There’s nothing like trying to solve a problem with more of the problem.
Let’s imagine you are 22. You love your newly acquired adulthood and all that that promises…freedom of choice to select your own friends, coordinate your own spare time activities, develop your own schedule, support yourself financially, select your own life path… As part of that process, you find yourself less engaged in the religion of your parents. Indeed you become less engaged in religion than your parents are. That may mean you don’t attend at all. It may mean you lessen the ties by only attending occasionally or by pushing the envelope on some of the religious rules and entanglements.
Now, let’s say you are the religious leader trying to spiritually guide these young adults. Do you modify your own approach so that it speaks to their unique place in life? Or, do you give the religious framework itself more structure in an attempt to strong-arm the young adults into compliance?
True to its name, the Mormon church chooses the latter.
Another article in the Salt Lake Tribune highlights how out of touch Mormon leaders can be when it comes to church activity and spiritual questioning. They just announced a restructuring of student wards in Salt Lake City in an attempt to re-capture all the young adult Mormons in that region who just don’t participate.
Preaching to the choir, Elder Ballard boasted the following:
“We hope you’ve got the message: You have no option to bounce around,” he said, referring to a common practice dubbed ward-hopping in which young Mormons shop around for congregations they like. “We know where you are. We’ve got our radar focused on you.”
That’s right, at a time in these young people’s lives when freedom matters most the LDS leaders are going to make sure that within Mormonism, the young adults don’t exercise any.
To a non Mormon this sort of behavior is exactly the stuff that makes them seem cult-like and fundamental to the core. Instead of saying, “Here’s how we will accommodate you at this special time in your life,” they are saying, “Here’s what we’ve done to make sure that you accommodate to our need to keep an eye on you.”
Apparently they’ve already tested their plan successfully in another area. But I can’t imagine that long-term spiritual success is the outcome in such a plan. There’s nothing meaty about the proposal. Just like the frequent changing of ward boundaries and merging of missions, it all seems to be just an administrator’s loved busywork.
To everyone else it just seems like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
I’m not one of those ex-Mormons who thinks the Mormon religion is on the verge of collapse any time soon, so my reference to the Titanic is only metaphorical. Mormonism certainly isn’t growing like it did in the 80’s. I just see it treading water, making no significant splash with silly inane attempts like this to save itself.
The only people who really care are the “choir” I spoke of earlier. These are the individuals who were at this meeting, who weren’t in danger of ever going inactive or leaving. They’ll go home and feel like their leaders are inspired because they did SOMETHING, anything. But when they’re the ones who end up having to go out and wrangle all the strays back in, then they’ll be less enthused.
The weakness of a cookie-cutter approach isn’t fixed by creating a stronger cookie mold. The answer lies in changing the recipe of the cookie.