confessions of serious sins during a pre-mission interview, like Heavy Petting, Intercourse, Homosexuality, Drug use, etc., needed a General Authority interview.

    Either it isn’t enforced very well or both he and his TBM parents (who knew it had happened) didn’t say anything about it.

    That’s been known to happen. My sister was in the Tallahassee FL mission, and wondered where a fellow elder there went to. She asked her Mission President, and it turns out that elder’s girlfriend wound up being pregnant. He was sent home, though I don’t know if he had any other discipline actions taken.

    But, the warning a few years ago, during the “Raising the bar” talks, was that a serious sin not confessed before going on a mission would get you sent home from a mission, no more going to a GA for possible intervention anymore when it came out.

    As a side to this, I am getting worried in general about sexting & Oral sex among youth, LDS or not. It only seems to take one “letter of the Law” type youth saying “I can’t find it in the scriptures, so it must be OK” to to start a bad trend.

    Perhaps LDS should take a cue from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and get more members to do local door-to-door

    The problem with that is that some members will get into things like: Is Judas Iscariot a son of perdition?, etc., types of discussions, at the first contact! Even on splits, some members get us into “uncharted” areas of discussion.

    Europe generally has the secular to almost being atheist streak, that slows missionary work. Yes, not all Europeans are that way, but it’s a common feeling there.

    Yes, member retention continues to be an issue. And, the “baseball baptisms” VERY seldom lead to strong members, no matter the decade it happens.

  23. Seth and I have battled on this one for a few years now on other blogs. My two cents: The sucky anachronistic LDS missionary program and poor retention are only symptoms. The root cause is a lack of a retirement tradition for LDS apostles. http://mormonopenforum.blogsome.com/2005/07/12/sucky-missionary-program-and-retiring-apostles/

    Until that reform occurs, we LDS are doomed to shrink. We even appear to have fallen into the period clothing trap that guarantees marginalization. Moreover, beyond fewer converts, the much bigger lost is most the generation now coming of age. The published church stats won’t show that greater loss until their kids don’t show up in Primary.

    I close with an ode to a GA:
    There once was a guy named Boyd K,
    a big mistake by Pres. McKay.
    Always quick to judge,
    some called him “Fudge”,
    for being such a repressed gay.

  24. I almost didn’t serve a mission because of bad experiences going tracting as a 16 year-old priest on splits with the missionaries. Luckily when I was 17 or 18 I had some good experiences with some missionaries who knew what they were doing.

    Steve EM,

    Have you heard the one about the GA from Nantucket?

  25. Mephibosheth,

    You speak of Monson of Nantucket,
    with a gut as big as a bucket?
    Who said to Boyd K,
    in the lesser quorum stay,
    for small fry belong in Pawtucket?

    Seriously though, BKP has long come off to me as a self loathing repressed homosexual, who has unintentionally caused us great harm. That’s as far as I can go without speaking evil of him. The sucky missionary program is just a symptom. If apostles retired, we just wouldn’t be having these problems.

  26. While hoping that we can get off the BKP topic soon, I am just going to say that I have never understood this sentiment, which I have only heard expressed by folks online.

  27. BKP has long come off to me as a self loathing repressed homosexual

    That’s a little harsh, Steve. Even if that is honestly how you feel, I’m not sure a sentiment like that is very conducive to interfaith dialogue.

    I appreciate your thoughts on the missions program being anachronistic nonetheless.

    Thanks everyone who has given me thoughts and insights into this topic, especially insight into the status of impoverished missionaries in other countries and the implementation of “raising the bar” on the missionary program.

    As some of you know, next Friday I leave for Utah with a small group of TEDS students. Today I’m teaching the team a lesson on the missionary program and Mormon culture.

    If there’s anything you think evangelical Christians should know about the LDS missions program, now’s your last chance, because the lesson happens this afternoon.

  28. There was a young man in our ward shortly after the “raising of the bar” (a phrase I despise, by the way) who wasn’t allowed to go because he was overweight. He worked hard over a period of 6 months or so, lost the weight and was allowed to serve. I remember his tearful testimony about how much it hurt to be rejected initially.

    Jack, I could not agree more that allowing women to serve at 19 would be the easiest solution to increase numbers. That is one of those rules that really rankles me, and the stated reason behind it is worse than the rule itself. I was in the MTC 2 years after President Hinckley’s talk about missionary service being a priesthood duty and not required for young women. http://bit.ly/9xAcxS I can’t count how many times the elders used this statement to put us in our place. On one occasion an elder who was in leadership over me suggested that I should have stayed home and worked on my cookie making skills (incidentally, living in France allowed me to improve my baking greatly. Ha!) Hinckley specifically said that female missionaries are not any less valuable than their male counterparts, but that certainly was not the takeaway message for many of those 19 year old idiots, I mean elders.

  29. chelseaw, I remember one time in the MTC an elder was confiding in my companion and me that some of the other elders didn’t like the sisters.

    He was a good-natured kid and not at all malicious, so I just smiled at him and said, “Yeah, I know, right? Like, the only reason we’re here is because we couldn’t get married!”

    His jaw dropped and he said, “You know that’s what they say?”

    It was annoying, but kind of funny.

  30. FTR, I’ve never thought that BKP was a repressed homosexual. Though he used to really scare me when I was a kid. He seems like he’s gotten nicer in his old age. That’s just my impression.

  31. I’m not sure that the church actually comes through in paying for missions for members in developing countries whose families can’t afford it. I have very little specific knowledge and I’m not a Mormon, but I’m living in a remote corner of Peru where the church has a relatively large and growing active population, many of whom I’m friendly with. The college-age people all speak of wishing they could do missions one day, but none of them ever have or have immediate plans to and the only missionaries they’ve ever met are the handful of Americans who come through every year.

  32. Best of luck with the lesson Jack!

    Katie L, That is both funny and horrifying. The funny part (to me) is that anyone would think it’s a bad thing not to be “able” to get married by age 21. And horrifying because not only did the elders say such things amongst themselves, but they thought the sisters were dumb enough not to be aware of their feelings.

    The scaling back of European missions has been going on for quite a while. When I left France in 2000 there were 10 missionaries in the city I left from. When my husband and I went back to visit in 2003, there were 2 missionaries in that same city, and they were responsible for a much larger area than the 10 of us had been when I was there.

  33. I disagree profoundly with many things Boyd K. Packer has said, and I agree that his approach to sexuality has caused harm in the church and outside, but I really think he means well. He is a man so convinced of the validity of his own way of seeing and dealing with the world that he just cannot change it. It would require a massive effort of will on his part, overturning years of social conditioning, to recognize the error of his ways and repent. How many of us could live one way our whole lives, convinced it was God’s only way, and then realize and acknowledge at the end that we were wrong and God had another plan the whole time? I wish Bro. Packer would rise to the challenge and have the humility to confront his imperfections, but until I am perfect myself I have to be careful about casting stones. While I agree he must bear the brunt of just criticism as a “bad” leader (“bad” only because he does not understand how to really help the people he is supposed to serve), I also feel I owe him the same charity he owes homosexuals. Ironic as this sounds, Packer too is one of the victims of his own overly narrow view of the world.

  34. Seriously though, BKP has long come off to me as a self loathing repressed homosexual, who has unintentionally caused us great harm. That’s as far as I can go without speaking evil of him.

    Wow, I’d hate to know what speaking evil of him would look like. For my own sake, I’d like to make sure everyone knows that Steve is a Mormon and not an Evangelical.

  35. Jack,
    I hope your meeting went well.

    Tim,
    Thanks for clarifying that. Hey, I was expecting it would be the limerick about BK“Fudge”P that would have some of my fellow LDS stone me.

    A couple clarifications:
    1) I didn’t say BKP is a self loathing repressed homosexual. I said he has long come off that way.

    2) But even if I did say he indeed is, it would not constitute speaking evil of him. Being a repressed homosexual (as opposed to active) is encouraged in the LDS church. In short, I’m not even hinting he’s an LDS Ted Haggard (who BTW is so flaming how could his congregation not know he was at least repressed?).

    3) Like Joseph, I said BKP has unintentionally harmed our church and members.

  36. Steve, please continue to comment here frequently. You put the “terribly offensive” things I say in perspective for everyone. It’s like you’re going out of your way to tick people off.

  37. My class went well. It’s so strange to me to hang out with other evangelical Christians who are just interested in learning about Mormonism. I sometimes feel like I go way too fast for them.

    We’re going to watch an LDS film next week. I’m torn on whether to show them God’s Army or States of Grace. God’s Army is more particular to Mormon culture and the LDS missionary program, but States of Grace is a far superior film, and it still has plenty of Mormon missionary-esque stuff.

  38. Nah, I say show them “Singles Ward.” Although “Singles 2nd Ward” is also a quality flick….

  39. I’m with Alex Valencic – I definitely do not feel that way about Pres. Packer. I have always enjoyed his conference talks.

    I’m not old enough to remember most of the talks for which he really gets criticized though.

    To those who are offended by BKP’s delivery/tone/messages, I suggest Henry Eyring Sr.’s approach – figure out the message he is trying to convey, and give yourself a sermon on the subject.

  40. Tim,
    Yeah, beyond being Evangelical Mormon, I’m a native New Yorker, albeit in Houston now, sort of a Howard Stern of Mormondom.

    tomchik,
    That’s good advice when there’s a legacy worth perpetuating. But with BKP, what would you prepare a sermon to yourself on? His anti-miscegenation views (that to my knowledge he has never retracted)? His bizarre career obsession with boys’ self pleasure? Women’s fashion? Making a boogey man out of evolution? That nutty unwritten order of things talk? Isn’t the harm he’s done to conversion and retention efforts best forgotten?

  41. Considering States of Grace was not made by a “Mormon” (but rather an ex-Mormon for all practical purposes), I think God’s Army is the better choice.

  42. Steve:

    The missionary work went great guns in the 1960’s, and there were some rather old GA’s at that time, so I don’t see how GA age is a factor.

    I also remember the forecasts of doom when Ezra T. Benson became President of the Church, but the critics were way off the mark.

    Some of us regular types sometimes have troubles getting our points across when speaking as well.

    Jack:

    Maybe The Other Side of Heaven would be good. Ups & down on a mission there. Yes, it wasn’t the best film ever, but, for everyone’s sake, keep them away from Saturday’s Warrior!! Unless you want to hand out vinegar to drink & extra insulin to make up for the sickly sweetness in it!

  43. Katie L, I actually knew a couple of sisters on my mission who said that they reason they were serving was because they hadn’t gotten married by age 21. They were, without a doubt, the worst sisters in the mission.

    On the other hand, we had the sisters who had never thought of not serving missions (including quite a few who had boyfriends waiting for them), and they were always awesome.

    Come to think of it, we also had a sister who was 19 or 20, because her dad was a newly-called MP in Tennessee, or something like that. Based on how many of the elders I knew responded to her being around them, I think it is a good think to have the sisters older. Some of these guys just didn’t understand the whole “lock your heart” concept when the girls were their age or younger…

    FWIW, I never saw God’s Army, but I did see States of Grace, thanks to Ben Spackman (and I want to say that psychochemiker and/or Tomchik were there, although I’m not quite certain on that point) and I thought it was a pretty good film, although I think that if you want to show a film that depicts BYU culture, you really can’t go wrong with the Singles Ward.

  44. 1)–I vote Saturday’s Warrior for obvious reasons, Jack. You know how I feel about that cinematic / theatrical triumph.

    2)–In all seriousness, States of Grace is obviously the best LDS film of the bunch, so if you’re going for a good film, you should show that. If you’re going for decent film that more accurately portrays Mormon culture (let’s be honest, Mormons aren’t nearly as into grace as States of Grace would have you believe), then you should show God’s Army. Singles Ward DOES portray BYU culture pretty well, but I don’t know that it would be entertaining to anyone but Mormons.

    3)–If you want to show a TERRIBLE movie that is so bad it’s good, you should try Rescued or Turn Around.

    Oh, I love bad Mormon movies. I love them love them love them love them love them.

  45. I think Netflix may have just made my decision for me. God’s Army isn’t available there. I’ll call some people in my husband’s ward and see if anyone has it, but otherwise it’s going to be States of Grace. (Ironically, I actually have God’s Army on VHS, but I guess that old dinosaur isn’t going to help me now . . . )

    Single’s Ward is another good choice, but the Mormon culture jokes in that one are really thick. I don’t really want to be having to offer an explanation every three minutes. Plus it’s always kind of bugged me that the film spends its entire duration making fun of humorless, uptight Mormons, and then (in its last act) suddenly expects you to agree with one.

    There is no way in hell I’m inflicting Saturday’s Warrior on them. I want to help them understand Mormon culture and missionary life, not torture them.

  46. FWIW, I believe Dutcher was still active LDS when he did States of Grace. But it was not well received by mainstream Mormons who still hold to BY’s anti-grace folk religion. I liked it and wish Dutcher well in his spiritual journey.

    Mike H,
    In the 1960s, we were blessed with Pres McKay who compensated for age by expanding the 1st Presidency and called extra apostles to fill the resulting vacancies in the Quorum of the twelve. So the top leadership had younger people involved then. Monson was only 36 when called in the 1960s. The problem is that virtually nothing substantive has changed with the missionary program since the 1960s. Major mistakes like the Strengthening the Members Committee never would have happened under Pres McKay. Leadership matters and much of our current leadership belong in nursing homes.

    BTW, I am quite sympathetic with Pres Bensen’s difficult transition from Apostle to the political world back to Apostle. It took him about a decade to find his groove again after leaving public service. But he was well settled back into the role of Apostle before becoming church Pres. That said, he was disabled for most of his time as church Pres, so who knows what a younger Pres Bensen would have done? Likewise, I don’t fear a Fudge Presidency. What harm could he do that he wasn’t already done?

  47. Alex T. Valencic, My mission president met his wife when they were both missionaries in Paris. He used to tell the elders “Lock your hearts, but keep your eyes open.” Not surprisingly, we had several elder-sister marriages after we returned home from our missions.

    Jack, I vote for States of Grace. It may not be the most accurate portrayal of what the majority of Mormons believe (although it resonates a lot with me personally) but that in itself could lead to some good discussion.

  48. I think States of Grace is an excellent choice. FWIW, it was one of the first films my son saw after he returned home from his mission, and he thought (and still thinks) it’s one of the best films he’s ever seen. I can’t disagree.

  49. Steve EM ~ FWIW, I believe Dutcher was still active LDS when he did States of Grace.

    He was, but SoG was released in 2005 and Dutcher officially announced that he was leaving the church in 2007. Since disaffiliation is rarely a sudden move, it’s pretty likely that he made SoG while he was on his way out of the church, or that it was at least a reflection of how he was evolving in that direction.

    I wonder if I should poke him on Facebook and ask him about it.

    Eric ~ it’s one of the best films he’s ever seen. I can’t disagree.

    [WARNING: Spoilers] I loved it. It almost made my top 5 favorite films ever, but I was somewhat unsatisfied with the film’s last act, i.e. the Gadianton missionary and attempted suicide developments.

    In retrospect, maybe I’m just lacking in perspective as I’ve never been a horny undersexed 19-21 year-old man who had to remain chaste through his sexual peak. Maybe I think a tearful personal monologue from a former porn star would be easier to resist.

    It’s still a pretty breathtaking example of good filmmaking though. The scene in the last act where Dutcher juxtaposes shots-from-above of the older brother being confirmed at church by a group of men standing in a circle around him with shots of the younger brother being encircled by the gang members who just stabbed him is all so perfect. Beautiful and terrible all at the same time. I’m also wild about Rachel Emmers’s lengthy, unbroken recap of her former porn career. Just a supreme performance.

    How much I wish evangelicals would make movies that good.

  50. it was one of the first films my son saw after he returned home from his mission

    Okay, so this statement just bumped my mental image of your age up several decades…

    Maybe I think a tearful personal monologue from a former porn star would be easier to resist.

    I agree wholeheartedly. I felt like I missed the whole segue from “non–judgmental listener” to “groin buddy”.

    How much I wish evangelicals would make movies that good.

    Oh, come on, Jack, Saved! has to be one of the greatest movies ever made by evangelicals. At least, I assume it was made by evangelicals. If it wasn’t, I don’t know what to think of it. And yes, I have seen this cinematic masterpiece. Watched it with my buddies from the U of I BASIC Student Ministry group.

  51. Some clarifications.

    Saved! was made by an atheist

    I read somewhere that Dutcher said he had mentally checked out of the church as he either finished the script for SoG or just before it started shooting.

  52. Um, I liked SoG, but I’m not sure how well it would help gellies to understand Mormons. I think if they want to understand LDS missionary work, Best Two Years is by far the best. God’s Army I and II (SOG) were provocative, but not really representative–they’re really to give Mormons something to think about. Singles ward is OK, under no circumstances show them “RM or Home Teachers”, what a waste of digital media. No matter how much I think Saturday’s warrior should be burned, it does portray what a lot of cultural Mormons believe, but I’m not saying that would be good to show em that.

    P.S. Alex, That movie night at the Spackman’s was awesome.

    P.S. Jack. I can convert your VHS to a DVD if you mail it to me. Mail me online if you want my address.

  53. I agree that The Best Two Years is pretty good.

    I’ve never seen Saturday’s Warrior. Is it so bad it’s good, or is it just bad?

  54. We liked The Best Two years, and my husband and I ( both RM’s) thought it was a pretty good look at a mormon mission. Saturday’s Warrior on the other hand………

  55. I’ve never seen Saturday’s Warrior. Is it so bad it’s good, or is it just bad?

    Xanadu was a movie so bad (the dialogue!) that it was good (choreography). Sat.’s Warrior was lacking most of the way in depth, and was too sappy. Starchild was even worse, it left me depressed about the central character’s long term fate.

    He used to tell the elders “Lock your hearts, but keep your eyes open.” Not surprisingly, we had several elder-sister marriages after we returned home from our missions.

    So, that talk from SW Kimball made it to that part of the world as well? Yes, we have several elder-sister marriages from my mission as well. I did have some contact with a few YW I met out on my mission at BYU after my mission, but those contacts didn’t go far. I never did any crass “I’ll date you after my mission!” with any of the YM or sisters.

    …it was one of the first films my son saw after he returned home from his mission

    The first movie I saw after my mission was Monty Python & The Holy Grail, for the first time. Between the culture shock being a new RM, & the content, I almost died laughing.

  56. Katie,
    “So bad it’s good. But SOOOOOOOOOOO bad.”

    Awesome, and so very true. Saturday’s warrior is so bad because it teaches the teenage girl love story doctrine of the “match made in heaven”. That false doctrine that has caused so much misery in our world. While it effectively showcases a family who believes in a pre-mortal existence, and that their lives must be in spite of the worlds teachings, it is based on huge stereotypes of both Mormons and non-Mormons.

    Among some of the falsities it teaches is that:
    The same family we have on earth we knew in advance, knew what was going to happen in our earthly lives, and that matches are made in heaven.
    That all Mormons must have many kids.
    That girls should “wait” for their missionary to serve a mission.
    That girls are unable to keep their promises by waiting.

    I’m generally not a fan of censorship, but this film, all music from it, and anyone who likes it should be burned, shredded, and banned respectively.

  57. I love Saturday’s Warrior. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I’m a little sad that I should be banned (from what?) as a result, but I like it nonetheless.

    Of course you shouldn’t watch it thinking that you will learn all of life’s (or Mormonism’s) truths from watching it. But I think it’s delightful.

    My big beef is that the dead girl was able to see the not-yet-born girl. If we could all just hang out like that… why bother being born? But I also accept artistic license that goes with it.

    And, I love the songs. It’s a movie that makes me happy.

    The only other part of it that I have a problem with is that I saw it for the first time with Kullervo and his brother right after getting my wisdom teeth taken out. They brought hard candy to share. Way to be brainless, guys.

  58. I remember someone bringing up the scene where mom just gave birth to a baby on the couch (cause they couldn’t get to the hospital) and then the next shot, the whole family is seated on that same couch cooing over the new baby.

    What exactly are they sitting in?

  59. What exactly are they sitting in?

    I guess they steam cleaned & dried the couch in a few seconds. Being present at the hospital births of all 4 of my children, I know how these things work.

  60. katyjane, while I know that PC is going to add this to his list of things that make me not quite-so-amazing-as-he-secretly-knows-I-am, I love the uber-cheesiness of Saturday’s Warrior. It has its touching moments, and there are a couple of songs that I don’t find so awful.

    Part of my enjoyment of this film is probably rooted in the fact that when I spent an entire summer babysitting my baby sister, who was about three at the time, we watched the movie every day after cleaning the house. It was one of the few ways I could get her calmed down. We would usually watch Jurassic Park afterwards, but that’s a different topic.

    So you aren’t alone in enjoying the movie. And sorry, PC, I’ll still watch your cat for you when you are out of town!

  61. I can’t believe you aren’t even considering showing them Johnny Lingo, the greatest Mormon film of them all. 🙂

    I loved God’s Army. Too bad you couldn’t get it. I also loved States of Grace, but God’s Army just resonated with me as being more “real” in the sense that it took me back to my mission emotionally.

  62. She loved it. Especially when the lawyer gets eaten on the toilet. In fact, she busted out laughing and we watched that clip over and over again for a good fifteen minutes or so. 😀

  63. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has spent the last several decades trying to become popular. In this effort they have mainstreamed our religion. Why choose to become a Latter-Day Saint if they have nothing more to offer than Evangelical Mainstream Christianity. Further, why serve a mission for 1.5 – 2 years to preach a gospel/religion that is so watered down as to be no different than the religion investigators are looking to abandon?

    There is a post on this blog: http://www.denversnuffer.blogspot.com addressing the issue of popularity and persecution in the church. I believe it has a bearing on this issue.

  64. Why would that be spam? She’s saying there are fewer missionaries as a result of having a church that’s become too mainstream because there’s no point in going door to door with something that is no different from what’s already out there.

    Then again, the blog she points to (I assume her husband’s) has about a zillion posts before anything like that is even mentioned, and I was too bored to read into it.

    Now let’s get back to the glory of Jurassic Park.

  65. I don’t think Stephanie’s comment was spam, I think it was just vapid.

    Whitney, I just made a post on my blog listing my top 10 lessons from Jurassic Park. Perhaps some day I will flesh this out and find a way to make them relevant to Gospel discussions. In fact, I am determined to do so. It will be a part of my “always tie in a movie when giving a talk in Sacrament meeting” policy.

  66. I don’t think Stephanie’s comment was spam, I think it was just vapid.

    This.

    I have a hard time thinking of any “mainstreaming” changes the church has made in the past few decades which have hurt its numbers. Is she suggesting that the church bring back things like the pre-1990 endowment or the “Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel”?

    IMO, it’s the opposite problem: the church has insisted on a model of proselyting and discipleship that is no longer very effective and is failing to reach the current generation. It’s not time to go back to older ways, it’s time to update things.

  67. Stephanie’s comment illustrates why the Worldwide Church of God lost 60% of their membership. The converted want something different than what’s already out there.

  68. “IMO, it’s the opposite problem: the church has insisted on a model of proselyting and discipleship that is no longer very effective and is failing to reach the current generation. It’s not time to go back to older ways, it’s time to update things.”

    Jack,
    Thank you and Amen, Amen, Amen……….Amen! But I would add some updating reforms could include going back to older ways at the same time, such as returning to the original intent of the Word of Wisdom as a good practice, not the bogus barrier to entry into the Kingdom that Heber J Grant turned it into. The modern LDS church has become a sad hollow shell for many on which it seems it is upon the Law of Chastity and the Word of Wisdom that we hang all the law and all the prophets.

    Again, until a retirement tradition for our Apostles is established, we LDS are doomed to shrink for constantly being three generations behind the times.

  69. BJM said:

    IMO, it’s the opposite problem: the church has insisted on a model of proselyting and discipleship that is no longer very effective and is failing to reach the current generation. It’s not time to go back to older ways, it’s time to update things.

    I don’t disagree; you very well may be right. On the other hand, if you believe the numbers in the recent Pew report, the only major religious group that’s doing worse than the evangelicals in hanging on to the 18-29-year-olds it has is mainline Protestants. And Mormons actually are doing pretty well: While 20 percent of the U.S. population is 18-29, among Mormons that number is 24 percent. Among evangelicals it’s 17 percent, and among mainliners 14 percent. The numbers suggest that mainliners are an aging bunch, and so are evangelicals to a lesser extent. Mormons are not.

    (Although the Pew report is from 2010, those particular numbers are from 2007. I wouldn’t make too much of them; the LDS sample size is probably fairly small. And the positive aspect of those numbers for LDS probably comes from our higher birth rate. And there is some anecdotal evidence that suggests that retention numbers for young LDS adults has worsened in even the last two or three years.)

  70. Steve EM.

    Um, I’m sorry, but for all the failings of LDS leaders I certainly trust them a lot more than you. And I’d rather keep the structure we have now than the “sad hollow shell” of a church that your model would provide with drunken, immoral people justifying their sin at the helm.

    My own anecdotal story provides a ward where missionary work still works, where F&T meeting was 100% spiritual and Christ-centered, where Home Teaching is done in spite of misguided stake lessons, letters, and teachings, and where I and others have been able to grow spiritually. I still encounter the same crap you do, but I still believe the institution is divine. The reason why, is that the structure allows for individual adaptation and inspiration within a structure that ensures we treat our relationship with God as a Lordship relationship and not only a Savior relationship. Quite frankly, Steve EM, you fit the bad LDS-stereotype of an unfaithful-protestant much better than any of the Evangelicals I’ve seen comment here. Don’t forget the rest of what Paul wrote. “Is Christ the minister of Sin? God forbid!”

    The modern LDS church has become a sad hollow shell for many on which it seems it is upon the Law of Chastity and the Word of Wisdom that we hang all the law and all the prophets.

  71. psychochemiker,
    Wow, all that name calling from a bucket chemist? How’s the Meth business these days anyway?

    But seriously, I apologize for any misunderstanding. In no way am I advocating substance abuse in general or drunkenness in particular. But as far as the Word of Wisdom, I sincerely believe the LDS church is in apostasy on this, starting with the confusion about which WofW we’re talking about, Section 89 or HJG’s four don’ts?

    I advocate preaching Section 89 as a good practice as per its original intent, not a requirement for entry into the Kingdom. BTW, Section 89 allows beer. Oh, wouldn’t some Joe Smith’s Nauvoo Brew be nice now and then?

    Then we have the four don’ts that HJG required for baptism and temple participation that is also referred to as the WofW. It is that WofW we are asked about in the baptismal and temple recommend interviews, not Section 89. Amusingly, a beer drinker ignorant of that could honestly answer they keep the WofW, but I digress.

    So just where is HJG’s new WofW “revelation” to be found in our Canon? What, we exclude people from the church and temple on the whim of HJG w/o scriptural basis? Perhaps HJG’s WofW requirement has no more weight than other long abandoned uncanonized “doctrines” like Adam-G-d, King Follet Discourse, BY’s priesthood ban, etc. In short, it is a very reasonable and defendable position to say the LDS church is in apostasy on WofW policy.

    If that makes me a “bad LDS-stereotype of an unfaithful-protestant”, so be it.

    OK BKP and Adam Greenknob, have at me.

  72. Eric had a comment that was picked up by the spam filter; I’ve rescued it here.

    I’m flying to Utah tomorrow and will be there from March 5 – 13. I’ll have Internet but probably not a lot of time to check blogs and forums.

    So Tim & Jared, have fun checking for Spam & Pending comments while I’m gone.

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