Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The Necessity of Clans?

March 31st, 2016 by MC


Our esteemed JG co-blogger John Mansfield has a theory that Mormons are retreating socially into their extended families, and worries that the Church is turning into something like a confederation of clans (have I got it right, JM?). He goes so far as to posit that the custom of cousin marriage might make inroads in a more insular Church.

I don’t really see the trend of extended families becoming more important than other Church associations, possibly because I live in a far-off land where most Mormons are transplants without extended family around. But I do observe a trend that might be related.

The youth group I grew up in (not that long ago) had boys with fathers in the bishopric, others with dads who weren’t members, and others from families that were marginally active. We also had a friend in our scout troop who wasn’t LDS. And yeah, these family backgrounds were reflected to some extent in our activity levels, but it didn’t seem like the sole determinant. All of us went on missions (except the non-LDS guy), though not all finished their missions.

I have been a YM President for about a year and a half now. I am simply blown away at the difference between the boys from strong LDS families (e.g., parents on ward council, etc.) and the boys who come from part member or less active families. Maybe that sounds obvious to you, but that middle ground that existed when I was a youth, where boys from families of middling activity would still attend activities, and could find their way into a higher activity level than the families they came from (none of my several siblings older than me served missions, and only one is married in the temple), seems to be withering away. My greatest challenge as a leader, one I feel that I am failing at, is to bring these boys to a spiritual level higher than their familial source.

Probably it’s The Culture. Middle grounds of all kinds are turning to quicksand, not just in the Church.

It’s easy for me to look at the present situation and say, “The only hope for my own kids is to raise them in a very strong family, and not to expect that Church leaders or my fellow ward members can really make a difference.” Frankly, that’s pretty much how I feel right now, even though I think quite highly of my fellow ward members. Of course, the prevalence of that attitude is part of the problem. If no one feels that they need to rely on others for the salvation of their families, then likewise few will feel truly responsible for the salvation of those outside their families.

With all that being said, cousin marriage is unlikely, but arranged marriage…not unlikely at all. Can’t you just envision Bishop Jones of Frontier Park 1st Ward offering to unite his clan with that of Bishop Larsen of Frontier Park 3rd Ward through the marriage of their respective son and daughter? Judging by the dating patterns of my young men, it looks like this is happening already, only the kids have an illusion that they are the ones doing the choosing, which is as it should be.

Comments (9)
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March 31st, 2016 01:36:45

March 31, 2016

I had the same experience. None of my young men did better than their fathers. Full stop.

Savvy LDS parents save themselves the bother of syncing marriages by raising their kids to have a hard time passing and then sending them of to preselected dating pools

March 31, 2016

You seem a little late to the party. Or maybe the effect of secular culture took longer to penetrate areas where the church has been the dominant culture.

Outside the Mormon corridor, the major predictor of continued church activity has been seminary attendance. Over 90% correlation.

Next in importance is a combination of: daily family prayer, regular family scripture study, regular Family Home Evening, Sunday meeting attendance.
And of course, those things prepare children for seminary.

The bell curve of church activity levels has been, and still is, shifting to a double hump, with fewer people in the middle. IE, the lukewarms are shifting to either hot or cold, the wheat and tares are self sorting to the opposite poles.

If the parents don’t establish themselves as the dominant influnce, the sources of influence default to peers, school, media. If the child doesn’t see LDS alpha males among school peers and school teachers, then the parents are fighting an uphill battle.

The examples of ward leaders and fellow ward members are the “second witness” of the parents, so that in a dominant secular culture the children can see that their faithful parents are not merely weirdos and outliers.

I seem to recall several posts on marriage sortation here. My observation is that “unequally yoked” couples tend to gravitate towards the least common denominator

I’ve also read commentary from bloggers that children of “cultural Mormons” go inactive quickly no matter how “active”/participatory the parents are. Faith is needed to stay active, and cultural Mormonism just doesn’t cultivate or inculcate faith.

March 31, 2016


– I agree that the middle ground is withering away. The double hump curve.

– You have less than a 10% chance of bringing boys (or girls) to a higher spiritual level if they aren’t in Seminary. 90% chance if they are in Seminary.

– You can’t rely on a mission to “save” the young man any more. That was a false tradition that grew out of a misunderstanding/misapplication of Pres Kimball’s “every young man should serve a mission.” He did not mean “even if he is unprepared.”

It needs to be clear that “raising the bar” and the new youth instructional system implemented since then is the church’s official claim that the false tradition cannot and will not go on.

– I don’t quite get your point on clans. Sortation among levels of faithfulness/activity naturally occurs. And local waters are fished before waters that are farther away. So what’s the new thing you’re trying to describe?

March 31, 2016


You are right that sorting has always been with us, but social sorting of all kinds has accelerated in recent decades. http://www.economist.com/node/11581447

Every ward has families that seem to get reactivated every time a kid is baptized. If it’s the grandparents who spark the reactivation, then it’s when the kid turns 8, and if it’s the missionaries it happens when the kid turns 9. My sense, and I could be wrong, is that in ye olden days, a higher percentage of these families actually produced kids who ended up serving missions, marrying in the temple, or otherwise maintaining their connection with the Church into adulthood. To the extent that this no longer happens, the gap between active, thriving LDS families and the remainder is going to widen. I think that can’t help but contribute to what John Mansfield perceives as a retreat into families, or “clans.”

As for missions, all of my YM friends who went on missions were worthy to go, with one possible exception. The ones that didn’t finish were mostly due to emotional problems, and their families were as active as any. So I don’t think that’s the change I’m talking about.

John Mansfield
March 31, 2016

This question of whether our wards, stakes, and quorums can still produce missionaries whose fathers weren’t missionaries and young couples married in the temple whose parents are not endowed is a great way of expressing the problem. I too suspect the culture that we are embedded in, that is leaving people disconnected, is making it harder for association as quorums, wards, and stakes to have meaningful strength to help our youth.

March 31, 2016

Ok. But “worthy” and “prepared”/”capable”/”with the program” are two separate things. The worst assholes and the most disobedient elders on my mission were technically worthy. (Church members seemed to equate mission worthiness soley with Law of Chastity.) The biggest problems that I saw were guys who were not prepared (had no testimony or gospel knowlege), or were just not committed to the program enough to do the work or to try to keep the rules.

That was a terminology I found confusing. The most _unchristian_ elders, ie, the rule-breakers and the bullies, kept insisting they were “worthy”. It was a paradox that I was not able to comprehend until many years later. Had I not had a burned-in kind of testimony, I would have walked out of the MTC. The Provo MTC was the most unchristian place (due to both childish and irreverent missionary behavior and an angry and intimidating style among the leadership) I had been in since the time I had joined the church two years previously.

It wasn’t just the Law of Chastity. It seemed like the church had a dual standard for pre-mission and post-mission behavior. I was so glad to hear Elder Ballard’s “raise the bar” talk at Gen Conf in Oct 2002. That finally “made official” the notion that the dual-standard (the false tradition I mentioned above) was in fact _wrong_, and I felt somewhat vindicated and relieved.

I think your point about the “active versus the remainder” gap is what I see about the two hump distribution curve.

I may just be interpretting “clans” different than you. But it does seem like a two tier membership. Which is nothing new, since temple recommends have long been the ID card/identifier between the two tiers of membership.

Are there just the two clans then, the TR holders versus non-TR holders? Or do the TR holders in a stake make a clan?

Here’s what I think is the synthesis: The outside influence of Babylon has increased to the point where the children of the 2nd tier (non-TR holders) can no longer ride on the coattails of the 1st tier. Church peers and leaders are not enough to counteract Babylon. It now takes _parents_ and church peers and church leaders to counteract Babylon.

April 1, 2016

MC, this is a great, thought-provoking post. Now into my third year serving in a YM presidency, I’ve had many of the same thoughts you articulate so well. The middle ground is disappearing, and it is a disturbing trend. We should be able to bring kids into a higher level of activity than their family. But we don’t seem to be able to.

Surely the church exists to assist families in helping their children become converted to Christ, and not the other way around. But “[i]f no one feels that they need to rely on others for the salvation of their families, then likewise few will feel truly responsible for the salvation of those outside their families.”

Of course there are many church members that don’t have a traditional family in the church (single members, those whose family are non-members or less active) and in those cases, I think the church’s role cannot simply be throw our hands up and say “welp, our role is just to help families, and if their family isn’t willing to do the lion’s share of the work, it’s a lost cause.”

I think in those situations the church’s role should be to either be that family (through youth leaders, home teachers, etc.), or to at least facilitate connection to church members or families that will play that role (which might be home teachers, youth leaders, or just ward members acting in their “personal ministry,” as Elder Maxwell used to say, rather than in an official church calling.

In other words, the church doesn’t supplant the family, but it does teach us to broaden our idea of what our family is and who belongs to it beyond our own nuclear or biological families.

April 1, 2016

A perhaps related point is that this might be in some ways a reversal of, or perhaps the mirror image of the trend in late 19th and early 20th century that saw large numbers of youth whose parents had converted and crossed the plains basically losing their faith–the most committed producing less active or inactive children–which is basically what led in the first place to the creation of programs like the primary, the MIA and Aaronic priesthood ordination of youth, with progression through quorums based on age.

My own great-grandfather was the son of an apostle (Orson F. Whitney) but was never really engaged in church activity after childhood and basically died outside the church, which was the source of a whole lot of grief and guilt to his father (this the context behind Elder Whitney’s teaching about the “tentacles of divine mercy). And he was not much of an outlier in those days, from what I’ve read.

It seems as though we created these programs to give youth a better chance at conversion, because relying committed families to bring their children into full activity wasn’t working, and these programs worked pretty well for almost a century, but now it seems they aren’t working like they used to. So are we getting to the point where we no longer see it as our responsibility, serving in such callings, to bring the youth into full activity anymore and are going back to just relying on youth being members of committed families to bring them into full activity? If so, is there a reason to believe that relying on families alone will work better this time than it did 100 years or so ago?

There’s no good answer, I think. I suppose the only answer is the one implied by the questions “And who is my neighbor?” and “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

April 2, 2016

JKC, thank you for your comment, especially near the end. I have cause to repent on this.

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