A Response to Jana Riess’s “The Next Mormons”: The Importance of Disentangling Data and Argument

Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D.

Note:  A special thanks to Jana Riess for her willingness to correspond and share thoughtful responses to a number of questions during an especially busy time for her. Given the seriousness of claims made in her lengthy book, an adequate review and response also requires sufficient space (trigger warning to long-read-haters!)

In 2002, word circulated that an in-depth PBS Documentary would be coming out focused on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a new doctoral student, I got excited that such a high-quality doc would be available – and on a network known for fair-minded reporting.

Thinking it would be a great way to let people know who we really are, I sent out a note to classmates and professors to be watching out for it. As soon as the film aired, however, something became quickly apparent. From the dark images of Joseph Smith set to spooky music, to the scene of primary children clearly intended to convey brainwashing, it became obvious that this film was less about representing us, than someone else’s story about us.

Producer Helen Whitney clearly didn’t set out to craft something malicious or deceptive.  Instead, I believe she approached the project with pre-existing strong feelings about who we are – which emotions naturally influenced how she told the story.  For the many who tuned-in to learn the truth about our faith, however, Helen’s arguments and our own reality were fused into one indistinguishable product.

‘The truth about what’s happening in Mormonism.’ On February 26, 2019, after sharing 18 months of advance results, the Salt Lake Tribune announced the “day is near” for people to read the full report from a study it described in one article as “groundbreaking,” “sweeping” and “landmark.” Hailed by others as “momentous,” “revolutionary” and a “must read for anyone interested in the LDS Church,” the text by Dr. Jana Riess was widely promoted as an answer to some of the most pressing questions facing the Church.

On the important questions of faith and loss of faith, Jana’s conclusions in The Next Mormons have been touted across media outlets as “showing” and “revealing” the truth about what’s really happening right now within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  For instance, Peggy Fletcher-Stack writes that the book “shows how LDS millennials view the faith and why more are leaving.” And Doug Fabrizio introduced her work as allowing us to “now able to add somefacts to the dozens of opinions about Latter-day Saints.” One scholar added,  “It is as though she created a Mormon MRI: able to see below the surface to understand what LDS folks really think.”

Jana has largely seemed happy to oblige these perceptions, remarking in a recent interview, “in the Latter-day Saint world we have a lot of opinions – and it would be nice if some of those opinions have a little bit of solid evidence behind them [interviewer laughs].”

Compared to others with mere opinion, then, Jana’s conclusions are proposed to possess a distinctive authority and claim on the truth.  One person at a public talk I attended suggested that Jana was uniquely positioned to confirm the truth about what’s happening in the Church, comparing her reporting of the data with others “interpreting history and having their own slant.”

As justification for this kind of confidence, Jana frequently underscores her “large-scale, nationally representative study of four generations, including 1,156 current church members and 540 former members” – praised on her site as “the most extensive collection of Mormon attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors collected by independent or academic researchers to date.”[1]

For many people, that’s all that is needed to establish “the Next Mormons” as uniquely trustworthy and automatically credible. As one reviewer pointed out, regardless of acknowledgments about the study’s limitations, “this book’s conclusions are going to be accepted and spread as fact.”

So, okay – but, hasn’t Jana earned that right?  What’s the problem with that?

Competing interpretations of the same data. Well, because that’s not how research actually works. Although we (all) love to be able to claim that cold-hard data has undeniably confirmed what we really want to believe…it’s quite a bit more complicated than that.  As another researcher recently appearing on RadioWest pointed out, “Science isn’t ‘we found a fact, and we’re going to put it on the shelf, and now we know this, and now we’ll move on’ – it’s this dance between fact and theory constantly going on. And the expectations you have going into something will influence the data you collect, how you interpret that data, how you think about that.”

Depending on the underlying questions, the measures used, the characteristics of people answering the questions, the analytic decisions and the framing of results, dramatically different conclusions can be reached.  Particularly when the topic is sensitive enough that respondents might find it socially desirable[2] to answer one way or another, small leanings in the question framings, answer options and sample demographics can also lead to large cumulative effects on results.

To her credit, Jana has sometimes pushed back on the effusive praise – pointing out, for instance, that one survey (even if its big) doesn’t allow a longitudinal view of what is happening.  What many people don’t appreciate, however, is that large data sets have been long appreciated among scientists as introducing even greater risk for confirmation bias—both on a statistical and qualitative level. [3]

This complexity only multiplies once analysis starts. Out of hundreds of pages of survey responses or interview transcripts, for instance, what patterns are highlighted and shared (and which are overlooked), which statistical analyses are performed (and which are not) and how the hundreds of various results are ultimately packaged and presented (or not), can all make a big difference.[4]

But the bigger point here is this: none of this matters much to a general public mesmerized by anything with statistics and labeled as “research.”

But the overlooked reality is that data does not (and cannot) speak for itself:  not without a human interpreter. This is different than saying any given study is simply “biased.” Everyone has bias and a certain viewpoint or judgment about things (including researchers), which is an aspect of being human, and not a problem. The issue is being aware of this bias, and transparent enough about how it inevitably shapes research, so that people can take that into account as they consider whatever conclusions are being made.

My basic concern is that this is simply not happening enough here, in the case of this research project. And when insufficient attention is given to this larger interpretive framework, the problem is that larger arguments inevitably blend and bleed into the results and findings in a way that is indistinguishable to readers. The two intertwined get presented (and embraced) as one undeniable reality.

All this explains why I’m writing and proposing some added scrutiny.  Based on the book itself and associated reporting, I’m convinced that for the majority of readers (especially those unfamiliar with Jana’s past writing and work), her own interpretations will be hard – even impossible – to discern and differentiate from the statistics themselves.

That’s partly because not a whole lot is said about Jana’s own narrative standpoint.

Whose narratives get scrutinized?  By contrast, Jana raises extensive critique throughout The Next Mormons about the narratives within her own faith community – problematizing larger stories and narratives held to be true by orthodox members, including:

  • “the usual narrative [about] violating the word of wisdom” (205)[5]
  • “a popular narrative in the LDS church today that pornography…” (215)
  • “a standard narrative that has been told and retold many times…that to exit the fold…” (88/274) / “a prevailing narrative within certain segments of the LDS church that when people leave” (281)

She also points out how her own data “upends a common narrative within Mormonism [about singles]” (99) or “complicate[s] the victorious narrative about Mormons’ remarkable rates of abstinence” (108). Elsewhere, she has written off several orthodox narratives as straight-up “myths” embarrassingly at odds with empirical reality – insisting simply that “many of these explanations don’t hold water statistically.”

To her credit, Jana does share some counter-narratives at different points in the book that don’t fit comfortably with prevailing narratives around sexual orientation, gender, etc.  Compared to the many accounts in the text shared matter-of-factly as glimpses into a kind of objective reality,[6] however, she does seem to apply more critical scrutiny to those accounts at odds with her own progressive leanings.[7]

The story Jana is telling us. In order to encourage more balanced scrutiny of the narrative backdrop of “the Next Mormons,” I highlight below ten ways the larger worldview of Jana and her co-researcher, Benjamin Knoll (whose past work clearly suggests a similar socio-political standpoint) are reflected in research design, and how they interpret results. I do this in the spirit of accountability and respectful scholarship – believing that if we can be open with concerns like this, we all have a better shot of arriving at truth, capital T.

This seems especially crucial at a time when the larger momentum of society is sweeping up many of our human initiatives – including sincere efforts to research important questions – into relentless confirmation bias that follows predictable partisan lines. Without more critical scrutiny, I suspect Jana’s research may be subject to the same forces (believed as trustworthy by those sharing her progressive worldview, and dismissed outright by those who don’t).

That I judge this work as deserving of such scrutiny and careful attention will be understood, I hope, as a mark of respect – and welcomed as part of a healthy public and academic discourse.  Even in raising concerns, this does not discount meaningful insights Jana raises about prevailing interpretations about the Church – many of which can help us better empathize and minister to those affected.  Indeed, it’s not hard to see evidence of these widely held perceptions all around us – and the tangible impact they are having on people’s faith. As one reviewer wrote, “Members of my own family are experiencing the phenomena reported by Ms. Reiss.”

Due to the significance of Jana’s claims (and the seriousness of my own concerns), I have worked to reference everything I’m arguing in footnotes below. In addition to reviewing her full book and accompanying interviews and written analyses, I attended an in-person presentation and reached out to her with several questions.  Once again, I am grateful to Jana’s thoughtful responses, and her willingness to correspond and explore challenging questions.  I have found her responses helpful, many of which are included below.

Even so, I offer these observations as a believing, orthodox Latter-day Saint who finds the kind of implicit narrative running throughout The Next Mormons as potentially destabilizing of sincere faith – especially when these conclusions are presented (and received) as obvious and objective reality.  In ten parts below, then, I break down what I see as the distinct worldview shaping both this research, and how it has been interpreted and publicly presented – before concluding with discussion of a few larger take-away’s.  As always, further questions and push-back are welcome! That’s what healthy discourse is all about…

1. Yielding to covenants as conforming. In a long list of possible “things that some Mormons (or those who were Mormon at one point in their lives) feel are troubling to some extent,” people were asked to indicate whether any of the subsequent issues were “very troubling, a little troubling, or not at all troubling to you.”

Included on that list was: “the Church’s emphasis on conformity and obedience.”

Compared to simply leaving out the word “conformity” from the same question, could the phrasing of this question have contributed to the resulting statistical patterns in answers?

I asked Jana that question.  And she agreed that is likely –responding “yes, I wish I had separated out those two terms. When a majority of Millennials say they are troubled by that, which of the two things (‘obedience’ and ‘conformity’) in particular is generating their discomfort? It’s an imprecise question, unfortunately.”

She went on to add, “based on respondents’ answers to other related questions, I think we can comfortably say that there is generational difference about obedience.” I don’t disagree, since there have likely been attitudinal differences in all past generations – and those showing up in this generation are likely unique, as she suggests.

The question is not whether a difference exists in attitudes, as much as the story we tell about that – and how we ought to make sense of and interpret those differences.

All of that is where I’m trying to draw more attention, hoping for an open exploration of competing interpretations. Once again, that’s not typically how these results have been framed in public discussion. For instance, in one front-page Salt Lake Tribune report about the survey results, whatever nuance existed in the way the questions were asked (perceptions that “some feel are troubling to some extent”) was no doubt lost to many digesting the results as mere facts about objective conditions causing someone to leave:

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

I want to point out that for the most part, I found the questionnaire Jana used to be pretty fair-minded – with a few notable exceptions.  And I do find Jana raising genuinely interesting and valuable things to talk about throughout, including when it comes to authority.  For instance, she acknowledges real tensions worth exploring in the presiding and equality beliefs around marriage,[8] in the dialogue between outer counsel and inner conscience[9] and a similar dialogue in working out the autonomy of local wards within the larger structure of authority. [10]

Rather than acknowledging these as workable polarities that can be navigated collaboratively, however, what I found disappointing was how often Jana portrayed these as aching conflicts – seemingly destined to cause heartache and suffering in the membership.

In some cases, of course, she’s right – especially when it comes to excesses that deserve careful scrutiny.  For instance, I found it powerful to hear the story of one woman so focused on outside counsel that she admitted, “I never actually relied on how I felt about anything…and that created problems in other areas of my life” (196).

That is a problem! (as I believe leaders themselves would acknowledge).  Rather than healthy polarities to be navigated, however, The Next Mormons underscores these as fundamental and inherent conflicts: between men and women, inner conscience and outer prophetic counsel, and local gatherings as at odds with larger organizational structure.

2. Walking away from covenants as courageous. Compared with her implicit critique of the invitation towards more obedience, Jana paints a distinctively noble picture of the decision to step away from the Church – positively characterizing GenXers, for instance, who “first tested the boundaries of belief” as “paving the way for their younger siblings to later do the same” (20) –  while later offering this analysis of another walking away story: “For that matter, James is a pioneer of sorts himself: one of the first in his family to leave Mormonism. And if there’s a lesson that cradle Mormons learn from their history, it’s that pioneers never have it easy. Deconversion, James says, has been ‘a very emotional and difficult process.’ But he’s not alone in blazing this particular pioneer trail” (212; emphasis added).

Jana similarly highlights a story of a man walking away from the Church as not a “detour or a disconnect” from his upbringing in the faith, but another piece of the same journey (130). And to end the missionary chapter, she emphasizes the story of a young man insisting that God had specifically told him to leave the Church (159-160).

In each case, rather than becoming “rigid” or “stiffened” around new ideology[11], these people are described as “softening”[12] and becoming more “flexible” or “elastic.” A great deal of associated attention in the book (and accompanying articles)[13] goes to exploring surprising percentages of current temple recommend holders who report consuming something forbidden in the word of wisdom[14] – portrayed in The Next Mormons as potentially reflecting a willingness to interpret the teaching “with a certain amount of flexibility” (159).

Based on surprisingly low pornography use statistics,[15] Jana hints that these numbers show younger Latter-day Saints as not as interested with the less important things often emphasized by current prophets: “they have far less of a focus on religious behaviors they may see as superficial or less important, like avoiding tattoos, coffee, or mature entertainment” (168).

3. A hapless picture of prophets. In contrast to the closeness and trust that Latter-day Saint leaders have worked diligently to foster between youth and prophet leaders, Jana tells the story in The Next Mormons of a fundamental division between youth and their prophet leaders. On the most superficial level, this begins with her emphasis on the demographics of prophet leaders – especially how old they are[16] and how white they are.[17] Multiple times, the word “rigid” is used to contrast the beliefs of older members with younger members,[18] along with “absolutism” (20) and “all-or-nothing theology” (18).

Similarly, prophetic teaching to defend the family is described as having “stiffened” its position, in contrast to a larger membership portrayed as largely resisting this by having “softened” their own positions.[19]

Additional attention goes to critiquing words and actions of specific leaders – repeatedly showcasing instances to paint a picture of prophets as sadly judgmental and naïvely out of tune. For instance:

  • President Ezra Taft Benson is described as having linked working mothers to what Jana calls “all kinds of disastrous outcomes for their children”– going on to quote his expression of concern in 1981 that active families were “experiencing difficulties with their children because mother is not where she ought to be.” In retrospect, she insists time has proven him wrong, stating with surprising confidence “we can see that many children of working Mormon mothers appear to have turned out just fine” (107-108).
  • And in a text requiring so much to be left out, Jana made space to include a small, innocuous oversight President Boyd K. Packer made in an internal discussion meant to be private,[20] while highlighting more than once (in the text and a public talk) a quote from this same leader which she underscores as compelling evidence that Church leaders tend to think about single members like kids.[21]

A number of other examples could be mentioned.[22] Interview quotes emphasized also contribute to the larger picture, for instance, one interviewee’s concern that Church leaders “seem to kind of pick and choose what they want to keep.” [23] Elsewhere in the text, Jana shares her own similar opinion that “the LDS Church curriculum has emphasized cherry-picking certain passages to illustrate particular doctrinal issues, rather than exploring the whole of scripture” (152)

In a discussion of continuing revelation (and associated changes in the church), Jana showcases an interviewee calling these changes a “funny” and somewhat hypocritical contradiction to the idea that God’s law will remain firm amidst a changing world.[24] Jana herself later draws great attention to the tweaking of a statement in President Packer’s talk, similarly describing it as “ironic” he had taught in the same message about God’s unchanging standard (102).

Throughout, Jana underscores historical influences she argues help explain different emphases (on family, marriage, gender).  Rather than God’s hand leading the people, the overall sense is one of overall strategizing and gamesmanship – at one point describing President Packer’s language as “coming straight from the Kimball playbook” (135). Efforts of the Church to encourage more consistency in teaching the pure message of Christ are likewise framed not as understandable “standardization” (as would be praised in math education), but instead, “sweeping corporatization” (34).

Referring to a pattern of “highly emotional stories conveniently critical of LDS doctrine and leaders” in the book, one reviewer expresses disappointment and acknowledged this had led him to question the author’s “claims that this book is not intended for the purpose of advocacy.”

When seen together in combination, it’s not hard to see how Jana’s word choices, highlighted interview quotes and direct critiques paints a cumulative picture of leaders engaged in a mixture of self-interested strategizing and hapless fumbling.  The one time I found any positive mention of a specific leader was Jana’s citation of a statement by President Eyring about being “infected with doubt” that “faced heavy criticism” – noting, however, that her data has proven that it was “appropriate at least in one way.” (32)

4. A glowing picture of former members. In significant contrast to this picture of power-obsessed prophets, former members are portrayed in a remarkably glowing way. While acknowledging the acute pain of walking away at least initially[25], the personal accounts say otherwise – telling a story of a people feeling closer to God now in their life and more “free and whole” after stepping away (168).  One woman dreams of the day she stops wearing garments to please her family – saying that will be “freedom” (66).

And in what Jana describes as “one of the survey’s most significant findings” (219), she reports 93% of former members reporting that “freedom, possibility and relief” best described their feelings after leaving the Church.  Wow!

Given the strong social desirability bias former members understandably naturally have for their departure from the church to be seen by loved ones in a certain way, it seems especially important to craft a question that would allow the true complexity of this experience to be documented and explored.

Jana acknowledges this isn’t what happened, describing in the book how they required respondents to choose between only two options of what best described their feelings after stepping away: “freedom, possibility, and relief” or “loss, anger, or grief”?

It’s admittedly hard for me not to compare this with John Dehlin’s unusual decision to simplify one of the most sensitive questions in his survey (focused on change in therapy among those who identify as gay) in a way that obscured the wide variety of perspectives about change, while generating one of the big headlines of his study:  “0% of people” reporting “an alteration in their core erotic attractions” (!!)

In both cases, given the way the question is set-up, is it really that surprising most people said what they said?

Not really. [26]

In our correspondence, Jana did persuasively advocate for the value of binary questions for certain inquiries, namely as a way to assess “what people would choose to do when push came to shove.”[27]

I agree, but would still add that when such an approach is used, it would seem especially important to qualify findings and explain the unusual conditions that generated the data.  For instance, one could say, “when sexual orientation change in psychotherapy is narrowly defined as wholesale shift in someone’s entire sexual orientation, we find virtually no one reporting ‘change.’”

But that’s not what got reported.  Instead, the “0%” result was shared in dramatic fashion.  I see the same thing happening with Jana’s discussion of the 93% number – dispensing with qualifiers, for instance, to broadly propose her finding about former members’ happiness to be “at odds with a standing narrative in the LDS Church that to exit the fold is to leave warmth and happiness behind.”[28]

5. A narrative about millennials. A big focus of The Next Mormons is illustrating through numbers and stories how exactly old and young people differ in the Church. And once again, it’s no surprise that differences exist between generations, including in how many young people today relate to authority.

Rather than exploring different ways to thinking about or interpret these interesting differences, however, The Next Mormons lays out a fairly consistent narrative explanation for how to make sense of them.  For instance, although “more than 90 percent of each generation believes in God,” Jana notes that “this belief may be softer around the edges for Millennials” – going on to describe what she calls an alarming “erosion of certainty” (16) between generations: “What we see here is a notable drop in certainty on every theological measure, with an average decline of eighteen points” (16). She also speaks of a “decline in certainty” and later notes a “double-digit drop between the Boomer / Silent Mormons who pray in private every day (76.5 percent) and the Millennial Mormons who do (65 percent)” (151; emphasis added).

“Notable drop in certainty”…”decline in certainty”…“erosion of certainty”

Rather than seeing the different perceptions of Millenials and older Latter-day Saints as perhaps somewhat predictable for different stages of development (especially in the world today), Jana consistently portrays these differences are reflecting an alarming divide indicative of a fundamental transformation underway. In a later chapter on gender, for instance, she notes, “These findings indicate that a generational shift in attitudes about women’s religious leadership may be underway” (99)

Once again, wouldn’t we expect that this older generation likewise began life “softer around the edges” in some of these practices – and not as consistent?  At one point, Jana does acknowledge that “Millennials may grow into greater theological certainty with time” (18), a possibility she largely discounts in public appearances.  Instead, she points back to her own favored interpretation:  “This attention to conformity” it is significant, “especially in how different it is from previous generations. Millennials just have a different relationship to authority – and that is, I don’t think something that is simply an age effect. I don’t think that is something based on the lifecycle of the stage they are in. It is a cohort effect that will follow them. If that’s the case, how will that change the Mormon experience?”

Rather than an understandable difference from older generations more naturally settled in life and conviction, then, Jana presents her numbers as illustrating a real, significant, fundamental decline, drop and difference between generations. Rather than nuances of a subset of Millennials, Jana also portrays these differences in generalized language, telling Doug Fabrizio, for instance, that young people are “not as enthusiastic about the temple…millennials aren’t necessarily returning to the temple.” She writes in another piece, “Millennials are a different breed. They are not practicing your grandmother’s Mormonism.”

Notice again the broad language of fundamental conflict. As Jana states in the RadioWest interview, “Millennials are kind of caught between values of the church and older generation – and the values of peers.”

Following Jana’s narrative into the future, one reviewer even forecasted a near extinction of young Latter-day Saints in North America:  “It may be that the ‘Next Mormons’ are more likely to be youth from the developing world, and that millennials from developed nations will become a statistically insignificant minority of the LDS church in the coming century.”

Another sociologist cautions “that no one can answer is whether this posture constitutes a kind of ‘new culture,’ which, in time, will come to characterize American Latter-day Saints more generally, or whether today’s millennials will eventually ‘mature out’ of this posture and come to resemble culturally the older Saints.”

He’s right.  And Jana does acknowledge that not all of the differences illustrate less faith in millennials.  In addition to being more consistent in scripture study, she highlights numbers illustrating higher home teaching and missionary activity. Some might see this data as evidence for an impressive level of dedication, given how hard it can be to share the gospel in the world today.  Perhaps this even suggests signs of a bright future in the future of their leadership in the Latter-day Saint tradition?

Rather than a reflection of greater conviction regarding the truth of the gospel, however, Jana suggests this greater participation in ministry and missionary work may simply reflect a desire for more social engagement.  As another scholar summarizes her own conclusions, millennial members “define their ‘Mormon’ identity more in terms of social integration and participation with the Saints than in terms of strict compliance with church rules and requirements [as the preceding generations did].”

Instead of a reflection of conviction and dedication, then, these remarkably high missionary numbers (in a society that increasingly hates missionaries) are framed as an interest in having more friends and social connection – and therefore, not contradictory to what she insists is a larger trend towards “hold[ing] institutional authority more lightly.”

6. A narrative of race and gender. Similar to her take on generational differences as fundamental and problematic, Jana also writes about racial and gender differences as a potentially substantial barrier. Like all communities with a connection to American history, ours acknowledges a complicated racial and gendered past. Over many centuries of human history, mistreatment of both women and racial minorities has more often than not perpetuated heartbreaking, even vicious levels of neglect, inequality and abuse. That is a bitter heritage and legacy we all bear and share (no matter where we live in the world) – and from which we all need to heal.

From that painful past, it’s not hard to look at many of the advances in racial and gender equality as divinely inspired – even arguably part of the restoration itself (concurrent and simultaneous with the unfolding of religious restoration). Rather than brothers and sisters coming to experience a new unity within the human family, however, Jana paints a different picture, illustrated by one interviewee talking about nonwhite Latter-day Saints struggling with having only “white Utah-based leadership talking to us and explaining different principles of the gospel” (128).

In a similar way, The Next Mormons paints a picture of substantial gender discrimination as endemic to Latter-day Saint culture. After referencing an especially egregious example of a woman being dismissed decades ago from an educational opportunity at BYU,[29] she argues, “Elysse’s experience of sexism in Mormon culture is dramatic, but it differs from other women’s more in degree than in kind” (92).

Rather than reflecting anything about divine patterns, what Jana calls “the strictly gendered division of duties” in Latter-day Saint teachings about gender are portrayed as a unique pattern arising from an earlier time, and becoming “a hallmark of Mormonism after World War II” (121). These teachings about marriage and family involve, in her words, an expectation that women will “submit easily to being groomed for marriage and motherhood” (95).  Modesty is about asking women to “not attract attention to themselves” (95). And within this accepted way of doing things, she describes priesthood callings as meaning “women are still excluded from most leadership positions” (231).[30]

Jana goes on to assert that what she calls “segregation by sex” or “gender segregation” is “important in Mormonism” (102) and something that “begins early” (94), insisting that most members have accepted this “segregation” because they’ve never known any other way.[31]

Of course, distinctions in roles are real, and sometimes involve unfortunate disparities that deserve real discussion.[32] But rather than an area where progress is being made, by Jana’s telling, women continue to live in a “subordinate role” in comparison to priesthood holders – “expected” by the church to “deepen their relationship with God in a more passive way that is unspecified” (95). The picture is one of long-standing neglect and almost forgetfulness of women, noting at a public talk I attended “we’ve taken for granted women for a long time.”  When not taken for granted, she also shares concern with “a lot of ways our culture judges women in a more severe way then it necessarily does men.”

“By comparison,” she speaks of optimism coming from larger societal change: “significant shifts in particular have altered young Mormon women’s lives, potentially expanding their opportunities in the world.” (103) Latter-day Saint culture is described as stubbornly resisting these trends, as she tells the Tribune: “the church has become really the only place where some of these women that I’ve talked to experience what they consider to be discrimination – where their opportunities feel circumscribed or someone is telling them because of their gender, you are this, and not this and you have to behave this way, and not that way. And so, because it’s not their experience in other places in American culture, church becomes more of a site of tension, because it’s the only place.”

Difficulty, then, arises from the Church’s efforts, Jana teaches – despite advances in society around us.  In fairness, she does give space for a counterexample of one woman who describes the church as “the only environment she is part of where focusing solely on family and home is seen as a valid life choice by those around her, and she appreciates that” (96).  While some do feel that way, Jana clearly paints a larger picture of women – especially younger members – as dissatisfied and concerned, talking matter of factly about the Church’s “treatment of women” (13) as one reason people are leaving.

An alternative explanation for some of this dissatisfaction is not considered: namely, that once you have adopted a progressive socio-cultural view, it’s hard not to experience frustration about virtually any orthodox religious norms (see elaboration here). One African-American interviewee does hint at this – recounting being preoccupied with race issues while investigating the church, before speaking of a “spiritual experience where he felt like the Holy Ghost commanded him to let it go.”  He added, “I heard the Spirit say, ‘Stop using racism for all your answers. It’s keeping you from all the blessings.’ Something came over me.” Jana notes that he was baptized with his family shortly thereafter. (122)

7. A narrative of sexual orientation. The Next Mormons takes for granted the prevailing narrative about gay rights in America today, starting with the idea that sexual orientation represents a next phase in the unfolding civil rights movement of the 60’s. Within this overarching frame, as we’re well aware by now, rather than considering disagreements about sexuality and identity as reasonable differences between otherwise thoughtful, good-hearted people, disagreement is positioned in public discussion as akin to bigotry.

Instead of encouraging open exploration of different perspectives, this frame for the conversation is uniquely beneficial in advancing certain aims, while stifling the voices of those with concerns.  Rather than setting out to “silence” or “coerce,” however, it’s important to acknowledge that activists and allies genuinely believe they are doing essential work to fight and advocate for a group of human beings who are fundamentally different on an essential, core level, compared with those who experience predominantly heterosexual attraction.

That’s how Jana describes it too – referring to individuals coming to know, for instance, “that a fundamental part of your core identity did not, in fact, conform” (185)[33]

Once this view of identity is taken for granted, core teachings about the family are easy to see as “antigay rhetoric” as she puts it (13). Aas Jana puts it later in the book, “Theologically, believing in prophets whose teachings have undermined your very existence is challenging in a way that most heterosexual Mormons will never have to experience” (142).

Jana goes on to quote an interviewee’s despairing view that “An eighteen-year-old LGBT person who wants to stay in the church must stay single and be alone for their entire life….there is no hope of a better future.” (143)

“Undermin[ing] your very existence”…questioning a “fundamental part of your core identity.”…”no hope of a better future.”

If that’s what I really believed the Church of Jesus Christ was imposing on a vulnerable group, I’d be frustrated too!  But as I’ve written about extensively, these accusations involve a great deal of distortion and profound misrepresentation of our teachings.

At one point, Jana does mention a counter example of a man who gently rejects the term “gay,” because “homosexual to me implies a permanency and a singularity that I may not subscribe to. By singularity I mean that the term homosexual means I’m only attracted to men, that I’ll only ever be attracted to men. But I have hopes that one day I will be able to be attracted to a woman, that I will have a family.” (138)

Why does this Latter-day Saint young man do this?  Because of what the prophets have taught about identity, marriage and family.  This distinct understanding of sexual orientation was summarized by Terryl Givens in a recent book.[34]

Rather than something “ordained of God,” however, Jana once again frames our emphasis on what she calls “a particular configuration of the nuclear family” (235) and “the heterosexual nuclear family” (9-10) as largely arising from a unique period of time that “served Mormon interests” well (9-10) as a “postwar brand identity” (235). In her view, this emphasis on marriage and the nuclear family was largely an effective strategy that helped the church “create its distinctive religious identity in the crowded American religious landscape” (76).

Previous Latter-day Saint efforts to defend man-woman marriage are likewise portrayed as hateful attempts that the Church tried its best to keep secret[44] – repeating placard slogans that protested Latter-day Saint efforts as contrary to the spirit of Jesus, rather than precisely in line with Christ’s revealed will in this day.[45] And contrary to the repeated insistence of living prophets, Jana later insists, “Gay Mormons are still essentially second-class citizens in the church.” (231)

8. A narrative about singles. The acute pain of not having a companion is widely recognized and acknowledged among Latter-day Saints. There are meaningful differences, however, in how we explain that pain.

Based on my own interviewing research, I’ve written about how easy (almost unavoidable) it has been for most men and women to download larger cultural narratives in America about what love, attraction, and romance is supposed to feel like – which stories can profoundly mess with otherwise happy possibilities in relationships.

Rather than draw attention to the subversive influence of broader secular narratives, however, Jana’s own analysis of singles’ pain centers on the influence of Church’s own teachings focused on family – writing about what she calls “the church’s barrage of pro-marriage rhetoric”[35] and a perception that the Church is “worshiping the nuclear family.”[36]  Like emphases on gender roles and man-woman marriage, the valuing of marriage itself is, once again, portrayed as reflecting strategic needs in a particular period of American history.[37]

The subsequent analysis takes for granted that judgment and shame associated with this over-focus on family has caused singles to walk away – for instance, highlighting the story of a woman concluding through therapy and research that “she could not stay in the LDS Church and also hold on to her sense of self – worth” since she could not bear what she described as “facing a life of not ever having love.” (100) The Church’s emphasis on motherhood is also portrayed as (almost inevitably) inducing a “crisis of identity in the church” for many single women. (77)

As with questions of sexuality and gender, the legitimately pain that can arise around questions of marriage and singleness is undoubtedly real. What I’m pointing out here is the way this pain can be augmented when these questions are framed as zero sums choices between staying faithful and finding love.

9. A narrative about judgment. Two contrasting narratives are shared by Jana when it comes to judgment in the Church.

(Part I) Harsh judgment as fairly omnipresent among members.  When asked about changes to help retain members, Jana told the Tribune, “One of the things we can’t seem to address in the larger church headquarter level is this issue of judgmentalness in the culture.  We need to have more movement on that as a people in analyzing our own behavior as members of the Church. And stop blaming the people who left for leaving. And rather, begin to have the harder process of being introspective.”

“I heard so many painful stories” she writes. While admitting there were also “stories of love and acceptance” it was the stories of judgment that clearly took center stage in her own telling of a faith community portrayed by more than one interviewee as “not welcoming, not loving.” (232)

“Feeling judged” shows up as the top reason why women said they left the church – and tied for first for Millennials.  Based on this, others are already describing these numbers as “The Root Cause for Why Members Leave”[38]

As Jana told Doug Fabrizio “judgment appears to be pretty important in people’s feeling the church is or is not a hospitable place for them.” When Fabrizio asks, “it would be pretty difficult to fix, wouldn’t it?” she responds, “Yes, it would involve a pretty major cultural shift.”

In the absence of whatever monumental shifts Jana hints at, her own beloved faith community ends up looking pretty bad.  The picture emerging is one of relentless, insidious judgment:  Singles are judged, black folks are judged, gay people are judged, and former members are judged.[39]

(Part II). Harsh judgment as vastly overstated among former members. In sharp contrast to this, Jana writes extensively about concerns about harsh judgment among former members toward the church as an overstatement: “There is a prevailing narrative within certain segments of the LDS Church that when people leave, they do so because they “got offended.” For example, a Gospel Doctrine lesson about apostasy in the Kirtland era of the early 1830s places blame squarely on the shoulders of those who left, suggesting they did so for trivial reasons and were susceptible to Satan’s deceptive.” (227)

That narrative, Reiss makes sure we know her data confirm, is naïve (228). To think otherwise and suspect the influence of offense is self-serving, Jana insists: “What’s appealing about the “got offended” narrative is that it wholly and conveniently blames people who left without requiring those who remain to engage in any serious introspection about the ways they may have contributed to those departures. As such, I don’t expect it to disappear anytime soon, but it would be nice if we remember that this story has been constructed to exculpate the faithful, not to explain the actual choices of dissenters.”

Excuses.  That’s what that concern with offense is all about…reasons to not look at our own stuff.

Jana goes on to detail all the many reasons to explain people’s departure –mapping them out in her survey (all 30 of them) in a way allowing detailed frequency comparisons. Most center around something our faith community is accused of doing wrong – starting with its own core teachings.

10. A narrative of the past and future. Despite her own earnest efforts to be objective in this study, an accusing portrayal of church history is hinted in her own analysis. At one point, for instance, readers are asked to take for granted that Joseph Smith had written, rather than translated, the Book of Mormon (something that Jana acknowledges is how the text reads and agrees is how it will likely be interpreted, but told me was a mistake on her part).[40]

Also, by listing reported frequencies associated with common frustrations in the survey without any further interpretation or discussion – for instance, “Joseph’s mendacious behavior toward women” or “DNA evidence that Native Americans do not have Middle Eastern ancestry” – readers are left with a sense of exploring historical facts, about which different perceptions exist.[41]

Moving forward from the 19th century, Jana offers a new interpretation for all that past growth Latter-day Saints have seen as reflective of God’s blessing. Noting the period in which Latter-day Saint membership grew the most, Jana insists on RadioWest that it wasn’t so special after all: “so was everyone else. We like to focus on the miracle growth the happened during the war as a sign of God’s favor. If that’s your favorite theology, you’re going to have to rethink what God is favoring.”

Looking forward, she adds, “We are now participating in the same decline that is affecting everyone else” [when it comes to U.S. growth rate] –suggesting that “treading water” was a “good way to describe it.”

When it comes to people walking away, Jana notes, “we can say with confidence that Mormon retention is declining from one generation to the next. Jana emphasizes this theme with particular authority: “We used to keep about 75 percent of members.  For millennials, it’s about 46 percent, or less than half” – something she underscores on RadioWest: “it turns out that Mormons are losing adherents – particularly rapidly with younger generation…the trajectory is definitely heading downward. The next generation shows even higher rates of disaffiliation.” She adds, “the problem not going away – it’s a bit alarming.”

It’s not just that people walking away more.  As emphasized both in the book and her public talks, Jana believes these people are “not coming back” – as she explains it, because fertility rates are falling (and children can be a big reason people rekindle their faith).

Not growing.  Not staying. Not coming back.

This is the book described by one reviewer as “an honest look at the future of Mormonism,” with another suggesting that it “sheds much needed light on the state of the Church today, as well as where it may be heading.”

At one point, Jana critiques sociologist Thomas O’Dea because in her estimation he had “read the present situation through a narrow lens and then projected that current assessment into the future” (233).  I would argue something similar is happening here.  Interpreting current events (and data) from a distinctively progressive lens, Jana projects that assessment out onto the future.

Stepping beyond the data.  For reasons outlined above, rather than “these are the facts of why people are walking away,” I would characterize The Next Mormons as, more accurately, an exploration of the self-understandings of many diverse members, as interpreted by someone who, herself, has substantial critiques of Latter-day Saint leaders. I’ve also pointed towards ways in which The Next Mormons will likely confirm and further perpetuate for many an especially unflattering narrative of our faith – and one that many will insist is simply “based on the evidence.”

Rather than simply presenting “facts from the data,” however, I’ve argued that something else is going on here worth discussing.  As demonstrated above, Jana’s own worldview is tightly threaded throughout the analysis in a way that blends real statistical findings and her own arguments in a way that might leave some readers confused.

If Jana limited her conclusions to inferences tied closely to the data, that wouldn’t be a big deal.  But like documentary producer Helen Whitney, Jana’s own strong pre-existing feelings about the subject matter shows up in how she has approached these questions and subsequent analysis.  And perhaps almost without realizing it, she unfortunately steps well beyond what the data seems to justify, in unfolding a larger narrative of her faith community fraught with accusation and suspicion.

If that’s true, it’s understandable why that possibility would be hard to confront, since it’s precisely the kind of awareness that could work against larger hopes for social change.  After discussing some of the many layers of complexities leading to any research result, one of my professors in graduate school acknowledged openly, “but we shouldn’t really talk about these complexities publicly, because let’s be honest – it would decrease the power of our research to spark social change.”

Likely ripple effects. I believe these questions explored above have real-life implications that go far beyond mere academic disputes. For instance, consider what her book could mean for any parent who wants to understand why a son or daughter has walked away: What would they learn from reading Jana’s book?  What would they take away?

I can’t imagine The Next Mormons not effectively fostering greater suspicion of presiding leaders, and providing sophisticated reasons to distrust them – along with subtle encouragement to adopt ideological commitments not in line with prophetic teachings.

To be clear, I do believe Jana wants her book to help the Church, in kind of a tough-love way.

But what I’m suggesting is that it may well do the opposite.  For instance, how many Latter-day Saint readers will be persuaded towards more “softening,” “flexibility” and less “conforming” to covenants?[42] How many will be incited towards greater frustration on matters of race and gender?  And how many will have further reinforced the flatly dishonest notion that the Church of Christ on earth today is somehow at war with a certain group of vulnerable human beings?

Without any further counterbalance, unfortunately a study like this becomes yet another way of making persuasive case for one socio-political view, rather than facilitating the dialogue we so sorely need.

This implicit activism is certainly not apparent to many observers.  As one reviewer writes, “As near as I can tell from following Dr. Reiss’s work, she approached this research with curiosity and no particular ideological axe to grind.”

Rather than a particular narrative of our faith, once again, many are looking towards Jana’s text as offering the truth about our faith.One reviewer suggested that: “Interested outsiders will find the book helpful to them as they process what it is that makes members who and what they are.” Others called it a “a tremendous resource for anyone interested in the future of the Mormon church” and a “must read for ALL Mormons” – especially those “how younger generations feel about and practice Mormonism.” Still another called the book:  “a good and accurate view of individual Mormon’s beliefs and outlooks.”

Narratives as reality. On some level, all the foregoing is perhaps unremarkable.  Jana is a progressive thinker, after all, and she has interpreted and represented her data from a progressive lens.

Big deal, right?  I mean, that’s what we all do…

Kind of.  It’s absolutely true that we all interpret the world from our own vantage points – and that, for most of us, this becomes a simple reality rather than a narrative.

No doubt, that’s the case with Jana as well.  This is reality for her. It’s not a story. It’s just what she is observing.

The difference here arises in the higher authority research conclusions are given – which authority comes with a need for higher scrutiny.

If Jana provided that scrutiny and clarity around her own stories – if she somehow checked it or counterbalanced it, a paper like this would not be needed.  But when sufficient checks and accountability are not present within a research project, accountability needs to come from the outside – whether from other researchers or the broader public. That kind of open disagreement is healthy for both scientific community and our larger public discourse.

I’m not alone in raising concern about this kind of accountability.

The urgency of politically diverse research teams. As Dr. Duarte and colleagues wrote in 2015: “Having common values makes a group cohesive, which can be quite useful, but it’s the last thing that should happen to a scientific field.” Reflecting on this broader tendency in academia, they note that when “left unchecked” a group “can become a cohesive moral community, creating a shared reality that subsequently blinds its members to morally or ideologically undesirable hypotheses.”

They go on to suggest that “a shared moral-historical narrative in a politically homogeneous” research team can “undermine the self-correction processes on which good science depends.” This brings to mind a paper led by Duarte’s colleague, Jonathan Haidt, raising concern with how politically homogeneous research teams can inadvertently “undermine the validity of social psychological science” through the “embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods” thus “producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike.”

Rather than an isolated voice raising this kind of a question, I’m one of a growing number of researchers seeing an urgency[43] in drawing attention to the consequences of political homogeneity in research, especially when it comes to sensitive, charged topics (like those addressed in this research project).

Duarte ultimately cautions about “a higher risk of reaching unjustified conclusions” that exists “when most people…share the same confirmation bias” – later arguing that the collective efforts of researchers in politically charged areas may fail to converge upon the truth when there are few or no non-liberal researchers to raise questions and frame hypotheses in alternative ways.”

That’s what I’m doing:  raising alternative questions and hypotheses.  Even better, of course, would be to have these alternative perspectives present on your own research team.  As Rosik and colleagues proposed in 2012: “We believe that the scientific investigation [of sensitive questions] will have the best opportunity to be advanced when studies are jointly conducted by an ideologically diverse group of researchers”—adding that “such a collaborative approach can serve to provide some degree of counterbalance to the current gravitational pull [from various sides].”

Mainlining the Church of Jesus Christ? In the text, Jana does not explicitly encourage a softening and liberalizing of positions – but that’s something easy enough to take away more implicitly from the overall analysis and conclusions. What if the Church did just that – “softening” or wholly revised our positions on sexuality and gender, not to mention obedience and conviction itself…so much so that standards were no longer challenging or potentially offensive to youth?  Would our future would be secured, with the dangers of our present situation averted?

Not if you’re looking at the data! David Campbell, one of the scholars so effusive in praising this research, was among the first to note the hemorrhaging of membership in mainline Christian denominations. As Lyman Stone noted more recently, “These churches are dying off at a very quick pace” – pointing towards the 2014 Pew Research finding that “1.7 peopled converted away from mainline Protestant groups for every one convert in, while evangelical Protestants had 1.2 people convert in for every leaver.”

Christian author George Yancey similarly wrote in 2018, “In the movement towards secularization in our society, those in the mainline denominations appear to be the biggest losers….it does appear that the strategy of going along with the culture does not appear to be useful.” After noting the willingness of many mainline protestant churches to “accommodate modern cultural changes” – he says, “their reward for this support is empty pews.”

If progressive ideals point us towards the right path that God inspires, of course, this would still be worth the cost.  But to suggest future growth will expand by embracing the mainline Christian model seems to be overlooking enormous data suggesting otherwise.

The biggest thing missing.  One of my favorite questions Jana poses early in the book is this one “What can we learn from Mormon and former Mormon young adults about the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional experiences that successfully imprint – or fail to imprint – an enduring Mormon identity?” (3)

That’s a fascinating question – one that invites attention to what Jana calls “different paths of negotiation” (67) people take through the myriad choice-points and decisions.  As people navigate their own different pathways through these matters, Jana has highlighted some patterns worth discussing.  In my view, the biggest missing element in her conclusion is the same thing she neglected to address in its presentation of findings:  the role of persuasive narratives like her own in prompting and sparking certain socialization’s.

That being said, Jana does elaborate in one of my favorite paragraphs on what she calls “the push – pull relationship of behavior and belief in Mormonism”: “Adherence to expected behaviors, like sexual abstinence before marriage and keeping the religion’s strict dietary code, is intricately related to belief. In Elaine’s case, a loss of her testimony (belief) led to sexual experimentation (a behavior), which led to a sense that she was unworthy in God’s eyes (a belief) and therefore should not even attend church (a behavior).” (150)

Attention to that kind of evolving, complex relationship between behavior and belief (or narrative) is what I find wanting more of here.  Aside from this passing mention, it’s not really developed to any degree.

Given this, I’d like to propose another theory alongside her own that concludes the book:  If and when people walk away in the future (as in the past), it will not simply be from the actions of the church…or even just the world moving further away.  Rather, these decisions arise (and are indelibly shaped) by the particular ways in which members narrate and interpret this underlying tension. 

That narrative, I would argue, is the mediating, moderating, synthesizing variable that makes all the difference – and catalyzes one pathway or another (towards more disaffiliation and disaffection or more faith and connection with the Saints). Although Jana documents all the various reasons people give for leaving, I would argue that she doesn’t recognize or acknowledge sufficiently the way in which many of these reasons reflect not simply an objective reality, but a narrative held by these individuals – and out of which they see the Church.

In summary, then, Jana is right that we have not been “able to wholly resist the larger forces at work” (9). What I’m pointing out is that these “larger forces” include the persuasive, accusing narratives that she and others have been perpetrating over recent years.  If I’m right about that, it means that Jana studying a phenomenon of disaffiliation that she herself (with many others) continue to help incubate and perpetuate.

Let me be clear:  I don’t for a minute believe Jana has been wanting to harm the Church in her efforts.  On the contrary, I’m sure she intends just the reverse.

Jana is following her passion to try to help her faith community in a way that makes sense in her worldview.  My intent here is simply to make that interpretation clear as one interpretation – so that people can explore for themselves which interpretation (among many) are true, rather than taking one as automatically true by virtue of having scientific “proof.”

Notes:

[1] The size of John Dehlin’s data set was also something he brought up repeatedly as evidence of validity, and rationale for why his arguments and conclusions merited special attention and authority.

[2] Given the highly charged public discussion around faith, sexuality, and gender, it’s hard to know why they are not reporting on any checks for social desirability bias on results. That’s a question I asked Jana – and she acknowledged, “There’s nothing that would measure specific social desirability bias in the NMS.” Compared to in-depth interviews or mixed method studies involving observation, survey research is uniquely positioned to generate data adaptable to various socio-political views.  Why?  Because human beings are (unsurprisingly) adaptable to these same views. Simply put:  if you ask a bunch of people who think a certain way questions about their life, they will provide answers (by and large) that justify and confirm their own current trajectory. Thus, if you survey people using pornography about whether pornography is harming their life, they’re going to tell you NO. If you survey energy drinkers about whether their preferred beverage is hurting them, they’re going to tell you NO WAY.  And if you survey religious people about whether religion is a great idea, they’re going to say YOU BET (atheists will tell you the same thing, though). In each case, studies might simply be measuring the well-established human tendency towards confirmation bias – a tendency only heightened on topics about which a high degree of public controversy exists (where research participants may be especially prone to seeking validation by answering in a way that contributes to a positive impression of their lives).

[3] Although little acknowledged in public discourse, these perils specific to large data sets are basic cautions in graduate statistics courses and well-known to most researchers. One scientific author explains the challenge this way: “all real data has variation in it, and when you have a very large data set, you can usually subset it enough that eventually you find a subset that, just by chance, fits your preconceived view.” This “presents a very serious problem because to the untrained eye (and sometimes even to the trained eye), they seem to show scientific evidence for [specious] positions, and an enormous number of the studies and ‘facts’ that [people] cite are actually the result of this illegitimate sub-setting of large data sets.”

[4] After Jana mentioned selecting stories from out of 750 pages of accounts, Fabrizio remarked on how “only a fraction” could be included in the final book – sharing curiosity about how she chose “which elements of which people’s stories would help understand or disconfirm aspects of the data” as “an important part of writing the book.”

[5] This number in parenthesis refers to the relevant page in The Next Mormons.

[6] For instance, one single woman experienced a long period of introspection and study after so much loneliness in her life.  Rather than portraying this as a difficult conclusion reached after a complex process, the paraphrase Jana employs is illustrative: “This experience showed her that she could not stay in the LDS Church and also hold on to her sense of self-worth.” (76)

[7] She elaborates, for instance, on how “system justification theory” explains how “groups that appear to be oppressed have their own opinions on the matter” (121).  And in the case of a man seeking to stay true to his covenants, Jana notes, “it may be true that Alex is avoiding the term ‘gay’ simply because his deep Mormon religiosity has caused him to fear that label when applied to himself” (140)

[8] After acknowledging the teaching “insist[ing] that husbands and wives are ‘equal partners,’” she notes ways in which this “makes the old – fashioned idea of a man presiding significantly more complicated.” She adds, “If a disagreement arises, does the husband have the right to overrule his wife? Do they take turns deciding? How are terms like ‘equality’ and ‘partnership’ to coexist next to ones like ‘preside’?” (100)

[9] In speaking of Millennials “obeying the mandates of the institutional church,” she writes, “They’re not alone in feeling ambivalent about LDS leaders’ power in their everyday lives; we can see from the data that Millennials struggle with how to balance their own authority with that of the church” (197)

[10] “[Local wards] have enough of an institutional overlay to provide structure, but the lived experience of them is so localized — indeed, sometimes hyperpersonalized — that they hold a claim on a rising generation that appears to prefer a more grassroots and intimate experience of Mormonism” (209-2010)

[11] She goes on to highlight higher levels of support for progressive views of women, sexuality and race among former members as hinting at a people more deeply attuned to crucial ideals of justice and equality – e.g., “Former Mormon women seem particularly exercised about women’s roles” (99)

[12] Speaking seriously, though, is it really that surprising youth would be less convicted around the teachings of parents?  That’s what young people do – they explore.  And like young trees, they are less stable compared with older trees.

[13]Hello! Most Mormons actually do drink caffeinated soda,” Jana Riess, Flunking Sainthood blog (Religion News Service), September 25, 2017. “One in Three Mormons Have Had Coffee Recently, and Another Quarter Drink Alcohol,” Benjamin Knoll and Jana Riess, Religion in Public blog, March 29, 2018.

How many Mormons use marijuana, anyway?“, Benjamin Knoll, Flunking Sainthood blog, September 20, 2018.

[14] In explaining the numbers of those not adhering to these ideals, she considers possibilities that people are not being truthful in the recommend, or that seeds of disaffection exist (both of which she mentions), another strong possibility is that living the word of wisdom is not easy, and that like with other moral laws, even Saints sometimes still struggle!

[15] Rather than celebrate these low reported pornography numbers (or raising questions about confirmatory validity with other existing datapoints), Jana also can’t help frame the pornography numbers as evidence that the whole issue needn’t be taken so seriously [“It has become a popular narrative in the LDS Church today that pornography is a widespread and pernicious problem, but the numbers in this survey are not dramatic: only 12 percent” (164)] – while hinting that existing moral standards for media are a bit unrealistic [As Millennials age, she writes, we can’t expect they will “content themselves with a diet of Disney as they age; GenXers did not” (163)]

[16] “superannuated leadership” (6); “Church leaders, who are themselves of the Silent Generation or even older” (131)

[17] I’ve written previously about how folks on the left can’t seem to escape identifiers like this as their primary frame of reference. That includes Latter-day Saints on the left.  And that seems to include Jana.

[18] “Even as the church stiffened its posture, the rank and file softened theirs, contributing to a growing disconnect between the leadership and the membership” (145). Notably, it’s not a subset of members – but “the rank and file” doing this – which allows a picture of grand conflict between (old, stiffening) leadership that insists on continuing to regress and (avant guarde, opening) membership that continues to embrace enlightenment despite the opposition from leaders.

[19] “Even as the church stiffened its posture, the rank and file softened theirs, contributing to a growing disconnect between the leadership and the membership” (145). Notably, it’s not a subset of members – but “the rank and file” Jana insists are doing this – which allows a picture of grand conflict between (old, stiffening) leadership that insists on continuing to regress and (avant guarde, opening) membership that continues to embrace enlightenment despite the opposition from leaders.

[20] She writes, “Elder Boyd K. Packer complained, ‘The one word that’s been missing in all of this is family. It hasn’t been said once.’ (It had)” (88)

[21] Brought up in both her Benchmark talk and the book: “The original jurisdiction until they’re married is in the parental home, in the family.” She added, “Elder Packer’s comments suggest a possible disconnect between the demographic reality of most LDS singles being mature and financially independent and the view that some leaders may harbor, that they are embracing a perpetual adolescence.” (88)

[22] (a) In her public elaboration following President Nelson’s earnest plea that we not use the name “Mormon” anymore, Jana can’t seem to help herself in teasing current leadership for the “victories for Satan” allowed by past Presidents who weren’t as concerned with the name, or through ongoing online searches around the term.

(b) Jana also draws priority attention to a single stand-out phrase referring to homosexuality from President Kimball (and more commonly used in generation) that is especially objectionable to modern ears. Arguably this word did not harbor the same strongly pejorative meaning then as it does now: “Does the pervert think God to be ‘that way’?” (135)

(c) More recently, she has called Elder Renland’s discourse by the side of his wife Ruth about doubt as “dismissive,” “damaging” and “shaming” – substantially overstating his message to suggest he was calling all former members “selfish” or “lazy” and “blaming the victim” by teaching the reasonable and helpful principle that people “let doubt and uncertainty occupy his mind.” Having created a strawman sermon, Jana insists that her experience interviewing people shows otherwise.

[23] Given a chance to interpret the meaning, Jana’s sole insight is that this is quite a contradiction to what the Church teaches: “This last observation – that church leaders have vacillated on which Word of Wisdom standards to uphold and which to discard – is particularly interesting, because the ‘pick and choose’ accusation so often goes the other way” (162).

[24] “It’s funny, because the church leaders always say that the world will change but God’s law will never change. But actually, the church has changed a whole lot.” (162)

[25] “Because Mormonism is such a high-sacrifice religion, leaving its orbit can be shattering” (230)

[26] Orthodox members aren’t the only ones with “right answers.” And just as gay-identifying folks are uniquely motivated to answer something about a question focused on change in a particular way – just as former members are clearly motivated to answer focused on life after the church in a particular way. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a legitimate experience to which they are referring, in both case (there is) – but simply noting strong influences to reach certain conclusions, despite whatever complexity might otherwise exist.

[27] She expressed, “binary questions are an important counterbalance to scaled questions, and we had several examples of both in our survey…Having more response options is often helpful, but not always. You need both.”

[28] “Despite any difficulties that their decision to leave may have caused them, the vast majority of former Mormons — more than nine out of ten — do not seem to be looking back with regret” (219)

[29] Elysse describes being dismissed by a neuroscience faculty member as a “social butterfly” despite high qualifications and grades.  Now Jana notes she is attending “Harvard University, where her talents are appreciated and she works around a hundred hours a week. Nobody today would ever accuse her of not being serious about science” (92)

[30] Emphasis added throughout (and anywhere else in the paper with italics)

[31] Speaking of gendered division of duties arising after WWII, she writes that this is the “expectation most living Mormons have always known” described by her as: “Men have gone out to work, and women have stayed home with the children; men run the church, and women do not” (96)

[32] For instance, she mentions the “budget disparity that can often exist between the amount spent on boys’ Scouting activities and the much smaller amount allocated to the Young Women” (96)

[33] If it’s true that sexual orientation represents a fundamental, essential part of who we are, then a lot of what activists do makes a whole lot of sense.  Indeed, from that vantage point, who we are shouldn’t be so darn complicated. And if identity is really this obvious and simple, it would make sense that the solution is also obvious and simple:  just accept who I am!

But it’s not really this simple, nor will it ever be.  Because what you are really saying is “you better accept how I see myself – the larger story I’ve come to believe about my identity – as true, real and good” (and in many cases, better than the story you’ve been telling me about my identity).

If that’s true, then maybe we ought to be making space for thoughtful exploration of the interesting differences in our competing understandings of who we are…not quite so simple sounding, right?

Nor is it as effective in promoting and advancing activism than simply accusing those who don’t share the new narrative advanced by gay activists as hateful.

[34] Terryl L. Givens says the following in Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis 1st Edition, p. 190: “Gender is eternal,” reaffirms the 1995 “Proclamation on the Family,” reiterating a position that has never varied in Mormon theology. Gender is defined as co-eternal with core human identity, that is, intelligence. Certainly, one does not experience one’s own sexual orientation as a contingent rather than essential facet of one’s identity.  However, Mormon theology of the human soul implies that, notwithstanding the reality and validity of the affective and emotional bonds that may unite same-sex couples as deeply and powerfully as those that govern heterosexual unions, the sexual component of a same-sex bond (which the church acknowledges is not itself a willed factor) is an epiphenomenal aspect of identity, in contradistinction to a competing eternal constituent, that is, gender.  Hormones and chemistry and conditioning all play indisputable roles in sexual attraction and sexual satisfaction, and Mormon theological anthropology implies that these may be aspects of a transitory mortal form peculiar to our temporal existence.  And in the case of same-sex attraction, that epiphenomenal dimension threatens to usurp the primary o a more essential gendered difference and re-directing two mortal beings from the only path that would in the eternities eventuate in the fullest measure of joy consistent with a particular eternal identity and destiny. Such, at least, appears to be the Mormon theology of gender and sexuality that drives the shape and limits the scope of temple sealing. At the same time, Mormon leaders have acknowledged that Mormon theology is not – or not yet – fully adequate to address a range of sex and gender issues that have become urgent in the contemporary environment.

[35] She describes an individual who “seems wary of being hurt again by the church’s barrage of pro-marriage rhetoric” (72)

[36] She describes singles who feel “judged or shamed, or express frustration that the church seems to be worshiping the nuclear family instead of Christ” (72)

[37] She claims the Church “created its distinctive religious identity in the crowded American religious landscape by emphasizing marriage and the nuclear family” (76).

[38] Ryan Gottfredson, Leading LDS blog, September 19, 2017.

[39] She writes, for instance, of former members who might wish for their families to be “watching for these prodigals from a long way off, filled with compassion and warmth” – noting that “So far, that has not been the experience of most former Mormons.” (231)

[40] “He [Joseph Smith] held many of the racial views that were prominent among whites in the early nineteenth century. The Book of Mormon taught that dark skin was a punishment, for example.” (117) About this passage, Jana admits “I certainly had no intention of suggesting that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, but from the material you have quoted here I can see why any reader would come to that interpretation. That is my mistake, clearly. Feel free to criticize it on this score, even though that was absolutely not my intention. My conversion experience is based on the Book of Mormon, so I’m fascinated that this is what I wrote. But any author is responsible for the text of a book as it is written, without expecting readers to understand the intent behind it, so you should feel free to point out that the sentence makes it sound as though I feel that JS wrote the Book of Mormon.”

[41] Keeping some things secret is not the same thing as lying about them – a nuance ignored in her own description: “He was particularly devastated when he learned about Joseph’s mendacious behavior toward women and other details about early Mormon polygamy” (219)

[42] Others have expressed similar concerns.  As one reviewer notes, “No doubt countless faculty will make it required reading. Especially if they wish to un-brainwash any Mormons (or any conservative Christian) in their captive audience. Besides the basic anti-Mormon, this book will suit those who wish to confirm their prejudices about Mormons, their Bishop, males, older members of the ward, and any other misgiving they have related to the topic.”

[43] Indeed, Duarte et al. (2015) propose this moment in American society as a “golden opportunity…to take seriously the threats caused by political homogeneity” and concluding that “the case for action is strong” to explore ways that the discipline of social science “can increase its political diversity and minimize the effects of political bias on its science.”

[44] The image is one of furtive, hidden strategy: “Once the outsized extent of Mormons’ campaigning and fundraising became known” (134)

[45] “Would Jesus spend tax-free dollars to support hate and injustice?” (134)

36 thoughts on “A Response to Jana Riess’s “The Next Mormons”: The Importance of Disentangling Data and Argument

  1. “That is a bitter heritage and legacy we all bear and share in the western world especially – and from which we all need to heal.” The western world especially?!? This phrase popped out at me. I first became aware of the racist, inhumane and ‘sexist’ practices of cultures around the world when I was a child and read “The Good Earth”. Further studies introduced me to practices like Suttee in India, female digital sacrifice in New Guinea, child exposure in China, the untouchable caste in India, FGM in Islamic regions of Africa, and the general sense of local racial superiority that is common throughout humankind where slavery has and still exists wherever someone can find a profit. I am personally unaware of a culture that was or is as open to giving people opportunity whatever their background as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christ was revolutionary in his treatment of women in terms of the culture in which he was born and his teachings have had an ongoing influence on ‘Western’ attitudes, particularly in the United States. There is an inevitable ebb and flow in devotion to God and his prophets as generations pass. We see it happen as sure as the tide comes in and out as we read the scriptures, whether the Bible, Book of Mormon or modern works. It is likely that some will use the excuse of growing ‘softer’ and ‘more tolerant of variation’ to justify breaking covenants, but however modern the trappings worn by the time worn arguments, they eerily echo the words of the disaffected in ages past. I appreciate the careful and respectful approach of Jacob Hess, but the attitudes he detects are not a small wound that will heal easily. The recent announcement that the Church will perform blessings and baptisms for the children of couples practicing ‘modern’ family patterns will be hailed by ‘progressives’ as a weakening of the stance against such behaviors, but taken in light of other recent adjustments, they appear to me to be a deepening of foundations.

  2. I have idea from somewhere that Riess’s 1,156 current church members and 540 former members were mostly found through venues where people gather to criticize the church. If so, her sample would not be representative of either current or former members. Can anyone say whether this is so?

  3. The sheer volume of uncritical and triumphant trumpeting of the book and study from certain tribes on the internet ALREADY set off my B.S. detector, without even seeing the book.

    Real, good, accurate, scientific, useful scholarship NEVER creates fawning sycophants and media/radio/book tours. It never, ever does. The best scholarship flies under the popular radar and inspires OTHER ACADEMICS to study the topic more fully and explore the boundaries of the original findings. TED Talks, Malcolm Gladwell, and Bloggernacle/Reddit karma aren’t the fruits of good scholarship.

    The fanfare is a red flag that indicates the crowing of “the Great and Spacious Building.”

  4. The funny thing about a book called “The New Mormons” is that those considered TBMs don’t call themselves by that term anymore.

    Jana herself has explained why she would continue to use the old two-syllable term, but the single-syllable “Saints” works as well going forward.

    To riff off of Pat’s point, I find that thorough understanding of the past leaves me thrilled with the relative praise and acceptance modern Saints enjoy. At least I don’t know of a recent instance where a member of the Church was gang raped for the purpose of driving believers out of a region. Nor has anyone in the Church recently been shot dead in the face and then counted ten times as a corpse of individuals opposing the Church.

    I have a daughter who is perpetually convinced her food is contaminated. Believing thusly, she habitually throws away food, even food she has prepared herself. In similar fashion, I assert there are those inclined to see all Church activities, practices, and teachings as contaminated, discarding much that is good or constantly chafing. And thereby they are unable to partake of much that is valuable.

  5. I think Ms Reiss is part right. Falling retention rates among youth and single young adults has been an accelerating problem over the last 35 years.

    But I think she’s wrong about her implied or explicit proposed solutions. It’s not changes in policies, doctrine, teachings, or administration/leadership that is needed, it’s more adherence and a closer following of policies, doctine, teachings, and leadership. It’s not the higher ups. It’s us at the rank and file.

    I’ve followed the “General Conference Odyssey” project of a few blogs, and gone back and read/watched some of those talks, including ones I read/heard/watched back then. WOW! I see those talks in a whole new light now. I see that those leaders were EVEN MORE right/prophetic/prescient than I realized back then! If I/we had done all those things back when they said to do them, I/we wouldn’t have been in or part of the retention problem. Those conference speakers/apostles/prophets were MORE literal than I thought. Their cause/effect, “do this in order that…”, was more insightful and more spot on than I realized. I, and we collectively, did not do all those things they said to do, and I/we reaped the results that they warned us of.

    Did she survey the disaffected to see how many of them grew up in families that had weekly FHE, and daily family prayer/scripture study? Did she compile stats comparing retention rates between families that had daily prayer and those that didn’t? Did she compare retention rates of those who completed Seminary and those who didn’t? Between those who went on missions and those who didn’t? Between the children of parents who went on missions and children of parents who did not go on missions? What about between children of those who did HT/VT and those who blew it off?

    WHat I learned from the 30-35 year old conference talks, seeing them again in retrospective, is that transmission of faith and testimony from parents to children requires a lot of active and repetitive work. It’s a lot more than just what’s in the TR interview questions.

    I tend to think that those who did do all or most all that was asked have had a much higher retention rate in their families and in their own lives. Not a perfect record, but a noticeably better record in the aggregate.

    In my opinion, Spirit-borne testimony, and deep roots of conversion to anchor us can trump problems with doctrine and policies. So there’s the key: how do parents create the highest probability that their children get a Spirit-borne testimony and good deep roots of conversion as soon as possible and keep those two things alive ?

    Just guessing, but I bet the divorce rate is also lower among couples who did not just all the Sunday school answers, but also the conference talk exhortations, like couples’ prayer, and weekly date night. (my own informal surveys show weekly date night is an important correlating factor to staying married.)

  6. A lot of the so-called restrictions or expectations made in a church context would be better understood as “how-to” instructions. Even, or, perhaps, especially, the temple recommend questions can be seen as step-by-step instructions on how to become the type of person for whom Temple ordinances and covenants will be meaningful and uplifting – not as an exclusionary filter for keeping anyone out.

  7. The ‘obedience’ generational breakdown is hardly solid evidence that millennials are incredibly different to past generations. Quite strange they included it at all, other than to try an mold readers expectations aout the future direction of the church. It’s very well known that as people age they become less rebellious, more conservative, and more conforming. Anecdotally, as a borderline gen X/Y, I can say I felt the same way about obedience when I was younger, as the younger millennials do now. As a researcher in the psychology field, I know they do.

    I also wouldn’t use restricted binary answer questions in a serious study, unless Y/N T/F etc, and certainly not to put multiple specific words in subject’s mouths for one QA. But then, I guess we all have different methodologies for finding the answers we’re looking for…

    The more I read about the methodologies used in this study, the more I despair for those taking it to heart as a decent example of thorough research. It may have a detrimental effect whether the author wishes it to or not..

  8. First look at the source – RNS was oncce paid by gay rights organizations. Its disdain for what it reports on religions is in a perspective not of eternal salvation but of earthly self interest. Peggy who writes for a paper that was founded to persecute the Church of Jesus Christ by the defunct church of Zion and many enemy’s of The restored church of Jesus Christ. This is nothing more than post-modernist feminism or in plain terms culture antrpy a self hated and belief that their culture must be destroyed or rewritten to make it moral again a reformation not THE RESTORATION reminder what happend to the RLDS church it forgot its past and wanted to erase its history changed its name to the the community of Christ removed the tradition of direct male descendant of Joseph Smith, which for all of its life was a one of many key points of doctrine difference with The Church of Jesus Christ that fizzled out so easily in the 1990s. Gave women the priesthood which again caused by 3rd wave feminism theology and apostasy in that same time frame and is now trying to canonize sodomy unions it degrade further and further became a Luke warm church. All most post-modern Protestant in culturally and theology nature saints who advact with distant of there church of there civilization of life are not evil just confused and should not be hurt but patient in the answers that the lord give like unto Martin Harris with the manuscript is lost pages he asked the lord three time with the same answers then the lord says fine but you will deal with the consequences.

  9. “were mostly found through venues where people gather to criticize the church.” It was a professional polling company that was hired to conduct the research, not an online snowball poll.

  10. Thank you for this. Saves me having to read it. I appreciate your thoughtful breakdown of the issues addressed.
    As a parent, grandfather, and seminary teacher, this reinforces my understanding that spiritual roots must be driven deep, and that requires individual desire coupled with effort, and persistence in exactly the way leaders and faithful parents have preached since the church’s earliest days. Nothing has changed, but the pressure have increased some, just as the prophets have warned.
    Honestly, I see you as a traffic cop at an accident saying, “Move along folks. Nothing to see here.” Good job. Keep it up.

  11. Thank you for the feedback and reminder, Pat. I’ve replaced that mention of the western world with this: (no matter where we live in the world)

    I particularly enjoyed this line from you – and find it striking how at odds it is with perceptions of our community:
    I am personally unaware of a culture that was or is as open to giving people opportunity whatever their background as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christ was revolutionary in his treatment of women in terms of the culture in which he was born and his teachings have had an ongoing influence on ‘Western’ attitudes, particularly in the United States.

    I believe what you say is true. Thank you for sharing.

  12. John – I don’t believe that is accurate. They went through Qualtrics – and the sampling was intentionally designed to be as representative as possible. That means they put that in the hands of Qualtrics – which means they weren’t posting the survey in forums and asking for people to fill it out.

  13. I’ve been uncomfortable with the same thing, N. That’s why I mentioned the pre-releases of findings shared well over a year in advance of the book as unusual. And given what I’ve reviewed of the media attention, I don’t think “triumphant” is too strong a word for how it has been presented.

  14. Thank you, Meg. As I’ve transitioned away from the word Mormon (my new book was going to be called “Mindfully Mormon”…but alas!) – I have found the word “Saints” to work really well…as modeled in the new history book.

    I love this comment from yours – and would love to hear elaboration from you about it sometime:
    I have a daughter who is perpetually convinced her food is contaminated. Believing thusly, she habitually throws away food, even food she has prepared herself. In similar fashion, I assert there are those inclined to see all Church activities, practices, and teachings as contaminated, discarding much that is good or constantly chafing. And thereby they are unable to partake of much that is valuable.

  15. What a fantastic response, Bookslinger. What’s your real name? (And what’s the General Conference Odyssey blog project?)

    Three responses:

    (1) I solidly agree with you here: “I think Ms Reiss is part right. Falling retention rates among youth and single young adults has been an accelerating problem over the last 35 years. But I think she’s wrong about her implied or explicit proposed solutions. It’s not changes in policies, doctrine, teachings, or administration/leadership that is needed, it’s more adherence and a closer following of policies, doctine, teachings, and leadership. It’s not the higher ups. It’s us at the rank and file.”

    (2) I would have loved to see these surveyed alongside the perceptions they targeted. That’s an example of the kind of research design decision that could have been made with more diversity on their team:
    Did she survey the disaffected to see how many of them grew up in families that had weekly FHE, and daily family prayer/scripture study? Did she compile stats comparing retention rates between families that had daily prayer and those that didn’t? Did she compare retention rates of those who completed Seminary and those who didn’t? Between those who went on missions and those who didn’t? Between the children of parents who went on missions and children of parents who did not go on missions? What about between children of those who did HT/VT and those who blew it off?

    (3) I believe you are right about this – and find it SUCH a crucial, and wonderful question:
    In my opinion, Spirit-borne testimony, and deep roots of conversion to anchor us can trump problems with doctrine and policies. So there’s the key: how do parents create the highest probability that their children get a Spirit-borne testimony and good deep roots of conversion as soon as possible and keep those two things alive ?

  16. Beautiful, U.M. And Amen! *Inclusion* is at its beating heart…

    To suggest that drawing clear lines means we ALL cannot still be included (and that we do not earnestly desire that) is simply not honest. And I think Nephi would agree:

    “Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye bends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price. Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance. Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.”

  17. You speak succinctly and eloquently about what motivated my writing, K. “Those taking it to heart as an example of thorough research”…what will that mean for how they approach the church, feel about its teachings, and relate to the prophets (if at all)?

  18. Thanks – there were parts of your response I didn’t understand. (I edited a few parts to clarify what you were saying though).

  19. Thanks, Ben. Yes – I just added the same clarification below to that comment.

  20. Ha ha. Actually, Joel, I might be saying the opposite – at least to those inclined to embrace any research coming out as objective truth: “don’t just move along here…there IS something to see and discuss here beyond what is just being reported.”

    One thing I love about the academy is the *potential* of thoughtful exploration of deep, profound disagreements. Done right, THIS is what happens (or should happen), and it’s “beautiful and glorious to behold.” Unfortunately, especially on sensitive socio-political and religious matters, it’s far too easy to design research that confirms certain biases and beliefs.

    Amen to this, brother:
    Spiritual roots must be driven deep, and that requires individual desire coupled with effort, and persistence in exactly the way leaders and faithful parents have preached since the church’s earliest days. Nothing has changed, but the pressure have increased some, just as the prophets have warned.

  21. ldsmag . com is not working for me, (site down?) so try the Internet Archive:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20190214104942/https://ldsmag.com/mormon-bloggers-unite-for-14-year-general-conference-odyssey/

    Another good place to start is the “Difficult Run” blog link in the above article, as it may be more complete.

    The watchmen on the tower have been warning of the modern acceleration of powers fighting against the family for at least 40 years.

    And, if you’ve been following Dr. Bruce Charlton, the knee of the curve of the culture war was the sexual revolution of the 60’s. Or, maybe it was the nail in the coffin, the point of no return for society as a whole.

    I took a comment I wrote here at m* and made a post out of it, with a series of questions about the sexual revolution:

    http://www.jrganymede.com/2017/08/25/summer-of-love-50th-anniversary/

    IOW, how did all that work out? Are we better or worse for it?

    The essence of that post is that the same people (or type of people, or “faction”) who gave us the sexual revolution, gave us SSM. IE, the people/faction who insisted a marriage certifcate was just a piece of paper, then demanded that homosexual couples have the option/ability to obtain it.

    That post is a series of questions (with mostly obvious answers) that illustrate that the sexual revolution was devastatingly destructive of society, and ends with the question, “and we’re supposed to now trust those same people about ssm?”

    We are in full slippery slope mode ( or, the frog is boiling) towards the “gayification” (though likely more bisexual-izing) of the youth. several studies back up my observation which is not too distorted in the phrase “younger = gayer” , or younger = more bisexual, as each younger age cohort self-identifies towards a higher percent of gay or bisexual as they reach the age of sexual experimentation.

    Of course it is not, and will not become 100%. It doesn’t have to be 100% to destroy a civilization. But the trend line is obvious, and is multi-year, and is being reported. see:

    http://www.jrganymede.com/?s=younger+gayer

    for links to various surveys published in mainstream media. IE, “even they” admit it. But they are oblivious to the obvious implications, and can’t see where the trend line from the 1960’s is going.

    Note especially the post with the link to the Harvard statistical report:
    Homosexuality was up 50%, and bisexuality tripled in four years of that survey of 50% of the Harvard entering classes over that period. And it essentially started as the states adopted SSM, in the few years leading up to Obergefell, when it was in the public debate.

    SSM is the homosexual phase of the sexual revolution, whether separate, or a natural progression, it is of the same piece. Both phases have been powerful weapons in the adversary’s arsenal to destroy and prevent families, and spread misery.

    Just as the devastating results of 50 years of the (hetero-)sexual revolution are in (lower than replacement birth rate, higher divorce, lower rates of and delayed family formation, sex/pron addiction, child abuse, std’s, OoW births, absent fathers, which lead to higher crime and welfare costs), so the results of the homosexual phase of the revolution are just starting to come in. And the media will ignore the results/tragedies of this latest phase, just like they ignore the results/tragedies of the earlier phase.

  22. The challenge with the sexual revolution (which traces back to the 1800s) is that it is convolved with other societal changes that are laudable. While the Church encouraged education and empowerment of women, most of traditional society did not. The west had a history of millennia of female subjugation, partly inspired by the view that Eve was solely responsible for the fall.

    The myriad associated factors are much like the wheat and tares of biblical parable.

    At the very least, one must understand that efforts to attack the tares of societal decline will be interpreted by many as attacks on the wheat of love and equality.

  23. What a brilliant insight, Meg. Absolutely stunning, SO important, refreshingly true….and almost entirely lost in the current escalating battle between wheat defenders and tare activists!

  24. Meg, yes, lots of convolution. One thing is often the stalking horse or cover-story for another. And every societal change or evolution usually has seeds in previous eras. Most of the time flow is river-like, not floods or tidal-waves.

    The enemy was successful in getting most of media/academia, the shapers of public opinion, the “narrative”, to accept that a marriage was “just a piece of paper”. And if it’s “just a piece of paper” then why not give it to everyone?

    Civil RIghts/Equal Rights, and “legal rights”, then became the stalking horse for SSM.

    The sexual revolution and then Gay Rights were pretty much directly upstream of SSM. ( The Civil RIghts, and Women’s Rights movements were closely upstream too, but in a different tributary channel.) Therefore, to understand SSM, one must see the picture through a window that goes back prior to 1967. My memory of television news and talk shows goes back to at least 1963; kiddie shows a few years before that. Even as a kid I noticed the big changes of the late 60’s.

    One of my peeves about the usual cast of pro-SSM Internet-Mormons, or pro SSM folk in general, (whether Ms Reiss is part of that crowd, I don’t know) is that they actually don’t understand the Sexual Revolution, and how the media, both news and entertainment, brought it about. They don’t understand it because they didn’t live through it, or were too young to observe. (You were too young in 1967.) I have a few years of TV memories, both news and entertainment, from pre-1967.

    IOW, society-wide sexual-libertinism is the water in which most people under age 58 always swam. I’m saying the whole water of Western Civ changed in that time-frame. Not in an instant, but 1967 (“Summer of Love”) is usually the identifying time-point used to label the transition period, which lasted through the 70’s.

    The Sexual Revolutionaries, or leftists in general, then went into academia, (and media) and were essentially totally running academia as tenured profs and adminstrators by the mid to late 80’s. Once that happened, they had control of the young minds, if parents didn’t work hard to counter it. (Wasn’t control of academia and media part of the Communist Manifesto?)

    [ That’s why nearly all millennials are liberal/left. The Left has had a near 100% lock on all academia since about 1985. (Again, like 1967, using 1985 as a label for a transition period, not an exact everything-happened-at-once date.) ]

    The sexual revolution, over that period, was a sea change. It swamped western civ. The mostly private shameful sins of a few became the public and proud sins of many. Of course fornication wasn’t invented in 1967, but something big still happened, as the media brought about a huge change in the majority of public attitudes and public behavior, and what was publicly tolerated.

    Remember that societal change happens among the young first and grows by _replacement_. Individuals (mostly) don’t change, they are _replaced_ as the oldest die off. Destroy the family (and their support system of churches) and then academia and media determine the mind-set of those replacements.

    Sure, it even goes back to the Enlightenment (1700’s?). But the Sexual Revolution of the 60’s was a watershed, if that word means what I think.

    Perhaps one has to have actually lived then and been old enough to consume mainstream media/entertainment to understand the magnitude of the change.

    Unless someone has been a serious student of that time frame, and gone back and watched lots of old tv programs, I posit that people born after, say, 1960, just don’t get what really happened.

    “Blame” is the wrong word to use in the headline, but Pope-emeritus Benedict at least sees the connection, and how the 60’s was the “inflection point”

    https://nypost.com/2019/04/10/former-pope-benedict-blames-churchs-scandals-partly-on-the-60s/

    TL;DR, or bottom line: in order to understand what SSM is really about, ie its lies, it is necessary to understand the moral lies that immediately preceded it upstream: the sexual revolution of the 60’s, and going forward at least to the point of the APA’s political decision in 1971/2 to declassify homosexuality as a disorder. (Political, because it was not supported by a majority of members.)

  25. Back to ranting…
    What most people, religious and non-believers, but mainly non-believers, don’t realize, is that fornication/adultery, both heterosexual and homosexual, is psychologically damaging. It is harmful per se, here in mortality, not just in some eternal/spiritual sense, or get-punished-because-God sense.

    To understand this, people need to first understand that psychologists (at least the ones who will speak to the media, or teach at uni level) have lied about sex, since at least 1972 (when the APA removed homosexuality from the DSM); that the news/entertainment media has been lying about sex for at least 50 years, and that _all_ of secular/mainstream academia has been lying about sex since at least 1985, and a good portion of academia has been lying for even longer.

    So, yeah, parents who didn’t teach their kids that media and academia were lying to them about sexual matters lost many of them to secularism. (And parents who did teach the truth still lost some kids, too.)

    If you ask all the questions, and look at the obvious metrics I mentioned in my “How’d that sexual revolution thing work out?” post, it “should” (I hope) be obvious, in hindsight, to anyone with common sense that it didn’t work out well. If someone accepts that, the next obvious and shocking realization should be: the media and academia have been lying for at least 50 years, and have been at the center of destroying the basis of civilization.

    Anyone who has bought into the social and sexual narratives of (mainstream) media/academia has been duped, and is doing…. pretty much what the enemy planned.

    IOW, or TL;DR-2, It’s not the church’s narratives that are wrong or harrmful, it’s the media’s and academia’s narratives that are wrong and harmful. Whichever narrative one subscribes to determines your viewpoint.

  26. Hi Bookslinger,

    Are you asserting that I am not aware of how culture changed? You mention my name in nominative case, then assert something about how someone is too young.

    We all swim in the waters of our time, often unaware that the circumstances we take for granted are not universal.

    On the other hand, the mission of the Church is helping redeem all living, so long as they themselves decide before final judgement to embrace Christ and our salvific performances on their behalf.

    Most those living will be persuaded by love rather than harsh correction. And too often we who harshly correct are misinterpreting some aspect of that which we criticize.

  27. So, all is well in Zion? No changes are useful, warranted or necessary other than for the millennials themselves to suck it up? Mmm….begs the question of why there are so many changes of late and more expected. I think it would be good to take the information, recognizing that it was from an unbiased sample of members and therefore valid, but granted, analyzed and written about by someone who is biased, and use the truths within the data to appropriately adjust our thinking and actions to better love and serve. Maybe that’s what some are doing, but one can’t tell from the comments.

  28. Certainly the wheat are becoming more and more different from the tares, and vice versa. I’m more and more certain that it is becoming increasingly harder and… unviable (for lack of a better word) to be a lukewarm member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

    But those who trust the Holy Spirit as their guide, who despise the pull of the world will remain strong. Like in Book of Mormon times, there was a great fallinv away from the Church, especially among the Nephites. The ones that were strong were the Lamanites, and I suspect that a number of those that remained faithful could be counted as fruits of the missionary labors of Ammon and his brethren. Something for us here in the United States (and perhaps Utah) to think about.

    I had a very bad experience recently with a friend, who mocked my faith, the temple, the prophet Joseph Smith, and couldn’t say anything good about the Book of Mormon. I can imagine why someone without a solid foundation would be ashamed of the fruit they once tasted and leave it behind. I think, like Lehi in his vision, the right response to a lot of the disdain and criticism we receive for our faith is to pay them no attention, love God with all our heart, might, mind and strenght, and love out neighbor as ourselves.

  29. Meg, we’re not that far apart in age (going by the year you said you were in the MTC, assuming you entered at age 21.) And you are a much better student of history, ancient and modern, than I am. But that particular sub-point was that those who were old enough to consume mass media for a few years prior to 1967/68 actually lived through and saw the “inflection point” first hand. (And to repeat, not an exact point, but a process.)

    Having lived through that, I see similarities/congruences with the LGBT/SSM “revolution” of the past few years, that are not obvious to people who did not live through nor study that previous era. And _not as_ obvious to those who have studied it, but didn’t live through it.

    I suppose it came across as “I’m older, so I know better.” Sorry. But it is the experience/witnessing of the past, and seeing it play out again (ie, that SSM and trans issues are the homosexual/LGBT phase of a continued sexual revolution), and seeing the congruences/correlations that drives much of my alarmism.

    I’ll compare it to the horrible feeling that many immigrants from current and formerly communist countries have been having as they see the US slide further into socialism, and big/nanny-state-ism. Those folks have real experiences, not just intellectual study, and have a right to be alarmed. They lived through what some of us have merely read/studied, and what too many US citizens never studied at all.

    Similar feelings have motivated many of my alarmist comments in regards to SSM on this blog for years now. (Pro-family web sites/organizations who document the doings of the LGBT/SSM agenda provide evidence to justify alarmism.)

  30. KarlS,
    My take of Jacob’s post is that the book’s author didn’t merely interpret the results with bias, she also formulated the questions and multiple choice answers with bias, or rather with a deficient/lacking narrative/viewpoint in mind. If Jacob’s painting of the book is near accurate, the surveys are mostly not valid in a gospel/church conext, and would only be valid in a worldly context.

    From Jacob’s description, maybe Reiss is suggesting the church can stem the loss of millennials by turning Protestant. And what has happend to worldly (Mainline Protestant) churches? see the graph at: https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/13/us/no-religion-largest-group-first-time-usa-trnd/index.html

    The Brethren don’t lead the church in a worldly context. _They_ are always right, even more right than I thought, looking back at the Gen Conf Odyssey posts of 30-35 year old Conf talks.

    It’s not a matter of “sucking it up.” The seeds of disaffection are sown long before that. Apparently I was not good at making my point about buying into societal/worldly versus gospel narratives.

    In other words, the “issues” that Reiss looks at aren’t the real underlying gospel issues. To read Hess’ description, I think she missed it.

    I also try to use “dynamic analysis” as opposed to “static analysis”, by looking at congruent processes, ie, the sexual revolution of the 60’s to the SSM revolution. And comparing the before and after trend/direction of metics of one inflection point to another, ie, Summer of Love/1967 to Obergefell. What happened to sex/families/society in 1967 and later? Where did they go?

    What is and is going to happen to sex/families/society from Obergefell and onward? Where are we going from here? My answer: look to 1967 and its aftermath, and project based on that. The metrics are popping up — see the Harvard freshmen surveys link to from one of Meg’s posts here.

    Want to know where socialism is going in the US if it’s not checked? Ask the immigrants from communist countries.

    Yes, I intended to be alarmist. I am alarmist, perhaps like the immigrants from communist countires. Diplomacy is not my strong suit.

    TL;DR:
    But my bottom line, I think, is this…. those who are disaffected because the leaders of the church, the Brethren, the 15, are not in line with their narrative, need to re-evaluate their narrative to make sure it is gospel-based and not worldly/media-based.

    I wouldn’t call that “sucking it up.” I would call that _waking up_ from being duped by the wicked media and academic institutions of the past 50+ years.

  31. “THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.”

    ^^Observe how far we are, in 2019, from a standard that even in 1995 was beginning to look quaint.

    WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

    ^^Read again one of the most plain and stark warnings the Brethren have issued in the last hundred years.

    It is really this simple. And I agree, wholeheartedly, with essentially everything that Bookslinger has said here. And I am rather younger than he is. The post-modern Marxist line runs straight from 1967 to Obergefell to the present. There will be much more spiritual and temporal collateral damage in the coming years before the Second Coming. Particularly since pediatric transgender ideology is becoming militant and children are already being taken away from parents who refuse to bow before it.

  32. The other Millennial generation issue, socialism, is also linked closely with atheism, ie, loss of religion. That linkage is illustrated well by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his Templeton address.

    http://orthodoxnet.com/blog/2011/07/men-have-forgotten-god-alexander-solzhenitsyn/

    If you’re worried about the rise of _socialism_ in the west, you owe it to yourself to read Solzhenitsyn’s speech.

    If you’re worried about the rise of _atheism_ in the west, you owe it to yourself to read Solzhenitsyn’s speech.

    Solzhenitsyn shows that “forgetting God” is closely linked to totalitarianism and mass murder. And, the forgetting does not have to be across all of society, …. just mainly the ruling class. (Sounds like the Old Testament, and Book of Mormon.)

    That blog owner’s introduction at the above link is also worth reading. He says he’s a survivor of the communist holocaust; based on his last name he’s Eastern European, though he doesn’t say exactly where he’s from.

    He also has an article on the death toll of communist/atheist regimes:
    https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2010/03/the-communist-holocaust/

    I hope this is deemed on-topic as socialism(communism) and less faith/religiosity (atheism, or at least heading in that direction) seem to be hallmarks of the millennial generation.

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