Turning Inward, Turning Away

In a recent post, I presented excerpts from a text that showed how the RS has evolved from an autonomous, economic organization to a correlated organization focused on inward spirituality and family.  A surprising consensus emerged in the comments–this transition was probably inevitable, not based on sexism.

Whereas in early Utah, women’s organizations could own property and run stores because members remained in communities that were encompassed by the church, today such a model would be infeasible.  We live in a society where people move far too frequently to sustain such grand collective projects.  Church is no longer co-extensive with the communities we live in, which in the typical case include far fewer members than non-members.  In fact, community is often scarcely felt even within a ward–we see most members in passing on Sundays; those of us without children or large callings get to know only a few.

Kevin Barney’s post got me thinking about why members leave.  What I want to suggest here is that we can understand the general phenomenon of members leaving the church in part as a product of the general decoupling of church and community.  RS might be one example of a general church pattern: An organization that was central to its community’s economic life evolved into an organization that now primarily supports sisters in sustaining a shared belief (combined with behind the scenes help to individual families).

And it is telling, I think, that the beliefs most emphasized–beliefs, for example, about family–are about the few things that we all have experience with.  It is now rare to hear a discussion about, for instance, Joseph Smith’s economic visions.  At the moment, church seems decoupled from any vision of a literal gathering or building of a Mormon community, content to dwell on universally accessible issues of sex, family, and general moral principles.

But communities that are sustained on the basis of shared belief rather than shared community activities are unstable, prone to splintering when people who have little else to unite them disagree.  Although we are all told the importance of developing our own testimonies, the reality is that beliefs change and evolve.  Our testimonies might conflict.

What keeps me connected to organizations over the long-run is not unwavering belief in them, but my connection to the people within those organizations. We stick together as families, for example, not because we always get along, but because we are engaged in shared economic and life goals.  By contrast, when communities are sustained primarily on the basis of shared belief, they are vulnerable as beliefs shift.

The reasons people cite again and again for leaving the church–concern about stances on gender, not feeling welcome, feeling that no questions can be asked–all have to do with thinking that one’s beliefs are unacceptable in the group.  Did people in previous generations not have their doctrinal issues?  I doubt it.  But maybe the difference is that doctrinal belief never was the primary factor keeping most people in the church–maybe it was community and family that did. And churches connected to local communities are ceasing to exist.


  1. My best friend’s ward is insane. Imagine the worst, most stupid, obnoxious, back-stabbing, unsupportive Saints you can. It’s worse than that. She’s been close to leaving. I have to admit that if my ward sucked half as much, I’d probably drop church like a hot potato and just tool away on my own, trying to figure things out. I do stay for the community (and for my children) (and sometimes, just because it’s the right thing to do).

    People of yore certainly depended on their local communities more than we do today. My community support is spread far and wide and we meet on Facebook. The potlucks aren’t as good but there’s more LOLing.

  2. The reasons people cite again and again for leaving the church–concern about stances on gender, not feeling welcome, feeling that no questions can be asked–all have to do with thinking that one’s beliefs are unacceptable in the group.

    You’ve hit upon something very important here, Natalie. Obviously there are those for whom doctrinal issues are so important (and troubling) that they can’t stay regardless of the social pull (and/or pressure). However, speaking from experience, it is a lot easier to stay when you feel comfortable in the group, like you fit in even with your beliefs and doubts, that you can share these and be accepted and people will struggle with you and support you.

  3. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had been exposed to so many crazy people in my life that I’m not really sure church is an ideal avenue for creating a community of like-minded, shared-goals people. And I’m ok with that. While communities certainly do have a lot in common, I think too much emphasis can be placed on being just like your neighbor (ok, stereotype here). I personally prefer a little diversity, a little color!

    The whole idea that a testimony must be built on a social rock before a doctrinal rock can form is sort of a no-brainer, though your suggestion that the divide here is not so clear-cut is interesting. I would certainly agree, though each person is going to have a different opinion on the balance between these two.

    I personally solved a lot of problems once I began participating in church from a more doctrinal standpoint, rather than a community-driven, social one. Granted, there’s some drawbacks, but I just don’t think church is a good place for sociality. WAY too many problems (backbiting, gossip, offenses, ‘saying the wrong thing in sunday school’) would just disappear if people stopped making church a social (or emotional) event, and more of a spiritual one.

    So then, the next question might be “wait, aren’t those related?” … yes. But in a nutshell, too much community-coupling is a bad thing, and as the OP wrote, too little is also bad. The problem is, everybody has their own opinion on how to balance the two against each other, and what works great for one person is horrid for another.

    Ok, I probably said something I’ll regret. Sorry about that.

  4. So Josh, social needs are individual. I am single, live alone, and although I faithfully finish my visiting teaching each month, it’s only a mail route. I don’t see any sisters or have a visiting teaching companion. It’s been six years since I had a calling. Where would you prefer I be sociable if not at church??

  5. Martha:

    Perhaps you could go to your local pub for some social interaction. ;) (Actually, if you go here and read the “take home message” you might see what I mean.)

    I jest… but I might agree with Josh in one way or another. We currently define “Church” as this weekly meeting we go to 1x per week (2x if we’re unlucky). “Church” is that 3-hour window, 4 hours if you’re a socialite, you set-aside every Sunday to “worship.” Somehow, we’ve managed to compartmentalize this notion of “church” such that we think it’s a thing you do on a weekly basis. If that’s our definition, then Josh is unfortunately (IMO) correct. That is not a place to socialize because it doesn’t fit in the tidy box we’ve assigned to it.

    If, however, you expand the definition of Church to mean just what it should mean (D&C 10:67-69, etc.) then we can begin to see where socializing fits in. It’s only when we define it in the way correlation (not Correlation) dictates it that we start fumbling over ourselves and end up disappointed with our experiences. And, truth be told, it’s hard when you view church as something entirely different than everyone else…but try we shall. Church isn’t – nor should it be – something we do.

    But, if we looked at it as more of a community (if a literal gathering was even believed in anymore), then we can see that there’s still plenty of room to socialize and spend time with each other. IMO, we sell ourselves way short when we allow such shortsighted viewpoints.

  6. What I want to suggest here is that we can understand the general phenomenon of members leaving the church in part as a product of the general decoupling of church and community.

    I think this is true in general, not just for Mormons. IMHO, one of the driving forces towards the secularization trend in the industrialized world is that church is less central to one’s social life. And the social trend can be driven by factors as banal as cars and television changing people daily social habits — it’s not necessarily just a “What’s wrong with churches these days???” sort of thing.

  7. Terryl Givens gave a great speech at BYU about Joseph Smith and building a community in the church. it was very interesting.

  8. well thought out post about important issue= 6 comments
    porn post = 200 comments!!!!

  9. Don’t worry, J, it’s early days yet for this post–the one that draws me from the shadows of Lurkerville and into actually commenting.
    I think I agree most with Ananas’ idea of the church as a community. My art professor last semester expressed her admiration of the Mormons for integrating church into their daily lives, instead of simply relegating it to Sunday services, and I think that’s the case (when it is the case) because we have these interpersonal connections.
    As a single college student in a ward chock-full of young families, it can be easy to feel socially isolated, and we all have days when “but we have the gospel in common!” doesn’t quite cut it, particularly when (as Natalie B. points out) we can’t even agree on the gospel. But if we make a few friends, it can do a great deal to lessen the feelings of isolation that can make church the hardest three hours of the week. We don’t have to know everyone, and we certainly don’t have to be best friends, but a few smiling faces can go a long way.

  10. Wes Brown says:

    Good observation, J.

    Natalie, just put the word ‘boobs’ somewhere in your title next time and you’ll get double the comments.

    There is an article published just today in the journal American Sociological review. The abstract states the new study, “offers strong evidence for social and participatory mechanisms shaping religion’s impact on life satisfaction. Our findings suggest that religious people are more satisfied with their lives because they regularly attend religious services and build social networks in their congregations. The effect of within-congregation friendship is contingent, however, on the presence of a strong religious identity. We find little evidence that other private or subjective aspects of religiosity affect life satisfaction independent of attendance and congregational friendship.”

    This recent evidence supports Natalie and Kevin’s observations. The communal aspect of church is the biggest contributor to enjoyment and continued participation. Having ‘the truth’ doesn’t seem to make much of a difference as far as happiness is concerned. This is demonstrated by the similar happiness scores reported across churches with conflicting doctrines. Surely, there are those who leave because they cannot accept church doctrine. I would guess there are more people who don’t leave because of the social benefit of staying, or the high social cost of leaving.

    The culture of correlation has not been conducive to intellectual growth within the church. Perhaps allowing more time for true discussion, not repetition of doctrine would be enough to keep dissenting members within the church. Stifling such conversation can be very frustrating and lead people to seek information elsewhere.

  11. I hope this won’t be fodder for stereotyping ex-mos in anyone’s mind, but I tend to be a social hermit. I have a very small circle of friends and i like it that way. Going to ward parties, making small talk in the foyer, trying to be friends with the folks on my home teaching beat, etc. always felt like a chore. My introverted self felt stressed by the social aspects of attending church, not revitalized. If God gave me talents to magnify, gregariousness certainly wasn’t one of them.

    So for me, leaving the LDS community has been a relief. I don’t feel forced to be more social than I feel comfortable with. I am social on my own terms. I can accept who I am better because not enjoying the latest ward potluck doesn’t feel sinful anymore. I didn’t leave because of this, but it’s been a salutary side effect.

    I don’t know what exactly the take-away should be. Maybe it’s that a stronger community is only going to appeal to a subset of the population. Maybe the forced, often artificial friendships in the LDS church actually make it harder to build a true sense of community.

  12. Natalie B. says:

    7: :)

    Actually, the porn post is part of what motivated me to write this post. I started wondering if our church’s obsession with discussing sex and gender is in part because when we lack community, the only daily life things we have in common to talk about are things like family and general morality. In other words, because the community aspect of church is breaking down, we have emphasized issues like sex and porn more as a way of creating a belief-based identity. If we stopped talking about them, what would we discuss at church in their place?

  13. This reminds me of a time when my wife groused about how she disliked the forced, superficial socialization of church meetings and how she is a “bad” Mormon because the only things keeping her in the Church was the Book of Mormon and the temple, not the social aspects. She was being very serious (I found this out because I laughed and she shot The Look at me).

    My wife is firmly converted for the most part to the gospel. She struggles greatly with her testimony of the Church as a social institution. We often discuss how we believe everyone could benefit from learning about the gospel principles, but we’re not sure if everyone would benefit from being a member of the Church. She wants so badly to belong to a strong, loving community and many times, she felt very disappointed by what we promise but what many wards meagerly offered. Talking about theology with her non-member friends comes naturally for her; inviting them to church next Sunday feels like jumping off a cliff.

  14. “Terryl Givens gave a great speech”

    “Great” is redundant in that sentence :)

  15. Ted, your wife’s experience is much like mine. At the same time, I tend to assume that I’m in the minority on that issue. I think most people love the social nature of Sunday meetings.

  16. It definitely depends on which ward you are in, I think. The ward we are in right now is great, and she feels much more comfortable in it which improves the situation, though she still feels like once a week she attends meetings that, from time to time, attempt to extinguish her personality.

  17. We live far enough away from the meetinghouse (an interesting word for this discussion, imo) and are financially strapped enough that we can’t attend all of the non-Sunday activities that occur in the ward. While I am fine with that personally, my wife and kids really miss it.

    I think most people at some point are going to struggle with, modify or even reject some aspect of orthodoxy. If they don’t have a supportive community at those times, to which they feel they really do “belong” in an important way, it’s much easier to fade away.

  18. Much of my extended family was raised in San Pete county and southern Utah. In such places, if you didn’t go to church or drank a bit, you still had Mormon identity. If you do the same in Seattle, there isn’t the contiguity of a broader community to incorporate you. Consequently, in my experience, people often are more likely to come back at some point in the tight Mormon communities. I’m not sure that it is economic, though.

  19. You know, I have been in many many wards across the United States, and one thing that everyone needs to remember that going to church is to fill our own spirituality and maybe touch someone else life. I go for that reason only. I don’t get all caught up in the affairs of others, and many people should begin to do that, then you might be happier.

  20. When I lived in a commune I was firmly in the “chuck the gospel- just show up for work-days and do your chores” camp. I thought we really over-emphasized finding people of like minds who shared fundamental principals about communal living. I didn’t care if my fellow tenants were hard line conservatives (you’d think that would be a group that would self select out of communal living but you’d be wrong- we were cheap and it was a college town in CA) as long as the Performance of those goals were being practiced. I was persuasive and we did fill up with more of those sorts but I was also, in hindsight, wrong.
    It turns out that some buy-in to the party line is necessary to motivate people to follow through. And common meals are much less contentious when we all agree that Pepsi is not like unto Murder.

  21. @Martha (#4)

    Martha- great comments. Church has made an awesome springboard for me to make great, long lasting friendships. Once friends, however, sacrament meeting just isn’t going to be the best place to socialize, nor ought it be primary the reason to be there.

    There’s just something about a bishop having to resolve two friend’s disagreements (or, if you will, two “member’s” disagreements) that really irks me (generalizing here).

    Take it too far the wrong way, however, and church ceases to be enlightening.

  22. It would have been very easy for me to leave church activity when I went to college, as I went to a college where there were no other LDS students and, as far as I knew, no (active) LDS people my age (i.e. young adults). I made great (non-LDS) friends in college, but I was surprised at how much I needed to be part of the Mormon community, such as it was in that area. The ward was very small, a lot of older folks and a handful of young families–no one I had anything in common with, and yet I clung to them because they were “my” people. It was astonishing to me at the time, because I’d never particularly appreciated my church community at home and specifically did not want to have a BYU/Mormon college experience. Maybe it was homesickness on my part. However, it’s still interesting to me. Mormon culture really did rub me the wrong way back then, and yet I stayed in the community–*needed it*–despite an often-wavering testimony. I think the bottom line was that there were these people who felt obligated to take care of me just because I was a member and I was there, and I appreciated that. (Of course, they could have failed miserably, and then how would I have ended up? Maybe a Methodist. I don’t know.)

  23. CatherineWO says:

    Ted, I think your wife and I must be twins. Thank you for articulating what I have so often felt.

  24. Come on, kids–if we all do our parts, we can get this thread to 200 comments! We don’t need porn to have fun!

  25. 6 – I have the same thoughts every time the social aspect of church comes up in conversation.

  26. With people moving around so much, even within a city, would it help to improve the sense of community if the LDS church allowed people to attend the ward of their choice?

    When my wife and I moved around early in our marriage, that also meant changing wards and basically starting over trying to make new friends in the new ward. We (mostly she) tried to keep connections with old friends, but it’s hard when your spare time is filled with separate church meetings.

    Plus, if a ward culture really was intractably unhealthy, people could move to greener pastures instead of sacrificing themselves on the altar of ward boundaries.

    Of course people could then form even tighter cliques, but that may be the ugly price of stronger community in a time when people aren’t as dependent on their neighbors and aren’t as tied down to one spot.

    In any case, it seems to work well enough for other denominations.

  27. Come on, kids [. . . ] We don’t need porn to have fun!

    I don’t know if that’s the worst or the best “spiritual thought” ever. I’ll tell my wife to try it at mutual tonight.

  28. 26 – I would hate to be the bishop in a particularly “popular” ward. There’s no way I’m ministering to 3000 sheep if I’m not getting paid for it.

    Of course, I wouldn’t really enjoy being the bishop of a normal ward either . . .

  29. Natalie B. says:

    26: That’s a really interesting question. I think that it probably would help some people stay active if they didn’t have to switch wards when they moved or could go to one that they felt more comfortable with. To be honest, we go “ward shopping” when we move anyway, so I’m not sure it would be all that less cliquish than the status quo.

    Another thing that might help is to have more of a community for those without children. I felt very connected when I was in YWs or a YWs leader, but living in a mega family ward as a younger adult without children has been very alienating. There is little social support for those who have gotten married but haven’t yet given birth.

  30. I think one of the great aspects of the church is that, at least in many wards outside of the Mormon Corridor, a ward is made up of people from all walks of life. Far too many people in the U.S. only socialize with people just like themselves. This results in the “how is he president when no one I know voted for him” and “everyone on welfare/unemployment is a lazy bum” syndrome so pervasive in our society. I have a feeling that a “pick your own ward” option would make this even worse for the LDS community.

    On the other hand, although my current calling has led me to be friends with a large percentage of the active members of my small ward, none of them are what I’d consider good friends, and I have a hard time relaxing and being entirely myself around any of them. I feel pretty isolated right now.

    I think an ideal ward has people from every walk of life, but also has multiple people from every walk of life, so that everyone can have friends in the ward that understand and can relate to them.

  31. Natalie B. says:

    I think an ideal ward has people from every walk of life, but also has multiple people from every walk of life, so that everyone can have friends in the ward that understand and can relate to them.

    That’s really well put, Tim.

  32. B. Russ, I could see that being a problem. Theoretically, with more people attending a ward, you’d have more people to help carry the burden of making the ward work. But doctrine/policy dictates that there are some responsibilities that a bishop can’t delegate. Maybe this would make ward growth self limiting?

    How did they do it in the old days when wards were much bigger? Were there fewer expectations of bishops?

    Tim, where I live, the wards tend to be segregated by socioeconomic status because of geography. Wards in the poor areas of town have mostly poor members. Richer members move to the nicer parts of town. There are exceptions, but wards really aren’t that diverse in my situation: large, highly segregated city with many LDS wards covering small areas. I’m sure it’s different elsewhere.

    Also, the LDS church isn’t equally attractive to people of all political persuasions, so the church members are typically socially conservative.

    There are also Spanish-language wards in my area, further segregating the wards so that the people in them look very similar to each other.

    What I’m trying to say is that the LDS wards of my experience aren’t diverse enough to think that they would lose much by allowing people to choose where to attend.

    Natalie B., I guess that’s what church leaders try to accomplish with singles wards. Should there be married-without-kids wards? :) Or at least, like Tim said, more opportunity to socialize with people who you can easily relate to.

  33. Natalie B. says:

    32: I’m not sure we need our own ward:) But, I think things like more opportunities to socialize during the 3-hour block or ward activities only for adults (not allowed in my ward) would help. I’ve never met a lot of the people in the ward who are my age, because they are sucked into callings like primary and I never learn that they exist.

    I also think that continuing gender segregation is a barrier to community. In all other walks of life I have male friends. It is really hard to get to know members of the opposite sex at church.

  34. It is now rare to hear a discussion about, for instance, Joseph Smith’s economic visions.

    That could also be a byproduct of the generally conservative bent of most active LDS. You’re right, though–beyond service projects, there’s very little literal community building. The way the economy’s set up isn’t terribly amenable to insulated communities, though, so it does seem pretty inevitable we’d have to move this direction.

    (just doing my part to get this thread up there. Thus, nothing particularly substantive)

  35. Where is gst and his string of one word comments when you really need him?

  36. The firmest human bond I can think of is described in Sebastian Junger’s book War as the relationship between soldiers under fire. The relationship between the soldiers on the front is the model of Jesus’ dictum of “greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friends.”

    Do we want a group of people as committed to each other as front line troops, ready to lay down lives for each other?

    I would seem that we would want to engender this strong bond between people, a strong social commitment, so that we know that each one of us is looking out for the other, even to the sacrifice of life.

    You can not get that feeling at the 3 hour block. In order to have that unity you have to go through the fire together.

  37. I think that sociality was a fundamental part of Joseph Smith’s vision of the church and that it remains so today.

    What’s the point in entering the celestial kingdom if it isn’t to associate with the people there?

  38. ward activities only for adults (not allowed in my ward) would help

    Funny. In our ward, all the activities are adults-only, except for the Christmas party. Obviously, families with kids complain about this. At least the ones that don’t have built-in babysitters.

  39. Antoinette says:

    I’m a college student right now, and I don’t have the opportunity to be as social as I want, and I’ve learned not to be guilty about not being everyone’s friend anymore, nor do I feel obligated to go to EVERY ward activity or gathering.
    It’s not just the LDS that are like that…a couple years ago, I attended a non-denominational church that had something going on every night, and I felt obligated to go all the time. It was nerve wracking. I would love to be more involved in my ward and in Singles’ ward, but what I value are the spiritual moments that occur outside of Church, away from other people. I’ve had some real spiritual experiences that have happened, despite the fact that my attendance to meetings hasn’t been as regular than usual. But when I do start going back regularly, I always find myself going deeper doctrinally and socially, so I guess it’s a twofer for me. I truly feel edified and renewed, it’s an authentic experience.
    I like RS though; the sisters in my ward are…amazing and they’re real. More real than I imagined they’d be. I’m still myself though, and I think that’s the key. Recognizing that even though you’re in a group, you’re still an individual. Being one of maybe two African Americans in my ward, it’s even more important to me to just be myself, and the ladies in RS have embraced me. There is a strong sense of community in my ward.

  40. Kevin Barney says:

    Natalie, I think you’re on to something. When I was young, our small branch, which slowly grew into a small ward, was a family. Primary was Saturday mornings at a sister’s house. Sunday’s we’d have SS and Priesthood/RS in the morning, and then go back in the early evening at 5:00 for just sacrament meeting. It seemed more special somehow that way. The whole ward would go to Nauvoo State Park for campouts. When I was a little older we of course did real road shows. We’d have ward dances (with a band made up of members), where everyone danced with everyone else. We’d have events like dance marathons, or breakfasts just after midnight on New Year’s Eve. I could go on and on. It was great.

    Ironically, as much as I enjoyed it as a kid growing up, I wouldn’t want to go back to the church being my everything. I value my time alone, I have things I want to do, I don’t want to spend every evening and every weekend at church. It’s all I can do to stomach the 3-hour block. My ward tried to do an old school road show a few years ago, and it was a disaster; no one wanted to do it or support it. For better or worse the world has changed, and the church of my youth simply doesn’t exist anymore.

  41. StillConfused says:

    I have never been particularly interested in the social aspects of church. I go to get my Jesus on and that is it. The social gatherings are horrifically lame. The people are just neighbors, not necessarily people I would want as friends. I am polite and all there but I have my own social network that is much more diverse and fulfilling than what is offered at church.

  42. I don’t really get to know people at church or at church activities…with or without children. I get to know people when I am in their homes and invite them in mine. That’s when I get to know people…whether they are different or similar to me. I do need people…friends. it takes time and that can be frustrating as we’ve moved around.

    I think some of the comments have been interesting. Our church definitely fits a certain type of person…a public speaker, a singer, outgoing…the doctrine can fit everyone, but I do understand not wanting to invite some people to church.

  43. Sometimes, to me, it really feels like we’re in a transitional period as a social institution. Along the way, the remnants of old habits and practices swirl against the still forming new habits and norms. Our community adjusts the way it expresses itself. Where there is overlap between the fading and the ascending, the dissonance feels uncomfortable from the inside. It’s a vacuum. Like the eye of the hurricane or something.

    Periods like this are not a particularly fruitful time for missionary work, because the uncertainty doesn’t seem like an appealing environment to bring someone into. Like someone said, the theology is appealing and easy to discuss with non members, but the community feels unresolved right now for some reason.

    When I was in a band, it was annoying when someone would bring a friend to practice. You want people to hear the finished set at a show. You don’t want them to watch you struggling and restarting and working out the set.

    Likewise, I think there are pretty extended periods of calm, where the model has reached a good place and it’s well suited for a given time. The scaffolding is set and there is room to enrich and expand on the foundation – people get to enjoy it. During these periods, missionary work is much more natural, because the kinks have largely been worked out and the community is functioning well.

    We’re living in a period of adjustment.

  44. I think an example of this is where Kevin talked about the roadshows when he was growing up. Alot of us remember that time (I’m in my early 30s) and it was genuinely fun to invite non members into the social network of the church – because you knew it was really, authentically, going to be FUN for them.

    Maybe that socially rich period was able to grow because there was an effective framework defined during the difficult transitions of the 60s and 70s.

    This relates to the thread because during these transitional times, I would imagine people leave the church in greater numbers, because the social framework is comparatively weak.

  45. >26

    When my wife and I moved around early in our marriage, that also meant changing wards and basically starting over trying to make new friends in the new ward.

    This is something I really noticed when I moved out of Utah. I’ve lived in a rural part of New England for 3 years. My first year, I lived in one small town, and then I moved 4 miles away to another small town. Here, I’m still in the same ward, so I kept my calling and didn’t have to start over with making friends. In Utah, I wouldn’t even be in the same stake.

    I also think this is partly behind the stereotype of Utah or Mountain West Mormons being so shallow. It takes a long time to grow deep friendships, and if you’re at a time in life where you’re going to be moving a lot, you’ll never get a chance to make those deep connections. (Or people won’t try to get to know you, because they’ll assume you won’t be around for long.)

  46. I consider myself fortunate for not living in the mormon corridor where my neighbors are also fellow worshipers at church. That would drive me absolutely nutty… all those nosy neighbors all in my business if I don’t go to the ward party, or heaven forbid if I don’t make it out to church on Sunday my neighbors across the street would know and cast scornful glances my way all week long. No thanks – I’ll happily deal with my 15 minute drive to church, interact with folks there and keep that separate from my friendly neighborly interactions at home.

  47. It takes a long time to grow deep friendships, and if you’re at a time in life where you’re going to be moving a lot, you’ll never get a chance to make those deep connections. (Or people won’t try to get to know you, because they’ll assume you won’t be around for long.)

    My parents, and I suspect a lot of their generation, formed many of their long-lasting friendships in the years of raising small children. I don’t think that’s as stable a period of life for people of my generation anymore–many of us are in apartments because we can’t afford houses, or we’re in school with the expectation of moving on in a few years.

    I was talking to one of my few friends (since we just moved a few months ago and I haven’t met that many people yet) and she expressed some jealousy toward the more established women in the ward. Many of them moved to San Diego twenty years ago and raised families together, and have stayed in the same neighborhoods the whole time. That’s simply not economically feasible for any of us younger couples–houses are too expensive and jobs aren’t that stable. It’s a little depressing, honestly.

    I hear over and over again that it’s such a comfort that the gospel is the same everywhere. That may be true, but the people aren’t the same, and incorporating oneself into a ward takes time and effort. I think it’s especially hard if the ward is pretty established already and there aren’t other transitional people around to be transitional friends together.

  48. Natalie B. says:

    #47: Re: The church is the same everywhere.

    I wonder if the model of trying to make church have the same routine area will work if/as the church continues to grow. Are there any other major religions that have such centralized control? Sometimes I think that when we try to make models that can work for everyone that they end up working for no one.

    I wish I could have more members over to my house, but given my time constraints I can’t. We are shooting to have people over at least once a month, but that isn’t enough to build deep friendships. If I’m going to get to meet people in the ward, then the time for socializing will have to come out of the 3-hour block, because I just don’t have the time right now for the rest.

  49. It seems strange how the social aspects of Church are continually brought up, yet we shut these down when we get to Church.

    Time for Sacrament Meeting. Please remember that the chapel is not an appropriate place for conversations. Please be reverent, so that others may feel The Spirit.

    Time for Sunday School. Please allow the teachers to leave first so they may set up their classrooms. Please sit quietly and enjoy the postlude music so that others may feel The Spirit.

    Time for Priesthood. Sons are to sit with their fathers so they aren’t roughhousing and being irreverent. Elders Quorum will consist of yet another shaming session about how if you idiots spent just 1/10 the time doing your home teaching that you spend looking at naughty peektures we would have been translated already. The Sisters are perfect, why can’t you be? Please sit quietly so that others may feel The Spirit.

    Please leave the building quietly and reverently, because the other ward is having the Sacrament. Others should have the opportunity to feel The Spirit.

    A buddy in my last ward was released from the EQP and decided the ward was just way too unfriendly. So, he started organizing a monthly dinner group – about 15 couples, sometimes kids/sometimes not, having dinner with a planned theme and time to socialize. Worked great. After about a year, a new EQP decided that was a great thing and took it over as an official EQ function. It was dead after one dinner.

    We are trained to believe that Church and social enjoyment are like two ships, passing in the night, destined never to meet. And then we wonder why the youth leave, why the inactives outnumber the actives, and why the ward members we see in Costco won’t even nod hello.

  50. I really believe that the economic reintegration of the members of church is the next major transformation, and the social will have to follow, as some show their refined loving nature, and some are upset with the amount of cream going to them or others.

    We talk a good game about “Zion”, but in my view we’re as far from it as we’ve ever been. My observation is that many of those that have had the opportunity to get a good education and/or have character traits that Babylon (as Nibley defines it – “rich, respectable, immovable”) – many of those that Babylon values are keeping their material blessings well within the confines of their own dominions, while those that lack or are short on material resources in our congregations, for various reasons or whatever reasons, are relegated to talk to the Bishop, who very often is concerned with over allocating “the Lord’s resources and the widow’s mite.”

    (In other words, we’re calling upon the poor to crank down their costs far more than we are calling upon the rich to give more to lift the poor.)

    Yet if the economy continues down – which is one of the ways that the Lord signals his displeasure at societies, and seeks to get their attention – we’re going to need to band together and figure out how to efficiently and generously allocate the full resources of the church, which resources certainly include resources that some members now feel are “theirs” (a notion that I believe King Benjamin clearly destroys.)

    Brigham Young rhetorically asked when we would build Zion, and answered that we’d build it when we finally decide to do it, and that nothing else was standing in our way but our own determination. I view the church as the place where I connect with those that are moving to the verge of deciding to do it. And I know a lot of people that are pretty clearly coming to the realization that Zion will come bottom-up, and we better get started on our own, in our own congregation.

  51. Yet if the economy continues down – which is one of the ways that the Lord signals his displeasure at societies, and seeks to get their attention

    Is the inverse true too? Did God just really love us more in the 80s and 90s? (the two most successful decades in the history in the stockmarket, and incredibly successful decades in regards to GDP expansion) What were we doing so well then? And did we stop doing bad last year? The recession technically ended in late 2009 . . . What economic indicators would one suggest I use to measure how happy God is with us? GDP, DJIA, Unemployment?

  52. #49: Your post reminded me of this book (if you scroll down to the bottom you can find a link or two for a free .pdf file or html version of the book). Give it a read (I actually listened to the audiobook), it was one of the better ones I’ve read or listened to in some time. It talks quite about (in a fictional sense) about how the minute we take things over (like your EQ dinners) into ‘official’ productions, the life drains from them rather quickly. I would highly recommend it, even if the title might turn a few people off from reading it.

  53. P.S. I once heard a guy suggest the following:

    “When Mormons have been Mormons as long as Catholics have been Catholics, the Mormons will be more Catholic than the Catholics. If you want to see the future of the church in its present course, attend Mass this Saturday evening (held on Saturday so as to keep your Sunday open for the NBA, NFL, MLB, etc.”

    Just something to stew on – not saying I agree, nor that I disagree, but it’s worth thinking about.

  54. “Is the inverse true too? Did God just really love us more in the 80s and 90s? (the two most successful decades in the history in the stockmarket, and incredibly successful decades in regards to GDP expansion) What were we doing so well then? And did we stop doing bad last year? The recession technically ended in late 2009 . . . ”

    It is important to distinguish between two successive liquidity and credit driven bubbles and fundamentally sound economic growth. One can sustain citizens for a long time. The other is the bait laid in the trap.

    In other words, you can’t automatically see the recent “prosperity” as uncoupled from the ensuing downfall.

    My feeling is that the Lord, being an excellent engineer, knows exactly how to prosper his people to be able to build 100 temples in a short span, yet also allow the wicked to devolve into a state where eventually they are all fighting against each other (1 Nephi 14: 15-17).

    He’s able to give them enough rope, our should we say liquidity, to do it. But the prior events set the trap, and isn’t distinct from it.

    I judge economic hard times by how many people in our ward, and how many of my friends and acquaintances, are unemployed and worried about taking care of their families. Couldn’t care less about the DJIA as an indicator.

  55. Quayle, have you heard of prosperity theology? You’re in the same company as Oral Roberts and Kenneth Copeland.

  56. I left because the church is not true. I loved the social aspects of the church, and my entire life revolved around it, and still does since my life has not joined me in leaving [yet]. But, in discussions of why people leave on community forums like http://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon the general consensus is that people leave because they studied science and/or history and discovered the church’s claims are all false. I have never heard of anyone leaving because of offense since my mission, and even then I think that was more of a cover story the ward leadership told in ward counsel. I bet most of those who were leaving were also students of science and history.

  57. “Quayle, have you heard of prosperity theology? You’re in the same company as Oral Roberts and Kenneth Copeland.”

    Yes I have heard of it, and no I don’t subscribe to it.

    Obviously some of the greatest blessings come with temporal hardship. But certainly the Lord squeezes his people when He wants purification. These are all blessings, even when hard to endure.

    But I believe (1) that we have enough resources in our wards and stakes to take care of everyone, and (2) that Zion will have no poor among us not because they all got good jobs with the help of the ward or stake employment specialist.

    What part of my collectivist bend don’t you understand. I’m saying wealth hording is a sign of sin, of righteousness.

  58. Galtzo, I think many of the folks who leave don’t frequent ex-mo websites. A significant portion of the ex-mos out there may have left for entirely social reasons and those of us on r/exmormon wouldn’t hear from them. You and I and a lot of other people left for doctrinal/historical reasons, but I’ve never seen a comprehensive, scientific survey on why ex-mos left.

    Quayle, so to summarize, you’re saying that economic bad times are a sign of God’s displeasure with the wicked… and they’re a sign that God is testing his righteous. Which is it? If it’s both, then it’s meaningless: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    BTW, I’m with you on the collectivist front. I think many Mormons in my acquaintance try to minimize and ignore the legacy of Mormon collectivist teachings, rationalizing why they can’t live up to them or saying that free market capitalism is a prerequisite for being able to live them.