The Mormons are rebranding – again. If a commercial enterprise ever felt the need to rebrand as much as the Mormons their stock would surely fall and investors would ask what was wrong. This is an article by Joanna Brooks, a writer with Religious Despatches and a Mormon putting a positive spin on this latest incarnation of Mormonism.
It revolves around the new mormon.org website which features “thousands of profiles posted by individual members”, a sort of “Hi, I’m Mike, and I am a Mormon…” thing. Joanna Brooks remarks:
It's…clearly an effort to address the major PR problems facing the Church as it continues to contend with century-old stereotypes about Mormons as clannish polygamists as well as with recent fallout from its heavy involvement in California's Proposition 8 campaign.
I always smile wryly when I read such comment. It puts the blame for Mormonism’s “major PR problems” squarely on stereotyping and neatly bypasses the embarrassing fact that Mormonism is not the victim of stereotyping but victim to its own history of being clannish and polygamous. Even today, although Salt Lake City Mormons are no longer practicing polygamists they are certainly among the most clannish people you will ever meet. It is not a stereotype but a true representation of Mormons and Mormonism. isn’t it funny that a people who lay such great store at keeping records and connecting with their forebears should be so forgetful of their past and so anxious to bury it – and re-write it?
Joanna Brooks also makes the following interesting observation:
The Church is struggling to retool its approach to missionary work away from the time-honored tradition of door-to-door tracting as growth rates flatline worldwide, in sharp contrast with sociologist Rodney Stark's famous projection that there could be as many as 265 million Mormons by the late 21st century. Retention of members too is a major issue around the globe.
Many will know that as far back as 1980 the Mormon Church was forecasting huge growth in numbers based on a recent spurt in growth and Stark’s projection. I have already written about Mormon demographics and asked what went wrong in the past thirty years. What is refreshing is the frank confession that “[Mormon] growth rates have flat lined worldwide” since Stark. Remember that the next time you hear a Mormon leader utter that inevitable claim “the church continues to grow.” (what do you mean you don’t listen to General Conference!)
There is, finally, a lovely quote from John Dehlin writing on the blog Mormon Matters:
"Let’s say that a young, hip, progressive, yuppy, affluent, intellectual, artistic, and most likely pro-gay couple decides to join the church in an average LDS ward. Will their experience in the church, today, reflect the open, progressive, liberal, almost artsy sentiments and values reflected in this marketing campaign? Will they stay? Or will they feel that a bit of a 'bait and switch' has happened?"
Dehlin concludes that this campaign is “aspirational” and here is the rub. Some young, hip, progressive Mormons might well pray that it may be so but the Mormon Church is probably the most conservative church in America and does not view “progressive” as a good thing. It is still true that when the prophet speaks the discussion is over. The problem for Mormons is that their prophet hasn’t said anything much for a long time now – see Testing Mormon Prophets - and that is why the Ad Men and armchair theologians such as those nice people at FAIR are currently on the ascendant.
Maybe about now would a good time for Mormons to have their own Council of Nicea to hammer out what it is exactly Mormons believe, whether theirs is a progressive religion, whether prophets do lead their church or whether its time to start producing a closed canon and something approaching a systematic theology. Now that would be a major rebranding.