“If you only knew…” is our quarterly theme here at Segullah. This theme, and Jana Riess’ book, The Next Mormons, work together in a serendipitous manner that opens doors to discuss differences in religious experience, belief and dedication. In other words, I think that both of these invite readers to consider concepts that Mormons might have traditionally shunned, or shelved as “too problematic.”
In this regard, Riess’ book feels almost overdue. As a member of Generation X who grew up outside of Utah, I never felt quite at ease when I left home at the age of 18 to go to school. At the time, I could not identify what was different about me and the LDS community I found myself living in, but I felt awkward and inimitable- in a way that only a few could see was positive. It was finally when I was house-sitting for one of the professors, that I saw something that triggered that I was different, but not unusual. I had a few friends over whom I trusted; we were eating, playing games and laughing. For reasons I can’t recall, I paused and I looked around the living room at my friends: if they were Mormon, they were not from Utah. If they were local to Utah, they were not Mormon. There was something different about all of us, and though Mormonism, Utah and the University were a part of each of our lives, our friendships, personalities, and beliefs did not match those of the majority. At that moment, I knew that it was okay for me to be different. But I also knew that my Utah peers- including my bishop- would likely never understand me. Knowing that I could never change the machine that was Utah Mormon culture, I accepted this, and quite frankly, laid low.
Though The Next Mormons is focused on Millennials rather than GenXers, Riess’ talents in storytelling, analysis and research have come together to create a book about Mormons where I see myself, and know that where I am is okay.
The book itself is based on a series of interviews and surveys that asked respondents- both Mormon and former Mormon about religious beliefs, sexual practices, and social principles that the average and not-so-average Mormon considers—i.e. from Jesus being the Christ and the historical acumen of the Book of Mormon, to the position of women and the place of transgendered individuals within the respondent’s scope.
Importantly, Riess also keenly analyses some of the social changes that have occurred within the corporate church in the last 100 years. In this the research acknowledges that the changing beliefs between Baby Boomer Mormons, to Generation X Mormons to Millennial Mormons point towards the possibility of up and coming social changes in church practice and policy, even in the face of sometimes conflicting applications and practice of piety.
This book is excellent. It is easy to read, well presented and has a wealth of knowledge that I believe is relevant for all church members to read and understand in order to adapt to any more up and coming changes. Especially in the practice of expressing compassion, tolerance and understanding towards fellow church members whose religiosity seems in opposition to our own. Truly is an excellent book, and it has been an honour to review it. I am still processing much of the book, and invite you to engage and do the same.