In the Q & A period of Greg Prince’s talk at Sunstone a couple weeks ago, LDS scholar Robert Rees asked a question that seems to be weighing heavily on LDS church leadership. In the talk, Dr. Prince shared an expansive view of Mormonism that withstands the more shallow problems that are exposed from a literal-fundamentalistic mindset.
Rees shared his observation that the millennial generation is dropping out of LDS church activity. They are experiencing a break of trust with church leadership and bailing out. “How do we save this generation and keep them in the fold long enough for them to see the beauties and the glories of the restoration and that wonderful transcendent and radical theology?
Greg Prince’s answer:
That’s not only relevant for Mormonism, but for all, at least of American Christianity and even American Judaism. The Wesley Seminary last year was awarded a million and a half dollar grant from the Lilly Foundation to study this issue because every religious tradition across the spectrum is having difficulty hanging onto the youth, particularly the millennial generation. And nobody has the answer yet. And Mormons, as you say, are not at all, immune from this. We are seeing attrition amongst our seed corn at levels that I think are not only alarming but are flashing red lights at us. We’ve got to be able to figure out how do we retain these youth and given where they are in life and in the world, the only way we’re going to retain them is to make this religion vital to them. They will not do it out of a sense of duty. We did. The times have changed. And so as I work with the Wesley, people were all in the same boat, struggling, trying to figure out how do we re rejuvenate the essence of Christianity without cheapening it.
Earlier in his presentation he said the following on the same subject:
Institutional religion has only three cards to play. And for millennials, one of them, truth claims, is off the table. That leaves only two: moral authority and community. People, and particularly younger people want a church that walks the walk, that takes a stand for values and that tries to make the entire world better. They don’t want empty talk and neither do I.
Everybody seems to be trying to answer this question. How do we make Mormonism relevant to millennials. I’ve got three college age millennial children, and they are awesome, but confuse the heck out of me. So I have no idea.
But two things that are on my mind this week seem to be giving a clue into this.
First was the BYU devotional talk this week by Eric Hunstman. In it, he gave a rousing call for Latter-day Saints to follow Christ by creating spaces for the marginalized and to love better in ways like:
- be aware of all forms of racism and stamp them all out
- end sexism and gender inequality
- show empathy and love for doubters or Exmormons
- love more LOUDLY and be more understanding of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters
- be more aware and understanding of those with mental health issues
Watch the video, please, if you haven’t. It’s a beautiful and inspiring message.
After closing, like BYU devotionals usually do, “in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen”, the BYU audience comprising of exactly all those millennials we’re trying to retain affirmed “Amen”. And then CLAPPED and APPLAUDED. This doesn’t happen at BYU devotionals. This might be something that could give insight to LDS Church leaders what millennials are looking for from a religion.
This is what Dr. Prince meant when he says that millennials want a church that walks the walk and stands for values.
The next idea is from the thought leader that might be most responsible for recommitting myself to Mormonism in every bit of a serious and consecrated way as I was prior to faith crisis and deconstruction: Jordan Peterson.
He is attracting thousands (millions?) of mostly young, mostly male, mostly non-religious to “get religion”. He is teaching Old Testament and Christian metaphor in a way that is intellectually bullet proof, but also surprisingly inspiring.
He’s telling them to clean up their room. Be better. Tell the truth. Serve others. Create heaven on Earth. Get off addictive substances. Seek family relationships for manifestion of deeper meaning in life. Avoid materialism and hedonism.
Some comments from his fans:
Nietzsche announced God is dead. Dr. Peterson announced God is resurrected.
Did we all become collectively disenchanted with religion a few years ago, maybe lash out it a bit in anger. And in the past year we once again all collectively come to a more mature, comprehensive, and interesting understanding of religion? Because I seriously feel like the internet is moving side by side with my own personal experience.
This man is resurrecting religion for me, even as an atheist.
Me five years ago: religion is for the sheep, it’s just an opiate for the masses. Me now: finally a two and a half hour lecture on God.
Watch Dr. Peterson’s answer to the question: why don’t you just be direct and answer the question, do you believe in God?
Millennials don’t want you to bullshiz them. They believe in evolution. They probably already know the BOM is not historical or on their way to figuring it out. They’re twitching subconsciously with cognitive dissonance at the 1838 account of the First Vision.
But it’s OK. Just like Jordan Peterson illustrates, there is extreme power in religion story and metaphor, and we can teach it the restoration in the same, powerful way he teaches Genesis. Salt Lake would do well to figure out what Jordan Peterson is doing and try to mimic it. It’s the way out of our “truth crisis”.
Greg Prince says the truth claims are already off the table for millennials, and he doesn’t think it matters. The Jordan Peterson phenomonon is solid proof of that.