(The LDS Church's Mormon Temple in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, is seen January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

A religious studies class late last year at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, was unusual for two reasons. The small group of students, faculty and faithful there to hear Mormon Elder Marlin Jensen were openly troubled about the future of their church, asking hard questions. And Jensen was uncharacteristically frank in acknowledging their concerns.

Did the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know that members are “leaving in droves?” a woman asked. “We are aware,” said Jensen, according to a tape recording of his unscripted remarks. “And I’m speaking of the 15 men that are above me in the hierarchy of the church. They really do know and they really care,” he said.

“My own daughter,” he then added, “has come to me and said, ‘Dad, why didn’t you ever tell me that Joseph Smith was a polygamist?’” For the younger generation, Jensen acknowledged, “Everything’s out there for them to consume if they want to Google it.” The manuals used to teach the young church doctrine, meanwhile, are “severely outdated.”

These are tumultuous times for the faith founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, and the rumbling began even before church member Mitt Romney’s presidential bid put the Latter-Day Saints in the spotlight.