Latest from Mormon Land: LDS predictions for 2023; more praise for FSY changes

Also: How to revive church growth; how a Christmas painting was edited; how Black members are faring; and how the faith has evolved on same-sex marriage.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A women's session of General Conference takes place at the Conference Center in April 2022. A Latter-day Saint blogger believes there's a 50% chance a "significant" policy change will be mentioned at a conference session in 2023.

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What’s in store for this year?

Ready to play ball? Crystal ball, that is.

Latter-day Saint data nerd Stephen Cranney is, with his 2023 “superforecasts” for the church.

In a Times and Seasons blog post, Cranney rattles off a list of predictions for this year and the probability of them coming true.

Let’s look at several of his picks:

The church will report a 2022 growth rate below 1% at the spring General Conference.

There’s an 80% chance that happens, he writes, especially since its “year-on-year growth rate has been below 1% for the past couple of years.” An easing pandemic, he cautions, could change that. (Membership, in fact, rose by 0.8% in 2021, 0.6% in 2020 and 1.54% in 2019.)

Another sexual abuse “scandal” will erupt in the church.

Cranney pegs that at 80% as well, “given the sheer number of local leaders in the U.S., combined with the tragic ubiquity of sexual abuse, along with the increased awareness of this problem.”

A “significant” policy change, addressed in at least two General Conference talks, will occur.

Cranney sees that as a 50-50 prospect. “While President [Russell] Nelson’s tenure has had a lot of [policy changes],” he states, “they seem to have tapered off recently.

A temple in Mongolia will be announced.

Temple prognosticator Matt Martinich has been saying that for a while. Cranney puts that probability at 55%, pointing to church growth there and the push to reduce the distances members must travel to reach a temple. As for new proselytizing missions coming to neighboring China. Don’t bet on it. Cranney gives that only a 2% chance.

New cheers for the new FSY

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf greets youths at a For the Strength of Youth conference in Thailand in October 2022. A Latter-day Saint blogger sees positive changes in the new FSY guidelines.

The church’s new printed and online “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet continues to win praise.

The latest to chime in: Ziff, the pen name for a writer at the Zelophehad’s Daughters website. The blogger quotes portions of the revised guidebook and then riffs on the positives in each entry. For instance:

The new FSY booklet states, “There are many good and wholesome things in this world.”

“This statement is made in the context of choosing good media,” Ziff notes. “I feel like it should be flashed up as a response in the Conference Center whenever a conference speaker laments that ‘the world’ is nothing but a cesspool of wickedness.”

“Sexual feelings are an important part of God’s plan to create happy marriages and eternal families,” the pamphlet explains. “These feelings are not sinful — they are sacred.”

“I know this isn’t true for many people in the church, but I absolutely got the message as a teen that sexual feelings were sinful and sex was sinful, and God only grudgingly allowed it between married couples, and then only as a means of reproduction,” the blogger writes. “That it could also be pleasurable was just a wicked side effect. Anyway, that’s why I’m happy to see the booklet explicitly state that sexual feelings are not sinful.”

“Even when you try to do your best to make good choices, sometimes you will make mistakes,” the pamphlet says. “You’ll do things you wish you hadn’t. Everyone does.”

Ziff breathes a sigh of relief on this point.

“As an anxiety-prone person, I’m especially happy to see the booklet normalizing the making of mistakes,” the writer states. “I feel like there’s a norm from the [general authorities] on down that people don’t generally really talk about the mistakes they’ve made. I think this can make it easy for teens to feel like they’re uniquely wicked when they find themselves unable to live a sinless life. ... I appreciate this matter-of-fact statement about how this just doesn’t happen for anyone.”

The latest ‘Mormon Land’ podcast: How to kick-start church growth

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

In the inaugural issue of the Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association, independent researcher David Stewart, who has been studying Latter-day Saint growth for decades, explores why the era of rapid church expansion may be at an end. On this week’s show, he discusses the slowdown and how it can be reversed. Listen to the podcast.

From The Tribune

(Alice Faulkner Burch) Alice Faulkner Burch is the editor of “My Lord, He Calls Me: Stories of Faith by Black American Latter-day Saints."

• The church alters the picture of a 17th-century Nativity painting to cover a hint of Mary’s cleavage. Such “prudish” practices, argues Tribune columnist Gordon Monson, do more harm than good.

• A new Deseret Book publication, featuring essays from Black Latter-day Saints across the U.S., doesn’t sugarcoat the racism these members face, sometimes from fellow believers.

• Tribune guest columnist Eli McCann points to the church’s evolution on same-sex marriage — from famously (or infamously) pushing for passage of California’s Proposition 8 in 2008 to publicly endorsing the Respect for Marriage Act in 2021. “In just two decades, I went from living in a world where I never thought I could come out,” he writes, “to one where my parents call my husband more than they call me.”