Maybe it’s all the years I dedicated as a missionary, as a bishop, as a seminary teacher, etc., but I still feel very connected to the Church and hope and pray for its success in fulfilling its mission to build Zion. This is why I am so concerned about current trends of so many people leaving the Church, especially the younger generation.
My husband I are active members of the Church. We both still feel connected to the Church and its mission. We attend church meetings every week and feel welcome in our ward. Of course, we are not allowed to participate fully because our marriage is still considered a “serious transgression”, and because of that we cannot help but feel excluded. So many other LGBT members of the Church feel the same, and most leave the Church. But it’s not just LGBT members who are leaving.
In her recently published book, “The Next Mormons: How Millennials are Changing the LDS Church,” Jana Riess reported that “Mormonism used to keep about three-quarters of its adherents. Among young adults it is now retaining less than half.” And the trend is getting worse. That just is not acceptable!
It’s not just the exodus out of the Church of progressives that we’re talking about. The whole next generation of Church leaders and members is at stake. We cannot write them off simply as “evil progressives” that the Church would be better off without anyway. These are our own sons and daughters. They are the future of the Church. The Church cannot afford to lose them. This situation is as serious as when the federal government in the 1880s threatened to confiscate all Church assets and imprison all the leaders in order to stop the practice of polygamy. The result is the same — the end of the Church as we now know it. The Church’s very existence and survival could be dependent on changing what is causing them to leave.
When I served my mission in 1983-84, there were only 5 million members of the Church worldwide. For most of my life, I have seen the miracle of the rapid growth of the Church. In General Conference we often heard talks quoting Daniel’s prophecy of the stone cut out of the mountains without hands that would fill the whole earth, and saying that the Church is fulfilling that prophecy. Today, the Brethren have not been quoting that prophecy in General Conference anymore, because the miracle of the Church’s rapid growth that I had seen most of my life is no longer happening.
There are large numbers of once active and devout members of the Church of all stripes who are leaving the Church, especially our young people. As noted above, more than half of all our young members are now expected to leave the Church before they turn 30. In addition, it is estimated that only 30% of the 16 million members worldwide, roughly 5 million, are still active and attend Church regularly. There also seems to be a growing trend of “Middle Way Mormons” who still attend Church for social and family reasons, but who no longer fully believe as they used to.
What is happening to cause this? Why is this happening?
Our Church is not the only church to experience this kind of exodus of members. Largely it is the Internet and instant availability of information that has changed the landscape forever for all of religion, but it has had a particular impact on Mormonism. Information regarding the historicity of the Church’s truth claims is available now in countless forums, not just anti-Mormon publications and scholarly journals buried at the BYU Library. Even the Church’s own website makes the Gospel Topic Essays available to give the Church’s perspective to all the controversial issues that were once hidden or unknown to the vast majority of members.
The Internet also raises awareness to social issues and the perceived draconian positions of Church leaders toward issues such as race and priesthood, and women and patriarchy, to name a few. The number one issue among these social issues is homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
More than any other issue, members of the Church are being challenged by the Church’s position on homosexuality and its labeling same-sex marriage as a “serious transgression”. Recent studies have shown that nearly half of all members in the United States disagree with the Church’s position, and that this number has been continuing to increase rapidly. Even though the November 2015 exclusion policy was recently rescinded, it still does not change the fact that LGBT members are pressured to remain single and celibate, and that same-sex married members are still under threat of excommunication. While revoking the exclusion policy was a step in the right direction, it likely will not be enough to stop the exodus from the Church of hundreds of thousands of members who are deeply affected by this issue, especially the younger generation who will not tolerate bigotry and exclusion.
To me, these trends are tragic. It makes me so sad to see the Church failing in its progress like this. Despite the pain that I have felt personally because of the Church’s position, I do not want to see the Church fail. I believe that the Church has tremendous potential to do so much good in the world. I believe in the goodness of its mission. I believe in building a Zion society where all of God’s children are loved, respected, nurtured, and included in the great work to prepare for the Millenial Reign of the Savior.
For this reason, I believe the Church will make the necessary changes it needs to make to adapt to the new landscape that is a reality now. When polygamy was about to destroy the Church, the prophet received revelation that polygamy had to be abandoned. When the Church’s racist teachings against people of African descent were thwarting rapid Church expansion in Brazil and Africa and other countries, the prophet received a revelation to abandon those teachings.
Today, as the Church continues to lose its once faithful members in large numbers, and continues to lose the young people who are the future of the Church, the Church is once again standing on the brink of possible destruction. As in the past, when the Church has faced similar circumstances, the prophet will receive a revelation adjusting the policies and doctrines causing the problems. Top of that list of policies and doctrines is the Church’s position on homosexuality and prohibition of same-sex marriage.
I fully believe that within the next 5-10 years (maybe sooner), we will see the Church solemnizing same-sex marriages, and even same-sex sealings in the temple. I used to believe that we would have to wait until Elder Holland or Elder Uchtdorf are president of the Church before such change would be possible. However, in light of the continuing hemorrhaging of members leaving the Church because of this issue, it is possible that even President Nelson or Oaks may lead this change. This is how same-sex marriage could save the Church.
When the majority of the members realize that excluding same-sex couples and shaming single LGBT members into living a lonely, unfulfilled life, then we will finally see things change. The thing is, according to the Pew study, we are almost there already. If the trend continues, we will see the vast majority of members in favor of accepting same-sex marriage in a few years.
The Brethren are hoping that by rescinding the Exclusion Policy, that most members will just forget the issue, and that it will relieve the pressure for more changes. I’m anxious to see if the Brethren are going to push stake presidents to excommunicate same-sex couples (such as my husband and I) for “serious transgression”, or remove any pressure to do so. Because of the PR damage it could cause, HQ may be telling bishops and stake presidents to lay off disciplining same-sex couples for the time being. It’s too early to tell, but we shall see very soon how it all washes out.
My oldest sister, who is a devout member of the Church and the 74 year old matriarch of my extended family, has been a huge supporter of me and my husband and our marriage. She has admonished us to continue to keep God a part of our marriage and to remain worthy to hold a temple recommend, even though we can’t get one right now. She is certain that it is just a matter of time before we will again be able to hold a temple recommend and enter the House of the Lord and be sealed together for time and all eternity. I am longing for that day.