73: “And the Survey Says…!”: Reflections on Mormon Disaffection, Marlin Jensen’s Remarks, Recent Articles on Mormonism’s Challenge in Better Facing Its History

This episode is an attempt to aid in processing the current moment in which various Mormon-watching communities are beginning to digest the preliminary results that have recently been released from the Open Stories Foundation survey about why Mormons leave the church, which comes on the heels of remarks made in December at Utah State University by LDS Church Historian Elder Marlin Jensen and reported on in numerous recent news stories in which he reflects on the current disaffection crisis and the Church’s plans to help address it. What does the survey suggest? How might the LDS Church move ahead more effectively–and how might we as members of these online communities assist in claiming a greater space within Mormonism for a more accurate telling of its history and an acceptance of a wider variety of ways of orienting toward Mormonism’s scriptures and shaping narratives? What are some tools or framings that might be helpful to those who through these news stories (and others yet to come as more results are released) might be hearing about are deciding to truly examine many of the complexities of church history and doctrine for the first time?

Joining Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon in reflecting on this current moment are podcast veterans, professor, blogger, and LDS commentator Joanna Brooks, professor and holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University Philip Barlow, and first-time podcast guest and business strategist Scott Holley, who served as a key analyst for the survey.

We hope you’ll enjoy the discussion and will share your thoughts in the comment section below!

_____

Links to Sources:

Preliminary results of Open Stories Foundation Survey

Joanna Brooks Religion Dispatches blog post on Mormonism facing its history

Reuters article reporting on Elder Marlin Jensen’s remarks at Utah State University

Salt Lake Tribune article about topics under discussion in this podcast

Deseret News article about topics under discussion in this podcast

Carrie Sheffield Washington Post essay on LDS Church in need of reform

Comments

comments

30 comments for “73: “And the Survey Says…!”: Reflections on Mormon Disaffection, Marlin Jensen’s Remarks, Recent Articles on Mormonism’s Challenge in Better Facing Its History

  1. Theo
    February 8, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Philip Barlow is one of the most kind and honest men you could ever meet. I am glad to see him included in this podcast.

  2. John
    February 8, 2012 at 8:56 am

    As some one experiencing a crisis of faith (does it end?) and still trying to “dare to be true”, I am grateful for these thoughts and efforts. What I have found is that when you talk to concerned members about crisis of faith one on one,  are honest about the issue you face, and not making them think you are intellectually superior, you often get kind and thoughtful  responses. It is scary to share that kind of honesty, but it has been liberating. There are times and places where it has been better to share than others. I agree with the general sentiment here, that there are still spiritual “plains” to cross and new “Zions” to discover. To me, this is the meaning of agency.  My wife and I have decided to leave the iron rod behind for a while and to use Given’s terms, look to a more Liahona approach. We have found it to be a scary yet rewarding place, but not without costs. What we find we want to avoid, and I think what unorthodox or heterodox  Mormons want to avoid is that very human place when you become judgmental to towards the more Orthodox brothers and sisters around us, who after all are just as honest in their efforts towards Zion as we are.

  3. John
    February 8, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Also, just another quick add. As someone in this crisis phase, I too wish there were more room for people who struggle with belief, that church could be a place where we feel comfortable wherever we are at. Being born in the church I remember how difficult it was to love and accept the members who were different, who were poorer, or who seemed less committed. So much emphasis seemed to be placed on conformity and filling roles. I thought survey findings resonated with my feelings as I am leaving strict orthodoxy in regards to what people who left would want to feel comfortable coming back. I wish church was a place where I could be “helped in mine unbelief” rather than a place where I feel I have to keep my mouth shut when I disagree with the majority view, a place where all views are tolerated patiently. I suppose as a liberal unorthodox Mormon, I would have to be comfortable with those that I don’t agree with either. It seems though, that in lessons there are always  expectations regarding what we all think and feel on both doctrinal and cultural levels. I also agree that Alma 32 may be a better formula than Moroni 10 for those who are struggling with faith.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      February 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm

      Hi John,

      Great notes. Thanks! Totally relate to them, though I’m not quite as looking for others to “help me” in my unbelief (can’t go “back” to literal!) but offer support for my continued journeying. (And I know that you were just quoting there with “help mine…” When I’ve shared certain things, at least early in my journey, I’d often get calls, recommendations for books to read, and even a guy dropping off a cassette tape with a talk that “helped” him once during times of doubt. Gotta love these folks and their good hearts, but they didn’t know that wasn’t the “help” I was hoping for.

      Anyway, some time back for a presentation I made on Fowler’s Stages of Faith, I drew out for a handout/slide some of Fowler’s  ideas in the book’s final chapter about directions churches might go in to aid in adult continuing spiritual growth/maturing faith. Two of them, numbers 3 and 4 in my document linked to below, are the following that make a lot of sense to me and that I think we as folks aware of diversity of beliefs, continual development involving less-literal views, etc., can help make space for:

      (3) Make provisions for adults to bring their struggles with faith to word.
      Before prescriptions are offered, and without condemnation or accusation, they will be
      given the help of active listening in order to tell their present stories and visions of faith, and to hear those of others.

      (4) Create a climate of developmental expectation. 
      We should strive to provide opportunities for vocational engagement that calls
      forth the gifts and emergent strengths of each stage of faith. 

      http://mormonmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Modal-Development-Level_Taking-Faith-Development-Seriously.doc

      The first quote in the document also has a great few sentences directly speaking to the level of expectations Mormonism’s main body has about how everyone will/should feel about doctrines, etc., that you mention.

      Anyway, hope these help provide some nice phrases  for framing aspects of the issues you are raising above. 

      Best!
      Dan

    • Goldengirl7138
      February 21, 2012 at 2:11 am

      I have been using the Gospel Principles class to dip my heretic toes into, because it’s a small class..  (It’s a good thing there are no investigators there)  I find though, that if I express my views, I get pat responses.  The brothers and sisters are kind, but feel they already know the answers and just don’t get what I’m trying to express.  It ends up an argument.  I end up going home exhausted.  And if I just sit quietly keeping my thoughts to myself, I end up going home exhausted from trying so hard to be appropriate.  Going to Church is exhausting.

  4. Shara
    February 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    One thing I’d like to mention here is that when people were asked to participate in the survey it specifically addressed to those “who once believed that the LDS church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30), but who no longer believe that it is.”  Do you think that there is a difference between those who no longer believe the truth claims of the church and those who leave the church?  

    I know several people who have left the church for reasons other than no longer believing, rather the church was no longer meeting their spiritual needs (i.e. boredom, no longer felt edified (aka correlated to death), “older” singles who no longer felt that they had a place in the Mormon church, believing lgbt that no longer attend because of church stance against lgbt communities, etc).  These people wouldn’t have taken the survey because it wasn’t that they didn’t believe the truth claims per se but rather their needs were not being met in church meetings.   Anyways, just some thoughts about the way the survey was advertised to begin with 

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      February 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      Thanks, Shara! I meant to mention on the podcast that I was someone who started the survey but quit after probably going through more than half of it with increasing frustration as I realized it didn’t have categories that matched my place on the belief spectrum.

      Still, an important study, me thinks.

  5. Jean Bodie
    February 8, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I think it was Phillip who talked about spirit as though it is a given that there are such things as spirits. The thing that I find the most irritating about the podcast is that kind of dogmatic thinking. One talks of allowing others to believe what they believe and another talks of unprovable things as though they are factual. There is absolutely no proof that the Bible is the word of the one and only god and no proof that there is a Holy Ghost that brings spirituality or proper and true thoughts to our minds. Originally the HG was the mind of God in the early LDS theology – how did he get to be a man of spirit?
    The church is already arrogant in preaching the falsity of all other religions. This is THE reason for the pain and splits in families. When one family member no longer believes they must pretend they still do in order to maintain their status in the family.  The church’s arrogance is in direct opposition to the Biblical teachings which they claim to believe.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      February 9, 2012 at 12:24 am

      Hi Jean,

      I think this is far more a matter of expediency for the podcast discussions to proceed with various assumptions about general assent about Mormon teachings even though every one of the panelists, I assure you, can and often do when called upon engage in very careful discourse that does not assume these things as givens. If this discussion came across to you as an example of Mormon arrogance because we didn’t qualify everything with the idea that this is a “claim” of Mormonism and proceed that way, I’m sorry for our causing you discomfort. 

      I’d like to hear what others think on this. Can/should Mormon Matters panels strive to always explicitly announce with each response that we are bracketing the matter of the truth status of what we’re about to say? It seems that to do so would be really awkward and exhausting for me as host and the show’s panelists, as well as for the listening audience. Thoughts from other listeners to the show? And any chance, Jean, that you can offer the benefit of a doubt? If you were to listen to the various places we’ve been interviewed, etc., I think you’d get a sense that “dogmatic” is not at all a word most would use when they encounter me or the typical Mormon Matters guest. Strongly opinionated. Deep reasons for our positions. Dogmatic? Literal? Not wanting to allow for a broad spectrum of beliefs? Hard for me to think those desciptors apply.

      Best,
      Dan Wotherspoon

      • Eliza
        February 9, 2012 at 3:39 am

        Dan:  the fact that your panelists don’t qualify everything they say makes space for a range of listeners to feel comfortable, in my opinion.  I’m starting to listen here, more often than Mormon Stories, because of that.  I just like the more open, less superior tone here.  Thanks!

  6. Brian Derick
    February 9, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    We definitely need a podcast on the spirit, spiritual experiences, emotions. I wanted to start talking to you guys about this! My personal input is that we all have a threshold of emotional/spiritual experiences. Even Richard Dawkins. At some level of experience, there is a threshold where everyone will admit there is a God, that experience was real, and truthful. All of our thresholds are different, my dear angel mother has a super low threshold. She feels the spirit everywhere all the time, she has a pure faith/knowledge. I on the other hand (and I would venture to guess the vast majority of non-correlated Mormons) have a much higher threshold. But when you have an experience that surpasses your threshold, you have a recognized spiritual experience. Looking back on my life, I’ve had many, many experiences below the threshold. I’ve also had 2 that surpass my threshold. And as I move through Fowler’s stage 4-5, my threshold is slowly lowering again. I’m finding God’s fingerprint on my life more often and easier.

    The flip side of this, is that our sub-conscious mind is vastly more powerful than anyone of us will give credit for. So be it God or Nature, when we have a gut-feeling our powerful mind has allowed something very important to bubble up to the surface (if it’s not the Holy Ghost). This needs to be trusted and recognized. Regardless of it’s source. In fact the source doesn’t matter. When I feel moved looking at a sculpture by Rodin, it moves me. It doesn’t matter if the holy ghost is there, or my subconscious has taken the effort to move this emotion to the forefront of my mind. It’s speaking to me, and I need to listen.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      February 9, 2012 at 6:18 pm

      Brian, aware of William James on this topic of the subconscious mind and what it might mean/manifest? If not, know that in several places you are totally channeling him! (Which is a great thing, IMO, as he’s my favorite philosopher/thinker.)

      Some riffs: After studying all the varieties of religious expression,
      the various temperaments that people have and why they gravitate toward “salvation” religions or “more zest” types of religions, etc., James keeps coming back to the fact that we recognize the existence of a subconscious mind reveals to us that there’s a lot going on that we don’t know about and can’t get our brains and language around, to the fact that “we” are larger than just our
      conscious minds. For him, the subconscious mind might be best evidence that we are embedded in a realm that’s “more” (his wonderful term) than us and yet which CREATES REAL EFFECTS in our lives. If something creates real effects, he says that rules of evidence demand that we must consider the possibility that this larger realm is real (even if we can’t fully explain it).

      Here is a quotation from the conclusion of Varieties of Religious Experience that gives a sense of his argument about the conclusions about what religion is all about, what religious temperaments suggest is the way to happiness and peace, and its effects on the mind and sense of well-being:

      Summing up in the broadest possible way the characteristics of the religious life, as we have
      found them, it includes the following beliefs:

      1. That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance;

      2. That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end;

      3. That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof—be that spirit “God” or “law”—is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world.

      Religion includes also the following psychological characteristics:

      4. A new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism.

      5. An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.

      This riff above is taking us away from the Spirit/emotion topic a bit, but it is still relevant, I think. We can, I would argue, learn to train ourselves in better interpreting things from this unseen/more archetypcal realm (Spirit) full of primordial energies, and we can also train ourselves to better access it. That’s the grounding of my larger interest in ritual processes, whether the attempt to quiet our normal noise of the conscious brain/ego/daily chatter takes the form of emptiness mediation or full on drumming and dance and psychotropic drugs. (Lots of other methods in between, too.)

      Excited for when we get a show going to play with all of this! Thanks for your great note! And see you next week in person!

  7. Di
    February 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    So glad you had Phil Barlow on again! I was in one of his classes at USU and absolutely loved it. He’s an amazing professor and always adds interesting things to the discussion.

  8. Eliza
    February 10, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Loved Philip Barlow!

  9. Paul
    February 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Thought  Philip Barlow hit the nail on the head, it is all being attempted imperfectly by everyone of us.

  10. aurobindo
    February 14, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Can you guys please interview Phil Barlow in depth ASAP.  He is fantastic.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      February 14, 2012 at 12:19 am

      Excited to have received a preliminary yes from him. Will update but it looks like we’ll be able to record something mid-March.

  11. February 14, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Great Podcast.  Thank you for your insights. There are many wonderful things about the church, but I’d like to mention ONE THING where I’d like to see a change:

    What troubles me about the church? Pathological narcissism (different from vanity). In Mormonism, we could call it theological narcissism.  Where do we see it? What are the evidences of it?

    My 10 Quick Points of Theological Narcissism in Mormonism:

    1.  We overvalue what belongs to us, to Mormonism, to our belief system, and to the crux of its power.
    2.  We devalue knowledge and beliefs that are external to our belief system and cannot be assimilated.
    3.  We devalue people outside and people who leave. They’re cardboard cutouts, devoid of “real” spiritual feelings and experiences. This devaluation is what hurts so many people when they leave.
    4.  The narcissistic space where the church receives adulation and devotion and respect must be protected at all costs.
    5.  No single individual is as important as the this space where the church fosters its public perception and receives the adulation of followers.
    6.  The church will excommunicate and expel anyone who detracts from that space and that public perception for any reason, even good reasons, honest reasons.
    7.  The truth never matters as much as the end goal. The end goal is always more followers, more adulation, more eminence.  If the truth will result in a loss of followers while whitewashing and falsehood will secure more followers, more eminence and adulation, then that is the path the church will follow.
    8.  Ladders of power encourage narcissism in the ranks and inspire followers to rise in power.  It is taught that rising on the ladders of organizational power is equal to rising on ladders of holiness; that spiritual and organizational ascendancy are one in the same. That power (together with its “mantle” of holiness) is given in exchange for loyalty at all costs in defending the narcissistic space. Sacred callings are given to those who must support and protect the belief system and the organization at all costs.
    9.  The church demands unswerving loyalty to a single person or group of persons who can ask anything of followers who are commanded to simply obey without question.
    10.  A culture of closedness that shuts itself off from the external world and from anything that creates doubt or questions.  This closedness is often accompanied by 100% certainty in the belief system.

    All of these points are true of a person who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  It can very easily be true of an organization. Fascinating.

    When people doubt, the first thing that members of the church do to them (in a variety of ways) is to devalue them and to devalue their reasons for leaving. This devaluation is the critical component to theological narcissism. My wife and I have experienced this devaluation first hand from people who we have known and loved for years.

    • February 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm

       Dan,
      This group did a good job and I wanted to note that I very much look forward to the episode on epistemology that you mentioned.

  12. Chris Hammond
    February 16, 2012 at 2:42 am

    10 Quick points to retort a retort

    1. If what we believe is from God it can’t be over valued.
    2. If we devalue other’s beliefs so much we wouldn’t care enough to send 50,000 missionaries into the world to help them with what we believe to be God’s word?
    3. If we devalue people who leave the church why do we focus on them and their families more than anyone else?
    4. Why would you belong to a church you don’t value or respect? We are talking about the beliefs not the specific people. There are plenty of members I don’t care for.
    5. What? Are you saying that an individual isn’t as important as God’s teachings? If that is what you are saying than we agree on that on. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
    6. If you honestly disagree with the church than leave and don’t have your feelings hurt for being excommunicated. You shouldn’t even care unless you know deep down that you are fighting against truth. It isn’t any person’s place to change the church. 
    7. The truth is the goal. Conversion of others is important because if you believe the church’s beliefs, it is your love for others to share the truth. By the way, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has the highest level of people with advanced degrees that are active in a Christian religion. Look it up.
    8. Have you ever had a higher position within the church or talked to the people in those positions? Most of them look at the calling with dread because of how difficult it is and how much time it takes them away from their family. Most serve because of duty and love.
    9. The church doesn’t ask for unswerving loyalty. That is why you are told to pray about everything. Find another Christian faith that tells its members so frequently to pray for themselves to find out the truth.
    10. Maybe this applies to Utah Mormons but I work with all non-LDS people and play basketball with many non-LDS people. They know my beliefs and respect them and I don’t say anything to them unless they ask a question. This is common with LDS people where I live.

    You can call me NPD all you want but I am Scott Holley’s brother-in-law (Hi Scott, Ashley told me to listen to this. We need to go bowling again!) and I’ll like him regardless of what he chooses to believe. I chose to like who I like regardless of what they believe and if someone can’t reciprocate . . . . . .well my testimony is firm.

    • February 17, 2012 at 5:57 pm

      Chris,
      As for your retort, my response is: Yes. Exactly my point!

      You’re not going to be aware of the theological narcissism yourself, while you’re still in the matrix.  You’ll only notice it when it comes from someone else, like Pastor Jeffress, and when the devaluation is pointed at you–at Mormonism. Only at that point are you sensitive and aware of it. 

      This may or may not be the case for you, but let’s try an experiment on a hunch that I’m probably correct:

      I can show you that you do indeed overvalue your own beliefs (Point #1).  I can show you that by demonstrating that when it comes to a conflict between your belief system and the truth, you will choose your belief system over the truth–or you will simply deny the truth using all manner of dishonest apologetic arguments.  In fact, you’re more willing to reinvent your belief system, change it utterly, to prove that it’s 100% accurate in the face of the facts, in the face of the truth.  Secondly, I can show you that because of a culture of profound closedness (Point #10), you are too closed-off to spend a reasonable amount of time to learn the facts showing that your belief system does indeed conflict with truth.  Therefore, you’ll never have the opportunity to see Point #1 or any of the other points for that matter.

      The closedness is meant to protect everything else.  For that reason, you won’t do the research, and you’ll continue to spout off formulated responses that have been culturally inculcated for as long as I can remember.

      Good luck.

    • Goldengirl7138
      February 21, 2012 at 2:23 am

      Ouch.

    • Goldengirl7138
      February 21, 2012 at 2:23 am

      Ouch.

  13. Anonymous
    February 18, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Jonah

    You are trying to debate a faith based deal here which you can’t. Faith is very much an individual thing and different from person to person. You will have as much luck debating faith with people who place their faith elsewhere as you will debating if their is a God with people who don’t believe their is one.

    I agree that some members of the church may not be as compassionate as other towards those that struggle. Everyone struggles at some time or another. But I agree with Chris that if you leave (which you are free to do at any time and for any reason) don’t blame everyone else, you made that choice. Also if you are struggling don’t assume people can read your mind and know you are. You have to talk to people, let them know, ask for help and actively seek the answers (even if you seek outside the church) if you want to resolve the struggle, even if it leads to you leaving or staying. Don’t say people don’t try (though on some levels we could do better) since wards and missionaries are constantly working to find those who have left and to seek out those wanting the Gospel. You don’t send out so many missionaries and focus so much on finding people if not for the love you bear for them.

    But more often I have seen people leave over disagreements with the people (and those peoples take on the Gospel) then over the actual core Gospel. What is wrong with believing in family? Being kind and repectful? That we can be forgiven of mistakes? That we have a loving Heavenly Father and brother? The Gospel is perfect, not the people.

    Your claim of people wanting callings for power is unfounded as most people in the Church would love a simple calling that allows for more time with family, but more often then not are humbled by the experience and do it out of love and devotion. Remember we do not pay people to do this and yet they still put in the effort (sometimes years of it), not many churches can claim this.

    I have been in wards where I didn’t always feel the warmth and love. I struggled when it felt like no one even noticed I was there or not. But I went because I know the teachings of the Gospel are true and I don’t base my attendance or testimony on if every person in that room loves me (which most likely they don’t). I go because of the Lord.

    Do not wish “Good Luck” to those of us you deem “stuck in the matrix”. At the end of the day my beliefs and my religion have made me a good person and there is nothing wrong with any religion that makes people want to be better. You have made your choices and I have made mine, they differ and that is okay. You are trying to debate a debate that can’t be done and certainly can’t lead to anything but contention and hurt feelings.

  14. Asdasd
    February 21, 2012 at 1:27 am

    ^^ you mustn’t have heard of this ‘science’ thing but it actually turns out, it debates faith very well!

    This ‘you can’t debate faith’ argument is a total cop out because of your fear of admitting the truth. you CAN debate faith, and certainly the use of it to manipulate others as the head of the church and as joseph smith did originally

  15. Stevey
    June 3, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Lots of allusions to a future release of te survey with more demographic info… But I can’t find any thing more recent than the january 2012 survey release :(. Where is the rest or when/where can we expect to see it? Thanks!!

  16. diane
    July 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    The church doesn’t ask for unswerving loyalty. ”  If this is true, than why is it the minute someone ask a question, or makes a statement about a uncomfortable period of Mormon history that we know to be false, but is treated as true we are quickly labeled as Anti?  That is the quickest way to kill a dialogue, you say the church doesn’t want members to follow blindly, but, in practice it does.

    My own disaffection came as a result of this very practice.  It came because the CHI of states one thing,(i.e) but the policies and practices are something else entirely, (i.e) prop 8 and telling members the right way (republican way ) is the only way to vote on issue.

    And, I totally disagree that this is about faith, this is about being educated truthfully about the matters of the church.  The Church teaches us this, but, again, does not in fact practice.  As someone who is out of the mix  I can now understand why others outside of our religion have an issue with Mormonism

    • Ry Wimmer
      August 9, 2012 at 10:38 pm

      You seem to be talking in generalities which mean little. Who was labelled an “anti” when asking a question? When? Who was labeling them “anti”? Don’t just throw out a generalized statements as fact. You claim the Church wants people to follow blindly. Give examples, don’t just give blanket statements. What did the Church “say” about prop 8 that was different than the “practice”? It is also silly to draw parallel calling the what the church calls the right way as the republican way. Remember California is a very Democrat state that voted for prop 8 by a margin of 4%. So a lot Democrats obviously felt the right way was against gay marriage. As for being educated, what are you referring to? Certainly not church history since many of the most educated on that subject who have done the most research are generally BYU faculty or church employees working in the church historical department.

  17. diane
    July 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    sorry, my statement should have read, If this is true, than why is it the minute someone as a question that we previously believed true and now know as false we are quickly labeled as anti?

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