Race, class, and retention

June 19, 2006 | 99 comments
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As a missionary, I was constantly admonished to ensure that our potential converts were spiritually, and not just socially converted. The idea was that people were getting baptized because they were buddies with the missionaries, or because their girlfriend wanted them to, or (in some cynical comments) because they liked the church’s welfare program. The assumption was that social conversion was neither very difficult nor very important, and the worry was that people did not have deep enough spiritual roots when they joined the church.

A decade later, and especially as a member of a ward where a lot of missionary work is done (and lots more could be done), I find myself rethinking the mantra that was pounded in my head while I was pounding the pavement. Of course, I still believe that a deep spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the restored gospel is the single most important factor in whether or not someone should join the church. But nowadays I’m more inclined to think that spiritual conversion comes quicker and (dare I say) easier than does social conversion.

This is purely anecdotal, but in my personal interactions with them I have found that among the roughly two dozen people who have been baptized in my ward over the past 2-3 years, virtually all of them have had significant spiritual experiences. Most of them bear testimony that they know or feel that the church is true, that Joseph Smith and Gordon Hinckley are prophets, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, etc. They may not fully comprehend what all that means or be able to articulate any of it in a nuanced way, but they have felt the Spirit’s witness of truth, and they have accepted it as authentic and personal. They generally feel the Spirit when the read the Book of Mormon, meet with the missionaries, and come to church. And then they go inactive–some within weeks of their baptism, others within months. But in at least 75% of the cases, we don’t see them at church anymore.

I don’t think it’s the missionaries’ fault. They’re not baptizing people they met yesterday. I don’t think it’s the ward mission’s fault, as we’ve had good ward mission leaders and good ward missionaries. I don’t think it’s the ward’s fault, as we have an excellent bishop who genuinely loves and cares about the new converts, and we have scores of members who have made personal sacrifices in giving people rides, going on exchanges with the missionaries, inviting investigators and new converts into their homes, etc. None of us are perfect, but I believe we’re all trying hard, and none of us want the new members to get baptized and then never come back.

Retention is a huge issue around the church, and one that the General Authorities, and Pres. Hinckley in particular, have been hounding us about (in a good way) for several years. And it is probably slightly different in every ward and stake. But in my limited experience I have found that the most serious obstacles in retaining new converts are not spiritual, but rather social and cultural. In particular, I find race and class to be the most serious stumblingblocks to making and keeping large numbers of converts.

The LDS church is an American, white, middle-class church. Of course I believe that its message and aspirations are universal, but on the ground its origins, demographics, values, and organizational structure are solidly rooted in the white American middle class, particularly as it was formulated from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, with emphases (and we could certainly list others) on thrift, decorum, kindness, hard work, patriotism and/or civic pride, respect for authority, and most of all the Victorian family model. (I should say that I am not making a criticism here, simply an observation — I certainly prefer all these things to their opposites.)

Most of our converts, at least in my ward, are either non-white or poor (or both). In my seven years in the ward, we have never baptized a middle- or upper-class family, white or non-white (there was one in the next ward over who went inactive and then moved into our ward). As I said, most of these people are earnest seekers of truth and/or the good life, who have felt the goodness in the gospel and the witness of the Spirit. They are spiritually converted, or at least have had the seeds planted and beginning to grow and bear fruit. But when they come to church, they don’t find anyone who is really like them, and they often feel the active (white middle-class English-speaking) members of the ward don’t fully understand them, and vice versa.

There are deep cultural divides between whites, Hispanics, and blacks, and (I believe) even deeper disconnects between members of the lower classes and members of the middle and upper-middle classes. Most of the new converts don’t have cars, and so require rides to church. Many of them have unstable and unpredictable lives, and aren’t used to getting up for 9:00 church, and so they often aren’t there or not ready when people come to pick them up, creating frustration and ultimately some resentment. When they do come to church, they often feel out of place because their clothing is not as nice as most members’. There is a serious social chasm between them and most active members — what does a black single mother in public housing have in common with a PhD student in philosophy, or a medical resident, or a middle-aged businessman? Many of the new converts live in neighborhoods where the sisters in the ward understandably do not want to go or take their children, especially alone or in the evenings. When African American converts come, they see a sea of white faces–we have a fairly diverse ward by Mormon standards (we actually have African American members!), but when you come from an all-black neighborhood and an all-black church it can be intimidating. One of our biggest problems is that when people join the church and start to better their lives, they go out and get jobs (as we encourage them), but they are often limited to low-wage entry-level positions in retail, food, janitorial, or housekeeping, which requires them to work on Sunday.

These people have felt the Spirit. They have made covenants. They want to be part of the kingdom of God. They are our brothers and sisters, both as children of God and as disciples of Christ. We want them to be among us, and to stay among us. How do we make it happen?

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99 Responses to Race, class, and retention

  1. Kevin Barney on June 19, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    I too am a big believer in the importance of social assimilation into the fabric of the ward. That is one of those things I wish I had understood better as a missionary. If I had it to do over again, I would spend much more effort arranging informal barbecues or dinners where several families could get together, including the investigator family, and just have a nice social experience together without formal lessons. They need to have actual friends there other than the transient missionaries.

    But the problems of race and class you mention make this a much harder problem than that. Once you get a critical mass of diversity the problem would probably be ameliorated to a great degree, but the trick is achieving that critical mass in the first place.

    I will be interested to see what suggestions people come up with.

  2. Aaron Brown on June 19, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    The issues you raise are real, and I think it is important that we address them. However, I am not convinced of your premise that spiritual conversion really is easier than social conversion. I’m inclined to think that (a) the missionaries are often right; and (b) the missionaries are often at least partially at fault. My mission experience suggests that many 19-year old elders respond to numerical incentives by cutting corners on the spiritual preparation of investigators. I believe that many investigators claim to have felt the Spirit when they have not, or only because the missionaries have told them that some vague positive feeling they’ve had during the discussions is “the Spirit” testifying of the truthfulness of their words, and they’ve decided to take the missionaries word for it.

    Of course, my mission and post-mission experiences also suggest that large numbers of Churchmembers don’t take enough interest in new investigators, and that is obviously largely their (the members’) fault. And of course, the class divide you raise is probably a major cause of this lack of social interaction. So I guess all these issues interrelate.

    There are so many different wards with different levels of friendliness. It sounds like yours is very friendly and welcoming. Others are not.

    As to your question, I’m not sure how to answer it. The only way to really succesfully overcome the class divide would be to abolish the lifestyle distinctions between the classes. Unlikely to happen. Perhaps wealthier Churchmembers should dress down at Church. Seriously.

    I think that the social interaction between most members and new investigators (or visitors) is abysmal, and if we can solve that problem, we’ll be in a better position to figure out how much class distinctions are still causing alienation.

    Aaron B

  3. Adam Greenwood on June 19, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    “One of our biggest problems is that when people join the church and start to better their lives, they go out and get jobs (as we encourage them), but they are often limited to low-wage entry-level positions in retail, food, janitorial, or housekeeping, which requires them to work on Sunday.”

    How true. Yesteryear’s social accomodation of the Sabbath is gone. And really, so is everything else you’ve said. Perhaps its just my confirmed pessimism, but I don’t see any good answers. One of the strengths of Mormonism is that we try and bring everyone into one great whole, but the real solution to the problems you identify is probably sorting out congregations by class and race, and that’s just not what we’re about.

  4. MikeInWeHo on June 19, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    Requiring people to attend a particular ward based on their address is problematic, imo. It would not necessarily lead to chaos if converts were allowed to attend a ward wherein they felt more socially accepted. What if the wards in a given region essentially had to compete for their members?

  5. bbell on June 19, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    What a great post.

    I have no real answers for your pressing question to the issue of race and class. One answer has been the creation of Spanish units. They seem to be working??? The black/white issue is most difficult.

    I have lived in two wards as as a married couple. 2 personal anecdotes below

    I have seen 5 white families join the church and stay active since 1998. 3 in Chicago and two here in Fort Worth Texas. In one case a local district attorney in Suburban Chicago drove thru SLC went to Temple Square got a BOM from a missionary and the entire family was baptized. They were baptized into a ward of prominent lawyers, Dr’s etc. Essentially they fit right in.

    In 2002 a lower class white family was baptized in my ward here in TX. They do not fit the educated profile of most of the members in my ward but they did not have to overcome race issues as well as class issues to stay active. Our Bishop at the time was a non white well off immigrant who did most of the fellowshipping at time of conversion. This bishop did such a good job that in 2003 the family was sealed and the Dad started teaching YM with me. I would start of each lesson with…. today we are going to talk about the importance of a mission. Brian sitting there is the reason you all need to go on missions. Remember when he was baptized? You may be lucky enough to find a family like Brians on your mission. So lets get out our scriptures and start getting ready.

    This last story especially illustrates the importance of fellowhipping.

  6. Kimball L. Hunt on June 19, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    May I suggest church uniforms?

    – – –
    And as a tangent: I suggest a two-party system in the church: a tory party and a whig party!

    If any member wishes to in anyway denigrate liberal leaning Mo’s, that member will be required to wear official, church silk “power” ties highlighted in pastel GREEN stripes, cheques, or whatnot in them shirt tinted green (incidentally, the underlying white shirts of these uniforms will be made out of home carded, spun, and loomed madras as have been made AT HOME somewhere, to be supplemented by identical cloth made according to exactly the same specifications at newly set-up Deseret Industries welfare-project mills.

    Oh, and those who would wish to criticize in any way such conservative elements would be required to wear church, silk, “peoples” ties of course highlighted with a bright, pastel shade of the color of SAFFRON. (And only TRUE “independents” would be allowed to wear lavendar.)

  7. Clark on June 19, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    On my mission most of the people we taught were African American and most of the wards in the area (Baton-Rouge) were white (with often a fair bit of perhaps unconscious prejudice). We resolved things by having a “Bible study” evening every Tuesday. It was at a different member’s home and was a bit of a pot luck. It allowed them to socialize with other African-American members, discuss issues, and discuss in a laid back fashion the new religion. It was tremendously successful and while I was there baptisms boomed.

    There still were the car-ride issues. Although frankly I’m not sure *how* to resolve those. There also just was a much more laid back view of religion than the “go every Sunday and be very involved” attitude we Utahn Saints tend to adopt. That is there was a culture of involvement but it wasn’t quite the time-based, highly organized attitude. And that was hard to adopt and probably did contribute to some problems.

    But can that aspect be resolved?

  8. Eve on June 19, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    Great questions, Patrick. I personally have found spiritual conversion much easier than social conversion (although I was born into the church, I’m still trying to become socially converted)–and my obstacles to social conversion aren’t nearly as great as those you and others describe.

  9. Mark Butler on June 19, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    Please, no more dressing down. Church is starting to look like a system of sloppiness, and not the dignified respect I remember as a child. One does not have to be wealthly to dress appropriately – it is more a matter of selection and style than cost.

  10. Seth Rogers on June 19, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    Casual Friday is a silly modern trend. Institutionalized cultural laziness. A way to go about life advertizing to everyone “I don’t care what you think, and in fact, I don’t really care about you either.”

    I’m all nostalgic for the days of Carey Grant when people actually tried to communicate with each other and make a statement to society instead of hiding in their sterile suburban fortresses in their boxers, only emerging in their unwashed 20 year old Metallica t-shirts when the need for food or sunlight compell them.

    The point of distancing the missionaries from the investigators was never to deemphasize the social aspect of the Gospel. It was to transfer the social connection to the members instead of the missionaries.

    You can’t have a Gospel without social connection.

  11. Wilfried on June 19, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    A topic I can very well relate to, Patrick, having struggled for years and years to keep people in the Church and having visited so many inactives. Thanks for bringing it up. I’m sure the social divide you mention can be a contributing cause to inactivity in mixed units, but we have the same problem of retention in branches or wards composed of the same “lower” class or in racially uniform wards. Retention in branches and wards in Africa is an immense problem. And we lose “well-to-do” converts just as well.

    I have tried to analyze some of those challenges in this article (p. 97 ff) and in some posts like this one. It’s a complex issue with many factors. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that one of the most important factors is “the viability of Mormon life” – i.e. the tension between on the one hand spiritual conviction and willingness to do what is desired, and on the other hand the weight of the obligations. If the presence of the Spirit is not sought after, if testimony weakens, if incidents happen, then the obligations (WoW, Tithing, Sabbat…) become oppressive. If the obligations become unbearable because of circumstances, the Spirit is undermined. So I would still tend to consider the spiritual aspect at least as important as the social. And in many cases they go hand in hand. Social disappointments undermine the spiritual, weakening of spirituality entails less tolerance for differences.

  12. Julie M. Smith on June 19, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    Patrick,

    I’ve tried to post on this issue–which bothers me deeply–about a half-dozen times but never was able to find the proper approach–it always read (to me) as if I were being critical of the race/class issues.

    I think the solution is not one solution but a million small ones. Here’s a few very small things that would help:

    (1) If you are in a calling where you spend some of your own money, stop. You might think it is annoying or petty to turn in receipts for reimbursement for 6$. But in a year, someone who cannot afford 6$ for church stuff might have your calling, but they won’t have a budget for it if you weren’t using yours.

    (2) Similarly, a sign up sheet to bring food to a church event should also include opportunities for non-financial ways to contribute (i.e., set up, decorating, clean up, serving, etc.). (Another column for people to sign up if they need rides would be nice.)

    (3) Leaders need to do a much better job orienting new converts to callings. I may be wrong about this, but I sense that often/usually new members fall apart when they are thrown into a calling with no clue what to do. Serious hand-holding is required.

    (4) We need to figure out how to manage callings, HT/VT appts, etc. for people who don’t have phones, cars, and/or predictable schedules. I have no idea how to do this.

    I’m sure there are 999,996 other small things that would make the transition to membership easier for marginalized people.

  13. NE on June 19, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    I lived in inner-city Detroit for a while a couple of years ago… I cannot even begin to explain the issues other than to say that the majority were race or class cultural issues. While some of the converts may not have been spiritually prepared, the bottom line is even the best prepared with the best intentions fought a weekly battle to culturally overcome the obsticles. My thoughts are highly biased towards domestic inner-city congregations (we still live in such a ward in the midwest, although not nearly as bad as Detroit) for what it is worth.

    Some things we did that helped:
    (1) Break the fast pot-lucks. It often ended up that the wealthier (read anglos and senior missionary couples) members highly subsidized such events, but they were probably the single most important thing in keeping the branch somewhat together.
    (2) Assign VT/HT assignments such that every companionship included an african american native and a white transplant. African american converts were often paired with their first anglo VT/HT after a few months when we knew they might be active for more than a few weekes.
    (3) Chided green missionaries for giving people hard time about the dress issues on Sunday… people came as they were and that was ok. These people could not afford to buy new outfits. If someone is wearing the same nice dress slacks and blouse to church every Sunday, you better not imply it is a matter of selection because it is not. It is what they have and it should be good enough.
    (4) Embraced the impropmtu “Amen”s during sacrament meeting and also went with a more informal announcements at the begining of sacrament meeting where participation from the pews was not only tolerated, but encouraged.

    Things that we didn’t do that I thought we should have done:
    (1) Church Van. It seems silly to us more traditional folks, but every other congregation in that city had a church van. These people didn’t have transportation. The missionary couples and Southwest transplants would spend up to 2.5 hours a Sunday transporting people in smaller cars. A van would have been much more efficent. And before you say if they really were spiritually committed, they would make it happen, let’s just remember that these people (a) did not have cars, (b) lived in a city where buses did not run on Sunday and (c) lived up to 6 miles away.
    (2) Ask the missionary couples to live in the city. It was deemed too unsafe to force senior missionary couples to live in the city. But I often wondered what would happen if a second “mission home” was occupied in a upper middle class african american community within the city and the couple was asked to have Monday night FHE, Wednesday night institute, Friday night BBQ’s, Sunday night prayer meeting and arranging for some of the more stable african american families to jointly host such events.
    (3) This one is crazy, but I think we should think about an alternative Saturday night sacrament meeting for those that work Sundays. Maybe just one per stake or something.

  14. Galileo on June 19, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Mark #9, Seth #10,

    What’s with the bizarre fashion snobbery?

    You really think everyone can afford to dress like a middle class Mormon churchgoer? You really think everybody should? You really think people who dress casually have the attitudes described in #10?

    I’m going to be charitable and assume you were both joking. :)

    Perhaps if sacrament meeting were not such a monolothic mass of dark suits and ties (which, honestly, a poor new convert cannot possibly afford) we wouldn’t have so much trouble assimilating people of different means/tastes/cultures/etc.

  15. DavidH on June 19, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    NE,

    All great ideas. And as far as having a Saturday night mass, I mean Sacrament meeting, there is precedent in at least one other Christian faith tradition.

  16. queuno on June 19, 2006 at 3:17 pm

    I don’t pretend to have an answer for this (because in many ways, as a born-and-bred-descended-from-pioneers-baptized-at-8 Mormon, I don’t feel I’ve assimilated), but I have a few concerns.

    I don’t think the “foreign language ward that overlaps other ward boundaries” is a good thing. Usually we associate this with Spanish wards in the US, but I know of a few Tongan wards as well. My wife served in SoCal/Spanish, and there are people that have lived in those wards for 20 years. The wards feel transitory/temporary; the members (still) don’t speak English, and they don’t have a “you must leave” edict like in Singles wards. Those members may be assimilating with each other, but not with the larger Church around them.

    It’s not up to me, but if it were, we’d treat Spanish ward attendance like we treat bishop’s storehouse recipients — develop a plan to move on and leave the program (maybe it’s a three-year program to teach them English and move them into a family ward).

    This isn’t necessarily to “fix” the Spanish members (and Tongan, etc.). I think it would help “fix” the attitudes of the average English-speaking ward who thinks it can pass of its social welfare challenges off on the Spanish-speaking ward.

  17. roland on June 19, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    “There still were the car-ride issues.”

    In my stake in San Diego in the mid-80’s I served for two years in a church calling as a bus driver.
    I would spend a hour each before and after church giving rides to families that had no wheels.

  18. queuno on June 19, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    Re 14 – I’ll see your overgenerationalized stereotype about dark-suited wards and raise you…

    I have met VERY few men in my time that couldn’t afford an outfit approaching “stereotypical Mormon” Sunday dress. A dress shirt and a tie and a haircut are NOT expensive — much less than the cost of an pair of basketball shoes. You can buy a shirt and a tie for the cost of a couple of CDs worth of iPod downloads. The exceptions are not as prevalent as anti-White Shirt urban lore likes to pretend. It’s a matter of priority.

    [Incidentally, I wore a blue shirt on Sunday, no coat. EQ president had a nice grey shirtwith his tan suit – looked nice. Bishop was in a nice olive suit with a gold tie.]

  19. J. Stapley on June 19, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    I have been thinking about this alot recently as I have been reading Peterson’s stuff on the Mormon Reformation. Church hierarchy was frustrated with all the saints that moved to Utah only to appostatize. However, I tend to think, despite their frustration, the act of gathering ultimately was the most likely contributor to future “activity” (whatever that meant back then). Perhaps the hurdle of being an un-gathered Mormon in Babylon are simply too great. All we need is just a place :)

  20. Wilfried on June 19, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Queuno (16) referred to the issue of the language wards. “Those members may be assimilating with each other, but not with the larger Church around them.” Just in case someone is interested, we had a thread on that topic.

  21. Karl on June 19, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    The discussion of clothing brings to mind a missionary experience. A young serviceman and his wife were baptized. On the Sunday after her baptism, the wife put wore her best clothes, her best pair of slacks and a blouse. The couple never came back to Church after several (too many probably) well-meaning members pointed out to her that since she was now a member, slacks were not appropriate to wear on Sunday.

  22. Julie M. Smith on June 19, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    Karl, I’m not going to defend those ‘well-meaning’ members who chased that poor woman away, but I do wonder about this: there is a certain (possibly inactivity-inducing) mortification that accompanies the realization that one has done the wrong thing (note: I’m not saying that I think it is ‘wrong’ to wear slacks) for months without anyone saying anything. So is it ever appropriate to call someone’s attention to the fact that they are violating our social norms and/or dress code? I honestly don’t know.

  23. rd on June 19, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    People who directly comment to visitors or new members on their clothing, appearance, etc. are missing the boat. We were fortunate enough to teach a woman in Brazil who was quite wealthy, had more style in her little finger than I’ll ever have, and made dramatic changes to her personality, lifestyle, and persona when she joined the church with her husband. But, donning a moderately low-cut blouse to her first stake dance, she was accosted and marginalized, rather than welcomed, by the members and she stopped assimilating with the church. It saddens me that this is even an issue.

    As for the race/class divide, nowhere is it more evident than in my ward. We have a large contingent of mountain west transplants set inside a large, very middle class neighborhood. The other half of the ward is a low-income, rust belt river town with many inactives but a few stalwarts. Most of the baptisms come from there but the activity rate is similar to those described in Patrick’s post. Bishop has mentioned the idea of a bus, but it never got any steam.

    That said, I am the wml and home teach one recent convert from the lower income area who has serious word of wisdom problems, is not of the predominant race, but keeps coming because the members have given him personal, loving attention. This individual does not have a car, but always has a ride (one hour round trip). He often carries with him the stench of deep personal struggle, but no one complains. He is treated with the utmost respect and he keeps coming back. I think of another young man with fairly significant emotional challenges, long hair, earrings, and a jones for philosophy. When our enlightened bishopric asked him to speak in church he gave a brilliant, albeit very unorthodox, message on zion, on community, and on Christianity. Not one person noticed the hair or the earrings–but very many thanked him for his talk. Many even wept–not so much at the talk’s substance, but at the miracle of its delivery. I think that our attention to the individual is widely withheld, is often given with some measure of self-righteousness, and that if we simply reached out as we are asked that retention would go up. But the problem remains as many I know have simply fallen out of activity in the face of such attention.

  24. NE on June 19, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    Oh, I have one more. Stop building temples in the most inaccessible suburb possible in US metro regions. If you really want retention, those who can make it through this racial, class, and cultural divide for a year should not be dennied the blessings of regular temple attendence due to the simple fact that they cannot afford to keep a car in order to drive to the temple. Certainly in cities where there is mass transit such as subways, light rail, and street cars, temples could be places within walking distance (1 mile) of a line. At a minimum, they should be built on a major bus route.

  25. Jeremiah J. on June 19, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    Partick, I’m very glad you posted on this subject. We’re both members of the same great ward, so I know exactly what you are talking about.

    I had a very interesting visit recently with a African-American friend of mine for whom I served as the temple escort when he took out his endowment. We talked about the fact that he hadn’t been in church in the past year; we also happened to mention many other wonderful African-American converts who aren’t attending with us anymore. My friend assured me that he is still LDS, proud and faithful, but that he is very involved in “community work” of one kind or another (which is true). But why not in church on sunday? I asked again and again. Eventually I understood that by “community work” he meant “the black world”, as he put it–the service and religious community that exists in and for the black neighborhoods in our area. And many of the other great people that aren’t in the LDS chapel on sundays are, he explained, doing a lot of good as Mormons in “the black world”.

    This is the kind of thing that the missionaries and most of the home teachers don’t hear. The mention of race is a 20th–or 50th–visit kind of topic (and even then just a hint in a long conversation with a friend!). But it’s in the mind from the very beginning I think. I remember another conversation I had between an African-American investigator I got to know a bit. He listed what he saw as the strengths and weaknesses of the black church as opposed to the white church. The subtext to this conversation was that he was, as a black man, thinking about joining a white church. This thought is at the same time completely bound up with the question about whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet, the Book of Mormon is true, etc. Why should I accept Joseph Smith as a prophet? is merely one side of the question; why should I join a white church? is another. This is especially true when we present the gospel as a solution to real world spiritual and moral problems (disintergration of the family, poverty, crime, conflict, violence)–problems which the black church has been in the trenches dealing with for decades–and as a Christian gospel, just like the gospel you grew up with. The social and the cultural *is* the spiritual, just as it is for those of us with a rich Mormon heritage. The investigator came to church several times, even spoke in testimony meeting, but never got baptised.

    Again, why should someone leave the black church for the white church? I have no ambivalence at all about the question. The kingdom is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But I also believe that there can be people who are drawn to the restored gospel and yet, in all seriousness as willing servants of God, are torn between ‘the black church’ and ‘the Mormons’. We can’t just chalk this up to “everyone has free agency”. The dilemma has a very genuine element to it.

    Perhaps we could start with a mentality embraces more fully the Savior’s counsel of leaving the ninety and nine for the one. We make special efforts for men, women, children, non-English speakers, and any number of other varieties of “the one” (in this sense, “the exceptions” often come first, not second). But when the ’99 and the 1′ principle is applied to race, the white American bogeyman of ‘affirmative action’ usually appears. See http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2030#more-2030

    Another principle is Paul’s: (I Cor 9: 19-22) “To the Jews I became a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.” I think that we need to open up our lives to our brothers and sisters in a more substantive way. I think that what is required is nothing less than the church becoming, where necessary, a black, hispanic, Asian, or native American church in addition to being, where necessary, a white church. These are quite ambitious goals, but I think that nothing less than the future of North American missionary work depends upon achieving them.

  26. elizabeth on June 19, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    This is a intresting posting that realy made me think of a conversation I had this weekend with the future wife of my best friends son.

    My best friends has four childeren , they are all raised lds. The oldest has been on a mission.
    The next son had left the church and is even doubting God.
    On the party we had last saturday the future sister in law of this next son talked to me that she does not understand that his family doesn’t understand him.

    Being inactive myself at the moment I told her that it can be a very lonely world if you are not a part of the group. Since most of the family are acitve lds they tend to start talking about typical lds subject in a language full of typical lds jargon.

    Wath is a GA
    or a RS
    a EQ
    etc etc etc.
    the church has his own language and when you are out of the group for whatever reason or new in the group because you just joined it is hard to socialize because you don’t have any idea what they are talking about.

    The other thing that came to my mind is . When I was just 15 years old I first went to the lds in my hometown of Rotterdam Holland. That they the missionaries or the members did not say anything to me, but two sundays later the missionairies asked me if I didn’t have a dress or a skirt to wear to church.
    At that time I was only wearing jeans and I remember that I wanted to please ( I have apleasertype of personality)the elders and asked my mum if I could wear a skirt from her.
    When I was 18 I was baptized and then mutiple members said to me now that you are a member you have to wear ladies clothes.
    I did that for I think about 5 years or so and then I got fedd up and decided that I am comming to the church to learn about the gospel to sing song about Jesus and to partake from the sacrament,
    and not to parade around in the best dressed of this world.

    Now everybody leave me allone with my choice of dress because they would be delighted if I came. And yes the last time I bore my testimony in the church I was wearing jeans.

    Oh and sometimes it is not only being poor etc that is behind somebody’s problem to sociallize and integrated in a group their could be another problem.
    Like with me years of therapy later I realized that I was hiding behind my clothes so to make sure that I would not sexually abused again.

    So to do a little recap:
    it is not only race and economics but also
    – church language
    – the intolerance of excepting people the way they are.

    Elizabeth ( your favorite dutchie)

  27. Galileo on June 19, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    18- Well, the percentage of men wearing nice suits is higher in some wards than others. I’m positive that the average man’s complete church outfit in my ward costs hundreds of dollars (not counting dry cleaning, haircuts, etc.) Probably the same goes for women, but it’s not so easy for me to tell.

    Sure, if it were a PRIORITY, most people could scrape up $80 during the course of a year to buy some cheap but reasonably nice looking dress shoes, slacks, shirt, and tie. A family of five might have some trouble, but most could probably do it.

    The same people could also pay one or two of the following items if they were a priority: babysitting on ward temple night, bus fare to church on Sunday, a generous fast offering, tithing, scout uniforms, something nice to bring to the ward potlock, a modest library of church literature, and an Ensign subscription.

    They could probably also get leave from work to come to church on Sunday (taking a new job if necessary) and spend far more of their leisure time on church activities, if these things were a priority.

    So the question is this: when is it our place to offer gentle advice to poor members about how to prioritize their time and expenses? I tend to think almost never. Or at least, my feeling is that very few people have the wisdom to know how and when to offer this gentle advice. When you’re tempted to say something like, “Hey, I saw you outside with a new CD player—why didn’t you spend that money on some new dress shoes instead?” or “Did you know there are some dress pants roughly your size at the thrift store for eight dollars?” I’d imagine this is actually a pretty good time to stay quiet. Do people disagree with me here?

    As for the men’s suits: I’m not sure it really help matters when over half of the adult priesthood in some wards comes to church in suits that cost as much disposable income as some minimum-wage-earning families have to spend in a year. But I happen not to like wearing suits — for reasons that have far more to due with comfort and personal taste than any sort of populist solidarity with the dispossessed — so I’m not at all objective on this issue.

  28. Mark Butler on June 19, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    I am hardly an outlier here. President Hinckley has made much the same points about a culture of slovenliness. For a fuller exposition on the subject, please refer to the following CES Fireside speech by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Presidency of the Seventy:

    http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,538-1-2874-1,00.html

    Quoting therefrom:

    I was shocked to see what the people of this other congregation wore to church. There was not a suit or tie among the men. They appeared to have come from or to be on their way to the golf course. It was hard to spot a woman wearing a dress or anything other than very casual pants or even shorts. Had I not known that they were coming to the school for church meetings, I would have assumed that there was some kind of sporting event taking place.

    The dress of our ward members compared very favorably to this bad example, but I am beginning to think that we are no longer quite so different as more and more we seem to slide toward that lower standard. We used to use the phrase “Sunday best.� People understood that to mean the nicest clothes they had. The specific clothing would vary according to different cultures and economic circumstances, but it would be their best.

    It is an affront to God to come into His house, especially on His holy day, not groomed and dressed in the most careful and modest manner that our circumstances permit. Where a poor member from the hills of Peru must ford a river to get to church, the Lord surely will not be offended by the stain of muddy water on his white shirt.

    But how can God not be pained at the sight of one who, with all the clothes he needs and more and with easy access to the chapel, nevertheless appears in church in rumpled cargo pants and a T-shirt? Ironically, it has been my experience as I travel around the world that members of the Church with the least means somehow find a way to arrive at Sabbath meetings neatly dressed in clean, nice clothes, the best they have, while those who have more than enough are the ones who may appear in casual, even slovenly clothing.

    Some say dress and hair don’t matter—it’s what’s inside that counts. I believe that truly it is what’s inside a person that counts, but that’s what worries me. Casual dress at holy places and events is a message about what is inside a person. It may be pride or rebellion or something else, but at a minimum it says, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand the difference between the sacred and the profane.� In that condition they are easily drawn away from the Lord. They do not appreciate the value of what they have. I worry about them. Unless they can gain some understanding and capture some feeling for sacred things, they are at risk of eventually losing all that matters most. You are Saints of the great latter-day dispensation—look the part.

    (D. Todd Christofferson, A Sense of the Sacred,
    CES Fireside for Young Adults, November 7, 2004)

    This is the contemporary doctrine of the Church – there is no evidence this is anything other than the apostolic consensus on the matter.

  29. Galileo on June 19, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    Mark,

    I’ll grant there is at least _some_ evidence that the apostles are more fond of wearing suits than I am. They appear to like white shirts and ties as well.

    That said, even except that Elder Christopherson, who is clearly somewhat passionate about nice dress, says “Come in the nicest clothes you have” as opposed to “Make it a priority to purchase nicer clothes than you currently own so that you can wear those clothes to church,” let alone, “Everyone in white shirts, suits, ties, and black shoes.” He doesn’t try to define what “nicest” means (though it seems the term would not apply to cargo pants and T-shirts).

    But I think there is a larger issue here, which is that a large part of accepting new converts is accepting people whose commitment to the gospel (particularly to the culture and the outward manifestations) is not as deep, as habitual, or as culturally ingrained as ours. They accept the church but they are different in a million cultural ways. How quickly (and with how much snippy judgmentalism) do we try to force out dress code, style of prayer and speech, etc. on new converts?

    Peronsally I don’t think it’s very charitable to use a word like “slovenly” to describe the recently converted Aaronic priesthood holders in my ward who don’t wear ties. I don’t think it’s healthy even to think of people in those terms, since it may poison our interactions with them in a million ways we are not consciously aware of. Moreover, if you insist on doing battle with quotes, I suspect I can find you one anti-costly-apparel-snobbery quote from the scriptures for every anti-T-shirt quote you find in a CES broadcast for young adults. :)

    I also think even Elder Christopherson might concede that a ward in which nearly all the men dressed like straight-from-the-MTC missionaries might be a hard place for people who don’t have and can’t afford those clothes to feel comfortable. He’s trying to tell fifteen year old raised in the church punks who can’t be bothered to put on ties that they ought to shape up a tad. I don’t think he’s telling Manhattan investment bankers that they have to wear their six hundred dollar work suits to church meetings.

  30. MikeInWeHo on June 19, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    Mattnew 23:27 comes to mind. That fireside message highlights an area where the contemporary Church certainly appears to veer away from New Testament and BoM teachings. If everyone is compelled to dress in American-style formal business attire, all must be well ? Come unto me, but put a business suit on first ? Speaking of not understanding the difference between the sacred and profane…..

  31. Tatiana on June 19, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    This is so interesting! I experienced the exact same thing, though I am a middle class white professional. I am spiritually converted, but I find socially it’s just painful to go to church. The sisters are nice, they go out of their way to be kind, and yet I don’t feel a real friendship there. I feel the feeling of people trying to be kind to the lame sister who isn’t one of them. I had two visiting sisters who tried very hard to be my friend, and though I felt little connection, I did feel how hard they were trying, and appreciated that and reciprocated. Then when they got reassigned to different visitees, I never hear from them anymore. I’ve contacted them both several times but nothing. Obviously they were friends out of duty and not because they wanted my friendship.

    I’ve made several true friends, among the missionaries, and once with my home teacher at my first ward. I still keep up with them online. I’ve tried to be a true friend to my visiting teachees over the years. But I guess because I’m different socially, I read too much and am a science and math geek, I am single and perhaps a bit socially awkward, though I have many non-member friends. I am a female engineer, and so I am at work when many of the mom-functions take place. I guess I just don’t fit in. My true church friends are mostly online in other cities. I wonder what factor might help me to become real friends with the sisters at my ward?

    Doing work together, when our visitees would let us, was something that seemed to forge a true bond. But it is rare to get anyone to let you do work. .

    Babysitting for one sister on Saturdays sometimes helped me to feel like we were real friends. I suppose service is the key. We need to find more ways to be of service to each other.

  32. Mark Butler on June 19, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    No one ever said American style business attire is the rule as such – but rather the clothing appropriate for showing modesty, piety, and reverence in the culture where the meeting is being conducted. In Ghana for example that is rather different, than it is here, especially for women.

    The question is not one of poverty, but rather of symbolism. Can’t afford a tie? No problem. But one should wear the best modest, respectful clothes one has, and acquire special Sunday dress if possible. Some types of business attire convey the wrong impression – by being too stylish, too expensive, too fashionable, and so on.

    Clothing should be a matter of respect, not a matter of pride. It can certainly be a sin to preen too much above ones fellow brothers and sisters. But it is also a sin to mock cultural standards for sanctity and respect by purposely aiming too low.

  33. Mark Butler on June 19, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    I haven’t had a business suit since my mission, by the way. I have a sport coat, but I rarely wear it because it is too warm.

  34. slm on June 19, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    #29 “I don’t think he’s telling Manhattan investment bankers that they have to wear their six hundred dollar work suits to church meetings.”

    #32 “But one should wear the best modest, respectful clothes one has, and acquire special Sunday dress if possible. Some types of business attire convey the wrong impression – by being too stylish, too expensive, too fashionable, and so on.”

    Yes, I think too often we regard “modesty” and “sexual modesty” as being synonymous. But this is wrong. A member who dresses to show off his resources is just as immodest as a member who dresses to show off her physical “assets”. In both cases, something other than an earnest reverence for God is in mind when the member opens his/her closet Sunday morning.

  35. MikeInWeHo on June 19, 2006 at 7:38 pm

    Re: 32 While I agree with your last paragraph completely, I’m not sure the example from Ghana supports your first paragraph. Seeing the men dressed up in typical white-shirt LDS-attire at the temple dedication was almost funny. How many men in Ghana would ever put on a business suit like that? It’s so out-of-cultural context. Those photos reinforce the notion that this is a white-American church. Why couldn’t they be encouraged to wear their African-style Sunday best? It would have been cool to see the GAs put on native garb (at least for some photos) when they were over there. What a great message that would send.

  36. Mark Butler on June 19, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    MikeIWH, I think you have a rather uninformed perception of everyday male attire in Ghana, and most of the world, for that matter. Western dress is a cultural standard for working males almost everywhere.

  37. Jolard on June 19, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    This is a great topic. I would like to put in my 2 cents worth. Personally I was born into the church, but in another country. Moving to Utah was a cultural bombshell. Not because of the differences in our country cultures, but because of my politics. I am a proud Democrat, and I can’t tell you how many times I have been told or overheard people basically saying you can’t be a Democrat and a good Mormon.

    I am just glad my faith is strong enough to get through that, although I have to admit, it bothers me an awful lot.

    As for the economic differences, this is very difficult, and a great challenge for the church. As a missionary I had one investigator leave and never return after an unkind comment about the appropriateness of her dress. I have always been very sensitive to this issue since that day. While I can’t ever judge anyone, I would personally hate to be the straw that breaks someone’s back and causes them to leave the church.

    As for economics, it does seem that most of the converts I have known over the last 10 years have been from lower economic levels. I can only assume that this is because they are humbler people and more willing to listen and be told that they need to change. Since the Savior spent most of his time working amongst the downtrodden, I can understand this desire. It seems like we need to do a much better job, but the challenge is great, and there have been some good ideas on this board.

  38. Blain on June 19, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    26 — Elizabeth! Girl, what are you doing in a blog like this? I was very much not expecting to run into you here. I got half-way through your story before I thought “Who wrote this” because it sounded like you, and it is.

    As a ward missionary, I’m considering deeply the things being said here, because these issues are a huge deal in a ward that’s having adult convert baptisms monthly or so. I appreciate the thoughts folks have shared here and will be thinking about this further.

  39. Mark Butler on June 19, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    I should add that it is not that African style dress for males would be inappropriate, but rather that most Ghanian males probably do not own any such clothing.

  40. Razorfish on June 19, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    Re #11

    Wilfried thanks for the link to your published article in Dialogue. I found the article not only very interesting, but finally a voice that was articulating some of the challenges and issues that contribute to unacceptable Church retention.

    I particularly liked your tone and emphasis on possible solutions to improve or ameriorate these problems. But alas, this article is over 10 years old and I see little in terms of implementation of these ideas or principles.

    We know this is a high priority of the Brethren and the Prophet, but in reality we see little in terms of organizational change, structural change, or policy or doctrinal change to address these issues. Put another way, we have been asked to dust off our tool kit (with somewhat jaded but well known tools), rather than adding some new, albeit less familiar tools, to the toolkit to address this concern.

    How much change (and flexibility) can we expect from SLC in adapting to these difficult retention realities? Clearly the Brethern are inspired, but certainly adapting some creative solutions (as outlined in your article), could provide fresh and novel ways to address age-old problems. Given the passage of a decade since you published this article, how optomistic are you in seeing substantive organizational change (within the body of the Church) in addressing the retention issue?

  41. Ana on June 19, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    A story to begin with: My husband’s mother’s family had what you might call a social conversion when she was about 11. They were Caucasian, but there was disability, alchoholism, abuse and poverty separating them from the other Saints around them. After a couple of years they drifted away — her mother was offended. The divide was too great for her to cross. Years later, she was sought out and came back. Away from her dysfunctional mother, she didn’t feel so different from the rest of the members anymore. She credits the Relief Society with teaching her how to be a mother, when the mothering example she grew up with was a shoddy one at best. She learned to pray and began to pray like no one else I’ve ever known. She brought up five strong children — not perfectly, but in the gospel, even without support from her husband. Her three sons have all served missions. Her thirteen grandchildren, and now one great grandchild, have been either born or adopted into the covenant. A lot of good can come from a “social” conversion, if it’s followed well.

    Currently, we live in a ward associated with our stake’s Spanish branch. I absolutely love the specific suggestions from Julie and NE. I can imagine several of them being implemented in our semi-combined congregation. We have joint Primary and youth organizations. The thing that would really help the most, though, would be if we had more LDS women who spoke at least rudimentary Spanish. It’s pretty near impossible to teach parents how to help their daughter with Personal Progress when your espanol doesn’t go far beyond “hola.” Stake-sponsored Spanish classes once a week would be a tremendous boon. I’d go.

    The divide Patrick is talking about is keenly felt by our youth. We try to encourage the Spanish branch girls to mix with the girls from the ward. While we sometimes seem successful, it’s impossible to force. I wish I knew a better way.

  42. Seth R. on June 19, 2006 at 9:54 pm

    No Gallileo,

    You don’t have to be charitable. I was actually fairly serious.

    You ever watch footage of the bread lines and unemployment lines during the Great Depression? You ever notice that almost every last one of them is wearing a suit? I’m not talking Armani here. K-Mart blue light special is fine by me. But I do wish people would be more considerate in their treatment of others. It’s not just about impressing others either. It’s also about self respect, something I’ve found tragically lacking in some of the people who preach the idea of “internal beauty” the loudest. Taking some time on your appearance is part of wise stewardship before God.

    OK, sorry for the threadjack, so lets try and tie this into the main point.

    The role of Mormonism in society is not PRIMARILY to blend in and make people feel comfortable (cough *complacent* cough) right where they are. The Church is meant to be a “city on a hill.” The Church’s role is to motivate, and not just to comfort. In fact, I think the Church’s role as a motivator of men and women is actually more important than its role as a comforter of men and women. Different dress and action is a daily sacrament that the believer partakes in. It reminds the believer of his or her special role and acts as a living symbol for those who are not yet believers.

  43. DavidH on June 20, 2006 at 12:54 am

    “In fact, I think the Church’s role as a motivator of men and women is actually more important than its role as a comforter of men and women.”

    There is an old saying (really borrowed from a quote about newspapers) that the job of a preacher is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

    But sometimes I fear that the culture of many religions (including ours) is much more effective at comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

  44. Wilfried on June 20, 2006 at 1:54 am

    Thank you, Razorfish (40) for reading that article on retention. True, it is now (already!) ten years old. And I agree the issues of retention are still very much with us.

    On the other hand, I have seen changes. First, like you also mentioned, the matter is deeply on the mind of the Brethren, see the attention given to the matter in conference talks and leadership meetings. In missionary work the emphasis is now less on numbers than on quality, the coordination between missionaries and members is constantly being worked on. In 2002 two apostles were sent as Area Presidents to fields where retention was a huge problem, Elder Oaks in the Philippines, Elder Holland in Chile. The results were, among others, consolidation of numerous stakes to strenghten leadership and care for members. It’s evident the issues continue to be analyzed and that pilot programs are underway. But such changes take time and must be done very carefully. Indeed, changes sometimes have unexpected consequences. In 1972 the Church decided, for good reasons, to discontinue the Spanish-speaking units in the U.S. and integrate these members in local wards. But the consequence on retention was catastrophic. The policy was subsequently reversed a few years. But, as has been pointed out in comments above, much can still be done to get people with different languages closer to one another, step by step.

    As to constructive suggestions, which all of us can make, I believe we can do this occasionally and respectfully. Some ideas may float to the top and be helpful. I am sure the Brethern listen both to the Spirit and to grassroot suggestions. But as to timing, the Lord has his own schedule.

  45. MikeInWeHo on June 20, 2006 at 2:05 am

    re: 36 Well, let’s compare passport stamps and see. That said, you’re right, I’ve not been to Ghana. My experiences in Africa lead me to suspect that most men (working or otherwise) don’t have white shirts and ties in the closet just waiting to be liberated by the Gospel, but perhaps I am wrong on that. For sure, the salaryman uniform is the broad standard in global business, except perhaps here in L.A. where there is NO restaurant (not one!) that requires a jacket and tie. And we have some darn good restaurants. I love California.

    All I’m asking is: When did formal western business attire get conflated with Gospel modesty and reverence?

    IMO, this unwritten dress-code thing is one of the reasons why the Evangelicals are eating the Church’s lunch in the U.S. and regions south. Check out how the biggest Christian church in CA talks about this topic:

    http://saddleback.com/flash/visit.html#wear

  46. Dianna H. on June 20, 2006 at 5:52 am

    I am a convert of many years. Raised white, middle class I met the standard Mormon mold but it was still a cultural shock to join the Church. I didn’t understand some of the language ie “Stake Center” and while I had a spiritual conversion I still had some difficulties accepting some of the culture. In addition, my old friends were nervous around me, wondering if I were changed so much that we wouldn’t be friends anymore, my family while supportive was watching to see how I would be different and it was just difficult at first. I was lucky enough to be in a student ward where I was welcomed, fellowshipped and helped to adjust to my new life as a Mormon.

    Now, my husband and I are serving as Humanitarian missionaries is Russia and we see huge problems with retention. I don’t see people being judged by their dress or really any of the things I’ve read on this post, what I see is people struggling with a whole new way of life and a feeling of alienation from everything familiar, the WOW is difficult in Russian culture, the Orthodox Church has a tight grip on the religion of Russia, and the Russian people often have grave suspicions of anything new or “foreign”. A wonderful people are struggling and a lot of missionaries, mission presidents and active Church members are striving to overcome these problems but it is not easy, it does not have a simple answer and what works in the US or Ghana for that matter will not necessarily work in Russia.

    As the Church spreads around the world we will all have to work hard to make everyone feel accepted, to make everyone understand that they are important, and most of all to help them know that no matter how difficult it is sometimes to be an active member of the Church it is worth it. How, I don’t know, but it will be one of the great challenges of this era of Church history. Thanks for a very interesting and thought provoking post.

  47. elizabeth on June 20, 2006 at 6:14 am

    Reaction to number 38

    Hey Blain , You know me if I can be anywhere I will be. Here I can vent more then you know where else. because these blogs are for the use of talking with each other without getting angry and feeling that you are anti church.

    So for me I am in blog heaven here. Plus I am a member of a great mormonwoman group that keep me on there payrole to cause mayhem and havock.

  48. Patrick Mason on June 20, 2006 at 10:43 am

    This has been a great exchange so far, and I’m very glad for the specific suggestions. As several people have mentioned, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. This is the downside with the correlated and Salt-Lake-centric nature of the Church. I don’t see a way of getting away from correlation, nor do I necessarily want to — the positives, in terms of the overall unity of the church, probably outweigh the negatives, and it does still allow for some degree of local initiative.

    When I was called as ward mission leader about four years ago, the bishop told me that he wanted me to think inside the box, not outside of it. I was a little surprised, but essentially he wanted me to go to the scriptures and the church handbook and find out what was already there before trying to reinvent the wheel. Of course, he wasn’t trying to stifle my own personal creativity and particularly whatever inspiration the Spirit gave me — and he supported me when we tried out a couple of new things — but he was reminding me that God has already given a fair amount of information about missionary work and retention, and we would be well served to familiarize ourselves with the rich deposit we already had. I think there is real wisdom in that approach.

    I’m looking forward to even more ideas on how to bridge the race and class divides in our wards.

  49. AudreyTX on June 20, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    My husband and I are in a new area for his summer internship. We have been visiting suburbs, and have also attended wards in those areas. When I think of the Prophets/GA’s words on slovenly dress, I don’t think about the poor, investigators, or converts. I think of the teenagers I see in these wards where the average income is around $100,000 and the girls are in short “distressed” denim skirts, T-shirts, and flip-flops; and the guys are in cargo pants and a polo shirt. The leaders not speaking to the humble, they are speaking to the proud.

    If people feel offended by something a church leader speaks on, they should first be humble enough to analyze whether or not they are/can follow the counsel, then just get on their knees and say, “Heavenly Father, I feel that I’m doing the best that I can in ____ area, do you agree?” If you feel peace from the Lord about how you are conducting (or dressing) yourself, that’s the highest authority you need.

    That being said, I’m personally a big fan of men in suits, and women in nice Sunday dress. It is how I like to present myself for the Lord.

  50. Rosalynde Welch on June 20, 2006 at 12:40 pm

    Very interesting ideas on a very real problem. I found Jeremiah’s thoughts on the “black church” and “the white church” particularly enlightening. To the extent that these divides are primarily cultural differences of the sort that Tatiana describes—differences in background, perspective, taste, temperament—I think we can and should work on communicating and accommodating these differences within our wards and branches.

    But if these are converts who don’t have telephones, can’t keep appointments or commitments, don’t have a concept of community participation—well, these aren’t just problems with staying active in Mormon wards, they’re problems with virtually all participation in public life, from getting and holding a job to overseeing children’s education to obtaining healthcare. And fixing these is not merely a matter of better communication or charitable accommodation, it seems to me, it’s a matter of transmitting to adults a lifetime’s accumulation of social capital. Can the Church do this? I would desperately love to see it do so, for the sake of those our brothers and sisters. But I wonder.

  51. Seth R. on June 20, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    David H (#43)

    “But sometimes I fear that the culture of many religions (including ours) is much more effective at comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.”

    That’s great! I’m going to have to remember that one. Can I use that quote?

    Rosalynde,

    So your saying the the new door approach for our 19 year old missionaries might be:

    “We represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. God has a special message for you – Grow up!”

  52. Patrick Mason on June 20, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    You’re right on the money, Rosalynde (by the way, I think you were my TA for Western Civ at BYU). Shepherding people who are infants in the gospel is exciting and energizing. Trying to teach adults basic skills needed for functioning in the public sphere is herculean–the mountain is so large, I don’t know where or how to start.

    And that’s assuming they want to acquire those skills — I’m generally a supporter of the welfare state, but it does create this huge problem of people for whom there is no incentive to “move up” the socioeconomic ladder. One man I home teach doesn’t want to look for a job because whatever low-wage job he gets would disqualify him and his wife for the Medicare (Medicaid? I always get them mixed up) they need for her rather extensive medical needs. One of our converts of a few years ago, a single black woman around 20 years old, was actively discouraged by her mother from pursuing post-high school education in nursing, as her mother told her it would be too hard and she could just stay at home and collect welfare.

    Even though I can see a better life for both of these people, it’s tough for me to lecture them — one is thinking quite practically and realistically about the financial cost of his wife’s medical care, and the other is heeding the advice of her mother and following the path of least resistance.

  53. Rosalynde Welch on June 20, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    Oh dear, Seth, is that what it sounded like I said? For the record, no, that’s not what I’m saying. (Or were you joking?)

  54. Proud Daughter of Eve on June 20, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    While I agree with most of you and with the Apostles that we should dress respectfully in neat and modest clothes, I can’t support this “suit = reverence” attitude I’m also seeing. It’s sounding perilously close to Alma 32:2 “And it came to pass that after much labor among them, they began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel—” We might not actually throw anyone out but many are driven away by the expectations placed on them. Do we really think Christ wants people made to feel they don’t belong because they’re not wearing the right kind of clothing? Encourage people to wear clothes that fit our standards for modesty, yes. Don’t make them feel that because of the lack of a skirt or suit they are somehow unworthy.

  55. Rosalynde Welch on June 20, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    Patrick, was it Griggs’ and Keele’s Pen and Sword in, say, ’95 or so? If so–wow, and hi! I guess it should stop surprising me to run into so many old acquaintances here on T&S. Another reason to behave myself better!

  56. Kimball L. Hunt on June 20, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    Hm, whether the Lord prefers CASUAL, 100% cotton denim skirts or cargo pants or KMart “bluelight special,” polyester-mix, fine weave DRESS skirts or trousers . . . . . ! (Shakes head in utter disbelief!!!!!!!)

    Dressy-wear historically mimics Puritan style. Aristocrats dressed extravagantly, Puritan (by our standards) upper-middle-class preachers wear plain black cloth over a nice, crisp, white underlayers. Common Puritans wear plaid or whatever, albeit not bright colors. But good quality, black dye was actually more expensive, so this color was used by the preachers, allowed a slightly better dress than common members. So, plain, dark dress became the accepted color for the educated, professional classes not born aristocrats, with plaids and checks and whatnot — associated in people’s minds with the common class’s being more accustomed to strenuous activities — traditionally considered “sportwear. Uh, except with the case of “tweedy” professors: a more refined version of a moderately dressy, simple, “Scottish” or whatever attire.

    Both sexes of Puritans dressed fully covered in not-flashy plaid or whatever, the upper-middle class in black.

    Eventually, women modified Puritan dress to follow the aristocratic mode to signify breeding, sophistication, status: the leisure class — a lady’s achieving a “good marriage” often due her sohistication and beauty. Thus: More skin showing, the use of bright colors and a greater display of trends ‘n’ styles. But men stayed with the “evocative-of-Puritans” professional look: black becoming, in less-than-tux formal contexts, navy blue, dark brown, dark grey. And in summer: lighter shades. Et cetera. And now . . . it’s 2006. And still professional dress is now pressed slacks/ and ties for men, just a whole lot of things for women.

    Denim? That’s for working. Well, originally. Cargo pants? Those were originally military, hot climate wear issued for work. (Hotter olive-colored wool being the regular uniform.) So, 100%-cotton’s “countercultery,” then. When I was on my mission, I loved my shiny, navy-blue dress pants — completely buying into their being evocative for me of simplicity/ respect — even worship?! Yet people who WORRY about whether others wear more rustic of cotton weaves rather than what’s traditionally a more refined of dress weave in their Sunday wear are WAY TOO . . . . . . I don’t know. It’s hard for me to articulate.

    OBSESSIVE? (The piece is: WORRYING about it, rather than accepting others’ sincere aesthetic of worship!)

    Or even: PROUD? A “comparing ourselves to others” kind of proud, as opposed to simply “taking personal pride” kind of proud?

    The thing is, I see little of Jesus’s being concerned about such superficialities in the New Testament. I can relate to Jesus’s COUNTERCULTURAL!!! philosophy. (And the same with saint Francis’s and others!)

    “Follow (/mimic) the Brethren!”: Therefore dress Wall Street and carp about folks wearing cargo pants? It’s just waaaaay too “present-day version of Puritan,” way too “We’re saved, as you can tell by our exemplifications of culture and class” for me! Shrugs. I wanna break Times and Seasons rules and say, “Ya freekin weirdo Mormon Republicans!!!!,” lol, but then I’d be guilty of the same thing I’m describing here! Can’t we all get along! lol.

    (Maybe a Church uniform would be the way to go! lol. Like the Gandhi-inspired specs for the material for the Indian flag (it must be hand carded, spun, loomed), I’d make the uniform bleached-madras material shirts and blouses and lightweight tropical weave, dark-grey tweed slacks and skirts and optional matching blazers — with individuality being able to be expressed in ties or neck scarves. . . . . . .)

  57. Seth R. on June 20, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    For the record,

    I don’t really pay much mind to what people wear to church, unless it’s really unusual, and then I TRY not to pay attention. I have never seen fit to actually speak to anyone regarding what they are wearing at the time. I consider it simply good manners not to make people I know uncomfortable.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to advocate a standard on a public forum.

  58. Russell Arben Fox on June 20, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Kimball, PR of Eve, Seth, Mark, Galileo, others,

    It may have been already linked to and I missed it, but issues pertaining to dress, modesty, respectful attire, “costly apparel,” and much more were debated heatedly (and perhaps even productively) in a series of posts by Carrie Lundell last year; look here, here, and here.

    Regarding the actual topic of this thread, I echo what Rosalynde said in #49 about Jeremiah’s comment in #25; I cannot see any other way to respond to the probably intractable problem of difference in social and economic and cultural and racial norms then to, if we truly love our sisters and brothers, allow ourselves to be taken to where they are. Of course, there are and should be limits to that; only Jesus could actually make Himself a sinner for others’ sakes and still be clean. But we’re not talking about the church (or we ourselves) going to where the sinners are; we’re just talking about going to where the economically, racially, ethnically, linguistically and culturally marginalized are. (Which, most practically, might begin with a point a couple have people have already brought up, regarding the locations in which are church buildings and temples are often constructed, and what uses are made of them.)

  59. Seth R. on June 20, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    Posted too soon.

    Funny thing about the “judge not by appearances” crowd –

    They tend to assume that anyone who advocates ANYTHING even resembling a standard of dress, grooming, or appearance is probably out there right now persecuting sensitive new converts for wearing sleevless dresses and blue shirts in church. Because OBVIOUSLY, if I have an opinion and standards, that automatically means I’m going to shove them in the faces of everyone I meet, right?

    “You support a white shirt when passing the sacrament?!”

    “You evil man! It’s people like you who drive converts from our church!”

    Spare me.

  60. Seth R. on June 20, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    RAF,

    Understood. I will now cease discussing the apparel issue.

  61. bbell on June 20, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    On my mission in South Africa we essentially had a policy that in the Townships the church was in its infancy and we needed really capable people to run the branches. We really tried to limit our teaching pools to complete families or to people that were really interested (came to church regularly prior to baptism without a ride) These rules were laid down by a native South African MP with the approval of the area authorities. It initially led to less baptisms but since then baptisms have swelled and 2 new stakes exist.

    How does this concept play out in urban America?

  62. Kimball L. Hunt on June 20, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    Re Seth Rogers (# 10):

    Yes, Cary Grant had loads of style. And his era (which I still remember. I was born in 1956!) was one when men still generally wore suits and ties. Yet the weave of Cary’s suit in North by Northwest is actually a very rough one, by suiting standards, not a fine one. (Something, ironically, that would be hard to find outside of super expensive haberdasheries nowadays, for sure!) And its color is light. Thus it bespeaks ease of care and wear: an understatedly – C A S U A L – elegance, noticible only in its being NOT particularly noticeable — y’know? Yet to achieve the selfsame, just-the-right mix of casual and formal TODAY, somebody’d probably be dressed in tan slacks and a colored, not white, shirt with an immaculately matched — namely, noticeably not noticeable — tie or even, gasp, a polo shirt!

    Thus: Be careful what you wish for! lol.

  63. Seth R. on June 20, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Alright, alright Kimball,

    I humbly admit defeat.

  64. Patrick Mason on June 20, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Rosalynde (54) – Yes, the Griggs/Keele class, a very formative one for me.

  65. Coffinberry on June 20, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    (I had Griggs & Keele… about a baker’s dozen years BEFORE that… I feel so old…)

    /end derail

  66. Margaret Young on June 20, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    Please feel free to use the Genesis Group newsletter for any African American investigator/convert who might feel overwhelmed or less than welcome. Genesis is an officially LDS sponsored support group for African Americans (organized in 1971 under the direction of Joseph Fielding Smith and three junior apostles: Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson and Boyd K. Packer). Though our meetings take place in Utah (with some in California), our website is available to anyone with a computer. Our website is http://www.ldsgenesisgroup.org . We try very hard to keep the newsletter current. Just click on “newsletter” and you’re there. Other resources for African Americans (besides everything Gladys Knight is doing) include the trilogy of books Darius Gray and I co-authored (_Standing on the Promises_) and a DVD about Black pioneer Jane James, called _Jane Manning James: Your Sister in the Gospel_”. It has been showing with some regularity on BYU television recently. You can order the DVD or the trilogy from Deseret Book. I find many more resources for Hispanics. Pretty much all Church material is available in Spanish and English. I am a great supporter of Spanish wards/branches, because I’ve seen what happens when they’re disbanded. I am strongly in favor of teaching Spanish to Gringos rather than increasing the already huge pressure on Hispanics to learn English. (Lots of experience here working with people who have tried desperately to learn English and simply can’t.) As for what we should wear to church–hmmm. I’m a little surprised at the attention given to the subject here. “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God seeth the heart…”

  67. Buckeye the Elder on June 20, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    As a non-caucasian convert to the Church, I do find the emphasis on a “dress code” rather stifling. Also the idea that one can be reverent only in a nice suit and an expensive tie, rather outrageous. One can be properly reverent, even in a poloshirt and cargo pants. I love the Restored Gospel, but, I find the imposition of Utah-Mormon cultural traditions, and then trying to pass them off as necessary for attaining Eternal Life, laughable at best.

    Like Elizabeth, I too have found that people in the Wards I have been a member of don4t seem to want to interact with you, if you (1) are not caucasian, (2) if your manner of dress, or your job does not meet the so-called “mormon standards”, (3) if you are openminded, and are interested in anything outside of Church and Church-callings. I have been reprimanded by members of my ward, because, instead of talking about Church and Church issues or about hugh Nibley’s writings, all the time, I read literature by all manner of writers, go and watch films, am active in local politics etc.

    As far as african-American and latino members in our Ward, and in our Stake are concerned, I am afraid, a lot of them seem to join the Church for the potential Welfare benefits only, and once those run out, we usually dont see them ever again. But, we keep baptising such “members” again and again, and I wonder if it is to keep Baptism numbers up.

  68. Blain on June 20, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    65 — Margaret, thanks for the resources you pointed to. I’m going to be taking the Powerpoint that John put together based on the presentation you and Darius put together for BYU and your interview to a relatively new black convert in our ward in the next week or two (need to arrange a time to get there and do it).

    I’ll add one small resource to point people of a mail-list persuasion toward (and one to point them away from).

    Yahoo groups has two mail lists for black Mormons. The older of the two is blacklatterdaysaints, which was created several years ago, but the list owner left on his mission and hasn’t come back to the list, and didn’t give anybody else moderator privileges, so the traffic on the list leans heavily toward interracial dating (or porn) spam. The newer one is black-lds, created by me to have all of the benefits of the other group, but with moderation that keeps the spammers away and the crazies at bay (and we’ve had some of that to do). We don’t have a lot of traffic at this point either, so some new folks coming along would certainly be to the good. My co-moderator is someone I think you’ll find familiar.

    I will second your notion of teaching Spanish to non-Hispanic folks — Spanish is a much (much) easier language to learn than English. I have been trying to get a Spanish language Gospel Essentials class going on my ward, so we will have someplace in the stake that we can bring Spanish speakers (we only have ~20,000 Spanish speakers within the boundaries of our stake) that the missionaries might find. We have sufficient numbers of Spanish speakers to start such a thing, but it’s a little outside-the-box thinking for our ward and is taking a lot of encouragement. I think it would be an excellent place for those with weak Spanish skills to improve them, and to learn gospel-related vocabulary as well.

    I’ve also wanted language classes for ward members to learn the local Indian dialect — a teacher of that language happens to be a member of the ward — but there has been no support for that idea. However, half our ward membership (according to the records) belongs to the local Indian nation, and I think it would be a very powerful message for a bunch of Nordic-Americans like me showing up at their door speaking “their” language well and perhaps better than they do (very few of them know much of the language). Maybe someday.

  69. Seth R. on June 21, 2006 at 12:19 am

    Yes Rosalynde,

    I was joking. I don’t believe in using emoticons unless absolutely necessary.

    But, be aware …

    I was only half joking. =)

  70. Bro. Jones on June 21, 2006 at 12:19 am

    “There still were the car-ride issues. Although frankly I’m not sure *how* to resolve those.”

    1) Someone suggested a Church van, which isn’t a bad idea. Just need for us to get over our twin hang-ups of “rely on each other (force those blessed with cars to provide rides)” and “magnify yourself (get your own damn car like every proud American should. Oh wait…)”

    2) Or, heaven forbid, we could stop building chapels in sprawling, unreachable suburbs and start building them near bus stops and train stations. Other people have called for this in times past, and I still echo the sentiment. We did it in Harlem, NY–why not elsewhere, and why not as a general policy? If you want to put the temple in a quiet, high-class area, then fine–but it shouldn’t ever require a car and 45 minutes of travel to get to a ward, unless it’s a rural or underdeveloped area.

  71. Margaret Young on June 21, 2006 at 12:21 am

    GOOD FOR YOU, BLAIN!! It always amazes me what a difference it makes when I can speak the language of another—or at least am willing to try. I’m working so hard to learn the Mayan dialect Cakchiquel (my dad wrote textbooks on Cakchiquel) in preparation for my upcoming trip to Guatemala. I’ve already had the experience of living in Guatemala and speaking (as best I could) the language to the people–who would immediately open up, usually with a smile and often a burst of laughter. I doubt they had ever heard a Gringa speaking their language. We honor others when we go to them in their language rather than waiting for them to come to us in ours. My absolute favorite Church calling was teaching Institute in Spanish, which I did for five years. The surprising thing (or maybe not so surprising) was feeling something spiritual happen in me as I worked to communicate in my second language. Years later, I was dealing with a very difficult teenager, wondering if I could ever be a good mother, and meanwhile listening to our stake conference (which was being broadcast into the RS room). I was feeling very low and unmoved by anything until someone began giving a talk in Spanish. Suddenly, I was responding, as though the gifts of deeper understanding and even comfort came with the language itself. Something in me responds spiritually to Spanish. I have no idea why that is. Btw, some might confuse Black-lds (which I haven’t looked at but will) with http://www.blacklds.org–the FAIR website, and one of the best.

  72. Kimball L. Hunt on June 21, 2006 at 2:09 am

    Emoticons. I wonder what the proper, fully Gallic FRENCH term for that coinage is — ? Whatever it is, we should adopt it! (EMOTICON sounds terrible!)

  73. Blain on June 21, 2006 at 3:27 am

    70 — I enjoy languages, and I’ve started learning several (meaning 1-1.5 years of study), but haven’t quite got into the right situation to practice them to the point of fluency. Spanish is the one I’ve had the most opportunity to get to that point with, but I’m just now beginning to be able to use Spanish at Mexican restaurants, and only mui poquito at that.

    My interest in the Indian language is based in my grandfather’s childhood training in one of the Sioux dialects when it was being formalized for instruction by one of his neighbors. She used him as her guinea pig and drilled him in it well enough that he was complimented on his fluency by a native speaker many years later. Learning Lakota makes no sense for me here, but I can learn Coastal Salish. Perhaps it’s time I started. Thus far, all I know how to say is “Thank you,”

    With Renee being my co-moderator, I’m not concerned by sharing name-space with FAIR, although I would be happy to disclaim any formal connection on the main list page along with a link to their site. I need to talk to her soon anyhow, so I’ll ask about it then.

    71 — Sorry, but they’ve been emoticons for a long, long time now. I don’t think the term is going to be going anytime soon. Maybe after I stop using words like “splits” and “P-day,” in favor of “exchanges” or “preparation day,” you might see the term “emoticon” fading away, but I don’t see either happening.

  74. Patrick Mason on June 21, 2006 at 9:27 am

    Thanks for the resources for black members. I know Genesis does a lot of great work, but it had sort of drifted to the back of my mind.

    I like Bro Jones idea (69) of building near bus stops, etc., but unfortunately, in many small to mid-size towns (including South Bend, with a population over 100,000), the buses don’t run on Sunday. It would certainly help during the week, for things like bishop’s interviews and enrichment, but it doesn’t solve the Sunday problem. We’ve brought up the church van idea numerous times in PEC, but have essentially run into the exact responses you have identified — the members should sacrifice to get people there, and we should do everything to help people become self-sufficient by getting their own car (because the definition of self-sufficiency in an American church is doing all you can to contribute to global climate change).

  75. Patrick Mason on June 21, 2006 at 9:30 am

    What is the powerpoint you referred to, Blain (67)?

  76. Kimball L. Hunt on June 21, 2006 at 3:31 pm

    Well, something even more descriptive ‘ould be “hokeycons,” lol. (Which, I believe in French is / icon d’ hauke` /?)

  77. VirtualM on June 21, 2006 at 6:00 pm

    I’m a ward missionary in an inner-city ward that is over 50% black. It’s a unique ward, probably no other ward like it exists. My husband served his mission in Mississippi and said that he’s never seen so many black members in one congregation. Our stake president speaks like a Baptist preacher and people respond from the congregation. We have ten full-time missionaries and a convert baptism almost weekly. Two Sundays ago, after transfers, our Bishop came to correlation to address some of the issues that have been brought up here concerning rides to church. He said that the church tried the ‘church bus’ tactic in some inner-city wards several years ago and that basically parents were dumping their kids on the bus and not coming themselves; it was very ineffective at helping investigators (read: adults) get to church and the church scrapped the program. We don’t have a great bus/train system here, but it is good enough (and the church is on a train line) that most converts/members can get to church with a little motivation and a couple of bucks. Our ward boundaries sprawl about an hour from top to bottom, and with the general low income (students and low income familes) in our boundaries, it’s pretty much impossible to give rides to the probably hundred people that would need a ride each week. I would give rides if someone lived near me, but I just cannot afford the resources (time or money) to drive an hour round trip to pick someone up and then drop them off. The missionaries have simply started telling investigators that they have to get to church on their own because every active member is already stretched thin.
    Luckily clothing here is not a problem because no one cares. My husband inherited a bunch of nice clothes from a lady that he home taught and he’s taken to giving them out when investigators or new members express an interest, but honestly, we’re just lucky when people come regularly and participate. It was great once when a guy got up and bore his testimony in a Tupac shirt. Our ward has too many other issues for us to worry about attire. (Once an investigator _did_ smoke in the ladies’ room during Sunday School, and the missionaries had to approach her and ask her to go outside. This I can understand…approaching someone about clothes just seems silly.)
    Side note: my husband is the YM president in our ward and has a real struggle. A new member YM wanted to pass the sacrament, but the deacon that is usually in charge of making sure that everything is order for the sacrament said “He can’t pass the sacrament, he’s not wearing a white shirt!” My husband said “Let it slide, he needs to do this.” It is far more important that this young man, the only member in his family (and he was wearing a suit and tie, btw, just not a white shirt) have the experience and feel welcome more than it was to keep a status quo.

  78. Margaret Young on June 21, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    VirtualIM, would you be willing to tell us where this ward is? How is retention? Do you have a “revolving door” or are you able to hold on to new converts? Could you estimate a percentage of how many remain active after their baptisms? Any insights as to why they remain or why they leave? I’m working on a documentary (along with Richard Dutcher, Alex Nibley, and Darius Gray) on Blacks in the LDS Church. We address, among other things, the common perception of the Church as a racist institution, and some of the challenges Black members face. (We also tell the often heroic stories of several Black converts.)What would be the one thing you would want to see included in this documentary for it to be useful to you? Anyone should feel free to answer this.

  79. Eric Chambers on June 21, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    Regarding the idea of a ward van, does anyone know if one potential obstacle to their use is the need for church subsidized auto insurance? In addition would the drivers need to have a class of drivers license beyond that of a typical driver? Wouldn’t the funds for the maintainance, insurance,and registration need to come as a direct subsidy. I’m not sure that a ward or stake for that matter would have sufficient funds in their budgets for such an endeavor. Furthermore I’m not sure that fast offerings from a ward could cover the costs, especially since many wards are already struggling to meet the basic welfare needs of their members.

    I do agree though that creative, innovative ideas need to be developed in order to meet the needs of many of our members who are not part of the American middle-class.

  80. VirtualM on June 21, 2006 at 10:12 pm

    Margaret Young re#79 – I\’m in Atlanta. I\’ve heard about your documentary through another member of my ward. Our retention is…probably about representative of retention churchwide, I\’d say roughly a third if we\’re being generous. We have over 600 on our ward list (there are over a million people living within our ward boundaries) and probably weekly attendance of about 120. Our gospel principles class generally has at least 30 attendants weekly, but at least half of the class changes weekly. Many of our converts come for one, two weeks and then stop for a various number of reasons; race is generally not a one of them. Class is kind of a problem, though – generally those members who have more of an education and better jobs tend to \’stick\’ over those who live lives of poverty in government projects, and this may or may not be true church-wide (I\’m not trying to stereotype or be condemnatory, of course there are exceptions, but this is what I\’ve noticed generally.) An African man with a PhD in theology was recently baptized. Many of the black converts are single grandmothers and they have a great support group built in. However, many young, urban black families have a hard time assimilating into the ward; almost always they are socially very different from the white and active black members their age.
    I will think about what would be interesting as a part of your documentary, the stories of some of our members come to mind…if you want to contact me offline, my e-mail is blackcherryred_at_hotmail_dot_com.

  81. Copedi on June 22, 2006 at 11:07 am

    I’m biting my tongue very hard to abstain from getting into the clothing issue. But I’m not succeeding very well, so I’ll just say this: Here’s what investigators/new members should be told: “In our church, we ask that people show respect toward God in the way they dress when they come to church, and so most people feel most comfortable wearing (description goes here). But what you wear is between you and God, and if someone criticizes another for not wearing the ‘wrong’ clothing, that’s the critic’s problem. If you think you’d feel more comfortable wearing (description above goes here) but can’t afford it, let us know, and we’ll see what we can do to help you out.”

    That said, here’s want I want to say:

    Since I’ve been a member, I’ve lived in fairly homogenous communities, so I haven’t seen many of the issues that people have discussed here. What I have seen, though, are many inactive members I have just run across who say they’re interested in coming back to church but haven’t done so. Because they drink or smoke or cohabitate, they don’t feel they’d be welcome and/or that they won’t fit in.

    The fact is that, if we’re sincere about wanting to become like Christ, we’re all struggling in some areas. I certainly struggle, but my struggles aren’t visible to others. And the struggles we place an emphasis on are those that are visible.

    I think of a neighbor of ours, a single mom, whose 6-year-old is a best friend of our 6-year-old. She’s a very nice person and a good mother and would be a great addition to our ward. But the fact is, she’s already a member. She smokes. She has tattoos. She has a boyfriend and (I suspect, but I don’t know) probably isn’t celibate.

    She says she’d like to come to church sometime, and maybe she will. But, I suspect, she’s concerned about the reaction she gets if she does come.

    I used to know another single mom in the same situation. She told us directly that she didn’t feel like coming to church because she wasn’t doing a good job of breaking the smoking habit. But she actually did come with us a few times and said she enjoyed it, but she didn’t want to go to her own ward because of her problems. (She has since moved to a different town, and I’m not sure what happened to her.)

    I don’t know what the answer is. My EQ president says that unless we can smell tobacco on someone’s clothing when we come to church, we’re doing something wrong, and I think he’s right.

    I think people like those I’ve mentioned have to accepted as friends by someone in the church before they’re likely to give church another try. Because we tend to hang around people that are like us, that doesn’t happen often enough.

  82. heironymus potter on June 22, 2006 at 11:31 am

    A long, long time ago when I lived in the Salt Lake Valley, they had a “special” ward for african-american members. How do I know? My room mate attended that ward. Why a special ward? I thought it was weird. I can see having wards for foreign languages, which are transient. Much easier to understand things if it is explained in your native language. But based on skin color? Didn’t like the idea then. Perhaps things have changed. The ward had a name also, like the spanish speaking ward “Lucero” in SLC. Can’t recall the name.

  83. Blain on June 22, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    82 — Amen. As I once said in another ward’s GD class “Jesus spent his mortal ministry mingling among and loving publicans, prostitutes and other scum of the earth. If we wish to be Christlike, we will need to have a bit of scum in our life.” It didn’t take a minute for someone to say “That’s all good, but what if I don’t want my children associating with those kinds of people?” and for there to be a murmur of agreement, and then the subject got changed.

    The answer, of course, is to follow King Benjamin’s advice to do things in wisdom and order, and to be realistic about what things you should be protecting your children from and which things you should be exposing them to at their age. But nobody wanted to think about that — they wanted to climb back into their comfort zones. I never promised to worship anybody’s comfort zone. I covenanted to worship God and nothing else. Comfort zones are no boon to the comfortable, and I have no problem puncturing them if I see the need.

    I hope that won’t come as a shock.

    Anyhow, amen again. I wish your message was shared across the Church to those who need to hear it.

  84. Margaret Young on June 22, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Was the ward called Genesis? (It was actually a branch, and met only once a month–a supplementary program to other meetings.) Let me see if I can help you re-frame this. Suppose you join a church where you are the only red-head, or the only Caucasian, or the only straight-haired person in any of the wards you attend. In addition, suppose that many of the members of this church you have joined believe that your hair (or skin color etc.) is a sign that you have been cursed by God because of your pre-mortal behavior. Nonetheless, you believe in the core of this faith. But in every ward you ever attend, you hear something about “the curse of …”, which actually refers to you and your lineage. You quickly learn that the most sacred rituals of this faith were denied people like you for over a century. And still, you believe in this religion and you are determined that nobody will remove you from it. How would you feel if you learned that there were others like you, facing the same struggles, the same folklore, and holding onto their faith with the same tenacity as you? Then you learn that they meet monthly, to strengthen each other, to bear testimony, to comfort one another. Your children could associate with other children who look like them. Obviously, I see a great need for the group. Genesis is still going strong, and is often the one thread converts of color are clinging to as they try to remain active. I hope, with ALL other Genesis members, that the time comes when such a group is not needed. But the time has not come yet. For evidence, listen to President Hinckley’s remarks in the Priesthood Session. He had been advised that racial slurs were being spoken by Latter-day Saints. He wasn’t just making that up. I suspect you would not find one ward in the Church where at least somebody still believes in the Curse of Cain or that those of African descent were “less valiant” in the pre-existence. I’ve heard it taught THIS year. Until we get such demeaning ideas out of our minds and hearts, we will ned a gathering place for African American Mormons–especially in overwhelmingly white communities like Utah and Idaho,

  85. DavidH on June 22, 2006 at 1:59 pm

    “If we wish to be Christlike, we will need to have a bit of scum in our life.â€?

    Thanks. I agree. Reminds me of the words to a Christian song that is getting a lot of airplay, of all things, on contemporary evangelical stations (“My Jesus” by Todd Agnew):

    Which Jesus do you serve?
    If Ephesians says to imitate Christ
    Then why do you look so much like the world?

    Cause my Jesus bled and died
    He spent His time with thieves and liars
    He loved the poor and accosted the arrogant
    So which one do you want to be?

    Blessed are the poor in spirit
    Or do we pray to be blessed with the wealth of this land
    Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness
    Or do we ache for another taste of this world of shifting sand

    Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
    He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
    He loved the poor and accosted the rich
    So which one do you want to be?

    Who is this that you follow
    This picture of the American dream
    If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side or fall down and worship at His holy feet

    Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
    Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
    But the Word says He was battered and scarred
    Or did you miss that part
    Sometimes I doubt we’d recognize Him

    Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
    The blood and dirt on His feet would stain the carpet
    But He reaches for the hurting and despised the proud
    I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
    And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

    I want to be like my Jesus!
    I want to be like my Jesus!

    Not a posterchild for American prosperity, but like my Jesus
    You see I’m tired of living for success and popularity
    I want to be like my Jesus but I’m not sure what that means to be like You Jesus
    Cause You said to live like You, love like You but then You died for me
    Can I be like You Jesus?
    I want to be like my Jesus

  86. Randy B. on June 22, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    VirtualM,

    When I read your comment in #78, I was tempted to write back that your description sounded just like my old ward. Turns out it is. As you say, I don’t think there is another ward like it. I hope you get as much out of it as I did. What an amazing place! Best of luck to you and your husband.

  87. VirtualM on June 22, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    Hey Randy B…I know you, you were in the bishopric when I moved into the ward (if you are who I think you are.) Turns out there are more bloggers from ATL than one would originally think (I know of a couple others)! It was bound to be the same ward because there’s only one like it, I’d venture to say, in the world, with a unique set of challenges and joys.
    We bought a house in the boundaries and are planning on at least two more years, although it’s tiring sometimes with resources so limited and so many people with varying needs. Most active members have 2 or 3 callings and the home teaching lists…20 families roughly per companionship. It’s very overwhelming. I continually pray for attitude adjustments because sometimes I want my spiritual needs met – and then realize that I have to meet them myself because no one here is going to do it for me.
    One other thing we try to do in our ward mission program is get new converts to the temple A.S.A.P. We’ve got two baptismal trips planned and another on the horizon. Luckily the temple is only a half hour away, so it’s completely doable. While this does not guarantee activity, it does seem to help, at least for the convert’s immediate future.

  88. Randy B. on June 22, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Sounds like we need to have an Atlanta bloggersnacker!

  89. Blain on June 22, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    86 — thanks for the tip. I”ll look for the song.

  90. heironymus potter on June 22, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    #85 point well taken. The time frame of the ward was circa 1984.

  91. Margaret Young on June 22, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    My co-author and I attended a couple of inner city wards in Atlanta. Really wonderful experiences. And we were thrilled when Tony Parker was called as a stake president. We did a fireside somewhere around Atlanta and the folks there had dramatized a section of the first book in our trilogy, and performed it for us. Very sweet. We’ve got interviews from at least two folks from Atlanta in the documentary.

  92. queuno on June 22, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    Maybe I just live in the wrong area, but in my stake, those with a master’s degree or PhD that isn’t in business are shunned. Where my MS or PhD-in-a-science-or-math-or-engineering support group?

    :)

    DW is of the opinion that Sunday best includes hose — even in the heat of TGSOT. Glad I’m a male, in that regard…

  93. Jill Johnson on June 22, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    Patrick,

    I don\’t mean to be hostile, but just by your wording about \”these people\” and \”them vs. us\” are precisely why new minority converts feel that they do not fit into the mainstream predominately white wards in the church around the country. There\’s a distinct overtone in many mainstream white members who treat minority converts including long time minority members and children born under the covenant as outsiders. And being poor has little merit. I\’m a black female member of the church and served a full-time mission. My husband is also an African American returned missionary. He has his own home-based business and is also a Vice President of a prestigious company. We are by no means poor. Yet we had grounds to leave the church a thousand times. I agree with you to some degree that poverty, cultural clashes or identity and conversion to the missionaries have a bearing on why some minority members may leave the church after joining; however, after 27 years of activity in the church, I\’ve come to realize that it\’s much more than that. Minority members tend to leave the church when…members look down or up their noses at them, when white members set themselves up as masters feeding the dogs off \”their\” tables, when members insult the intelligences of minority members by displaying stereotypical behaviors and not possessing racial indifferences dividing themselves into categories of \”us and \”them\”, when the mainstream white members forget that the church belongs to Christ and not to them or their children, or their Moms or Dads or Grandfather, or Grandmother or the grategrategrands who personally walk the pioneer trail, when members forget that it is Christ who invited every minority and other new converts to his church at his invitation instead of the missionaries remembering that missionaries are intended to be the instrument in God\’s hands.

    When the main white steam members of the church learn to love their brothers and sisters of color and all others who are not within their race then the problems of retention state wide will be solved. I am hopeful and am thankful to members who are of a Christ like mindset who are color blinds and deem incoming minority coverts as themselves – a member of Christ church by his invitation and who\’s willing to uphold their baptism covenant of loving and caring for one another.

  94. elizabeth on June 25, 2006 at 4:30 am

    Jill Johnson thank you for your words.

    I am white member of the church and over the years I have learned I do no fitt in “the group”because I associated with everyone.
    One day a member said you know everyone and you speak with every one . And I was so amazed because ofcourse I speak with everyone.

    My black ladyfriend gave me the biggest complement reacently.
    She said that I was a turned around Bounty.
    white on the outside but brown on the inside.

    Elizabeth ( your favorite Dutchie)

  95. elizabeth on June 25, 2006 at 4:43 am

    When I lived in Croatia a few years ago.
    The nearest branch was a few hours away with the train. You need to gett the train at 4.30 am , switch trains a hour later and then finally arrive in Zagreb around 8 am.
    If you wanted to return home the next day you had to wait the whole day for the train to leave.
    Anyway you would not be back home until around 8/9 pm.

    With a small child and not much money I was not able to go to church much. There was another older brother who lived close to me and he would also go by train.
    The last few monts I was living there the church would pay for our transportation . I think the whole trainride cost about 10 dollars.

    The last time I recived money from the branch president he made me feel very akward about it. Since I was originally from Holland he supposed that I would be able to have money enough for my self to pay the ride.
    Believe me I rather pay all myself then take a handout.

    Anyway I the branchpresident said that the missionpresident had told the missionaries not to proselite outside zagreb anymore because it was costing the church to much money to help people comming to the church.

    The fire I had felt with my rebaptism started to lower at that time. If I would not have the money to go and the church sais they don’t want to pay it, how can I go to church.

    I have been a active member in my native Holland. in Belgium , in Salt Lake City and then in Croatia.
    But I have never been so poor as in Croatia and I did not feel welcome anymore because I was one of those persons that cost the church to much money.

    Just sharing my experience that is all

    Elizabeth ( your favorite dutchie)

  96. Seth R. on June 25, 2006 at 10:50 am

    Elizabeth,

    We are only mere mortals.

    We are not gods, and sometimes we just can’t be everything for everyone.

  97. elizabeth on June 25, 2006 at 11:39 am

    Yep I know
    that is why nowadays I live
    by Mosiah 4: 27 and am not bothered about anybody
    I know God loves me
    and I know Jesus loves me

    But do other people know who go through all kinds of experiences. It is so easy to look down on other because of their dress, their racial background, etc etc etc

    Lets all look what Jesus did in the stories in the bible he excepted all.
    He said that the what comes out of our hearts and mouths is more importend then the outside of us.
    And sometimes I find that feeling of aceptence more in with other churches then in the lds church.

    Elizabeth

  98. Patrick Mason on June 25, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    To Jill Johnson (#94) – I just now saw your post, sorry I didn’t respond earlier. I don’t want to get defensive here, particularly because I absolutely agree with the spirit of your post, but every time I used “these people” or “them” I was referring very specifically to the people in my ward (thus simply using pronouns), and was consciously trying not to sound like Ross Perot or Barbara Bush in talking about “them” and “their” problems.

    On the broader point, I couldn’t agree with you more, that the ideal within Zion is to look beyond all earthly distinctions and be united in Christ regardless of race, class, gender, education, whatever. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of the temple (although there is a gender distinction there), and of 4 Nephi (no “-ites”).

    However, I’m a bit dubious of the “colorblindness” model. While Zion has no racial distinctions, and God doesn’t discriminate based on race, the fact of the matter is we live in a world in which our interactions are heavily influenced by racial and class distinctions. So to pretend like they’re not there means that we’re not addressing real problems. I genuinely aspire to treat all people with equal respect, but if I pretended that some people weren’t labeled “African American” or “poor” in our society, and pretended that those labels and social categories didn’t mean something in very real terms and often lead to discrimination or marginalization, it would mean that I’m neglecting injustice in the world and refusing to look evil in the face for the sake of an idyllic myth that I’ve created in my head. I think “colorblindness” is a great excuse for white people to neglect race as a continuing problem (“we’re all the same, now can we just stop talking about race?”). Of course, it’s a paradox, because by highlighting race as a distinction I am essentially doing what I hope to counter, but I don’t know any way of addressing problems other than addressing them. (And to be clear, the problem isn’t race, it’s how we deal with it, which is usually quite badly.)

    If you interpreted my post as somehow racist or classist, I sincerely apologize — it was genuinely meant as just the opposite, as a plea for help in overcoming our divisions based on race and class. But I just don’t know how to talk about real distinctions without making grammatical distinctions as well.