What I Want for My Son
Families: Isn't It About Conditional Love?

Letter to my Kids - Final Entry

I close out my letter with a grab-bag of "modern" issues - church growth and finances, anti-depressant use, divorce, missions, church leadership, and some final thoughts.  Hope someone has found this interesting, thought provoking, or useful in some other regard!

Church Growth Statistics

The growth and overall size of the LDS church is often quoted with pride by LDS members, and used as supporting evidence of its truth. How could 13 million Mormons (as reported in 2007) be wrong? Well, they may or may not be, but one should be careful siting size or growth as an indicator of truth. Indeed, the success of the LDS church is impressive - in 175 years it has grown to over 13 million members (as of late 2007). The monetary value of the church and its assets is enormous. But does growth by itself indicate truth? To acknowledge such would be to acknowledge that the Jehovah's Witnesses must have a significant measure of truth, since in a shorter time period than Mormonism they have grown to approximately 11 million members as well. Same for the Seventh Day Adventists. But really, all of these churches pale in comparison to the Catholic Church, which has well over 1 billion members, and adds more membership every year than the entire body of the LDS, JWs, and SDA's combined. Even to put that in context, there are more than 1 billion Muslims in the world, and another 3 billion individuals who belong to a wide variety of other religions (such as Hindu) or non-theistic "religions," such as Confusionism, Buddhism, or various traditional pagan religions. I don't think anyone would advocate picking a religious system based soley on "who's the biggest." But it's easy to have a misconception about the relative impact of your chosen religion when you live in a fairly small area that is composed almost entirely of one faith.

LDS members also like to report that the LDS church is one of, if not the, fastest growing religions. However, the numbers do not support this. An article published in the Salt Lake Tribune on June 22, 2006 (there have been several others as well) by Peggy Fletcher Stack talks about this mis-conception. The fact is, the activity rate is only about 40% in the United States, and even lower in other parts of the world. In a number of Latin American countries where there has been huge reported growth, the activity rate is in the 20% range. Censuses taken by the governments of those countries find that a majority of those who the church claims to be members do not self-identify as Mormons. I won't speculate on the reasons for this, but this is what the numbers show. In the United States, a CUNY (City University of New York) study over 11 years (from 1990 to 2001) shows that growth rate for the LDS church is virtually zero. You can take this for what it's worth, but the facts are what they are - there are many baptisms but also a very large number that never come back again. Convert baptisms were at a peak in 1996 of 321K, while in 2004 they dropped to 241K. These numbers are straight out of the Ensign, reported by the church itself. During that same time period the missionary force increased from 48K to 56K missionaries, so it should be clear that converts per missionary went down significantly - missions are getting tougher. Again, you can take this information how you will, but you should be aware of the reality - claims of number of members and rate of growth are significantly exagerated.

The Church and Money

Regarding the finances of the church, it has been estimated some years ago that the LDS church collects approximately $6 billion per year in tithing and other revenue (See "Mormon America" by the Ostlings). It has massive land holdings and numerous corporations engaged in a wide range of businesses from broadcasting to insurance sales to cattle ranches. The issue is not whether a church should own property and businesses, but the fact that there is no transparency whatsoever in the financial operations of the LDS church. Every year in General Conference an accountant reporting to the First Presidency gives a "report" to the assembly which consists of a statment that they have found everything to be in order. While this may be reassuring to the faithful, it is far short of a real financial report. In fact, up until the 1950s they did publish financial information, including total income and expenditures. But about that time the church ran into significant financial trouble due to overbuilding, and stopped reporting numbers. The church is currently on sound financial ground (so far as we know), but numbers were never published again.

The LDS church is not required by law to disclose financial information, and I don't necessarily believe there is widespread malfeasance. But transparency and openness is the way that we ensure funds are used appropriately. The people handling the money and making the spending decisions are just that - people. They suffer from the same temptations and conflicts of interest as anyone. Openness and review, especially by those doing the donating, is how these weaknesses are kept in check. Also, one would think that when you are giving a significant portion of your income to a "charitable organization," that they would be forthcoming in publishing numbers on how much they receive and where it goes. Many other large churches do just that, because the membership wants to know where their money goes and how it is used. How much of the church's income goes to charitable and humanitarian efforts? No one outside of the church office building knows. But we do know that buildings and temples are expensive, the conference center cost in the neighborhood of $500 million dollars. The Salt Lake newspapers have reported that the downtown re-development effort for Crossroads and ZCMI malls will cost over $1 billion dollars. Where does this money come from? President Hinckley claimed in general conference that "no tithing dollars" were being used for these efforts. However, such a claim is a distinction without a difference. All assets that are in the church's posession either came from tithing and donations, or were generated from investments or businesses that were originally paid for by tithing and donations. Ultimately, everything the church does came from the members' pockets at some point. The fact that more members don't demand to know where their money is going is a little disappointing.

One of the LDS church's claims to be like Christ's original church is that they have a "lay clergy." This is true at the local level, but not at any level above regional representative. All the general authorities receive "living allowances," which is frankly no different than being paid. Again, I have no problem with professional people being paid for their services, but it seems a little hypocritical to claim a "lay clergy" when in fact so many are being paid. And one will never know exactly how much they are paid because the church does not publish financial information. Contrast how current general authorities live with how the original disciples of Christ are reported to have lived. Is it consistent?

Antidepressant Use

It has been reported a number of times that Utah leads the nation in anti-depressent usage, nearly twice the national average (LA Times, February 20, 2002). While Utah is over 60% LDS, what does this information mean about the church? This fact does not necessarily mean that the LDS church causes depression. Causation is very difficult to prove via statistics, and many people who are not LDS self-medicate with other drugs or alcohol rather than seeking professional help for their depression. What it does say is that being LDS does not necessarily make you happier than anybody else. LDS people suffer from depression and other ills of life just like anyone else. I am an advocate for proper health and psychiatric care - if one needs these kinds of medications, they should certainly seek competent medical advice and use them appropriately. But please don't fall into the trap that depression or other "mental" problems can be cured by praying harder, reading scriptures more, or simply "thinking happier thoughts." By the way, the stigma attached to such issues is not a unique LDS attitude - many people feel the same way. Over time, hopefully, that will change. In general I believe LDS people are progressive in their acceptance of modern medical and psychiatric treatment. But there are some that believe such ailments are "made up," and can be cured by either folk remedies or other "spiritual" means.

Divorce Rates

The church has claimed in the past (and I said this myself on my mission) that LDS marriages are stronger than non-LDS marriages, especially temple marriages. While there is no available public data on temple marriages, one can draw several conclusions from the data that is available. Studies have been done on the divorce rates among various religious groups, and this data is summarized below.

Percentage of adults by religious belief who have been divorced (provided by religioustolerance.org):

  • Non-denominational: 34%
  • Jewish: 30%
  • Baptists: 29%
  • Protestents: 25%
  • Born-Again Christians: 24%
  • Mormons: 24%
  • Catholics: 21%
  • Lutherans: 21%
  • Atheists/Agonstics: 21%

More inferences can be drawn from state-by-state divorce rates (numbers presented here came from infoplease.com) In 2004, the average number of divorces per 1000 population was 3.7. In Utah, it was 3.9, very near the average. Some of the lowest divorce rates were in states like Pennsylvania (2.5) and Rhode Island (3.0), and some of the highest were Mississippi (4.5) and Nevada (6.4). Again, I don't present these numbers to show there is anything inherently wrong with Mormonism, but that they show that Mormons are just like everybody else and suffer the same problems as everybody else. Given that the state of Utah is more than 60% LDS, the divorce rate among non-Mormons would have to be sky-high for the whole state to be just average. There is no data to suggest that this is the case, and it defies common sense. Some would argue that other states have lower divorce rates because the people are more likely to live together than actually get married. That may be true, but there are other factors to consider. For example, divorce rates also correlate well with education level and age at first marriage. Education most often determines your earning power, and financial problems are another big contributor to marital conflict, and thus, divorce. The data tells me that to have the best shot at a good marriage, wait until you are more mature and educated. The cold facts are that being LDS doesn't appear to provide any specific advantage.


Missions and missionaries are held in very high esteem in Mormon culture. Being a returned missionary is one of the qualifications most LDS young women are told is highly desirable for choosing a spouse. I have been on a mission, and while there were a few times that were "spiritual highs," you should also be prepared for the reality of what to expect. The fact is, missionaries are, for the most part, 19 to 21-year-old males with all the hormones, immaturity, and boorishness that can come with that. Some are very serious, studious, hard working, and decent and fun folks. Others are simply jerks. There is no "magic" that changes their personality when they are set apart by their stake president, and if you go on a mission, you should be prepared for that fact. That is part of the reason for the sometimes draconian rules that are in place on many missions and in the MTC. Some people find these rules stifling and repressive, and they are meant to channel your mindset completely in missionary work. Psychologically, this serves to mentally bond a person to the church, since to sacrifice oneself in this way subconsiously justifies any perceived imperfections with the church or its leaders. "How can it be wrong when I've given so much of myself to it?" Psychologists have well documented this phenomenon. This also plays into the idea that "a testimony is found in the bearing of it." When one publicly and out-loud states something, they subconsciously become more attached to the idea since no one wants to be known as a liar, regardless of the evidence to support the position. So be prepared for a wide variety of missionaries.

The mission itself can be enjoyable or repressive, depending on the area you go to, your companion, or the mission president. In essence, it is, unfortunately, a door-to-door sales job, and there are not many people who are interested in the product being presented. If you do go on a mission, I would hope that you would focus on the human aspect of what you could do to help people wherever you are, and not the "numbers" as far as baptisms or proselyting hours go. Again, it depends a great deal on your president and other mission leaders how much emphasis achieving numbers receives. Also, remember that people are more important than rules. You will likely be told that keeping every rule, even miniscule unimportant ones, are crucial for missionary success. On the contrary, you may actually observe that the elders who baptize the most are those who may be fairly lax about keeping rules, but have good "people skills," and are able to befriend those who eventually join the church. I have seen that myself. In the end, the people you attempt to convert will be asked to make significant sacrifices for the church, and may incur serious social repercusions as well. Please remember that, and treat them with consideration. You may want to think about how you would feel if a member of your family were being recruited into a high-commitment, non-LDS religion.

Also please remember that a mission is not necessarily a "safe haven." Missionaries die in accidents, get serious health problems, and are sometimes killed or injured by other people intentionally. If you go, please, keep yourself safe, use common sense, and seek appropriate medical help if you need it. It is true that missionaries have lower injury/death rates than the population at large in that age group, but that is easily attributable to two things: (1) missionaries are pre-screened for health issues before being allowed to go out, and (2) the rules proscribe many high and moderate-risk activities that are the primary causes of accident, injury, and death for that age group.

Church Leadership and the Spirit of Discernment

In the LDS church you (and I) have been taught that the church leadership has certain responsibilities, stewardship, and inspiration for and over the members. In other words, the bishop has stewardship over the ward and is entitled to revelations for ward members, and in return, members of the ward are expected to give heed to his guidance. The same goes for leaders at higher levels and their sphere of influence. Now, even LDS will admit that their leaders are not infallible, but I would like to explore the implications of that statement. When it comes to talking about leaders at the highest level, one rarely hears criticism, and members are admonished not to "speak evil of the Lord's annointed" (this is, in fact, one of the temple covenants). This can lead to situations where leaders can exercise undue authority, and even spiritual or physical abuse, without complaint from the membership. While I believe most LDS leaders, especially at the local level, are decent people trying to do a difficult job for which they are likely not well trained, every so often a bad apple will be placed in positions of authority. There have been documented cases (fortunately, rare) of child abusers, sexual predators, and pedophiles in bishoprics and stake presidencies. You don't need to be cynical, but please do not trust someone out of hand because of their leadership position. More often, authorities will often think that they are being inspired to give you a calling or ask you to do something which causes serious imposition on your time, especially your family time. You have the right to say "no." The church is a voluntary organization, and even though it may be an unwritten rule that you should never refuse a calling, you have the right to your own personal inspiration on what is good for you and your familiy. Do not let anyone push you into doing things that you honestly don't want to or are unable to do.

Over the years many LDS leaders have given "advice," even in official publications, that are not necessarily doctrinal, but are sometimes treated as if they were. For example, for many years members of the church were taught and believed that using birth control in any form was wrong. Now, at least officially, bishops in the handbook are told that this should be a private decision between husbands and wives. Every so often you may still hear a someone teaching this as if it were doctrine, but it's not. Another related issue is having children. Many talks have been given where LDS members are counseled to have children as soon as possible and to have as many as they are able. I think this is poor advice for many people - you should wait to have children until you are financially able to care for them, and also limit your family size to the number of children you can handle. You need to be able to provide for them emotionally, physically, financially, educationally, and so on. Limiting family size isn't necessarily being selfish - it is likely in the best interest of the children themselves. A frazzled mother (or dad) juggling too many competing demands cannot give the same level of care, love, support, and training as one who has chosen to give more attention to fewer children. Greater financial resources will allow children more opportunities for education and talent-building, too. The number of children you have is up to you, and it may be 1 or 10 depending on your situation, but do not automatically assume it is for the best to have a large number.

While we're talking about church leadership, I would like to mention the concept of "spirit of discernment," which is the belief that LDS people have that leaders are gifted with the ability to discern people's hearts, or detect those who may be harboring sin or ill intent. It also relates to a leader's ability to give good advice, as from the Lord, regarding a person's problems. From a church publication:

"The gift of discernment enables a bishop or branch president to know truth, to understand the differences between good and evil, and even to know what is in a person’s heart. Because he has this gift, we can seek his counsel and he can tell us what the Lord would have us do to grow spiritually." (Official LDS Church Manual "Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood", Part A, History and Organization of the Priesthood, 8: Duties of the Bishop and the Branch President, pg 57)

The reason I bring this up is because in my experience, one should not count on this "gift" in any fashion beyond what a normal person may be able to guess or discern from other clues. There are a numerous cases of "unworthy" people being given temple recommends, baptized, or ordained to priesthood offices. There are also a number of high profile incidents that call this gift into question, one of which is the incident with Mark Hofmann (circa 1985 - I saw this play out in the newspapers while I was at BYU). Mark Hofmann was a dealer specializing in early Mormon historical documents. His findings were really quite remarkable, if not downright astounding. He had managed to find a number of documents written by early Mormon leaders, such as a blessing given by Joseph Smith, Jr, to his son Joseph Smith III, and a letter from Joseph's mother Lucy Mack Smith. The most prominent finding was a letter alleged to have been written by Martin Harris, later to become known as "The Salamander Letter," because of its reference to Joseph Smith finding a white salamander at the location where the Book of Mormon plates were found, and other "magical" references. Many of these letters contained unorthodox views of Joseph's early life, and were considered emberrassing or damaging to the faith of the members. The LDS church bought or obtained most of these letters through third-parties who then donated them to the church. High ranking church leaders reviewed these letters, had them reviewed by other document experts, and pronounced them authentic. However, Hofmann was not only a clever forger, he also became a murderer. Due to financial difficulties in putting together deals regarding his forged documents, he set two bombs, killing LDS bishop Steve Christiansen, and the wife of another documents dealer, Kathleen Sheets.

If the power of discernment can be used to detect those with nefarious purposes, one wonders why Hoffman was never detected by any LDS leaders with whom he had dealings. In fact, there is a picture of Mark Hofmann in the LDS Church News meeting with (then) president Spencer W Kimball, reviewing one of his forgeries. No one ever said anything, and officials in the church attempted to distance themselves from Hofmann after the bombing incident, even though Presiding Bishop H Burk Peterson had been involved in arranging loans to Hofmann to finance documents deals. Dalin Oakes also delivered a speech at BYU wherein he attempted to justify why a salamander may have indeed been used as some kind of messenger. Such justifications look a little foolish in retrospect once the documents were determined to be fakes. Again, I believe the church leadership is generally decent and genuine and attempting to do what they think is right, but they are just men. Our expectations of how they behave should be level-set by that fact, and not with expectations of extrordinary abilities or special extra-sensory insights, including "the gift of discernment."

Given that fact, I would be careful in your spiritual dealings with those called to be leaders. These men are normal businessmen, professionals, tradesman, or whatever, being put into a position where they are expected to give spiritual and personal advice, including things like marriage counseling. They usually have not been trained as psychologists or counselors, and are expected to let the "spirit" guide them. In confession, you do not have to give details about anything you have done, and even the official Church Handbook of Instructions (CHI) states that they should not pry for details. Since documented cases have shown you cannot rely on spiritual discernment to protect you from those who may have hidden pecadilios, you need to protect yourself. Confession and repentance (if you believe in such as described by LDS theology) should be primarily between you and God, and perhaps any third party you may have injured. Some church leaders do a great job in providing comfort and aid to those over whom they preside; others do not. I am only saying you shouldn't rely on the fact that they are Bishop to guarantee they will be "speaking for God" to you.

Religious Purpose and Final Thoughts

Religion serves a useful and valuable purpose for many people. Sociologically, it can be analyzed like any other natural phenonomon for its impact on the structure of society and on individuals. It motivates people to do (good) things they might not otherwise do, such as give donations to the poor and care for the ill, or go settle a difficult or even barren country (Utah pioneers). The motivation comes from convictions. I can't answer whether such motivation could be done without stories that are based on unprovable events. What's good for the group is not necessarily good for the individual. Perhaps it keeps us from going crazy as we contemplate the finiteness of our life. Some have analyzed religion in the survival context - does religions of various kinds give certain groups survival benefit? (See "Darwin's Cathedral" by David Sloan Wilson for an extensive study). Since it exists and is used by so many people, it probably does.

It also serves to form both a "life story" and answer questions about our existence that are not readily available elsewhere. The great existential question of what happens after we die is always out there, and human beings appear to be the only animal that can project into the future and see death as an inevitable event. Many different religions have answered this question in different ways, from various versions of heaven and hell to reincarnation. Religions can inculcate followers with varying degrees of fanaticism, which can cause them to behave in ways that may be injurious to others. True believers of any group may be very sincere, and may at the same time be completely baffled by the sincere beliefs of others. To live in a pluralistic society, we need to make sure to focus on the common shared values more than take issue with unusual beliefs.

In writing this (rather long! :-)) letter I've tried to condense a large amount of relevant information regarding religion, particularly the LDS church, and how we process information about it. Hopefully you have some idea of why I have come to the conclusions that I have and why I live my life the way I do. People should have a choice, and not be protected from unpleasant information "for their own good," at least as adults. Eventually we need to be able to make up our own minds. Again, I want to reiterate that I do not expect you to react in any particular way to please me. I love you and will love you regardless, and want you to be happy. Living the Mormon lifestyle is really not such a bad thing relative to many other things people do in this world. But personally I felt that I could not participate in something that did not live up to the standards of truth and evidence I expected. I mainly want you to have your eyes open so that you are not surprised later in life as I was. I will support you however you decide to continue your journey in life, and hope that we can always have a trusting and close relationship.

With Love,

Your Dad



I have enjoyed each of these letters, fh451, and know how much time and effort and heart and soul went into them. Now that you have put up the final entry, I will put links to all of them in the sidebar here for easy future reference. Thanks for posting them here.


On the Hofmann case and discernment: you forget to mention that they negotiated with him to buy the piece and lock it up.....after it had received a significant amount of publicity.

At that point Hofmann was no murderer and probably wasn't even thinking about murder. But they had to do something amid the adverse publicity that these documents caused. Apostles also meet with and talk to politicians of all types, including Clinton when he was president but they never gave him a calling as a GA or similar.

I say this because it isn't an issue for discernment but church relations with governments, or the press or business where all types are found including this Hofmann.

They had to deal with him in a business transaction, before he became a murderer and in this case even if you saw him an evil via the spirit of discernment they would still have meet with him and tried to buy the piece......to lock it up.

Mayan Elephant


are you saying that clinton is evil, and he met with the prophet. so, why is one surprised that the evil hofmann also met with the prophet?

holy hell dude, i am lost on this one.

yeah, to lock it up is right. they wanted to lock it up. thats pretty much it. good job on that part.


Carlos said: "They had to deal with him in a business transaction, before he became a murderer and in this case even if you saw him an evil via the spirit of discernment they would still have meet with him and tried to buy the piece......to lock it up."

I'm not totally sure where you are going with this, but a couple of things come to mind. First, when they met with him for the "business transaction," he was peddling phony documents that were rather embarrassing to the church. They missed "discerment" on two counts - that the documents were phony, and that he had intent to deceive them for money. Second, isn't part of the ability of a "prophet" to be able to discern the future, e.g., actually give "prophecies"? One would think that Hoffman wouldn't have had to actually committed the murders yet for the spirit of discernment to signal the red-phone prophet hotline that something was amiss. Apologists may say (and have said) that Hinckley probably knew all about it, but chose to stay silent to serve some higher purpose. Just like when he was on Larry King the night before the Asian tsunami a couple of years ago, and didn't say a word about it. The point here is that even if we give the "prophet" the benefit of the doubt and they actually know something, you can't count on them to tell you anything which might allow you to avoid hardship, disaster, or death. Maybe God wants you dead.



Thanks for your efforts on these topics. Having been raised on the East Coast, I found most of the “faith promoting rumors” taught in Utah to be funny. While attending BYU, I learned about our incredible growth rate, our outstanding divorce rate which was calculated at half the national average, and the non existent use of antidepressants in happy valley. Bottom line, people will buy anything. I proved this to myself shortly after graduating with my undergrad. My wife and I moved to North Carolina where they love to smoke/sell smokes and no matter what the facts are people are willing to look past them to justify their world. Ask anyone in NC over the age of 50, they still haven’t established a connection with smoking and lung cancer. Once you get these thoughts into peoples heads most will die with them. We have a number of couples in our ward that feel that they themselves must repopulate the earth. After their sixth child it finally puts mom in the hospital. Not saying I could do any better, six kids would put me in the bed next to her. But why kill ourselves to comply with a culture of faith promoting rumors that are harmful to our health and wellbeing?

Being raised outside of the LDS stronghold as given me the ability to say “That doesn’t make any since” or “That won’t bring happiness” or “That’s stupid as hell”. Most of my BYU roommates just kind of ran with it, sounds right that the true church would have a divorce rate of half the national average.(Mormon propaganda) It’s all about sales and marketing, people will buy anything.

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