Summary: people and groups have attempted to catalyze change in the LDS Church using a wide variety of methods. To date, it appears that most of them have failed to bring about substantive changes.
The following methods have been pursued by active or semi-active LDS members seeking substantive and well-thought-out changes to the Church or its culture. I briefly describe the main efforts of the group or individual and then the current outcome of those efforts, where available.
Methods to effect change
OrdainWomen (OW) organized around the idea that ordination of women to the Priesthood was likely the only way women would achieve full equality within the LDS Church system. OW members documented inequity between men and women in the Church and produced a series of discussions aimed at educating LDS members about gender inequality and doctrinal and historical precedent that potentially pave the way for women ordination. Their stated purpose was to “sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter [the possibility of granting women the Priesthood] to the Lord in prayer.”
OrdainWomen leaders claimed to have made “five formal requests for a meeting with LDS officials, sent to the church’s public-relations arm” and that “no one … ever responded.” To my knowledge, LDS officials to this day have never met with leaders of the group in that capacity. LDS leaders’ only response has been to excommunicate the leader of the group and strip others of their temple recommends (another example). Kate Kelly’s well-articulated appeal to her excommunication was denied by the First Presidency without comment.
Despite the sustained effort of women (and men) in this group, only 4 women spoke out of 31 speakers in this last April 2017 General Conference, suggesting that the spirit of the OrdainWomen movement has been largely ignored.
Campaigns for education and humble solicitation
One might be inclined to think that OrdainWomen failed to effect change because they were too bold and confrontational with their campaign (i.e., they were seeking to “counsel the brethren”). Other campaigns for change have proceeded far more meekly in contrast to OrdainWomen. One of these was “Family First Weddings.”
The FamilyFirstWeddings website states:
Our mission is to raise awareness of a current policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that discourages couples from having a civil marriage prior to a temple sealing. This policy makes a temple sealing unavailable for one year to any couple that decides to have a civil wedding first. We want to see this policy changed.
They collected stories, letters, and thoughts showing how the policy was impacting individuals and families. And, they were hardly covering any new territory since the practice of allowing marriage and then sealing on the same day was already being practiced by almost all countries outside the U.S.
In September of 2015, the campaign culminated when organization leaders delivered a packet to Elder L. Tom Perry. From the LDS perspective, this campaign proceeded carefully and humbly, and at no time did FamilyFirstWeddings ever make a demand of LDS leaders (leaders were upset with the command form of the title “Ordain Women”). The policy they were seeking to change was clearly inconsistent in its implementation across the Church, so it seemed almost unimagineable that the campaign could fail.
Two years after the delivery of their packet to L. Tom Perry, “Family First Weddings” has received no response from LDS leaders (ascertained by personal communication with Family First Weddings founder) and there has been no sign of change to this policy.
The Purple Heart RM project proceeded in a fashion similar to Family First Weddings (including meeting with an emeritus General Authority). Their primary website is now defunct, and—to the best of my knowledge—their campaign has effected no change in the way sick RMs are handled within the Church’s missionary program’s missionary program (if anyone has information to suggest otherwise, please let me know).
Activist / awareness groups
The “Mama Dragons” group, a group which supports homosexuals in and out of the Church, has been discussing and publicizing gay suicides, which they believe is related to the November 2015 policy and the general manner in which homosexuals are treated in the LDS Church (which is a reasonable hypothesis but causation is difficult to prove without doubt).
To date, LDS leaders refuse to openly address homosexual suicide although a recently leaked PR document suggests they have been aware of the perception of a gay suicide crisis since at least March of 2012 (pg 29).
Reddit user NOWMormon issued this letter to the First Presidency requesting “a written statement of remorse, of regret, from the leadership of the church… an acknowledgement of the historical culture of concealment perpetuated by the church” regarding their teaching of Joseph Smith’s polygamy and polyandry prior to the lds.org essay. According to this post, the letter he wrote to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve was pushed back to his Stake President and “The Stake President stated that he was the response from the First Presidency”. NOWMormon “responded that to move forward, I need to hear from the Q15 and asked him for recommendations to achieve this.” The Stake President responded, essentially, that “there is nothing more we can do to solicit a response from Salt Lake.”
Scott Duke recently wrote a letter to Elder Uchtdorf addressing the problem of LDS members divorcing their non-believing spouse. Elder Uchtdorf completely avoided the topic of his letter in his reply. To date, LDS leaders have never directly addressed this important topic.
Writing thoughtful blog posts
Carson Calderwood wrote 4 blog posts that thoughtfully examined aspects of the Chruch and its culture, including admissions of his own doubts. His posts are very sincere, written from the perspective of a member of the Church, and highlight problems in the Church with an eye towards improving the Church.
On May 21, 2015 Carson and his wife, Marisa, were both excommunicated. They described their excommunication in these terms: “Because we publicly share our doubts over core doctrines and that can cause others to doubt as well, we are apostates and have to be excommunicated.”
Bryce Cook, founding member of ALL (Arizona LDS LBGT) and father of two homosexual sons, recently wrote up and posted a document analyzing the foundation of the LDS Church’s position on homosexuality. It remains to be seen what influence this article will have on LDS policies directed at homosexuals, but at least we can safely say that there has been no change in the Church within the past 2 months.
John Dehlin has interviewed hundreds of members and former members, allowing them to share their stories about their experiences in the Church, mostly providing a safe place to discuss painful/harmful aspects of LDS membership/association.
Leaders demanded that Dehlin remove controversial episodes, but Dehlin asserted that “the open discussion of difficult topics within the LDS Church needs to be better supported, without eliciting shame or fear on the part of church members.” Primarily for refusing to take down controversial episodes, Dehlin was excommunicated.
Bill Reel has produced and been the primary podcaster for the Mormon Discussions podcast (and blog) for several years. While trying to “lead with Faith” he has cast light on a number of challenging issues facing the Church and its constituents today.
From the size of his listenership to the personal notes he receives, it seems clear that Bill’s work has prodoundly impacted many individuals still within the Church or on its fringes. While aiding many individuals, I am unaware that his work has made any substantive changes to the LDS institution or its policies to date.
Private research / presentations
Despite such presentations re-affirming the integrity of those who are now leaving, LDS leaders have since said little-to-nothing to humanize those who leave—most of them, most of the time belittle those who leave (another recent example from a religion professor).
While a member, John Dehlin met with Elder Holland to discuss the alarming number of divorces among couples where one spouse experiences a faith crisis (discussed in this video at about 1:22:15). Elder Holland refused to take action, stating that the Church was not mature enough to tolerate such action. Years later, leaders have still not addressed this growing problem.
Outlining the problems
Runnells is in a mixed faith marriage, and so, even though he doesn’t believe in the truth claims, he still attended LDS Church occasionally. Leaders asked him to take down the website hosting the CES Letter. Jeremy asked repeatedly for either answers to the questions he posed and/or correction and clarification as to what he had written that was in error. Runnells received no response to those queries from his leaders and was on the cusp of being excommunicated without substantive discussion when he resigned.
Voting in Opposition
Members have voted “opposed” in general conference, publicly state why they vote opposed, and also met with their Stake Presidents and Bishops to discuss their rationale. Here are a few examples:
Every issue these individuals have raised (that I’m aware of) has not been addressed by leaders to date.
The above methods for informing or persuading LDS leaders from within the Church are varied, running the gamut from small personal efforts to large organized ones and extremely meek to very vocal and agitating (and everything in-between). Each approach was (or continues to be) met either with a wall of silence and inaction or, conversely, disciplinary action that included very little discussion (essentially, the proponent was told to self-censor or be excommunicated). The data strongly suggest that those inside the Church are incapable of effecting substantive change—if they raise a sharp voice they will be excommunicated; if they raise a mild voice they will be ignored. I am unaware of any efforts to effect substantive change by an individual member or group that were met with success.
Ultimately, I think that Elder Lynn Robbins best summarized the relationship LDS Church leaders have with their members as he quoted Boyd K. Packer’s instruction:
“A Seventy does not represent the people to the prophet but the prophet to the people. Never forget which way you face!”
Appendix A – Why the resistance to bottom-up change?
Given that the general public has little access to the process by which senior leaders make decisions within the LDS Church, one can only speculate at this time:
- On average, top LDS leaders are much older. Leonard Arrington, the LDS Church Historian a short while back, noted that the “insistence on choosing a new president from the senior member of the Twelve … means [the LDS Church] will always have a president far beyond his energetic, creative period of life.”
- The top 15 are a fairly homogenous group, and the embracing of change seems to be facilitated by persistent exposure to different perspectives.
- Perhaps some LDS leaders are selected primarily for their administrative capabilities, who they are related to, and their wealth (amount of tithing donated, according to Leonard Arrington), and not necessarily their spirituality, wisdom, knowledge, charisma or leadership (qualities that would potentially make them more prone to seek out and embrace change).
- Leaders are screened for agreement with the status quo. For instance, the recently leaked Utah Area Seventies Correlation Meeting states “Stake presidents may want to review this policy [the November 2015 policy on gays and their children] with prospective bishops to determine their willingness to support this policy before extending a call.”
- Recently leaked videos strongly suggest that the top 15 are not interested in revising their position but rather asserting its primacy. For instance, after being presented with the data associated with Moral Foundations Theory, one of the most important and ground-breaking scientific theories of our time, Elder Packer responded flippantly “science and morality — those two words might go together but science has got a lot to learn first.”
- Although they do travel around the world, perhaps most of their associations are with those seeking to confirm that the leaders are already in touch and already doing the right thing (i.e., perhaps they live in a bubble surrounded by “yes” men). The recently leaked videos I referred to earlier, for instance, show that leaders receive much/most of their news from Q70 members who actively filter the messages before it ever reaches their ears.
- Recently leaked documents suggest top leaders view many of those seeking change as “leading people away from the Gospel”. An emphasis on dualism can promote the rejection of good ideas if they come from anyone who is critical of the Church (and arguably, any suggestion that something can be improved in the LDS Church can be taken as evidence of a “critical attitude”).
- Church leaders often frame their world in totalistic terms, and totalism desires facts and opinion to conform themselves to its supremacy—the very process of acknowledging bottom-up change can be seen as undermining the totalistic perspective. See The three-fold nature of the LDS Church: corporate, totalistic, and individual-growth for discussion.
Appendix B – Race and the Priesthood
It may be argued that Lester Bush’s 1973 Dialogue article on the Priesthood ban helped to pave the way for the reversal of the ban (Ed Kimball acknowledged that his father read Bush’s 1973 article and it impacted his thinking). First, it should be noted that Bush published his article nearly half a century (44 years) ago, so we can hardly hold this incident up as an example that today’s Church is susceptible to similar influence. Secondly, we should also note that Bush was not “commended” by the Church or its leaders for his work and was nearly excommunicated for it. From a transcript by Mormon Heretic of Bush’s McMurrin Lecture on Oct 8, 2015: “10 years later, 5 years after revelation, Mark E Peterson was still upset because I had written that article. Wanted stake president to take action against me. Stake President talked to me, and said there was no problem.” Had Bush’s Stake President been more loyal to upper leadership, it stands to reason that Bush would have been excommunicated for his 1973 article. Thirdly, Bush was performing a historical analysis, hence the focus of his work was descriptive and not normative (although he does end his article with a meek call to continue researching historical questions that may have informed the Priesthood ban: “Perhaps it’s time we began.”). Finally, others who more directly addressed the problem before Bush were chastised by LDS leaders and their communication appears to have been ineffective at producing change (i.e., those communications were never cited as effecting change), at least directly (e.g., the 1947-1952 exchange with the First Presidency by Lowry Nelson and Stewart Udall’s publication of an article in Dialogue on the topic).
originally posted here