Do 52% of the Wheat and Tares Community Admit They No Longer Believe?

Speaking of communities and safe zones, Wheat and Tares had a survey recently that asked it’s members if they would convert to the LDS Church today. The majority of those that responded said “No Way!” Another 34% admited they didn’t know.

If you read through the comments, you get a more nuanced discussion along the lines of “well, how could I know? I’d probably just be part of some other tradition.” While that seems like a pretty good explanation for the 34% that admited they didn’t know, it doesn’t explain the 52% that said “No Way!”

My guess is that there is nothing to explain for the 52%. They like W&T precisely because if makes them feel safe compared to, say, going to Church. And there are probably many faithful Mormons that have tried W&T and abandoned it silently, thus allowing a majority of unbelief to become the majority. (Alternatively, perhaps the Internet is just more likely to be made up of a certain personality type to being with. I don’t know.)

I suggested in my previous post that communities are built on safe zones. I am not cynical about this, however. I think “safe zones” is almost the definition of a community, not an ‘issue’ to be solved.

But I confess, I’m not entirely comfortable at W&T myself. (Despite blogging there in the past.) I take that as a sign that that just isn’t (usually) my community and not as a personal insult to me. And that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t blog there in the future if I felt I had a post that made sense for that community.

But I think respecting a communities value-boundaries is something a community must demand for itself if it wants to keep it’s community. And with the majority of that community no longer believing, there will be some limits on what W&T can post about regularly that someone like me is likely to feel frustrated with.

I am of the opinion that all of our communities can probably address any issue. For example, M* can and does do posts at times about the issues of, say, Church history. I suspect BCC would have little problem doing a post or two similar to this one done by J Max Wilson. W&T could probably survive, without blinking, a few posts like this one I’m writing. And DAMU or post Mormon communities could probably survive the occaisional post on why their approach to believeing Mormons has more that just a little in common with hate and bigotry.

But I suspect each of these communities has boundaries set that they cannot violate in terms of frequency of posts that challenge the community values. So we should not expect a ‘fair’ dicussion at any of them if we define ‘fair’ as ‘every side gets to say what they honestly believe with equal time.’ To do that would destroy each of these communities.

So thank goodness for the existence of multiple communities.

20 thoughts on “Do 52% of the Wheat and Tares Community Admit They No Longer Believe?

  1. I’m totally comfortable at Wheat and Tares. Because I’m swamped, I don’t have the time I used to spend on blogging and I missed that survey thing. I believe I have a testimony, but my membership in the church is in spite of my experiences, not because of it. So I guess I’d join today.

    THIS blog makes me uncomfortable because you guys go all nutso with the big words and concepts and I feel out-classed and out-educated and also confused.

  2. Bruce,

    Very interesting observation. I, for one, do find some solace in Wheat & Tares but I am an LDS convert of thirty years so my initial upbringing as a Catholic allows me a different perspective on the conversion process and the foundational items relating to a spiritual testimony as compared to a cultural belonging.

    I do find your following observation interesting: “communities are built on safe zones. I am not cynical about this, however. I think “safe zones” is almost the definition of a community, not an ‘issue’ to be solved….I think respecting a communities value-boundaries is something a community must demand for itself if it wants to keep it’s community.”

    I converted to the gospel at age 19 after a very Catholic childhood including Catholic school for six years. I became a Latter-day Saint based upon the witness of the Holy Ghost to my soul of the veracity of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration. Attending BYU was a magical experience for me as I absorbed so much of the truths of the Restoration. I was also blessed to go on a mission to Italy although I was an older missionary at age 22 – 24.

    However, in the past 31 years as a member of the Church I can never say that I have found the church community to be a “safe zone” for me. The reason for this is because I am a celibate gay man trying to stay true to my covenants made in the Temple as well as honoring my priesthood and mortal stewardship. There is no place for me in our “community”. There is no acceptance which is not conditioned either upon pity or sadness about my “challenge” in this life. There is no place for the practice of celibacy in our theology and no understanding of the place of gays and lesbians (i.e. natural eunuchs) in the plan of salvation other than as defective souls which will be “healed” and changed after death to fit the proper mold.

    A church provides three things to its members:

    1) An understanding of its doctrine and theology which provides a framework and purpose to mortality.
    2) A communal worship service which allows for the worship and praise of our God.
    3) A community which provides support and acceptance in accordance with its boundaries as you cite above.

    I do not gain any value from item #3 in the LDS church. It has no place in my life as a community support system. I gain some value in item #2 (more through Temple worship than through Sunday services which are not very Christ-focused). My testimony and my spiritual witness are solely tied to item #1. It is the only thing which keeps me as a Latter-day Saint.

    So, my problem is, how do I stay true to my covenants when the Church provides little value to me for Sunday daily worship (I gain more value through attending Mass) and when I am forced to interact with a community that has no place for someone like me without considering me defective and in need of correction to realize my full potential as a son of God? If we could separate out LDS doctrine and theology from the community and if we could truly have a Christ-centered Sunday worship service that provides value (other than as a community building reinforcement exercise), I would be most happy.

    So, to conclude, Wheat & Tares respondents, for the most part, do not know if they would accept the Church if they were not raised within its community or traditions. I do not blame them for that. I had to abandon many of the traditions of my Catholic upbringing which were good and Christ-affirming for a less than welcoming or affirming LDS community. However, if you isolated the question to a witness and belief in the Book of Mormon and the idea of the Restoration, you, most likely, would get a different response. The cultural impositions and strict community boundaries which have corrupted and contaminated the purity of the Restored Gospel are not necessary for a true testimony LDS Christianity. If you fit the branded mold of the US middle class heterosexual traditional family then LDS culture is a wonderful scaffolding in which to find safety and raise your children. For many others, the forced participation in the community portion of the Church is painful and useless.

  3. Annegb,

    Did I ever tell you I just love your comments? You make me smile.

  4. So we should not expect a ‘fair’ dicussion at any of them if we define ‘fair’ as ‘every side gets to say what they honestly believe with equal time.’ Including this one! Which is why I suppose I remain in moderation here.

  5. I’m sorry I can’t really comment on the percentage of believing or the atmosphere of the community on that site.
    However, I looked at the poll question and although I am a completely believing, recommend holding, no problems with the church kind of member I understood the question differently than you so I would have answered I don’t know.

    Would you join the church now if you were being introduced to it for the first time?

    Heck, yeah!
    No way!
    I am not sure.

    Perhaps the question you want it to ask is “If you were introduced to the church for the first time now, do you think it would be possible for you to gain a testimony?” But what it is actually actually answer might be whether you think you might be open to listening to religious teaching even if you’ve been taught to be secular your whole life, open to the spirit, strong enough to make a major change in your life, risk disrupting relationships in order to join, commit to baptism and want to join the church community even without knowing any of the benefits. Those of us who hesitate to share the gospel sometimes hesitate because we know it is a hard sell to some people who are comfortable in their lives, so I look at that question and realize that it may be a hard sell for myself if I hadn’t been blessed to have the church early and let it shape who I am becoming throughout my life. Because the gospel has been such a strong influence in my life, I think I would be different without it, that my parents would have been different without it (and of course they would never have met without it). I wouldn’t exist without it, so I couldn’t really be exist or be the real me without it. Sometimes I try to imagine my life without my husband and children and I can’t guess. If I were still single or if I had married a different guy I would have been having very different experiences….who would I be. Me, but a different me.
    I’m sure the people who took the poll had many different ways to process the question and try to answer it.

  6. The question seems pretty straightforward to me. Perhaps some people are guilty of overthinking it. It seems to clamor for “believing” people to answer the first question and other people with limited or no testimony to answer one of the other two, and Bruce is right to be a bit concerned about a “Mormon blog” having a majority of the people not immediately answer the first question.

    If I had the technical skills, I would do a similar poll here to see if we got different results. If anybody would like to help me with how to do this on WordPress (step by step instructions), I would be happy to put up a poll on M*.

  7. The actual question: “Would you join the church now if you were being introduced to it for the first time?”

    There are any number of ways to interpret that question.

    Frankly, a mere brief introduction to the church is rarely enough to convince anyone to join the church. Even with prolonged exposure, it still took me a while to gain a testimony. I think the question should be phrased more clearly, and I think we need to not rush to judgment on answers to an ambiguous question.

  8. I’ve thought that the internet would lead to communities based on ideology, rather than geology. This seems to reinforce that idea.

  9. I think those of you that question how the question could be read make a good point.

    I definitely read it the very way Geoff did. (And frankly, believe that was the way it was intended.) But I confess I am a strong advocate of the belief that language is rarely precise, so I am open to the idea that if we changed the questions around, we might reduce the results of those that seem to be claiming to no longer believe in the Church.

    Geoff, we do need to do a similar query here. In my past post I claimed we had quite a few more ‘liberal’ members of our community too. Perhaps I assume too much here. Or maybe I don’t. I’d like to explore it further.

  10. Michael,

    Your story pulls at my heart strings. I really do wish we LDS were better at providing the sorts of things a person in your position needs.

    With an offline group of Mormon friends I half jokingly said we Mormons needed a monastary and nunnery to give more meaning to a choice to live a celebate life for the Gospel’s sake. (I wasn’t even that eloquent, but you get the point.) I was suprised to see that you hint at something similar.

    Because the LDS church idealizes certain things, it’s a guareentee that if you don’t fit the ideals, you’ll feel outed to some degree. I have always maintained that choosing to not have ideals is not a viable alternative (despite it’s popularity in some internet quaters.)

    But there are — if truely an not alternative — ways we could find to celebrate those that have to make other choices for the Gospel’s sake.

    We need to make such people public heroes in my opinion. I see things starting to just barely move that direction. I hope it continues to go that way.

  11. Hey there, Bruce! I wrote the poll. What did I mean? I was thinking about the fact that there’s a big difference between being born into the church or converting at an earlier stage in life and having to recognize its value when some strangers knock on your door. If you believe, but you think you would reject the missionaries if you knew nothing about the church, theoretically, that’s either an indictment of you and your ability to discern the good qualities of the church or its an indictment of the missionary program and its ability to portray what the church is all about.

    But I also know that there are many (probably the “no way!” crowd) who feel that the missionary program would be hampered by the ability to google damaging content, and that they personally would find that a nearly insurmountable obstacle to conversion. This is the internet crowd, after all. If I had instead written “perhaps I would have joined, but it would have taken a lot given how much anti-Mormon content is available a mouse click away” that answer would have probably gotten the 52% – but it’s a poll, so I went with the pithier answer). My parents converted through random missionaries knocking at the door, and it still took them a year to commit, and that was in 1955! I’m pretty sure they would have been dissuaded by internet content that would have prevented their testimonies from taking root, yet they are strong active believing members today. They delayed joining because they were told they had to give up Pepsi. We’re not a stalwart bunch! Plus, my dad has forwarded so many things that are snopes-able, that I’ve been forced to conclude they are not that discerning when it comes to internet content.

    You could also believe in the gospel but have had terrible experiences in the church that would make it difficult to participate. Those folks might be in the “no way!” crowd also, nursing hurt feelings.

    Lastly, polls attract different participants than do OPs. Poll participation is much broader.

    The only other comment I want to make is that a site like Wheat & Tares with a deliberately syncretic approach (sorry annegb!) naturally has an amphibious support zone.

    Bruce – I love the discussion you’ve been teeing up on this. I think it’s very important to look under the covers on this stuff and figure out what’s really going on.

  12. Thanks for the clarification, Hawk. It makes a big difference to know your intent.

    It would be interesting to do a far more forward poll like “do you believe the Book of Mormon is historical” or “do you believe Joseph Smith was called to have prophetic authority over everyone in the world” or any of the core meme-narrative that defines the LDS Church worded in such a way as to avoid reading into the question what you want to see.

    Who is reading our blogs? Inquiring minds want to know.

  13. I don’t think it’s doctrinal issues that drive people away. Most of the inactive people I know believe that the BOM is the real deal. Usually it’s because someone offended them, and when I hear their stories I can’t blame them for leaving. But the way I see it, they got their saving ordinances so it’s no skin off my tookus if they never go back.

  14. I think your first question – about the historicity of the BOM – was asked either on W&T or MM as a poll within a post. Seems like maybe it was MoHer; I don’t remember right now. The question about JS’s authority hasn’t been asked specifically IIRC.

    I personally find the psychological question much more interesting. I am firmly in the I don’t know camp. Would I recognize the value in the church without being raised in it? I have at times wondered if it wasn’t for the best that I was raised in it because I would probably find all religion off-putting if I hadn’t been. Then again, I do find some aspects of Mormonism inherently attractive to the point that it might have interested me as an outsider.

    I would, however, be interested in replacing fast & testimony meeting with a simple one question poll. Any takers?

  15. I find that people who convert to the church are quite peculiar and special. They are also an extremely small percentage of those who are invited.

    The reality, is that if everyone born in the church were born out of the church, far fewer than 52% would convert. I certainly doubt I would have converted. But I don’t know.

    We are also products of our environment. If I were born in a secular, liberal household, I doubt I would ever become a Mormon. If I were born poor, to an abusive alcoholic father and a devout Catholic mother, maybe I would be looking outside the box to find answers which would lead me to the Mormon church.

    The answer all of us should be giving is “I don’t know” because we would be vastly different people if any of us were born in different environments.

  16. I admit I fear I would have been too busy and blind to have listened to the gospel, though I am so glad of it.

    I am also pleased Annegb feels comfortable visiting.

    I have had questions about tone and approach and am happier with where the blog is than where it has been from time to time.

    I hope that we are reaching wheat amidst the Tares.

  17. Michael, I’ve been a middle-aged participant (though officially an ex-member) of the LDS church for the last 10 years. I’ve never been married. I’ve participated in the local LDS singles scene (“program”, if you will) throughout the last 10 years.

    Back in my 20’s, when I was active for a while in the 1980’s, I would have agreed with your assessment of most church members’ attitudes towards singles. In one ward, for the first two years I was a member, I felt fully accepted, and fully a participating member. Before I went on a mission, I was the ward executive secretary for about half a year. It was a regular ward, not a singles ward/branch.

    When I returned from a mission, in my late 20’s, I moved to where my employer had relocated to. In that ward/stake, I felt like I was treated as a 2nd class member.

    However, this time around, 2002-2012, there are plenty of singles of all ages, never marrieds, divorced, widowed, etc. I find much less prejudice from married members and leaders, almost zero. I find a “you get as much out of it as you put into it” atmosphere in the singles program.

    A few times when I’ve traveled, I’ve contacted the singles representatives in the cities where I was visiting (I called the family history center in the cities where I was going to visit, and they looked up the stake roster, and put me in touch), and fell right in with their singles activities. Instant friends.

    A few years ago, the greater Indianapolis area split from 2 stakes into 3 stakes, and three stakes seems to be enough to have a critical mass.

    We regularly have 30 to 60 people at our monthly tri-stake firesides. For years, before the economic crunch and high gas prices, each stake had their own monthly fireside, so we had 3 per month in the city.

    2 of the local 3 stakes have official weekly Family Home Evening get-togethers for singles. One of the groups has a pitch-in dinner every week preceeding their FHE. Both are regularly scheduled, and you know where and when to show up.

    Singles around here now get much more support and attention and organization than what I remember from the 1980’s.

    As far as ward and family activities, I’ve moved 3 times in the last 10 year, and had helpers each time. And nobody turned me away for being single (or an ex-member) when I show up to help them move.

    I’ve been made to feel welcome at the EQ picnics and activities, and at the ward dinners and functions.

    So it’s sad for me to read of the way your ward/stake makes you feel as an unmarried faithful member.

    If I may suggest a couple things. Maybe there is a singles program in your stake that just hasn’t appeared on your radar. If there is not a singles program in your stake, maybe you can motivate your stake leadership to get one going, or to rekindle whatever embers there are left in an existing one.

    Other than that, consider moving somewhere where the local church does a better job supporting and organizing the social needs of single members. Larger cities, with 4 or more stakes in the greater metro area usually have decent singles programs.

    From what I read on the blogs, prejudice among Mormons towards “non-standard” members, regardless of what make makes them not fit the mold, also seems to be concentrated in Utah.

    (One single guy in his late 30’s who temporarily moved to Indianapolis for work, asked me why nobody here asked him why he was single, when he used to get that asked all the time in Utah. )

    I’ve known single guys to be made high priests when they’re in their 50’s, and it wasn’t for a specific calling. I know another never-been-married guy in his 50’s who is a bishop’s counselor.

    It’s almost a whole new church since the time when we got off our missions.

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