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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended November 10, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 06Nov00

By Kent Larsen

US News Puts LDS Church on Cover

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- National US News magazine U.S. News &World Report has a major cover story on the LDS Church in its current issue. Titled "The Mormon Way," the article looks at the growth of the LDS Church and its expanding influence in the world. But author Jeffery L. Sheler goes beyond growth and influence, also looking at the LDS Church's finances, doctrine, missionary work and the difficulty its international growth may bring.

The article cites University of Washington sociologist Rodney Stark, who has predicted LDS membership of 265 million by 2080, making Mormonism the 2nd largest Christian religion. Stark says that Mormonism "stands on the threshold of becoming the first major faith to appear on Earth since the prophet Mohammed rode out of the desert." LDS Church leaders credit the Church's doctrine and its requirements on members for its growth. "We have a demanding religion," says LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, "and that's one of the things that attracts people to this church." Experts also point to the Church's missionary program, finances and organizational efficiency for its growth.

The LDS Church's finances, with estimated revenue of nearly $6 billion annually according to journalist Richard N. Ostling in his book "Mormon America: The Power and the Promise," are cited as a source of the LDS Church's influence. The article says that Church real estate holdings are valued in the billions and the article quotes author Harold Bloom, from his 1992 book, "The American Religion," saying, "no one really knows what portion of the liquid wealth in America's portfolios is held by the Latter-day Saints Church." But he add that "Mormon financial and political power is exerted in Washington to a degree far beyond what one would expect from one voter in 50."

Missionaries make up a large portion of the LDS Church's growth. While 306,000 converts joined the Church through missionaries last year, sociologist Stark says that the larger impact of the missionary program may be in what it does for missionaries. He says the program may have "more impact on Latter-day Saint commitment than it does on LDS conversion."

But those missionaries are converting a lot of people outside of the LDS Church's Utah center. According to Jan Shipps, an Indiana University and Perdue University-Indianapolis emeritus professor, who studies the LDS Church, the Church installed more centralized procedures and systems in the 1970s, avoiding the prospect of what Shipps called, a "disintegration of Mormonism into a diversity of Mormonisms." But, she adds, this centralization has meant less tolerance for diversity and dissent.

The Church may also face difficulties because of its International growth, according to the article. Some converts have had trouble fitting into the Utah culture when they move there, and others have trouble figuring out the LDS Church. Dennis Simmons, who headed the LDS Church operations in southern and eastern Africa until recently, says some groups in Mozambique, Malawi and Angola are practicing without any official LDS organization or oversight. Experts also see possible problems when African polygamists join the LDS Church and ask why they can't practice polygamy now, as the LDS Church once did.

The problem of international growth is also difficult because of basic assumptions made about individuals and families. Western societies often favor individual rights over family decisions, allowing individuals to join a different Church than their families. Other societies don't see it that way. According to Simmons, "some husbands tell us not to teach their wives. They say, 'Teach me, and if I join, she'll join.' " He adds that some village chiefs have the same attitude about their tribes. "They say, 'I'll decide if it's a good idea.' But we tell them it's an individual decision and that we have to teach everyone."

But, in spite of these problems, the LDS Church is growing, and experts say the growth will continue along with the LDS Church's influence in the US. Says Bloom in his book, "The nation will not always be only 2 percent Mormon. The Saints outlive the rest of us, have more children than all but a few American groups, and convert on a grand scale, both here and abroad. . . . Their future is immense."


The Mormon Way
U.S. News 13Nov00 N1
By Jeffery L. Sheler
The Church of Latter-day Saints grows by leaps and bounds


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