I'm mostly pleased with the changes announced yesterday -- though the absence of women was palpable. photocourtesy of Shutterstock

I’m mostly pleased with the changes announced yesterday — though the absence of women was palpable. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Yesterday in a historic broadcast, LDS leaders encouraged missionaries and members around the world to employ new methods toward the age-old end of preaching the gospel. Think social media.

The overall vibe of the event was upbeat, featuring the good-natured bonhomie of Elder Jeffery R. Holland and the church’s palpable excitement about having more than 70,000 missionaries in the field.

Three brief observations:

1) Mormon missions are going digital.

The broadcast’s opening sequence showed high-tech young missionaries with major handheld gadgetrocity. Apparently LDS missionaries are going to use computers at the church to keep in touch with interested investigators (what Mormons call potential converts who have expressed an interest in learning more about the faith). I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this includes Facebook, blogs, and emails as well as the church’s outreach website, Mormon.org. In short, flannelboard lessons are history.

This is a welcome change, and one the Church has been experimenting with since 2010. Cold calling and tracting are notoriously ineffective strategies, and let’s face it: church members are often wet noodles when it comes to helping the missionaries with referrals and introductions. (I am among the wettest of noodles in this regard.) These days, friendships are often initiated online. Potential converts may feel more comfortable asking hard questions without an earnest duo of missionaries trying to get a foot in the door of their living room. I hope also that online communications will enable the missionaries themselves to be more open and human. It’s mutual transparency and vulnerability that spark authentic relationships, not perfection.

2) LDS ward chapels are going to be opened up for weekday tours.

I think this is terrific news. I have long lamented the inhospitality of our closed chapels, especially when compared to the marvelous weekday openness of some other churches. For example, I occasionally take advantage of the free wifi, drinks, and comfy chairs that are available at the Crossroads church in my neighborhood. I bring my laptop with me and enjoy the atmosphere, sometimes chatting with neighbors or acquaintances I might see. It’s a great service to the community.

In Mormonism, because we have no full-time clergy or administrative staff at the local level, that kind of hospitality is virtually impossible. And while I don’t see laidback coffeehouses in our future –- especially since we’d be drinking Postum, blech -– I do think that demystifying Mormon chapels is a step in the right direction. We are too closed off.

3) The event was a mixed bag for women.

On the one hand, I feel that there was a concerted effort in some parts of the broadcast to show women’s involvement at the local level. Elder Anderson’s video montage showed women converts telling their stories, women speaking up in ward councils, and sister missionaries hard at work. We saw a girl learning to conduct music and dads teaching their sons to cook and do laundry—positive signs of progressive gender roles, I thought. Someone at HQ is definitely making an effort.

On the other hand, the broadcast highlighted the deep discrepancy between women’s grassroots involvement at the ward level and their near-total absence at the top. Three women sat on stage with more than a dozen men, but apart from a brief closing prayer given by a woman, all of the talks were delivered by men. How is that obvious imbalance going to inspire the thousands of young new sister missionaries now entering the field?

During Elder Nelson’s video interview with Sister Marriott, she started out sharing her conversion story but then answered his questions in a kind of awkwardly guided self-introduction. It was clearly well-intentioned but also patronizing; let the woman speak for herself. Elder Nelson’s question about women “balancing” their roles as wives, mothers, and church members doesn’t even mention the reality that most LDS women are also trying to balance work outside the home. And President Packer’s later homage to the teaching of mothers just felt condescending.

In fact, the only clear example I saw of a man and woman working together as complete equals onstage was a quick glimpse of two organists performing a four-hand piece.

Here’s hoping that such perfect concert between men and women lives in Mormonism’s future. For now, the greater signs of openness to the world we saw in yesterday’s announced changes are certainly things to cheer about.

18 Comments

  1. I would guess that if an educated couple, well employed, with 3 boys, 20, 18 and 12 (the last being adopted) showed up at the Wardhouse, having taken up you all up on the ‘Visitors Welcome’ signage in front of the chapel, that the missionaries would fairly salivate. However, since in my case, both members of this couple are men, the reaction would be completely different.

    The ‘Visitor’s Welcome’ sign needs to be updated and to be honest, and must include a fairly long list of those who are not welcome. I personally got the message a long time ago.

    • Glad you did! Free agency is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? Glad you’re very happy and content with your lifestyle and I’m happy for you. Also nice to know you and your partner/wife/spouse/husband? or whatever are parenting 3 boys including one adopted. But I’m just curious though, which one of you gave birth to the other two? I swear strange things are happening in the world, aren’t they?

  2. mormonengineer

    It will be interesting how this gender role will play out. I will follow the Prophet and take the hits from the world and critics. I don’t know much, but I do know that I feel safe in supporting the leaders and have faith that things will come to light as I do that.

  3. returnedmissionary

    How many tens of thousands of missionaries have been chastised for lack of faith or insufficient obedience when their door-to-door efforts came up empty? Last week “tracting” was taught by mission presidents as the Lord’s way of finding people to teach. I am saddened that the Church never admits when its wrong.

    • Dwight Rogers

      When I went on a mission in 1978 I was taught by the Church and by my mission president that tracting was not the most effective way to find people and that working with members and other ways of contacting people were better. So, I don’t think that mission presidents were teaching up until last week that tracting was the best way.

      I am glad that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still lead by Jesus through revelation to prophets. That way, the Lord can direct when He wants policy and practice changes

      The history of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, is one of ongoing revelations to prophets and Apostles. God directed His work and some things were changed over time according to God’s will.

      Noah (but no other prophet) was to build an Ark (Genesis 6:14)

      Moses implemented the Passover, which was hitherto unknown (Exodus 3:12-28)

      Jesus revoked the celebration of Passover, and modified the ordinance and its performance at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19)

      Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute as a sign to Israel (Hosea 1-3)

      The Law of Moses was given and then Christ said we didn’t have to live it anymore (Acts 13:39, Heb 7:19, Gal. 3:24).

      Christ allowed only Jews into Christianity (Matthew 10:5-6) but changed his mind later (Acts 10) by revelation to Peter.

      Gospel taken Only to Jew – Later to Gentiles
      Jesus commanded that the gospel be taken only to the Jews. (Matthew 10:5-6) Later God revealed to Peter that the time had come to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10) This came by revelation to the man who was the prophet at the time – Peter. It does not come by the will or reasoning of men. This shows that God has his purposes and his time table. It is not revealed why the gospel was denied to the gentiles at first but it was God’s will that it be so.

      Clearly, God does change some of the things he requires of his people over time. He did so throughout the Bible and it was always done through a prophet or Apostle of God.

  4. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, isn’t it? The “progressive” changes you cite in point #3 just won’t be good enough without more women on the stand? What you apparently fail to realize is that true inspiration comes not from gender role models but from the Lord, and most LDS women and girls are gratefully aware of that.

    The recent announcement lowering the age for missionary service generated as great a response by young women as young men, and the gender of our leaders was irrelevant. In my youth I helped bring down gender barriers in employment, not as a crusader but just by being in the right place at the right time. There is a huge difference between the perceptions and motives of the world vs. an in-depth understanding of the Restored Gospel.

    • Jana Riess

      Good questions. If the details have been announced yet, I have not heard.

      A quick note: I’ve had to delete a couple of name-calling comments from this post (one from a rude Mormon, one from a rude ex-Mormon). Folks, it’s not OK to call one another deluded, to tell other people to get a life, or to insult the character of total strangers. Feel free to comment on the substance of people’s ideas, and to disagree — even vehemently — but I draw the line at personal attack.

      • Jana- You know they stopped making Postum like 5 years ago right? :*( That really saddened me, I drank it often.

        For me, as I was sitting through the broadcast, I couldn’t help but think that the burden is falling on the members as well. Even if the full time missionaries can bring in new members totally without the help of members, we, as members, must be committed to helping retain these people. That was touched on briefly during the broadcast. My thought, even if the missionaries baptize and confirm 100 people per ward all over the world before the end of the year (impossibly high, but you get the idea), yet at the end of another 12 months, none of them are still coming to church, has there really been growth? We as members have to be better at fellowshipping new members.

  5. My comment is in part a response to SD and in part a response to Jana’s post. SD, your view of the role of inspiration and gender differences is close to mine. I am very traditional. As evidence that my views are traditional, I have added my blog address. I like reading Jana’s blog because her thought processes mirror those of members of the university ward were I matured intellectually. At first, I was shocked by criticism of Church leaders, including Joseph, that some made. Some were feminists, few supported the ban on blacks holding the Priesthood, but over time, the service they gave and the loving testimonies of those same leaders convinced me that they were academics. They will always find fault and test hypotheses. Jana, intrigued by your comment about transparency and vulnerability, not perfection that builds relationships. Was Jesus, the person to reach perfection, transparent and vulnerable?

    • Jana Riess

      Great question about Jesus. Absolutely, yes. He was born in a trough, got angry in the temple, wept at the death of a friend, became terribly frustrated with his disciples, asked God to remove his suffering, and made himself powerless in the Garden and on the cross. I thank God for Jesus’ full humanity and vulnerability.

      I meet many people in my work who have no idea how to approach God as Father, and who keenly feel God’s judgment . . . but can relate to the human Jesus.

  6. I’m not LDS and live in the midwest where LDS members are few and far between. I have a very good friend who is a Provo Mormon and we have discussed the idea that to de-mystify the LDS church they need to have a worship service on TV stations across the country on Sunday mornings like other denominations do. Like it or not people outside of Utah think Mormons are secretive and have strange worship practices.

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