This is the start of a new series which will run intermittently 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 trends are any indication.
In my opinion, there are some very real issues going on. Convert rates are trending down. The number of people formally leaving the Church is going up. A whole generation of people from age 18-30 are inactive, with numbers suggesting 80-90% inactivity rates in this demographic. For more discussion of these facts, please refer to the post.
The typical response to all of these is typically structural. This past week, the Church reorganized student and YSA wards and stakes in response to the YSA activity rate. On my mission there were various new programs. They restructured the missionary discussions into the Preach My Gospel manual. We change the manuals out of which we teach from time to time. But, fundamentally, nothing really changes. It’s like the proverbial rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.
This all leads to the point of this series. My own theory is that there are specific things about the Church that don’t appeal to people. There are artificial stumbling blocks that get in the way. They may seem like molhills to some people, but to others they are mountains. These are different for each person, but they are real. For some members, these are “extra” things through which they might be able to “prove” something. For many people, however, they are enough to get in the way of seeing the bigger picture.
So here are a few points for the series:
- I have no interest in changing anything DOCTRINAL. These are just going to be PRACTICES / POLICIES that we discuss.
- These are obviously my own opinions. They do not necessarily reflect anyone else’s thoughts, let alone the Church
- I welcome discussion, so the original posts should just be starting points for civilized discussion. Any personal experience with any of these would also be helpful as examples.
Some of the practices and policies we’ll cover in the future have their roots in the past. Some of them have been around for so long that they may seem like how things HAVE to be. To give an example of how this isn’t necessarily true, I want to start this first post with earrings. This entire development happened in the past few years and is well documented.
Rather than retype it, I’m copying this from one of my own comments on the post referenced above about Church growth. Here is the comment from there:
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?
So, that’s the first post of the series.
- What are your thoughts on earrings?
- What are other topics you might find interesting to discuss?