Good vs Great: Iomega and General Conference Statistics

By: Mike S
April 5, 2011

I first started dabbling in buying stocks back in medical school.  I say dabbling rather than investing, because it wasn’t very rational.  For example, at one point I had some money from student loans for the year.  I used $6000 of it to buy shares in America Online, Yahoo and Amazon.  This happened to be right at the beginning of the “internet bubble”, and in a few months, I sold some of the stocks for $9000 to pay off some debts (and take a nice tropical vacation with my wife), and still had around $13,000 left from the same stocks.  A nice return.  Certainly NOT what I would recommend to do with your student loan money, but we lucked out.

Around the same time, I also bought some stock in a company called Iomega.  I bought it for relatively cheap, around $5-6/share.  Iomega was a great company that made portable media.  Their product may seem strange to many of you, so I’d like to give a little historical context.  Just after I wrote my first program for IBM in the very early 1980′s, they came out with the IBM XT.  This was a top-of-the-line computer that costaround $3000 in 1982 dollars and was characterized by actually having a hard drive – a whopping 5MB.  That would hardly hold a single MP3 song today, but it was really cool at the time and a huge step forward.  By college and medical school, hard drives had increased in size, but the main way to transfer information and files was still diskettes.  There are probably people reading this who have never actually seen one, but they started at 160KB and gradually worked their way up to around 1.2MB.  When working on a project, however, even this 1.2MB often wasn’t enough.

This is where Iomega came in.  They had a really cool technology where a spinning floppy disk would be sucked against a metal platter (Bernoulli effect) and could effectively act as a hard drive.  A Zip disk could hold 100MB.   In an era before flash drives and CD burners and online cloud resources, this was amazing.  Every computer up at the University of Utah had a Zip drive.  They were ubiquitous.  Everyone had Zip disks in their backpacks.  The company was on a roll.  The stock went up, and was above $30, so I’d made a 500-600% return, again in a short time.

Around this time, a friend asked me what stocks I was playing around with.  I told him about Iomega, with the usual caveat that I didn’t know where it was going to go, but I liked what the company made and had made some money so far.  He was also using Iomega Zip drives at the time and thought it was a good product, so he bought some stock.  The stock drifted down a bit and I sold.  He kept hanging on for the bounce.  It drifted down some more.  Soon, rewritable CDs became available, which held 760MB.  People began emailing files.  Hard drives got bigger.  Eventually flash memory took over.  Iomega tried to expand their existing technology in size, etc., but eventually the world passed them by.  My friend hung on to the stock for a long time, not wanting to admit the decline, but eventually sold at between $1-2 a share, essentially losing the entire investment.  And in a world where phones come with 48GB of memory and storage is ubiquitous, Iomega forms a minuscule part of the market.  They still have great technologies, but they just don’t fit in with society’s needs.  They eventually did try to change, but it was too little, too late.

This phenomenon is well described in a wonderful book, Good to Great.  It talks about companies who try to cling to the way that worked in the past.  They tend to drift, with the conservative management trying to cling to how things were done in the heyday.  Eventually, they drift into obscurity, much like Iomega.  They truly successful companies are willing to make changes that seem sudden at first and at odds with “traditional” practices, but which enable them to be at the forefront and be a “great” company.

So what does this have to do with the Church?  My last post made some predictions as to membership numbers, and the numbers are in.  I want to look at these numbers a bit and expand on a few things from the comments on the last post.

Total Members: Prediction 14,110,917.  Actual 14,131,467.  I was off by 20,550 (0.15%).  Most of this came from being off in the Converts category.  More on that below.  This is a net growth of 306,613 members since last year, or 2.22%.  While this is better than going backwards, it is still the lowest percentage in at least the several decades for which I have data.  Around year 2000, the net growth was around 3%.  Around year 1990, net growth was around 4-5%.  So our growth rate is slowing down - we are growing at half the rate we were just 2 decades ago.

Converts: Prediction 249,472.  Actual 272,814. I was off by 23,342 (8.5%).  Ouch.  The trend for the more than the past decade was negative so I extended that for my prediction, but for the past few years, we’ve flattened out to a more neutral level, making my prediction off.  Just for comparison, the number of converts for 2009 was 280,106 and for 2008 was 265,593.  However, while the number flattened, because the total membership grew, as a percentage of membership the convert rate is the lowest it has ever been at 1.97%.  Again, just 10 years ago it was around 3%, or 50% higher.So as a percentage of membership, our number of converts continued to trend downward.

Children Born: Prediction 116,603. Actual 120,528. I was off by 3,925 (3.3%). This was the hardest number to predict as it bounces around a lot.  The last 3 years have been higher than the previous 10 for whatever reason. I take my estimate here as just lucky.  This may continue to bounce in the future, but I don’t think it’s going to go too high.  Societal trends around the world are for fewer children per couple rather than more.  This won’t change much, but as shown below, may be all we have.

Loss: Prediction 80,012. Actual 86,729. I was off by 6,717 (7.7%) as my prediction based on historical trends was too low.  In essence, more people left the Church/died in 2010 than any previous year, both as an absolute number and as a percentage of membership.  Assuming death rates haven’t increased, this represents more people leaving the Church – not just drifting into inactivity, but actively removing their names.  Around the year 2000, this number was around 30-40,000.  In a single decade, it is now more than double that.

Analysis:

- Given the continued decrease in missionary work and the increase in loss, the latest predictions if current trends hold are that in 21 years, around 2032, there will be as many people leaving the Church as converting to the Church. The only net growth at that point will be children born into the Church. This may seem like far away, but it’s only around 20 years.  And 20 years ago, Iomega’s Zip disks were ubiquitous.

- Various analyses suggest that only around 30% of converts are active 1 year after their baptism.  This suggests that of the 272,814 converts for 2010, there will be 81,844 active in one year. With 86,729 leaving the Church (and an assumed 0% activity rate for this group), this suggests a net loss in active members ALREADY, except for children born into the Church – which is the last remaining area of growth.

Overall: The Church does a lot of good for a lot of people.  It is a good organization that makes people better people.  But, are we content with just being a “good” Church.  We are clinging to things that may have worked in the past, but they are not working now.  Our missionary program is stagnating.  Our membership is flattening out.  People may argue that this isn’t true, but it’s hard to argue with actual numbers.  If the goal of the Church is to bring the blessings of the Restoration to as many people as possible, and if we argue that it is essential for EVERYONE to receive temple blessings to be exalted, are we truly working towards that goal?

It is easy to point at the outside world for blame.  Society is “more wicked”.  The forces of Satan are arrayed against us.  The influence of the media is too much.  But perhaps it’s us. Perhaps, like a good company, we need to truly look at ourselves and see if there is something WE can change to make what we offer more appealing to the people around us, in order to be a GREAT company.

A few suggestions:

Missionary Program:

This is our sales force.  We still essentially do the same things we did in the 1960′s.  We still dress them like 1960′s salesmen.  From another website (with references there):

Yet annual LDS growth rates have progressively declined from over 5 percent in the late 1980s to less than 3 percent from 2000 to 2005.[7] During this same period, other international missionary-oriented faiths have reported accelerating growth, including the Seventh-Day Adventists, Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, and Evangelical (5.6 percent annual growth)[8] and Pentecostal churches (7.3 percent annual growth). Since 1990, LDS missionaries have been challenged to double the number of baptisms, but instead the number of baptisms per missionary has halved. The average LDS missionary in 1989 brought 8 people into the church, while the mean number of annual baptisms per missionary averaged between 6.0 and 6.5 between 1985 and 1999. From 2000 to 2004, the average missionary experienced 4.5 convert baptisms. When one accounts for actual activity and retention rates, approximately 1.2 of the 4.5 converts baptized annually by the typical missionary will remain active. The sharp decline in LDS growth rates occurred even at times with record numbers of missionaries serving. This declining growth comes in spite of the LDS Church entering fifty-nine new nations for proselyting between 1990 and 2000.

(ED: The growth rate is now down closer to 2%)

Why are we doing something that obviously isn’t working?  Why are we clinging to an outdated model?  From my own comment on the previous “membership poll” post:

I would change the mission program completely. I would change missions to service missions. I would have the Church become known as a Church that has an army around the world that gets things done. I would go to poor countries or inner city areas or where ever there is need. I would have them build wells and schools. I would have them teach. I would tithe the Church and spend 10% of what we take in on humanitarian needs (ie. $300 million/year instead of the current $17 million/year average). I would get rid of the “uniform” of 1960′s salesmen and let the missionaries look more “normal” for the culture in which they are serving.

We could do AMAZING things with this. As a comparison, the Peace Corps currently has around 9000 volunteers. Its budget is around $300 million. We would have 50-60,000 volunteers with a similar budget.

Advantages:
- We would be helping the poor among us
- We could “lower the bar” and let everyone go
- We would vastly improve the image of the Church
- People will naturally ask questions about our role. The missionaries could teach them.
- Importantly, missionaries could raise the image of the Church in an area and the MEMBERS could teach them. This would do wonders for the retention rate.
- This could be a “discontinuity” shift and help the dying missionary program.

Just an idea.  Our sales force needs to change.

Church Policies:

Do we need to change the product?  It doesn’t matter how good Iomega’s salesmen were, the Zip drive eventually became a doomed product in the changing world.  The concept of the Zip drive was great – limitless storage, portability, etc.  The specifics were what killed it – 100MB, physical presence.  They weren’t able to bring the concepts forward as they were trapped by the specifics of the product.

Are we doing the same thing?  The core concepts of the gospel are beautiful and unique.  Priesthood.  Temples and eternal families.  Living prophets.  But we are trapped in the details, and that’s holding us back.  A few examples to show what I mean:

- Does it really matter if someone wears flip-flops, a non-white shirt, more than one pair of earrings; or has a tattoo or a beard?  Absolutely not.  There are just societal preferences.  But we voluntarily make them into stumbling blocks unnecessarily.  Why?

- Does it really matter if someone has a glass of wine or a beer with dinner?  The Word of Wisdom suggests that barley drinks are good for man, and also talks about wine.  It really only prohibits “strong drinks”.  Christ and Joseph Smith drank wine.  Joseph Smith drank beer.  Are these eternal principles or just something that makes us seem strange?  And we routinely ignore parts of the Word of Wisdom anyway, such as rules on eating meat.  (This section for Jeff S)

- Does it really make sense to stick our heads in the sand and ignore parts of our history that aren’t “faith-promoting”?  Does anyone really think that if we close the archives and keep faithful LDS scholars from exploring our history that people aren’t going to talk about it?  People will still talk about it – it just won’t be from the faithful.  In the Brigham Young “Teachings for our Time” it never mentions polygamy, even in the 10-15 page section at the beginning which is a biography of his life.  Seriously?  No one is going to know if we hide it?  They are going to talk about the strange things.  They show up on the first page of a Google search for “Mormon”.

- Etc.

Money:

We need to put our money where our mouth is.  People go to companies and routinely pay more because they agree with a company’s principles in giving back – “Do well by doing good”.  We talk about our charitable giving, but actions always speak louder than words.  Bishop Burton can talk about humanitarian things the Church has done, which is great, but the cash he has spent on this has averaged around $13 million annually for the past 25 years.   Instead, people talk about the “crowning jewel” of his administration as being the City Creek mall, for which the Church has spent an estimated $3 BILLION.  We spent tens of millions on various parcels of land in downtown SLC in the past year.

This image of the Church as a real estate magnate is also difficult to reconcile with our image and practices.  We heard a lot of talks on tithing this past conference.  We understand that tithing is an eternal principle. (Disclaimer: I am and have always been a full tithe payer, so this isn’t a personal issue).  However, the Church makes giving a specific amount of money a REQUIREMENT to have a temple recommend and partake of the blessings there.  It also has now specifically made having a temple recommend a requirement to perform priesthood ordinances, such as confirming your 8-year-old child after baptism.  So, in essence, you have to pay a certain amount in order to participate and get blessings.  From the outside, this could seem like it is starting to drift down the path towards “indulgences” that we hear derided so much in conference and other talks, where specific spiritual blessings were contingent upon the giving of specific amounts of money.

So…

Overall, our model isn’t working.  The problem isn’t with the core principles of the gospel. Our missionary program is broken.  Our non-eternal practices are making us increasingly obsolete and out-of-step  with the world around us.  And most importantly, our clinging to these non-essential things is making it so people can’t see the beautiful things.  Again, as mentioned in conference this past weekend when talking about welfare, if someone is hungry, they don’t care about the gospel message.  In this case, if someone has an issue with a non-essential part of our Church, they don’t care about the essential and beautiful parts.

Are we going to fade away like Iomega?  Or are we going to be proactive and change?

What do you think?

  • Is the growth of the Church stagnating?  If not, what evidence do you have for this?
  • Should we change the missionary program, or do we just keep doing what we’ve done for 30 years and hope that, hopefully, next year will be different?
  • Even with a revamped missionary program, have the non-essential peripheral parts of the Church become so large that they have made our “product” non-appealing to society?
  • Do we keep doing what we’re doing and expect society to change, or do we take a critical look at ourselves and perhaps point the finger inward?
  • Do you think the structure of the Church is too ingrained to actually change any of these things?  Are we IBM?  Or America Online?  Or Iomega?  They were useful in their day, but where are they now?  They couldn’t change in time.  Can we?

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162 Responses to Good vs Great: Iomega and General Conference Statistics

  1. SteveS on April 5, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    Mike, did you know it’s illegal to invest student loans in the stock market?

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  2. SteveS on April 5, 2011 at 3:57 PM

    I enjoyed the post, however, and agree with your points. Its hard to change a Church that purchased a lot of stock in promoting “eternal, unchanging” doctrines and truths, though. It works well when the rapture is imminent, but when it just never seems to come, society continues to progress, adapt, and refocus its values according to the contemporary challenges. Churches that don’t adapt well enough get left behind. And the billions and billions of dollars held by the Church aren’t going to necessarily prevent such a possible future–like you illustrate, Iomega had lots and lots of money, for a while. And then, they had none. It might not be as dramatic a decline as a tech industry corporation, but things change faster than we realize.

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  3. Mike S on April 5, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    #1: SteveS

    I’m sure I used my student loans to live on, which freed up other money to invest in the stock market.

    So, no student loans were used for investing.

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  4. Franz on April 5, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    I’m not sure it’s possible to even turn around, absent a monetary collapse of sorts which entirely dries up tithing receipts. Even then, though, when the rhetoric of the day is you pay a hard 10% tithing or risk burning at the day of judgment, religion wins based on fear.

    In fact, many of the issues you noted are predicated on fear instilled in the average member. Cultural practices (i.e. earrings, flip-flops, white shirts, etc) are stated as being issues of faith – i.e. if you don’t do those things, you’re a faithless individual who can’t follow the prophet (Bednar’s talk from a few years ago) and, if you do those things then you’re faithful and part of the ‘in’ crowd.

    The church, I think, is trending towards more rigidity whether we like it or not. Some of the leaders probably like that, others probably not. Some members like that, others not, but it’s the way of all institutions. The church started out as a movement that was free to blow like the wind, where revelations were frequent and people were experiencing the actual gives of the Spirit (I’d recommend reading the words to The Spirit of God and contrasting that with today). The movement, though, is frequented by a lack of centralized control, a lack of defined methods and practices. Much the same way small businesses start out fluid – but with success and growth comes the need/want to control things, to maintain the status quo. And so, over the past 170+ years, things have gotten more and more rigid. More and more laid out. More and more controlled.

    Whether we want to admit it or not, the Mormon religion is very much one of control, order and prescribed ways of acting – most of which wasn’t present in the late 1820s. And, with that control and power comes a need – unconscious or not – to keep the status quo going. There are those in some church departments, I’d argue, who simply wouldn’t allow their department to go away without a fight – that if the funds were stripped away, that they wouldn’t kick and scream. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Or, in our canon, D&C 121. Only, for some reason, we think that most of our church is impervious to the warnings laid out in D&C 121. Whereas Joseph and many of the original church members were frequently chastised for their stumblings, our leaders and church members are frequently told how beloved and great they are from our pulpits, how they’re such an example of faith, love and on and on. Seems as though, today, we’re impervious to imperfections…

    I could go on, but I think it’s going to be difficult to turn around the USS LDS Church from its current course.

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  5. Marguerite St. Just on April 5, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    I really enjoyed this post. If only…

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  6. FireTag on April 5, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    I’m going to stick to statistical questions for the moment.

    First a minor point: when you only have world-wide data in aggregate form, there will be a slow change in the trend line as the national composition of the church changes. So your estimate on converts is actually better than you might think, given that you didn’t have disaggregated data.

    Based on my analysis of the membership data for the CofChrist, I think the most important question you can ask is whether the membership trends are even under the control of church programs. FOR US IT WAS NOT.

    If I can quote myself:

    “In the late 1800’s, although our denomination had considerably less than 20,000 members, we were adding about 1700 people to our membership per year. Over roughly the next century, we added some 150,000 additional church members as potential witnesses. We built hundreds of churches. We trained and expanded the missionary quorums of the church several-fold. We established major church institutions… We experienced times of relative financial hardships and times of relative plenty. We knew times when the leading quorums were highly unified and times of great internal disputes among them. We undertook literally thousands of evangelistic initiatives at the local and regional levels.

    “And NONE of those things had absolutely ANY effect, POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE, on the numerical rate at which the church in North America grew! The church shook off the effects of every one of them after a few months or, at most, a few years and stubbornly continued, decade after decade, to add the same 1700 members per year.

    “It is as if you’re driving a car, and no matter which way you turn the steering wheel, and no matter how hard you step on either the brake or the accelerator, the car continues to travel in a straight line at the same speed. Eventually it has to dawn on you that your controls aren’t really connected to anything, and, in fact, you aren’t really the one driving the car.”

    I suspect you’re going to find that your growth is limited by the size of your “market niche”, and you can’t change your niche by what you do, but only by changing who you are.

    That’s a fundamental decision when you believe to be an only true church.

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  7. Andrew S on April 5, 2011 at 4:36 PM

    I like how FireTag effectively uses ALLCAPS to raise the ominousness of his statements by 10%.

    Based on my analysis of the membership data for the CofChrist, I think the most important question you can ask is whether the membership trends are even under the control of church programs. FOR US IT WAS NOT.

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  8. David on April 5, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    I might add that those even thinking of changing anything mentioned above in the LDS faith to be a distinct – very distinct – minority.

    FireTag: I’ve seen you mention that before, but how do you know nothing you did helped or hurt the growth? How do you know, that absent your efforts, growth would have been X or Y? Just because your efforts didn’t result in Z or A doesn’t mean that absent your efforts something worse (or better) might have happened?

    Take this example:

    From 2000-2010, Church X added 10 members each year to its rolls. From 2005-2010, Church X doubled its efforts to increase growth – doubled the money, time, talents put into growing the church – but no matter, 10 people were added each year such that by the end of 2010, there were a total of 110 members.

    One could argue, then, that since no real efforts were laid out in 2000-05, that the efforts in 2006-2010 were fruitless. But, what if absent those efforts in 2006-2010, the growth would have slowed to only 5 new people getting added each year… but because of the stagnant growth of 10/year, Church X decided it wasn’t worth it to continue.

    Did you explore that possibility at all?

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  9. Mike S on April 5, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    David:

    I agree that it is a very small minority that might even think of changing anything in the Church. I also think that by the somewhat self-reinforcing selection process of the hierarchy, anyone who might truly feel this way would tend to be relegated to a role where they have no real say anyway.

    Given this, what is the solution? There may be some window-dressing or some new “program” as years go by. However, baring any actual change internally, does anyone think there will some other “game-changing” EXTERNAL event that will change any of these trends?

    And if so, what types of things might those be? What could change to make the current version of the LDS Church appealing to society? Or, like FireTag mentioned, is it all for naught?

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  10. Dan on April 5, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    I would change missions to service missions. I would have the Church become known as a Church that has an army around the world that gets things done.

    Community organizers! I like!

    Is the growth of the Church stagnating? If not, what evidence do you have for this?

    Actually it is regressing. Church membership is not keeping up with the population growth around the world. There are fewer members per capita today than there were in the 1880s. That’s not good if we wish to proclaim we are Daniel’s stone rolling down the mountain.

    Should we change the missionary program, or do we just keep doing what we’ve done for 30 years and hope that, hopefully, next year will be different?

    Definitely.

    Do you think the structure of the Church is too ingrained to actually change any of these things? Are we IBM? Or America Online? Or Iomega? They were useful in their day, but where are they now? They couldn’t change in time. Can we?

    This church is very much run as a corporation, sluggish and not flexible.

    btw, I recommend you send these recommendations of yours to church headquarters.

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  11. prometheus on April 5, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Awesome post, Mike. I absolutely love your service mission idea – it strikes to the core of why we are even here in the first place.

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  12. Course Correction on April 5, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    Very little change will occur in the Church so long as elderly gentlemen are running it.

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  13. hawkgrrrl on April 5, 2011 at 9:46 PM

    “We still essentially do the same things we did in the 1960′s. We still dress them like 1960′s salesmen.” This is increasingly problematic. It’s a brand image that is viewed with suspicion in many parts of the world. It doesn’t always translate well.

    I believe Course Correction is right. But I do also believe the niche comments are spot on. I think we are really only targeting those who buy religion in the first place, a shrinking number, and only those who like our brand of it will be interested.

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  14. Andrew S on April 5, 2011 at 10:47 PM

    I like service missions as much as the next guy, but…

    why does everyone tout them as the solution to all of our evangelizing problems?

    I mean, when we look at other denominations that are growing by leaps and bounds, is there evangelism through services? Now, I understand that what many of my friends call “mission trips” amount to 2-week (or so) excursions in developing countries…but it doesn’t seem like these are the reason for the extreme growth, either.

    ANYWAY, with the comparison to stocks and companies, I am reminded of the financial statement analysis class I’m currently taking (but not doing so well at). I wonder if we could do a “valuation” of the church? What would super-normal growth look like? Are we approaching steady-state growth? Is the “market” supersaturated with our product?

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  15. Mike S on April 5, 2011 at 11:15 PM

    Why tout a service mission?

    1) Because I think it’s a great idea. I think it is a great experience for our kids to step outside themselves for a while. Get off the train of education -> career. Do something completely for someone else. Experience a different culture and mentality and socioeconomic status. So, it would be good for our youth.

    2) The Church is increasingly seen as Mormon, Inc. We are a real estate company. We baptize other peoples’ dead ancestors. We have strange habits. We are insular and look out for our own. We should be known as a Church the helps the world. We should be known for the things we do around the world. I have 1000% more respect for what Greg Mortenson has done for education in Pakistan and Afghanistan than the $3 billion mall that Bishop Burton build with our money. Multiply what Greg has done times 100 and that’s what we could be doing. So, it would be good for our Church.

    3) People need help. We are incredibly blessed. When I try to picture Christ and what he would be doing today, I don’t picture Him building malls. I don’t picture Him importing the most expensive marble for temples. I picture Him getting His hands dirty. I picture Him pulling the mule out of the ditch. I picture Him rolling up his sleeves and digging a well. I picture Him touching people’s lives through service. And once they know He actually loves them, THEN He teaches them and touches their hearts. So, it would be good for people everywhere.

    Again, why service missions? It would be good for us, it would be good for the Church’s image, and most importantly, it would be good for the world. Helping each other and having true compassion is why we’re here – whether you’re LDS, Buddhist, humanist, or whatever.

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  16. Mike S on April 5, 2011 at 11:17 PM

    Regarding our brand image: It is broken. In order to get the good in our Church, people have to swallow a lot of nonsensical things. We need to jettison the nonsensical.

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  17. Mike S on April 5, 2011 at 11:22 PM

    Sorry. One other thought. We teach we have a living prophet. But we haven’t had any “prophecy” or new canonized scripture for nearly a century. If we get to the point where the revealed scriptures from our prophets are dated, at what point are we different from every other Christian religion? They also believe in scripture revealed to previous prophets with a closed canon to which nothing new is added.

    It’s been a century for us. Is our canon now closed? What would it take for our living prophet to actually add to our canon? Does anyone see that happening anytime soon?

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  18. Mike S on April 5, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    Dan:

    I’d never send them to Church HQ. The chance of them taking any recommendation by any of us this far down in the hierarchy seriously is minuscule.

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  19. Ron on April 5, 2011 at 11:26 PM

    You’ve addressed a lot of the complaints that inactive/ex-mormons have while staying true to the core principles. Your proposed changes to the missionary program would be especially exciting.

    It’s a long shot, but I hope your ideas will be heard (and implemented) by the powers that be. Maybe they’ll start announcing changes at the next conference. :)

    Seriously: this kind of thinking is exactly what the church needs. Keep up the good work.

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  20. Apmex on April 5, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    Ron:

    I agree.

    However – and this speaks to an earlier comment – just how much agitation/thinking is needed before someone actually gets off their arse up at HQ and stops the businessing we witness day in and day out? Individually, leaders are probably great (though I don’t know any of them), but like Toscano has said, once you put them in together they end up acting like a corporation.

    And, with the current mantra being something where all concerns are supposed to be addressed to your male leader, then directed up, at what point does anything happen?

    Mike: the only thing I might disagree with you on is the “image” of the church. I couldn’t care less what the image is, so long as we are helping people on the ground. Everything the church does now – from “I am Mormon” to Humanitarian Aid, from the City Creek Center to everything else – is geared towards pimping the “image” of the church. What I want to see is a LOT less focus on the adulation of the world/our own members, and a LOT more focus on the “one” – that one person who needs help, even when it is outside the purview of the media or some leader wanting to advance in his calling. Everything is about how it’ll look on the outside.

    I’ve been drawn recently to an author who seems to be doing what I’d hope we were doing, instead of building CCC or some swanky hotel in Hawaii. Namely, building orphanages and schools in places like Africa…

    Post 1: http://lifestream.org/blog/2010/12/30/kenya-orphanage-update/

    Recent Update: http://lifestream.org/blog/2011/03/15/kenya-orphanage-and-special-request/

    As a human being, I’d find a lot more solace in this sort of endeavor … and imagine just how much could be done if we spent just $1 billion on something similar to this – orphanages all over the world.

    Just me musing, but it seems that that is where our time, efforts and focus should be directed.

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  21. Ron Madson on April 6, 2011 at 12:09 AM

    This post hits the mark imo.
    I would suggest that even if the excellent proposals in this post were implemented, our faith will drift individually and collectively unless authentic charismatic gifts of the spirit are manifested once again. Without continuing revelation (and I do not mean just “let’s be nicer” or a great stroke of ideas to build some buildings or implement a policy here and there) that is really visionary and provides further light and knowledge (and I do not mean the straight-jacket of repetitive and correlated thoughts), I believe our product will become increasingly less meaningful for potential converts as well as those within the faith community. I/we sustain our leaders as prophets, seers and revelators (I sustain the hope that they will fulfill the measure of their callings), but I see no evidence of any prophecies, continuing revelation (to reveal the unknown) or even a suggestion that someone might actual act as a seer in bringing forth sealed portions of anything. Revelations may come but unless they come from the top down, nothing will change in a faith that can’t even consider a voice crying from the wilderness or delivered by a Samuel the Lamanite type–the ultimate illegal alien. That is how I see it now.

    I very much appreciated the post–hit on so many important points IMO.

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  22. Aaron on April 6, 2011 at 12:22 AM

    You obviously have a lot of supporters who read here, so I hope you don’t mind a little bit of pushback on some of your points. But I completely share your desire that more people enjoyed the fruits of the restored gospel.

    Regarding the growth of the Church, I’m struck by a few thoughts that you don’t mention and might consider:

    1. Most of the Church’s numerical growth over it’s history has gone hand-in-hand with geographic growth. That was the case up until the early 1990s when eastern Europe opened to missionary work. (A place full of rocky soil. I was a missionary in Romania and saw it first hand.) Since that time, there hasn’t been any geographic expansion to speak of. The number of people we’re reaching through missionary work has stopped increasing for the time being, which would reasonably affect the growth numbers. This point strikes me as particularly important.

    2. Without a clearer internal picture of Church growth, I’m not sure we can make reliable observations or criticisms. For example, what is the pattern of growth in Latin America and will we see a similar patter in Eastern Europe? (James E. Foust talked about the very slow growth in Latin America during the early years there, which obviously sped up considerably. I wonder if the same thing will happen in E. Europe in the next two decades.) I suspect that general comments about missionary attire gloss over the much clearer picture you’d get from more detailed numbers. (This, I assume, is the picture that the General Authorities have at their disposal.)

    3. The last 20 years of growth for the Church has deviated from the predicted trends by being much lower than expected. A lot of people were surprised by this. In spite of that surprising turn, you seem comfortable extending your predictions another 20 years into the future. Although I think recent trends should be very important to Church leaders in understanding what is going on in the lives of Church members, I don’t think long-term trends are in any way a reliable predictor of the *potential* growth we should expect. Nassim Taleb, who writes very smart books about the incorrect predictions we regularly make, has great points about how even decades-long data sets can be fundamentally unreliable. Built-in to this point is that we have no way of knowing the actual potential growth of the Church now or ever.

    4. What is the pattern of temple attendance during this period relative to total membership trends? I don’t think the information on this is public, but it would be an important thing to consider since that is the ultimate goal we offer to those who join the Church. If temple attendance is increasing relatively, then are we doing actually better than we were before?

    5. You fault those who see these numbers and make broad defenses like, ‘The world is just getting more wicked.” But in response you make broad criticisms about things like missionary attire, the Word of Wisdom, and tattoos. Both suffer from the same basic fault of being speculative about the potential growth of the Church. That said, I *completely* agree with your point that our first reaction should be self-assessment. But when I look through the scriptures at the times the Church grew rapidly, it was during times of great obedience and great service to others. I can’t think of a single example in the scriptures when the Church grew as a direct result of loosening its expectations of members. To the contrary, the high points are marked by diligent obedience to the commandments and selfless, loving service to others. Not coincidentally, these two messages pervade every General Conference. Personally, I think those two things, obedience and service, are the two most powerful things we can do to bring other people into the Church.

    6. Through all of this, we’re not talking about people buying our brand through some sort of low-cost, low-risk transaction. We’re talking about people being born again, a process that’s been fundamentally the same at every point in the earth’s history. This has always been a very costly personal decision and I think that somewhat weakens your Iomega analogy.

    I *love* the idea of missionaries doing more community service.

    Finally, a minor point, but I don’t think the Church’s City Creek or other real estate investments involve tithed money.

    Thanks for putting so much work into this thought-provoking article.

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  23. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 1:30 AM

    Aaron:

    “Push back” is certainly welcomed. That is the purpose of posting things – to have ideas challenged, refined, and hopefully improved. So, thank you for reading it and taking the time to respond.

    I absolutely agree with comments 1-4. These are just projections, trying to extrapolate trends from very generalized data. Unfortunately, as I have no “in” with the Church, I am forced to rely on the few little pieces of data that trickle out. All of the above possibilities you suggest may occur.

    Given the paucity of data, however, I just have to make due with what I have. There are certainly “game-changing” scenarios, as I mentioned above, which could significantly impact growth. This might be the opening of new geographical areas, it might be the revealing of the sealed portion of the BofM, it might be Mitt Romney becoming president of the US, it might be something that we don’t even recognize at this point. However, given that these are, by definition, unpredictable, I can’t model them in future predictions.

    Also, these are all EXTERNAL factors, or things over which we don’t have any control and to which we would be reacting. The point of the post is whether we should try to be more PROACTIVE and see if we can do some thing differently.

    Regarding point #5, I think you are conflating two different issues. I absolutely agree with you that obedience and service are necessary requirements for God’s work – including missionary work. However, this should be obedience to true eternal principles and not some forced obedience to artificial rules.

    A perfect example of this is the issue of circumcision in the early Church (Christ’s time, not these latter days). There were some that felt obedience to this law was ESSENTIAL. There were others that suggested that the law to which people were suggesting obedience didn’t really make sense as an eternal law. From the NT, the latter view prevailed.

    How many things do we have in our Church today that are similar? Earrings, tattoos, etc. I don’t want to list them all, but they are the same. If the Church makes them a test of obedience, then sure, we have to be obedience. But are we making them unnecessary stepping stones for obedience’s sake. Are we telling people that they have to be circumcised to accept Christ, when Christ doesn’t really care?

    While obedience to eternal gospel principles is essential, have we gone overboard? You mention high points and low points. In the early days of the Church, there seem to be more recorded instances of outpouring of the spirit than now. We had prophets and apostles telling of visions of God and Christ. We had people talking about transfigurations. We had speaking of tongues and interpretation of tongues. We had temples appearing as if they were on fire, with angels surrounding them. And at the same time, the WofW was MUCH more lax. People didn’t care if their leaders had beards or what color shirts they wore. They didn’t keep track of home teaching numbers or investing in real estate. They focused on the pure essence of the gospel. We have lost that, in my opinion, with all of these “add-on” rules to which people are explicitly or implicitly expected to obey for the sake of obedience.

    Regarding point #6: I agree religion is NOT a brand in the ideal world, and should be about being “born again” or touching the Divine. However, the Church runs ads. They reengineer their logo to emphasize different things. They are very image conscious. They run “I’m a Mormon” ads. They even have a specific way of doing this:

    Our unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of our audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. We call this uniquely powerful brand of creative “HeartSell”® – strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response.

    And I still think that people are put off by many of the non-essential things about the Church, which never lets them get close enough to hear the message to be “born again”.

    Whew. This is getting long. :-)

    And regarding the “minor point” and not using tithing money, my comment #3 was directed at this – perhaps too subtly. At some point, ALL of the Church’s money came from tithing. It’s past the point of this post, but there are accounting tricks where you can collect tithing, for instance, keep it in a rolling account for 3 years, then spend the principle on things that tithing is generally spent on. The interest could then be used for things like the CCC, yet you could also accurately state that no tithing funds were used. It’s much like me saying that I didn’t actually invest any student loan money in stocks – I just used that to live on and invested OTHER money in stocks that was freed up because I had the student loan money.

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  24. Thomas Simmons on April 6, 2011 at 2:06 AM

    I believe another very interesting point the author didn’t mention was the number of members who, like me, discovered the “strange things” and simply had my testimony slowly fall apart – completely. Struggling for years, I finally faced the reality that I could not accept the plethora of facts without getting sick – I discovered the facts which shattered my testimony of the organization were numerous, easy to find but only visible by pulling my head out of the sand. I’m not talking about considering the opinions or beliefs from all the “wacko’s” out there. I used the same resources published and referenced by the organization.

    When I asked myself why the organization kept trying to cover up, ignore, and even twist these facts, it was a deal breaker. I left the organization and I believe I’m among a throng of thousands who are in various stages of departure status. One tiny example: If the organization would disclose how much they’re spending on the mall, and quit trying to make it seem like one of their organizations is in control, I’d begin to have more respect. As is, their past and current practices are enough to make me feel very sad. As a convert, I keep asking myself “Why didn’t they tell me the truth – the entire story? Why did they cover up these events or those over there? If it’s ‘true,’ then why are they afraid of these facts?” I was in a stage of denial for years – to say my way out of the church was painful hardly begins to describe how I felt.

    If the organization openly published all facts then converts would not join. This is happening now with the Internet information when “investigators” begin searching the Web. Once members begin “pulling their heads out of the sand” and find the facts, droves will realize the deceit and have no choice but to leave, taking with them millions of dollars that would normally go to the organization. This stage of enlightenment is well underway – people are talking, searching, reading, and finally taking ownership of their reasoning skills and unlocking their belief system.

    I believe another valid question should address “damage control” among the current members. How should the members be warned about what they will find when they venture off to the real world and discover facts which are disturbing, or worse? Their perception of the organization will never be the same after their broad vision of reality sinks in. Believe me, Jeffrey R. Holland’s sermon about the validity of the Book of Mormon was not damage control. Instead, and to use his words, a frankly pathetic attempt at damage control however, the mindset fits the decades-old pattern for getting things done.

    The organization is led by those who believe God is in control. If God really wants to spend $3B on a large and spacious mall while publicly disclosing someone else, another entity is in control, then fine. But please don’t ask me to believe it – shoot straight with me and I’ll respect that. When members uncover the facts which violate what’s really been going on, and feel the pain from realizing their trust has been violated, they will join the thousands like me who finally said “Enough is enough” and feel they have no choice but to honor their personal integrity and leave.

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  25. Matt Marshall on April 6, 2011 at 5:56 AM

    I tend to agree Aaron’s positions, and hence will try and not re-hash his comments, particularly points 1-4 of his post.

    At the risk of sounding like I’m sticking my own head in the sand, I’ll say that I fear many good folks over think things to the point where they can’t see the forest for the trees. For instance, some comments highlight the reality that the Church has a much more complex history than the typical ‘Sunday School’ narrative depicts. One need not even look to anti-Mormon sources to realize this… just run out and pick up a copy of Rough Stone Rolling for starters, or go a step further to No Man Knows My History. At the end of the day, the fact that Joseph Smith, Moses, or many of the other great prophets lived imperfect lives should not serve as anything more than lessons from history that might help us travel down life’s path a little more carefully. I think a lasting testimony of the Gospel and the Church can only be gained through the influence of the Holy Ghost, and not some picture perfect story line.

    I also think it is important to properly distinguish between social norms or traditions versus standards set forth by the Church. In my view, the fact that Joseph Smith was known to consume wine or even beer is irrelevant to the fact that at a given point the Lord instructed the Church that the Word of Wisdom was no longer simple advice, but a commandment. And, whatever he or any other Church leader may or may not have done before or after that point has little bearing on what we ought to do now. My brother tells a story of a time on his mission where he found locals in the country where he served refusing to let the sisters in the congregation touch the sacrament trays. It was a tradition someone mistakenly started in that area, which was promptly corrected when it was observed. Generally, the Lord is pretty explicit when he gives us commandments, making it pretty easy to distinguish between tradition/social norms versus commandments. It is also worth considering that there is a pattern throughout history, where the Lord has worked with his followers ‘line upon line’ to help them progress along. I see the escalation of things, like the Word of Wisdom, from sage advice to commandment as just that sort of progress.

    I work in marketing, where I conduct market research, analyze data, and help to create marketing campaigns. One thing I can conclusively say after doing this for about a decade is that a “me too” strategy is a sure way to at least flounder, if not fail. In other words, lowering standards is not the answer, but understanding your strengths, and finding which of those align most directly w/ issues that play a salient role in a person’s decision to join a new religion could serve as building blocks in successful missionary work (that, of course, is not mentioning the most important/salient force of all in missionary work, the Holy Ghost… but that probably goes w/o being said).

    I’d argue, coupling improved messaging w/ greater patience, acceptance, open minds to those different from us/struggling w/ sins or other issues, and yes even increased service and giving would be a successful approach (as demonstrated by the Savior). While remaining perfectly obedient, the Savior consistently embraced people w/ diverse physical, emotional, or sinful problems during his ministry. So, while I agree that a lot of the service, donating, or messaging ideas presented in this discussion could make a difference, working in the world should not require us to embrace the ways of the world.

    As a final point, I think it is worth noting that the Church has made some siginificant shifts in its approach to missionary work in recent years. There are the more stringent (physical and spiritual) standards applied to those who can serve full time missions. Also, I, for one, like the fact tha the Church moved away from the fixed missionary discussions to the ‘Teach My Gospel’ approach. Another thing is these ‘I’m a Mormon’ ads I’ve been seeing from time to time on sites like cnn.com, that also help to reinforce an open minded attitude among members and non-members alike when it comes to the Church.

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  26. Peepstoneonyou on April 6, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    Great post. It was exciting to read your ideas, agree with them, imagine them happening and the crash to the ground realizing that the exact opposite is the direction and direction of the church.

    You post ended up clarifying why I am so disaffected.

    Best to find a different place to make a differance that does not make one feel like a ridiculous fraud and pay an indulgence tax to be there.

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  27. Jon on April 6, 2011 at 6:54 AM

    @Matt Marshall,

    I think the OP was referring to the WoW not including light beer and wine. The Lord never told us to abstain from those in the WoW. He did tell us to abstain from other things though that we don’t obey. So he was just saying we have gone beyond the mark like the pharisees, creating unneeded stumbling blocks, traditions of men rather than commandments from God.

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  28. Jeff Spector on April 6, 2011 at 7:49 AM

    One of the interesting comments I heard in conference I think twice was that non-members watch conference and so some of the message were directed at non-members of the Church. I thought this rather funny because we can’t even get the members to watch conference!

    Two points:

    1. This all depends on what we want the Church to be as it grows up. Ignoring whether this is the true Church, directed by God and its leaders directly inspired by Him, the Church could adapt to attract many more members.

    By modifying the doctrines, the rules and policies we could have a field day with new converts. We’d also have to disavow the past, our past leaders and out and out condemn some of our past practices.

    We could become, as some Churches have, a series of mega Churches, focusing on families and the doctrines of the church that people already like and admire. (BTW, the WoW is one of those)

    This strategy would work and we would become the fastest growing church in the world. but to what end?

    Is that really what the majority of active members want? The ones that actual support the church, spiritually and financially. I think in reality, the bulk of those members would then leave because they would then realize, because of the move toward popularity, this was a Church of man and not God. So, I do not think it would ultimately positive.

    2. The majority of people (not all) who are clamoring for the Church to make major changes are not all that active anyway. it is not clear to me that any changes would make a difference in that situation.

    Bottom line, the interest and participation in Religion is a generational thing that seems to ebb and flow with the times. Our Church itself has gone through periods of time where activity levels were down and up. In the 1920s and 30s, the sacrament meeting attendance was around 25%. We actually, for what I have read, have more Church activity than we have before. Even with 30% of the church active.

    So, it seems we need to wait out this period until religion and spirituality become important to people and they are again seeking after it. In other parts of the world, where the church is growing, this seems to be the case. The US is a different story at this time and Europe has not be different ever.

    While I am all for change, I am not sure wholesale change get us to where we want to go. And if we truly believe the Lord is ultimately in charge, He knows what’s going on more than we do. And any needed changes will happen one way or another.

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  29. Dan on April 6, 2011 at 8:16 AM

    Jeff,

    I didn’t feel that Mike recommended wholesale change, or even change to doctrine. My gut feeling is that God wants as many people as possible to follow Him. And from my understanding of the life of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t seem, at least from the accounts, that he did much followup on who accepted to follow Him. Maybe that’s because he was simply the Sower, and the Cultivators were to come later to ensure growth occurred in the seeds. In any case, we’re not doing well enough as a church in reaching out. And instances like Prop 8 have had a strong negative reaction to us. So does a lot of the fundamentalism found on the right within the church. I, for one, appreciate greatly that this last conference was centered so strongly on taking care of the poor. But maybe that’s just because of the anniversary of the welfare program. I would hope they continue such talks and such emphasis even in odd years.

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  30. Jeff Spector on April 6, 2011 at 8:28 AM

    Dan,

    “I didn’t feel that Mike recommended wholesale change, or even change to doctrine. My gut feeling is that God wants as many people as possible to follow Him.”

    I didn’t necessary think that he was, but there is at least an undertone of making the church more palatable to more people, when that is not possible without wholesale change. I was also suggesting it might a phase that society of going through. Sort of the opposite of the religious revival in Joseph Smith’s time.

    You know I am not fond of the conservatism in the church as far as politics is concerned and the lack of tolerance for other POVs. i would love it if the messages of the conference were extended into the local units and we actually did something rather than talking about loving neighbors rather than showing it.

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  31. Kent Larsen on April 6, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    Mike:

    There are a few things in the data that probably need to be clarified.

    First, your “Children Born” statistic is actually called “Increase in Children of Record” (i.e., children under 8 and some older children not yet baptized). This means it also includes the children of converts. IF this is a NET number, it might also include other changes, such as children of record removed because they did not get baptized. Changes in the policy of when to remove those that did not get baptized could explain why this number bounces around so much.

    Second, I think your description of the “Loss” should probably reflect that most of this number are simply deaths, not excommunications. It should also be observed that this calculation must include ANY change in membership, not just deaths or excommunications. Corrections, rebaptisms, etc. are all in this number. BUT, I think its fair to assume that deaths are the primary component.

    Third, your analysis in one case is faulty. In the second bullet point under “Analysis” you suggest that the Church had a “net loss in active members.” But you are comparing apples and oranges — your first number (81,844 remaining active after a year) is only active numbers (by your logic) while the second number (86,729 – calculated change in members not from baptisms or the increase in children of record) must include many inactive members. To come up with your assertion, you take the number of new active members and subtract the number of ALL (active and inactive) deaths and other changes.

    So, it doesn’t add up to what you say it does.

    While I do agree with some of your points, in general I think you are too pessimistic about the data.

    The growth of the Church isn’t stagnating. If it were, the number of wards and branches would not keep growing, at least not without obvious changes in how wards and branches are run.

    The Service Missionary idea is, IMO, already on its way to a degree. The latest report given in Conference also indicated that we now have more than 20,000 Service Missionaries, and the Welfare Services report says more than 8,500 of them are Welfare Services missionaries — those who do the kind of service you want. Both of these numbers are growing FASTER than the number of proselyting missionaries. Since these programs started in 1979, and since they are now at 40% of the number of proselyting missionaries, eventually Service Missionaries will exceed the number of proselyting missionaries (if the trends continue).

    FWIW, I think that portions of your proposals could actually get implemented if you toned them down enough and presented them in a palatable way.

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  32. BrotherQ on April 6, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    Fantasy:

    1. Let’s put Greg Mortensen in charge of the Church’s Humanitarian Fund.

    2. When President Monson passes, let’s make President Uchdorf the prophet.

    Things would change!

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  33. Ron Madson on April 6, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    Ditto,

    Two more things:

    1. Total transparency of finances and

    2. Live at “least” the spending law of tithing in the OT where at “least” a full one third is spent on direct humanitarian relief

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  34. Jacob S on April 6, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    As to growth, I agree with Aaron above that it tends to come disproportionally from newly opened areas, which happen to usually also be very poor areas (thinking of Alma 32, as a scriptural parallel). As undeveloped countries become developed I imagine they see fewer and fewer members and growth comes mostly internally after that.

    I am reading Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and there is a scene where Jurgis goes to a revival meeting to get warm and finds himself hating and resenting the well-dressed and well-fed preachers because they couldn’t possibly understand the crushing weight of poverty. He had no interest whatsoever in their message, as a result.

    This is an example of why I find the service mission so appealing. The church’s growth will be, as it always has been, from the ranks of the poor and humbled, the very people Christ targeted. On my mission in France we spend so much time trying to find that “golden” rich French family that we often forgot to focus on where we should have, the poor. If our missionaries dressed down to their surroundings and actually helped people achieve the basic needs of survival, eg food, water, shelter, clothing, education, I think it would inevitably open doors and bring more people to Christ.

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  35. David on April 6, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    Re #25 – Matt

    I also think it is important to properly distinguish between social norms or traditions versus standards set forth by the Church. In my view, the fact that Joseph Smith was known to consume wine or even beer is irrelevant to the fact that at a given point the Lord instructed the Church that the Word of Wisdom was no longer simple advice, but a commandment. And, whatever he or any other Church leader may or may not have done before or after that point has little bearing on what we ought to do now.

    Can you point to when the “Lord instructed the Church that the Word of Wisdom” was a commandment? I’m not asking to be facetious, but rather honest inquiry. My research has turned up no such instruction from the Lord – quite the opposite, in fact.

    And, of note, our practices at the very least disagree drastically with the very wording of D&C 89:2…

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  36. BeansDude on April 6, 2011 at 9:46 AM

    re: #25

    “I think a lasting testimony of the Gospel and the Church can only be gained through the influence of the Holy Ghost, and not some picture perfect story line.”

    I think Mike would agree with you on this point Matt, but it would appear that the Church might not. While it’s true that a few books like Rough Stone Rolling are available through the Church, (at Deseret Book I guess?) we all know that much of the harder-to-swallow parts of our history are simply never addressed in a church setting. Just imagine how things would go over in a Sunday School lesson if the teacher started referencing some of the stuff in RSR or NMKMH? I’d imagine that in most wards there would be some sort of strong reaction to a discussion about seer-stones-in-hats or polyandry. The info might be available, but lets not pretend that it’s embraced by the church or most of it’s members.

    I don’t think that many people expect some “picture perfect story line” as you suggest, but that seems to be exactly what we are given by the church. In my opinion, a little less omission and a little more honesty would be a good thing and might help church members avoid experiences like what Thomas described in #24. (Thanks for sharing Thomas).

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  37. BeansDude on April 6, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    BTW – Mike, I love your posts. You always give me plenty to think about. I’m eagerly waiting the next installment of your Science and Religion series.

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  38. Aaron on April 6, 2011 at 9:55 AM

    Thanks for the replies to my comment. I just have a few things to add.

    The growth of the Church has one fundamental, underlying principle: God wants as many people as possible to become a particular kind of person (a disciple of Christ). God wouldn’t change the kind of person he wants us to be just to get more of us, because then he’s not really getting what he wanted. I think on this we all agree.

    This begs the question about what kind of person God wants and that’s what living prophets are for. Because society and circumstances change, God gives us a living prophet for guidance. Your example, Mike, of circumcision is apt because it involved a living prophet telling people what to care about at that time. The *people* were still enforcing circumcision needlessly and an *apostle* told them to stop imposing an out-of-date ordinance. It wasn’t a prophet telling the people to follow an out-of-date ordinance, so it doesn’t seem to fit with your recommendations about the Word of Wisdom, etc. I disagree with Jon’s comment about the Lord never saying to avoid light beer and wine. He’s said it multiple times through living prophets. I realize some people read this as a party-line response. I personally believe it’s true.

    I also don’t see Church history the way you do, Mike. Joseph Smith regularly undertook financially motivated business ventures, many of which failed miserably. (These often offended people who left the Church. Apparently the Church’s *successful* ventures are still offending people.) There were *far* more typical meetings than those with miraculous manifestations. The implication from your point is that revelation and miracles these days are thin. I disagree. My observation is that personal revelation is pouring into the lives of Church members on a daily basis. Certainly not for all Church members and not daily for each member, but then it’s never been that way. I think it *is* true that every day people are being healed, seeing visions, and in every other way manifesting the Gifts of the Spirit. One thing is clear scripturally and historically: these manifestations come through personal sacrifice to serve God and there are many, many Church members doing that today.

    These are the reasons why I raised my original points, including 1-4. You make the case that the natural growth of the Church is hampered for some reason, then list what you think the reasons are. They are thought-provoking points, but I don’t think the underlying assumption is justified that we ought to expect more Church growth. I think it’s a reasonable counterargument that God is clearly communicating his expectations to the world today and that a great many of his children, including members, are rejecting some or all them. If that’s true, then the Church’s growth is right where we’d expect it to be.

    Regarding the Church’s investments, it’s not true that all of the Church’s money came somehow from tithing. The Church has been the original owner of a great deal of property, not just property that was donated. I don’t know if proceeds from tithing have been used for investments like this, but I don’t know of evidence that proves it has. I hesitate to speculate about it because I’d likely just arrive at a conclusion that I prefer, not one that is necessarily true. (For the record, I’m not bothered by the idea that the Church would use my tithing to make productive investments.)

    Thanks for this thoughtful dialogue. I’m learning new things and have appreciated reading your post and the other comments.

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  39. John Hamer on April 6, 2011 at 10:01 AM

    Although the LDS Church is run like a corporation and although it draws its leaders from corporate ranks, it is not a particularly dynamic corporation.

    I believe the LDS Church lacks the capacity to make meaningful course corrections. The failure to re-tool the missionary program that you cite has resulted in a situation that is absurd: salesmen from the 1960s timewarped to the present. Little wonder that the program’s effectiveness is likewise buried in the past.

    LDS leaders are too old to make meaningful changes and by the time they ascend the ladder, they are too much a product of the deadening corporate/bureaucratic culture of church HQ.

    If you look at Soviet history, it’s a miracle that Gorbachev emerged. The idea that someone could work his way up the Soviet system to the point of supreme leadership without having had his individuality and personal insight coopted and corrupted by the system was almost unimaginable. The system naturally produced Andropovs and Chernenkos — Gorbachevs were supposed to get rooted out.

    But as moldy and stale as the apparatus of Soviet leadership ever became, the system retained more dynamic capacity than is present in the hierarchy of the LDS Church. The capacity to pick a dynamic reformer — unlikely as it was to happen — existed in the Soviet Union. It does not exist in the LDS Church. In the LDS Church, the next leader will be whoever isn’t technically dead when Thomas Monson technically dies.

    Obviously, in the USSR’s case, reform led to collapse. In lacking the dynamism to make positive change, the LDS Church also lacks the capacity to make existentially dangerous changes. Therefore, the LDS Church is not facing collapse. It’s facing a slow, managed decline. The slowness of the decline is generational and the church’s wealth and political power will still increase before they too ebb.

    This decline is glacial and inexorable. As self-awareness of the decline increases, there will be many more great analyses of the problem like yours here. These analyses will do and can do nothing to change the church’s path, which is fixed.

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  40. Craig on April 6, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    Argggg…I invested $20,000 in Iomega when it was still a penny stock…I rode that wave all the way up to 3.5 million…and all the way down…till I finally cashed out at $6,000.

    I still can’t believe how fast it all came crashing down, how greedy I had been and ultimatly just how un-plugged I was to the reality around me…is the church paying any attention to these lessons?

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  41. Dan on April 6, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    Kent,

    #31,

    The growth of the Church isn’t stagnating. If it were, the number of wards and branches would not keep growing, at least not without obvious changes in how wards and branches are run.

    It is stagnating when compared with the population growth. It’s the same thing as employment numbers. A country may increase employment on a monthly basis, but if the increase in employment is less than the increase in population by birth, then it’s not actually a good number.

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  42. Dan on April 6, 2011 at 10:46 AM

    Aaron,

    God wouldn’t change the kind of person he wants us to be just to get more of us, because then he’s not really getting what he wanted. I think on this we all agree.

    I think the question here is what kind of person does God want us to be? Are the outward appearances of more import (like smoking, drinking coffee, etc) than what is in the heart? Are we inhibiting multitudes from “coming to Christ” because we lay at their feet a burden too great for them to bear? I think it is miraculous for the few people who are capable of letting go of, say, smoking, but it’s not the norm. And it has little to do with what is in the heart.

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  43. David on April 6, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    “On my mission in France we spend so much time trying to find that “golden” rich French family that we often forgot to focus on where we should have, the poor. If our missionaries dressed down to their surroundings and actually helped people achieve the basic needs of survival, eg food, water, shelter, clothing, education, I think it would inevitably open doors and bring more people to Christ.”

    Try tracting the hills around Cannes every day for 3 months and see how much fruit there is in a neighborhood like that. ;) I generally concur.

    What your comment also brings up, ironically, is that once poor people join the church they’re confronted with images of a very rich church with certain expectations on members. You see the conference center, the temples, the city creek center, the high back chairs, the huge organ, the flowers, temple square, the cufflinks, etc. Many people might not notice those issues, but I’m sure there odds are greater than 0 that there are a few noticing the dichotomy.

    Then, once you join the church as a member, you’re told you need to wear a white shirt to pass the sacrament, that you need to wear the very best, etc., and I personally have seen a couple very poor people never return to church because they didn’t feel like they could fit it. Rightly or wrongly, I can see where they are coming from. A church that claims to be Christ’s is strangely addicted to outward appearances.

    “This begs the question about what kind of person God wants and that’s what living prophets are for. Because society and circumstances change, God gives us a living prophet for guidance”

    I know this is the party line, today, in our Church, but I’m still not convinced that that is God’s M.O.. If you go back to the original Hebrew, the language that surrounds the english “prophet” is incredibly different than what we profess.

    Jeremiah 31:31-34 seems to me more closely aligned to God’s M.O., but I admit that’s just how I read things. People are entitled to their own opinions on the matter because we all have differences that need fulfillment. Some people find it in leaders, some people find it in organization, some people find it in image, some elsewhere.

    Interestingly, the history surrounding the whole “most senior Apostle” becoming President of the church is a rather interesting one, especially when coupled with D&C 107:92. Personally, from my research (which remains open to correction), the whole “most senior Apostle” isn’t based on revelation or doctrine, but something else entirely.

    Maybe that would be the dramatic change some think is needed.

    “By modifying the doctrines, the rules and policies we could have a field day with new converts. We’d also have to disavow the past, our past leaders and out and out condemn some of our past practices.”

    The problem is, the church has changed doctrines, rules and policies since its inception, and that’s helped get us to where we are today. Whether it was the issue with blacks/priesthood, polygamy, the Word of Wisdom, the cult of personality surrounding the President of the church, correlation, conformity, etc., it’s all come about through changes in doctrine, policies, rules.

    It’s not a matter of not changing, but rather which changes are acceptable. And, so far, the only changes deemed acceptable are ones which water down our doctrine in an effort to become more palatable to mainstream Christianity on the one hand, and governing with more top-down edicts on the other.

    What is it that we’re afraid of change in a contemporary sense, but totally OK with it when looked at in the rearview mirror?

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  44. Dan on April 6, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    David,

    A church that claims to be Christ’s is strangely addicted to outward appearances.

    Well said.

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  45. FireTag on April 6, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    David: Number 8.

    I’m sorry to take so long to respond, but I do appreciate your question, and wish to answer.

    Whereas, Mike is working with almost fifty years of aggregate data, CofChrist publishes more disaggregated data (though that introduces its own problems in dealing with third world nations in particular) and thanks to research done by George Walton, there’s a database going back 130 years.

    On that timeframe we’ve gone through all sorts of permutations, so, to use your example, its possible to see that nothing changed when we started doing something, and nothing changed when we later stopped doing it. That’s about as good as it gets when you wish to test whether some variable is impacting your “experiment”.

    John Hamer’s comment 39 applies more forcefully to the Community of Christ than to the LDS. Our baptisms in North America peaked in the 1950′s, so we’ve been having these debates for more than a half-century. We’ve had more five-year plans that the Russian governments, and clearly we’ve done more radical things with priesthood authority, social emphases, or ecumenical movements than anyone here (with the possible exception of Dan) has contemplated. All of those changes may have mattered to WHO joined the church, but it didn’t change HOW MANY.

    If you want to see how truly little control we’ve had, I included some graphs in an earlier thread:

    http://www.wheatandtares.org/2010/10/23/middle-day-saints-or-church-mortality/

    The graphs are linked in the third paragraph of the post. They show the growth of the CofChrist in North America fits a set of systems equations that have been used to predict predator-prey populations, market growth of innovations, and similar competitive situations. They show that an equilibrium growth rate in North America was reached by 1880, and then the equilibrium failed in the-mid 20th Century, and the CofChrist has been locked in a declining S-curve ever since. Because the equilibrium failed for us SIMULTANEOUSLY as for other Mainstream Protestant churches, the cause must be more general than what we were doing in the CofChrist.

    So, don’t ask how you grow. Ask how to be faithful. Isn’t that stone rolling down the hill the one that is cut out of the mountain WITHOUT HANDS?

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  46. Trebea on April 6, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    Speaking of missionaries, I think there should be a rule (in case there isn’t one already) that says that missionaries should not make videos for YouTube that are not related to the calling they have. Youtube is full of missionaries making an arse of themselves and giving the Church a bad image. I also agree that our sales force needs to change but I see nothing wrong with a nice suit and tie for official meetings and ceremonies. But I agree that a more casual attire might be applicable in some countries.
    The tacky name tag is so 50′s as well.

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  47. Aaron on April 6, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    Dan, I don’t get why you think drinking and smoking are just outward appearances. My dad died last November from COPD, a condition brought about by his life-long, on-and-off smoking habit. The Word of Wisdom promises spiritual treasures. I saw those first-hand growing up when my dad kept his smoking habit under control. The times when he was smoking were markedly different. I suppose you could chalk it up to some sort of guilt-induced effect when he was smoking, but the spiritual experiences I had with my dad tell me otherwise. I also know that his smoking denied my kids of the opportunity to grow up with their grandfather. Why would something with such drastic health consequences not also have spiritual consequences?

    Even if the Word of Wisdom is merely an appearances thing, God’s promises to those that follow it are not. The way I see it, I either believe that God keeps his promises or I don’t. That’s true about the advice on tattoos, missionary attire, and the other criticisms here about a pharisaic, corporatist Church leadership. I either believe they’re inspired servants or I don’t. Do I think they should consider all valuable insight for growing the Church? Yes. Do I think that they should negotiate with God when he’s inspired them to deliver his commandments? No.

    Forgive me for being more frank in response to your comment. I’m putting stock in our friendship when writing this way. :)

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  48. ldspsygenius on April 6, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    I don’t agree with the word of wisdom as a non-important side issue but other than that I like many of your changes you suggest however I always struggle with suggestions of massive, wide-sweeping changes all at once.

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  49. Vance on April 6, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    “Even if the Word of Wisdom is merely an appearances thing, God’s promises to those that follow it are not. The way I see it, I either believe that God keeps his promises or I don’t. That’s true about the advice on tattoos, missionary attire, and the other criticisms here about a pharisaic, corporatist Church leadership. I either believe they’re inspired servants or I don’t. “

    Or, maybe we think God is dictating what we wear, what we eat and what we put on our body, when he might not care less. We might have inspired servants, but when they dabble in aspects outside the purview of the gospel [and I'd argue anything to do with dress or food has nothing to do with the gospel message], then they might just be offering their advice.

    Read Romans 14-15. Paul shares some spectacular advice on this subject.

    “And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.

    For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
    Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

    Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.

    And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

    And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. [This is the doctrine. It is limited in scope. It requires only coming to Christ. Some might interpret that to mean one thing (Romans 14), others might interpret that to mean something else. To each his own is not only a true maxim, but in line with the gospel according to this. Let each one be fully persuaded in what they do. Don't confuse things for other people, telling them what they have to do to.]

    Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.

    And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.

    And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.

    And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

    Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

    And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.”

    So, is there good advice in tattoos, earrings, clothing, food, etc.? Perhaps. But, don’t make those out to be a requisite for coming to Christ when He himself makes no such demands of those who would be His.

    We tend to both ADD and SUBTRACT, at will, to these words and try to justify ourselves.

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  50. Ron Madson on April 6, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    FWIW, here is my take/problem with the Word of Wisdom that hopefully reinforces the opening post’s position.
    If I were king for a day I would simply eliminate adherence to the WOW as a requirement for baptism. Of course, teach it and encourage a new member to live it and strive to adapt as best as possible but do not make it such a big deal that the new member believes that his/her right to be a member is linked to keeping the WOW as we interpret it.
    My reason is that if I recall correctly, I was told when I was counselor to two full time mission presidents and did dozens of interviews for baptism each month for several years that 80% of all converts that had a WOW problem had relapses within 90 days of baptism triggering not only a sense of guilt/failure but sensing that their membership was tethered in part to keeping that commandment. This contributed significantly to attrition despite our protestations that it shouldn’t. They felt their ticket was punched based on keeping the WOW and failure to keep it they lost their ticket.
    Now, here is my real fundamental problem. By making adherence to it a requirement for baptism IMO we are NOT following the admonition of the very scripture itself that says it is “not” to be given by way of commandment and is adaptable. We took it beyond the mark IMO.

    It is odd how we pick and choose. I recently gave lecture at Claremont at the Peace/War studies on DC 98. Note in DC 98 that deals with our war/peace issues that this commandment unlike DC 89 is given with a “seal and testament” and called and “immutable covenant” and told we better keep it or their are grave consequences. And yet, we flat out ignore (and in my opinion reject) that covenant as a faith community in that we have not used it once as a template since we became a state–so we really are all cafeteria mormons IMO. And we have spiritual dyslexia—we exalt 89 and reject 98…go figure.

    The problem is that we have chosen something that was specifically prefaced as not to be given as a commandment.

    Again, I am not saying to not teach it and strive to allow members and converts to avoid the evils of addiction but I am saying de-link it from becoming a member and even being in good standing. For heaven’s sake no one keeps it fully that I know.

    I had a convert that had an ongoing problem with coffee addiction. She was incredibly fit and she said some 350 lb gospel essential teacher was telling her she needed to not drink coffee because it would harm her health. I told her “yes, we are a very peculiar people.”

    We may have all the proper legalistic pedigree lined up but so did the Pharisees as Christ recognized. But is does not mean our days are not numbered if we do not pull out head out as prophesied in 3 Nephi 16 and warned in Mormon 8.

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  51. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    Wow. A number of comments have come up on here and I’m a bit behind. I was last minute packing and driving to the airport and am now sitting in my 6 square feet of space at 35,000 feet. I have a few replies, but will break them up into different comments.

    First, though, is to Craig – Bummer. I know a number of other people who were paper millionaires with Iomega, then rode it all the way down as well. We just keep thinking that if we hang in there, tomorrow will finally be the day things change.

    Ouch.

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  52. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    Regarding the comments on the changes to the missionary program:

    They are just window dressing. The program is basically the same as it’s been for decades and decades. We still dress the same. Sometimes the discussions are more free-form and spirit led. Other times there are more regimented discussions to cover the same points. There are sales tactics (Prepare-Invite-Follow Up-Resolve Concerns). But it hasn’t really changed since my mission or my father’s mission. And, numbers will suggest that the program is becoming increasingly less effective. We can certainly hang in there and see if something magical will change tomorrow that hasn’t in the past 40 years. I don’t know what that will be.

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  53. Aaron on April 6, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Said Mike, “And, numbers will suggest that the program is becoming increasingly less effective.”

    But they don’t suggest that. This is the point some of us have tried to make. I have to admit I feel like you’ve glossed over it. Your suggestions are still interesting and important, but they aren’t supported by your analysis of the numbers.

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  54. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    Regarding the comments on “Service Missionaries”:

    This is NOT what I am talking about. I am talking about true service missionaries going out into the world for true humanitarian missions. The Church counts lots of random things in this category.

    A few months ago a mature couple in our stake gave a report of their service mission. They gave up 18 or 24 months of their retirement to serve. Their calling? They went to the mid-West where they were over 10-15 buildings. They spent the time organizing maintaining the building. They did a survey where they actually measured the dimensions of each room because the Church lost the records and didn’t really know how big the buildings were. They counted pews and blackboards. They sounded almost wistful in what they were expecting by serving a “mission” and what they actually did. This is basically a job that the Church used to pay for, but now they just call someone on a “mission” to do it.

    Another couple in my ward also came back from a “service mission” recently. Their job was to clean up the membership records in the missions. They traveled to congregations and corrected/updated who was or was not in the area, and fixed any erroneous dates for ordinances/confirmations/etc.

    A recent article in the paper talked about a couple called on a “service mission” to a wildlife preserve in Utah. This is run as a for-profit venture where rich hunters spend thousands of dollars to kill things. And the couple that run it do so for free, because they are called to this position as a “service”.

    I have a number of first-hand examples. These are all “service” missionaries. These are not what I am talking about. They are all more involved in accomplishing tasks WITHIN the Church as opposed to helping the poor and afflicted ALL AROUND US.

    So, while there are more “service missionaries” than before, I think this is less a function of trying to go out and do more humanitarian service as opposed to getting people to do for free what the Church used to have to pay people to do.

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  55. Dan on April 6, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    Aaron,

    I am terribly sorry to hear that your father died of COPD. Had I known (we haven’t talked much except for facebooking in a while), I would definitely had used some other example.

    I don’t doubt the value of the Word of Wisdom. I have seen numerous examples of its benefit in the lives of many. I think we’d gain more membership (and therefore bring more people to God) if we didn’t demand so much from them. This is a life altering decision for many (which is why so many refuse). Remember the man we found on the street in Oradea? Is he still active?

    Do I think that they should negotiate with God when he’s inspired them to deliver his commandments? No.

    Why not? There are several instances of this happening in scripture, both with good and bad results.

    Forgive me for being more frank in response to your comment. I’m putting stock in our friendship when writing this way.

    Frankness is good Aaron. I wish that we were living closer together to talk more in person about things like this, but I guess facebook and blogging are the best we can do. :)

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  56. Dan on April 6, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    Ron,

    If I were king for a day I would simply eliminate adherence to the WOW as a requirement for baptism. Of course, teach it and encourage a new member to live it and strive to adapt as best as possible but do not make it such a big deal that the new member believes that his/her right to be a member is linked to keeping the WOW as we interpret it.
    My reason is that if I recall correctly, I was told when I was counselor to two full time mission presidents and did dozens of interviews for baptism each month for several years that 80% of all converts that had a WOW problem had relapses within 90 days of baptism triggering not only a sense of guilt/failure but sensing that their membership was tethered in part to keeping that commandment.

    Exactly! Well put!

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  57. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    #53: Aaron.

    I disagree. At the end of the day, as a percentage of current membership, there was less growth in 2010 than in any year I have been able to find. The Church increased in net members by 2.2%. Just a few years ago, this was 3-6%, or up to 3 times as much.

    How do these numbers suggest that there is instead increasing growth? It is still growing – true – but at a decaying rate.

    Or are there some shadow numbers somewhere that I am not accounting for?

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  58. John Hamer on April 6, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    FireTag (in #45) is certainly correct that the Community of Christ is much, much further along in its inexorable decline than the LDS Church. Like he points out, real peak RLDS growth was mid-20th century; income peaked somewhat later; everything is now in steep decline — although, again, the organization will continue along glacially throughout our lifetimes.

    Both churches share the root problem of peddling answers that better address the theological needs of a bygone era (the 1830s) than the present. More damaging, both churches are founded on distinctives that can’t be squared with reality (e.g., the Book of Mormon’s historicity). Regarding that latter reality: whereas the Community of Christ has already taken a significant hit by addressing the problem in its past, the LDS Church has ignored and denied the problem, effectively punting it to the future. The distinctives problem therefore remains a source of significant potential danger for the LDS Church going forward.

    However, the rest of my comments are not better directed at the Community of Christ. Specifically, the capacity for dynamic leadership is totally different in the two churches. Even under the old RLDS system, monarchy actually has a lot more potential for dynamic leadership than the LDS seniority succession system. Certainly the new Community of Christ system has generated very dynamic leaders; the problem now is the capacity of any leader to address inexorable trends.

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  59. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 12:29 PM

    Aaron:

    I’m sorry to hear about your father. Smoking is a terribly hard thing to quit, even for people who know its health risks.

    I obviously didn’t know that, and would never mean to make light of someone’s situation, but I do use the WofW sometimes to show my point (DISCLAIMER: Despite how it might seem, I follow the WofW and don’t really have any desire to smoke, etc.)

    It is my point, however, that we create stumbling blocks where we don’t need them. No one will argue that being an alcoholic is bad, in or out of the Church. However, there are a number of studies that suggest that a glass of wine each day is NOT bad for you, and perhaps might even be good for you. And it’s certainly nowhere near as bad for you as the obesity epidemic in the United States.

    So, we can’t really argue that the WofW is a purely “health law”. If we were truly concerned about our health, we would talk more about the part of the WofW restricting meat. If we were truly concerned about our health, we would have a scale and calculate someone’s BMI in a temple recommend interview as opposed to worrying about the cup of coffee they had (all while drinking our Diet Coke). People in China drink many cups of tea a day and they are, in general, much healthier than us.

    So, except for the obvious examples of alcoholism or smoking that everyone, in and out of the Church, agrees are bad, the main point of the WofW is to serve as an oddity.

    While there are some good results of not smoking, etc., there are actually some detrimental effects:
    - Someone might not be able to be sealed to their family because of a few cups of coffee. Ironically, Brigham Young included coffee in the rations for the pioneers. This is illogical to deny someone an eternal blessing for a suggestion.
    - Utah has the highest rate of anti-depressant use in the United States. We also have the highest rate of “non-prescription use of prescription medicines” (ie. using Lortab or Xanax or something) I see patients EVERYDAY in my practice who are on multiple anti-depressants, who are morbidly obese, etc., yet who are “following the WofW”. I honestly think that many of them would be healthier if they quit all these drugs and had a glass of wine to “lift their spirits”, as Joseph Smith stated.

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  60. Aaron on April 6, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    Mike, I’m not disagreeing with the trend. I’m disagreeing that it indicates an out-of-date missionary effort or pharisaic application of the Word of Wisdom. That’s what my original points addressed. There are so many factors influencing Church growth that you can’t reliably connect the recent trend to your criticisms of Church policy.

    Mine isn’t a doctrinal point, it’s a functional one. You might be right about the missionary program, but the growth trends don’t prove you’re right. There are many reasonable, alternative explanations for the trends that include an optimal missionary performance.

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  61. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    Regarding becoming a “mega-Church”:

    This is a strawman argument. The typical “mega-Church” is built up around a charismatic individual. Given our lay clergy, this isn’t going to happen.

    However, to be honest, I would absolutely welcome many aspects of the “mega-Churches”. I would relish their attitude of accepting ANYONE, regardless of what color shirt they were wearing, whether they had a tattoo, or how many earrings they had. The common reason it seems many people attend these is because they are uplifting. People want to hear a message about Christ. They want to touch the Divine. Why not be inclusive and have dynamic speakers?

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  62. David P. on April 6, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    I’ve found this story about wine interesting in how it pertains to this discussion:

    “Master vintner John C. Naegle was called by Brigham Young to establish and operate a winery in Toquerville and to instruct people in the wine making process. The operation that Naegle presided over built a rock house for production which included a wine cellar underneath large enough to accommodate a wagon and a team of horses and allow them to turn around. In the production house were located the vats, presses, and other production equipment to produce and ferment the wine. They produced 500-gallon casks. The wine was shipped in smaller 40-gallon casks. It was distributed through ZCMI. Wine making became an important Southern Utah industry.

    As President Grant elevated the Word of Wisdom from wise advice to a strict commandment, the practice of using wine in the sacrament came to an end. Since that time Latter-day Saints have taken a dim view of using wine in the sacrament.

    Ask yourself, however, which is a more appropriate symbol of the Lord’s supper: water or wine? If water were more so, then why did the Lord not institute use of water among the Nephites in the ceremony He is about to introduce in the verses which follow? Why is the sacrament prayer in both Moroni 5 and D&C 20: 78-79 spoken for “wine” rather than water?

    Are we morally superior because we use water instead of wine? Have we replaced a powerful symbol with a fanatical rule? Is there such a risk of adulterated or poisoned wine by anti-Mormon suppliers that we are justified in not using wine in the sacrament?

    Well, the stage is being set by the Lord for the Nephites in this verse. He is gathering attention for an ordinance to be instituted. For His purposes, our Lord asks for bread and wine. We should not impose a false cultural assessment on these words. We should not rewrite them because of our prejudice and bigotry into something other than what they say.

    From the symbol of the crushed grape, its blood spilled and then allowed to ferment, comes a symbol of the great work of the Lord. The grape juice changes through fermentation from something which affects the senses. As the Psalmist puts it wine gladdens the heart. (Psalms 104: 15.) His blood was spilled and then grew into a new power intended to gladden the heart of all those who will receive it.

    The Prophet was overshadowed with foreboding on the day of his death. The reason Stephen Markham was not with them in the jail at the time the final assault took place was because he had been sent to purchase wine by the Prophet. The jailer allowed the wine to return to Joseph, Hyrum, John and Willard, but Steven Markham was excluded. There were only four in the jail when the killings occurred. The reason they sent for wine was to gladden their hearts and lift their spirits from the oppression which hung over them. It was a day of triumph for evil and the spirit of that day was heavy. The wine and John Taylor’s singing were to console them in the terrible moments preceding the attack by 200 conspirators intent on killing Joseph and his brother.

    We have become so fanatical about being teetotalers that the story of Joseph’s use of wine on the day of his martyrdom is largely unknown today. Instead the tale of him refusing to drink whiskey as a sedative for the bone operation in his youth is retold. This is used to reinforce President Grant’s harsh view of the Word of Wisdom.

    Now, I am advocating nothing. I abstain from all forms of alcohol, possess a temple recommend, and accept the current view of absolute abstinence from any form of alcoholic consumption. But I do not believe it is a virtue. Nor do I believe substitution of water for wine increases the sanctity of the sacrament. It may do just the opposite.

    It is often the case that when men attempt to “improve” on the Lord’s teachings they go backward.”

    Mike makes a good point about the WoW. And, I concur that we generally pick and choose which parts of it we follow. It seems to me we should be a lot more vegetarian than we are… . My parents are/were addicted to Diet Dr. Pepper and Diet Coke, among other things, but wouldn’t touch coffee with a 10 foot poll. As a high school and college student, Mountain Dew was my drink of choice, but I admittedly was proud of my adherence to the Word of Wisdom. I shunned all teas (including herbal) in favor of a “meat & potatoes” diet. Meat at nearly every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    That’s my experience. Luckily, with a little time under my belt I recognize my overzealousness in judging my parents for their caffeinated drinks (and mine too), and for judging my friends and associates for their wine and coffee intakes.

    That’s what I enjoy about the story above… it reminds me of the perils of fanatiscism.

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  63. jmb275 on April 6, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    Re David

    Personally, from my research (which remains open to correction), the whole “most senior Apostle” isn’t based on revelation or doctrine, but something else entirely.

    For the record, the succession of “most senior Apostle” is codified into the corporation sole documents of the church. It’s a legal matter. I don’t think that this is the reason why that tradition began (corporation sole wasn’t around then) but it is certainly codified now and at least one reason why it continues.

    This is a fascinating thread, and a great post Mike S.

    Re Matt Marshall
    I do have to push back against this

    At the end of the day, the fact that Joseph Smith, Moses, or many of the other great prophets lived imperfect lives should not serve as anything more than lessons from history that might help us travel down life’s path a little more carefully.

    From your comment it would seem you think many leave because of the infallibility of Joseph or other leader mistakes in church history. Rhetorically, you don’t really believe that nonsense do you? You surely can see the implications of a book like RSR beyond simple leader infallibility? Too many members are ready to write-off those with church history issues by appeal to the old “well our leaders never claimed to be infallible” rhetoric. I talk with many people who have issues with the history, and not one of them expected Joseph or any other leader to be infallible. That’s a cop-out. Most of these people are the seekers, the analysts, those who care TOO MUCH about the church. To them, the events of church history just don’t add up to the claims made in the church today.

    For example, the implications of learning that Joseph didn’t actually sit in front of the plates with the urim and thummim, but rather looked at a peep stone in a hat to “translate” the BoM has a great many implications for those couched in reality. How many other books do you know of that were “translated” in this way? I’m not saying it couldn’t happen but it’s certainly an anomaly. This is just one example of a myriad of problems with church history that have NOTHING to do with the fallibility of leaders. You can’t just brush off concerns people have with church history by saying they “over think” things and “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Many would say it is you who cannot see the forest for the trees.

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  64. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    Regarding how things progress – take earrings. It’s recent and well documented:

    On Nov 12, 2000, President Hinckley gave a talk to youth and young single adults. He said:

    May I mention earrings and rings placed in other parts of the body. These are not manly. They are not attractive. You young men look better without them, and I believe you will feel better without them. As for the young women, you do not need to drape rings up and down your ears. One modest pair of earrings is sufficient.

    And that’s about it. He didn’t say “Thus saith the Lord…” It was never an official commandment or policy. He gave his opinion, which was probably an opinion shared by 99.9% of the men of his generation.

    But, by May 10, 2005, Elder Bednar told a story – telling the following:

    Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. He cared for her very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with her more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage…

    The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. … he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times.

    So, now an opinion has been elevated to the level that a “special young woman” isn’t worthy of marriage because of an extra set of earrings.

    It continues. You cannot go to BYU if you have two sets of earrings and are a female. You cannot even go if you are a High School student and want to go down to EFY. And opinion has been elevated to a “commandment from the Lord”.

    And this is symptomatic of one of the main points of the post. Obedience to our leaders is obviously important, and I’m not arguing that it isn’t. Obedience is an important part of our role on earth.

    But, the Church continually raises hedges like this. Now, the number of earrings may seem meaningless to you, but to someone else is it NOT meaningless. To someone else, our focus on the superficial is enough that they have no interest in hearing our message on eternity. And for someone else it may be that glass of wine with dinner. They may be so confused by our focus on something that even Christ Himself drank that they have no interest in hearing that He actually appeared to Joseph Smith.

    So, I’m NOT clamoring for a “lowering of standards” as some people have suggested. Instead, I suggest that perhaps we see if we can get rid of all the stumbling blocks. Instead of “Mormonism” encompassing a list of hundreds of features, ranging from the truly amazing and sublime to the absolutely trivial, why not jettison the things that might be a stumbling block so we can truly focus on the few amazing things.

    If something as trivial and non-eternal as the number of earrings someone has causes even a single person to stumble or perhaps not even investigate the Church, what purpose has that really served?

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  65. Aaron on April 6, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    Mike, what you call removing a stumbling block other people consider lowering a standard. (I don’t know if you intended it, but calling these things stumbling blocks is an ironic choice of words. Christ called himself a stumbling block.)

    I don’t think your earrings example tells the full story. The board of trustees, which includes the prophet, sets the Honor Code at BYU. Presumably, the prophet was fine with the addition, so there’s evidence that it was more than a suggestion. Elder Costa in last October’s General Conference pointed to the observation by Ezra Taft Benson that the prophet doesn’t need to say “Thus saith the Lord” for it to be a commandment. His talk is terrifically on-point with this entire discussion. (http://lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/obedience-to-the-prophets)

    I definitely agree with you that this comes down to distinguishing prophetic statements. Historical practices are instructive to consider, but the words of the living prophet trump when it comes to how we should live our lives. Last year in General Conference, President Monson said in his talk Preparation Brings Blessings, “Any form of alcohol is harmful to your spirit and your body.” Is this a prophetic statement? I take it as one. Others might not. But the Church leadership takes it as prophetic and even makes it a prerequisite to attend the temple. Either I believe that these decisions are inspired or I don’t. In my case, I believe they are inspired.

    I’m sorry if I’ve been unrelenting in my replies. I love the Internet, but I think it’s an imperfect tool for complex discussions like this one.

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  66. David P. on April 6, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    Aaron:

    Except the whole “14 fundamentals” was repudiated by the prophet when it was originally given (Kimball), only to be rehashed 2x last conference.

    You think it’s on point. I think it’s false doctrine to the extreme.

    Monson’s comment about “any form of alcohol” is ignorant, and I disagree with him on it. Just because a man in a position says something doesn’t make that something the truth. Truth is not an office to which one is ordained.

    Taking it to the extreme, since “any form of alcohol” is evil for both your spirit and body, I take it you never eat cookies or cookie dough?

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  67. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Aaron:

    I don’t consider you unrelenting. I don’t care if we agree or disagree, to be honest, and respect a difference of opinions. In reality, we probably agree on 99% of things are are squabbling over details. I do think you present well-reasoned arguments and aren’t really attacking anyone. That’s how these things are supposed to be. So, thank you.

    That being said, I suppose my problem is that I allow for the LDS teaching that prophets are fallible men. They are entitled to their own opinions. It is difficult to tell when a prophet is speaking as a man and when he is speaking for God. Perhaps the best description of this comes from Elder Maxwell. I give this in a prior post on here about the Religious Search for Truth.

    None of these things we are talking about are much more than opinion. And, while as members, we are obligated to support our leaders, my argument is higher than that. I would like to see the Church look through some of these things and modify non-essential things that get in the way of our message. At the end of the day, what you think and what I think is meaningless.

    But, I don’t look at everything a prophet says as “prophetic”. And I don’t know that any of our leaders have EVER claimed that everything they say IS prophetic.

    (I have to go now. We’re landing soon and they’re turning off WiFi on the plane)

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  68. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    Also, because it’s quick. I took come cough medicine today before getting on the plane. It is 10% alcohol. Did I break the Word of Wisdom?

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  69. Dan on April 6, 2011 at 1:55 PM

    Aaron,

    I have to agree with the others in regards to alcohol, for instance. I sustain President Monson as a prophet, but saying that alcohol is not good for you is just simply not true.

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  70. Steve on April 6, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    The LDS church is pigeon holed with outdated thinking or a lack thereof. Should we change? Of course, and there has been much change since the 1800′s, some major, but that has not changed the core problem. Nothing will or can change the core issue that will be the ultimate downfall of the church…false claims, mistreatment of human beings especially blacks and women. Let it fade into oblivion with the old morons that run it. Then there will be fewer mothers crying over their kids who found the truth and left. The world will be a better place without a large corporate church designed to manipulate people and set on making them conform to outdated ways. Amen, and do those numbers.

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  71. Jeff Spector on April 6, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Mike S,

    “However, to be honest, I would absolutely welcome many aspects of the “mega-Churches”.”

    My point in mentioning mega-churches is this:
    1. Because of the sheer size they have trouble reaching out to the one.
    2. They have been set up primarily as an entertainment vehicle, a one way street, with an audience, not necessarily a congregation or family.
    3. They want people’s money and are not shy about asking for it. It is pretty in-your-face donating.
    4. they have no expectations of the audience to be following and keeping the commandments or doing anything for anyone else.

    This is not an indictment of the people who attend those churches. Most are fine people, who are trying their best. But many are attracted by the show and not the message.

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  72. FireTag on April 6, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    Did anyone ever consider that the LDS WAS the first successful American mega-church?

    It was so successful that it could not meet in any single location.

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  73. Aaron on April 6, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    Mass reply here on the alcohol thing. It looks to me like you’re all making an argument of equivocation. What President Monson meant when he said the word alcohol is clear even with very little context and there’s little reason to think he included vanilla extract or cold medicine. (Although one sentence before he does also discouraged abusing prescription drugs.) You guys substituted his definition of “alcohol” with your own to criticize the statement. You might say that people can easily misunderstand him. I say that he was using a reasonable rhetorical tool to encourage people to live better lives.

    Also note that he said alcohol is bad for the spirit and the body. Some studies have an argument about the latter but not the former. I understand the Word of Wisdom to be a commandment of physical and spiritual health.

    David P., you said that the 14 fundamentals talk was repudiated by President Kimball. Other than a reference by his biographer that Kimball was uncomfortable with it because it was worded too strongly, I haven’t been able to find evidence to support what you said. To the contrary, the Church reprinted the talk in the June 1981 Liahona magazine. Maybe you can help me out with why you said that.

    Finally, Mike, with others here I really have appreciated your tone and insights. I completely agree with your comment about the fallibility of prophets. Perhaps where we disagree is the threshold that makes a statement prophetic. I think we should exercise restraint in dismissing a prophet’s statement because it’s too easy to be self-serving when we do. In particular, we should examine our counter-evidence carefully and frankly. It’s too easy to be wrong, and if deep down I don’t like what the prophet said I might take any weak evidence I can get.

    Safe journey.

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  74. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    Jeff:

    I see your point. However, I think, at the end of the day, someone following the commandments is between a person and God. If a “mega-preacher” inspires someone to correct themselves, is that necessarily worse than an ecclesiastical leader sitting down and going through a list of questions?

    And regarding the “in-your-face” donating: in some ways them directly asking for a donation of whatever makes sense to you/feels appropriate/you can afford/etc might seem more appropriate to people than telling them that they can’t confirm their 8-year-old son unless they pay at least 10% of their income to the organization. The second way is obviously more subtle, but the pressure is at least as real. And both groups can argue that they use the money for the same thing: they build buildings where people can meet; they fund TV stations so they can spread the gospel; they have employees who keep the work organized; their leaders visit their congregations in private jets to maximize use of their time; and they may even buy stores to sell things (although the last one doesn’t use actual donations, it just uses profits from previous donations)

    Sorry if this seems a bit sarcastic – but it’s for a point. We often turn up our noses at the “mega-Churches” or the “others”. At the end of the day, they say the same about us. Are we really that different?

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  75. Juan on April 6, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    Aaron:

    Repudiated might be too strong a word, true, but calling someone in to apologize for the talk is hardly the same as someone feeling “uncomfortable.” I’ll dig up what references I have when I return home, but that won’t be for a week or so and, unfortunately, this thread may die by then.

    “I understand the Word of Wisdom to be a commandment of physical and spiritual health.

    I’ve asked this from others, but perhaps you’ll indulge me. Can you describe how the Word of Wisdom is a commandment when D&C 89:2 specifically uses language to contradict what you say.

    And, I’m not comfortable with your assessment which seems to imply that you know exactly what kind of alcohol Monson was referring to. Alcohol is alcohol. Whether it’s 1%, 4%, 10% or 40% by volume. Monson’s statement is incredibly rigid lacking some sort of qualification. Heck, even the D&C makes room for differing varieties (i.e. “strong” drink vs. “mild” drink), but Monson specifically stated “ANY form of alcohol.”

    Do or do not the words he used matter? If they don’t matter, then why are we quoting the line anyway? If they do matter, then why are we ascribing a different meaning to them than they plainly read?

    Jeff:

    Re #1 and #3 from your list:

    “1. Because of the sheer size they have trouble reaching out to the one.

    3. They want people’s money and are not shy about asking for it. It is pretty in-your-face donating.”

    Couldn’t it be argued that the larger the Church gets, the harder it is becoming to nourish individuals? It seems everywhere we turn the church is trying to enact some new program, some new policy all aimed at loving individuals.

    All the while I think we focus more on the programs, and less on the person – at least from an institutional standpoint, and the same can be said about other mega-churches.

    As to #3, do you really think our tithing program (and other “funds”) are that much different than other churches? Tithing is regularly harped on in GC, as are Fast Offerings, as is the Humanitarian Fund, and the Missionary Fund and LDS Charities and LDS Philantropies and on and on. Just look at the tithing slip itself. Not all of them are pimped concurrently, but at one point or another at least 2 or 3 of the funds are being focused on…

    Personally, I don’t think it’s that different.

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  76. Steve on April 6, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    Religion is like a penis: Most people spend to much time thinking and boasting about theirs. There is no greater hope then seeing it grow. It’s just dandy to have one. It’s even fine to be proud of it. But, please don’t whip it out in public and wave it around. And, of course, don’t try shoving it down children’s throats.

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  77. Andrew S on April 6, 2011 at 5:02 PM

    hurf durf I’ve seen that one a few times.

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  78. Steve on April 6, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    I will leave the really important work to you guys. Like LDS leadership gives a flying crap what disgruntled Mormons want or think. Why waste your time writing or talking about it. There is life out there go live it.

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  79. Andrew S on April 6, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    says the guy who goes around discussions pasting copypasta.

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  80. Steve on April 6, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    “copypasta” oh how truly cool Mormon men are.

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  81. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    Steve,

    I’m not going to delete your comments because that’s not really how things work around here. And personally, I don’t like sites that “edit” comments with which they disagree.

    That being said, there are plenty of sites out there for people who want to merely “bash” Mormonism. No one cares if you’re Mormon or not, if you believe or not, or really anything. I feel differently than many people on here about a lot of things. But we respect each other.

    So, while Mormonism is obviously not for you, it still means something to me and a lot of people on here. Please respect that. If you have something useful to say, we’d love to have you here, regardless of what it is. If you want to rant, there are probably better places.

    (And, by the way, I would say the same thing if you were saying these comments about Catholics or Muslims or Buddhists or atheists.)

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  82. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 6, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/04/the-implied-statistical-report-2010/ is a nice post to go with this one.

    BTW, it is important to note that world population growth rates have gone negative in most places (including China and India, which have the same birth rate).

    Population continues to grow due to aging of the population (people are taking longer to die)rather than a birthrate at over replacement.

    That has dramatic implications.

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  83. Stephen Marsh on April 6, 2011 at 9:53 PM

    I’ve asked this from others, but perhaps you’ll indulge me. Can you describe how the Word of Wisdom is a commandment when D&C 89:2 specifically uses language to contradict what you say.

    What the verse states is that it starts as not being a commandment, but introduces principles. There is nothing in that which requires that once the principles have been introduced, principles that are within the reach, it states, of anyone [even the weakest] who is fit to be a member of the Church, that it not become a law for those who now know it.

    I’d object to using the term “pimped” to describe the Church, and will leave it at that.

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  84. Mike S on April 6, 2011 at 10:40 PM

    Stephen:

    I agree with you. In the history of the Church, what a prophet says is only valid until a subsequent prophet decides to reinterpret it.

    They may extend things that prior prophets said, such as taking a prohibition on strong drinks (hard liquor) and extending it to even changing the sacrament ordinance to eliminate the wine described in the sacrament prayers.

    They may delete things, such as saying that when Brigham Young talked about the inhabitants of the moon or sun in a talk, that he was only “speaking as a man”. Or as McConkie stated with regard to blacks and the priesthood, “I was wrong”.

    Given the current policies in the Church, the current prophet trumps all. Perhaps the biggest difficulty is deciding which of the things the current prophet is says are “prophetic” and which are spoken “as a man”. There are two ways to reconcile this:

    1) Accept everything the current prophet says as prophetic and directly from God. This eliminates the prophet’s own opinions. In this version, one might pay lip service to the fact a prophet is fallible, but essentially is the principle of prophetic infallibility.

    2) The second way is to evaluate things the current prophet says in light of the scriptures and prior teachings. This way accepts prophetic fallibility, but is more difficult in some ways. While someone may be able to distinguish between when a prophet is speaking as a prophet and when he is speaking as a man, at times, someone may be wrong.

    I think the prevalent view in the Church, especially among the hierarchy, is the first view. The prophet’s words are the words of God. The current prophet’s words trump all. The Fourteen Points reemphasize this. The prophet is infallible.

    But I still think there is a sizable minority in the Church who ascribe to the second point-of-view. They can point out things that all prophets have said that were flat-out wrong. The historical track record is that prophet don’t ALWAYS speak as prophets.

    My own personal opinion is probably closer to the second. And I’m backed up by someone as prominent as Neal A Maxwell. He even pointed out differing levels of revelation for the Church. A statement by the prophet is not as weighty as a statement by the combined First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve, and allows for the prophet to actually have an opinion.

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  85. Jon on April 6, 2011 at 10:56 PM

    @Mike S,

    Yes, and that is what makes it difficult to talk to people sometimes, if you ascribe to #2 (which is what I do) and they ascribe to #1.

    Take Iraq, try and talk to any mormon in #1 about it and they say, well, Hinckley alluded to the fact that he probably was for the war, therefore I’m for it too, end of discussion.

    Or, take those that question the over use of vaccines. These are the people that go beyond #1 and say, if the church participates in something (even if the 12 have nothing to do with it) it must be right and there can be no other opinion. This is the response that I got, well, the church vaccinates the missionaries, therefore vaccines must be good. (Let’s not get in a debate about the efficacy of vaccines, it’s just an illustration). So do we call these people #0? I say, have some original thought and ask questions and not take things at face value. I thought there was a quote from BY saying it was a foolish man that didn’t question him. Don’t remember where I saw that quote though.

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  86. Steve on April 6, 2011 at 11:12 PM

    Jesus Loves You! Mormonism is totally true. JS didn’t use a rock in his hat like all the witnesses said he did. JS didn’t fire back and truly did go to his death as a lamb to the slaughter…no alcohol was consumed that day. President Monson doesn’t put new twists on his old stories and retell them as if they were true each conference. I know the church is true. I hope this puts me back into a good light. If not I just wanted to say that I wore a white shirt to conference this week. Please forgive me for my “ranting”. I love you like brothers and sisters, just don’t ask me for a loan, or to join your pyramid scheme if you happen to be from Provo. Amen

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  87. Steve on April 6, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    On a more serious note. I have an MBA and some statistics background and am wondering why no one is interested in “real impact” i.e., the number of members actually attending church out of the 14 million plus. Does it seem odd to anyone that all the effort put in each sunday to track such information is not shared with general membership? And why? Well because the actual attendance numbers as presented or leaked in 1998 showed that less than 14% of the then I believe 11 million atually were active and going to church. What I extrapolate from the shell game is that there are two possible reasons why. #1 God is very inefficient in spreading his one true church while at the same time the number of buildings including his own houses aka temples have grown in the thousand percentile. Or, people are joining and finding out there is more to it then the missionaries told them, i.e., temple rituals and additional requirements that hadn’t been disclosed to them and leave. I guess we could do a #3 and say that Satan is apparently more efficient with members then the church is. But I see no additional explanations, and then with the secrecy of the numbers collected each week it leads me to believe more thought ought to go into it by members. Unfortunately they are taught not to ask questions or we might all have the real numbers.

    I actually think this blog post is very good. I’m impressed that believers dare to post any of it. It goes to show that there is positive change in the church. Keep on thinking!

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  88. Mike S on April 7, 2011 at 5:49 AM

    Steve:

    Yes, some of us have issues with various things. But I don’t know that everyone is ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. We live in an imperfect world. I have issues with things in the government, the place I work, etc. But somehow we make it work. I just choose to look at the good.

    Also, thank you for the tone of your last comment (#86). It is much more like what we are accustomed to.

    And just FYI: One of your prior comments is going to be deleted – not because anyone is trying to “censor” what you think – but because it’s just plain vulgar.

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  89. Ryan on April 7, 2011 at 8:08 AM

    Re: #85

    Not to get into vaccines, but there are members of the 12 who are very much pro-vaccine. And, the doctor advising the 12 on “health” issues is very much pro-vaccine. And, there was a letter from the First Presidency in 1979 advocating the benefits of vaccinations, alluding to those who don’t get vaccinations “ignorant and apathe[tic].”

    Then, it goes to the manuals – YW, YM, RS and PH manuals all have recommendations on getting them.

    Someone I know closely sent a letter into the 12 (back when you could send letters) asking about their stance on vaccinations. The letter was responded to by the Secretary of the 12, who forwarded on a letter from the doctor advising the 12 on health issues responding to the concerns noted in the letter to a member of the 12. So, at least in this instance, the member of the 12 answered the concerns by allowing a doctor who advises the 12 to answer it.

    So the vaccination thing goes pretty deep in the church (like society).

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  90. Amanda on April 7, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    While you are making suggestions on how to improve non-doctrinal issues… I would appreciate if you added a paragraph about the temple wedding. Other countries are enjoying the benefits of having a civil ceremony and marriage before a temple sealing without the punishment of a one year wait. This allows the couple to have ALL their friends and family present at their wedding. Read more here http://www.templeweddingpetition.org/enter/index.html

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  91. Kent Larsen on April 7, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    Re #89

    Don’t forget that one of the 12, Abraham Owen Woodruff, likely died from failing to be vaccinated for smallpox. Although advised to get the vaccine by the President of the Church, Woodruff decided not to (vaccines were then much more controversial — many people thought they were putting poisons in their body). He and his wife then died while serving in Mexico from smallpox.

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  92. Jon on April 7, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    Sorry for mentioning vaccines. I was just trying to illustrate a point of #0. Maybe you guys could do a post on communicating more effectively on blogs so people will stop looking at your side mentions instead of the main points. It seems I have a hard time getting people to debate the main issue at hand when I bring up controversial stuff.

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  93. Matt Marshall on April 7, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    A couple of posts have asked me to provide details on where the WoW went from advice to commandment, or came to encompass things not covered in the text of the WoW. I don’t want to seem like I’m ‘calling anyone’s bluff’, but I think it is safe to assume that our WoW ‘originalists’ here are aware of how the Word of Wisdom has reached its current interpretation. And, if not, then read on in this not particularly LDS partisan account of the WoW’s history on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_of_Wisdom).

    The point I would make here, however, is a bit more fundamental in nature. In the Church we believe in and understand the purpose of a living prophet. And plainly put, either we really believe in things like this or we don’t. I believe in living prophets, and accept the developed interpretation of the Word of Wisdom on that basis. Sincerely speaking, if someone does not have a testimony of such things, it is not hard to question developments with things like the WoW, priesthood for blacks, etc. coming from subsequent prophets.

    And, as indicated in my other post, while understanding a full history of the Church, its leaders, even the evolution of things like the WoW is useful, we’re missing the mark, and frankly wasting our time if we are not trying even harder to ask God to help us know if any of it is true by the power of the Holy Ghost. I know of no other way to get over the hump on this deal, cause there is plenty to doubt from the world’s perspective, as has always been the case in the Lord’s Church throughout history.

    I’m not ashamed to admit that I have had my bouts of skeptisim, where I have not left it to Church leaders to tell me what to do, and instead asked God for direction on the matter. Not surprisingly, answers only come when I’ve asked sincerely, open to whatever may come.

    I’m certain there will be those who reject my view, but being raised by a man that seemingly never failed to question just about every authority figure he encountered, I can assure you I arive here honestly and independently. So… game on. ;)

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  94. Matt Marshall on April 7, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    @Mike

    “Also, because it’s quick. I took come cough medicine today before getting on the plane. It is 10% alcohol. Did I break the Word of Wisdom?”

    I figure you ask in gest, but I’ll play along anyway. I don’t think taking NightQuil in its proper context is any different than taking a perscription pain killer in its proper context.

    However, when I start to abuse perscription pain killers, I know I’m violating the Word of Wisdom. I’d bet a McGriddle the same is true for NightQuil, so don’t go losing sleep over that one. ;)

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  95. David on April 7, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    Marsh:

    As I read your argument, I wonder about the inconsistencies inherent to it.

    “What the verse states is that it starts as not being a commandment, but introduces principles. There is nothing in that which requires that once the principles have been introduced, principles that are within the reach, it states, of anyone [even the weakest] who is fit to be a member of the Church, that it not become a law for those who now know it.

    Ignoring the focus on “law”, even describing the WOW [or anything else for that matter] as something that goes from a recommendation -> principle -> blessing -> commandment is one fraught with inconsistencies. You specifically imply that this happens on the individual level, and yet the very requirements to enter the Church [the weakest as you and the D&C describe them] are the most stringent aspects of it [i.e. 100% obedience to those we pick-and-choose, nothing less].

    As Ron noted above, I knew a man very well, who converted to the gospel as a chain smoker. He was a veritable chimney, and somehow still glowed with the spirit. He quit for a sum total 72 hours before his baptism and was “allowed” to be baptized. He was baptized, then disappeared. When I was finally able to find him again [a week after his baptism], he had resumed smoking and wouldn’t even consider stepping foot in the chapel because of the guilt he felt at his relapse.

    To him, the standard was 40 feet tall, and he was at 5 feet. He was conditioned to think he could never give it up and, as a result, was not “fit” for membership in the Church.

    Whereas the tacit implications of your statement suggest that it should become progressively more stringent until becoming a law, the modern church practice is a law from the get-go. This, in spite of the wording of the very scriptures we’re discussing.

    My question is this: there is language in the New Testament which specifically contradicts this approach, as well as in D&C 89. If you take Romans 14 (someone mentioned above), or Matthew 15, you’re left with an interpretation that is at odds with the whole “the WOW is a commandment because a modern prophet said so” or whatever argument you use.

    On an individual level (i.e. in your life), I think it’s totally acceptable to take whatever interpretation you see fit (commandment) and apply it to your life, but suggesting that interpretation is the “divine” interpretation that all members must abide by is a little problematic, especially considering the scriptural contradictions it raises.

    “The point I would make here, however, is a bit more fundamental in nature. In the Church we believe in and understand the purpose of a living prophet. And plainly put, either we really believe in things like this or we don’t. I believe in living prophets, and accept the developed interpretation of the Word of Wisdom on that basis. … if someone does not have a testimony of such things, it is not hard to question developments with things like the WoW, priesthood for blacks, etc. coming from subsequent prophets.”

    So, one can’t believe in the “purpose of a living prophet” if one disagrees with something the modern prophet teaches? Further, you argue that disagreement is specifically linked to not having a testimony, while you have such a testimony and therefore don’t disagree. And, per this logic, not having a testimony is the basis for questioning this and other aspects? As in, I can’t disagree and still expect to have a testimony?

    This argument, by itself, gets into the whole historical stage we presently find ourselves in. Prior to 1955, the “prophet” as you describe it (and most) was known as the “President” of the church. The title “prophet” was reserved for Joseph Smith – rightly or wrongly. Since that development, any disagreement people have with something the President of the church is categorized as a lack of faith, a lack of testimony, unbelief and, generally speaking, apostasy. This development has resulted in many people being forced out of the church – among other things – because they no longer feel like they can question something that the “Prophet” teaches.

    The following specifically applies to your comment (sorry it’s so long, but thought it would add both to this discussion, and to Mike’s on raising the issues he noted in the OP (sorry for the tangent, Mike):

    =====================

    The alteration of the Presiding High Priest’s status from “President” to “Prophet.” From the time of Joseph Smith until 1955 the term “Prophet” was used exclusively to refer to Joseph Smith. It was changed in 1955 to apply to the living President, David O. McKay. Before then no living man was ever referred to as “Prophet” within the church, other than Joseph Smith. When the word “Prophet” was used after Joseph’s death, it was understood the term meant Joseph Smith.

    In our context, what has happened as a result of this alteration is that the former significance of the church’s president was administrative, and priestly. He was a final arbitrator and judge, a presiding authority and a leader whose words were to be considered carefully. He was NOT considered infallible or to be invariably inspired. In fact, during the presidencies of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young and President John Taylor, they all spoke against any notion of infallibility of the church’s president. President Young was particularly cautionary about trusting church leaders instead of the Holy Spirit as your guide. President Young said too much trust of a church leader would bring the saints to hell.

    President Woodruff was so criticized by members for the Manifesto that he defended himself by claiming that the Lord wouldn’t let him make a mistake on that order. He said that the Lord just wouldn’t let the church’s president lead the saints astray. That comment was what would later be used to buttress the notion popularly believed today that the “prophet is infallible.”

    President Heber J. Grant was an unpopular church president. One of the problems with getting the saints to respond to the church president’s counsel was solved when the president of the church became the living “Prophet.” You can reject or question counsel from an administrative authority. But to question a “Prophet of God” was to invite the damnation of hell. So the change in nomenclature worked a mighty change in the perceptions of the Latter-day Saints. The “cult of personality” was an inevitable result. Everything the president did would be done as “God’s Living Prophet.” No matter what decisions were made, no matter their wisdom, goodness or undesirability, the result was the same: “They MUST be inspired. We may not have the human capacity to see it, but God’s ways are higher than man’s after all. To question is to lack in faith.”

    The change put the president into a league in which at a minimum criticism was disrespectful. Worse, if you were convinced that he made a mistake, it followed almost as an inevitability that you were absolutely forbidden from saying so because to do so revealed a “weakness in the faith.” In fact, there are General Conference talks which speak about criticizing the church president (or “Living Prophet”) claiming that the criticism was due to a weak faith, and it would lead to apostasy unless a person repented.

    This cult of personality has grown as a result of internal structural changes, including correlation. The outcome is particularly dramatic with respect to the tolerance of women’s inspiration. Whereas, in the early years a woman could be regarded as a “prophetess” (Eliza R. Snow, for example), today that recognition would be offensive to correlation, where all functions are combined under priesthood, and all priesthood is subject to the president alone as final authority.

    The “cult of personality” has been extended to cover everything. You name it it is now covered. Take any complaint at all: The chapel paint is hideous! Well, there are those who will argue that the chapel’s paint is chosen by the regular authorities of the church, who are chosen by the prophet, and your complaint about the paint color is really questioning the Prophet of God’s authority. Therefore you are on the road to apostasy….

    EVERYTHING is inspired. EVERYTHING, by extension, is happening because a “Prophet of God” has made it so. Therefore unless you concede that “All is Well in Zion” you are questioning the “Prophet of God” and on the road to apostasy.

    The stifling effect of this is pernicious. It is not a view shared at the top. In fact, the brethren preach against this notion, but to no avail.

    The difference between good men doing good things in good faith, who are entitled to our support in their calling and efforts on the one hand, and a prophet of God whose words are questioned at the peril of eternal damnation on the other hand is the overwhelming difference which now plagues the church. We cannot have a discussion that questions the wisdom of church policies, procedures or decisions. When even obvious mistakes are made, people who notice are not to speak of it, and if they do they are told that they are weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy. Criticism is essential to a healthy mental state. Without feedback and criticism you cannot raise a normal, healthy child. Try raising a child to whom you lavish only praise, and to whom you say, without regard to how bad, poorly or evil an act they commit: “You are inspired! You are right! It was good of you to have done that! God Himself inspired that act!” What you would raise up would be a monster. Without criticism and challenges to decisions made, no-one can ultimately become anything worthwhile.

    We have a church in which those who love it the most, and whose perceptions may be the keenest, are required to take a host of questions, suggestions or criticisms and never give them voice. The only negative feed-back must originate from either outside the church, or if inside they are cast out because they are weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy. This was the inevitable evolution from the cult of personality. It is still unfolding. It will progress in a funnel which narrows over time until, at last, when the work has been fully completed, we will have a Pope who is infallible. Not because he is always inspired, but instead because he holds the keys to bind on earth and in heaven, and as a result God is bound by whatever he does. History assures us this will be the case. UNLESS, of course, we open things up to a more healthy way of going about our Father’s business.”

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  96. David on April 7, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    PS: Matt Marshall, you formerly from Tampa, FL?

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  97. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 7, 2011 at 4:31 PM

    during the presidencies of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young and President John Taylor, they all spoke against any notion of infallibility of the church’s president. President Young was particularly cautionary about trusting church leaders instead of the Holy Spirit as your guide. President Young said too much trust of a church leader would bring the saints to hell.

    Which, I would note, I learned of in a talk by Spencer W. Kimball before my mission.

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  98. Mike S on April 7, 2011 at 6:25 PM

    Thank you everyone again for your comments. They have been very interesting and have contributed a lot to the discussion (except for one set which received the “nuclear option”).

    I haven’t been ignoring everyone. I’ve just been at the Capitol all day at the offices of a number of Senators and Representatives about some issues. I didn’t really have time to read and reply to everything.

    But, here goes. I’ll break my replies up into different comments so it doesn’t get too long and so that if anyone wants to address just one idea, it’s easier.

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  99. Mike S on April 7, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    Jon:

    Don’t worry about “side-tracking” the conversation with vaccinations. That’s the point of the comments – to discuss whatever may flow from the original post. And I agree that it does represent another example of a “non-doctrinal” thing that has been conflated in some people’s minds to a “doctrinal” thing.

    On a personal note, as both a parent and a physician, I recommend vaccines and have vaccinated my own children. There haven’t been any studies that definitively link vaccines to autism or any of the other things they have been linked to.

    For example, a certain percentage of children are going to be diagnosed with autism at any given time. There are millions of vaccines given. It is therefore inevitable that there are going to be some children diagnosed with autism after a vaccine was given. For that family, the two will always be linked. But when it is studied, there is no difference in autism diagnoses whether someone received a vaccine or not. And the initial researcher who published the study that started all the hype recently admitted that he FABRICATED THE DATA to prove a point that he wanted to prove. The article has been recanted and he has been discredited. Similarly, there is no actual data showing a link, and a number of studies showing there is NOT a link.

    So, regarding vaccines, it is obviously a personal opinion and I don’t really care what you do. If a child here or there doesn’t get a vaccine, their chance of getting polio or some other preventable disease is still minuscule because everyone around them HAS been vaccinated, so there is no one to get the disease from. HOWEVER, there will always be a critical mass. Once enough people stop vaccinating, the disease will recur. And that would be really sad – to have a recurrence of something that is essentially a preventable thing.

    Anyway. Off my soap box. I shouldn’t tell you what to do. And neither should the Church. My job as a physician is to give you information and let you decide what you want to do.

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  100. Mike S on April 7, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    #90 Amanda:

    GREAT COMMENT. Marriages and the temple are another PERFECT example of what I am talking about. I actually considered adding it to the post when I wrote it, but it was already getting long and I didn’t want to bog people down in too many specifics, as the principle is what I was getting at.

    I agree with you. A marriage is ideally a beautiful time. It is a time when families are joined, when families are brought together, a joyous and happy time. This occasionally happens, but our policy is divisive and causes unnecessary hard feelings. There are always going to be non-LDS family members that are excluded from a wedding. There are young children that are excluded from a wedding. And even if everyone in a family is LDS, there are still problems. I have one sibling who couldn’t go to my own temple wedding. That is something that can NEVER be relived.

    A much, much better solution is to let a couple get married civilly if they want. Let them invite family and close friends. Let them invite younger siblings. Let it be a joyous time of celebration.

    And then, the same day, or the next day, or in a week after the honeymoon, or when they are ready, let them be sealed. Let them focus on the amazing significance of what an eternal sealing means without all the stress of a wedding day. Let them slow down and ponder what that means. It could be a beautiful thing, and could mean so much more than the freight train that is a wedding day.

    And a change like this would NOT require changing ANY doctrine, as it is already what the Church does outside the United States. In other countries, a couple can get married and THEN go through the temple. It is merely a misguided policy, in my opinion.

    I understand why some people think it’s good, as it “promotes” temple marriage, but I think it is actually counterproductive in many if not most cases.

    We should think outside the box. Things like this that are non-doctrinal and which have the potential to offend should be jettisoned so we can focus on the important.

    Thank you for your comment.

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  101. Mike S on April 7, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    #94 Matt Marshall

    Regarding “abuse of prescription medicine” as being against the Word of Wisdom. You may know, but Utah has the HIGHEST rate of “non-prescription use of prescription medicine”, which is just a fancy way of saying the same thing. As doctors, we just have to use bigger words to say simple things so we sound smart.

    Because, in most people’s minds, it is NOT against the Word of Wisdom. There are people who take pain medicine, muscle relaxers, anxiety medicines, etc. in ways not prescribed by their doctors, who would NEVER think of having a sip of beer.

    If it were a health thing, a glass of wine or beer would be much healthier than all of these chemicals we fill ourselves with. We’ve mentioned it above – the Word of Wisdom is NOT primarily a health code at this point, but it is a litmus test. It became a way to “set us apart” once polygamy was banned.

    But I digress.

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  102. Mike S on April 7, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    #65 David

    Regarding the “cult of personality” that has arisen around the Prophet, it is real. The majority of people think that EVERYTHING the prophet says is directly from God. We teach that in Seminary – Amos, etc.

    The reality is different. The members of the Quorum of 12 and First Presidency are, just like everyone else, opinionated men. They disagree on things. They are careful to NOT do it publicly, but it is real. I know for a fact that there are policies of the Church, right now, that are not necessarily inspired, but are there because they are the opinion of a more senior apostle. More junior apostles want to do some things differently, but our of respect for seniority, they are willing to let the current policy stand until the more senior apostle “moves on”.

    So, not everything the Church practices is “doctrine”. If someone disagrees with a policy, there is probably an apostle that disagrees with the same policy. But, for the sake of unity, they are supportive.

    Unfortunately, if someone DOES question a policy, because of the circumstances you mention, that person’s testimony is called into question and they are assumed to be well on the way to apostasy. A much different attitude than just having a different opinion, but it is reality for many members of the Church.

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  103. Ron Madson on April 7, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    David and Mike S.,

    I really appreciated David’s #65 comments and of course, the discussion spawned by Mike S.’s excellent and thoughtful post. I also define “prophet” more liberally than reserving it exclusively to the President of our Church. I would hope the President has the gift of prophecy, reveals hidden things and uses the “seer” stones to uncover sealed scriptures, but whether God uses them or others to communicate truth is up to God not us. We can’t just vote to have it that way. Moreover, historically prophets were more frequently called outside of the institutionalized church at any given time. This came up during our OT study last year and rather then freak out GD class I came home and wrote this post posing a question in regard to Jeremiah-
    http://themormonworker.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/where-is-jeremiah-today/
    The question remains with me today. Where are the Jeremiahs of today? Or do they even exist? or will they? I have my personal opinions but the evidence is that God does “new things” or sends his messengers from among the outcasts more often then not. And if it was so then, then why could it not occur again and again—as Isaiah said, “all things that have been will be…”??

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  104. Waldo Cassier on April 8, 2011 at 1:29 AM

    I don’t think it’s the missionary program itself that needs to change. As missionaries, you’re primary goal is to teach. The church has already started to change how missionaries teach, by getting the everyday member more involved so they can bring people who are ready to hear about us to the missionaries, and be taught. And i don’t know about other missionaries, but i did LOTS of service on my mission. Just helping people harvest their corn, paint their house, cut their grass, etc. Missions are known for the quantity of service you give already.

    I also have to disagree with your comparing the church, a 180 year old organization to a corporation that lasted at most two decades. They are not related in the least. Iomega existed for the same reasons other corporations existed: to make a profit. The church is not out to make a profit. Their motives are completely different.

    Also, instead of extrapolating to 20 years that loss will be greater than growth based off the past few years, you might want to step back and consider the whole 180 years and see what is really going on, even looking at the very beginning when the church was growing at much more than 2% per year. Sure the rate of growth slowed somewhere, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the rate of growth is linear, meaning it will become negative at some point.

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  105. Matt Marshall on April 8, 2011 at 3:42 AM

    #96 David

    No… I’m from Michigan.

    #101 Mike

    I can’t let what others do guide my decisions, so I generally don’t worry about the proclivities of other people, Utah Mormons included.

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  106. Mike S on April 8, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    #105 Matt

    I agree. In my (worthless) opinion, all of these health issues should be up to the individual anyway. This is in regards to what we eat, what we drink, whether we vaccinate, etc. In medicine, I even extend this to surgery. Someone may even choose to NOT have their pneumonia treated, knowing the consequences. I can give information, but the choices are up to the person.

    I think the Church, like any organization, does have a role in making suggestions regarding health, etc. This is how the Word of Wisdom, for example, was originally given. I think basing whether someone can go to the temple or confirm their child after baptism contingent on whether they enjoy a cup of coffee now and then is a bit off-base.

    But, I recognize that I’m certainly in the minority with this point-of-view.

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  107. Jon on April 8, 2011 at 8:32 AM

    @Mike S,

    Yes, I just need to use better examples or something so people focus on the main point of my thoughts, i.e., some people see also the church as infallible beyond even the apostles.

    As for vaccines, I’m not 100% against vaccines, I think they serve a good purpose. I just think they are over used and sometimes thought to be good but maybe not. I don’t ascribe to doctors always being infallible either. I have deep of any profession deeply entangled with the state.

    Polio. There is one theory that it was DDT let out in the environment that caused the outbreak of polio. Countries that still have problems with polio still use, as far as I know, DDT. So if you travel to a country where polio is prevalent should you get a polio vaccine? Probably.

    Other things we vaccinate for had also seen declines in the rate of the disease at the same time that we have become a more sanitary society with our waste disposal. So the historical impact of vaccines is exaggerated.

    Flu vaccines are hugely over sold to the public. Before certain age groups were discouraged from getting the flu vaccine but now that the market is saturating more age groups are being encouraged to take it. Even though many times the flu vaccine doesn’t even have the prevalent flu strain in it for that season.

    Doctors say don’t worry about the mercury (which is taken out of most vaccines today), aluminum, etc (and other exotic ingredients). Since the levels are below that which is OK to ingest discounting that we are injecting these right into our blood stream so the comparison is truly apples and oranges.

    Doctors have a tendency to believe what they are told without doing their own research (or even understanding the research, math can be complicated). Take that one statin drug that was actually killing people. One doctor, as illustrated in the book Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine, tried to warn other doctors after he had read the research on the medicine. Other doctors just wouldn’t believe him.

    Doctors are human just like the rest of us. Just like when doctors were told that washing their hands in between patients would help stop the spread of disease they scoffed at them and continued their normal procedures. Just as today doctors scoff at Dr. Andrew Wakefield for his beliefs (which he has not denied). The original paper written by Dr. Wakefield and others originally didn’t even say that vaccines are the cause of autism. It merely suggested that it should be studied. There has been a smear campaign against Dr. Wakefield when he does bring up valid points. Will he be like others in medicine that are only applauded after their death when they are found to be right? I don’t know. You should listen to his side of the story http://www.naturalnews.com/031211_Andrew_Wakefield_BMJ.html

    Usually when they show graphs of the disease to prove historically that the vaccines work they omit previous data that shows it was going down even before the vaccine was introduced.

    These are just some of the reasons I don’t trust medicine 100% like some people do. Don’t get me wrong, if I break my arm or get deathly ill I’ll go to a doctor. I just won’t trust their judgment 100%. I’ll do my own research to try and understand what is going on.

    My main point is, doctors are people and can be fallible. We should trust their judgment but we should also trust our own. We must be careful though because common sense won’t always lead us to that which is right. Neither will professionals. Many doctors denounce other doctors as quacks but have never actually done the research to find out if that is true. They might be the preeminent denouncer of some other method of treatment but have never actually looked at the data of the treatment to find out if they are right or wrong.

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  108. Jon on April 8, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    @Mike S,

    But, I recognize that I’m certainly in the minority with this point-of-view.

    It seems most people that read this blog would agree with you on those assertions. I also agree with you. I think we make a bigger issue of it than it really is.

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  109. Mike S on April 8, 2011 at 8:58 AM

    Jon:

    I agree with you about doctors being fallible. Every single day I have patients ask me if the NEED whatever operation we are talking about. I tell them, of course not. I give them risks and benefits, as objectively as I can. But they ultimately have to decide what makes sense FOR THEM. And the answer is different for each person.

    And, sometimes, medicine flat out gets things wrong. There are things that make sense now that will seem illogical ten years from now. The problem is that we don’t know which particular things those are.

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  110. Eric on April 8, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    “Mike, did you know it’s illegal to invest student loans in the stock market?”

    It’s completely illegal for Stafford Federal loans, but not for private loans. If you do not write the interest off as a tax credit and choose to use some of your student loan for investing, it’s not illegal. If any portion of the money INVESTED is applied as a tax credit as it comes out on your loan’s balance sheet, then it is illegal.

    Just to clear that up :).

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  111. Daniel on April 8, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    I can give you 5 names of people who had their name removed from Church records during 2010 (myself included), and I think I know others. This isn’t a number, it’s people, and I know why we left.

    We were angry at the Church’s involvement with conservative politics. We were upset with the way people “follow the prophet” cultishly. We were upset with the minimal role women play in the Church. We were upset that the Church teaches things pertaining to gay people and gay rights that are flat out lies.

    All of those things can be changed, but I don’t see it happening until the loss becomes more obvious. I don’t think the Church misses us. I really honestly don’t think they do. And until they want to have us and others like us as members, then they will be missing out on a huge pool of potential converts.

    On another note-I served a mission from 2005-2007, and I agree that missionary work needs to change. I see the Internet taking over the role of teaching converts–lessening the need for teachers. Missionaries then should be freed to take over other more useful tasks. But that means we need a guard change in the leadership department, and that will take a while.

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  112. Mike S on April 8, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    Daniel:

    As much as I don’t like to say it, I think you are probably correct about the Church not particularly caring about you as an institution. There are certainly members of the Church who care about you. And Christ cares about you. But I see your point.

    We continually have conference talks about leaving the 99 and going to get the 1, but it is entirely one way. For the “one” to return, it is by accepting the Church’s entire program. There really isn’t a mechanism within the Church where it can perhaps look back at itself and see if there are policies they are doing that are causing people to leave (or not have interest).

    And the things you mention are generally NOT doctrinal things, which is the whole point of this post. They are things that COULD change in the Church if the leadership wanted them to change.

    Looking at the years you went on a mission, the Church does have some concern for your demographic. Many in the COB are expressing concern about a “lost generation”. The activity rate among Young Single Adults along the Wasatch front is around 10-15%. It is a generation that is drifting as far as the Church is concerned.

    The problem is that they express concern, but won’t do anything to fix it. They want to come up with some new “program”. They want to come up with a way to “check in” on people with texts, etc. But that’s not the problem. They need to change what they talk about. A 25 year old person looks at tattoos and earrings and such completely different from an 80 or 90 year old person. It has nothing to do with doctrine. And it goes on from there.

    I do think that unless the Church is FORCED to address some of these things, through decreased membership, decreased tithing, external pressures, etc., NOTHING will change. The Church was forced to abandon polygamy because of outside pressure. The Church was forced to abandon institutionalized racism because of outside pressure.

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  113. Mike S on April 8, 2011 at 11:21 PM

    #104 Waldo

    While you think that the comparison of the Church with a corporation is inaccurate, I would tend to disagree. A number of reasons:

    - Start with the name: The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    - We built a $3 billion dollar mall
    - We run ranches and private hunting preserves
    - We own billions of dollars in real estate
    - We own TV and radio stations
    - We market the strategies used in the missionary program

    Our unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of our audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. We call this uniquely powerful brand of creative “HeartSell”® – strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response.

    - We can tell you how much a temple will cost vs how it will “pay for itself” in increased tithing revenues
    - The list could go on and on, but we act much more like a corporation than a Church in many ways

    And regarding looking back at the 180-year history of the Church, as opposed to a 20-year history – I agree. At this point, it appears the Church is following a very typical S-curve growth pattern. There is an initial toe, a period of rapid expansion, and then a flattening. For the past 20+ years, we have been seeing the flattening. So, the 20 years is a PART of the 180 years.

    When an organization hits the flattening part of the curve, there are 2 main options: innovate or die. We could go along our merry way, but I fear that growth will stagnate and we will just get by. The whole point of this post is to push for innovation.

    There are many, many things we could do in the Church to change, WITHOUT changing fundamental doctrines. Some of them may work, some of them may not. But we need to stop treating every program of the Church as a sacred cow. We need to realize that the majority of them are the result of well-meaning men trying things. We need to innovate.

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  114. Mike S on April 9, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    #110: Eric

    I becomes a matter of semantics. We had some money to live on for a time. Having the student loans meant that I could live on the “loan money”, thus freeing up the “other money” to invest. It’s all the same pot, and probably just semantics, but it’s the story I’m sticking with (besides, the statute of limitations is probably far expired)

    It may seem like semantics, but consider the $3 billion mall. Where did the Church come up with that money? Consider that around 1900, the Church was in debt and nearly bankrupt. Around this time, to raise money, they started making tithing a requirement for the temple. So, they started getting seed capital.

    Some people claim that the “business money” of the Church is DIFFERENT from the “tithing money” because of all the land the Church started with when they first came to Utah. As shown above, this is wrong. Since around 1900, essentially ALL of the money of the Church has come from tithing.

    The billions used for the mall may not technically come from current tithing, but it came from one of two sources:

    1) Profits from previous investments of tithing. This is money that has been “laundered” through other investments, so can be technically claimed to NOT be tithing money.

    2) Profits from a strategy that many claim the Church does now – invest current tithing for 3 years, siphon off the profits for ventures like the mall, then use the original money for things typically related to “tithing” – ie. church buildings, missionary work, BYU, etc.

    So, just like me and my “loan investing”, the Church can technically say that “No tithing funds were used for the mall”, but this is just double-speak. It’s like Clinton asking what the definition of “IS” is.

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  115. Justin on April 9, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    Matt #93

    Do you feel it’s inconsistent (as in #95) to disagree – both in theory and in practice – with a “living Prophet”? And, if so, have you given any thought to the historical differences between a presiding high priest and a “living prophet”? I’d be interested in how you address/reconcile the questions #95 raised…

    Re: Mike/Jon @ vaccines

    My big issue (personally) with vaccines today is how it’s become such a big business. Like most businesses, profit is the sole motive. Corporations exist to make a profit. The devise, scheme and design ways to make money. And, when I see that with something that will require injection into my body and largely dictated by my doctors in coordination with the Gov’t, I have an issue with that. It’s no longer about health (though that is how it’s sold), but more about profit. Vaccines are seen as a growth industry, and rightfully so given how most vaccine makers are in bed with government agencies saying these things are a literal “must have”:

    “Juan Lopez-Belmonte Encina, ROVI CEO, commented: “The pandemic flu vaccine business is currently a key part of the strategy of ROVI, and we are committed to the business as one of the future growth drivers for the company. We are entering a new world of high technology and complex processes, but we are confident that our knowledge in this area along with Novavax’s extensive experience will enable us to fight on the front line against the devastating effects of influenza virus infection.”

    My 2nd issue with vaccines is tangential with the business model around which they’re created, namely the push to have so many vaccines.

    Today, a kid is expected to have 16 vaccines by 6 months of age, 25 by 18 months of age – depending on the vaccine schedule you adhere to. Correct me if I’m wrong, Mike (or others), but these kids are receiving the same injection an adult would receive (i.e. the dosage isn’t adapted to the baby’s size/weight), but in a much higher frequency. This all to an underdeveloped / not-fully-developed immune system.

    Neither the mercury nor the aluminum nor the preservatives are my main issues, but mostly (a) the frequency with which it’s pushed (CDC schedule), (b) the business model around the vaccines and (c) doctors unwillingness to accept patients who don’t vaccinate according to the CDC schedule (I’ve personally seen this).

    As to the Church I understand their reasons for a uniform vaccine policy for missionaries (i.e. simplicity) but I’m not a fan of “one-size-fits-all” policies.

    Miscellaneous:

    I think my recommendations for fixing the “non-doctrinal” issues would be this [recognizing that many members would disagree that any "non-doctrinal" issues need fixing]:

    Pure love.

    That idea admittedly sucks…because we already think we’re loving those we reject because we can’t tolerate their sins, that we’re loving our non-religious, uber-religious, apostate neighbors. Then, we go home and turn on Beck or Rush or someone else who rails on a certain mindset (i.e. socialism/communism) or a certain ideology (i.e. Islam) and think we’re justified in hating them (my dad, a Stake president, once told me he “hates” those who adhere to Islam because they want to “kill us” – 1 John 2:9-11).

    We think we’re justified in building hedges around the church, keeping/pushing certain people out because we disagree with their politics, their sexuality, their spirituality, etc… but I’m not sure how we can get around the current mentality to avoid pushing people out.

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  116. David on April 9, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    Mike:

    Not to beat the dead horse that is the CCC here on W&T, but it should be noted the Church was almost bankrupt in the 1880s, when you stated, and then again in the 1960s. By the 1960s, the budget deficit was so great that some banks were calling the Church asking what was up (Chase, who held the mortgage to the Temple Block (SLC Temple. Tabernacle, etc) thanks to loans taken out during the Heber J. Grant administration), and there were some fears the Church wouldn’t even be able to make payroll (thanks to Moyle).

    P.S. Do you have any information/reading on either the Church’s modeling of temples and the forecasts in increased tithing revenues from new temples or the 10-15% activity rate among YSAs?

    P.S.S. @Justin – that’s how I understand kids vaccines. Not a doctor, though.

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  117. Mike S on April 9, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    #115/#116:

    Re: Vaccines. I absolutely agree that there are companies that are trying to make A LOT of money off this. A perfect example is the recent press about a drug that is used for pre-mature babies. Pharmacies have been mixing this up for around $10-15/dose. A company somehow got “rights” to that formulation, and charged $1200/dose. After much public outcry, they reduced their cose to $600/dose. That is absurd. And they look at vaccines the same way.

    A perfect example with vaccines is Gardisil. This is designed to help protect sexually active people. It is also VERY expensive, costing in the hundreds of dollars for a series of 3 shots. It is also only moderately proven at having any benefit. And they also do NOT know if it lasts more than ten years or if people need a booster.

    In some states like Texas, the company has lobbyists to try to make this a mandatory vaccine – purely for profit. They couch it in other terms, but that’s what it is.

    All that being said, I don’t think doctors are in league with the government. We hate all of the regulations and want to practice what we think is correct money. The vast majority of my colleagues went into medicine to help people. I know that I will always have a comfortable living, but I also know I will NEVER be that businessman making millions. But that’s not why I went into medicine.

    As I’ve mentioned above, I do think that personal judgement is the ultimate answer, and it is all a risk/benefit ratio. I personally think vaccinating against diseases that absolutely devastated people in the past, like measles, mumps, rubella, polio, etc. makes a lot of sense. Some of the other things, I don’t know.

    From a public health point of view, there is a certain “herd immunity” to mandating vaccines, when seen from a societal point-of-view. If enough people are immune to any given disease, that disease looses a place to “hide” and dies out in that community. As an example, assume you are a public health official, and 50,000 people are affected by a disease per year. Assume you can vaccinate everyone against it. Assume that the cost of vaccinating everyone against it is less than the cost of treating the 50,000 people who get the disease (with permanent consequences – like death or paralysis). Sounds good to this point. Now, assume that in giving the vaccine to everyone, 5,000 people will have a reaction to the vaccine. Do you give it? Is it worth potentially affecting 5,000 people to protect 50,000 people?

    These are the ethical dilemmas that plague medicine, and there are NOT actually any perfect answers. So, I think it’s not that many people are specifically “BAD”, but that the decisions are “muddy”.

    And even for the companies, they have to make a profit or they don’t spend the hundreds of millions it costs to make a new drug. There are orphan diseases where there are drugs available to treat them, but there are so few patients that it’s not worth the time to make the drugs.

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  118. Mike S on April 9, 2011 at 11:31 AM

    #116 David:

    Regarding temples and economics: It has been seen in many areas that a temple can nearly double property values of the homes around it. At least in Utah, developers will specifically give land to the Church to build a temple, knowing that they will be more than able to make up for the value of the land in their property around it.

    I will keep looking for a specific source, as I can’t immediately find it, but the Church tracks tithing by temple districts. In areas where the nearest temple is far away, tithing receipts are fairly low. Understandably, if there is no temple nearby, keeping a temple recommend current isn’t necessarily a high priority.

    In areas where temples HAVE been announced or built, tithing revenues for the members in that area increase significantly. In order to attend the temple, people have to have a temple recommend. In order to have a temple recommend, you have to pay a full tithing. And for people who have lapsed, bishops will often make someone go back 6-12 months and “catch up” on “back-tithing”.

    Interestingly, in the latest version of the Church Handbook (also discussed on Wheat & Tares), in order to perform ordinances such as ordaining your 8-year-old child after baptism, it now specifically states that you have to be able to qualify for a temple recommend (ie. be a full tithe payer).

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  119. Mike S on April 9, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    #116 David

    Regarding the activity rate among YSAs, I won’t give you an exact source. I live in Salt Lake City. I know and associate with many people who are “high up” in the Church (who are generally all very wonderful people, sincerely trying hard to work on some of these issues) I know many people who have been to meetings discussing this very issue. I have heard first-hand information directly from the source.

    However, I am not willing to divulge where I have heard these numbers. I know this weakens my argument, but so be it.

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  120. Mike S on April 9, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    David:

    Thanks for the update on the information. I forgot about the near-bankruptcy in the 1960′s, but read about it in McKay’s biography, as well as other places.

    So, if the Church was effectively bankrupt in the 1960′s, and now has enough money to spend $3 billion on a mall, and the only revenue since the 1960′s was tithing, hmmmmm….

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  121. Random thought on April 10, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    So the percentage has declined. While important in evaluation of effectiveness, it does not describe the whole story. Continual percentage growth is very difficult to maintain simply because the seer volume has to increase exponentially rather than linearly. 10% of a thousand is a lot easier to achieve rather than 10% of a million.There were however some points I would like to reahash.
    1- the point of the LDS church is not to be effective. It is to share a unique viewpoint on the gospel. Not all are religious folk, not all can or should be mormon. Associated with this is the story of the tree of life. As more come and partake, more will turn away ashamed and head toward the great and spacious building. Straight, narrow and hard is the way to eternal life.
    2- The suggestions you had about reforming parts of doctrine are very controversial. The fact that LDS standards are unchanging is a fact that most members pride themselves on. While society’s moral compass is headed towards exponential decay, the fact the we havent changed is almost a matter of pride. This can be a good and bad thing. It makes for a holier than thou syndrome that runs very prevelant in the church today. As for the whole dress code, that is more of a regional thing (it is unusual to not wear flip flops to church in hawaii). However, many of your other suggestions are in direct violation of modern day revelation. I do however love your point about the word of wisdom. You can break the word of wisdom without drinking alcohol, smoking, coffee and tea, or drug use. Type II diabetes is a result of not following the word of wisdom…
    3- While I like the idea of the service missions, isnt that what we already should b e doing? Grow where you are planted, be more Christ-like.
    4- while the percentages are down, what are the overall numbers trending to? In business the best way to show growth is to show the area where things are constantly improving. How do the number of converts last year compare to years past? If the overall number is higher, I really dont see a problem. If the overall number is the same or lower, it means we are doing less with more. This is def not a good thing, and leaves alot of room for introspection which I gather was the basis of this article. It seems we have been complacent with our blessings.

    I like your mode of thinking, as you are searching to improve. This is something we all should be doing. The reason for these numbers being down may be due to the fact that we are growing more complacent as a whole. And if you are not progressing, you are regressing. Which way are you going?

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  122. Steve on April 10, 2011 at 6:08 PM

    I just projectile vomited on my new MacBook Pro. I am going to go enjoy some cognitive disonance over motorcycle choices. More productive, for the love of all that is holy how do you unsubscribe to this bs.

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  123. Jeff Spector on April 10, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    Mike S,

    Do you know how the mall project is being financed, did the Church put up $3B in advance and has no expected return on investment? Information about the Church’s commercial ventures should all be public knowledge since they are not a part of the tax-exempt portion of Church Finances.

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  124. Dan on April 10, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    Random Thought,

    #121,

    While society’s moral compass is headed towards exponential decay, the fact the we havent changed is almost a matter of pride.

    uh, don’t be too proud dude. We made some fundamental changes to our identity over the years. Polygamy is gone. Blacks have the priesthood. And so on.

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  125. Mike S on April 10, 2011 at 10:50 PM

    Steve:

    Your comment didn’t really tell me much. Is there something in particular in the analysis that you felt was wrong? Is there something particular in the suggestions you felt was wrong? Do you think we are on the perfect path now? Should we accept the status quo or should we be looking to change?

    Your comment really contributed nothing.

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  126. Mike S on April 10, 2011 at 10:52 PM

    Jeff S:

    The Church is as tight-lipped about the commercial finances as they are about everything else. They are a private company which is NOT publicly traded, and therefore do NOT have to release any information.

    All we really know is that it “didn’t come from any tithing money”. But does using profits made from previous tithing money count? And if there was no tithing money ever used to start investing, where did it magically come from?

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  127. Mike S on April 10, 2011 at 10:54 PM

    Random thought:

    The absolute numbers for converts are also down. The absolute numbers for people “leaving the Church/dying” are also up. But I still suggest that percentages tell a better picture. Gaining 10,000 when you have 5,000 is much different that gaining 10,000 when you have a million.

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  128. Mike S on April 10, 2011 at 10:58 PM

    Random Thought/Dan:

    We haven’t changed? Seriously? I don’t think someone from Brigham Young’s time would even recognize our Church today.
    - Blacks have the priesthood
    - Having more than one wife would get you excommunicated
    - The coffee rations that Brigham Young told you to put in your wagon would keep you out of the temple
    - The beer or glass of wine that you shared with Joseph Smith to “lift your spirits” would keep you out of the temple.
    - You would know that men really didn’t live on the moon and missionaries are likely to never go there
    - You would wonder why we changed the revealed sacrament prayers and use water instead of wine
    - You would wonder why no one had a beard
    - You would think people were immoral because their garments no longer went down to their wrists and ankles, therefore showing their “immoral elbows”
    - Etc.

    We have changed. A lot.

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  129. Mike S on April 11, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    Just FYI: regarding the vaccination discussion above in the comments.

    There is a measles outbreak in Utah schools among non-immunized students, so it is alive and well. See link here in the Salt Lake Tribune:

    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/51606035-78/students-schools-confirmed-horsley.html.csp

    Measles can cause death (from 0.3% in otherwise healthy people to 30% in immunocompromised), encephalitis, bronchitis/pneumonia, etc. The transmission rate within a household, etc. is also 90% if people haven’t been immunized.

    The vaccine hasn’t been proven to have any link to autism or some of the other things that have been tossed about.

    Just an FYI.

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  130. Stephen Marsh on April 15, 2011 at 6:43 PM

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/why-i-wont-be-seeing-the-book-of-mormon-musical/2011/04/14/AFiEn1fD_blog.html

    •The World Health Organization estimates that 884 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean water. This is a huge problem in Africa, not only because of water-borne diseases but because kids who spend hours each day walking to and from the nearest well to fill old gasoline cans with water cannot attend school. According to church records, in the past seven years, more than four million Africans in 17 countries have gained access to clean drinking water through Mormon humanitarian efforts to sink or rehabilitate boreholes.

    •More than 34,000 physically handicapped African kids now have wheelchairs through the same Mormon-sponsored humanitarian program. To see a legless child whose knuckles have become calloused through walking on his hands lifted into a wheelchair may be the best way to fully understand the liberation this brings.

    •Millions of children, meanwhile, have now been vaccinated against killer diseases like measles as the church has sponsored or assisted with projects in 22 African countries.

    •More than 126,000 Africans have had their sight restored or improved through Mormon partnership with African eye care professionals in providing training, equipment and supplies.

    •Another 52,000 Africans have been trained to help newborns who otherwise would never take a first breath. Training in neonatal resuscitation has also been a big project for Mormons in Africa.

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  131. Mike S on April 19, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    Stephen Marsh:

    I saw that and it’s brilliant what the Church is doing, with only spending an average of $13 million cash per year.

    Just think of how much MORE we could be doing is we spent some of the $3 billion we are spending on malls and real estate. We could be doing at least 100x as much.

    Now, that would be REALLY cool. :-)

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  132. Link bomb #6 | Main Street Plaza on April 20, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    [...] decades.” At this rate, there will be more people leaving the church than converting to it by 2032. Richard Packham suggests that this may already be the [...]

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  133. Howard on April 28, 2011 at 2:52 AM

    Awesome OP and thread!

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  134. [...] future, as a people, as a culture, and as a religious church. Andrew S. on the blog Wheat and Tares writes about what could be seen as a chilling trend in our Church — that our growth is not only slowing down, it may actually be reversing. There’s a lot [...]

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  135. Mike S on April 28, 2011 at 7:59 AM

    Howard:

    Thanks for the feedback.

    As far as some specific things that could potentially be changed WITHOUT affecting actual doctrine, I’ve started a series entitled “If I Were In Charge:”. The first post came out yesterday in suggests we should “Stop Counting Earrings”.

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  136. Mike S on May 3, 2011 at 7:46 AM

    Interestingly, there is an article similar to this posted yesterday on FMH entitled “The Church is Losing Us…. How Can They Keep Us?”

    It’s a great article with interesting comments.

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  137. [...] whole point of this series is the same.  As pointed out in the first post that started this series, our growth is slowing significantly, and is even stagnating in some areas of the world.  We can either accept this and hope that [...]

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  138. [...] more away, we will be more blessed.  Perhaps the businesses will prosper even more.  Perhaps the declining rate of Church growth will turn around.  Perhaps, by being a part of an organization that does even more good in the [...]

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  139. SoCalEx on June 14, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    About service missions, and I quote:

    “I think it is a great experience for our kids to step outside themselves for a while. Get off the train of education -> career. Do something completely for someone else.”

    And yet…
    “It would be good for us, it would be good for the Church’s image…”

    So is it completely for somebody else, or is it because it would be good for the church’s image? Seems to me that’s a bit self-contradictory.

    Don’t get me wrong, as far as being good for the world AND for the church, I think your idea is great. But let’s be honest, and not say it’s altruistic, or an imitation of what jesus would do, when it isn’t. I mean, can you imagine jesus doing something because it would be great for his image? Really?

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  140. Mike S on June 14, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    SoCalEx:

    Personally, I feel that it would be great for our kids. I think going out and serving other people (especially someone less fortunate than you) is one of the fundamental things to learn in life. That would be my primary goal.

    As far as “good for the Church’s image”, I think that the world would respect the Church a lot more if they were seen as a service Church as opposed to a “rich” church or a church that creates good businessmen. I think that seeing a church that practices what it preaches and devotes substantial time and money actually helping other people (as opposed to its own members or else in trying to recruit more members) would help the church’s image. And I think that if people were part of an organization that helped like that, they would feel better about being members.

    So, I have nothing wrong with something that is a win-win: good for the kids, good for the world around us, AND good for the Church’s image.

    And as far as paying for it, we have plenty of money. I talked more about this in last week’s post.

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  141. [...]  And if they make someone feel better about themselves while wearing garments, all the better.  An earlier post talked about how convert rates are down, how people are leaving in increasing numbers, and how [...]

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  142. [...] with the Science & Religion posts.  It is based on some of the comments from a previous post (Good vs Great: Iomega and General Conference Statistics) discussing Church membership statistics and where the Church may or may not be heading if recent [...]

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  143. [...] numbers won’t be out until next conference, but this is probably based on real numbers if the analysis of the numbers from last conference here on Wheat & Tares holds true.  In my mind, these two topics came together.  As a Church, [...]

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  144. [...] Good vs Great: Iomega and General Conference Statistics [...]

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  145. Jake on October 11, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    I have nothing to add other then this post is amazing. Mike S well done on articulating something that I have been concerned about so eloquently.

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  146. Mike S on October 11, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    Jake:

    Thank you for the encouragement. I truly think the core of the gospel is amazing. I think we’ve become encrusted with too much baggage, however, that is getting in the way.

    For more on this, see my post tomorrow. I don’t know the title yet, but it will compare where we are in the LDS Church with bringing the dharma to the West, and what we can learn from their experience.

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  147. Cowboy on October 11, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    I also think this is a great post, however, given the corporate analogy – I do have a point I would like to make.

    Because I’m not actually writing a post but rather just commenting, I’ll forgo research and just make some broad generalizations. I’m very active in business consulting, and what many people know is that the “big firms” often spend 2-3 times as much money on advertising as they do on R&D. In other words, they have decided that they would rather try manipulating consumers into wanting their products rather than just improving the product to become more desirable. Sometimes this works, but it also leads to branding as a continual process, rather than a catalyst for awareness. A bit of an opinion here, but this is why McDonalds as a classic example, has such a huge advertising budget. It’s why we have seen a relativily steady volume of advertising from them since the 90′s (they were more intensive in their advertising prior – plus had less competition). Everybody knows about McDonalds, and we are all very familiar with their products – so why do they advertise so much? My answer – because their products suck! plain and simple. They have to constantly try to convince society that we want their product through imagery and cultural sentiment, because the quality of their food doesn’t advertise for them. At this point in the game, the only advertising McDonalds should really need is the arch’s in the sky while we’re driving to lunch – and perhaps the occassional commercial for when they actually do roll out a new product.

    The point is, this is the catch 22 for the Church. As has been stated in some of the earlier comments (I didn’t read all 140+), the product of Mormonism isn’t really all that appealing by itself. It’s just one more religion promising its view of heaven, based on a lot of outdated theology and morality. President Monson addressed just that in his recent talk, when he cherry picked the Old Testaments morality for the Ten Commandments, but conveniently left out all the OT “morality” that even he couldn’t choke down.

    The problem with this is, as has been stated, how do you improve on a product that should have been perfect, and perfectly timeless from its inception? With regards to Mormonism I don’t think you can. If McDonalds somehow improved the Big Mac, so that through focus testing there was a 90% improvement in consumer preference, who is going to fault them for “not staying true to their roots”? Probably no one, even if they admit that there were “errors” in the original. People buy the Big Mac on the confidence of its current state. Mormonism on the other hand, is purchased on the confidence of the restoration, ie, that it is the original Church predating even mankind. If the original form of the restoration had errors, how could it be God’s restored Church. In other words, while MikeS has made many suggestions that would lead to an improvement in the quality of Church culture, he really begs the larger question. If the system is really that flawed, then how can it be called the original? No matter what you do, it’s still not Coke.

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  148. Mike S on October 11, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    #147: Cowboy

    Thank you for the insightful comments. And I do agree with the premise of what you are saying.

    Regarding your basic question: he really begs the larger question. If the system is really that flawed, then how can it be called the original? No matter what you do, it’s still not Coke.

    Here is what I feel is the fundamental problem, and what is actually the point of tomorrow’s post: We are stuck in a McDonald’s franchise model. We impose a Western United States, born-in-the-early-1900′s cultural aspect on the Church, conflating it with doctrine.

    The majority of the things of what it means to be a “Mormon” are non-doctrinal things that change with societal winds (although usually lagging by a few decades). Sure, we claim that there are fundamental differences at our core, and there truly are, but on things that cover our day-to-day lives, the majority are “pseudo-doctrines” which are just a franchise requirement:

    - We are expected to wear a white shirt on Sunday, not because of doctrine, but it’s part of the franchise.
    - Our little girls are told to cover their shoulders, not because of doctrine, but part of the franchise.
    - Discussions of Coke, changing the ordinance of the sacrament to remove wine, tattoos, earrings, 3-hour blocks, beards on leadership, etc. None of them doctrinal based, but part of the franchise.

    And our advertising is also very much like a business model. Just like how the McDonald’s burgers on TV look much better than what you get in the store, most of the “I’m A Mormon” ads show other “non-traditional” models in an attempt to look hip and more appealing. And as in another post (If I Were In Charge: Tithe the Church’s For-Profit Businesses), we spend much more on advertising and other business ventures than we do on humanitarian needs, for example.

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  149. Ron Madson on October 11, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    Cowboy, exactly. The “original” church of Christ engaged in something far more radical then our brand. We are no where near the “original” kingdom/church Jesus established. They were all pacifist–they refused conscription into state sponsored wars. They held all things in common temporally. They sought to have no poor among them–we have replaced it with a non-scriptural “self-reliance” that is more akin to Korihor “each man prosper according to” his own efforts/labors/genius and an allegiance to American Exceptionalism/foreign wars of aggression (how different are we really then the “christian” Roman Imperial Empire? The Constantine Shift occurred and the “christians” deeded their allegiance to the state and the economy of the world. It took a restoration, not little, piddly policy changes to remedy.

    So Mike S and Cowboy,
    We have sacred texts (BOM) that tells us that us gentiles can only do so much (3 Nephi 16/ 2 Ne. 28) and if in fact we begin to look more like a corporate model then the Kingdom of God then have we not, in the words of Mormon seeing our time, “polluted the Holy Church of God”? And if so, will all the little baggage changes (beards, 3 hr. blocks, white shirts, etc.) really be any more meaningful then arranging the chairs on the Titantic?
    The DC tells us what will happen but correlation does not allow us to speak such evil words (“condemnation”, etc.) that might suggest a need for another rebirth–not just tinkering with this new creature we have shaped over the last century.

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  150. Mike S on October 11, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    #149:

    I do think something has to change, or else the Church will continue to follow recent trends and dwindle away.

    Interestingly, all of the major prophets have been “game-changers” outside the status quo. Moses, Noah, Christ (more than a prophet, but same idea), Joseph Smith, Lehi, Nephi, Abraham, etc. They were all seen as outsiders. They were all seen as “apostates” from what was accepted as “correct”.

    Unfortunately, it does appear that we are more in the “maintenance” stage of prophets in our Church. Except for an Official Declaration responding to societal issues, we haven’t had any new canonized revelation in nearly a century. And given the strict hierarchal nature and “don’t-rock-the-boat” culture of today’s Church, I don’t see it changing much.

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  151. Cowboy on October 11, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    I completely agree, except Noah/Moses/Joseph Smith/etc, are not alleged to have been game changers on the level of personal innovation. In other words, you could argue that Joseph Smith innovated on Christianity, but if you do, you either concede that he did so independent of any divine intervention, or that he was simply a chosen vessel. In other words, can the Church really innovate without being acted upon by God? If so, what does that mean? Furthermore, why should we try and fix it without first trying to understand these questions?

    If the Church is true, and has yet become overly corporatized, we are largely saying that at some level, the authorities of the Church have fallen short of the expectations of their calling. Has the Church apostatized, or is it merely drifting a little off course? Whose job is it to correct, God or us? How can we correct it, and most importantly how can we redirect the Church leaders when a core tenet of our faith is that the Prophet alone holds the keys to recieve revelation broadly in behalf of the Church. It would seem that the Priesthood hierarchy is self-destructive.

    If we are unsure whether the Church is true, why would we want to improve it? Particularly if we are entertaining the possibility that it is not. Why not do the more sensible thing and just cut it off?

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  152. Jon on October 11, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    It should be noted that in any organization, the bureaucracy increases and becomes more regimented as time goes. What is happening in the church is not outside the norm for any organization. Even in the scriptures it, more or less, describes this same phenomenon. That’s why “outside” prophets were called of God to call them to repentance.

    #151,

    3 Ne 16:10, i.e., there will come a point that those in the church that are true Christians will leave and join with the Israelites. At least, that is what I get out of it.

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  153. [...] growth.  Why?  Why is a religion like Buddhism growing, while the growth of the LDS Church is slowing down significantly?  Some might argue that it is a loss of spirituality in general, but I would argue that is it [...]

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  154. Thomas Simmons on October 27, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    “I’d imagine that in most wards there would be some sort of strong reaction to a discussion about seer-stones-in-hats or polyandry. The info might be available, but lets not pretend that it’s embraced by the church or most of it’s members.” (said by someone in #36)

    Actually, here we have a modern day self-proclaimed prophet, apostle, seer & revelator telling us the stone in the hat story was part of the “precious insights” as he calls them into how the BOM was translated –>
    http://lds.org/ensign/1993/07/a-treasured-testament?lang=eng&query=stone+hat+(name%3a%22Russell+M.+Nelson%22)

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  155. Heber13 on October 27, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    Thomas, that same modern day self-proclaimed prophet, apostle, seer & revelator tells us:
    “I am intrigued that Joseph Smith–an unschooled young man in rural America–could have translated this Semetic language mix into the English language.”

    Most of Elder Nelson’s message from 1993 is about how difficult literal language translations are to perform.

    So, I guess the idea is the mixed Hebrew “translation” was literally performed from plates delivered from Moroni, even though the plates weren’t in the room at times and the prophet’s face was in a hat?

    That really is a marvelous work and wonder!

    Its one of God’s mysteries that we can’t really put in our terms how it was done. It just was done. But the word “translation” is a bit problematic, I think.

    It may be a bit unfair to try to compare the process to literal language translation processes, or paint the picture he was reading the characters off the metallic pages. Just present it as a revelatory miraculous work, and leave it at that.

    Those may be some of the things that hinder the growth of the church and how we spread the gospel.

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  156. Thomas Simmons on November 12, 2011 at 6:35 AM

    “Those may be some of the things that hinder the growth of the church and how we spread the gospel.” – post #155

    As more and more truth, facts, not opinions, become readily available, fewer investigators will be pulled into the trap of lies. If the missionaries had told me the entire truth when I was investigating I never would have joined – nobody in their right mind would want to be associated with an organization that claims “god” commanded a thirty something year old to go marry a fourteen year old, two sixteen year olds and women who were already married (and not divorced). But fortunately today, investigators have facts like this and other truths available so they can see the organization is merely a well organized cult, preying on the minds of the duped but I believe the trend of fewer “convert baptisms” will continue.

    Thank goodness.

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  157. Ray on November 12, 2011 at 10:53 AM

    Thanks for your ringing endorsement of all the duped, brainwashed, stupid fools who comment here, Thomas.

    *sigh*

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  158. Mormon Heretic » Boomerang Back to Religion on January 29, 2012 at 10:31 PM

    [...] a bit more of the Jana Riess interview from Mormon Stories.  There have been many posts (such as this one by Mike S) lamenting the fact that the activity rates seem to be slowing for the LDS Church.  I thought it [...]

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  159. Boomerang Back to Religion | Wheat and Tares on January 30, 2012 at 1:02 AM

    [...] of the Jana Riess interview from Mormon Stories.  There have been many posts on the bloggernacle (such as this one by Mike S) discussing the fact that the activity rates seem to be slowing for the LDS Church.  I thought it [...]

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  160. [...] been on the bloggernacle for long, you’ve probably seen some posts that note that growth in the LDS Church is flattening out, and these posts usually make the implication that this is simply an LDS phenomenon.  However [...]

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  161. fbisti on March 24, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    To: Mike S.

    I can find no email address for you, or Wheat and Tares. I did a fairly extensive “analysis” (you be the judge) of Church statistics back in July 2011. You might find it interesting. I no longer have an interest in thinking that hard, but you may. Given that you are a sanctified poster of W&T you should be able to see my email address. Send me your email address and I will send you the Excel file…if you are interested.

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  162. Mike S on March 24, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    fbisti:

    mikes (dot) slc (at) gmail (dot) com

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