A Letter to an Apostle:
A Cry in the Canadian Wilderness
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 respect for you and the compassionate and honest approach you have taken to those experiencing doubts.
I am a lifetime member of the Church, father of five, a high priest and married in the Salt Lake Temple.
My family emigrated from Ireland to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada when I was five. The Edmonton branch then had N. Eldon Tanner as its President.
As a student and teacher of organizational behavior, particularly bureaucracies for over forty years, it is clear to me that the LDS Church is heading into rough waters. 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 twenty years after Joseph Smith’s death. He 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 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. 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. Its primary advantage, the high probability of predetermined results, also makes it cumbersome and inflexible in dealing with specific or 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 the following four weaknesses that threaten the viability of any bureaucracy are becoming more pronounced in the LDS Church in this generation:
Rigid Inflexibility:A strict compliance with rules and regulations to the degree of 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. A Letter to an Apostle
Isolation at the Top:As the organization grows in complexity, those at the top become increasingly out of touch with lower level participants and their issues, fears, and concerns.
The growth of the Mormon Church is over.
Yes, members will continue to have children although at much lower rates than in the past, and for a time, the Church will continue to grow in the third world, mostly in Latin America and West Africa, where people are more naïvelyinnocent, less well educated and where the Internet and the “alternative” facts it showcases have not yet taken as firm a hold as it has in the Western democracies and Eastern Europe.
But even in those ‘hot spots,‘ retention rates are very low. Some have reported in the single digits.
As well, at the present time, 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 Mormon Church has wisely taken a page out of Scientology’s playbook, aggressively building its secular empire – malls, raw land, TV stations, corporate ownership and the like, in anticipation of the certain future downturn 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 ignorant and lazy media repeat this mantra which is blatantly and demonstrably untrue.
There is a principle 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 when every McDonald’s restaurant sign in the world displayed ’30 Billion Served.’
The law of conformity or social proof is the psychological phenomenon where people reference the behaviors of others to guide their own behaviors.
It recognizes that we are social animals. We like what others 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 buy, and yes, what Church we belong to.
This is why the Mormon Church projects wildly overly optimistic membership statistics. Mormon demographer David Clark Knowlton in an article entitled, “How Many Members Are There Really?” shows how exaggerated Mormon memberships statistics are:
Members claimed by the 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 the 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 religion in the world today, nor has it ever been.
Islam is far and away the world’s fastest-growing faith. The number of Muslims on this planet will leap from 1.9 billion in 2018 to 2.76 billion by 2050. At that time, Muslims will make up one-third of the world’s total projected population of about 9 billion people.
Even if we compare Mormonism to more traditional Christian denominations, The LDS growth rate of 1.48% stacks up poorly against that of a great many others.
The 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.
The Presbyterian Church (in America)
In 1973, the PCA had 41,232 members. In 2013, the membership was 367,033, an increase of 790 percent.
The Assemblies of God
In 1965, the AoG had 572,123 members. In 2013, the membership was 3,030,944, an increase of 430 percent.
The 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.
As well, the LDS church counts membership differently than Christian churches. In most churches, members are asked to vote on various matters and so, unlike the Mormon church, these churches do not want to waste their time and resources reaching out to those who no longer have any interest in their churches.
This is not the way the Mormons count. The LDS church is anything but a democracy. Members have no say whatsoever as to what goes on in their church. The closest they ever come to having a say is a perfunctory and untabulated ‘uplifted hand’ in a sacrament meeting or at ‘general conference.’
Once someone joins the Mormon church, even if they just attend one meeting never to return, they are counted on the church’s membership rolls for the rest of their life!
The LDS church’s own statistics tell the real story. While the church publishes worldwide membership numbers at about 15 million, Cumorah.com reports that less than half of those the church counts identify themselves as Mormon. Assuming that the number of active members is lower than those who would claim to be Mormon, hardly a heroic assumption, the actual functional membership, even ignoring record resignations, is more realistically to be around 5 million men, women and children.
The church also adds to their member numbers what they call, ‘children of record,’ boys and girls 0 – 7 years-of-age who have not yet been baptised and are therefore not actual members of the church.
The church’s annual report, presented during General Conference show that the LDS church grew by 261,862 people in 2015, a 1.7% annual increase. In 2016, it was even worse 1.58% and in 2017 even worse again 1.48%. This is the slowest growth in any year since 1937 (when it was 0.93%).
Members are also having fewer children as the follow shows:
New children of record during 2017……… 106,771
New children of record during 2016……… 109,246
New children of record during 2015 ……. 114,550
New children of record during 2014……… 116,409
2017 Statistical Report for 2018 April Conference
With a growth rate of a paltry 1.48%, convert baptisms down each year, and declining member activity rates – 25% for young single adults, it can be argued that the Mormon church is actually in decline.
There are also many people officially resigning from the church, probably record numbers, but this is a statistic the church refuses to publish.
The chart below shows the church’s current and its projected membership statistics.
Active membership in the church which, as this chart shows is less than 5 million will be virtually the same in 2060.
Does the fact that the church is no longer experiencing the healthy growth it once did mean somehow that the Mormon church is not true?
Absolutely not. But it says something about the church’s truthfulness.
I think as we witness this new reality we need to ask why the church is experiencing stagnation?
I had mentioned that one issue that may have a deleterious effect is increased bureaucratization with its attendant inflexibility, irresolute response to change and impersonality
It is certainly anecdotal but I have heard people say that the church seems to lack the vitality it once did. That it feels more like an ‘organization’ and less like a church that it did in the 1950s and 1960s.
As well as possible increased feelings of impersonalization, we have also seen a significant growth in secularism generally.
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. But, in the LDS church’s case, Google and the ubiquitous Internet has had and continues to have a much greater impact on Mormonism than it has on other religions with the possible exception of Scientology. The Internet is to Mormonism what the King James Bible was to Catholicism.
Because of the 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, exmormon.org, utim.org, reddit.com and Richard Packham’s, Dan Vogel’s and Grant Palmer’s sites as well as numerous 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 investigators alike can now access historically accurate, uncorrelated less sanitized views of Joseph Smith and the Mormon church’s foundational claims and 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
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 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.
The church’s hard-line on LGBTQ issues is alienating to a generation that, as a whole, embraces inclusion and diversity. Homosexuality is not as problematic for Millennial Mormons as it was for earlier generations.
In this time of Donald Trump and “alternative facts,” the following problems about the truth claims of the church need to be addressed in a more direct, honest, comprehensive and less defensive way.
Also, unless the goal is plausible deniability, I cannot understand why the church hides itself behind, or at least gives tacit support to, nonofficial apologetic sites. Why do they not answer honestly and directly the legitimate concerns members and non-members have with the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and the foundational claims of the church?
While the recent carefully crafted church essays are a good first step, they are inadequate, evasive and derisory – they are neither candid nor complete – rather a day late and a dollar short.
As for the avowals of the apologists at FairMormon, while less shrill and un-Christ like than the stuff that used to come out of FARMS, this new generation of apologists seem to have adopted a tenor of desperate revisionism.
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 its past.
But please, I am not suggesting that the LDS church will soon disappear. I think anyone who thinks it will just doesn’t know either history or bureaucracies.
And studies such as the 2016 Next Mormons Survey (NMS) show that chapel going Mormons still have a high level of belief.
NMS questioned American Mormons about the level of their belief in Mormonism – its doctrines and practices. They asked members the question, ‘Which statement comes closest to your own views—even if none is exactly right?’
a) I believe wholeheartedly in all of the teachings of the LDS church. (49.1%)
b) I believe many or most of the teachings of the LDS church. (33.9)
c) Some of the teachings of the LDS church are hard for me to believe. (12.2%)
d) Many or most of the teachings of the LDS church are hard for me to believe. (31%)
e) I do not believe in the teachings of the LDS church. (1.8%)
The numbers in parentheses indicate how people responded. Over 80% of those asked said they believed in all, many or most of the teachings of the LDS church.
But there are a few significant impediments to any significant further growth of the Mormon church.
First, we cannot escape the fact that Mormonism is and always has been an American religion. People outside the United States in countries that the church needs to fuel future growth are often “turned off” by American exceptionalism, and the ‘style over substance,’ celebrity worshiping, materialistic culture so well embodied by Donald Trump as well as the prosperity Gospel the ‘Brethren’ have been known to preach to bolster tithing receipts.
The principles and tactics of ‘salesmanship’ that worked so well in David O. McKay’s 1950s America are, if not offensive, somewhat irrelevant in the third world today.
Second, the church is out of step with most people in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe when it comes to contemporary social issues. A women’s right to make choices relating to her own body, the struggle for fairness and equality for LGBTQ people, and a host of other less dominant matters – euthanasia, the adjuvant uses of marijuana, etc.
But, the greatest obstacle to the future growth of Mormonism may be Joseph Smith himself. Smith’s polygamy and polyandry and his ceaseless lying about these matters to not just to his associates and followers but to his own wife.
More members are becoming aware of his sexual unions with many teenage girls, some as young as 14-years-of-age. This is hard for decent people to accept. Likewise, his lengthy ‘rap sheet’ including arrests for glass-looking, money-digging, being a disorderly person, threatening a sitting judge, perjury, inciting a riot, bank fraud and twice for both conspiracy to commit murder and treason.
When people discover the real Joseph Smith, warts and all, not the sanitized fiction the church has constructed, the version that I and most members were taught as children; it is not a pretty picture. In fact, it is very ugly indeed.
Also, as more non-Mormon historians turn their attention to Joseph 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.
Maybe ‘not all things that are true, are useful,’as Dallin Oaks would have you believe, but they are still true and useful or not they will be revealed despite relentless attempts at censure and coverup.
I suspect many, perhaps most, true believing members, particularly those over forty, will continue, to do what they have been taught and avoid exposure to anything that is not, ‘faith promoting.’ To these Mormonism is something you do rather than something you believe.
It is going too far to picture most Mormons as latter-day Manchurian Candidates, naïve souls 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 ‘once the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over,’gives one pause.
Surely president Uchtdorf, youmust ask yourself, do these statements not resonate with a familiar fascistic tenor?
But 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 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 history they would leave the Mormon church in droves. A more generous view would grant that the imperative is to protect members, particularly older ones, from unnecessary pain and confusion.
I suspect both are true. The problem is that in the twenty-first century members will nonetheless be exposed to the unvarnished truth. It might just be how many wives Joseph Smith really had or his ‘head in the hat’ means of translation.
But 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 fundamental truth claims? To do what is right, letting the consequences follow, even if it means a reconstruction of the church’s dominant narrative.
After all the admission that Joseph Smith was anything but a saint is not necessarily a ‘deal breaker.’ If anything it gives hope to those of us who are also very imperfect beings.
One last thing however before we get into the meat of this analysis.
There is a view within the church that we should not question, but rather just accept whatever the church leaders tell us. This view is well illustrated in the following excerpt from an editorial that appeared in the Church News reporting the Church Conference of April 7th, 1895, Wilford Woodruff stood up and said with annoyance:
“Cease troubling yourselves about who God is, who Adam is, who Christ is, who Jehovah is, for heaven’s sake, let these things alone.”
He was essentially saying, ‘Damn you, just believe what I tell you!’
I liked Eldon Tanner, he was my Branch President way back, but I cannot accept his statement that: “…when the prophet speaks, the debate is over,” any more than I would accept, “…when the Führer speaks, the debate is over,”
Why have I gone to the trouble of studying, researching and writing this? Why not just walk away?
It’s complicated, but let me try to answer that question with a parable.
A man is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. After the initial shock of the bad news, he searches for the best cancer clinic, the hospital where he can get the best treatment available. After an exhaustive investigation, he settles on a facility that others have testified to as being highly effective, even though it is very expensive.
This hapless soul sells all he has and travels to this far distant clinic.
But after a time, as his fortune is depleted and his condition deteriorates even further he learns that the clinic is a fraud. He discovers that the chemotherapy and medications that have been administered to him were nothing but worthless placebos – sugar pills. His radiation treatment were revealed to amount to a ‘doctor’ shining a laser pointer on his body.
What should this poor man do? Should he pack his bag and quietly walk away?
What would you do?
I am guessing you would cause a stir; you might go to the press or the law, you would do your best to warn others of this outrageous deception and fraud.
I understand that when someone questions long-held beliefs the first response is likely to be anger; but please believe me when I tell you, I am not trying to hurt anyone.
I am simply trying to provide the facts and evidence that some may be unaware of. Information that can empower and enable them to make more informed decisions about the truth claims of the Mormon church.
Finally on a personal note, I would like to tell you in my extensive examination of Joseph Smith and the Mormon narrative, while I found many disturbing things which you will soon also discover, I did not uncover anything that assailed my faith in, nor my love for, the Savior.
Whether the Mormon church is true or it is not true, the Lord Jesus Christ lives.
So, president Uchtdorf, let me make one final plea to you in particular and to your brethren in general to help those of us honestly searching for answers.
As faithful Latter-day Saints, we believe there is no higher authority on earth than you and your colleagues. Indeed you purport to speak in behalf of the almighty. You know, I know and soon more and more members will come know that there are disquieting questions regarding the truth claims of the Mormon church and the Joseph Smith narrative. It is time that you and your brethren provide honest full-throated responses to each of the questions I raise in the chapters that follow.