Saturday, November 7, 2015

How Will Handbook Policy Changes Surrounding Children in Same-Sex Marriages Affect LDS Growth?

I noticed speculation in some news articles and social media posts surrounding whether recent changes announced by the Church regarding children in same-sex marriages would result in a "mass exodus" of members from the Church. Although it is difficult to say at this time how this policy change will affect member activity rates, convert retention rates, and the receptivity of populations around the world to LDS proselytism, past experience from similar announcements regarding changes in church policy suggest little or no change will likely occur. For example, no noticeable correlation occurred in regards to past policy changes and LDS growth surrounding issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s/early 1980 or Proposition 8 in California during the late 2000s. Worldwide growth measured by several LDS statistical measurements (e.g. increases in total membership, the number stakes, the number of congregations) accelerated during the late 1970s/early 1980s. There was little to no change in worldwide LDS growth trends during the late 2000s. LDS growth rates in the United States within the past 10 years have also appeared stable. Annual membership growth rates have fluctuated from 1.1-1.7%, annual congregational growth rates have averaged around 1%, and steady increases in the number of stakes have occurred every year.

So what affects LDS growth rates? I have found the following factors to be the strongest predictors of LDS growth - whether local, regional, or international: the maintenance of consistently high convert baptismal standards, member-missionary participation, the regular opening of congregations in previously unreached locations, church-planting tactics, self-sufficiency in church administration, cultural conditions (e.g. secularism, nominalism, double-affiliation, ethnoreligious ties), and increasing numbers of full-time missionaries serving.

My prediction is that there will be little to no change in LDS growth rates in the United States or internationally due to the Church's recent policy change surrounding the children of same-sex marriages. Although there will likely be many who disaffiliate themselves from the Church due to this announcement, there will likely be many who return to activity in the Church or join the Church due to media exposure or personal association with active members. Similar findings have been noted in regards to the influence of the internet on LDS growth. LDS growth rates in the United States will likely remain stable or slightly decline in the coming years as a result of the continued secularization of American society and culture, declining birth rates in the Church, persistent problems with member-missionary participation, and full-time missionary over-saturation of some areas.

23 comments:

Richard Alger said...

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Matthew Crandall said...

Thanks for the insights. This policy might impact growth more than the ones mentioned due to the changed political climate and children being the focus. For any interested in signing a petition against the policy see my link below.


https://www.change.org/p/the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints-maintain-religious-freedom-for-children-of-lgbt-mormons?recruiter=421166390&utm_source=share_for_starters&utm_medium=copyLink

alien236 said...

While it is sad to see people go, I think many of those disaffiliating themselves will already have been inactive and/or nonbelievers, so there's not much point in having them on the membership records in the first place.

Matt said...

Alien236-

I totally agree. The children of same-sex couples desiring LDS membership are probably something like 1/100 of 1% of LDS membership. Those would go inactive or resign their membership because of this change in policy are probably something like less than 0.1% of nominal LDS membership for the United States.

James Anderson said...

This all began Thursday afternoon, probably after 330pm MDT as that is when I got offline to go to a rehearsal in Salt Lake, by train.

About 1145pm, I got home, and found things were just starting up. One attributed this getting out there to a 'news leak', I do not know how accurate that was though. Once KSL got ahold otf things they were able to get something from the Church itself.

I saw that the next morning, but it didn't get very far due to bristly FB group admins looking for 'chapter and verse', even though the Church spokesman had released the verbage in the handbook 1 revision to the media.

About midnight the Church put out an interview with Elder Christofferson, on mormonnewsroom.org and on Youtube. As of about 5pm MDT (about now), the video of that has 200k views or so on Youtube and easily a half million on Facebook.

All the changes did was several things. 1. It clarified that alternatives to traditional one-man, one-woman marriages were wrong, and that participating in them was apostasy, given this is not much if any different than plural marriage in that sense. And 2. It affirmed the rights of the children of those who end up in such marriages the ability once they are of legal age to make the decision to join the Church on their own, without influence from others, and base it solely on beliefs in the doctrines and principles of the Church, not some other outside sources, and 3. Prospective missionaries are essentially now expected to have a testimony of the doctrine of marriage, it's clearly a basic doctrine, and it is found in a variety of places, including in the 'basic doctrines' document published by Seminaries and Institutes, on Gospel Library and online, 'True to the Faith', and others.

Jo said...

There are 487 inactive women alone in our ward. Your membership numbers are those active, inactive, and people who do not even know they are members of record. Your statistics are hopelessly skewed. How are you ever going to be able to prove or disprove any impact this has?

BYULAW said...

Jo,
Perhaps you misunderstood the post. I don't think Matt is trying to prove or disprove anything. Being someone with knowledge and resources regarding past growth trends, I believe he is merely trying to provide an educated guess. I tend to agree that the church will continue to grow, but I suspect the growth will be in more conservative cultures. I think the Salt Lake area is generally supportive of gay culture, considering the recent Salt Lake City elections, so in Utah there may be a perception that this is a big deal. However, I doubt the saints of Uganda or other conservative cultures are phased by this news.

Iris and Craig said...

Jo,

It generally depends on the area and country, but if anyone has served a mission most inactives are those who were baptized for wrong reasons or not taught properly by the missionaries. I have seen first hand where I served where we'd have 30 people show up to Church, but over 15 pages of members on the roster. And I would actually go through each one to update the roster, and I know many others who did this, see how they were, why they left, if they still wanted to be members, receive home teachers etc. Most where baptized for the missionary and not for the Church, sadly. This especially happens in third world countries. Another reason for most inactives, in general, is either flat out laziness or a minor offense taken from a leader or member of the Church. The minor rest of the pool of inactives are those who left the Church a long time ago for one reason or another, but haven't officially removed their names from the Church. I know many in this situation. Any media search of those contrary to the Church, like previously stated in an above comment are these much of *Mormons* who then use these events to officially resign from the Church and then the rest of the comments and rage are those who aren't even members of the Church who are either curious, interested in social and ethic aspects of religion who want to put in their two cents, or have family members who are active, or even those who at once were taught by the missionaries, but didn't go any further.

John Pack Lambert said...

In my mission we had low retention rates. The worst case was one time I was on splits with a stake missionary and he refused to leave the car and go to the door to talk with some recent converts. Well, I would have gone in if he had not just sat there in the car.

I have no clue what his objection was. I was going to bring this up with the ward mission leader, but decided against it. I should have.

The converts in question were 9 and 12 year old recently adopted black children of a white mother who was also engaged to a black man. The mother was not very active, so I think some in the ward perceived us as baptizing fairly young children without any family support, and the person in question may have just disapproved of bi-racial relationships and children. The mother's fiancee lived in Georgia and we were in Las Vegas, and I don't think this man realized the children were adopted, so he might have been expressing his disapproval of children born out of wedlock. Of course assuming a 9-year-old child without a father in her life was born out-of-wedlock is a bit much.

This man had previously been in the bishopric of the First Ward before moving to that ward. The First Ward eventually was dissolved in part because the staid, stogy white members who dominated the ward objected to baptisms of people who did not have cars and never even tried to reach across cultural boundaries to integrate African-American members.

I wish I had confronted the issue and actually figured out what was going on, but it made me so mad I could not think very coherently.

In another ward our white ward mission leader made a very racist comment about African-Americans during gospel principals when an African-American sister who had been away from Church for months came back for the first time. She never returned for the remaining 6 months I was in that ward.

It didn't help the lesson was on the law of chastity in a harsh manner and this sister had had a child out of wedlock since baptism. John P. Livingstone, who was mission president in Detroit from 1994-1997 who is now a religion professor at BYU and wrote an article in BYU studies entitled "Establishing the gospel simply" or something along those lines. One point he made about the Detroit District is that the members in it had common experiences rare to lifelong members in the suburbs, such as dealing with a former lover trying to move back in.

I always wondered in Las Vegas if things would be helped if the Church had branches created in heavily urban areas. One thing though was that Las Vegas was much more integrated racially than metro-Detroit, especially in 2000. Today Metro-Detroit is more racially integrated, in our stake no unit is entirely within Detroit (although Westland Stake still has one). On the other hand in the Palmer Park Ward, which meets in what was once the Detroit District Center, a building that the Church bought from a Greek Orthodox congregation, one of their white suburban families consists of a husband and wife who both teach at schools in Detroit. The current bishop is black, the former bishop is considered white, but actually has a small amount of Indian (that is from India) ancestry. He had ancestors join the Church in India in the 1850s. The father in the family was a British soldier, the mother a native of India.

I almost wonder if specifically African-American units would help in Church growth in some areas. I think that Las Vegas could at least use a Genesis Group, and maybe there is one there now.

To be fair retention rates of white converts were often little better than those of black ones, and on the other hand the only person I baptized who was ordained to the Melchezidek priesthood before I went home was an African-American male.

John Pack Lambert said...


On another note we did have one family stop meeting with us because they objected to the Church's stance on homosexuality. My companion did the last meeting with them on splits so I am not sure what exactly they said and I am not sure if they based their decision on correct understanding of the Church's position or rumors that misstated it. That fact alone makes me think that the new policies will have little long-term impact. The Church has consistently held that only man/woman sex in marriage is acceptable, so people who feel differently have known the Church does not hold their views a long time.

We also had a white woman stop meeting with us because her husband was black and she had heard the Church was racist. We had no clue what happened, and only learned this months later when a Brazilian elder with African features was serving in the area who she opened up to about this issue, in part because seeing him showed her that her previous views on the Church had been false.

John Pack Lambert said...

I think it would be good if we banned people from trying to use this blog's comment section to foment opposition to the policies of the first presidency and quorum of the 12.

John Pack Lambert said...

I would also point out that it is not clear that many same-sex couples would give approval for their children to join the Church if that was a live option.

On another note, I have been given the impression that in some circumstances even children over age 18 need parental permission to join the Church. Although the case I know of may have been more like the parents were going to kick the child out if they got baptized, and they did not feel capable economically of living on their own.

In my experience I have often wondered if we make it too easy for children to be baptized. On my mission I knew of cases where a bishop would not approve baptizing a child because the parents virtually never came to Church, the child turned 9, the missionaries baptized him, and then the family didn't show up again for years to come. Other areas had ward lists with many people on them who had been baptized at 9 or 10 and not come back to church in years.

I remember when we were teaching a set of children who I later learned their mother was an inactive member, I felt the children were not understanding the lesson and we should slow it down so they really learned. My comapnion was like "well, how much of the gospel did you understand at that age." I think the fair answer would have been, enough to listen and not goof off during a missionary lesson. However that is not the point, especially in a ward where there are no home teachers that know this is a member family with unbaptized children, and where the visiting teachers send letters to an old, black, shut-in sister rejected by her children for joining the Church and sad that her husband who did join the Church is now dead, who willingly welcomes her hometeacher and the missionaries when they stop by. I wish we had gone to see her a few more times, I did try and encourage the relief society president to assign her visiting teachers who would visit her.

Anyway, the fact is that every member needs a friend, a responsibility and nurturing by the good word of God. These children were only getting a little of the last, and not nearly enough.

It probably didn't help there were missionaries in my mission that mocked missions that focused on retention as having low baptism rates. They probably had higher rates of converts going to the temple.

John Pack Lambert said...

James Anderson,
The "missionaries must have a testimony of the doctrine of marriage" angle is one I have not seen anyone comment on yet. To be fair, I have tried to avoid wadding through too many comments because I have seen people make false claims about what the policy means.

Requiring missionaries to believe in the doctrine of marriage makes sense. Up until recently it was culturally ubiquitous and legally defined, so it has only been recently that clear belief in the doctrine as the Church understands was easily distinguishable from that of the greater culture. Even in places like Detroit where well over 75% of children are born out-of-wedlock, marriage is a goal and ideal that most people still look forward to, and since it is not an elitist place like New York or LA, in general most people do not embrace same-sex marriage, that is more suburbs like Ferndale.

James Anderson said...

What I am referring to is one part of the larger whole of believing the doctrines of the Church, and being able to effectively testify of those doctrines, it may have been one doctrine, but it needs to be taken in the context of the whole of things.

Marriage and family are one of the nine basic doctrines identified by the Church and are what most of 'Come, Follow Me' is based on, those nine doctrines also have other doctrines within them, and also there are many other doctrines that are associated with the Church, if you look at Gospel Principles, you'll find a lot more. So, to be effective as a missionary, one should reasonably be able to testify of the truthfulness of any given doctrine at any time. One of the first things taught by missionaries unless circumstances dictate otherwise in some cases, is 'The Gospel Blesses Families' (see lesson 1 in Chapter 3 of 'Preach My Gospel'). Unless things happen where another lesson is used at times first, which happens regularly but not often the majority of the time with missionaries, that first lesson is more often taught than the others.

So, I was just identifying one doctrine out of many, sure the angle did not quite fit what experience has been even for me, and given what I said it must be remembered that everything must be taken as a whole, not just one part.

OC Surfer said...

Since children of Muslim parents and polygamist parents also have to wait until they are of legal age to get baptized, discussing the impacts of this policy of waiting until adulthood to get baptized, both postive and negative, might also be worth exploring.

OC Surfer said...

Since children of Muslim parents and polygamist parents also have to wait until they are of legal age to get baptized, discussing the impacts of this policy of waiting until adulthood to get baptized, both postive and negative, might also be worth exploring.

Eduardo Clinch said...

A person who is advertising their petition on the comment section doesn't have to be banned, per se, but we also can engage the topic and look at the merits of LDS doctrine and policy.

Hopefully the freedom that they (LDS leadership detractors) enjoy in making such an effort can lead to better dialogue of core beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Racial, ethnic, and cultural differences have always been a part of the human condition and its plights. Jesus and His Gospel have not. They are the answer to all the above problems and differences.

Ryan Searcy said...

I just read that Myanmar (Burma) is having its first election in 25 years! Let's hope this will allow for missionary introduction in the country!

James Anderson said...

At least we're aware of the petition, that is just simply news, and nothing more. Sure it will be seen by some, but the net impact of it in the end will be nothing.

Elder Packer said this. Found in the Preservice Readings Manual found in the Institute area of Gospel Library, in the Institute section, the talk was called 'The Great Plan of Happiness, and I personally was present when he gave it so I recall exactly where I was in the Marriott Center when he gave it as that was where it was given. August of 1993 or 1994 if I recall correctly.

"Not too many days ago, in a moment of great concern over a rapid series of events that demonstrated the challenge of those within the Church who have that feeling of criticism and challenge and apostasy, I had an impression, as revelations are. It was strong and it was clear, because lingering in my mind was: “Why? Why—when we need so much to be united?” And there came the answer: “It is permitted to be so now that the sifting might take place, and it will have negligible effect upon the Church.”

David Todd said...

I had the unique experience of teaching a same-sex family on my mission. One of the moms was a member who was baptized at 16 and fell away within a year. They had two kids and wanted us to come teach them. We clearly explained the church's stance on same-sex relations, but told them they were still welcome to worship with us. They came to church every week and read the Book of Mormon. It was an odd situation because you could tell the family believed it was true, but they didn't know what to do. In the end the daughter (who was 11) requested permission to be baptized and she was. That was in March of this year. Last I heard, they all still come to church every week even though they live 30 minutes away.

In retrospect though, I do regret somewhat baptizing the daughter as it is possible that at some point the family may become upset that they can't progress in the Gospel and stop coming to church and it would put the daughter in a very tough situation in an age where she is still very much influenced by the decisions of her mothers.

Kevin Cottrell said...

@Ryan, young missionaries have been in Yangon, Myanmar since January 2014 as branch support (teach English and are able to teach the Gospel to people who members bring in or who come on their own). The branch still operates under "LDS Charities," but has been open for over 10 years, with half the members coming from the US foreign service and the other half native members. Senior missionaries have been there for quite a few years. I think there are two sets of young elders still. They are part of the Thailand Bangkok Mission, then transferred to Yangon where they have to learn Burmese in field. Maybe they will get increased proselyting freedoms with less of the old government party in power (since they were highly lobbied by an extremest Buddhist group, though they target Muslims, with Christians getting the aftershocks, but not specifically targeted). The active members are pretty strong, with many of them having served full-time missions in foreign countries.

Gnesileah said...

There are currently at least two branches servicing Myanmar. The Yangon Branch and the Thailand Bangkok Mission Myanmar Branch. I am optimistic about the future of Myanmar and all the positive change that is occurring there. The country still has much to overcome and resolve, but they are getting there, especially with the prospect of a peaceful transition of power to Aung San Suu Kyi's new government.

John Pack Lambert said...

Back to the topic that prompted the post, here is a statement by the First Presidency on the matter. https://www.lds.org/pages/church-handbook-changes?lang=eng. Here is a Deseret News article on the topic http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865641430/LDS-Church-provides-additional-information-on-handbook-policies-about-same-sex-couples-and-their.html.

This paragraph from the First Presidency letter gives clarity. "Our concern with respect to children is their current and future well-being and the harmony of their home environment. The provisions of Handbook 1, Section 16.13, that restrict priesthood ordinances for minors, apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship. As always, local leaders may request further guidance in particular instances when they have questions." With many children being heavily split between both parents who are seperated this may cause complex situations.