Why are Mormons leaving the LDS Church? – Part 1
A look at a current trend in Mormonism with James Walker, president of Watchman Fellowship
Why are Mormons leaving the church “in droves?” The surprising question was posed to Elder Marlin K. Jensen, church historian and recorder for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The answer may be equally surprising.
James K. Walker, president of Watchman Fellowship, an independent Christian research and apologetics ministry focusing on new religious movements, cults, the occult and the New Age, spoke at the 2013 Capstone Convention in Salt Lake City and addressed the question of why Mormons disbelieve.
While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (LDS) took 117 years from its founding to reach its first 1 million members, growth in the 20th century and beyond is said to be closer to one million added worldwide every three years, Walker said. In the 1980s, author and historian Rodney Stark predicted that the LDS church could reach world religion status if the growth rate continued.
Then something changed.
“Something went very badly wrong on the road to world domination,” Walker said.
A Jan. 31, 2012 Reuters special report, “Mormonism besieged by the modern age,” reported on Jensen’s unscripted, candid remarks to the question posed above that were recorded while speaking at a small gathering at Utah State University.
Reporters Peter Henderson and Kristina Cooke wrote this:
Did the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know that members are “leaving in droves?” a woman asked.
“We are aware,” said Jensen, according to a tape recording of his unscripted remarks. “And I’m speaking of the 15 men that are above me in the hierarchy of the church. They really do know and they really care,” he said.
“My own daughter,” he then added, “has come to me and said, ‘Dad, why didn’t you ever tell me that Joseph Smith was a polygamist?’”
The reporters note the “rising tide of questions” from church members about issues regarding the Book of Mormon and the historical problems that have been “largely glossed over” by Mormon leaders.
Walker pointed out that Jensen placed blame on the internet. The article reported this: “For the younger generation, Jensen acknowledged, ‘Everything’s out there for them to consume if they want to Google it.’”
As to the solution of the internet problem and disaffected Mormons, the article said this:
With defections rising, the church has launched a program to staunch its losses. The head of the church, President Thomas Monson, who is considered a living prophet, has called the campaign “The Rescue” and made it his signature initiative, according to Jensen…. “The church has a very progressive research and information division, with tremendous public opinion surveyors,” he said. Among other steps, it has hired an expert in search-engine optimization to raise the profile of the church’s own views in a web search.
The solution is to launch a public relations endeavor, Walker pointed out.
“It’s all about trying to develop spin. It’s all about trying to do surveys to find out what people think. This is the work of a public relations office,” Walker said. “It’s not about setting the record straight. It’s not about becoming honest and setting the record straight about the past.”
Changes within Mormonism scholarship, including the firing of Daniel Peterson as editor of Mormon Studies Review, seem to imply that the church may be backing away from its aggressive defense of Mormon history and scriptures, Walker noted.
“It looks to me as an outsider, and I’m speculating here, that apologetics and defending the faith is not part of ‘The Rescue’ plan,” Walker said.
Of note also is the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) that reports that the true account of Mormon membership in the United States is 4.4 million rather than the more than 6 million claimed by the church. The survey was based on adults who self-identified as Mormons and factored in an average number of children per family.
The ARIS concluded that the number of converts to Mormonism is about equal to the number leaving. The church is “treading water,” the report said.
Walker said the information is new and surprising, but that the implications are significant.
“It takes almost all of the church’s multimillion dollar missionary, proselytizing, and advertising budget just to offset the Mormon exodus,” Walker said.
***Part 2 will take a look at reasons Mormons are leaving the LDS church.***