Emeritus General Authority, Marlin Jensen’s candid remarks about the significant loss of active membership in the Mormon Church have been picked up by the media and are creating a maelstrom among Mormons and their critics. I hope Elder Jensen will not be chastised by the brethren for letting the cat out of the bag. General Conference addresses last October hinted broadly at the problem. The too prevalent attitude that “not all things that are true are useful” fails to serve the Church well in the age of Internet.
George and I stopped attending church regularly a few years ago. The reaction from ward members was to ask us what was wrong, to fellowship us. When we moved into a new ward, the hand of fellowship was extended. We were cordial, but didn’t commit to attending. Visiting teachers peered around our house as if looking for cigarettes butts or beer bottles—evidence that my sins kept me from church. How do you politely tell Mormons that the boring, repetitious talks and lessons drove you out rather than sin or lack of friends?
I doubt any action the Church takes will bring back former members who have found other sources of guidance and inspiration in their lives. But, perhaps dealing honestly with Church history and not promoting an either/or dichotomy of belief will prevent other questioning members from leaving.
The Roman Catholic Church has also experienced loss of members in recent decades. Of course, they have many more to spare than the Mormons—and no one is predicting the demise of Catholicism any time soon. One advantage the Catholic Church has in dealing with corruption and problems of the past and present is that the Catholic Church is seen as the body of Christ. No person or group can corrupt the Body of Christ, no matter how flawed their behavior.
Like the Mormon Church, the Catholic body is governed by elderly men with rigid interpretations of Church policy. Apparently, Catholics who follow their own conscience on personal decisions and beliefs can still fully participate in Church life. Modern American Catholics may no longer have the unwavering belief that their priest or even the Pope is always right, but many remain active members.
Can Mormon Church leaders lighten up on the black and white beliefs required of active Mormons or will Church membership continue to decline? Time will tell.