June 18, 2017
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
50 East North Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150
My Dear President:
I am writing to you in the spirit of honesty and a genuine hope and desire to commune directly with you. I have a good deal of respect for you and the compassionate and honest approach you have taken to those experiencing doubts.
I am a member of the church, father of five, a high priest, married in the Salt Lake Temple.
I emigrated from Ireland to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with my parents and sister when I was five. The Edmonton branch at that time had N. Eldon Tanner as its President.
As a student and teacher of organizational behavior, particularly bureaucracies for more than forty years, it is evident to me that the LDS Church is headed into some very rough waters, more than a squall that may well threaten the Church’s viability; at least in its present form.
Max Weber, the great German sociologist, and political economist was born exactly twenty years after Joseph Smith’s death and spent his life studying power, authority, and the functioning of large-scale organizations in the political, economic, and administrative realms.
Weber recognized that bureaucracies are created and organized according to rational principles. Incumbents therein being ranked in a hierarchical order with their functions characterized by impersonal rules and governed by the methodical apportionment of jurisdiction and defined spheres of responsibility.
He correctly predicted that bureaucratic coordination of the actions of vast numbers of people would become the dominant structural feature of modern organizations. Weber saw the bureaucracy as the favored organizational form, the one that would shape both the modern polity, and economy. In short, Weber felt that the bureaucracy offered the same advantages to the enterprise that assembly-line productive efficiency provided to mechanical production.
Weber also noted, however, that there were limitations and dysfunctions with the bureaucratic form of organization. Indeed, its major advantage, the high probability of predetermined results, also makes it cumbersome and inflexible in dealing with unique individual cases and or changing circumstances. Weber argued that bureaucratization leads to depersonalization, a structural intransigence and a slow response to change which can portend its collapse.
I believe that the following four weaknesses that threaten the viability of any bureaucracy are becoming increasingly evident and significant in the LDS Church in this generation:
Rigid Inflexibility: Strict compliance with rules and regulations discouraging useful initiative and creativity and resulting in a slow reaction to change and a hesitant response to crisis.
Impersonality: An unthinking perfunctory way of doing things being stressed. With organizational rules and regulations being given priority over the individual’s needs, desires or feelings.
Goal Displacement: The tendency for the rules drawn to achieve corporate objectives at every level in the organization becoming an end in themselves.
Isolation at the Top: As the organization grows in complexity, those at the top of the bureaucracy become increasingly out of touch with lower level participants and their issues, fears, and concerns.
I believe that the growth of the Mormon Church is over, at least in the developed world. Members will continue to have children, and, for a time, the Church will continue to grow in the third world where people are more trusting, less skeptical and where the internet and the “alternative” facts it showcases have not yet taken a firm hold.
As well, almost all insightful criticism and commentary on Joseph Smith and the Church’s true historicity is chronicled primarily in the English language.
I believe this is the reason the Church is so aggressively building its secular empire – malls, raw land, TV stations, corporate ownership, and the like, to make up for the certain future downfall in tithing revenues.
The Church takes pride in projecting the public image that it is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. An unknowing media repeats this mantra which is blatantly and demonstrably untrue.
There is a ‘law’ of influence and propaganda that is often referred to as the ‘Law of Conformity.’ It is the bandwagon effect. If you are over thirty years of age, you can no doubt remember the McDonald’s restaurant signs that displayed ’30 Billion Served.’
The law of conformity is the psychological phenomenon where people reference the behavior of others to guide their own behavior. It suggests that people tend to want products and services that they believe are desired or possessed by other people.
It recognizes that we are social animals. We like what other people like. We reject and discard what other people reject and discard. We tend to do what other people do, to follow the crowd.
We perceive behaviors as being more correct in a given situation to the degree that others view them as correct. This ‘law’ extends to what we wear, how fast we drive on the freeway, what we purchase, and yes, what Church we belong to.
This is precisely why the Church projects overly optimistic membership statistics. Mormon demographist David Clark Knowlton in an article entitled, “How Many Members Are There Really?” shows how exaggerated Mormon memberships statistics are:
Members claimed by church (1999) 846,931
Mormons in official gov’t census (2000) 205,229
Phantom or ex-Mormons (difference) 641,702
Percentage of Mexican Mormons
overstated by the LDS Church 76%
Members claimed by church (2001) 520,202
Mormons in official gov’t census (2002) 103,735
Phantom or ex-Mormons (difference) 416,467
Percentage of Chilean Mormons
overstated by the LDS Church 80%
David Clark Knowlton, “How Many Members Are
There Really?”, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon
Thought, 38:2:53-78, Summer 2005)
The Mormon Church is far from being the fastest growing religions in the world.
The truth is that Islam is the world’s fastest-growing faith. The number of Muslims on this planet will leap from 1.8 billion in 2015 to 2.76 billion by 2050. At that time, Muslims will make up nearly one-third of the world’s total projected population of about 9 billion people.
Regarding Christian denominations, the LDS Church’s 1.57% annual growth rate falls far short of many Christian Churches as well:
Church of God in Christ
In 1965, the CoG had 425,000 members. In 2012, the membership was 5,499,875, an increase of 1,194 percent.
Presbyterian Church (in America)
In 1973, the PCA had 41,232 members. In 2013, the membership was 367,033, an increase of 790 percent.
Assemblies of God
In 1965, the AoG had 572,123 members. In 2013, the membership was 3,030,944, an increase of 430 percent.
Southern Baptist Convention
In 1965, the SBC had 10,770,573 members. In 2013, the membership was 15,735,640, an increase of 46 percent.
And these are real, not inflated numbers.
The LDS Church’s own statistics tell the real story. While the Church publishes worldwide membership at 15 million, Cumorah.com reports that less than half of those counted identify themselves as Mormon. Assuming that the number of people who are active would be lower than those who claim to be Mormon, hardly a heroic assumption, the actual functional membership, accounting for record resignations, is more realistically to be roughly 5 million.
The Church’s annual report, presented during General Conference indicate that the LDS Church grew by 261,862 people in 2015, a 1.7% annual increase. In 2016, it is even worse 1.59%. This represents the slowest growth in any year since 1937 (when it was 0.93%).
With a growth rate of a paltry 1.59%, and convert baptisms down by more than 13%, as well as declining member activity rates – roughly 25% for Young Single Adults, it can be argued that the Church is actually in decline.
The chart below shows the Church’s current as well as its projected membership statistics.
Does the fact that the Church is no longer experiencing the phenomenal growth it once did mean that the Mormon Church is not true?
But I think as we witness this new reality we need to ask why the Church is experiencing stagnation?
I had briefly mentioned that one issue may be the deleterious effect of increased bureaucratization with its attendant inflexibility and irresolute response to change.
But also, we have seen a significant growth in secularism. It is almost trite to say that the world’s newest major religion is no religion.
And just as a rising tide lifts all boats, an ebbing tide also lowers them.
However, in the LDS Church’s case, Google and the ubiquitous internet has a much greater impact than it has on other religions.
Because of the singularly astounding claims made by its founder and the fact that the genesis of this peculiar religion is quite recent; well within the grasp and examination of scholars and historians.
Websites such as mormonthink.com, cesletter.org, utim.org, exmormon.org, and reddit.com as well as Richard Packham’s, Dan Vogel’s and Grant Palmer’s sites or blogs such as mormonstories.org, zelphontheshelf.com, and mormoncurtain.org, and now lettertoanapostle.org are just a click away.
Everyone now has their own “Urim and Thummim” right in the palm of their hand. Members and prospects alike can easily access, historically accurate objective, but less sanitized views of Joseph Smith, the Church’s foundational claims as well as past and present doctrines than was possible just a few decades ago.
It is indeed becoming harder to keep secrets in the digital age.
I think it is telling to look at the Google hits for each of the following searches:
I know Mormonism is true – 750,000
I know Mormonism is false – 651,000
Joseph Smith prophet – 496,000
Joseph Smith con man – 6,250,000
President Monson – 673,000
Grant Palmer – 42,800,000
Mormon Apostles – 584,000
MormonThink – 13,000,000
Inspiring LDS Stories – 704,000
CES letter – 19,100,000
Google Search Date: June 6, 2017
It is not hyperbole to say that young people are the future of the Church. According to the 2011 Pew Research Center’s ‘Survey of American Mormons’ 51% of American converts are under the age of 25.
Clearly the Church’s hardline on LGBTQ issues is alienating to a generation that, as a whole, embraces inclusion and diversity. Homosexuality is not nearly as problematic for Millennial Mormons as it was for previous generations.
In this time of Donald Trump and “alternative facts,” it seems to me that the following problems concerning the truth claims of the church need to be addressed in a more direct, honest and comprehensive and less defensive manner than what we have witnessed to date.
Also, unless the goal is plausible deniably, I cannot understand why the Church seems to hide behind, or at least give tacit support to, non-official apologetic sites rather than attempting to answer honestly and directly the legitimate concerns members and non-members alike have with the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and the foundational claims of the Church.
As well, while the recent carefully crafted Church essays, are a good first step, are in my opinion, somewhat inadequate and derisory – not very candid or complete.
In other words, they come a day late and a dollar short.
As for the avowals of the apologists at FairMormon and the Maxwell Institute, while less shrill and un-Christ like than the stuff that used to come out of FARMS, these new iterations now seems to have adopted a tenor of defensiveness and desperate revisionism as they try to explain, rationalize and excuse the more questionable actions of Joseph Smith and the other issues I raise in this missive.
I think that failing a Mormon Reformation or a significant change to the Church’s dominant narrative, the future growth of Mormonism will, in no wise, equal it’s past.
There are a few major impediments to any significant further growth for the Mormon Church.
First, there is no escaping the fact that Mormonism is an American religion. Yet many people outside the United States, people in countries that the Church dearly needs to fuel any future growth, are largely “turned off” by America’s style over substance, celebrity worshiping, materialistic culture so well embodied by Donald Trump.
Second, I think it can be argued that the Church is out of step with the majority of people in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe when it comes to contemporary social issues – women’s rights, the struggle for fairness and equality for LGBTQ people, as well as a host of other less dominant matters – euthanasia, the adjuvant uses of marijuana, etc.
But, the greatest obstacle to the future growth of Mormonism is Joseph Smith himself. Smith’s polygamy and polyandry and his serial lying about it, the unseemly unions with 14-year-old girls, his lengthy ‘rap sheet’ including arrests for money-digging and glass-looking, being a disorderly person, twice for conspiracy to commit murder, threatening a sitting judge, perjury, inciting a riot, bank fraud and twice for treason.
When people discover the real Joseph Smith, warts and all, not the sanitized version that I and the majority of members were taught as a child, it is not a pretty picture. In fact it is very ugly indeed.
Also, as more non-Mormon historians turn their attention to Smith and the actual historicity of his foundation claims, the more difficult it will be for the Church to put a positive spin on his actions, behavior, and most of all, his character.
It may be that ‘not all things that are true, are useful,’ but they are still true and useful or not they will be revealed despite attempts at censure.
Nevertheless, I suspect many, perhaps most, true believing members will continue, at least in the short term, in rather blissful ignorance avoiding exposure to anything that they have been told or taught is not faith promoting.
It is going too far to picture TBMs as latter-day Manchurian Candidates, whose indoctrination has been so efficacious, that they accept uncritically, everything coming out of the mouths of their leaders. But statements such as ‘we should not criticize the ‘brethren’ even when they are wrong,’ or that ‘some things that are true are not very useful,’ gives one pause.
President Uchtdorf, you must ask yourself, do these statements not resonate with a familiar fascistic tenor?
As you are aware, we are seeing a growing number of members, particularly young ones, having the courage, despite any cognitive dissidence they may experience, searching for truth. Prospects, or ‘investigators,’ as the Church likes to call them, are also increasingly finding easy access to the rapidly growing number of online resources challenging the Church’s foundational narrative and truth claims.
While some would suggest that the Church leadership’s lack of transparency is based on the belief that, if its members were to be exposed to the Church’s real historicity they would leave the Church in droves. A more generous view would grant that the imperative is to protect members from unnecessary pain or confusion.
I suspect both are true. The problem is that in the twenty-first century more and more members will nonetheless be exposed to the unvarnished truth, even if it’s just how many wives Joseph Smith had or how the Book of Mormon was actually translated. And at that point they will not just feel confused, they will feel deceived and this is likely to be worse than any difficulty that would have arisen had the Church been more forthright; because it begs the question, “What else aren’t they telling me?
Would it not be better just to rip the Band-Aid© off, and honestly face the legitimate doubts, concerns, and questions people are having with the Church’s truth claims? To do what is right, letting the consequences follow. Even if it means reconstructing the Church’s dominant narrative.
The admission that Joseph Smith was anything but a saint is not necessarily deleterious or a ‘game changer’ for it gives hope to those of us who are also imperfect beings. Just tell us the truth.
One last thing before we get into the meat of this analysis.
There is a view within the Church that we should not question, rather just accept whatever the Church leaders tell us. This view is amply illustrated in the following excerpt from an editorial that appeared in the Church News, “To guess where Zarahemla stood can in no wise add to anyone’s faith. But to raise doubts in people’s minds about the location of the Hill Cumorah, and thus challenge the words of the prophets concerning the place is harmful. And who has the right to raise doubts in anyone’s mind?
Eldon Tanner’s statement, “‘when the prophet speaks, the debate is over,” expresses the same sentiment.
I love my brothers in sisters in the LDS Church and I have struggled with whether or not I should make this letter public.
I do not want to hurt anyone and I realize that any TBM reading this with an open mind, even in the face of astounding cognitive dissonance, will be troubled by what I have and they will discover.
I want you and them to know that I have felt a depressive sadness and sense of loss as I have come to know the real Joseph Smith and the Church’s true early history.
Nevertheless, truth really does matter and I have no agenda beyond a search for it.
As an expression of this and to be entirely fair and even-handed, I have presented the Church’s or at least her apologist’s rebuttals or rationalizations with regard to each of my interrogatives.
Finally, I would like to say that in this study of Joseph Smith and the Mormon narrative I did not discover anything that assailed my faith in or love for our Savior and I want to tell you that whether the Mormon Church is true or it is not true the Lord Jesus Christ lives.
It is in His name that I ask you, President Uchtdorf and your brethren to humble yourselves and provide the long-overdue full-throated response to each of the issues I raise below; deep concerns that many of the men and women that you purport to serve struggle with: