The following is a talk I delivered yesterday during the adult session of Stake Conference.
For decades we have been lured into a distorted, triumphalist view of the Church by inflated and unsustainable conversion rates and the broken visions of those like Rodney Stark, the otherwise insightful sociologist who declared that Mormonism was the new world religion, and would have 265 Million members by 2080, becoming the world’s second largest Christian faith after Roman Catholicism. We have been content with our programs and with our activities and with our inward focus.
As Christ taught, the Salt and the leaven, both small things, approach the world differently. Salt was the primary means to preserve food, but it is not food. Christ spoke his words, not to the wealthy and well supplied, but to the poor and to those who knew hunger. Salt is insufficient on its own for life. So too the leaven. However, salt when combined with meat transformed the meat, and preserved it. But the meat also transformed the salt. Like salt, leavening, or yeast, is a small fraction of the bread. The yeast acts on the other ingredients and transforms them, but the yeast is also in turn transformed by them. The result is something new and it is the difference between life and death.
Joseph Smith preached a doctrine of radical connectedness. He rebelled against the proto-Victorian family in ways that make us uncomfortable today. Heaven and earth collapsed and an interconnected network of human relations arose. For over a century these connections were focused inwardly. Whereas we once were an isolated people, forced to rely on each other for survival, we now can live our lives autonomously. As everyone else in our society, we generally don’t need our neighbors. Moreover, we only need to be Mormon for three hours on Sunday. Our isolation has contracted beyond our religion, to ourselves. It is no surprise that the desire for connection and the intimacy that comes with it is so prominent, especially among our youth. Our children and our friends desire connection. The question is whether we will connect with them, changing them and being changed by them. Will we be salt, or shall we lose our savor?
[I poached the following blockquoted material from a talk on a similar topic by our very own Steve Evans, with some minor changes.]
In terms of modern digital media, the church has been quick to adopt new methods of communication as soon as they become viable to the mainstream. The Church has been on the internet for decades, and has a significant presence online: LDS.org was established in 1996, mormon.org in 2001, and the LDS newsroom (run by the public affairs department) several years later. The church has blogs, forums, chat rooms, and more. The Church has dedicated massive resources to digitize and make accessible content from scriptures and periodicals to historical documents and art. LDS.org gets millions of views and online resources continue to expand — e.g. book 2 of the church handbook of instructions is now online. Most churches just don’t have that level of resources available to their membership.
The church’s use of Youtube is interesting. We have a channel on Youtube called the Mormon Messages channel. It showcases a series of inspirational videos and themes and has some exclusive content not seen elsewhere.
- Total Views: 19 million since 2008
- #2 Top”Most Subscribed” channel in “Nonprofits & Activism” category of YouTube
- #4 Top”Most Viewed” channel in “Nonprofits & Activism” category of YouTube
- By comparison, the Vatican launched a channel in 2005, comparative total views are about 4.5M. (and they have over a billion members!)
The church is also very active on Facebook. The Lds.org FB page has over 430K followers. Mormon.org 210K, and the newsroom has 44K. My favorite, the Church History Library FB page, has much less. The Church’s Twitter presence is similarly very large.
Now, we are comfortable with “the church” doing things. We are a people that likes to be commanded in all things. We have the weight of tradition upon us. And some will say that the Church is true, and that we need not change. The voice of the Lord declared that our church was the only “true and living church” with which he was well pleased. I submit that to live is to change. The church is different now than it was for my grandparents and it will be different for my children. Where there is no change, there is only death.
And we are failing many of our people. Less than 10% of our single brothers and sisters worship with us. Our super activities, and our EFYs, and our Camps have failed them. Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments. Perhaps now, with the tools in our reach, we will succeed where those greater than us have not.
We have the opportunity to employ new tools to connect to each other, to change and to be changed by each other. And we can apply them both internally and externally. Internally, these tools can help us be more effective in creating the community of the Saints, the body of Christ. I have a friend who is a bishop in Britain and he has interviewed ward members by Skype. Their youth program is generally managed through Facebook. In London, in a ward where there is more than one convert a month, the bishopric and others generally communicate with and fellowship the new (generally immigrant) members via text message. I was chatting with [the next speaker who is a "mommy blogger"] and when she was a Relief Society President in Connecticut, she held RS Presidency meeting via Google chat. How can we do differently what we have done? How can we connect with our own people in new and better ways?
And externally, how can we connect with those not of our faith? Perhaps the greatest way to retain our savor is to not compartmentalize our faith. Let our Mormonism shine through. For those that blog, follow the example of the wildly popular “Mormon mommy bloggers,” who have vast and diverse readerships, including, according to a recent article on Salon.com, single atheist professional women. They do not write about Mormonism per se, but they do not hide their Mormonism and readers see it and the blessing it is. Two of Bellevue South’s own have recently published a cook book based on their Mormon flavored cooking blog.
As it relates to blogs, I have helped run an explicitly Mormon blog for the better part of a decade, and I never fail to be surprised by some of our people’s ignorance and lack of civility when faced with challenging ideas or different perspectives. Just take a step over to the comment section of the Salt Lake Tribune. Perhaps our cultural isolation has distorted our view. First I encourage everyone to be familiar with the content on the Church Newsroom, including their statements on controversial topics. Second, if we are to be the salt of all the world, we must have patience and empathy for others. How many of us have non-Mormon, or Evangelical, or gay friends? We are all children of God. And we are to leaven the whole world.
Many of us are already using Facebook. I encourage us to let our Mormonism shine through there. Now, nothing would be worse for the church than to have millions of Facebook users parrot the canned responses of church authorities. However if we include our lived religion in the view that others see, we have the opportunity to show the light of Christ as it mingles with our diverse personalities. Our Facebook status could read “making dinner for my friend who had a baby” or “I am insane. I’m taking the scouts ice camping.” One friend recently answered questions on her wall about BYU’s honor code from a non-Mormon associate. Hundreds of people will see that respectful exchange.
As Zenos said, those whom the Lord has called will always be few. Let us remember that salt alone is not nourishing, neither yeast. Let us connect with each other and with the world. Let us change and be changed. It is a peculiar miracle, that as we expand the body of Christ, we become the bread of his flesh. That we be sanctified by his blood, is my prayer.