In the wise words of Nelson Mandela, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” For almost 200 years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church) has enjoyed the comfortable place of generational growth of LDS Church membership where young people grow up to be the “strong, faithful, and devoted” Bishops, Elders Quorum Presidents, Relief Society Presidents, Primary teachers, and Mission Presidents. Paralleling the growth and expansion of the church has been the growth and expansion of science and worldwide communication and the ability to easily disseminate information–leading to the growing pains that we now see within the church and its future leaders.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long been known for its conservative stance on many social issues, rooted in strong traditions and hierarchical leadership. While these attributes have historically been a source of strength, they are also contributing to a growing concern about the Church’s ability to retain and inspire its future leaders.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of talking with Dr. Greg Prince, scientist, church scholar, and author of many books, including his latest Gay Rights and the Mormon Church: Intended Actions, Unintended Consequences. One of the topics we discussed in depth was how the LDS Church might be losing its future leaders. We were able to break it down into three reasons why the LDS Church (the Church) is at risk of losing future leaders, and I want to share those with you for the remainder of this article.

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3 Reasons the Church is at Risk of Losing Future Leaders

1. Disconnect Between Leadership and Younger Generations

In today’s rapidly evolving world, there seems to be a growing disconnect between the aging leadership of the General Authorities of the LDS Church and the values of younger generations, especially concerning issues like LGBTQ+ rights.

Many young individuals within the LDS Church community are increasingly advocating for a more inclusive and equitable approach, particularly regarding LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality. This perspective often contrasts with the more traditional views of the Church’s older leadership. These young members are seeking a faith environment that aligns with broader societal shifts toward acceptance and diversity.

Traditional Doctrines and Moral Landscapes

As they navigate their spiritual journey, they are looking for leadership that not only acknowledges but also embraces these changing social values. This clash of ideologies is not just about differing opinions; it’s about a fundamental shift in how younger generations view equality and human rights within their religious experience. This growing discord highlights the challenge the Church faces in bridging the gap between preserving traditional doctrines and adapting to the evolving moral and social landscape.

The fascinating observations made by individuals such as Dr. Greg Prince include insights into the marked decline in baptisms and an increase in the number of young members departing from the LDS Church, underscoring a significant issue. These trends suggest that the disparity in values between the Church’s leadership and its younger members is not just a matter of differing opinions but is having a tangible impact on Church membership and engagement.

The decline in baptisms can be seen as a direct indicator of the Church’s diminishing appeal to potential new members, particularly among younger generations who often prioritize inclusivity and progressive values. This decrease might reflect a broader perception that the Church’s doctrines and practices are not in harmony with the more liberal social attitudes prevalent among young people today.

Modern Day Exodus

Similarly, the rising number of young members leaving the Church points to a deeper sense of alienation and discontent. This exodus is not merely about doctrinal disagreements but is also rooted in a feeling of disconnect with an institution perceived as not evolving or responsive to contemporary social issues. Young members seeking a faith that resonates with their understanding of equality and social justice may feel compelled to look elsewhere when they find these values in conflict with the Church’s stance.

In essence, these observations indicate a critical crossroads for the Church. Adapting to the changing values of its younger members while maintaining its core doctrines presents a complex challenge, one that has significant implications for the future composition and character of its membership.

2. Lack of Diverse Voices in Church Leadership

The hierarchical structure of the LDS Church is characterized by decision-making processes that are centralized within a small, often homogeneous group of leaders. This structure typically involves a top-down approach, where authority and guidance flow from the higher echelons of the Church down to the local congregations.

At the top of this hierarchy are the General Authorities, including the President of the Church, his counselors, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These positions are typically held by older men who come from similar backgrounds, both in terms of their long-standing involvement in the Church and often in terms of cultural and life experiences. This homogeneity can lead to a uniformity of perspectives and approaches in decision-making.

Homogenous Leaders and Narrow-Lived Experiences

The impact of this structure is significant in terms of how the Church responds to and addresses various issues, including social and moral questions that arise in an ever-changing world. Decisions made by this small, homogeneous group can sometimes reflect their collective experiences and understandings, which may not always align with the diverse perspectives and experiences of the broader Church membership, especially among younger generations or those from different cultural backgrounds.

This system can also mean that changes in Church policies or doctrines tend to be incremental and carefully considered, adhering closely to the established beliefs and traditions of the Church. While this can provide a sense of stability and continuity, it also poses challenges in rapidly adapting to societal changes or in adequately addressing the varied needs and concerns of a global and diverse membership.

In essence, the hierarchical structure of the LDS Church, with its decision-making concentrated among a small group of leaders, plays a pivotal role in shaping the Church’s direction, policies, and its ability to respond to the evolving landscape of its members’ beliefs and societal values.

Bringing People of Color into the Quorum of the Twelve

The issue of diversity within the leadership of the LDS Church, particularly in terms of race and global representation, is a topic that has garnered attention and discussion. This conversation has notably included the possibility of appointing a man of color to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a significant governing body of the Church.

Historically, the leadership of the LDS Church, especially in its highest echelons like the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has predominantly consisted of white men, most of whom are from the United States. This lack of racial and ethnic diversity has raised questions about the Church’s representation of its global membership, which is increasingly diverse. The LDS Church has a significant and growing presence in regions outside of the United States, including Latin America, Africa, and Asia, where the demographics of the membership vary greatly from those of the Church’s leadership.

Incorporating leaders from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, particularly in high-ranking positions like the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is seen by some as a step towards reflecting the Church’s international membership. It’s thought that such a move could bring varied cultural perspectives and experiences into the Church’s decision-making processes, enhancing its ability to cater to a diverse global community.

The Importance of True Representation

The discussion around including a man of color in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is not just about symbolic representation. It also encompasses broader issues of how different cultural and racial experiences can inform and guide the Church’s policies, teachings, and outreach efforts. Leaders from diverse backgrounds could provide invaluable insights into the unique challenges and perspectives of members from underrepresented groups, leading to more inclusive and effective ministry and policies.

This conversation underscores a growing recognition within the Church of the need to bridge the gap between its leadership and its diverse global membership. Addressing this lack of diversity, especially in its higher levels of governance, could help the LDS Church to become more attuned to the varied experiences and needs of its members worldwide.

3. Unwillingness to Compromise on Modern Social Issues

The Church has been criticized for its slow response to social changes, including civil rights for black members and support for same-sex marriage. During my discussions with Dr. Greg Prince, I have realized that he so skillfully brings much-needed attention to the complex history of the LDS Church’s stance on racial equality and LGBTQ+ rights. The intransigence, or refusal to change one’s behavior, on such social issues could be costing the Church some of its most empathetic and progressive members who find themselves morally at odds with Church policies.

What are Your Thoughts?

The beauty of the way that Dr. Greg Prince has approached these issues, and the way that we at Latter Day Struggles approach issues, is that it is rooted in sound scientific principles given to us by a loving Father in Heaven. The discomfort is found in the “in-between, “and the “messy middle” of deciding how to go from struggle to solution. Retaining future leaders in the LDS Church may require addressing the generational disconnect, embracing diversity in leadership, and adapting to modern-day social issues. As ‘Latter Day Struggles’ continues to explore these challenges, the Church faces tough decisions that will shape its path forward.

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