As Mormonism rounded the bend of the early 20th century, children who had not known Joseph Smith or experienced the pioneer trek came to adulthood—and many of them began leaving the church, earning for themselves the nickname “the lost generation.” These were people who didn’t experience the miracles of early Mormonism, nor did they understand their parents’ testimonies against the gritty reality of the industrial age. The old shoe didn’t fit.
One hundred years later, a second “lost generation” is emerging, a group for whom the feel-good narratives of the past conflict with the transparency of the internet age. To the first generation of lost children, their parents and church leaders probably seemed like zealots who lacked an understanding of a changing world. But to this generation, the conflict between the narrative they grew up with and the scholarship which contradicts it leaves many thinking their parents are fools and Church leaders, liars. To complicate matters, this lost generation is accused of experiencing a crisis of faith, even though it was their faith that brought them to study. To me, what they experience looks more like a crisis of trust.
There’s an important difference between a faith crisis and a trust crisis. A crisis of faith faults this new lost generation with a lack of willing belief; a crisis of trust shifts the onus from the disaffected to those who severed the trust. It calls the trust-breaker to repentance, rather than shames the person experiencing crisis.
I know about trust crisis. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gone topsy-turvy. Where once I was encouraged to pursue light no matter where it’s found, I’m now cast as disobeying a modern prophet because I won’t forsake my decades long interest in Mormon history. Over the weekend, President Dallin H. Oaks, while speaking to young married couples in Chicago, advocated against the kinds of study for which the School of the Prophets was created, telling attendees to stick to prayer and scripture.
I’m all for prayer and scripture and, as he recommends, pursuing a testimony of Jesus ahead of a testimony of the Church. But he makes an assumptive connection between those two things, one that suggests infallibility of the Church. Of course, Church leaders admit their fallibility, but that doesn’t stop people like me from being cast out of the Approved Class of Latter-day Saints for noticing it. I remain an active member, despite my trust crisis, because of a lesson learned when, as a young mother, I cared for another woman’s children.
As is common, a friend and I regularly swapped babysitting so each of us could run errands without them. My friend’s four-year-old daughter experienced severe anxiety when her mother left. Time after time, I’d hush her, tell her not to worry, her mother would return. Even so, the little bugger would cry the entire time her mother was absent.
Then I changed my approach. When her mother left and the child’s tears began, I listened to her cry and then said, “You’re so sad and I don’t blame you. Your mother left you so she could do things without you. That’s hard. If I were you, I’d be just as sad.”
The child’s breath caught, she stared at me for a couple beats, and burst into an anguished howl like none I’d ever heard. I thought I’d really messed up.
But a minute or two later, her arms were around me. Her tears soon cleared, and, for the first time, she willingly joined the other children. I repeated this each week her until her anxiety was replaced with trust in me and forgiveness of her mother.
Obviously, a caretaker/child analogy is flawed when applied to the Church and its adult members, but this event taught me the effectiveness of compassionate listening, acknowledgement, and validation when applied to those suffering emotional trauma. Human nature remains ageless, and so I offer it as a better guideline for retention than President Oaks’ “don’t look” strategy.
My point is, people experiencing a crisis of trust have legitimate complaints and understandable anxiety and anger. Telling them not to worry because God will work it out, or to avoid study not sanctioned by the Church, or to have faith that the Brethren won’t lead them astray—the very people they see as betraying them—will never resolve the tension. The covenant path must be, above all else, honorable and forthright. This requires transparency and accountability, particularly without concern for the Church coffers or fear of apology.
If the Brethren want to stop the bleeding, they can, though this new lost generation may emit a howl like none else when their suffering is validated, a shriek that lasts longer than is comfortable for the hierarchy. But this is the top leadership’s only hope of forging renewed confidence with those in a crisis of trust, as well as with the broader society. If they cannot find their way to this, I fear I may have attributed the moniker of “lost generation” to the wrong demographic and for reasons no Latter-day Saint finds pleasure in suggesting.
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For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. (Luke 12: 2, 3)
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11 thoughts on “Today’s Lost Generation and the Crisis of Trust”
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Thank you, it’s a beautiful dream but I don’t see the hierarchy hierarchy ever ripping off the Band-Aid.
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You’re very likely correct. But stating how it should be *should still happen. Just trying to help the guys out. 😉
Wow, this accurately pinpoints the relationship breakdown between many members and the church. The question of an ‘unwillingness to have faith’ vs. broken trust shifts responsibility to the heart of the ‘problem’. This perspective creates a paradigm shift for me as it focuses the reality of the situation with laser like precision. Thank you.
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Very beautifully done, Lisa. My sincere compliments.
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That’s because of the insistence on control and demands to be “humble, submissive, and obedient.” It’s just like what we’re seeing in politics and business today.
I still don’t think this quite addresses the heart of the issue. In your parent-babysitter analogy above, the mother who drops her daughter off at your house is still a good parent with no intention of abandoning the child.
I think a better analogy would be something like this: Suppose my parents promised me that they would give me a million dollars if I successfully completed high school. So I work really hard and graduate. Right after they hand me the diploma, I remind my parents about the arrangement and ask where my million dollars is. My parents respond sheepishly and say they don’t really have a million dollars. They were just trying to get me to graduate. Now I could assume that my parents meant well. I still have the high school diploma, after all, and I can use it to go on to college or trade school. But let’s suppose that I planned on that million dollars to do things like avoid debt through college or to pay for a house. My life to that point has been built on a major lie.
On top of that, let’s suppose that my best friend growing up points out to me that my parents’ house is in a decent middle class neighborhood and they have decent though not luxurious cars. My friend says that these details should have clued me in that my parents wouldn’t have the means to make good on their promise and that I shouldn’t have trusted them so thoroughly. In a way, this is like how apologists try to play down the church’s issues and put the onus on the apostate for not doing better research.
I think calling it a “trust crisis” instead of a “faith crisis” only partially describes the problem and still puts a little of the onus back on the individual for not trusting more. I think it’s more accurate to say the church is having a “truth crisis”. The church perpetuated these lies for nearly two centuries and never thought they’d face a comeuppance for doing so. The onus is on them to explain themselves, and Dallin’s suggestion to “not do research” is only going to fly with certain types who really want to remain in.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Steve. The analogies you offer are like others I hear from those who have experienced Church trauma. Please understand that the analogy I used represented how *I learned to validate emotional trauma, but was not intended to represent the Church’s behavior toward members. Neither the mother, child, nor I were offered as symbols of the Church. I would hope that the Brethren someday figure out how to rightly “sit with” members by validating their pain and concerns.
I agree that this post can’t fully capture the issues or represent them, especially not and remain under 1K words. But I do hope what I offer ignites reflection and thoughtful conversation that eases some interpersonal strife if not institutional strife.
Speaking of conversation, a friend commented on a FB thread that he feels a huge part of the problem is a communication crisis. He points out that members (men and women) have no way to express their concerns UPwardly. All we have is public protest of various forms and, if that gets too much notice, the Church labels it apostasy. He’s correct. So yes, add communication crisis to trust crisis. I just want members to stop accusing the disaffected with not having enough faith.
The onus is on the Church leadership to find a way through this. Have truths, even in essay form and on the official site, don’t cut it.
Again, thank you for opening this conversation and for reading in the first place.
The communication problem is huge and has only gotten worse. It used to be that if you cast a dissenting vote in General Conference, you got an audience with an apostle who would listen to your concerns, take them seriously, and then bring them back to his brethren of the quorum. Now it’s just, “Eh, go talk to your stake president.” And what’s he going to do? He’s going to look at you and say something like, “Well, do you believe these men are called of God?” which invalidates your concern no matter which way you answer.
This along with then-Elder Oaks’ comment, “It’s wrong to criticize the leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true.” They don’t want to hear any opinions that differ from theirs. Again, it’s all about manipulation and control.
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“But to this generation, the conflict between the narrative they grew up with and the scholarship which contradicts it leaves many thinking their parents are fools and Church leaders, liars. ”
I’m going to be honest The article hit the nail right on the head here. The only problem is that it didn’t take this thought to it’s logical conclusion:
“The reason why people in my generation, when presented the difference between what they were taught, and the actual historical scholarship come to the conclusion that their parents are fools, and Church leaders, liars; is because our parents ARE fools, and our Church leaders ARE liars.”
I had my faith crisis a few years back, which instantly turned into a trust crisis, when upon examining the actual church history with a critical eye for the first time I quickly realized not only were the stories I was raised on wrong, they were also covering up a sordid history of sexual abuse, religious profiteering, racism, and misogyny.
There was no saving my faith in the church, or my trust in it’s leaders or my trust in my parents at that point. I had spent my whole life preparing to serve a mission, a mission that ended with me half dead and sent home on a “honorable medical discharge”. there is no getting back the decades of my life I gave to a church that lied to me, took my money, my service my everything and turned it’s back on me the second I was an inconvenience. (my insurance claim was instantly denied by salt lake when I got back.)
I could rant and rave about how awful the church is, but I can do something, much, much more practical than that to demonstrate my case.
Look up the BITE model. It is the model used by modern psychology to classify which religions are, and are not cults based on their use of Behavioral, Information, Thought, and Emotional Control. Run a few churches that you are ‘pretty sure’ are cults through thee model. like scientology, or Jehovah’s witnesses. Run a few churches through that you are “pretty sure” aren’t cults like say Quakers. Then once you have a pretty good feel for how the model works, test the Mormon church against the BITE model and be honest to yourself about the results.
Try it. Seriously if the Mormon church is really at all from God; then it should withstand such scrutiny. And if it is not, than why would you want to stay with it for even a minute longer than necessary??
Jason, I owe you an apology because I took a full week to approve this comment. I’ve been out of the country during that time.
There is a legitimate claim to the argument that the church behaves like a cult, or is a cult, whichever words you prefer. My focus will remain on encouraging individuals to assert ownership over their lives, and where possible. Read “possible” as “healthy and safe.” For some, I recognize taking ownership *may needfully mean leaving. For others, it means staying and pushing against the problems. That’s where I am. No one is passing out cyanide Kool-Aid, so if a person is able to stay and push back in healthy ways, then bless them for it. There are wonderful ideas beneath layers of problematic bureaucratic controls.
I’ll continue addressing the wonderful ideas v. interfering bureaucracy over the next several months. Or so I hope, depending on the demands of life. I hope you’ll follow this blog and continue advancing the conversation.
Thanks for reading and thank you even more for leaving a challenging comment. Its tough to have invested so much of yourself into an institution that, ultimately, dropped the ball for you, especially in such a personal way. Godspeed.