Tag Archives: Mormonism

Recent Trends: Understanding Change in Mormonism

As we wind up another year and launch into a new one, I plan to consider in the next few posts a number of possible trends in current Mormonism.  A lot has changed in Mormon culture since I left the LDS Church in 1973 and since I came to Utah in 1983, but I’ll be focusing on the last 5-10 years.  My observations are merely my informed opinions, based on living within and evaluating Mormonism over the years.  They lack any objective scientific basis.

To begin with, let me establish a framework for understanding change in Mormonism.  Considering its relationship with the larger American society, Mormonism has historically swung between two poles: antagonism and accommodation.  (One sociologist uses the terms assimilation and retrenchment.)   Along these lines, antagonism emphasizes those elements in Mormonism that are unlike the surrounding society, focusing on its unique roots and values, those distinctive beliefs and practices that mark Mormonism as unique.  This might include its supernatural claims, the Word of Wisdom, family practices, and standards of morality.  An example of an antagonistic stance would the LDS Church’s participation in the Proposition 8 campaign against homosexual marriage in California.

Accommodation, on the other hand, emphasizes those elements where Mormonism at times becomes more like the rest of society, focusing on similarities and commonalities such as the virtues of hard work, financial success, and respectability.  Examples of an accommodating stance would be the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign, and the way Mormonism was presented during the Romney presidential campaign.  The pendulum is constantly swinging back and forth.  Armand Mauss, an LDS sociologist who popularized this framework, wrote in 2010:

 “I see signs now that retrenchment in the Church is slowing down, perhaps even rolling back somewhat, and is gradually giving away again to a more assimilative posture toward American society and the rest of the world.”

Mormonism has always been at least somewhat responsive to external pressure.  The LDS Church has a long history of being willing and able to adapt in order to survive and thrive.  There was a time when American culture corresponded more closely to the values of Mormonism: patriotism, hard work, loyalty, a clean cut image, Ozzie and Harriet, mom and apple pie.  But as America has become less conservative, this shift in values has made Mormonism more out of sync.  Thus in the 2012 election, the biggest critics of Romney and Mormonism came from the political left.

This shifting pendulum between accommodation and antagonism leaves us wondering how far Mormon adaption can or will go.  For example, the courts recently handed down rulings that now permit multiple cohabitation (polygamy) as well as homosexual marriage in Utah.  With polygamy essentially legal, will Mormonism swing back toward the marriage practices introduced by Joseph Smith – a radical form of antagonism?  Will it swing forward to adopt popular cultural perspectives on homosexuality – a radical expression of accommodation?

As we assess changes and trends in Mormonism, my interest has to do with how any such changes might impact the ways traditional Christians share the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ with our LDS neighbors and friends.  Watch the next few posts to consider 15 possible trends and pressure points in Mormonism in the coming year.

Reviews of “Understanding the Book of Mormon”

My book Understanding the Book of Mormon has been well received by the reading community, as represented by people who use the Goodreads site.  Reviews there average 4.13 out of 5 stars, with no negative reviews.  If you haven’t read it yet you can get Understanding the Book of Mormon in print version, e-book, or audio book.  Here are the comments people have left at the Goodreads site:

“I am very new to this topic and I thought that this book did a wonderful job of teaching the basics. It was written by an ex-Mormon who is still close to his Mormon family but he is also Pastor and is the perfect person I believe to write on this topic. He comes at it from not only head knowledge but a compassionate heart as well.”

“Fair and balanced, no bashing, gave me insight to the beliefs of my close friends and helps me understand them more.”

“This is a good, balanced introduction for someone who isn’t familiar with the Book of Mormon.”

“The author, a former Mormon, offers a temperate critique of the Book of Mormon, and he doesn’t use straw man techniques. In fact, he submitted the most controversial material to active LDS members (including friends and family) for review and critique. He gently points out the flaws of the Book of Mormon.”

“This is a fantastic book! So greatful there is a generous and kind book that helps christians gain perspective on this other religion.”

“Transitions” Curriculum Now Available

Western Institute for Intercultural Studies has just released the completed version of Transitions: The Mormon Migration from Religion to Relationships, a multimedia resource including six video sessions on DVD along with a participant workbook.  This resource is designed to help former Latter-day Saints navigate the journey from their former religious culture into a healthy new relationship with Jesus in a local Christian church.

The Transitions material tracks closely with my Doctor of Ministry research about following Jesus after leaving Mormonism.  I appear in the DVDs and helped to write the workbook.  I’m hopeful that this resource will be a great encouragement to former Mormons.  It will also help the members of Christian churches to understand what their ex-LDS friends and co-parishioners are going through.

Section 1: Migration covers issues of finding a new individual and collective identity, dealing with relationships, and sorting out a new church culture.

Section 2: Doctrine and Worldview Issues presents traditional Christian doctrine and worldview framed in an understandable way for someone coming out of Mormonism.

Transitions can be used in a variety of settings, from an individual, group of friends or family meeting in a home, to small group meetings in local churches.

The first three of six modules were released to the public earlier this year, and can be viewed HERE.

The complete materials are available at the Transitions Store.  They are very reasonably priced, to encourage wide usage.

I encourage churches to attend a Transitions Training to become acquainted with how to use the materials.  The next training event is on Saturday, September 17.  Find out more HERE.

“Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor” Is Now Available

My new book has now been released.  You can order it from the Utah Advance store for the best price available.  This book gives insights into Mormon life and culture that will help traditional Christians understand and relate to friends and acquaintances involved in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It highlights essential elements in the experience of life as a Mormon—stories, practices, teachings, community activities, and beliefs—to help Christians form faith-sharing relationships with Mormons.

The book relies on my experiences growing up Mormon and living in Utah for the last three decades, as well as on current research that utilizes many Latter-day Saint sources. It explains the core stories that form the Mormon worldview, shares the experiences that shape the community identity of Mormonism, and shows how Mormons understand truth. It will help you understand how most Mormons see themselves and others around them, illuminating why people join the LDS Church and why many eventually leave.

Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor suggests how Christians can befriend Latter-day Saints with confidence and sensitivity and share the grace of God wisely within their relationships.

The book includes discussion questions for individuals and small groups, black and white photographs and charts, and an appendix that includes “Are Mormons Christians?” and “Should I Vote for a Mormon?”

Are Polygamists Mormons?

Part 6 of a series.

I’ve been sharing some thoughts about a question that often arises in discussions with Latter-day Saints: Are Mormons Christians?  I speak to this issue in my upcoming book, Understanding Your Mormon Neighbor, which is due to be released by Zondervan next year.  But I’m giving a preview in recent posts.

To help a Latter-day Saint friend gain some insight into why this question even matters to many traditional Christians, you might consider an analogous situation within Mormonism.

Polygamy has been in the news quite a bit in recent years.  Most of the polygamist groups are offshoots of the LDS Church.  They continue to follow Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  These groups are commonly referred to by themselves and others as “Fundamentalist Mormons.”  But the LDS Church objects strenuously to anyone using the word “Mormon” in reference to polygamist groups (see here), because what the polygamists stand for is at odds with the mainstream LDS Church.  The Church is trying to control the definition of what “Mormon” means, and who has the right to use the name, because it doesn’t want to be confused with polygamists by use of the same label.  The Saints have some values and boundaries that they want to maintain.  They want to world to think certain things when they see the word “Mormon” – and not think certain other things that they don’t feel are legitimate expressions of Mormonism.

That’s almost precisely how evangelicals feel about Latter-day Saints using the title “Christian”.  Mainstream Christians have some values and boundaries they want to uphold.  Mormonism espouses some things that are at odds with historic Christianity.  The use of the same word to describe both groups creates confusion about what each group stands for.

If Latter-day Saints are uncomfortable with the polygamous groups being called “Mormon”, they should at least have some empathy with why evangelicals are hesitant to apply the title “Christian” to them.