Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Church Divided


As I have posted various different articles regarding many issues facing the church in our day, the more and more I am seeing that our church is divided along many fault lines.  

The first and largest fault line is quite simply activity.   Outside of Utah, I have never come across a ward that has greater than 50% activity.   Most places hover somewhere between 35-45%.   I am aware that activity rates in many places in South America are as low 20%.   In Brazil alone, their 2010 census shows that a little more than 225K people identified themselves as Latter Day Saints while according to the 2010 LDS Almanac church membership in Brazil is over one million members.
Assuming a general 40% activity rate in the church, that leaves 5.6 million active Latter Day Saints out of 14 million on the record books.   About half of those members are children and teenagers leaving a total of about 2.8 Million active Latter Day Saint adults around the world.  Not all of them are temple recommend holders.  There is a clear dividing line between active and less active members.  A majority of those active adults are here in the US.  If you are an active Latter Day Saint who holds a Temple Recommend, you are actually in the minority compared to the whole of the membership of the church.    

But activity is not the only fault line in the church today.   The active members of the church are divided along so many other fault lines.   While I have seen some great debate on many church related issues that I have posted on Facebook among my LDS friends, this divide became more clearly evident to me when I read the article that had Senator Harry Reid basically saying that Gov. Romney had sullied the face of Mormonism.   Here you have two very accomplished members of the church who have been attacking each other for some time.   Both men hold temple recommends.   Both men read regularly from the Book of Mormon.   Both men in all respects are active and faithful members of the church.   Yet these men hold such divergent views on many issues that they have been publicly attacking one another for some time.   
It occurs to me that our membership is just as divided as these two men and that there are many fault lines along which that division runs.  

Political Fault lines:  Yes, Virginia, there are many Latter Day Saints who are Democrats.   I may not be one of them, but there are many.   What is interesting is that there are many Republican Latter Day Saints who sincerely question how anyone who is a Democrat can truly be a faithful Latter Day Saint in good standing.   They question the worthiness and the orthodoxy of those Latter Day Saints who are Democrats.   On the other hand, many Democrats who are LDS cannot understand how Republican Latter Day Saints advocate policies that in their minds go contrary to the teachings of Christ regarding taking care of the poor and downtrodden.  
Coke & Pepsi Fault Line:   The church’s recent press release stating that caffeinated drinks were NOT specifically forbidden by the Word of Wisdom spurred a surprising debate.   One poor BYU Marketing student as part of a class project put up a Facebook page just to see if there would be enough demand for Coke and Pepsi products on the BYU campus which is currently caffeine free.   He incurred a lot of hateful comments, including many that accused him of not being worthy and not following the prophet.   For some Latter Day Saints, not drinking coke and pepsi is a moral issue not just a health issue. For them, people who do drink them are guilty of not following the prophet and breaking the spirit of the Word of Wisdom.  They feel like the church’s recent press release is being used by Coke drinkers as justification for their actions.  

On the other side of the fault line, some members point out that one can still go to the temple if they drink Coke and Pepsi.   They add that while drinking caffeinated sodas (especially on a regular basis) is not necessarily good for you, that one is not breaking any commandments if they do drink one and should not feel guilty of any kind of sin.  
Homosexuality Fault Line:   A recent Pew Survey showed that 25% of active members of the church support gay marriage.   Out of 2.8 million active Latter Day Saints, that is a full 700,000 members.  That is not an insignificant number.   Yet, that also means that 75% of active Latter Day Saints are against it.   I don’t think I need to delve into how emotionally charged this issue is for many, yet each side has their reasons for recrimination against the other.  

Fault Line around Women’s Role:    There are a large number of self-proclaimed feminist Mormons within the church.   Back in the 80’s, being a feminist Mormon was severely looked down upon and some sisters were even excommunicated over their feminist views.  Today, the story is quite different.   Some sisters even proclaim their feminism quite publicly such as the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog that is run by all sisters who are active and hold recommends.   But the fault line here is not what you expect.  For some LDS sisters that fault line is squarely on the issue of women receiving the priesthood.  They appear to be in the minority.  For other LDS feminist women the issue is not about the Priesthood, but rather about sisters being respected more, receiving greater autonomy on some issues, and even over such mundane items as allowing the 11 year old girls in activity days to meet just as often as the boys their age do with scouts.   It is important to note that BOTH sides agree with the proclamation on the family.   Yet on the other side of the fault line from LDS feminists are sisters who firmly support the status quo, who do not feel “oppressed” in any way, in fact, they feel empowered as women by the current culture of the church and express great joy at being a woman in the church today.  They may even in some cases be disdainful of those who advocate for change or question that status quo. I have seen some intense debate between sisters on this point.  
City Creek Mall Fault Line:   Another fault line was created with the $5 Billion investment by the church to build the City Creek Mall next to the Salt Lake City Temple.  The mall has many detractors and defenders among active Latter Day Saints.   But a brand new fault line was created when it was learned the amount of money invested by the church in the mall.   Many Latter Day Saints view the mall with pride, they applaud the church for its decision to invest in it, and defend the use of church corporate money, as opposed to tithing money, for the mall.   Others have had their faith in the religious nature of the church challenged as they see Rolex, Tiffany’s and other high end stores reflecting their glint on the nearby Temple.  They criticize church expenditures here when they see so many other things that are more in line with a traditional vision of the mission of a church.  

I was once told that “by their fruits ye shall know them.”   I was taught to look at an event or a doctrine or a piece of history and ask…”does it build testimony?”   For many this clearly does not.   If anything, it has served to challenge the testimonies of some and put many supportive members on the defense regarding the use of church monies. On the other hand, others see leaders who are inspired with this use of church funds and believe it will increase missionary efforts across the globe.   I’ve seen people on each side of this particular fault line be critical with one another.

The Question Fault Line:    Another large fault line here.   There are many Latter Day Saints who do not support any questioning of the prophet or its leaders.   There is safety in following and obeying the prophets without question.   On the other hand there are many who have run into issues like the ones above and do not understand.   They may have run into doctrines that do not make sense.  Perhaps they have learned pieces of history that do not match the beautiful stories that we have been taught.   Given that our eternal salvation is at stake, they choose not to ignore issues that trouble them, but ask questions in search of answers.   The act of asking questions for them is an attempt to find understanding, yet some of them are shut down by members on the other side of this particular fault line as the act of questioning is viewed as the road to apostasy for them.  

There are many different fault lines not limited to the ones I have mentioned.   However, let me just say that just as there are extreme views on both sides of the various different fault lines and that there are some from each side who do judge others on the opposite side, that there are many Saints who are also not judgemental of others who view things differently.  There are also a wide range of Saints in the middle.   Some are closer to various fault lines than others.  There are even some who are so close to those fault lines that they are teetering on one edge or there other perhaps with a foot on each side.   

This particular blog post is all about making observations.  Our church is not as united as I believed as a youth growing up in the church.   There are great fissures along many different fault lines that divide the estimated 3 million active adult Latter Day Saints.   The fault lines that I have mentioned are ones that have generated great debate just among the small group of LDS friends that I have on my Facebook account.  There are many other fault lines that are dividing us as Latter Day Saints.  
The scriptures tell us…”be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine.”   (D&C 38:27)   And in Moses it says “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”    Active Latter Day Saints are clearly not of one heart and of one mind.  There are many fault lines separating us.  We are still a church divided.  Abraham Lincoln famously said that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  

Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the First Quorum of the Seventy said that we are experiencing the greatest apostasy since the days of Kirtland.   He estimated that about 1% of total church members have been resigning their membership in the church.  

In my experience, requesting a name to be removed from the records of the church is usually done by someone who was once an active and engaged members of the church. In fact, many of those who have requested their names to be removed from the records of the church were active up until they resigned.  Those who fell into inactivity and were never really active in the first place often don’t care about their records or don’t even know that they can have their names removed. The members having their names removed  usually come from the active side.      
One percent of 14 million members is 140,000.  That is a lot of people having their names removed from the records of the church.    That is almost 5% of current active adult members.   And almost 3% of total active members including youth and primary aged children.   Over the last decade the church has averaged a growth rate of just over 2% per year.   So while total membership may actually be growing, a statistical argument can be made that the total number of actively engaged members of the church is actually slowly declining.   How many new converts remain active?  How many of the youth in our YM/YW programs remain active in the church after the graduate from high school?  

The church in general has not excommunicated members on either side of the many faults lines that do exist.  There is room in the church for many viewpoints.   Yet, it sometimes doesn’t feel that way at the local level and as exemplified by the disputes between Senator Reid and Governor Romney.   I can see in some places Latter Day Saints who are actively engaged in the church can be found being critical of one another across the fault lines that separate them much like Senator Reid and Governor Romney are of one another.
HOW we as Latter Day Saints attempt to heal those fault lines will go a great way to determining if our house will ultimately fall, or if we become that city of Zion modeled by Enoch.  Will we ignore those fissures and wait to address the fault lines until one or more of them erupts causing an earthquake? Or will we follow the example of Christ and take the pure love of Christ into our hearts and heal those fissures with love, understanding, and revelation?  The choice is ours.  

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