The Slowing of Church Growth

This post comes to us from Christian Anderson, a biostatistician living in San Diego county. He previously guest posted on mentions of Heavenly Parents in General Conference.

In the Saturday Afternoon Session of General Conference on Apr 1, 2017, the church announced a membership of 15,882,417. Combined with last year’s total, this represented an increase of 248,218 members and 1.59%. For many denominations, this would be a banner year. However, for the LDS church it represents a remarkable underperformance relative to historical trends and enthusiastic predictions by some members.

Absolute growth
In terms of absolute growth, the addition of nearly a quarter million members is still a substantial achievement. After all, the church didn’t reach 250,000 members total until 1897. However, since 1984 the church had reported growth of at least that magnitude for 32 consecutive years until last Saturday. Reported is an important word here, as membership totals reported in General Conference were rounded off to the nearest 10,000 from 1984-1991, and there are several statistical anomalies in the various time series suggesting that totals sometimes reflect incomplete reports (usually reflected by an anomaly in the opposite direction in the next year).

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Gays and the Mormon Afterlife

This guest post comes from a regular ZD reader going by the name of Humboldt.

Yesterday, I was talking to my mom about a mutual acquaintance of ours who happens to be gay. He’s the son of a very strong Mormon family that mentored my parents and our family decades ago. He and I went to BYU at about the same time, so I know him too. We were talking about some family photos that had been posted on Facebook, when my mom made the comment that it’s a good thing that our mutual acquaintance isn’t married. Her implication was that gay marriage was intrinsically so wrong, so disordered, so sinful, that it would be better for gay people to live life alone than be married. This was a pretty shocking idea to me, so rather than ask her more about why she would say this, I moved the conversation along, as I usually do when I’m feeling threatened. Read More

Heavenly Parents at Conference

This guest post comes to us from Christian Anderson.

It’s always nice to hear how the old folks at home are doing. It seems like we’ve been hearing more and more about Them recently.

Back in April 2013, Ziff (http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2013/04/29/heavenly-parents-are-we-really-talking-about-you-more/ and references therein) noted that there seemed to be an increasing number of references to “Heavenly Parents” in General Conference and more widely in church materials. This post discusses three aspects of that trend: 1) It has not only continued but accelerated over the last three years, 2) there has been a shift in which authorities are mentioning Them, and 3) the fraught issue of capitalization.

An accelerating trend

Few speakers mentioned Heavenly Parents in the decades before 1995, with an average of 0.48 references per year (that’s both April and October conferences combined). That all changed with “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”, which affirms in its third sentence that each human being is “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents”, triggering seven references to Heavenly Parents that year. In the years 1996-2012, references to “Heavenly Parents” nearly tripled to 1.41 references per year (p=0.0057), but never more than three in any one year. 2013 saw a spike to a record nine references, followed by a fall back to one reference in 2014, a return to nine references in 2015, and finally a grand total of 15 references this year. Exactly half of the 56 talks that mention Heavenly Parents have been delivered in the last four years.

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Of Persecution, Polygamy, and Youth Treks

This guest post comes to us from Greg Nelson. Greg lives in Allen, Texas, with his wife and three kids, and has business degrees from both BYU and BYU-Idaho.

“In many ways, I feel about the Church the same way I feel about my family…I and my siblings might go on for hours about what’s wrong with the family, but let an outsider say one negative thing and my claws will come out.  I fight it and complain about it, and it’s so deeply woven into my identity that I can’t imagine who I would be without it.” –Lynnette

This behavior is everywhere, but especially in our young missionaries. Just about every one of them returns home with a newfound loyalty and commitment to the church, developed at least in part by the refiner’s fire of outside criticism and persecution. With each slammed door, skins thicken and commitment swells. To be sure, some develop a loyalty because they’ve actually seen how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can transform and bless lives. But I submit that a significant number return home so certain of their testimonies simply by virtue of having that  testimony challenged and questioned day in and day out. We as a people relish these missionary experiences. They strengthen our resolve.  An example would be Elder Holland’s April 2014 General Conference talk, which describes in disturbing detail how two sister missionaries had food spit and thrown at them simply because they were Mormon. Read More

Ordain Women, Women’s Ordination

A guest post from Jacob Baker, whose first guest post on ZD can be found here. This post is also on Jacob’s personal blog.

At the outset, I should say that at this point nothing is going to stop Ordain Women, whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s clear that no amount of criticism or shaming will fracture the movement. In fact, these have really only served (unsurprisingly) to strengthen it and add to its numbers. OW may have begun as an organized movement but has become something of an event, in the philosophical sense of that word–the eruption of something new that breaks with the prevailing order, something which marks a before and after. Those who are riveted by an event (like Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ, after which he was never the same again) can only understand certain truths in its wake. Read More

10 Things to Like about the General Women’s Meeting

This guest post comes to us from a ZD reader and commenter who goes by Thokozile. Thokozile studies cell biology, which mainly involves looking at tiny things and describing them in complicated ways. She has also been known to play the organ, wear purple pants, and lick banana slugs.

I was expecting the General Women’s Meeting to alternate between sappy, offensive, and boring. I can’t say I was wrong, nor can I say that it was historic, but my low expectations made it easy to notice the good things that happened. Read More

American Two-Party Politics Finds a New Battleground in the Ordain Women Movement

This guest post comes to us from Esther, a globetrotting sociologist and West Coast native. She loves Jesus, her family and friends, Jimmy Fallon, Michelle Obama, fresh salsa, and Tillamook cheese. In that order.

The obvious drawback of belonging to the Only True And Living Church On The Earth is associating with a lot of people who like to be right all the time. There may be One True Church, but there is not one true political party. Unfortunately, sometimes we confuse our gift to know the truth with an ability to know all truth and to assume that whatever truth God has given to us applies to everyone else. Is it possible that God could inspire two different people to vote for two different political candidates? Read More

On Being Needed vs. Being Necessary: Some Thoughts on Women, Priesthood, and Responsibility

[This post, from Jacob Baker, originally appeared at his blog All Eternity Shakes: Letters From the Vineyard. It has been slightly revised from the original. Jacob describes himself as “a student of religion and a stalwart fanboy of Zelophehad’s female offspring. Ok, and the guys too.” We’re excited to have him guest-posting for us.]

Women cannot be regarded as fully human until the full measure of responsibility and accountability is theirs. This is where the charged rhetorics of modesty, pedestalization, and singularity and specialness of gender are all mutually embedded–in the wonderful-terrible blessing and burden of cultural, institutional, and religious responsibility and accountability. This is also why the rhetoric of “equality” should be replaced with one of responsibility and accountability. Responsibility is what is really at stake with this kind of empowerment, and it is really what we mean by “equality.” Responsibility is the decisive and irrevocable difference between becoming angels or becoming gods. Read More

My life as a member of the church

The following is an excerpt from an interview between a member of the Strengthening the Members Committee and missionary rodent, shortly after she was taken into captivity

How long have you been following us?

My people first came to this planet in search of intelligent life in the hopes of opening trade negotiations, and seeking a new avenue for allies in our continuing war–

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Talking About Gender Differences

This guest post comes to us from Beatrice.

In our society, we like to talk about the differences between men and women. It is the stuff upon which great novels and films are built. It can be used as a source of bonding with our same-sex peers “Oh, my husband does that too,” or it can be used to explain our relationship struggles “I just don’t understand why women do that.” Talking about the differences between men and women adds a certain richness to our lives and resonates with the way that we think about the world. There is something so appealing about the idea that “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.” In church settings, there is an added layer to all of this. We like to talk about gender differences because it is an essential part of our doctrine. Women always were women and will always be women. Men always were men and will always be men. These inherent, divinely organized differences are the reason why men and women should play different roles in the church organization and in society. Read More

Guest Post: How Mormon Women Negotiate Contradiction

The following is by Katya’s friend Nocturne, who is gathering information for a paper she’s writing, as explained below. We’re hoping her questions will generate insightful reflections upon personal experience and lively discussion. If you would like to respond to her questions privately, we’d encourage you to send your answers to “info at zelophehadsdaughters dot com” and we will happily pass them on to her.

Sex, in the biological sense, is the irreducible raw material upon which the social construction of gender is built. The Mormon meaning of gender and gender roles is inextricable from the history of power differential between genders. I am writing a paper on the contradictions that women in the church either have to accept or dismiss, explain away and legitimize or fight against. As women in the church, we are presented with contradictions: on one hand, we are taught that we have agency to act as you feel right, told to get educations, expected to be self-reliant, and held to high spiritual and intellectual standards, but, simultaneously, the church creates the expectation (and, maybe, manipulation) of only choosing one route: married, stay-at-home housewife, mother. Read More

After Gonzales v. Carhart

This guest post comes to us from frequent ZD commenter and blogging veteran ECS.

Much of the publicity surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent abortion decision has died down. The Court’s reasoning in Gonzales v. Carhart, however, deserves a closer look. Whether you believe a woman has a right to terminate her pregnancy is not the focus of this post. This post’s focus is on the problematic reasoning in the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales, that, among other things, questions the capacity of a woman to give informed consent to undergo a horrifying, yet perhaps necessary, abortion procedure. Read More

Having One Spouse Be In Charge

(Since this issue came up several times in the comments on the feminist concerns poll, it seemed worth opening it up for discussion on its own thread.)

Proud Daughter of Eve wrote:

I have no problem with a man presiding in the home because someone has to be the head and if the mom is staying at home with the kids then isn’t that enough responsibility? Why does she have to make ALL the decisions in the house?

Sue (and others) responded:

Why does someone have to be the head? In our marriage, we’ve seen no need for one person to be in charge, or to have the final say. I don’t understand why it would be necessary…

What advantages and/or disadvantages do people see to having one spouse take an “in charge” kind of role? If you’re married, is that how you would describe your relationship?

Authenticity in Relief Society

Sally raised this great question on Eve’s “Relief Society Goes Berserk” thread:

I am teaching RS tomorrow on unity and have been thinking alot about what creates unity. One post mentioned that we don’t have “authentic voices” in RS, we don’t share our struggles because we need to put on our happy faces at church to fit in with the rest of the happy faces.
How can we mourn with those that mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort if those needs are carefully kept hidden? I love the “good new minutes” in RS because I feel like I get to know the sisters better, hearning of their joys. But how can we share bad news? I wouldn’t want RS to turn into a session for complaining, especially about others in our lives. So how can we open up to each other so we can better see in each other’s hearts?

Finding Middle Ground

Jessawhy recently posed this excellent question:

I’m wondering if there is any middle ground between being 100% behind anything that any living prophet has ever spoken, and rationalizing myself out of the church.

How do you find the middle ground? How do you stay active without feeling like you’ve given your brain up to the Borg? Is there a middle ground? (In the scriptures it really seems black and white, maybe Satan tricks us into thinking there are shades of grey).

Mark IV’s Next Two Questions: Diversity within Feminism

In case people aren’t completely burned out on the topic of feminism, I thought we’d continue with Mark IV’s questions. Here are the next two.

4. It is assumed that feminists value diversity. Why, then, is feminism in America almost exclusively espoused by well educated white women? Is this a coincidence, or is that fact trying to tell us something important? Is our assumption false from the start?

5. Mormons in Utah vote in a pattern that is about 80% predictable. This fact is often viewed as evidence of a sort of narrow dogmatism and intolerance of diversity. Feminists vote in a pattern that is about 90% predictable. Do the same assumptions apply? Why or why not?

Mark IV’s Next Two Questions: The Contradictions and Costs of Feminism

OK, let’s try a couple more. (Sorry, Mark, in looking over these again, I realize I probaby should have paired your second question with your first.)

2. Does feminism have any built-in limitations or internal contradictions? If so, what are they?

3. We often (rightly) enumerate the ways in which women’s lives have improved as a result of feminism. Has there also been an offsetting downside? Have the gains been made entirely without cost?

Mark IV’s First Question: The Limitations of Feminism

Near the end of Kiskilili’s recent post “Where Do Mormon Feminists Come From?” our frequent commentator and good friend Mark IV proposed a short list of questions he’d like to see feminists discuss. Here follows the first of those questions. I’m looking forward to reading what people have to say about the issues he raises.

1. Given that the feminist critique of our culture is so often valid and accurate, how can we know when it is not? A woman who is dismissed from her job might attibute her dismissal to sexism, but maybe she is just incompetent. Feminism is a useful tool, but are there tasks to which it is not suited?